In our reading today, we find David already fulfilling his duties as king. The Philistines attack the city of Keilah in Judah (23:1 – see Josh 15:44). David’s reaction is to inquire of God if he should go defend his tribe (v. 2). While Saul is preoccupied with cutting off his personal threat in David, David is concerned for his people. But David’s men are afraid of the Philistines (v. 3). So David wants to confirm the Lord’s will for him (v. 4). And notice: in spite of their fear, these men follow their king (v. 5). And God gives David the victory. (v. 5). This direct command from God and the subsequent victory is reminiscent of Joshua’s military campaign. In verse 6, we are told that Abiathar brought with him an ephod when he fled and came to David. This is not the linen ephod that all priests wore, but the ephod the that High Priest would wear.
Saul finds out where David is, and falsely believes that “God has given him” into his hand (v. 7). Saul knows nothing of what God is doing. And notice, the foreigners’ attack on Keilah did not motivate Saul to action (v. 8), but David being there sure does. We see the pride and selfishness of Saul in this. David knows that Saul has not given up his pursuit, and he asks Abiathar for the ephod (v. 9). In the following verses David inquires of the Lord. What is happening here? David is putting on the ephod and acting as priest – as the go-between of God and man. When Saul presumptuously took on the role of priest, God disqualified him as king (13:9, 13-14). Here, David takes on the role justly. God’s chosen king would also be a priest (this is not the only time that David assumes a priestly role). And we see that God reveals to David that the people of Keilah, whom he just saved, will turn him over to Saul out of fear* (vv. 10-12), and David escapes (v. 13), contrary to Saul’s understanding of what God was doing (v. 7). Note that David’s militia was now 600 strong. The followers of the true king are ever growing (see 22:2).
In verse 15, we see Jonathan come to David and encourage him (v. 15). Jonathan then expressly states what his actions have revealed: God has chosen David to be king, and Jonathan is on God’s side (v. 17). Then we see the people of Ziph reveal David’s whereabouts to Saul (vv. 19-20), and we see Saul’s cluelessness once again about God (v. 21). The sinful do not realize that God is against them. We then read of Saul’s pursuit of David (vv. 24-26). And we see that God is indeed protecting David, as an attack by the Philistines (this time, one that Saul can’t ignore!) requires him to abandon his pursuit (vv. 26-28).
The differences between David and Saul become more and more evident as the narrative moves along. Like the nations of Israel in Christ’s day, Saul truly believed God was on his side, but was so very wrong, and eventually finds that out the hard way. David is like Christ. He is not concerned for himself. Though he is persecuted, his concern is for God’s people. Though the majority follow Saul, David has a few faithful that, though afraid, follow him into death if necessary. David is the priest/king that God preserves to save his people. Praise God!
Psalm 31 is believed to have been written after escaping from Keilah (see 1 Sam 23:5-13). Though he had come to their rescue, their fear of Saul was enough for them to betray him. Imagine the emotions! But David still took refuge in God (31:1-2 – are we seeing a pattern in the Davidic Psalms? This is a direct pointer to Christ!). Though David was in a walled city that trapped him if he stayed, God was his fortress (vv. 2-3). God literally warned David to flee, taking him out of the trap (v. 4). David trusted God unto death because God was faithful (v. 5). Our Lord quoted this Psalm from the cross (Luke 23:46). David praises God for saving him from Saul in Keilah (vv. 7-8), yet David’s persecutions were not at an end (vv. 9-10). Though he had done no wrong, David was hated (vv. 11-13). Yet he would trust only in God (v. 14) Who is sovereign over every outcome (v. 15).
David prays that God would be with him (v. 16) and would justly judge between him and the wicked who pursued him (vv. 17-18). In spite of all he was enduring, David still praised the goodness of God (v. 19). Displaced from his home, and on the run for his life, David still knew God was good! With God as his refuge (v. 19), David was safe from the evil of men (v. 20). In verse 21, David praises God for saving him out of Keilah. He confesses to fear, but cried out to God and praises Him for hearing (v. 22). David then encourages faith among the elect. What God has done for him, He will do for all of His saints (v. 23). And if we trust in, and wait on, God, we will be as David was (v. 24).
Now go back and read the Psalm as if Christ is speaking these words…
Psalm 54 is believed to have been written by David when the people of Ziph tried to turn him over to Saul (see 1 Sam 23:19-20). With so many enemies, David’s only recourse is to rely on God for salvation (54:1-2). The people of Ziph sought favor with Saul as opposed to favor from God (v. 3). But if God is for David, who can be against him?!? God was on David’s side and preserved him (v. 4). David had enough faith to commit himself to Him Who would judge justly (v. 5 – like Christ, see 1 Pet 2:23). Rather than try to repay God for His goodness, David will offer what he has freely to God in thanksgiving (v. 6). Even in tribulation, David knew God would bring him victory (v. 7).
*IF YOU DON’T WANT YOUR HEAD TO HURT, DON’T READ THIS! These verses are often invoked to prove what is known as God’s “middle knowledge,” that is, knowledge of what may or could happen, but actually does not. For the Reformed theologian, God ordains everything that comes to pass, from the crucifixion, to your stubbing your toe. For the Arminian, God foreknows everything that comes to pass from eternity past. But does God know what might have happened in every circumstance should things have been different? Does He know every contingency that there has ever been even if He has ordained otherwise? Does He know every possible outcome of very possible decision you have made in your life in conjunction with every decision everyone else has made? He appears here to know what would have happened if David stayed in Keilah. But could David have stayed in Keilah from God’s point of view (the answer is no)? But it is more complicated than that. God is a simple Being. He is what He is and will be what He will be (I mean, that’s His name! – see Ex 3:14), and He can be no other lest He cease to be God. Does He know what’s possible, but that He did not ordain? Does He know other than what He foreknows will actually be? And God exists outside of time – it is a limitation He does not know. If He stands over all time, is what never actually happens known to Him? More than all other conjecture about God’s being from the Biblical evidence, this one mystifies me. How about you?