Sermon 09/12/21

Due to technical difficulties, the sermon for this past Sunday was not recorded online. Here is my sermon manuscript for 1 Samuel 23:1-14.

When Saul had been anointed by Samuel in Ramah, the LORD had revealed to the aged prophet the day before that, “Tomorrow about this time I will send you a man from the land of Benjamin, and you shall anoint him to be prince over my people Israel. He shall save my people from the hand of the Philistines. For I have seen my people, because their cry has come to me.”[1] Saul was not only to be a prince and captain of the people of Israel, he was to act as a savior; in the strength of the LORD, he was to go out and do battle against all the enemies of God and His people, particularly the Philistines. In the beginning of his reign, this is precisely what we see him do. Recall the events of ch. 11. The Ammonites and their king Nahash had laid siege to the city of Jabesh. When Saul heard the news, we’re told that “the Spirit of God rushed upon Saul when he heard these words, and his anger was greatly kindled.”[2] In this inspired rage, the new king had sent the message throughout Israel that all were to come out and join him in the defense of one of their nation’s cities against a foreign invader. And so they did, Israel routing the Ammonites and saving Jabesh-Gilead. We will see later that the valiant men of Jabesh would remember the salvation worked through Saul, and would honor him.[3] But on the day of his victory, Saul himself would state that “today the LORD has worked salvation in Israel.”[4] In chs. 13-14, Saul would make his first engagement against the Philistines, but would also falter in that he did not obey the voice of the LORD through the prophet Samuel, thus losing the dynasty that would have been his had he obeyed.[5] In ch.15, we see the same negligence to obey the voice of the LORD concerning the complete destruction of the Amalekites, this time leading to the rejection of Saul as king.[6] The spiritual reality that was signified and sealed by the act of anointing was no longer present for Saul; that is, “the Spirit of the LORD departed from Saul.”[7] From this point forward, Saul was no longer the chosen savior of his people; indeed, except when it was absolutely necessary to divert his pursuit,[8] Saul’s main concern became the destruction of the one he considered to be his true enemy – namely, David, the LORD’s christ. In this, Saul became an antichrist, slaying even the priests of the LORD and their families because of his paranoid belief that they were conspiring against him with David.[9] But David, even on the run, even in hiding, had become Israel’s true savior, the Spirit of the LORD Who had once been upon Saul having now rushed upon David to equip him for kingly duty.[10] David was the king chosen by God, the one who would listen and obey the Word of the LORD, and as we have already seen in the Valley of Elah[11] and elsewhere, the one the LORD would use to save His people; the duty Saul had forfeited through his disobedience and neglect, was now to be the work of the shepherd-king from Bethlehem.

When last we met David in the narrative, he and his four hundred men were told by the prophet Gad to leave the stronghold where they were staying and sojourn in the forest of Hereth.[12] It’s not completely clear where this forest was specifically located, but it is certain that it was in the land of Judah; likely, it was close to Adullam in the Shephelah region of Judah, and not far from the city of Keilah, which was about three miles south of Adullam. The prophet resumes the narrative, Now they told David, “Behold, the Philistines are fighting against Keilah and are robbing the threshing floors.” David, hiding with his men in the forest of Hereth, is given a piece of troubling intelligence. Keilah was a city of the Shephelah region of western Judah, and thus wasn’t far from the territory of the Philistines. The Philistines were taking advantage of this fact, and were raiding the town, robbing the threshing floors. For those who aren’t familiar with the concept of the threshing floor, this was a place, usually outside the city and positioned high where the wind could be caught, where the farmers would separate their wheat from the chaff. The threshing floor, of course, is a very important place in the book of Ruth,[13] and the process of threshing serves as a symbol of God’s final judgment.[14] Apparently, the Philistines had waited for the end of the harvest, and once the wheat grown by the inhabitants of Keilah had been gathered into the threshing floor, the pagans had made their attack and were taking the wheat as plunder. We do not live in the same kind of agrarian society today as we find in this passage; the majority of our food stuffs are grown in places that are generally unknown to us and we obtain our food by buying it at a store. But, for the inhabitants of Keilah, not only were the Philistines stealing the product of their hard work throughout the growing season, that produce was their main source of food! Without it, they would starve. Thus, this attack on Keilah truly was a life or death situation for the people of the town. Providentially, the news had made its way to David, the LORD’s anointed! Therefore David inquired of the LORD, “Shall I go and attack these Philistines?” Consider for a moment David’s position. He is a fugitive from a mad king bent on taking his life; not only this, he had only recently escaped the clutches of the Philistines by acting like a madman.[15] And yet, when he hears of the plight of Keilah, his first thought is not for himself. Instead, he seeks the counsel of the LORD as to whether God desires him to attack the Philistines. He knows himself to be, as he will say later, the servant of the LORD, and as the servant of the LORD, he is also the servant of the LORD’s people. This is nothing like the kings of the nations, but very much like the King of heaven and earth. David’s greater Son would later say to His disciples, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”[16]

Just as the Father sent His Son the Christ to save His people from their sins,[17] so now the LORD would send His christ, the anointed David, to save the people of Keilah from the Philistines. And the LORD said to David, “Go and attack the Philistines and save Keilah.” Go, David! Go be the savior you have been anointed to be! Go be the type of the greater Christ – our Savior, the Lord Jesus! This was the command of the LORD. No doubt David would have pulled up stakes and headed for Keilah right then, but he was inhibited by his fearful men. But David’s men said to him, “Behold, we are afraid here in Judah; how much more then if we go to Keilah against the armies of the Philistines?” Does this not ring with the faithless fear that we would later hear from the disciples of Jesus? When Jesus told His disciples that it was necessary – as in, ordained by God – that He “go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised,” the Apostle Peter rebuked Him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.”[18] Clearly, Peter was fearfully seeking to keep this from happening. Our Lord Jesus, though, turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”[19] In the same way, the men who were with David in the forest of Hereth were fearful. In the wilds of Judah they were already being hunted by the mad king; would they now throw themselves from the frying pan directly into the fire? Was it not enough that their lives and the life of their leader David were already on the line without engaging the Philistines in open battle? We look at their fears, and from a worldly perspective they are not unreasonable. But that’s the problem, isn’t it? They’re not unreasonable from a worldly perspective. The LORD had told them to go, for David to be the savior of Keilah, but his men were not setting their minds on the things of God, but on the things of man. David, for his part, doesn’t spend any time arguing with his men; instead, we’re told, Then David inquired of the LORD again. And the LORD answered him, “Arise, go down to Keilah, for I will give the Philistines into your hand.” The will of the LORD is immutable, for God Himself is unchanging. Thus, when David inquires of the LORD a second time, he isn’t given a different reply. However, this time, to assuage the fears of David’s men, to help their unbelief,[20] God attaches the promise that He will give the Philistines into David’s hand. They are to trust in the LORD’s promise and obey the LORD’s command. We are certainly to do likewise. Thus trusting in God’s promise, we’re told And David and his men went to Keilah and fought with the Philistines and brought away their livestock and struck them with a great blow. So David saved the inhabitants of Keilah. Praise the LORD Who always keeps His promises!

In v.6 we are reminded of the sole surviving priest from the massacre of which we read in ch.22 – Abiathar. When Abiathar the son of Ahimelech had fled to David to Keilah, he had come down with an ephod in his hand. This fact seems strangely placed, doesn’t it? Why bring up Abiathar and the ephod at this juncture? First, let’s examine the wording of the verse itself. We’re told that Abiathar fled to David to Keilah. There are two ways we can take this. Either Abiathar fled to David after the battle of Keilah when David was staying in the city, or Abiathar fled to David before the battle while he was in the vicinity of Keilah. Of the two, the latter seems more likely. The reason for this is that we never stopped to ask just how David inquired of the LORD. Perhaps, if we question it at all, we have it in our minds that God simply spoke audibly whenever someone in the Old Testament days prayed. Though God did speak audibly at different times in Old Testament history, this phenomenon was rarer than we tend to think; rather, He gave other ways through which He would ordinarily make His will known. For example, already we have seen God speak to David through the prophet Gad. Samuel was the first monarchy-era prophet, and God would often make known His will to the kings through His prophets. The LORD also gave His high priests the method of the Urim and Thummim contained in the ephod of the high priest.[21] Though it’s not clear precisely how the Urim and Thummim were used, or even what they were, they were meant to be a means by which God revealed His will to His people. Earlier, then, when David inquired of the LORD, he likely inquired by means of the ephod – the very ephod of Ahimelech which had fallen to Abiathar at the death of the high priest under the wicked order of Saul! What Saul had meant for evil, the LORD meant for the good of His servant David to whom Abiathar had run. v.6, instead of being strangely placed is in fact, as Davis writes, “the centerpoint of the passage.”[22] God had providentially brought Abiathar to David at just the right time. Through the use of the ephod, the LORD made known His will that David should go and save Keilah; we’ll see Him make known His will through the same ephod in just a moment.

The prophet continues, Now it was told Saul that David had come to Keilah. And Saul said, “God has given him into my hand, for he has shut himself in by entering a town that has gates and bars.” Saul’s intelligence community had gathered information for the king. And what was that information? David was located; he had just saved Keilah and was staying for a time in the town he saved. Surely, though, if Saul could find out this minute detail, he would have certainly known that Keilah was under attack by the Philistines! Why wasn’t he and his army already in Keilah? Gone was Saul the savior of Israel; the husk of what was that now sat upon the throne was Saul the antichrist. His only concern was to see David killed, to thwart God’s plan and retain his kingly power. And, what is more, in his madness, he believes that God is assisting him in reaching this wicked goal! Truly, God had given the Philistines into the hand of David. Truly, God had brought Abiathar to David with the ephod in his hand. But Saul was blind to God’s true purpose, and foolishly assumed that God had given David into his hand. This is only an assumption, though. Saul had lost his prophet – Samuel would have no more to do with him.[23] Saul had murdered the priests – and the Urim and Thummim were no longer present for Saul to inquire of the LORD. Saul had rejected the Word of the LORD, and the LORD had rejected Saul. The LORD would no longer speak to Saul; instead, He would make His will known to the man after His own heart, the obedient son, David. And Saul, believing that providence had at last smiled upon him, had mentally made a god that was like him, one who would agree with whatever he thought was best. And though the king wouldn’t go to Keilah to save its inhabitants from the Philistines, he had no reservations when it came to besieging the city if that meant he might bring David down. And Saul summoned all the people to war, to go down to Keilah, to besiege David and his men. Somehow, though, David knew that Saul was plotting harm against him. Just as Saul had his tendrils of intelligence spread throughout Israel looking for David, David had counterintelligence operatives who kept him abreast of the goings on at the court of the mad king.

Knowing Saul’s plan, David said to Abiathar the priest, “Bring the ephod here.” Unlike Saul who madly assumed that the will of the LORD was identical to his own wicked desire, David, instead of acting according to his own limited knowledge and wisdom, seeks the counsel of God, the true King of Israel. The David said, “O LORD, the God of Israel, your servant has surely heard that Saul seeks to come to Keilah, to destroy the city on my account. Will the men of Keilah surrender me into his hand? Will Saul come down, as your servant has heard? O LORD, the God of Israel, please tell your servant.” And the LORD said, “He will come down.” David had learned that Saul was planning to come to Keilah; now he knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that the wicked king would see the whole city destroyed if only he could kill David in the process. Saul was not only the enemy of David, he was the enemy of anyone who might prevent him from reaching that goal, including his own people! We should expect no less; after all, the tyrant had just murdered the priests of the LORD and destroyed the city of Nob and everyone in it. The mad king had become just as much a troubler of Israel as wicked Ahab would later be,[24] as much as Nahash the Ammonite had been, indeed as much as the Philistines were, the pagan horde that had only recently been turned away by David! One question had been answered by the LORD; but David asked two, and thus he asks again. Then David said, “Will the men of Keilah surrender me and my men into the hand of Saul?” And the LORD said, “They will surrender you.” Perhaps the men of Keilah had heard about what Saul had done to Nob and feared the same fate. Whatever the case, David had come to the rescue of his own people, those of the tribe of Judah, and here we see his own people reject him in order to save themselves. Does this not remind us of our own Savior? “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.”[25] Indeed, Caiaphas would later put into words what was probably in the minds of the men of Keilah, “it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation [or city, in the case of Keilah] should perish.”[26] Thus, before Saul can reach the city, David and his (now six hundred) men leave to wander again in the wilderness of Judah. Then David and his men, who were about six hundred, arose and departed from Keilah, and they went wherever they could go. When Saul was told that David had escaped from Keilah, he gave up the expedition. Saul, who had thought that David’s being hemmed in, as it were, in Keilah meant that the LORD had given David into his hand, was sorely disappointed. As the prophet tells us clearly, And David remained in the strongholds in the wilderness, in the hill country of the wilderness of Ziph. And Saul sought him every day, but God did not give him into his hand. “Oh taste and see that the LORD is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!”[27]

Saul, who had once been God’s instrument of salvation for the people of Israel, had in his unrepentant wickedness become the persecutor of the LORD’s anointed. David, even on the run in the wilderness, yet proved to be the savior of his people, to be the true king chosen by the LORD. What a contrast this is! The antichrist seeks to maintain his own worldly power and to destroy the LORD’s christ. But the christ David, does not seek his own, but the good of his people, even if that means revealing his whereabouts to the one who wants to kill him. Thankfully, the LORD preserved David’s life, and that through the providential placement of the only surviving priest from the family of Ahimelech. Truly, the LORD is good and does good![28] We see the truth of this here in the LORD’s salvation of Keilah through His servant David; how much more clearly, though, do we see it in the LORD’s salvation of His elect through His Son, our Savior Jesus the Christ! David was willing to lay down his life to save his people. Jesus, though, did lay down His infinitely precious life to save His people! Our Shepherd-King Who was slain for us has risen and lives even now, the eternal Savior of His elect! Blessed is the one who takes refuge in Him! For we are in His hand, and none will ever pluck us away![29]

[1] 1 Samuel 9:16

[2] 1 Samuel 11:6

[3] 1 Samuel 31:11-13

[4] 1 Samuel 11:13

[5] 1 Samuel 13:13-14

[6] 1 Samuel 15:23

[7] 1 Samuel 16:14

[8] 1 Samuel 23:28

[9] 1 Samuel 22:6-23

[10] 1 Samuel 16:13

[11] 1 Samuel 17

[12] 1 Samuel 22:5

[13] Ruth 3:2ff.

[14] Luke 3:17

[15] 1 Samuel 21:10-15

[16] Matthew 20:25-28

[17] Matthew 1:21

[18] Matthew 16:21-22

[19] Matthew 16:23

[20] Mark 9:24

[21] Exodus 28:30

[22] Dale Ralph Davis, 1 Samuel: Looking on the Heart (Fearn, Scotland: Christian Focus, 2019), 237.

[23] 1 Samuel 15:35

[24] 1 Kings 18:17-18

[25] John 1:11

[26] John 11:50

[27] Psalm 34:8

[28] Psalm 119:68

[29] John 10:28

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s