1 Samuel 23


Today’s chapter is action-packed, isn’t it? If it was turned into a movie, it would make a great thriller, because it’s edge of the seat stuff. The Philistines are attacking the people of Keilah. Therefore David goes to save Keilah. Then the people of that city are ready to hand David over to Saul who wants to kill David. And so, David has to flee to the Desert of Ziph, where Jonathan comes to encourage him. But then the people of Ziph betray David to Saul. And Saul and his army are chasing David and they’re almost on top of him. So, will Saul catch up with him? Will David escape? What’s going to happen? As I say, it’s edge of the seat stuff. But then, at the very last moment it seems, news comes to Saul about the Philistines and he has to give up his pursuit of David and go to deal with the Philistines.

It’s an action-packed chapter. And what I want to do is to consider, firstly, the two kings. Who are the two kings? One is Saul, of course, because he was the king of Israel at that time. And the second king is David. He hasn’t yet taken the throne, but he’s been anointed as king by Samuel and he’s doing the king’s work in this chapter. So, there are two kings. And then, two different groups of people rejected David. The first group are the people of Keilah and the second group are the people of Ziph. Both of them rejected David and they were prepared to hand him over to Saul. But then there’s Jonathan, Saul’s son, who clearly believed that David would be king and he was willing to serve David.

So, that’s what we’re thinking about today. And you’ll not be surprised if I say to you that these things point us to Christ, who is God’s True Anointed King who rules and reigns over everything from his throne in heaven above.

Two Kings

Let’s think about these two kings. And we’ll start with David. He hasn’t yet been installed as king, but he’s been anointed as king and he’s doing the work of a king in this chapter. According to verse 1, someone told David that the Philistines were fighting against Keilah and were looting the threshing floor. The threshing floor was where they threshed the wheat which they had planted and grown and harvested. So, after doing all the hard work to grow and harvest their crops, they brought the crops to the threshing floor. And that’s when the Philistines came along and stole it from them. Someone told David about this and David’s response was to ask the Lord: ‘Shall I go and attack the Philistines?’ That was the king’s work, wasn’t it? The king was to fight for his people against their enemies. And the Lord answered David: ‘Go, attack the Philstines and save Keilah.’ We don’t know how the Lord spoke to David at this time. Did he speak to him directly? Did he speak to him through a prophet? We don’t know, but it doesn’t really matter. All that matters is that the Lord answered David and told him to go ahead with his plan.

However, David’s men are reluctant to go. Do you see that in verse 3? They’re already afraid, living in Judah, because Saul is against them. And now they have to risk their lives by fighting the Philistines? And so, David once again enquired of the Lord just to be sure. And the Lord spoke to reassure David and his men, because the Lord promised that he would give the Philistines into David’s hand. And so, David went to Keilah and fought the Philistines and he beat the Philistines and he saved Keilah. Although David went to Keilah with his men, verse 5 ascribes the victory to David alone. He’s the one who saved Keilah.

And then we’re told in verse 6 that Abiathar the son of Ahimelech came to David at Keilah. Ahimelech was the priest we read about last week who helped David in the city of Nob. And because he helped David, Saul ordered Doeg to kill Ahimelech and all the other priests in Nob. And Doeg killed not just Ahimelech and the priests, but the rest of the people in the city, including the children and infants and all their animals. But one person escaped: Ahimelech’s son Abiathar who fled to David for safety. And we’re told here that he went to David when David was at Keilah. And that suggests to the commentators that the events at the end of chapter 22 and the events at the beginning of chapter 23 happened at the same time. That is, whenever Saul and Doeg were killing the priests and others at Nob, at that very same time, David and his men were saving the people of Keilah.

So, there’s the contrast between these two kings. Saul was killing the people of Israel, whereas David was protecting the people of Israel. Saul was taking the lives of the people, whereas David was saving the lives of the people. Who is the true king? It’s not Saul. It’s David. He’s the true king and the saviour of his people. And therefore he foreshadows the Lord Jesus Christ, who is God’s True Anointed King, who, after his death and resurrection, was enthroned in heaven as King over all and who promises to save all who trust in him. He saves us from the punishment we deserve for all that we have done wrong; and he gives us peace with God for ever and the hope of everlasting life.

Whereas Saul caused death and misery, David brought life and peace to his people. And therefore David foreshadows Christ the King who offers life and peace to all who trust in him.


But this chapter not only tells us about two kings, it also tells us about these two groups of people who rejected David. According to verse 7, someone told Saul that David had gone to Keilah. And Saul thinks this is his chance to get David, because David won’t be able to run away from Saul, because he’s trapped inside this walled city. Saul will be able to go and besiege the city and capture David. And so, he called up his men and they went down to Keilah to besiege it.

When David heard that Saul was coming, he asked Abiathar, who was a priest, to bring the ephod. Presumably he’s referring to the High Priest’s ephod, which was a kind of coat. And attached to the high priest’s ephod was the breastplate. And inside the breastplate were the Urim and Thummim. We’re not sure of the details of the Urim and Thummim, but we think it was some kind of device for discerning God’s will in those days. Some commentators think the Urim and Thummim were two stones: one was light and the other was dark. And one meant ‘yes’ and the other meant ‘no’. So, you’d ask the Lord a question and the priest would pull out one of the stones and whichever stone he took out revealed the will of the Lord. Anyhow, David asks the priest to bring the ephod. And he asks the Lord for guidance. Will Saul come down to besiege the city? Yes. Will the people of Keilah surrender me to Saul? Yes. Though David had saved Keilah from the Philistines, the people of Keilah were still prepared to hand him over to Saul. And so, after receiving this warning from the Lord, David and his men took off. And we’re told in verse 13 that when Saul heard that David had gone, he did not go there. He left the people of Keilah alone.

So, that’s the first group of people who rejected David. The people of Keilah were prepared to hand David over to Saul, even though David had saved them from the Philistines. Moving on, according to verse 14, David was now staying in the Desert of Ziph. Jump down to verse 19 where we’re told that the people of Ziph went to Saul to tell him where David could be found. They said to him: ‘Come down whenever you like and we’ll hand him over to you, because we know where he is.’ And Saul thanks them and asks them to keep an eye on David and to report back to him.

And in due course, Saul and his men went to Ziph and the chase is on. According to verse 26, Saul and his men were going along one side of a mountain. And David and his men were on the other side, hurrying to get away. But Saul and his men were closing in on David and his men. The Hebrew word translated ‘closing in’ can also be translated ‘encircle’ or ‘surround’. And so, it seems that Saul is surrounding David: half of his men are coming at David from one direction; and half are coming at David from the other direction. There seems to be no way out. But just at the right moment, at the nick of time, this message comes to Saul about the Philistines and he has to abandon his pursuit of David.

Well, back in verse 14 we were told that day after day Saul searched for David, but ‘God did not give David into Saul’s hands.’ And that’s what was happening at the end of this chapter. Saul almost captured David, but God was at work to prevent that from happening. He would not let David fall into Saul’s hands, because it was God’s will that, when the time was right, David would be installed as king over Israel. And therefore the Lord kept David safe until that day came.


So, these two groups of people were willing to hand David over to Saul. It seems the people of Keilah were prepared to hand him over because they were afraid of what Saul would do to them. It’s not clear why the people of Ziph were prepared to betray David to Saul. However, the way both groups rejected David foreshadows the the way the Lord Jesus was rejected by those he came to save. Do you remember the way John puts it at the beginning of his gospel? He wrote:

The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.

‘They did not receive him’. In fact, instead of receiving him, many of those who met him hated him and they would not believe in him, even though he had come from heaven above to give them everlasting life. Instead of welcoming him and giving thanks to him for coming to save them and to give them everlasting life, they doubted him and they despised him and they refused to believe in him or to thank him.

And it’s the same today, because many, if not most, of those who hear of Christ the Saviour do not believe in him. Even though he came into the world as one of us to pay for our sins with his life, men and women and boys and girls refuse to believe in him and they refuse to yield to him. Though he came to save them and to give them everlasting life, they refuse to trust in him or to thank him.

And so, the way the people of Keilah and Ziph rejected David foreshadows how an unbelieving world has rejected the Lord Jesus Christ. Even though he came to save the world, and even though he was willing to lay down his life to pay for our sins, an unbelieving world will not trust in him or yield to him. Instead of saying ‘yes’ to Christ the Saviour — ‘Yes, I believe in you and will live my life for you’ — they say ‘no’ to him: ‘No, I will not believe in you and I will not let you rule over me.’ And those of us who are here today or who are watching at home who have said ‘yes’ to Christ the Saviour have to confess that the only reason we believe is because of God’s kindness to us. By nature, by birth, we were just like everyone else and we were naturally inclined to doubt the Saviour and to reject him. Instead of submitting to him, we were naturally inclined to resist him; and instead of living for him and for his glory we would have lived the whole of our lives for ourselves, even though Christ the Saviour came into the world to save us and to give us eternal life. But because God’s kindness and his grace towards us, he not only sent his Son to save us, but he enabled us to believe in Christ the Saviour and to trust in him for salvation. Though we were naturally inclined to say ‘no’ to him, God by his Spirit gave us a new heart to love him and he enabled us to say ‘yes’ to Christ the Saviour and to yield our lives to him. And so, those who already believe should give thanks to God today for his kindness to you, because he took away your hard, unbelieving heart and he graciously enabled you to believe in his Son and to receive from him the hope of everlasting life.


This then takes me to Jonathan in verses 15 to 18. David was in the Desert of Ziph. He knew that Saul was trying to take his life. But then Saul’s son, Jonathan, came to see him and to help him find strength in God. Isn’t that wonderful? When David’s life was in danger, his friend encouraged him. And how did Jonathan encourage David? He did it by reminding David of the promises of God, because hadn’t God promised David that one day he would be king in place of Saul? And so, Jonathan confessed: ‘You will be king over Israel, and I will be second to you.’ When he says that he will be second to David, he’s not saying that he expects to be second-in-command, but that he’s willing to serve under David. Somehow or other, Jonathan believes that David will be king. In fact, he says that even his father Saul knows that this is true. And then these two friends made a covenant with one another. Presumably it means that they confirmed the covenant they had already made with one another previously. And by confirming the covenant, David and Jonathan once again reassures one another of their love and commitment to one another.


Jonathan and his father knew that David would one day be king. We don’t know how they knew, because the text doesn’t tell us. However, whereas Saul knew it and hated it, Jonathan was ready to accept David as his king and to serve under him. And Christ the King calls on people everywhere to accept him as their king and to serve under him. And whoever accepts him as king — whoever believes in him — receives from him the assurance of sins forgiven and the hope of eternal life, because Christ the King — who now rules and reigns in heaven above — came to earth as one of us to give up his life on the cross for our forgiveness and he was raised to give us life. And whoever believes in him receives forgiveness for all that you have done wrong. He removes all your guilt and shame, because he has paid for it all with his life. And whoever believes in him receives the hope of everlasting life, so that though you die and your body is buried in the ground, he will one day give the command and raise your body from the dead so that you will live with him and reign with him in the new and better world to come. And until that day comes, Christ the King promises to watch over his people and to help them with all their trials and troubles and to defend them against all of his enemies. And he gives you his Spirit to help you to obey him and to live your life for him.

And so, I say to you: If you have not already done so, will you now believe in Christ the King for the forgiveness of your sins and for the hope of eternal life? Will you believe in him and will you commit to living your life for him just as Jonathan was willing to serve David? Will you believe in him, because he is the great King who gave up his life for his people and who rules and reigns over all for the sake of his people and who has promised to come again one day in power and with glory to punish his enemies forever — all those who refused to believe — and to give everlasting life and peace and joy to all who have trusted in him. And so, will you believe in him, because whoever believes in Christ the King will live with him and reign with him for ever.