In the second half of Chapter 23 David receives an encouraging visit from his best friend Jonathan. After that, while Saul is in hot pursuit of David to take his life, Saul receives a message that the Philistines have mounted a large invasion in another area of the kingdom. This halts Saul's progress toward David just in the nick of time, for he was about to come face to face with him if he'd gone just a few steps farther.
Yesterday we found David and his four hundred men, who had just saved the city of Keilah from the Philistines, having to flee Keilah ahead of the arrival of Saul's men. The Lord had revealed to David that the people of Keilah would hand him and his troops over to Saul. Two hundred additional men left Keilah with him, so now he and six hundred troops are hiding in the Desert of Ziph. Saul is undaunted when he finds out David escaped Keilah before his army arrived there; he is still determined to hunt David down to the ends of the earth if that's what it takes. "While David was at Horesh in the Desert of Ziph, he learned that Saul had come out to take his life." (1 Samuel 23:15) Saul has spies all over the land who regularly send messages to him regarding the current location of David. But David has loyal supporters all over the land who keep him informed of Saul's current location.
Someone tells David's best friend Jonathan where he is hiding and Jonathan secretly goes out to see him to offer encouragement in the Lord. "And Saul's son Jonathan went to David at Horesh and helped him find strength in God. '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.' The two of them made a covenant before the Lord. Then Jonathan went home, but David remained at Horesh." (1 Samuel 23:15-18) Jonathan tells David not to be afraid because David is afraid; otherwise there would be no point in speaking the three words: "Don't be afraid." We sometimes have a tendency to think the heroes and heroines of the Bible never experienced fears and doubts and temptations like we do, but the truth is they felt the same emotions we feel. When faced with troubles they felt alarmed. When obstacles kept trying to block their way, they had doubts about being on the right path. When everything seemed to be going wrong, they spent sleepless nights worrying and praying. David is afraid---very afraid---and that's why Jonathan takes the risk of coming to see him in person to remind him that he's on the right path and that the Lord is on his side.
Jonathan says, "The Lord has promised you will be king of Israel. That's how you and I can know that my father will never take your life. The Lord never breaks a promise! You will be king of Israel and I will be at your right hand as your second-in-command. Deep down my father knows this, though he tries to deny it. He knows he's fighting a losing battle by fighting against the Lord. He's just committed himself so fully to this course of action that he can't or won't let go of it. But he will not be successful." This is the second time Jonathan has reminded me of John the Baptist. You'll recall from our studies of the New Testament that the disciples of John the Baptist were upset and jealous, for his sake, when the crowds that once followed John began following Jesus instead. John wasn't the least bit upset or jealous. Instead he said, "He must become greater; I must become less." (John 3:30) He also referred to himself as the friend of the bridegroom (the best man) who rejoices to see his friend arrive at the wedding to be united with the bride. In this metaphor Jesus is the bridegroom (because the bride---the church---belongs to Him) and John is the best man who stands beside him feeling happy for him as he says his vows. The bridegroom, not the best man, is the most important man at the wedding; the best man's job is only to play a supporting role. John was more than happy to witness the arrival of Jesus the Messiah and to play only a supporting role. Jonathan has the same attitude toward David as John the Baptist had toward Jesus. Jonathan is happy and honored to play a supporting role to David who will someday be crowned king.
Jonathan has already been a great deal of help to David and hopes to continue helping him as his second-in-command when David assumes the throne. Unfortunately, things will not work out that way, but not because of any disloyalty on Jonathan's or David's part. Their friendship will never be broken, even though they won't see each other in this life again, and David will keep their covenant by showing kindness to Jonathan's descendants just as he promised him earlier in the book of 1 Samuel.
Not everyone in Israel is as loyal to David as Jonathan is. "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? Now, Your Majesty, come down whenever it pleases you to do so, and we will be responsible for giving him into your hands.' Saul replied, 'The Lord bless you for your concern for me. Go and get more information. Find out where David usually goes and who has seen him there. They tell me he is very crafty. 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.'" (1 Samuel 23:19-23) The Ziphites are of the tribe of Judah, which is David's tribe, but they seek to prove their loyalty to Saul by making it possible for him to capture David. Their motivation for betraying him is not explained to us but perhaps they fear Saul's wrath will come down on them if he thinks they are willingly harboring the man he considers a fugitive from justice. Most or all of the nation has heard of the Saul-ordered slaughter at Nob of the priests, their families, and their fellow citizens. That horrific loss of life took place because one man gave bread and a sword to David. If Saul was willing to kill so many people in revenge for one man's help, what more will he do if he thinks a whole community is sheltering David?
"So they set out and went to Ziph ahead of Saul. Now David and his men were in the Desert of Maon, in the Arabah south of Jeshimon. 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." (1 Samuel 23:24-25) Upon hearing that Saul and his men are approaching, David leaves his position on the hill of Hakilah and moves to Maon, a rocky and mountainous region within the territory of Judah. It will be easier for David and his men to defend themselves from troops coming up a mountain than to defend themselves in a lower-lying area where it's easier for enemies to swarm in from multiple sides.
Saul comes close to catching up with David. Earlier in the book of 1 Samuel we found David saying to Jonathan, "There is only a step between me and death." That has never been more true than now. "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." (1 Samuel 23:26a) If this scene were being played out on a movie screen it would be very dramatic and suspenseful. For David it must have been terrifying. His heart must have been pounding. His hands, as they gripped the sword of Goliath, must have been slick with sweat. His thoughts must have been lifted toward the Lord as he prayed for rescue from the enemy. His prayer is granted! "As Saul and his forces were closing in on David and his men to capture them, a messenger came to Saul, saying, 'Come quickly! The Philistines are raiding the land!' Then Saul broke off his pursuit of David and went to meet the Philistines. That is why they call this place Sela Hammahlekoth. And David went up from there and lived in the strongholds of En Gedi." (1 Samuel 23:26b-29) This location became known as "rock of parting" to commemorate David's escape from Saul.
Did Saul know he was only a few steps away from meeting David face to face? I don't think so. Earlier in Chapter 23 he was in no hurry to meet the Philistines when they were raiding the city of Keilah. He wouldn't have been in so much of a hurry to meet them now, even if this is a more wide-scale invasion, if he'd known David was almost in his grasp. We've seen before that the Lord can use even a wicked person or persons to aid His plans for His children and in this case the Lord uses the heathen Philistines to spare David's life. They show up just in time, and a messenger arrives just in time, to halt Saul's progress before he runs straight into David coming around the mountain. I think Saul has been picking his way around this rocky mountain all day with no sign that David has come this way. I think he is getting hot and tired and frustrated. He might have already been wishing he could sit down and rest, or even call it quits for the day, but that would have looked bad to his men. But now, knowing that a huge raiding party of Philistines is pouring into the land, he has an excuse to come down out of the difficult mountain terrain to direct his troops toward the invaders.
To anyone on the outside looking in, it may seem as if David had a narrow escape. But because the Lord is on his side, there was never any chance of Saul actually capturing and killing him. David gets away with only seconds to spare but a miss is as good as a mile! How many times has the Lord spared you or me from danger in just a split second? There are occasions we actually know about, such as when another car misses hitting our car only by inches. And I am positive there are occasions we won't know about until we see our Lord face to face. I think we will be absolutely stunned when we find out how many times He saved our lives or protected us from other types of danger and hardship. The Lord is watching over us every second of every day and there isn't anyone or anything that can touch us unless He allows it.