1 Samuel 23
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Then they told David, saying, Behold, the Philistines fight against Keilah, and they rob the threshingfloors.
1 Samuel 23:1-6. The rescue of Keilah

1. Then they told David] Simply, And they told. There is no mark of time. The appeal to David shews that he was growing to be regarded as the champion of Israel.

Keilah] A fortified city (v, 7), named in Joshua 15:44 as one of a group of cities in the Shephêlah or “Lowland,” which included the low limestone hills bordering on the Philistine plain. It was perched on a steep hill above the valley of Elah, about three miles south of Adullam, where the name Kila still survives to mark the site.

they rob the threshing floors] This indicates that the raid took place immediately after harvest, when the corn was stacked by the floors ready for threshing.

Therefore David inquired of the LORD, saying, Shall I go and smite these Philistines? And the LORD said unto David, Go, and smite the Philistines, and save Keilah.
2. inquired of the Lord] Through the high-priest Abiathar. See on 1 Samuel 23:6.

And David's men said unto him, Behold, we be afraid here in Judah: how much more then if we come to Keilah against the armies of the Philistines?
3. here in Judah] Keilah belonged to the tribe of Judah (Joshua 15:44): so that Judah must here be used in a limited sense of the highlands of Judah.

the armies of the Philistines] David’s men exaggerate the marauding bands of Philistines into a regular army.

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 thine hand.
So David and his men went 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.
And it came to pass, when Abiathar the son of Ahimelech fled to David to Keilah, that he came down with an ephod in his hand.
6. fled to David to Keilah] Since (a) it is implied by 1 Samuel 22:20 that Abiathar joined David before the expedition to Keilah: and (b) the inquiry in 1 Samuel 23:2; 1 Samuel 23:4 implies the presence of the high-priest with the Ephod: it seems best either to strike out “to Keilah,” or to follow the Sept. in reading, “And it came to pass when Abiathar the son of Ahimelech fled to David, that he went down with David to Keilah with the Ephod in his hand.” This note is inserted here to explain how David could inquire of God both in Judah and at Keilah.

And it was told Saul that David was come to Keilah. And Saul said, God hath delivered him into mine hand; for he is shut in, by entering into a town that hath gates and bars.
7–15. The treachery of the Keilites

7. hath delivered him] Lit. hath rejected him and delivered him. So blind was Saul as to imagine that it was not himself but David whom God had rejected. The Sept. reads “sold.”

a town, &c.] A city. It may have been one of the old Canaanite fortresses (see on Joshua 11:13), or have been fortified as an outpost against the Philistines.

And Saul called all the people together to war, to go down to Keilah, to besiege David and his men.
And David knew that Saul secretly practised mischief against him; and he said to Abiathar the priest, Bring hither the ephod.
9. secretly practised] Lit. was forging. Omit “secretly.”

Bring hither the ephod] For the high-priest did not always wear it. See note on 1 Samuel 14:18, and cp. 1 Samuel 30:7.

Then said David, O LORD God of Israel, thy servant hath certainly heard that Saul seeketh to come to Keilah, to destroy the city for my sake.
Will the men of Keilah deliver me up into his hand? will Saul come down, as thy servant hath heard? O LORD God of Israel, I beseech thee, tell thy servant. And the LORD said, He will come down.
11. the men of Keilah] Lit. “the lords,” or “masters,” i.e. the governing body of citizens, as distinguished from the mass of inhabitants (1 Samuel 23:5). The same word is used in Joshua 24:11; Jdg 9:2 ff; Jdg 20:5; 2 Samuel 21:12.

will Saul come down] The logical order of the questions is inverted, and the most important put first, indicating the anxiety of the questioner.

Then said David, Will the men of Keilah deliver me and my men into the hand of Saul? And the LORD said, They will deliver thee up.
12. They will deliver thee up] With the cowardice and ingratitude of thorough selfishness. Cp. Jdg 15:10-13.

Then David and his men, which were about six hundred, 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 forbare to go forth.
And David abode in the wilderness in strong holds, and remained in a mountain in the wilderness of Ziph. And Saul sought him every day, but God delivered him not into his hand.
14. And David abode in the wilderness] David’s next resort was “the wilderness of Judah,” the wild uncultivated tract lying between the mountains of Judah and the Dead Sea. His chief abode was “the mountain (perhaps the hill of Hachilah, 1 Samuel 23:19) in the wilderness of Ziph,” a district S. E. of Hebron, where a rounded hill half way between Hebron and Carmel still bears the name Tell Zîf. Ziph is mentioned in Joshua 15:55, and was fortified by Rehoboam (2 Chronicles 11:8).

every day] Continually: not that he literally spent all his time in the pursuit of David.

And David saw that Saul was come out to seek his life: and David was in the wilderness of Ziph in a wood.
15. in a wood] The word chôresh translated “wood” in 1 Samuel 23:15-16; 1 Samuel 23:18-19 does not occur again in Samuel. Lieut. Conder argues from the dry unwatered character of the district that no wood of trees can ever have flourished there, and conjectures that Chôresh was a proper name with a different signification. He found the ruin of Khoreisa and the Valley of Hiresh in the neighbourhood of Ziph. It is perhaps too bold to assert that no wood can ever have existed, and it seems best to understand Chôresh as a quasi-proper name for a district overgrown with brushwood.

And Jonathan Saul's son arose, and went to David into the wood, and strengthened his hand in God.
16–18. Jonathan’s last meeting with David

16. strengthened his hand in God] Revived his courage by pointing him to the true ground of confidence. Cp. ch. 1 Samuel 30:6; Job 4:3.

And he said unto him, Fear not: for the hand of Saul my father shall not find thee; and thou shalt be king over Israel, and I shall be next unto thee; and that also Saul my father knoweth.
17. Saul my father knoweth] Both that thou art destined to be king (see on 1 Samuel 18:9), and that I am ready to resign my claims in thy favour. This is the climax of Jonathan’s unselfish generosity.

And they two made a covenant before the LORD: and David abode in the wood, and Jonathan went to his house.
18. to his house] Home to Gibeah, where Saul was (1 Samuel 23:19). It was the final parting of the friends.

Then came up the Ziphites to Saul to Gibeah, saying, Doth not David hide himself with us in strong holds in the wood, in the hill of Hachilah, which is on the south of Jeshimon?
19–28. The treachery of the Ziphites

19. Then came up the Ziphites] The title of Psalms 54. refers it to this occasion, or that recorded in 1 Samuel 26:1, and the contents agree with the situation. See especially 1 Samuel 23:3.

On the relation between this narrative and that in ch. 26. see Note VII. p. 243.

in the hill of Hachilah, &c] This hill was situated on the south of, or according to 1 Samuel 26:3, “in front of” or “facing” the Waste. Jeshimon is not a proper name, but means the Waste, and denotes the district on which the plateau of Ziph looks down, “with white peaks and cones of chalk and deep narrow watercourses, terminated by the great pointed cliff of Ziz above Engedi, and by the precipices over the Dead Sea, two thousand feet high.” Hachilah is not identified with any certainty. Lieut. Conder proposes to recognise it in the long ridge of El Kôlah, running out of the Ziph plateau eastwards. From Tell Zîf the Ziphites could observe the movements of David’s men over this region.

Now therefore, O king, come down according to all the desire of thy soul to come down; and our part shall be to deliver him into the king's hand.
And Saul said, Blessed be ye of the LORD; for ye have compassion on me.
Go, I pray you, prepare yet, and know and see his place where his haunt is, and who hath seen him there: for it is told me that he dealeth very subtilly.
22. where his haunt is] Lit. “where his foot is.” Observe his tracks as you would those of a wild beast.

See therefore, and take knowledge of all the lurking places where he hideth himself, and come ye again to me with the certainty, and I will go with you: and it shall come to pass, if he be in the land, that I will search him out throughout all the thousands of Judah.
23. the thousands of Judah] i.e. the families. See on 1 Samuel 10:19.

And they arose, and went to Ziph before Saul: but David and his men were in the wilderness of Maon, in the plain on the south of Jeshimon.
24. in the wilderness of Maon] The district round the conical hill about seven miles south of Hebron still known as Tell Maîn. It is mentioned in Joshua 15:55 among the cities of Judah in the mountains. It was the home of Nabal (ch. 1 Samuel 25:2).

in the plain on the south of Jeshimon] In the steppe on the south of the Waste. The Arâbah or “steppe” is here the name of the district south of “the Waste,” where the plateau falls away towards the plains of Beersheba. The term Arâbah generally denotes either the depressed valley of the Jordan, or the valley between the Dead Sea and the Gulf of Akaba, but neither of these can be intended here.

Saul also and his men went to seek him. And they told David: wherefore he came down into a rock, and abode in the wilderness of Maon. And when Saul heard that, he pursued after David in the wilderness of Maon.
25. into a rock] To the rock, or, cliff, which was afterwards called “the rock of divisions” (1 Samuel 23:28). The Sept. reads “which is in the wilderness of Maon” in place of “and abode in the wilderness of Maon,” perhaps rightly.

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.
26. compassed … round about] i.e. encompassed, surrounded. Cp. Psalm 5:12.

But there came a messenger unto Saul, saying, Haste thee, and come; for the Philistines have invaded the land.
27. there came a messenger, &c.] Man’s extremity is God’s opportunity. Cp. 2 Kings 19:7; 2 Kings 19:9.

Wherefore Saul returned from pursuing after David, and went against the Philistines: therefore they called that place Selahammahlekoth.
28. Sela-hammahlekôth] Either (1) “Rock of escapes;” or more probably (2) “Rock of divisions,” because there Saul had to relinquish the pursuit of David.

Lieut. Conder thinks he has discovered the scene of David’s escape. Between the ridge of El Kôlah and the neighbourhood of Maon there is a great gorge called “the Valley of the Rocks:” to part of this the name Wady Malâki now applies, and there is no other place near Maon where cliffs, such as are to be inferred from the word Sela, can be found. See Tent Work, II. 91.

And David went up from thence, and dwelt in strong holds at Engedi.
29. at En-gedi] En-gedi (= fountain of the kid), now Ain-Jidy, is situated about half way along the western shore of the Dead Sea. The precipitous cliffs recede from the water’s edge, and enclose a sloping plain watered by the stream which gushes copiously from the limestone rock. Here in the days of Abraham stood the Amorite city of Hazazon-tamar (= pruning of the palm). See Genesis 14:7; 2 Chronicles 20:2. It is still an oasis in the limestone desert, and though palm-trees and vineyards (Song of Solomon 1:14) have vanished, the petrified leaves of the one and the terraces cut on the hills for the other attest its ancient fertility. On all sides the country is full of caverns which might serve as lurking places for David and his men, as they do for outlaws at the present day. See Robinson, Bibl. Res. 1. 508 ff.; Tristram, Land of Israel, p. 277 ff.; Stanley, Sin. and Pal. p. 295 ff., for descriptions of this remarkable spot.

29–24:8. David spares Saul’s life in the cave at En-gedi

This narrative and that in ch. 26 are regarded by some commentators as different accounts of the same event. See Note VII. p. 243, and the notes on ch. 26.

Psalms 57, 142 are referred by their titles to the time when David fled from Saul in the cave; but whether this occasion or his sojourn in the cave of Adullam is meant, must remain uncertain.

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