David: Treachery in Israel, Regard for Saul

1 Samuel  •  9 min. read  •  grade level: 7
When David left the land of Judah for the sake of his parents, though the motive abstractedly was innocent, the first of all duties was neglected. When God has His rightful place, everything is referred to Him. “In all thy was acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.” This necessarily stands at the head of all obedience, and this was the lesson which David was taught by his failure. Immediately on his reaching the forest of Hareth he heard that the Philistines had attacked Keilah and were plundering the threshing-floors. With the desire not to repeat his fault he inquired of the Lord. “shall I go and smite these Philistines? And the Lord said, Go, and smite the Philistines and save Keilah.” But why the sword? Why does he say:—
“Blessed be the Lord my strength,
Who teacheth my hands to war
And my fingers to fight.” (Ps. 144.)
Why is the desire so often expressed by Israel for judgment on their enemies, and why was it counted an honor to execute it upon them? The answer is this. “The earth is the Lord's,” the ordering of it is His also. In His sovereignty He has apportioned to Israel the chief and central place among the nations (Deut. 32:7-97Remember the days of old, consider the years of many generations: ask thy father, and he will show thee; thy elders, and they will tell thee. 8When the most High divided to the nations their inheritance, when he separated the sons of Adam, he set the bounds of the people according to the number of the children of Israel. 9For the Lord's portion is his people; Jacob is the lot of his inheritance. (Deuteronomy 32:7‑9)). In them divine government has been displayed on the earth, and. will be again. With a high arm He brought them out of Egypt to Himself to be their King and their God; and the idolatrous nations that opposed and mocked at His power were His enemies, Israel being used by Him to execute judgment on them. Under the first and legal covenant the chosen people so grievously failed that “they are scattered among all peoples from the one end of the earth even unto the other” (Deut. 28:6464And the Lord shall scatter thee among all people, from the one end of the earth even unto the other; and there thou shalt serve other gods, which neither thou nor thy fathers have known, even wood and stone. (Deuteronomy 28:64)); but “He that scattered Israel will gather him” (Jer. 31:1010Hear the word of the Lord, O ye nations, and declare it in the isles afar off, and say, He that scattered Israel will gather him, and keep him, as a shepherd doth his flock. (Jeremiah 31:10)). Now, sinners reached by God's grace through the gospel, whether Jew or Gentile, are brought into one body, the church, a people for heaven, who while on earth should be manifestly a heavenly people. The ceaseless efforts of the god of this world have been directed to make the church a “mock Israel,” and with much success. Happy are they who have been able to stand against hiss wiles (Eph. 6:10-1810Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. 11Put on the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. 13Wherefore take unto you the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. 14Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness; 15And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace; 16Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. 17And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God: 18Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints; (Ephesians 6:10‑18)). The Gentiles, placed in authority on the overthrow of the house of David, have never had any care for the divine plan for ordering the earth, but eagerly strive for the possession of it. We have now reached that period in their history when the question is, how to mingle the iron of the image in Dan. 2 with the clay, for they will not cleave one to another, and further revolutions are anticipated. The Christian, not sharing the fears of the world, reads in this the near approach of the day of deliverance (Dan. 2:44, 4544And in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever. 45Forasmuch as thou sawest that the stone was cut out of the mountain without hands, and that it brake in pieces the iron, the brass, the clay, the silver, and the gold; the great God hath made known to the king what shall come to pass hereafter: and the dream is certain, and the interpretation thereof sure. (Daniel 2:44‑45)). THE EARTH IS THE LORD'S, and He will take it Whose right it is. Then shall Israel be restored and take their true and glorious place among the nations; Jehovah shall be manifestly their King and their God, and the earth shall rest from war. The Psalms, while full of instruction for us, concern Judah and Israel. David's desires and actings were thus in strict accordance with the ways of God on behalf of an earthly people.\
To save the men of Keilah, their enemies must be smitten, but they brought the judgment on themselves. Those with David however were not ready to follow him now. To go with him to Moab presented no difficulty; but to go to Keilah was a challenge to their faith, and what was the answer? “Behold,” they said, “we be afraid here in Judah how much more then if we come to Keilah against the armies of the Philistines?” David refused to put his personal influence in the place of the word of God. He neither reasoned with them nor rebuked them, but inquired of the LORD yet again. “And the LORD answered Arise, go down to Keilah for I will deliver the Philistines into thine hand.” This assurance of divine power overcame their fears; they went with David, smote the Philistines with great slaughter, and Keilah was saved.
Saul on hearing that David was now “in a town that had gates and bars” at once prepared to besiege him, and at this time Abiathar, fleeing from Nob, came to him with the ephod in his hand. It was indeed a token for good. The breastplate, inseparable from the ephod, bore the names of all the tribes of Jacob; and, as he was about to learn by bitter experience the character of the people whom he was to serve, he by it was reminded of the unchanged compassion of the Lord for them, changed as were their circumstances. To view them in the light of their conduct might have estranged him from them; but to see them according to the thoughts of the Lord, expressed in this type, would deepen his interest in them, while by the Urim and Thuminim he could have the guidance he needed. Hence he said to Abiathar, “Bring hither the ephod.” Most solemn, most reverent, most earnest was his cry. Appealing again and again to the LORD as the LORD God of Israel, he inquired. “Will Saul come down? And the LORD said, He will come down. Will the men of Keilah deliver me and my men into the hand of Saul. And the LORD said, They will deliver thee up.” He made no complaint. He cannot wage war with Israel, with the people whose names were on the breastplate. He can strike no blow at his master, the LORD'S anointed. He will not fight, but “he and his men, which were about six hundred, arose and departed out of Keilah, and went whither they could go.”
Many of his Psalms bear witness to the strong emotion under which they were composed; few more so than those which were written on the discovery of the ingratitude and treachery of the people he served.
“For my love they are my adversaries: But I give myself unto prayer.
And they have rewarded me evil for good, And hatred for my love.” (Psa. 109)
God has thus used his afflictions by the Spirit “to express the feelings not only of the people of God, but often of the Lord Himself.”
We find him next in the wilderness of Ziph, where Jonathan with affectionate sympathy and noble courage and devotion came to him, and “strengthened his hand in God.” How he needed it, for the Ziphites, more treacherous than the men of Keilah, volunteered to betray him to Saul, who actually blessed them in the name of the LORD for having compassion on him! Guided by them he led his forces in pursuit and reached the mountain near Maon on the other side of which were David and his men. The peril was extreme. In a very short time they would be surrounded and all hope gone. Nothing but the direct interposition of God could save them; and it is beautiful to see how, led by the Spirit, he cast himself and those with him on God as known, or in the language of scripture on “His name” — “Save me, O Gol, by thy name, and judge (vindicate) me by thy strength.” (Psa. 54) His cry was heard. “A messenger came to Saul saying, Haste thee and come for the Philistines have invaded the land.” Thus pressed he was obliged to return and David was saved. So marked was this deliverance that the place where it occurred was called “The cliff of Escape.”
We have now to see this servant of the Lord under very different circumstances. Twice Saul was in his power: once when he retired alone into the cave where David and his men were hiding; and a second time when he and his guards were “in a deep sleep from the LORD.” On the former occasion David cut off the skirt of his robe as a proof of the danger to which he had exposed himself. On the latter, David and Abishai noiselessly approached him and took the spear and cruse of water from his bolster; “and no man saw it, nor knew it, neither awaked.” Urged by his followers to take the opportunity, which to them seemed to be of the Lord, to rid himself of so relentless an enemy, he firmly refused. Indeed his magnanimity of spirit, his loyalty and obeisance to the king, as his master, his earnest and even affectionate appeal to him, as in the presence of the Lord, when he said, “My father, see, yea, see the skirt of thy robe in my hand,” the witness that he had not sinned against him, though Saul was hunting his soul to destroy it, display a character of no ordinary kind. Whence was it? There can be but one reply. In his recent afflictions he had sought the Lord more diligently than ever, and in communion with Him had learned much of the ineffable goodness of His nature. He was certainly born of God, and had thus the capacity of enjoying and valuing the favor, the lovingkindness, of God. Light as to the flesh and the new creation did not shine out then as since the cross, but he could not be much in the presence of God without a real moral change, and this in an interesting way is discovered in the Psalms. If our translators found it difficult to render into English the one word in Hebrew that expresses the nature of God, and have employed six English words to convey its meaning, they have in like manner used five to express the moral character of the faithful remnant in Israel of whom David was certainly one (see Psa. 86).
“Bow down thine ear, O LORD, hear me:
For I am poor and needy.
Preserve my soul, for I am holy:
O thou my God, save thy servant that trusteth in thee.”
The word “holy” is, in the margin, “one whom thou favourest;” in the R. V., “godly.” The same word is also rendered “saint,” “the merciful” and in Mic. 7:22The good man is perished out of the earth: and there is none upright among men: they all lie in wait for blood; they hunt every man his brother with a net. (Micah 7:2), “the good man.” How intimate and beautiful is the connection between the graciousness of God and the graciousness of the heart that by faith knows and delights in Him; but alas! how different is the result in those who do not. The same sun, that perfects the beauty of the rooted living flower, withers the rootless one. So was it seen in David and in Saul, in the remnant and in the nation of Israel, and so is it now in the true receiver of Christ and in the mere professor. Oh! for more faith in the quiet power of communion with God.