Sermon preached on 1 Samuel 23:1-130 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 8/23/2015 in Novato, CA.
1 Samuel 23:1-13
“David Inquired of the LORD”
Fight or flight? We see it in the animal kingdom. When an animal is threatened, it has that question before it: fight or flight? Does the animal try to fight against that threat, to save itself, or does it try to run away, to save itself? Well, humans often have that same question come to us as well. Faced with some challenge or obstacle, do we respond in fight or flight? Well, David and his men have that question before them, too, in this passage. David continues to be on the run from Saul. In general, he’s on the “flight” response. And yet he’ll have some opportunity here too for some “fight”. And how does he know whether or not he should fight or flee? Well, in this passage it is very clear. He inquires of the LORD. He seeks and receives revelation from God about the circumstances before him. This helps him to decide when to fight and when to go to flight.
And in contrast then to this, we see Saul. Saul does not inquire of the LORD. And of course this reminds us of last passage. Last passage Saul destroyed almost all the active priests. One escapes and flees to David. That’s Abiathar and we are reminded of this in verse 6. So, after Saul goes and kills all these priests essentially it serves only to hurt himself and help David. David is left with a priest to inquire of the LORD. Saul is left without any such ability to inquire of God. The ramification of this is seen in today’s passage. It’s David’s repeated inquiry of God that enables David to serve God commendably while staying safely a step ahead of Saul, who does not have this advantage.
And so I’d like to consider today’s passage in three points. First, we’ll consider why David goes to the town of Keilah. Second, we’ll consider why David leaves the town of Keilah. Third, we’ll apply this to our own context of how we follow King Jesus in a way similar to how David’s men followed him in this passage.
Let’s begin then with our first point: Why did David go to Keilah? Well, we begin in verse 1 and see the crisis that David learned about. People tell David about a Philistine threat against this town. Keilah is an Israelite town on the outskirts of Judean territory. There’s reference in verse 1 about the Philistines plundering the Israelite threshing floors; that’s where they process the grain. And we see reference in verse 5 to Philistine livestock. So, likely the Philistines were somehow taking advantage of Keilah to steal their grain, probably especially to feed their livestock. Well, this is a crisis that does not go unnoticed by David. David is not yet reigning as king. But as a man after God’s own heart, he cannot ignore the plight of God’s people. And so he has a desire to go up and save the town of Keilah from these pagan Gentile enemies. I love what this shows about David’s heart. He could have just said that this was not his problem. He’s not yet the king. This is a job for Saul, not for himself. But Saul’s not coming to the rescue of this town. And so David shows that kind of heart God desired for his king. And so David wants to help save the people of Keilah from this enemy. What a wonderful point comes out of this. A true leader is not someone who only shows his leadership qualities once he becomes a leader. A true leader is someone who steps up and serves when the needs arise. It’s like if you are not already showing the qualities of a leader, why should you ever be given a position of leadership? But David shows here that even before he’s officially the king, that he’s indeed a king.
And yet, David does not just act presumptuously. We see in verse 2 he immediately responds by inquiring of the LORD. He asks God if he should go up and attack the Philistines. God replies in the affirmative, “Go and attack the Philistines and save Keilah.” Yet, wait, there’s another concern raised! David’s men speak up before they head off to save Keilah. Look at verse 3. David’s men basically remind him of their current situation and compare that with David is planning to do. Basically, this is David’s men saying that they are already have enough trouble right now staying safe and alive while on the run from King Saul. They are already afraid and in difficult times themselves. They already have their own troubles to worry about. David’s men say if they are already having this much trouble with Saul, does it really make sense to then go and take on the army of the Philistines?
Well, David does not ignore his men’s concern. Look at verse 4. He then proceeds to inquire a second time of the LORD. And again God assures David that he will have victory over the Philistines. And so, yes, David’s men raise a real concern. That do rightly ask the wisdom of adding a second battle front for them, so to speak. But the answer is clear when they inquire of the LORD. God will grant them victory to save Keilah. What a wonderful application comes from this, by the way. David and his men are currently on the run from Saul until that time when David can take the throne and usher in his Davidic kingdom. The temptation is to just be concerned for themselves; to bide their time in relative safety until David can take the throne. But David recognizes that if he is going to be king, then to whatever degree he can bring such kingdom to bear even now, in help to the people, and in service to God, then he will do so. But only if it is God’s will. And so he is willing to serve, but seeks God’s will. And his men raise the concern, but they too evidently submit to the will of God and to their captain David.
And the result is glorious. Verse 5. David and his men fight the Philistines at Keilah and liberate the town. It’s a glorious victory that God uses them to bring about. They save the town of Keilah. And so faced with fight or continued flight, the Word of the LORD, gave them what they needed to know, and they chose to fight. And so in light of the wonderful revelation they received from God they were able to boldly go to Keilah and bring salvation to them. Praise the Lord.
This brings us then to our second point. For we come to verse 7 and see Saul receiving some intel. Begin to notice the contrast, by the way here. Verse 1 started out with David receiving some intel, and acting upon it. But David acts upon the intel by seeking and receiving more intel from the LORD, by inquiring of God. Saul now in verse 7 receives some intel; he learns that David is at Keilah. But he’s not able to inquire of the LORD. Remember now that he has killed off all his priests and he’s not in good favor with God. So that’s where his intel stops. In fact in verse 7, all he can do is presume God’s will based on the circumstances. Here he commits an error that can be so common for us to make as well. We too often can try to interpret what God’s will is based on providential circumstances and end up make faulty assumptions about what God’s will is. But that’s all Saul can do, because he only has this intel from humans to work from. Notice the difference too. The intel from humans that both Saul and David receive in this passage is all after the fact. It’s past history by the time they get the news. It’s like reading a newspaper, you learn about things the day after they happen. But when David is able to inquire of the LORD he is able to receive important information ahead of time. This enables David to make more wise decisions about what he should be doing in light of the original intel that he received from humans.
And so in contrast, Saul just acts based on his human intel and incorrect assumptions about God’s will. In verse 8 he calls together an army to go up against Keilah. He thinks he can besiege the town of Keilah and finally get David and his men. And the sense you get in verse 8, is that Saul is gathering a very large army; it says he is gathering all the people together for war. Seems like quite a production to take on David and his relatively small band of six hundred men.
And yet David again responds with the wisdom and ability to inquire of the LORD. Here we are particularly told now, in verse 9, that he used Abiathar the priest to make this inquiry. By the way, some have though this is the first term the priest was involved, and that maybe in the first two inquiries that David used some other resource, maybe the prophet Gad. The reason for such thinking is the way Abiathar is described in verse 6. But others have though that it must have been Abiathar who was also used in verses 1-5 too. I also suspect that was the case. It seems to be inferred by the way the last chapter ends with Abiathar coming with David and then this even flows immediately from that. But regardless, the overall point is that David keeps inquiring of God for help amidst the important circumstances that are before him.
So, David has this new crisis now before him. He finds out that Saul is assembling an army against him, per verse 9. And so in verses 10-12 he again twice inquires of the LORD. Will Saul indeed come down to attack him at Keilah? God says yes. Will the people of Keilah hand David and his men over to Saul? God again says yes. That’s kind of sad, by the way, that the people of Keilah would be willing to hand over David after he just liberated them from the Philistines. At the same time, remember what Saul just did to Nob. Saul had utterly destroyed Nob and all its inhabitants because he believed they helped David. Maybe the people of Keilah would accuse David of bringing trouble upon them. Before they just had the Philistines stealing their grain, but now if Saul comes they might lose everything. So, we can appreciate why practically speaking they might be quick to disown David, even if ultimately we know it wouldn’t be the right side for them to take. There’s an application surely there too, against short-sighted allegiance to the wrong side.
At any rate, the point is that David again twice inquires of the LORD and gains the information ahead of time that he needs to make a decision. He decides that at this point he must flee Keilah. Faced with this fight or flight decision, this time he selects “flight”, per verse 13. And so see how interesting this is. Stand back and connect the dots. First David comes and saves the town of Keilah, assuring his men that they will be safe. Then secondly he flees the town of Keilah so that his men will indeed remain safe. And actually, notice, that in doing this, he actually saves the town of Keilah a second time. You see in verse 10, David is concerned for Keilah’s safety if Saul comes for him. Again, remember what Saul did to the town of Nob. And so by David leaving with his men, verse 13 shows how Saul again learns of this after the fact, stops his plans, and thus David again keeps the town of Keilah safe.
And so we see in this passage David’s commendable leadership as the rightful anointed one of the LORD. In many ways, he looks very Christ-like in his leadership, saving Keilah while simultaneously keeping his loyal men safe. And as I’ve tried to point out, it’s the fact that he repeatedly inquires of the Lord that enables him to shine like this, while the opposite is seen for Saul. It’s this inquiring of the LORD that overcame the fear of David’s men so that they went to save Keilah. It was the inquiring of the LORD that assured them that they would be able to fight and defeat the Philistines. It was the inquiring of the LORD that essentially grants them warning about Saul so that they could take flight in time. And so to credit the inquiring of the LORD is to ultimately give credit to the LORD. The LORD worked this salvation through David his anointed one. Again, in all this, David looks very Messianic.
And so this brings us to our third point. To bring this all back to Jesus Christ, and that means to bring this all back to our connection with this passage. For as Messianic as David was, we know that he was but a type of the true Christ to come. The true Christ according to the flesh would come from David’s lineage. But according to the Spirit, the true Christ would be the Only Begotten Son of God, come in the flesh. As great as David’s leadership was here, for his men, and for the town of Keilah, it ultimately looked forward to this greater king to come. And he has now come, and we have heard and received his call to follow him. This is the call of Jesus, our Lord and Savior, the Messiah!
As we think about Jesus today in light of David here, one of the ways we can appreciate how much greater Jesus is, is that Jesus was both a king and a priest (and of course a prophet). In last week’s message, we were reminded that the priestly line of Eli had been rejected, and its destruction prophesied. That destruction took place in part at the hand of Saul. But the destruction of the Elide priesthood came with the prophecy of a better priesthood to come. I made the point earlier that such comes in Jesus. But this book of Samuel is also about how the rejected kingdom of Saul came with it a prophecy of a better king. That was at first David, but ultimately Jesus. And so it’s wonderful that the desire for a better priest and a better king come together in Jesus.
And that’s what’s so wonderful when we think about this in light of today’s passage. Jesus is our leader. And he is both King and High Priest. And so he’s not like David who has to go to a priest to inquire of the LORD. But Jesus perfectly knows the will of God and can lead us in all wisdom as King and High Priest. That’s our leader. That’s who we follow. And yet, like with David at this time, we know that Jesus has not yet been established as king in the glory to which he will be revealed in the future. Jesus’ kingdom is already and not yet here, like David’s was. And so David’s time in this passage helps give us some insight into what it’s like to follow an already and not yet king.
What I am getting at is this. For David, there was a time for fight, and a time for flight. Inquiring of God gave him what he needed to know to decide which to do. And similarly, now in the New Testament, as we follow King Jesus, in his already but not yet kingdom, there will be times to fight, and times for flight. Think of the book of Acts. How clearly we see this. Those early disciples of Jesus Christ lived in such a way that did what they could to advance the cause of Christ’s kingdom, even though the kingdom had not yet come yet, and even though it was done under risk of persecution. It’s like how David saves Keilah here, even though he wasn’t yet king, and even though it was a risk to his life. Yet, in the book of Acts, we also see how sometimes amidst the persecution they judged it God’s will to flee. In fact, it was such scattering that resulted from persecution that often helped to advance the gospel. We see this especially clearly in Paul’s life. There were times like when he was lowered out a window at night to escape a town that he fled from persecution. But there were other times when Paul stood his ground and kept fighting the good fight amidst persecution, standing his ground, and accepting arrest and torture, like when he went to Jerusalem knowing he would be arrested. Of course God used that to bring Paul to Rome so he could bring the gospel of Christ’s kingdom even there.
My point is that like David here, life for us in the already and not yet time of Christ’s kingdom, will involve times of both fight and flight. In 2015 here in America you will need to know when to fight and when to flee, so to speak. Now for David, he had the benefit of being able to inquire with a priest to find out some things about the future that he would otherwise not know. It surely seems that this was often the case with the Apostle Paul too, that the Holy Spirit often gave him certain revelations that gave him specific instructions of when to stay in a town, and when to leave, concerning his missionary work.
And yet that’s where we can be tempted to despair. We look around at the time and place we live in and we know the reality of the conflict before it. It is very clear. There are enemies of Jesus Christ all around us. The more we stand up for Christ, the more we know we will face their wrath. We need wisdom when to speak, and when to not. We need wisdom and insight to know when to take a stand and when to stand back and live to fight another day. We can be tempted to despair when we think things like, “If only we had the prophetic insight that was available to people like David and Paul.” You see, since we are not Pentecostal or Charismatic Christians we don’t believe that such prophetic revelation is to be expected in the Christian’s life. Because of that, faced with the enemies that are all around us, we wish we knew the secret things of the future like what David was able to find out here by inquiring to the LORD. We see and recognize that David had such a big advantage over Saul because of this. We say to ourselves, “if only we had such advantage” over our enemies today.
Well, even though we don’t know such secret things of the future, I would challenge each of us when we are tempted to despair like that. Do not think that you do not have a tremendous advantage over the enemy. Yes, the enemies of Christians today might actually seem like they have so many advantages over us. They seem to be winning the culture wars, they seem to be winning the political battles, they seem to be drawing the next generation out of godly churches, or dragging formerly godly churches into apostasy. The enemies of Christ can seem like they have so much power, money, popularity, and influence to use against us. We can be tempted to falsely despair thinking that unlike how David had advantage over Saul here, that we could falsely think that the world actually has the advantage over us.
Let’s be real guys. This can be a struggle. I struggle with the temptation to think like this. Yet I will not submit to such thinking. I defy such thinking. And so let me solemnly remind you in the name of Christ of our advantage over the enemies we have in this world. Truly, truly, I say to you, if you are in Christ, then you have the Spirit of God living inside you. And you have the Word of God in complete canon at your disposal which tells you what you do need to know about the future. And you have an audience with most high unto whom you can pray. And you have an open invitation to even pray for wisdom amidst trial and trouble. And you have the sure promise that King Jesus will be with you, always! And you have the blessing of the body of Christ in its manifold gifts and in its counsel in speaking the Word to one another. We have such things.
And so I urge us all in the name of Christ, inquire of God then through these resources. Do not think that the enemy has the advantage. Whatever advantages you think David had here over Saul, we in Christ now have it all the more. See that the ways we can inquire of the LORD is a great advantage to us. The world does not have such advantage. I say it again: we do have opposition in this world because we are Christian. And so whenever you encounter such opposition, inquire of the LORD whether to fight or take flight. I don’t mean that in some Pentecostal way. I mean what I said before. Search the Scriptures. Pray for wisdom to understand how to act in light of what we have been told from the Scriptures. Seek godly counsel for your circumstances. Rely on the help of your brothers and sisters in Christ. Make use of these provisions from God for us!
Dear friends, what advantage we do have in Christ. We live in dark days, but we have the light of Christ. And he is coming again to bring his glorious kingdom. Let us encourage one another with the Word of God as we await that day. And let us live in this world as those who belong to the coming kingdom. Let us not give in to the temptation to fear for our own lives, but let us wisely do the work of Christ’s kingdom until it comes in glory. Amen.
Copyright © 2015 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.