Monday, May 16, 2022
The First Book Of Samuel. Day 68, David Saves The City Of Keilah From The Philistines
David has moved further down into Judah upon instructions from a prophet from Gad, as we learned in our previous chapter. Four hundred men of Judah have joined up with him, making David captain over this army. Word gets to David and his men that the Philistines have come down and attacked the Israelite city of Keilah in the lowlands of Judah.
The Philistines are becoming bolder and bolder in their incursions upon Israel, probably because it has become widely known that King Saul has become unstable of mind and unfit to serve as commander-in-chief. This knowledge makes it seem like an opportune time to attack Israelite cities and try to gain control over them. Indeed, we find Saul doing nothing at all to defend the people of Keilah because he is too obsessed with hunting David to care about anything else. He's neglecting his duties as king and as the leader of the army due to his paranoid delusions. Nothing really matters to him but executing David. The entire country could fall apart and he would scarcely notice. But David notices his fellow countrymen are in trouble and he decides to do something about it if it's the Lord's will.
"When David was told, 'Look, the Philistines are fighting against Keilah and are looting the threshing floors,' he inquired of the Lord, saying, 'Shall I go and attack these Philistines?'" (1 Samuel 23:1-2a) David's heart hurts for these people. He feels moved to come to their aid even though this means exposing his location to the man who seeks his life. He knows if the Lord goes with him he will be safe, so he asks the lone priest who escaped the slaughter of yesterday's passage to inquire of the Lord for him. We know this is what happens because the final verse of our text today tells us that Abiathar the priest had brought the ephod with him when he fled the violence at Nob. He brought the priestly garment known as the ephod and along with it he must have brought the breastplate of the high priest which contained the objects known as the Urim and Thummim which were used to discern the will of God in important matters of state and religion. The objects were used in situations where there was no specific law or commandment to clearly give direction, such as in the case of knowing a particular course of action is not sinful in itself but when it is not known if the Lord wants them to take this particular course of action. David knows there's nothing sinful about wanting to help his fellow Israelites defend themselves against the Philistines but he doesn't know whether it's the Lord's will for him to mount a counterattack against the enemy. It's one thing for David to be willing to risk his own life but he's responsible for the lives of four hundred men, many of whom have wives and children depending on them, as we'll learn later in the book. He doesn't want to ask his men to follow him into battle unless he knows he has the Lord's permission and help.
The Lord gives him the go-ahead. "The Lord answered him, 'Go, attack the Philistines and save Keilah.'" (1 Samuel 23:2b) We can see by the Lord's answer that success is guaranteed. He says David will save Keilah. He doesn't say, "Go up to Keilah and do what you can. Maybe you'll be able to push the Philistines out of the territory. Maybe you can get them out before they've ruined all the crops on the threshing floors and left the people with nothing to eat." No, He says, "Go up and save Keilah." Victory is assured because the Lord is going with David!
David passes this information along to his men who are at first reluctant to go. "But David's men said to him, 'Here in Judah we are afraid. How much more, then, if we go to Keilah against the Philistine forces!'" (1 Samuel 23:3) They say, "We have enough to be afraid of right where we are. Our lives are already in danger from giving you our allegiance and opposing King Saul. We are basically hiding out as fugitives at this time. And now you want us to come boldly out into the open, go up to Keilah, and engage the Philistines in battle? Surely that can't be what the Lord wants us to do! This will get us killed!"
For the sake of his men who need an extra boost to their faith, David again asks the priest to inquire of the Lord, but this time it is done in the sight of everyone assembled. That way they don't have to just take his word for it or Abiathar's word for it. They are able to see for themselves what God has to say. "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.'" (1 Samuel 23:4) The Lord couldn't make it any clearer: they are to go and they will be victorious because He is on their side. He is so patient with them---and with us!---by confirming His word. The Lord knows we live in a scary world and that we can't see into the future like He can and that we are beset by doubts and fears. He knows that we sometimes say discouraging words to ourselves. He knows that our fellow man says things to discourage us from taking a brave course of action. He knows the devil himself whispers in our ear that we are being foolish to think success is coming, that the Lord is not with us, that the Lord hasn't really told us to do this brave thing. Because we need a boost to our faith, the Lord is patient with us when we need His word confirmed to us. He doesn't mind telling us a second time (or often even a third time) what He wants us to do.
The men are convinced now and they go up to Keilah with David to defend their countrymen from the enemy. "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." (1 Samuel 23:5) It is unclear what is meant by the carrying off of livestock. Some scholars believe that, while the Philistines are on the run, David and his troops make a foray into Philistine territory and plunder them. Others think the livestock was brought with the Philistine army camp and that the Philistines fled the battle, leaving everything in their camp behind. Some think the livestock was stolen from the Israelites by the Philistines after crossing the border into Israel and all along the way as they traveled down to Keilah; this would mean David takes the people's livestock back for them and redistributes it to them.
The author concludes today's text by explaining to us the method by which David inquired twice of the Lord in regard to going to help the people of Keilah. "(Now Abiathar son of Ahimelek had brought the ephod down with him when he fled to David at Keilah.)" (1 Samuel 23:6) In Chapter 22 it appeared David was in the forest of Hereth when Saul ordered the priests slaughtered at Nob, which would mean Abiathar joined up with David and his men at Hereth when he escaped with his life. But our text today indicates that David was in the region of Keilah when the priest showed up. It may be that, by the time Abiathar finds him, David has already heard of the plight of the citizens of Keilah and has moved close to that city to spy out the situation and to be ready to strike if the Lord gives the word. If that's the case, the priest shows up at the very moment David needs an answer from the Lord.
The Lord was patient in confirming His word for the sake of David's men who were hesitant to step out in faith. The Lord is patient with us too. But we mustn't make the mistake of asking for confirmation so many times that we never move forward. Suppose David's men still weren't convinced and wanted to hear the same answer a third time, then a fourth time, then a fifth time while they remained rooted in place. This long hesitation would have allowed the Philistines to thoroughly destroy the harvest of the people of Keilah, leaving them without enough food to get them through the winter, causing them to have to surrender to the Philistines and agree to become their subjects in exchange for food to fill their children's empty tummies. Inaction equals disobedience when the Lord has clearly told us what we are to do, and disobedience is sin. We will miss out on great blessings and we will miss out on being a blessing to others when we don't simply take the Lord at His word and do what He tells us to do.