Divine Guidance

I Samuel 23

Alan Lewis
Elon, North Carolina
November 2020

Today, we continue in our study of the Book of I Samuel.  We are going chapter by chapter through this book.  We are studying chapters that most Christians do not read that often.   We come to a chapter that raises some interesting questions.

How do we know what the will of God is today?  How do we know what God wants us to do?  What is the right way and the wrong way to make decisions?  What common mistakes do Christians make today when they make decisions?  What common mistakes do they make when they try to find the will of God for their lives?

This chapter deals with this topic.  It is a chapter all about the providence of God and the protection of God.  It is also a chapter about God speaking to people.

For the last few weeks, we have studying the life of David.  We are dealing with the period of David’s life in which he is a fugitive.  He is on the run.  He has been a fugitive since I Samuel 19.  Someone called these chapters “Adventures of a Fugitive.”

David is not a fugitive from justice.  Normally criminals do something really bad and hide so they won’t get caught.  David did not do anything wrong, but he is on the run from a psycho killer (who just happens to be his father-in-law).  It is a sign that you might have married into the wrong family when your father-in-law wants to kill you.

David was chosen by God to be the next king.  He had the hand of God upon him.  The Holy Spirit came on him.  He was God’s Anointed.  He was divinely empowered to kill a giant, but he has become a fugitive and life was not was easy for David.  He was a fugitive for about ten years.  He goes on the run around twenty and did not become king until he was thirty years old (II Samuel 5:4).

David was God’s Man.  He was God’s Anointed, but David did not have it easy.  He was not vacationing in some five-star resort.  He was not pampered.  He did not live a prosperous life.  He was just trying to survive.  He was marked for death.  There was a bounty on his head.  People were trying to kill him every day.  He is hunted by the most powerful man in the country and he has to move around constantly.

David can never stay in the same place very long.  In the last few chapters, he went to five different places.  In fact, he went to two other countries for safety.  In this one chapter he goes to five more places.  He goes to Horesh.  Then, he goes to Keilah.  Then, he goes to Ziph.  Then, he goes to Maon and finally he goes to En Gedi.

What do we see in this chapter?  David has some highs and he has some lows, just like we have.  He is on top of the world and everything is great and then things get really bad. He saves a city (the city of Keilah).  He is a type of Christ in this chapter.  He is a savior.  He saves a city, but he also experiences betrayal.  In the last chapter Doeg betrays him.  In this chapter, he is betrayed by the Ziphites.

Saul and David play a game of cat and mouse.  Every day, Saul tries to catch him, and he almost succeeds but God miraculously intervenes and protects David and no matter how much he tries, he cannot get David because David was under divine protection.

In the last chapter he had four hundred men who followed him.  Now he has six hundred men who are following him, and, in his lowest point, David sees his best friend Jonathon for the last time, and, like a good friend, Jonathon encourages David.  All of that is in I Samuel 23.

How to Respond to a Crisis

When David was told, “Look, the Philistines are fighting against Keilah and are looting the threshing floors”

Notice how the chapter begins.  It begins with a crisis.  The Philistines acted like bullies.  They were stealing the food supply of the city of Keilah.  They were robbing the threshing floor.  This was a military crisis.

In the last chapter, David was in another country.  He was in Moab and the prophet Gad told him to go back to Judah, so he does.  Then he hears about a city being attacked by the Philistines.  It is the city of Keilah.  Keilah was in Judah.  David was from Judah, not too far from where David was.  How should he have responded to this crisis?  How should we respond to a crisis?  What should your first response be?

David had three options.  One option was INACTION.  It is to do nothing.  That is the selfish option.  It is to respond with indifference.  “It is not my problem.  It is the problem of the people who live in that city.  They can do something about the problem or, if they can’t, the king can.  Saul can deal with the problem.  That is his job, not, mine.”

That is what his advisors told him.  “It is somebody else’s problem.  We have enough problems of our own.  We are trying to survive.  The king is trying to kill us.  We do not have enough time to worry about somebody else’s problem.  It would be too dangerous anyway.  We would have to fight both the Philistines and Saul. Keilah was in the center of the country.”

The other option is ACTION.  David could have immediately acted.  This is an emergency.  I have to do something, and I have to do something quickly.”  That is what leaders.  They step forward and take action.   They take bold actions immediately.  David was a leader, but he doesn’t do that.

Instead of immediately acting or doing nothing, David does something else.  He PRAYS (I Samuel 23:1-2).  David prays four times in this section.  He asks God what he wants him to do.  That was the first thing he did.  He did not ask other people what they thought he should do.  He asked God.

He took his decisions to God.  No decisions were made until God was consulted.  Is that what we do when we make decisions?  Is that what we do in a crisis situation?  David prayed.  He said, “God should I go attack the Philistines and save the city?”  God says, “Go.  You have a green light” (I Samuel 23:2)

His men thought he was crazy.  His advisors didn’t support him.  They criticized him, so what did David do?  What do you do when you receive criticism?  David prayed again and this time he received confirmation.

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.” 5 So David and his men went to Keilah, fought the Philistines and carried off their livestock. He inflicted heavy losses on the Philistines and saved the people of Keilah. (I Samuel 23:4-5 NIV)

Not only was he to go but he would be successful, so David obeys.  He does what Saul should have done.  David acts as the real king. He is the protector of Israel.  One of the jobs of a king is to fight nations that invade and attack the country.  Saul doesn’t do it, so David does.  In fact, David acted the exact opposite of Saul.  Saul destroyed a city (the city of Nob).  David saves a city (the city of Keilah).

David saved a city and he wasn’t even king yet.  He did not wait until he had the office of a king to act like one. You don’t have to have an official office to serve God.  You don’t have to wait until people recognize you for you to do what God has called you to do.  The chapter begins with a crisis.  When you obey God, he blesses you.

Not only did they save the city and defeat the Philistines, they got a few cows in the process (I Samuel 23:5).  That doesn’t mean anything to us but these men were on the run and they were hungry.  They ended up with a steak, but that is not all that he got.  Because he listened to God and obeyed him, he also got access to the priesthood and the ephod.

Now when Ahimelech’s son Abiathar had fled to David in Keilah, the ephod had come down with him. (I Samuel 23:6 ISV)

This is where it gets interesting.  David had his own personal prophet (Gad).  Now, he has his own priest (Abiathar).  There is one priest in the country.  Saul killed all of the other priests and Abiathar flees to David.  Saul killed his dad.  He meets him Keilah and he has these two stones (Urim and Thummim).  What is the deal with these two magic stones?

They were two prophetic stones.  The priests wore an ephod, which was like an apron or vest, and inside this ephod was a pocket which contained these two stones (Exodus 28:30).  These special stones somehow revealed the will of God. They gave a yes or no answer to questions, like flipping a coin.  We don’t know how it was used but it was like holy dice and it gave David a huge advantage over Saul.

Saul had more troops.  He had more weapons.  He had more influence.  He was the most powerful man in the country but he didn’t have God.  He did not have any prophets.  He did not have any priests.  When he prayed, God would not answer him.  He was living in rebellion.  He was rejected by God and God was not speaking to him (I Samuel 28:5-6).  David was outnumbered but David had God and he had access to the will of God.

How does this apply to us today?  We should pray before we make any decisions, especially in a crisis.  If we are believers, God is with us.  God speaks to us.  We have access to the will of God today but some things are different.

We do not hear God’s voice from magic stones, like David had.  We do not have any supernatural stones but we have a supernatural book.  David did not have sixty-six books of Scripture to read.

We have the Holy Spirit living inside us.  David had access to the Holy Spirit but He did not indwell him, like he does us today.  We do not HAVE priests to go to.  We ARE priests (I Peter 2:9).

9 When David learned that Saul was plotting against him, he said to Abiathar the priest, “Bring the ephod.” 10 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. 11 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.” 12 Again David asked, “Will the citizens of Keilah surrender me and my men to Saul?” And the Lord said, “They will.” (I Samuel 23:9-12 NIV)

David prayed two times about the crisis with the Philistines and the city of Keilah.  Now he hears Saul is coming after him and he says, “Bring me the ephod.”  He asks God two questions:  Is Saul coming to get me and will the city turn me in?

He gets answers to both questions.  Saul is coming and the city is going to turn him in.  The city that he just saved and delivered is not going to turn him in.  They are going to rat him out.

Saul had some spies that warned him about David, but David had God who warned him about Saul.  He had some inside information.  What does David do?  He goes on the run again.  Right after David has a huge victory.  David is a hero again.  Right after his great success, he is back on the run.

Saul’s Two Mistakes

What does this say to us today?  What lessons can we learn?  Saul made two mistakes.  These are two mistakes that many people make today.  Many Christians make these mistakes.

1) A mistake regarding the will of God

Saul thought he knew the will of God.  He believed something was the will of God. He says to himself, “I have got him now.  God has given him into my hands.  I can’t believe my luck.  He is a sitting duck right now.  He is in a town with gates and bars.  He is trapped.”  Saul was certain that something was the will of God and yet he was completely wrong.

We can be completely wrong about the will of God.  Have you ever thought something was the will of God for your life and you were completely wrong?  We probably all have at some point in our life.  Christians can be wrong about the will of God today.

Saul had no excuse for what he did.  He should have known better. Somehow, he convinced himself that it was the will of God to kill an innocent man but not just an innocent man.

He was an innocent man who just did a good deed.  He saves a city in his country.  Instead of being glad for what he did, he wants to use it as an opportunity to kill him.  David was not just an innocent man; he was God’s anointed.  Saul wanted to kill God’s anointed.

“Do not touch my anointed ones; do my prophets no harm.” (Psalm 105:15 NIV)

That was written by David.  Many misquote this verse today.  They take this verse out of context.  Many use this verse to say that you can never question anything your pastor does.  He can never be criticized because he is the Lord’s anointed.  It is used to silence people in a congregation.

That is not what that verse is saying at all.  It is not saying if someone is living in sin or teaching false doctrine, you can’t correct it.  The NT says that every Christian is anointed by the Holy Spirit (I John 2:20).  This is a command not to physically harm God’s anointed.

2) A mistake regarding the voice of God

We can be wrong about the voice of God.  Now, I have to say something that you do not hear too often in church.  It is possible to think that God is telling you to do something and it is not God.  It is possible to think you are hearing the voice of God, but you are hearing somebody else’s voice.

In the 2020 Presidential election, many prophets claimed to have a word from God.  I followed them very closely.  Several claimed that Trump would win and Biden would not become President.  While the election process is still in litigation, it looks like all of these prophecies on the Internet turned out to be completely false and yet all of these people claimed not to give their word but a word from God.

Saul thought God was trying to tell him something.  He thought that God was speaking to him.  He thought that he had a sign for him to act.  David was trapped in a city.  He had a perfect opportunity to get him.  God does open doors for people, but circumstances do NOT always indicate the will of God.

If you think you are hearing God’s voice and it involves violating Scripture, you are not hearing the voice of God.  The voice that Saul heard told him to kill an innocent man.  The voice that Saul heard told him to break one of the Ten Commandments.  That was not the voice of God.  It was the voice of Satan.

God tells David that Saul is coming and he escapes.  He and six hundred men escape.  Where does they go?  They go into the wilderness.  They leave the city and go into the wilderness and to the hills.  It is much harder to find people there. Saul tries but he is not successful.

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 (I Samuel 23:14 NIV)

Saul can’t find him, but some spies come to him to turn David in.  David is betrayed again.  He is betrayed by the Ziphites.  The Ziphites were descendants of Caleb.   They were members of the Tribe of Judah (I Chronicles 2:42).

19 The Ziphites went up to Saul at Gibeah and said, “Is not David hiding among us in the strongholds at Horesh, on the hill of Hakilah, south of Jeshimon? 20 Now, Your Majesty, come down whenever it pleases you to do so, and we will be responsible for giving him into your hands.”

21 Saul replied, “The Lord bless you for your concern for me. 22 Go and get more information. Find out where David usually goes and who has seen him there. They tell me he is very crafty. 23 Find out about all the hiding places he uses and come back to me with definite information. Then I will go with you; if he is in the area, I will track him down among all the clans of Judah.” (I Samuel 23:19-23)

The Ziphites betrayed the Lord’s anointed and then Saul blesses them.  Saul replied, “The LORD bless you for your concern for me. (I Samuel 23:21 NIV).  Even wicked men can use religious language and pretend to be spiritual when they are out trying to kill someone.

Saul and his men began the search, and when David was told about it, he went down to the rock and stayed in the Desert of Maon. When Saul heard this, he went into the Desert of Maon in pursuit of David.

26 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, 27 a messenger came to Saul, saying, “Come quickly! The Philistines are raiding the land.” 28 Then Saul broke off his pursuit of David and went to meet the Philistines. That is why they call this place Sela Hammah lekoth. (I Samuel 23:25-28)

Notice how the chapter ended.  It ends with a great escape.  There are two great escapes in this chapter.  David escaped from a city (I Samuel 23:1-14) and now he escapes from a mountain (I Samuel 23:26-29).  They end up on a mountain.  David is on one side and Saul is on the other side.

It looks like the end for David once again.  He is completely surrounded.  There is no way out.  There was nowhere to go and then God intervenes.  God is the one who can change impossible situations.  Sometimes he does it miraculously, like at the Red Sea where the Jews had nowhere to go.  They had a river in front of them and Egyptians troops behind them and nowhere to run.

In this case, God did not intervene miraculously.  He intervened providentially.  That is often what God does to us today.  All he had to do was to send Saul a message about the Philistines.  Notice the five things that had to happen for this to take place.

The Philistines had to attack at just the right moment.  Someone at the palace had to know where the king was.  A messenger had to be dispatched to find the king.  The messenger had to get precise directions to find the king.  He had to know how to get there.  He had to arrive just before David was about to be captured.[1]  It was a miracle, but it was a providential miracle.

A Final Reunion

While David was at Horesh in the Desert of Ziph, he learned that Saul had come out to take his life. 16 And Saul’s son Jonathan went to David at Horesh and helped him find strength in God. 17 “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.” 18 The two of them made a covenant before the Lord. Then Jonathan went home, but David remained at Horesh. (I Samuel 23:15-18 NIV)

Jonathon and David have one final reunion before Jonathon is killed in battle.  The irony here is that Saul looks for David in this chapter every day and can’t find him but Jonathon his son can find him.  He risks his life to see David but he goes for one purpose: to help David find strength in God (I Samuel 23:16).

Just at the right moment, in David’s darkest hour, Jonathon shows up to encourage him.  That is what a true friend will always do: turn people who are in trouble or depressed back to God and back to the promises of God.  Jonathon was not a prophet, but he gave David hope.  He tells him not to be afraid.  He tells him not to worry.

Jonathon says, “I know that my dad is the king.  I know that he is the most powerful man in the country.  I know that he hates you and that he wants to kill you.  I know that he is doing everything he can to kill you.  I know that he is trying every day of his life.  I know that he has a whole army helping him get you, an entire army was sent out to get one man, but he won’t be able to lay a hand on you and one day you will be king over Israel.”

The shock here is that Jonathon was the one who said this.  He was the crowned prince.  He was supposed to be the next king.  He accepted the fact that he would not be the next king and David would and was not jealous at all.  In fact, he was happy to serve under David.

Was Jonathon just telling him what he wanted to hear?  No.  He was reminding him of the promises of God.  His destiny was to be king.  He was anointed by God to be king by Samuel the prophet and one day he would be king.  Not only did he become king, he became the ancestor of the Messiah.  No matter what his circumstances said, he would become king.

This shows us the power of friendship.  We need friends but there are a lot of different types of friends.  Secular friends are not the same thing as godly Christian friends.  Worldly friends do not strengthen your faith.  Godly friends, like Jonathon, encourage you in God.  They build up your faith.   It is great to have a friend like that.  It is even greater to be a friend like that to someone else.

This also shows us the power of words.  They can be used to tear people down or to build them up and to encourage them.  Jonathon used them to encourage David.  We should do the same.  Proverbs 25:11 says, “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver” (ESV).

[1] http://www.keepbelieving.com/sermon/in-the-presence-of-my-enemies/

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