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Saul, part 16

David Relieves Keilah; Is Pursued by Saul; Has His Last Interview with Jonathan.

1 Samuel 23

I HAVE remarked that the cave of Adullam seems to have been David's extremity; since his life henceforward is no longer one of mere endurance, but of occasional vigorous and brilliant activity, even with regard to Saul himself.

Soon after Saul's slaughter of the priests, in revenge for Ahimelech having succoured David in his flight, "they told David, saying, Behold, the Philistines fight against Keilah, and they rob the threshing-floors." Keilah, we learn from Joshua 15:44 was one of the towns that fell to the lot of Judah, and is supposed to have been not far from the cave of Adullam. It may be considered natural, therefore, that the news of this attack should reach David before it could be conveyed to Saul; and as the Philistines were evidently gaining the advantage, since they were carrying off the produce of the harvest, there was no time to lose in coming to the rescue. Another reason for this implied appeal to David for his assistance would be, that the men of Keilah were also men of Judah, and had, therefore, a nearer claim upon him for sympathy and aid than if they had belonged to any other tribe than his own. But there are other and higher reasons for David taking up the cause of the inhabitants of Keilah. Saul's operations against the enemies of Israel have been carried on in places other than the land of Judah. There was thus a spiritual reason why those who belonged to the highest of the tribes should be delivered by him who had been chosen from that tribe to occupy the highest place in the kingdom, and who even now represented a higher principle and power than the reigning king. The affections and thoughts of the inner man can only be delivered from the assaults of the enemy, whether that enemy be evil or falsity, by the power of internal goodness or truth. We cannot see our inward spiritual thoughts and affections but by inward spiritual light, nor can we, without that light, see the opposite principles that oppose them, and that would bring them into captivity, and rob them of the fruit of their labour and the means of life. The spiritual can also see into the natural and act upon it, but the natural cannot see into the spiritual, and cannot therefore bring the aid which its state and necessities may require.

When David learned the condition to which the men of Keilah were reduced, he was but little able, with the force at his command, to render them effectual assistance. However much he may have been disposed to go to their help, he may well have been doubtful of the issue. But he knew there was a higher Power, and to Him he left the decision. "David inquired of the Lord, saying, Shall I go and smite these Philistines? And the Lord said to David, Go and smite the Philistines, and save Keilah." With this Divine commission there would seem to have been no cause for hesitation. But "David's men said to him, Behold, we be afraid here in Judah: how much more then if we come to Keilah against the armies of the Philistines? Then David inquired of the Lord yet again. And the Lord answered him and said, Arise, go down to Keilah; for I will deliver the Philistines into your hand." This fear of the Philistines by David's men is but a type of our feelings under corresponding circumstances; and is that state expressed by the Lord, where He says, "The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak" (Matt 26:41). Our lower affections, influenced by natural considerations, often refuse to follow where our higher affection would lead, even when fortified with the direct teaching of the Divine Word. When this is the case we need not yield, and abandon the object we have in view; we have only to look to the Lord for encouragement. When David inquired of the Lord the second time, and received the command to "arise and go down to Keilah," with the assurance that the Lord would deliver the Philistines into his hand, his men no longer refused to follow him. It is a Divine promise that importunity will succeed where asking fails. There is a virtue in repetition. It strengthens the purpose, and brings resisting thoughts and feelings into submission to it and co-operation with it. There is a power in that which is done twice. When interpreting Pharaoh's dream, Joseph said, "For that the dream was doubled to Pharaoh twice; it is because the thing is established by God, and God will shortly bring it to pass." And David himself says, "God has spoken once; twice have I heard this; that power belongs to God" (Ps 62:11). Truth must be confirmed, not only in the inner man, but in the outer man also; and this we see plainly enough in the result of David's inquiries of the Lord: the first confirmed himself, the second confirmed his people. The second command to "arise" is one which, in respect to the natural man, is needed in the circumstances; the elevation of the mind above natural considerations being necessary to remove fear and inspire courage.

The result justified the confidence which David and his men placed in the Divine assurance of victory over the dreaded hosts of the Philistines. They went down "to Keilah, and fought with the Philistines, and brought away their cattle, and smote them with a great slaughter. So David saved the inhabitants of Keilah." Keilah, as its name imports, was a fortified town, and a strong force was required to subdue it. Yet David with his six hundred men overcame the host of the Philistines, to teach us how great things can be effected with small means, when the heart is right towards God. The victors were also enriched with the spoil of their enemies, which teaches us further, that when evil is overcome the mind is enriched with good. The salvation of the inhabitants of Keilah was the end for the accomplishment of which this enterprise of David was entered on, and this, so far as David was concerned, was complete. As regarded the inhabitants themselves, the result was far from being satisfactory. They had obtained deliverance, but had not learned gratitude. We shall see as we proceed how ill they rewarded David for the services he had rendered them.

We are now told that when Abiathar the son of Ahimelech fled to David to Keilah, he came with an ephod in his hand. At the conclusion of the previous chapter we read of this priest, the only one of his house that escaped Doeg's sword, coming to David, who received him, and promised him protection; but he is no doubt introduced here to instruct us representatively that spiritual conquest, and deliverance from that falsity which places all reliance for salvation on faith alone, brings to us the principle of love and goodness, of which the priest is representative. But Abiathar comes with an ephod in his hand. And as this is a principal point in the narrative, and also in its spiritual meaning, we may here consider what the ephod signifies.

The ephod was the outermost of the priestly garments, over which was the breastplate, containing the twelve precious stones answering to the twelve tribes of Israel. The priest representing good, his garments represented truths by which good is clothed, or with which it clothes itself. The ephod being the outermost of the priest's official garments, represented outermost truths, in which interior truths terminate, and in which they are contained. On this account the ephod was more holy than the other garments. "What is most external is holier than what is internal, because, containing all interior things in their order, it keeps them together in form and connection, insomuch that if the external were removed, internal things would be dissipated. This may be exemplified in willing, thinking, and doing. To will is the first, to think is the second, and to do is the last. So far as what a person does contains what he thinks and what he wills, so far these interior things are kept together in form and connection." It is from this fact that so much is said in Scripture of men being judged according to their works; which has been a stumbling-block to those who believe in salvation by faith without works; and which has driven them to the strange expedient of attempting to reconcile two seemingly opposite statements of the Bible, by saying, that men are justified by their faith and judged by their works. The truth is, that when a man is judged according to his works, he is judged according to his will and thought, of which his works are but the embodied form.

Such being the spiritual meaning of an ephod, it was appropriate that the priest should come to David, after the defeat of the Philistines, with an ephod in his hand, containing in its symbolism the idea of good works, as expressing the character of him who had overcome those who represented faith without works, who had robbed the threshing-floors of those who had gathered in the fruit of their labour —of their own good works.

But David does not long enjoy the peaceful fruits of the victory he has won. Saul hears of his exploit, and boasts that God has now delivered him into his hand, for he is shut in, by entering into a town with gates and bars. He therefore calls all the people together to war, to go down to Keilah, to besiege David and his men. David, knowing that Saul secretly practised mischief against him, and hearing of Saul's intention to come to Keilah, and storm the city for his sake, tells Abiathar the priest to bring here the ephod. He inquires of the Lord if Saul will come down, and if the men of Keilah will deliver him up; and the Lord answers him, "He will come down;" and "They will deliver you up." It is not surprising that Saul should pursue David, but that those whom David had saved from so formidable an enemy should deliver him into Saul's hand, may well excite our astonishment. And yet, what Omniscience declared they would do is not inconsistent with what we know of frail human nature. The first law of nature is said to be self-preservation; and under the influence of this law our greatest benefactors may be immolated, and offered on the altar of our own self-devotion. In delivering up David to the power of Saul, the men of Keilah would not have shown more selfish fear or base ingratitude than the disciples of the Lord actually displayed when, on His being seized by the emissaries of the chief priests, they all forsook Him and fled; and, not to speak of the one who betrayed Him, when he who had sworn to die with Him rather than deny Him, thrice deliberately declared that he knew Him not. The integrity of the men of Keilah was not put to the test; so that we cannot say whether their sin, had they committed it, would, like Peter's, have led to a state of deep repentance and profound humiliation. This, at least, we may learn from what they would have done, had they been tried, that there are frailties in our fallen nature and inclinations in our corrupt hearts that a wise and merciful Providence keeps from temptation, in which Omniscience sees we would fall. Although we cannot, even consistently with our own welfare, be preserved from all trials and temptations, there are many that we escape through the mercy of God, any one of which His wisdom foresees would prove our ruin.

When the Divine answers came to David's prayers, he and his men arose and departed out of Keilah, and went whithersoever they could go. And it was told Saul that David was escaped from Keilah; and he forbade to go forth. Thus the Divine interposition saved not only the men of Keilah but Saul himself from committing a great crime. David also was preserved, though now again a fugitive, knowing not, seemingly, where to go. Going whithersoever they could, David and his men make their way to the wilderness. While David abode in the wilderness in strongholds, and remained in a mountain in the wilderness of Ziph, Saul sought him every day, but God delivered him not into his hand. It was when Saul was hunting David like a partridge upon the mountains, that Jonathan went to David into the wood, and strengthened his hands in God. Unwavering in his friendship, the son of Saul comes to comfort the son of Jesse in his affliction. He does not try to soothe and cheer him with words of human sympathy and hope, but seeks to strengthen him by expressing his own deep conviction of David's safety from harm and his high destiny. "Fear not: for the hand of Saul my father shall not find you; and you shall be king over Israel, and I shall be next to you; and that also Saul my father knows." Although Jonathan has been hitherto convinced that David would be king of Israel, he has never till now so plainly expressed it, nor has he till now spoken of himself as occupying the second place in the kingdom. There may seem to be in this some surviving ambition in the mind of Jonathan. But it may be assumed that this was part of the covenant which had previously been or which was now made between the two friends. However this may have been, Jonathan utters a spiritual truth, since that principle which he represented is next in the Lord's kingdom to that which was represented by David. The genuine truths of the letter of the Word are next to the pure truths of the spirit of the Word; and all things acquired by them hold the same relative place in the minds of those who are true members of the Lord's Church and true subjects of His kingdom. This was the last meeting of David and Jonathan. It does not appear from the description to have been so tender as that which took place between them when Saul had attempted the life of both; but the covenant which they now made before the Lord was the solemn and final ratification of the intimate and indissoluble union which had grown up between them, and a sign of that which their union represented. David abode in the wood, and Jonathan went to his house; David still dwelling under the shadow of the calamity which daily threatened him; Jonathan retiring into the quietness of domestic life. Yet one is to emerge from the dark shadow into light and prosperity; of the other we hear no more till we learn of him perishing, but in the cause of his country and of his father's house, on mount Gilboa. Such are the ways of Providence in the affairs of our spiritual life, as reflected in the events and issues of our temporal life, as faithfully represented in the inspired record by the experience of its representative men.

But David is not allowed to remain long in the obscurity of the retreat he had found in the wood in the wilderness of Ziph. The Ziphites came to Saul to Gibeah, saying, "Does not David hide himself with us in strong holds in the wood, in the hill of Hachilah, which is on the south of Jeshimon?" The city of Ziph, from which the wilderness had its name, was one of ten cities in the mountains that fell to the lot of Judah. The Ziphites were still more ill-disposed to David than the men of Keilah; they were not only ready but anxious to betray him into the hand of Saul. They said, "Now therefore, O king, come down according to all the desire of your soul to come down; and our part shall be to deliver him into the king's hand." Saul blessed the Ziphites for having compassion on him, and desired that they should ascertain with certainty where David's haunts were, and return to him, when he would go with them, and, if David were in the land, he would search him out throughout all the ten thousands of Judah. The men went before Saul to Ziph, but David and his men were in the wilderness of Maon. Saul and his men went to seek him; and when they told David, he went down into a rock, and abode in the wilderness of Maon. The strongholds in which David hid himself were the caves of the mountain, in which he sought shelter and concealment; and Hachilah was indeed to him, as its name implies, a dark mountain, where his feet were liable to stumble; and while he looked for light, he was in danger of having it turned into the shadow of death (Jer 13:16).

Fleeing from desert to desert, from one state of temptation and desolation to another, in order to escape the vigilance of one enemy and the vengeance of another, David must have been in a state of deep distress. He has indeed left a record of his state of mind on this occasion. The 54th Psalm, as the title informs us, was composed during, or in reference to, this time of adversity. It is "a Psalm of David, when the Ziphites came and said to Saul, Does not David hide himself with us?" In the agony of his soul David cries, "Save me, O God, by Your name, and judge me by Your strength. Hear my prayer, O God; give ear to the words of my mouth. For strangers are risen up against me, and oppressors seek after my soul: they have not set God before them. Behold, God is mine helper: the Lord is with them that uphold my soul. He shall reward evil to mine enemies: cut them off in Your truth. I will freely sacrifice to You: I will praise Your name, O Lord; for it is good. For He has delivered me out of all trouble: and mine eye has seen His desire upon mine enemies." In its inmost sense this psalm is a prayer addressed by the Lord to the Father, that He would aid Him against those who desired to destroy Him. And if the psalm relates to the Lord, so must the history. David's afflictions are therefore typical of the afflictions of Him whom David represented. In its secondary sense it is, of course, like the history itself, descriptive of Christian persecution, and its happy result. "Blessed are they that are persecuted for righteousness' sake; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." This is inward spiritual persecution, which removes our evil, draws out and confirms our goodness, and gives us a deep sense of the Divine mercy in delivering us out of all our trouble. Our trouble may be severe, our persecutors may be strong and many, but if we trust in the Lord, He will deliver us, however hopeless our case may seem to be. When David fled to the wilderness of Maon, expecting perhaps to find there, as its name expresses, a habitation or refuge, where he would be in safety from the persecution of Saul, he found himself in such perilous circumstances, that, but for an unexpected event that drew away his pursuer, he must apparently have been destroyed. "Saul pursued David in the wilderness of Maon. And Saul went on this side of the mountain, and David and his men on that side of the mountain: and David made haste to get away for fear of Saul; for Saul and his men compassed David and his men round about to take them."

In these perilous circumstances, "there came a messenger to Saul, saying, Haste you, and come; for the Philistines have invaded the land. Wherefore Saul returned from pursuing after David, and went against the Philistines." In the providence of God one evil is sometimes permitted for the purpose of counteracting another, or of mitigating its effects. One evil cannot indeed remove another—Satan cannot cast out Satan—but it may draw the mind away, and direct it into another channel, so that it may pursue, for the time at least, another and higher or less unworthy object. Thus, the love of the world may draw men away from or moderate the love of self; and the cultivation of refined tastes may draw them away from indulging the grosser appetites and passions; nay, the love of reputation may draw men from vice to virtue. But, however much these may alter the course and conduct of life, they do not essentially change the character: this can only be effected by a change of principles. Saul did not cease to hate David because he turned from him in pursuit of another enemy. But Saul's choice of this new alternative, if it did not change Saul's disposition, altered David's condition. Wherefore he called the rock Sela-hammahlekoth, that is, the rock of divisions. The rock, or rocky fastness, in which David found shelter was the emblem of the Rock of Ages, the Divine truth, which is the Christian's security in times of persecution; and it becomes a rock of divisions when the trial or temptation is ended, and a division and separation are effected between the evil and the good. When relieved of Saul's presence, David went up from there, and dwelt in strongholds in Engedi. But this and David's experience there form the subject of the next chapter.

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