David hears of a city in trouble by raiders and asks God if he should help. God says “Yes” and David and company go and defeat the Philistines. But Saul hears about it and comes after them.
We aren’t told how David found out about this need but we see his response. He cared about the people. Not just those who had come to him but his ‘brothers’ too. When reading the story I didn’t have access to my bible maps and I wondered whose territory this city was in because of verse three. “Behold, we are afraid here in Judah; how much more than if we go to Keilah against the armies of the Philistines?” When I got home I looked it up and found that it is in Judah. So David is helping his own tribe.
While reading it just now I realized what they were afraid of. This group hadn’t tested its metal against the Philistines. They were having small engagements with raiding parties from smaller groups but the Philistines were a major power in the area. The Philistines also had real swords. Not farm implements. David and his group may have acquired some by then but they were still out-numbered and out matched by the forces they planned to meet. Now THAT sounds like a recipe for a MIRACLE!
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David and his men have been hanging out in the forest of Hereth and the wilderness of Ziph after returning to Judah. These areas offer strongholds for David and his men. They have been striking against raiders and bandits who would accost the people in the area.
News reaches David in his camp of a city under siege; Keilah. They are very close to the border of Israel and Philistine territory. They are at the western end of the Valley of Elah. It would be wise to keep the Philistines OUT of the valley.
David knows the Philistines battle superiority but he also knows his God. His God helped him defeat Goliath. His God helped him battle the Philistines under Saul MANY times. He is prepared to let Him do so again. But David isn’t with battle hardened elite troops. He is with a band of men from the bottom of society. Those who were in debt or downtrodden. Men who were disillusioned with the way things are going in their world. They had proven themselves in battle before but this enemy is different. David doesn’t want to get them in over their heads.
David needed to ask God what to do. Fortunately for him, he has a priest in residence who could do just that. David calls for Abiathar. Abiathar comes and stands before David.
“I need to inquire of the Lord. ‘Shall I go and attack these Philistines?’ (verse 2b).”
Abiathar waited for a moment, listening for the voice of the Lord. “Go and attack the Philistines and save Keilah” (verse 2c).
David turns to his ranking men who are waiting with him. David’s eyes glow with eagerness to do the Lord’s will but his men’s faces don’t match his. His eldest brother steps forward to be spokesman for the group.
“Behold, we are afraid here in Judah; how much more then if we go to Keilah against the armies of the Philistines?” (verse 3).
David recognized his reluctance. They would most likely be vastly out-numbered but that didn’t mean anything if God was on their side. David accepted the Lord’s command to go but for his men he would ask God directly if He would fight for them.
“Inquire of the Lord for me again. “Will we prevail against the Philistines if we go to Keilah?”
Abiathar waits on the Lord’s voice again. He speaks the words of the Lord loud enough that David’s men can clearly hear His answer.
“Arise, go down to Keilah, for I will give the Philistines into your hand” (verse 4b).
ALL doubt evaporates at these words. David’s men KNOW the power of the Lord. They have seen His hand at work in their small battles and in the life of David. Because they KNOW He will be with them they are READY to go!
It took less than a day for David and his men to reach Keilah. It look less than a day to send the Philistines back where they came from. The majority of the Philistines died on the battlefield but a few escaped to tell of this event.
After the battle had been completed, David and his men entered the Philistine camp and plundered it. In that camp were livestock the Philistines had taken from the people who lived nearby. There were also weapons of war and supplies that would be put to good use by David’s fighting forces.
The people of Keilah were overjoyed at the deliverance from the Philistines. David was their hero! News spread quickly of the victory God had wrought through David’s hand for the people. Not only had David defeated the Philistines but he had restored their goods, including their livestock.
One of the places the news spread to did not receive it with the same spirit. That place was Gibeah and the person receiving it was Saul. This should have been Saul’s victory. HE was supposed to be the one to deliver Israel but David had stepped in front of him and, once again, stolen the hearts of the people. Even though Saul was angry about David’s victory he was happy to hear a reliable and recent report of David’s whereabouts. In fact, Saul was elated by this news, for his own purposes.
The messenger who brought Saul the news and Abner stood before Saul as he voiced his excitement over this turn of events. “God has given him into my hand, for he has shut himself in by entering a town that has gates and bars” (verse 7b).
Saul was taking no chances. He would take David this time with sheer numbers. He sent messengers to every tribe and called for their mighty men to assemble in Gibeah in three days’ time. From there they would march against Keilah and demand they surrender David to him.
David received news of the edict Saul had sent. He knew the people couldn’t refuse their king’s command. David was faced with a problem. He KNEW Saul meant to kill him and anyone who stood in between them. He had three options: 1) stay and fight Saul’s forces, 2) stay and take refuge within the city, or 3) escape before Saul arrived. But he didn’t know which one to take. He needed to seek God’s direction again so he sends for Abiathar.
“Abiathar, I have an urgent matter I must inquire of the Lord regarding. ‘Bring the ephod here’ (verse 9b).”
David gathered his men while Abiathar retrieved the ephod he had carried with him when he fled Nob. Abiathar brought it to David. This was a very serious matter if David felt the ephod was required before asking for the Lord’s direction. Abiathar put the ephod on his body and fastened it securely. He now stood ready for David to ask his question of the Lord.
David spoke directly to the Lord. “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” (verses 10-11a).
Abiathar spoke the Lord’s words to David. “He will come down” (verse 11b).
David refines his question. “Will the men of Keilah surrender me and my men into the hands of Saul?” (verse 12a).
The Lord speaks through Abiathar; “They will surrender you” (verse 12b).
That was what David needed to know. The Lord’s answer made up David’s mind. They had to leave before Saul arrived. David knew that the people were grateful for his deliverance of them but they were not willing to sacrifice their lives to save his or his men’s.
David didn’t know how much time they had before Saul’s forces would arrive. He knew there was no way he could get his entire forces out of Keilah in one group and make it safely past Saul. David was DETERMINED not to shed any Israelite blood by his hand or his men’s. David looked to his men gathered around him. The weight of each of their lives pressed itself upon his shoulders. He would have to shift that weight to the Lord’s for now because he couldn’t be with each of them in their return to camp.
“Saul is on his way here. You heard the word of the Lord. We cannot put these people in danger and we know what the outcome would be if we did. They would turn us all over to Saul. We must leave at once but we cannot go out as a company. We must scatter in small groups and make our way back to our temporary home by as many routes as possible. Saul will not be able to follow all of us. Once he learns that we have escaped he will not pursue us. Each of you carry what spoils you feel you can easily bring without compromising your own safety and let’s be on our way. We will meet up again at the place where we left when we set out for this place.”
David did not name the place for them to meet for fear Saul would learn of it when he questioned the people of Keilah. Even if they did have that knowledge and passed it to Saul, David intended to be gone from that place as soon as his men were all present.
David’s men quickly broke up in groups of ten to twenty men, strapped to their bodies anything they could and dispersed in every direction but the rout Saul was expected to be approaching from. Within the hour Keilah held no more of David’s men.
Saul and his forces arrived in Keilah two hours after the last of David’s men melted into the surroundings. They took up positions around the city as if to lay siege to it. Saul then called out for the elders of the city to come out and meet him.
The elders of Keilah appeared at the city gate but would go no further. They had just finished with one attack and were not willing to put themselves in line for a second one.
Saul called out to them from across the field.
“Send David, the son of Jesse out to me and all will be well.”
“He is not here. He departed some time ago.”
Saul is distressed at this news. He suspects a trick. “Where did you send him?”
“We did not send him. He left of his own accord and we know not where to.”
Saul’s distress is now a simmering anger. “When did he leave? Which road did he take?”
“We know not which road he took nor the hour of his departure. One minute he and all his men were with us and within a short time there remained none. They left little by little and by no appointed roads. We know no more than this.”
Saul is furious by now but he has no choice but to turn back. He cannot order those under him to lay siege to the city when there is no hope of retrieving David with these actions. He has no idea which direction David fled or where his final destination is so following him would prove useless. He will admit defeat, for now, but he will hunt David every day until he finally lays hands on him.
(to be continued)
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I find it incomprehensible that the people of Keilah would so easily give up David. He just saved their lives and their livelihood. They show no lasting loyalty to him. I can see where their fear comes from though. Out of one battle just in time to be thrown into the middle of another. They would not be the aggressor or the defender in this new conflict but a piece caught in the middle. I believe David wanted to spare them that fate and the guilt of having to make a choice between his life and theirs. God took it out of their hands when He sent David away.
I’m curious why Saul wasn’t helping this city in the beginning. Why did David have to come to their rescue? Was Saul so consumed with looking for David that the rest of the nation was on their own? Saul didn’t need to protect against David snatching the nation away from him, he was dividing it with his obsession and neglect. Only God held it together under Saul’s rule.
Father God, thank You that You care about ALL of Your children. You knew this town’s need and sent them help from the ones who would listen. You sent them a deliverer. And You delivered the delivers too! I LOVE that miracle moment when You told them it would be alright.
Funny though how they didn’t ask about afterwards. They didn’t ask because they weren’t concerned about Saul; only the present situation. The took it one battle at a time. THAT is a GOOD lesson for me! Too often I try and anticipate all the possible ‘next steps’ and hesitate taking the first step because of what it may lead to. I need to trust You more with my ‘tomorrows’.