1 Samuel 22:17–20; 23:1–13comment (0)
July 15, 2010
By James Barnette
Related Scripture: 1 Samuel 22:17–20; 23:1–13
Bible Studies for Life
Associate Professor, Department of Religion, Samford University
The Power of Petition
1 Samuel 22:17–20; 23:1–13
Saul Plots (22:17–20)
Saul vowed to punish Ahimelech and his family, even though it was unlawful to punish an entire family for a father’s crime (Deut. 24:16). Their offense was knowing that David had fled and not reporting it to Saul. The issues that Samuel had warned about the monarchy were now taking place. Saul had created a police state in which citizens spied on each other and the king executed those who opposed him. Israel had asked for a king “like the other nations,” and that was just what it got. The men who received the command were Saul’s bodyguards, who only days before had been under David’s command. David had stated earlier that these men were careful to observe cleanliness regulations (1 Sam. 21:5), meaning that they were devout followers of Yahweh. It is not surprising, then, that Saul’s bodyguards were unwilling “to raise a hand to strike the priests of the Lord.” Doeg’s savage and wholesale execution of so many is not unlike the ancient practice of herem, which, in its most extreme form, involved destroying entire villages — people as well as objects. It is ironic and telling that Saul refused to execute such massive destruction against the Amalekites (1 Sam. 15:9), but in his deterioration, he was willing to do so against his own people. The perpetration of this act against a city of Aaronic priests was an unspeakable crime. Some suggest that Doeg used this savage act to get revenge on the priests of Nob for the detention he faced at the sanctuary earlier (1 Sam. 21:7). Abiathar the priest escaped and joined David at Keilah. The story depicts Saul as the destroyer of the priesthood and David as its protector. Later it is revealed that Abiathar brought the ephod with him (1 Sam. 23:6). Thus the true priesthood and priestly counsel and the divine oracle moved from Saul to David. Abiathar will be associated with David throughout the remainder of David’s fugitive days and for the rest of his life. The priest will eventually share the position of high priest with Zadok during David’s reign.
David Pleads (23:1–6)
Keilah was a border town in Judah, some 10 miles west of the forest of Hereth, where David and his men were camping. Situated that close to the enemy, Keilah was extremely vulnerable, particularly during the harvest season when the Philistine army needed food and supplies. Had Saul been genuinely concerned about his people, he would have dispatched an army to protect Keilah. Instead his obsession with finding and killing David was rendering him incapable of sound leadership. Some suggest that Saul’s plotting included the misleading of his troops — claiming that their mission was to rescue the city of Keilah when his true motive was to capture David. Saul was not only willing to slaughter the priests of Nob but he was also willing to sacrifice a city of people to lay hands on David. David would not go to battle unless he was led and assured by the Lord. He inquired and received divine sanction. His men were frightened, however, so for their benefit, he inquired a second time. David received two answers from Yahweh. Both answers were positive but the second one was more explicit. First, David was given permission and authorization; second, he was assured that he would be victorious.
God Provides (23:7–13)
The central event of this passage is David’s pursuit of Yahweh’s direction by means of the ephod. David’s ready access to Yahweh is highlighted here; the two conversed in a way that evokes easy trust. The incident shows his reliance on the Lord. Though he was Israel’s greatest military leader, he would make no maneuvers without the consent and blessing of God. Furthermore he was careful to follow the means of receiving divine counsel as spelled out by the Torah. David wished to avoid causing harm to his men or the people of this city. As a result, he and his men left the city before Saul could set out against him. David’s course of action proved wise, as Saul “did not go” to Keilah. At the time of his retreat from the city, David’s troops numbered about 600. David’s pre-eminence was ever increasing, while Saul’s status was in downward spiral.