1 Samuel 22-23: Strongholds

At this point in 1 Samuel’s narrative, David has fallen into complete disfavor with Saul. He’s living on the run, and nowhere appears to be safe. When he fled to the prophet Samuel, Saul followed him there. So he ran instead to the priests at the tabernacle and received bread and the sword of Goliath, but one of Saul’s servants was lurking about, and David didn’t stick around long. From there he ran to Goliath’s hometown in Gath, and only ran into trouble there.

Chapters 22 and 23 continue to chart his travels (thanks to Generation Word for their sketched maps).






A rough summary of these chapters is as follows:

David flees Gath and escapes to the cave of Adullam. His family, who are probably facing persecution as well, leave Bethlehem and hide out with David. During this time, the future king of Israel is reduced to a sort of Robin Hood. The unintentional outlaw is somehow still a symbol of hope, and 400 men who are in distress, debt, or discontentment gather to him and make him their captain.

Perhaps it was difficult to keep over 400 people safely hidden in a cave, because David didn’t stick around permanently. His next stop was the city of Mizpah in Moab, where he asked the king’s permission to safely harbor his parents “till I know what God will do for me” (22: 3). Remember that David’s great-grandmother was Ruth the Moabitess. While the Moabites were typically not on good terms with Israel, David’s heritage may have played a part in his acceptance there, and the king allowed them to stay in the stronghold.

During this time we see that David has not lost hope, as he waits to hear from the Lord.

Wait on the Lord;
Be of good courage,
And He shall strengthen your heart;
Wait, I say, on the Lord!

– David (Psalm 72:14)

Sure enough, the LORD answered him by sending the prophet Gad, who told him, “Do not stay in the stronghold; depart, and go to the land of Judah” (22:5).

In obedience, David left the safety of the Moabite stronghold to hide out in the Israelite forest of Hereth.

Meanwhile, Saul got wind that David and his men were moving about, and as usual, he got angry. It says that when he heard the news, he was in Gibeah (which appears to be his usual hangout), standing with his spear in his hand. That last part struck me. It was as though Saul was always ready to pick a fight, always ready to attack. The question for us is: are we? And if so, with whom? Are we quick to attack those around us? Or are we standing with the armor of God, ready to fight with the real enemy: sin?

Saul accuses his servants of treachery because they have not made him aware of David’s movements and his covenant with Jonathan. He makes it sound as though David is a willful rebel, lying in wait for the king and stirring up trouble. How far from the truth that is! It is Saul who has risen up against his servant David and sent assassins to lie in wait for the most faithful of his men!

In response, Doeg the Edomite shares that he had seen David at the tabernacle, where the priest Ahimelech had given him provisions.

Both Doeg and Saul remind me of the famous passage in Proverbs 6:

These six things the LORD hates,

Yes, seven are an abomination to Him:

A proud look,

A lying tongue,

Hands that shed innocent blood,

A heart that devises wicked plans,

Feet that are swift in running to evil,

A false witness who speaks lies,

And one who sows discord among brethren.

Proverbs 6:16-19

In a rage, Saul calls for the priests, ignores their defense, and orders their annihilation. The king who had failed to obey God and completely destroy the Amalekites, now of his own accord wipes out the entire city of the LORD’s priests.

But when it comes to His people, God is faithful, and He always preserves a remnant. When He flooded the earth, He preserved Noah and his family. When Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed with fire and brimstone, God preserved Lot and his daughters. When the nation of Israel turned after Baal in the days of Elijah, God preserved 7000 who remained steadfast (1 Kings 19:18). When judgment fell on Israel and Judah, they were never wiped out completely.

And now, when the city of the priests is struck with the sword, Abiathar the son of Ahimelech escapes and flees to David. David feels responsible for the murders, and tells Abiathar with regret, “I knew that day, when Doeg the Edomite was there, that he would surely tell Saul. I have caused the death of all the persons of your father’s house” (22:22). Perhaps he should not have gone to Ahimelech for supplies. Perhaps he should not have lied about his purposes. Perhaps David was discovering the truth of Proverbs 20:17, “Bread gained by deceit is sweet to a man, but afterward his mouth will be filled with gravel.”

At some point, someone tells David that the city of Keilah is being attacked by the Philistines. So David goes before God and asks, “Shall I go and attack these Philistines?” (23:2).

God says yes.

But David’s men are scared. Looking at the map, Keilah was situated not far from several Philistine cities. Could David and his small army really rescue the town? Could they stand against the armies of the Philistines? And if they did, Saul was sure to hear about it, and then he would know their exact whereabouts – did they really want to endanger themselves on more than one count?

So David goes before the LORD again.

And once again, God say “go.” And He promises that David would see victory.

So David gathers up his men – who number 600 by this time – and attacks the Philistines. Keilah is saved!

But Keilah does not return the favor kindly. For when Saul finds out that David is in the fortified city, he gathers Israel together to besiege Keilah, and when David inquires of the LORD what he should do, God reveals that Keilah would not hesitate to deliver their rescuer into the hand of Saul.

Those he came to save rejected him. Reminds me of John 1:11, which says of Jesus, “He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him.”

So David and his 600 men leave Keilah before it’s besieged and wander “wherever they could go” (23:13). Like Jesus said in Luke 9:53, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” David has nowhere to call home, nowhere to be safe.

He leaves Keilah and stays in strongholds located in the forested mountains of the Wilderness of Ziph. At some point during his stay there, Jonathan goes into the woods and meets up with David. In their last recorded moment together before Jonathan’s death, the prince strengthens David’s hand in God and says, “Do not fear, for the hand of Saul my father shall not find you. You shall be king over Israel, and I shall be next to you. Even my father Saul knows that” (23: 17).

Jonathan does not betray his friend, but the Ziphites don’t share his sentiments. They readily go to Saul and drop the hint that he should attack David in the wilderness. As usual, David and his men receive a warning ahead of time and begin to flee, but this time Saul’s men are too quick, and they are encircling David’s little army.

Just when all seems lost, a messenger comes to Saul with the news that the Philistines are invading the land, and the king is forced to give up his chase and defend the kingdom. In relief, David’s army calls that place Sela Hammahlekoth – the Rock of Escape. They withdraw to dwell in the strongholds at En Gedi.

You may have noticed that the word “stronghold” came up several times. Just in these two chapters, we see that David stayed in strongholds in Moab, Ziph, and now En Gedi. But no stronghold was sufficient to keep him safe for long.

I believe that during this time, David learned even more the truth that the LORD alone could be his stronghold. It was a comparison he never forgot, as we see it surface over and over throughout the Psalms:

I will love You, O LORD, my strength.

The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer;

My God, my strength, in whom I will trust;

My shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.

I will call upon the LORD, who is worthy to be praised;

So shall I be saved from my enemies. . . .

For who is God, except the LORD?

And who is a rock, except our God? . . .

The LORD lives!

Blessed be my Rock!

Let the God of my salvation be exalted.

(Psalm 18:1-3, 31, 46)

In You, O LORD, I put my trust;

Let me never be ashamed;

Deliver me in Your righteousness.

Bow down Your ear to me,

Deliver me speedily;

Be my rock of refuge,

A fortress of defense to save me.

For You are my rock and my fortress;

Therefore, for Your name’s sake,

Lead me and guide me.

(Psalm 31:1-3)

Hear my cry, O God;

Attend to my prayer.

From the end of the earth I will cry to You,

When my heart is overwhelmed;

Lead me to the rock that is higher than I.

For You have been a shelter for me,

A strong tower from the enemy.

(Psalm 61:1-3)

Truly my soul silently waits for God;

From Him comes my salvation.

He only is my rock and my salvation;

He is my defense;

I shall not be greatly moved. . . .

He only is my rock and my salvation;

He is my defense;

I shall not be moved.

In God is my salvation and my glory;

The rock of my strength,

And my refuge, is in God.

Trust in Him at all times, you people;

Pour out your heart before Him;

God is a refuge for us.

(Psalm 62:1-2, 6-8)

Blessed be the LORD my Rock,

Who trains my hands for war,

And my fingers for battle –

My lovingkindness and my fortress,

My high tower and my deliverer,

My shield and the One in whom I take refuge,

Who subdues my people under me.

(Psalm 144:1-2)




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