1 Samuel 23:15–29 . . . Bible Study Summary with Videos and Questions

“David’s Narrow Escape from Saul”

As Jesus' Spirit, I delight in facilitating today's summary discussion. Follow my lead, raise your awareness of the Father's Word, and comment when I encourage you. Looking back at the last few chapters, David’s God-given courage and skill brought him great success, which came with popularity. Saul’s initial joy and delight in David eventually turned to fear and suspicion, leading up to attempted murder. At this point in 1 Samuel, David was Israel’s most-wanted man, guilty of nothing more than faithfully serving God and his king. David fled and met up with Ahimelech, the high priest, who gave him some sacred bread, the sword of Goliath, and an inquiry of the Lord (21:1–9). Sadly, his visit brought about the wholesale slaughter of Ahimelech and other priests and their families. All of that carnage was due to Saul’s incorrect conclusion that Ahimelech and the priests had joined with David in a conspiracy (22:6–19).

From Ahimelech’s headquarters at Nob, David fled to Gath to seek sanctuary from the Philistine king, Achish. The king’s servants viewed David as a formidable threat. To save his life, he pretended to become insane so that he'd be driven out of Gath (21:10–15). From there, he found a hiding place in the cave of Adullam where his family, and many of those who weren't in good standing with Saul joined him. His followers numbered around 400; he led them to Moab, seeking a sanctuary for his parents (22:1–4), while he and his men hid in a nearby stronghold in Moabite territory.

The first part of chapter 23 (highlighted in our summary of  1 Sam. 22:6–23:14) presents the account of Davis rescuing the people of Keilah. Jonathan's arrival at David's hideout happens in the very middle of this chapter, which is a significant fact due to what lies at both ends of the chapter. David had left the safety of the dense forest of Hereth to go down to the much more open country of Keilah. He chose to come out of hiding from Saul to face the Philistines (and perhaps Saul as well). In response to David’s selfless salvation of the city of Keilah, he learned that the people would have turned him over to Saul if he'd come and besieged the city. In the final verses of chapter 23, we'll find that the Ziphites, with no threat from Saul, approached Saul and offered to betray David, helping to deliver him over to Saul.

Jonathan Comforts and Encourages His Friend in Danger (Read this first, 23:15–18)

Caring deeply for David's anxieties, God sent Jonathan to David to encourage him. There at Horesh, an unknown area in the desert, east of Ziph, Saul was pursuing David when Jonathan, possibly traveling with his father's army, arrived and found him. Saul was as determined as he pleased, but he was unable to control or dictate events — God was, and always is. Man can intend, attempt, and work all kinds of evil, but God is inevitably in charge on every occasion. And God probably had a lot to do with David's men allowing Jonathan to safely enter their hideout, as a result of David's deep affection for the king's son — and because of the covenant of peace and loyalty that David had made with with Jonathan. The author records that Jonathan "helped him find strength in God" (v. 16 NIV).

Read and feel these reassuring words that Jonathan spoke to David.

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” (1 Sam. 23:7).

Jonathan had again risked his own safety to encourage his friend. What he said to David rested on God's promises and plans for David that both Jonathan and Saul now knew. Jonathan cooperated with God's plans, but Saul resisted them.

David and Jonathan renewed their covenant of loyalty (v. 18) before Jonathan would return home. David had some very dark moments in the years he'd been fleeing from Saul. But there were also some bright spots. When David was a fugitive, his true friends endangered their own lives to stand with him. Jonathan made the hearty effort to seek out and find David on more than one occasion so he could encourage his friend in need.

Isn't it interesting that, although Saul and his intelligence experts were unable to find David, Jonathan found him quickly and easily? BFFs can be like that. God was protecting David, his servant. Jonathan encouraged David to keep fighting the good fight because, one day, he'd become Israel's true king, as God had intended. Alas for Jonathan and David, the text tells us that this would be last time that these "soul brothers" would spend together.

David Will Be Betrayed by the Ziphites (Read this now, vv. 19–23)

Jonathan went home while David remained in the strongholds of Horesh. His circumstances haven't changed, but we might assume that his outlook changed significantly. The Ziphites were people surrounding the area of David's hideout. Like David, they were of the tribe of Judah. Despite that tribal relationship, a delegation of Ziphites went to Saul's capital at Gibeah, offering him David's location so Saul could captured him. They thought that they'd be better off if they informed Saul of David's presence in their area than if the king later discovered that he was there; he might have blamed them for sheltering David and taken revenge on them as he'd done to the people of Nob. The Ziphite people were eager to win Saul’s favor while likely being just as eager to avoid his wrath. Thus, they were willing to hand over David to Saul.

20“Now, Your Majesty, come down whenever it pleases you to do so, and we will be responsible for giving him into your hands” (1 Sam. 23:20).

For every faithful Jonathan, there's also a Ziphite, someone willing to betray. Many a godly man and woman have known both friends and betrayers, just as Jesus had known many. What Saul says in v. 21 is pathetic. While seeming to be God-fearing verbiage, his so-called "holy" words are simply a veil meant to cover the wickedness of his intended actions. Saul was so spiritually warped that he was able to say to the betrayers of an innocent man, “The Lord bless you for your concern for me. . .” What could sound more spiritual than that? Using God’s name like that served to be vain, common, and profane. God forbids his name being spoken or used in vain, in a common and degrading way (Deuteronomy 5:11).

21Saul 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” (1 Sam. 23:21–22).

Next we see Saul beginning to "wise up." He didn't immediately summon his troops to make another attempt to arrest David. This time he intended to be more cautious, so that he wouldn’t come back empty-handed. He told the Ziphites to carefully watch David’s movements, to note his hiding places and routes of travel, and then notify him when they learned precisely where he was located. Then Saul would be confident in making his foe's capture (vv. 22–23).

Make note of the text of "They tell me he is very crafty." It wasn't David's craftiness that had kept him from Saul's clutches so far. It was the goodness and faithfulness of the LORD. But Saul didn't want to believe that, so he thought and said that David's protection was due to his being very crafty.

Whereas God had promised to go with David and deliver the Philistines into his hands (vv. 2, 4), Saul promised to go with the Ziphites to destroy David among the Judahites (v. 23). Saul's self-focus and personal ambitions took precedence over his desire for God's glory.

David’s Narrow and Dramatic Escape (Read this now, vv. 24–29)

Following Saul's directives, the Ziphites returned to their land, ready and willing to carry out Saul’s orders. In the meantime, David had moved on, a few miles south, to the desert wilderness of Maon (v. 24), which was about five miles south of Ziph, in the wilderness of Judah. The "Arabah" describes the low-lying area that extends from Mt. Hermon to the Red Sea, including the Jordan Valley and Dead Sea regions. Jeshimon means "desert" or "waste" in Hebrew, so it may have been the name of an arid region east of Ziph.

When some of David's sympathizers ("they," v. 25) informed him that Saul was approaching with soldiers, David and his men sought refuge behind a huge rock in Maon. Saul and his men then appeared, yet again in hot pursuit, in a game of cat and mouse. Saul and his men were on one side of the huge rock or mountain, while David and his men were on its other side. If only Saul had known that David was so close! They were on "one side of the mountain" (which we'd liken to a large hill), separated by the ridge. Saul did his best to trap David, and it looked as though he was about to capture him.

Imagine the movements of each party: David had hurried to get away from Saul and his men, by making his way around the mountain; behind, in pursuit, were Saul and his men, seemingly continuing to gain ground. It's possible that Saul had troops pursuing David and his men from a variety of directions. No matter! David and his men were apparently going to become surrounded, when suddenly, as Saul’s men got almost close enough to touch David, a shout from an approaching messenger was heard by Saul: “Come quickly! The Philistines are raiding the land.”

Out of the blue — actually, out of heaven — "a messenger came to Saul" and drew him away from David so he could go and fight the Philistines. The hand of God was so evident that day! Ever since, the place where David and his men were camped was made into a memorial of that historic spot. It was called “Sela Hammahlekoth,” which is translated "The Rock of Escape."

For once, Saul would make a smart decision and do the right thing. He chose to act as a king should act by quitting his obsessive chase of David so he could defend his Israelite nation against the attacking Philistines. And, let's not take lightly the Lord's timing; it was exquisite!

We learn in the chapter's concluding verse that David traveled to the "strongholds of En Gedi" (14 miles east of Ziph), which had impenetrable rock formations overlooking the oasis of En Gedi.

Meaningful Questions to Consider and Answer

This chapter ought to encourage all of God's hearty servants who, like David, feel vulnerable to attacks by people who don't fear the Lord.

How did God deliver David? He saved him by bringing information to his ears that would help protect him (vv. 2, 4, 11–12, 25). He also delivered David by distracting his enemy (vv. 27–28).

What did David do as he was trusting God? He didn't become anxious; he intentionally waited for God's will and Word. He sought God in prayer (vv. 2, 4, 11–12; cf. Psalm 54; Philippians 4:6) and proceeded to serve him (1 Sam. 23:2, 5; cf. Matt. 28:19–20).

How did David receive strength during his trials? By seeing how God answered his prayers (vv. 2, 4, 11–12). Moreover, other godly people encouraged David, namely, Abiathar the priest, who helped him in prayer (v. 6), and Jonathan the prince, who reminded him of God's promises (vv. 16–18).

How has God delivered you? . . . What actions do you take when you trust God? . . . What strength do you receive during your own trials?

Intro Video: “The First Book of Samuel”

 Watch this introductory video clip created by The Bible Project on bibleproject.com.

It Makes You Wonder . . .
  • Q. 1  Why does Jonathan visit David in the wilderness? Aren't both at risk there?
  • Q. 2  With all of his trials, David could have become bitter and depressed. Why did he become a man we praise?

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