1 Samuel 21:1-9
Last week we considered how we typically respond and how we ought to respond whenever we encounter the unexpected – what we didn’t plan for, what we didn’t want to happen in our lives.
Looking at our human nature through the lens of David, we witnessed how easy it can be to believe we have to save ourselves rather than to trust in the Lord’s salvation.
It was both a sobering and challenging story as we saw firsthand how when we try to be the god of our lives rather than look to the God of all life, we end up doing great harm not only to ourselves but to others.
As David attempted to do whatever he had to do preserve his life, his situation not only worsened but along the way an entire community was destroyed in the process.
But now, as we continue on in 1 Samuel, chapters 23 and 24, we confront an entirely different question.
What happens when circumstances appear to line up in our favor – maybe not exactly how we anticipated but still presenting us with an opportunity to resolve a difficult situation?
Something happens and it looks like we are being handed the answer to all our problems.
However, the answer seemingly before us isn’t clear cut. It’s questionable as to whether it’s the right thing to do.
But let’s add yet another wrinkle to this scenario.
Suppose that in that instance a fellow believer claims to have a word from the Lord and endorses the possibility before us as a sign from God that we should take action.
When all the stars seem to align in a given moment is that an indication of God’s will for our lives?
How do we interpret the events and opportunities of our lives as to whether we are being offered divine direction?
These are the questions David will wrestle with in the next chapter of his story.
As we observe what happens to David, let us gain some perspective and insight for navigating similar moments in our own lives.
Does every open door or window mean that God wants us to go through it? Let’s listen and find out. Here’s 1 Samuel, chapter 23.
Again, we’re looking at both chapters 23 and 24 today. So, keep those Bibles open!
David continues to remain on the run as a declared enemy of the state by King Saul.
When we last left David he was confronting the devastating wake of his attempt to take matters into his own hands apart from the Lord.
In trying to save himself, David had cost an entire town of people their lives.
But now, David is a changed man. He is no longer trying to go it alone.
David is no longer looking out only for himself prioritizing his own self-preservation above any concern for others.
As news comes to him of a Philistine attack upon the village of Keilah at the western edge of Judah – about three miles southeast of where he is hiding out, David purposes to defend his countrymen.
However, before he acts, David does something he didn’t do at all the last time we were with him in chapters 21 and 22 of 1 Samuel.
“When David was told, “Look, the Philistines are fighting against Keilah and are looting the threshing floors,” he inquired of the Lord, saying, “Shall I go and attack these Philistines?”
The Lord answered him, “Go, attack the Philistines and save Keilah.” – 1 Samuel 23:1-2
He inquires of the Lord. He prays seeking God’s affirmation of his plan.
But even though the Lord gives David the green light, David’s men express some reservations about attacking the Philistines who have greater numbers and stronger forces.
Just to be clear and to reassure his forces, David again prays to the Lord seeking direction.
“Once again David inquired of the Lord, and the Lord answered him, “Go down to Keilah, for I am going to give the Philistines into your hand.” – 1 Samuel 23:4
God again offers David both approval and assurance of his next move.
The Lord directs him not to hesitate in going down to Keilah – emphatically promising David that He, the Lord, would give the Philistines into David’s hand.
Following God’s lead, David and his men soundly defeat the Philistines and rescue the village of Keilah.
David’s act of intercession, however, comes at a cost. It reveals his location to King Saul.
Mind you, it is the King of Israel who should have come to the rescue of his people rather than David, the fugitive.
But this only further reinforces how far gone King Saul is.
He doesn’t celebrate this victory over the Philistines – the deliverance of his people.
Because Saul, in his obsession, has no other purpose than capturing and eliminating David.
King Saul wouldn’t go to Keliah to save the people against the Philistines, but as word gets back to him that this is where David is, now Saul will go to Keliah to try and save himself against the perceived threat of David.
Evidently the layout of the village offered only one gate by which people could enter and exit the town.
Therefore, Saul confidently boasts the Lord already has delivered David into his hands.
“Saul said, “God has delivered him into my hands, for David has imprisoned himself by entering a town with gates and bars.” And Saul called up all his forces for battle, to go down to Keilah to besiege David and his men.” – 1 Samuel 23:7-8
To add insult to injury, the citizens of Keliah, despite David’s intervention on their behalf and not wanting to face the wrath of the king like the people of Nob, the citizens of Keliah plan on turning David over to Saul when he arrives.
David receives this news when, rather than let his fear get the best of him and therefore attempt to control what happens next, he prays to God yet again – seeking the Lord’s counsel rather than taking matters into his own hands.
“David said, “Lord, God of Israel, your servant has heard definitely that Saul plans to come to Keilah and destroy the town on account of me. Will the citizens of Keilah surrender me to him? Will Saul come down, as your servant has heard? Lord, God of Israel, tell your servant.” And the Lord said, “He will.”
Again David asked, “Will the citizens of Keilah surrender me and my men to Saul?” And the Lord said, “They will.” – 1 Samuel 23:10-12
Forewarned by the Lord as to his vulnerability, David immediately leaves Keilah and heads twelve miles to below the southern tip of the Dead Sea into the wilderness outside of a town called Ziph..
The natural rock formations in this hill country provide ample refuge for David and his supporters who have now grown from 400 to 600.
But as Saul changes course away from Keliah toward Ziph to pursue David, and this cat and mouse game continues, something important is emphasized.
Despite having the advantage of the desert strongholds, David escapes, day after day, from Saul’s claws not because David is more cunning or faster but because “God did not give him into the hand of Saul.”
“David stayed in the wilderness strongholds and in the hills of the Desert of Ziph. Day after day Saul searched for him, but God did not give David into his hands.” – 1 Samuel 23:14
Beloved, like David, we live, move, and have our being not because of our brilliance or strength, but because the Lord enables us to do so. Let us never forget that.
While David is out in the wilderness, Jonathan, King Saul’s son and yet David’s confidant and ally, risks his own safety to come and encourage David.
And Jonathan’s prophetic assurance is vintage biblical wisdom.
“And Saul’s son Jonathan went to David at Horesh and helped him find strength in God. “Don’t be afraid,” he said. “My father Saul will not lay a hand on you. You will be king over Israel, and I will be second to you. Even my father Saul knows this.” – 1 Samuel 23:16-17
He tells David not to be afraid because the Lord is with him.
Despite how circumstances appear and the way things seem to be going, Jonathan affirms that God will make David king over Israel.
He declares even his father, King Saul knows this is certain – that the future belongs to David – whether he admits or accepts it or not.
As Jonathan and David reaffirmed their covenant of friendship, this is the last time these two kindred spirits will see each other.
For despite together anticipating the day when David would be king, and Jonathan would support and help him; that day would never come to pass as Jonathan tragically will die before David becomes king of Israel.
While all this has been transpiring, the inhabitants of Ziph – much like the citizens of Keilah – betray David’s exact location to King Saul.
Proving he can be quite persuasive, Saul fawns over the assistance the Ziphites are willing to give him and manipulates them into becoming part of his spy network and doing a little recon, tracking David’s shifting location in the wilderness.
King Saul may have all the information – the human intelligence – but David still has got all the insight – divine guidance on his side.
David and his men quickly shift their location and take shelter behind a huge rock – a mountain-like structure in the Desert of Maon.
King Saul remains in hot pursuit. He’s closing in fast on David. Saul’s got the numbers on David and his men. There appears to be nowhere left to run or hide.
But once again, God’s providence proves to be David’s refuge as news suddenly comes to Saul that the Philistines are invading Israel.
“Saul was going along one side of the mountain, and David and his men were on the other side, hurrying to get away from Saul. As Saul and his forces were closing in on David and his men to capture them, a messenger came to Saul, saying, “Come quickly! The Philistines are raiding the land.” Then Saul broke off his pursuit of David and went to meet the Philistines.” – 1 Samuel 23:26-28
Forcibly diverted from his personal vendetta, Saul breaks off his pursuit of David to defend the fate of the nation.
With this temporary breather, David and his men relocate 14 miles east of Ziph – away from any nearby villages or towns – near the Dead Sea’s western shore to En Gedi – which still today stands as a beautiful and vast oasis of waterfalls, pools, wild goats, and lush vegetation.
As chapter 24 begins, we are told nothing about the conflict with the Philistines. No details are provided as to how and when it got resolved.
Instead, we jump right back into Saul’s pursuit of David.
“So Saul took three thousand able young men from all Israel and set out to look for David and his men near the Crags of the Wild Goats.” – 1 Samuel 24:2
With 3,000 of his finest soldiers, giving him a five-to-one advantage over David, who had only 600 men, the king resumes his search for his declared rival.
However, the tables are quickly turned as Saul and David meet again.
Previously, Saul had the upper hand and David was boxed into a corner. But now, Saul makes himself vulnerable and David has the jump on him.
“He came to the sheep pens along the way; a cave was there, and Saul went in to relieve himself. David and his men were far back in the cave.” – 1 Samuel 24:3
Looking to relieve himself, King Saul happens to choose for his toilet, the same cave where David and his men are hiding deep in the recesses.
Saul is completely unaware of the mortal danger in which he has placed himself.
David’s men, on the other hand, interpret the king’s exposed position as divine provision – a sign from God – providing David with the opportunity to free himself from his enemy.
They even go so far as to present a word from the Lord to David as further evidence that he should follow their counsel.
The men said, “This is the day the Lord spoke of when he said to you, ‘I will give your enemy into your hands for you to deal with as you wish.’” – 1 Samuel 24:4
Interestingly we find no such evidence recorded in the Bible of any such promise being made by the Lord to David.
After trying to save himself and all the disaster that followed, we have witnessed David make an important course correction.
Doing a complete 180, David has gotten back on track relying on the Lord to direct his path and trusting God with the outcomes.
But now it is the moment of truth for David.
Time stops as David confronts what appears to be a golden opportunity – a divine appointment – the answer to all his troubles.
Those around him are throwing around a lot of pious talk urging him to seize the day – assuring David that God has opened a door for him and so, it’s his to walk through.
Initially, David appears ready to walk through that door as he sneaks up as King Saul is taking care of business and then, surprisingly, pulls his punch.
“Then David crept up unnoticed and cut off a corner of Saul’s robe.” – 1 Samuel 24:4
Instead of running Saul through with his sword, David instead cuts off a section of the king’s robe.
We might admire what David does here – crediting him with restraint and tact – but David, after doing this, bears no such pride in the actions he’s taken.
Soon after, David is struck by a crisis of conscience.
Afterward, David was conscience-stricken for having cut off a corner of his robe. He said to his men, “The Lord forbid that I should do such a thing to my master, the Lord’s anointed, or lay my hand on him; for he is the anointed of the Lord.” With these words David sharply rebuked his men and did not allow them to attack Saul. – 1 Samuel 24:5-7
He confesses to his men that he has done a great wrong against God and forbids them from further harming King Saul.
But David doesn’t stop there.
He steps out of the cave after Saul leaves and reveals himself to the king.
“Then David went out of the cave and called out to Saul, “My lord the king!” When Saul looked behind him, David bowed down and prostrated himself with his face to the ground.” – 1 Samuel 24:8
David puts himself in a position of vulnerability as he not only comes out into the open but bows down low before Saul.
Addressing the king not as an equal but as his lord and his father, David conveys respect and affection for the man who has attempted on more than one occasion to take his life, the person who has forced David to resort to living in caves constantly moving from place to place fearing for his life.
“See, my father, look at this piece of your robe in my hand! I cut off the corner of your robe but did not kill you. See that there is nothing in my hand to indicate that I am guilty of wrongdoing or rebellion. I have not wronged you, but you are hunting me down to take my life. May the Lord judge between you and me. And may the Lord avenge the wrongs you have done to me, but my hand will not touch you.” – 1 Samuel 24:11-12
As David waves the cut-off piece from the king’s robe in the air, he expresses his innocence and loyalty and forgoes taking any vengeance against Saul – leaving judgment in the Lord’s hands and trusting in the God’s vindication.
Saul is stupefied and almost speechless. After listening in stunned silence, the king is moved to tears.
“Saul asked, “Is that your voice, David my son?” And he wept aloud. “You are more righteous than I,” he said. “You have treated me well, but I have treated you badly…I know that you will surely be king and that the kingdom of Israel will be established in your hands.” – 1 Samuel 24:16-17, 20
Calling David his “son,” Saul confesses David is the better man. He invokes God to bless David for his righteous treatment of him.
Saul even acknowledges that he is fighting a losing battle – that David will become the next king of Israel.
Saul therefore asks David to spare and not cut off his descendants once David finally takes the throne. David does hesitate in making this vow.
And then, Saul and David go their separate ways – for now.
While the king’s remorse was seemingly genuine, he does not yet yield the throne.
David already had learned the hard way, Saul’s contrition would only be temporary.
While this particular battle may have been over, Saul’s war on David was far from finished. And so David retreats for protection in “the stronghold” – a fortification somewhere near En Gedi – perhaps what is modern-day Masada.
I don’t know about you but as we reflect on this episode in David’s life, I take great encouragement in the humanity of David’s relationship with the Lord.
Particularly, I find comfort in the fact that even as David was clearly a changed man – no longer trying to save himself but instead looking to the Lord, he still stumbled along the way.
David didn’t always make the right choice. David had to keep learning what it means to trust in God.
While there are several positive moments for David in these two chapters, at the decisive moment, he screws up badly.
David nearly throws Israel into a civil war.
If we go back to that scene in the cave, it’s pretty telling that David’s conscience struck him immediately after what he did to King Saul.
It strongly suggests David was this close, right on the edge of taking Saul out of the picture.
Even his clever countermove as he pulled his punch – of cutting off the corner of Saul’s robe – sends the wrong message.
The edge of a person’s garment in the ancient world communicated his or her social standing.
A hem of a king’s robe was especially ornate and identified him as sovereign.
In cutting off this piece of King Saul’s robe, which Saul may have laid aside as he relieved himself, David is doing more than proving he didn’t kill Saul when he had the chance, it also not so subtly makes a statement that David could cut off Saul’s reign just as easily.
In other words, it was a power move. David was laying claim to the kingdom. It was a passive but still viable form of attack on Saul as king.
This is why David instantly regrets what he’s done.
By the grace of God, David realizes any attempt to take the kingdom from Saul, was contrary to God’s will.
What is insightful for us here is what we can learn from David’s experience – both from his near tragic mistake but also from what happens next.
We learn several things in this encounter.
First, we learn that contrary to a common Christian saying, “When God closes a door, God opens a window.”
Nowhere in the Bible is this declared as divine truth.
And here in this moment with David, we clearly see that not every opportunity is a God-ordained sign that we should take action.
From David’s experience we can learn how easy it can be to misread circumstances and to see what we want to see – to interpret a given situation in a way that flatters our preconceived desires or plans.
Sometimes our mistaken tendency to perceive an opportunity as a sign from God can even be initiated or encouraged by others. In this story, it’s David’s men who initiate the conversation – confidently asserting that Saul’s vulnerability before David is a matter of divine providence.
His advisers even claim to have a word from the Lord for David – to reinforce that this is an opportunity for divinely sanctioned vengeance.
David’s men believed, as many Christians are often want to believe, that if the circumstances seem right, then the Lord is telling you through those circumstances what to do.
But here we have a great reminder that God’s will can be misinterpreted by well meaning Christians.
Other believers can be ruled by their emotions and desires and see what they want to see – what they want to see happen for us – just like we can.
While David’s men may have spoken some truth from the Lord – God may have assured David of His presence and protection, this affirmation was not the same thing as giving David permission to assassinate His anointed, King Saul.
David realizes since Saul was the Lord’s anointed, it was the Lord’s place to remove Saul, not David’s.
If David trusted in God to give him the Kingdom, then it was not David’s place to take it from Saul.
And so after initially following their counsel, David rebukes his men and by implication rejects their claim of divine authority – of being led by the Spirit in giving their advice to him.
To be clear, we aren’t called to go it alone in our relationship with the Lord.
God made us to be in community together. The Lord is the One who created the Church, the Body of Christ.
Part of the reason for this is because we hear, we recognize, and we abide in God’s direction and leading that comes from worshipping and serving together.
Seeking or receiving the counsel of other believers is a good thing – a necessary, essential part of our journey of faith.
However, we always must test the counsel of others, we must balance whatever we or others hear from the Lord, against the written word of God and the Spirit of the Lord.
It’s all three in concert and not one or two at the lack of the other.
Just because a door or a window is open, doesn’t mean God opened it for us.
Instead of looking for open doors or windows to go through, it would be better to open up God’s word and to open ourselves to the Lord’s Spirit through prayer.
Notice that’s what David does repeatedly leading up to this moment in the cave with King Saul.
When the Philistines attack the village of Keliah and David believes he should come to their aid, David seeks God’s counsel. When David’s men balk at the idea of taking on the Philistines, David again reaches out to the Lord.
When Saul pursues David and nearly has him trapped, in evaluating his situation and what to do next, David talks with God. And here, after David nearly makes a fatal mistake, David listens to his conscience.
And who is the author and programmer of the human conscience? Our Creator – the Lord God Almighty.
David, rather than let something he’s just done wrong snowball further, submits to the conviction of the Lord and adopts a completely different posture.
David moves from threatening to kill Saul to saving his life. He forbids his men from harming Saul.
David shifts from nearly retaliating against the king to seeking to honor him.
David leaves the security of his concealment – his hiding place – and openly reveals himself to Saul.
Instead of returning evil for evil, David answers with good before everything wrong Saul has done to him.
David talks and treats Saul with respect and honor. He confesses his opportunity to take vengeance on the king but then vows not to be the one who judges and passes sentence on Saul.
David even goes so far as to promise his protection to Saul’s descendants and to ensure Saul’s memory in Israel.
This message is something of a bookend to last Sunday’s sermon.
Last week, we witnessed David going to one extreme in trying to secure his life and his destiny as David attempted to save himself apart from the Lord.
But now, David faces the other extreme, believing that our life and our destiny have been set by the Lord, and yet facing the temptation of perceived opportunities to secure what God has promised us.
Both extremes involve taking matters into our own hands.
One involves doing so in spite or without God.
The other involves doing so for the Lord – putting ourselves behind the wheel convincing ourselves that God wants to the passenger in our lives rather than the driver of our lives.
Beloved, is Jesus just a passenger on the ride of your life or is Jesus the driver of your life? There’s a difference.
David’s pathway to the throne, as we’re following it, continues to be revealed to be a long and a winding road.
As we witness David’s journey, we learn along with him, how we are to secure what God has promised us.
Following Jesus isn’t about trying to cut corners. Following Jesus isn’t about trying to speed up the process. Following Jesus isn’t about getting ahead of God.
Following Jesus isn’t about looking for open doors and windows.
Following Jesus is about keeping our eyes on Christ.
It is patiently and repeatedly trusting God in his timing.
It is asking, seeking, and knocking
– pursuing the Lord first
– before we make the decisions that shape our lives.
It is listening carefully through the Word and the Spirit and the company of likewise rooted and submitted Christians – not for what we want and therefore are tempted to hear – but listening carefully for what we need and therefore may not want to hear.
Following Jesus is, as Jesus said, seeking first the Kingdom of God – what God wants – and letting the Lord determine when and how – all that He’s promised will be added onto us.
Clarity and conviction in Christ – knowing and following the way of Jesus – derive from a regular posture of relationship with Jesus – of daily, attentive living in reliance upon the Spirit – to shape our thoughts, to form our words, to direct our posture, and to empower and guide our actions.
This is what the practices of being in the word of God, being in daily prayer, and worshipping in Christian community are all about.
These practices get us in the habit of giving the Lord control so that we won’t let go or get ahead of God when we are tempted to do so.
For just as the Lord was with David – God is with us (Emmanuel). This is the gospel.
This is the good news of God in Jesus Christ living, dying, and rising from the grave for us.
This is the good news of God in Jesus Christ with us through the person of the Holy Spirit.
We can ask. We can talk. We can seek wisdom.
Through the word of God – not in isolation – but applied to the reality of our lives – the Spirit will teach us what is right and true.
Through the Word and the Spirit, we can learn and grow in wisdom and grace.
Relying on the Lord, we can make good decisions – life-giving choices – and actualize healthy and just actions in this world.
If we cling to God as the God holds onto us, the Lord will guide us to live our best life for Him. Amen.