As God’s “anointed one” David’s life and actions give us insight into what Jesus is like. When God’s people get themselves into trouble, both David and Jesus are eager to come to our aid.
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1 Samuel #22. God’s Heart for
Rescue. 1 Samuel 23:1-13
We are reading a book of the Bible that is primarily a record of history. Theologians call this kind of Biblical writing, “narrative.” In Sunday school, we all called them “bible stories.” The gospels – the bible stories about Jesus – are narrative. So is the book of Acts. So also, is much of the Old Testament. Whenever we read narrative we should keep in mind that there are three basic layers to it.
First, narrative parts of the Bible are descriptions of actual historical events. Archaeology has consistently confirmed and correlated the bible stories we read. Skeptics used to claim that it was all made up – but in trying to prove that, they instead proved how historically reliable the Bible is.
Even so, we need to realize that this history was written with a purpose in mind. This is true of all history, by the way. Dr Mark Cheathem will soon have a new volume published about Andrew Jackson. It will tell readers about Andrew Jackson and his life, to be sure. But Dr Cheathem will also be telling the events of Jackson’s life from a definite perspective, and building a case that it is a valid perspective. His main thesis is that Jackson’s life was shaped by his own perception of himself as part of the Southern gentry class. In a similar way, the Bible tells us real history, with a certain particular perspective. [For more information about Dr. Cheathem and his books go to http://mcheathem.wordpress.com/] The perspective used in the Bible is that God was at work in these events, and the writers, inspired by God, record how God was interacting with humans through the incidents that are recorded. So we not only look at the historical events, but, trusting that God inspired the writers, we look at how God was at work in them.
Finally, we recognize that God is still telling the story, and he uses the Bible to communicate with us today, to tell us how he is at work in us and around us today. The bible is there to help us know God better through Jesus Christ. So as we read, we look for how he wants to communicate with us in this very moment, and how it helps us to know Jesus better, and walk in relationship with him.
In 1 Samuel 23:1-13, David hears that the town of Keilah, near both the cave of Adullam and the forest of Hereth, is under attack by the Philistines. As soon as David hears of it, he has two immediate reactions. First, he wants to go rescue them. Second, he chooses to ask the Lord if he should do that. Remember, both a prophet and priest were with David at this point, and I am sure that together, the three of them asked God about it. David’s first reaction was exactly what God wanted. His heart, and David’s heart, was to deliver his people.
But David’s men said to him, “Look, we’re afraid here in Judah; how much more if we go to Keilah against the Philistine forces! ” (1Sam 23:3, HCSB)
Remember David now has about six hundred men with him. The way war was waged in those days, it is possible that some of them had previously been sent to help Saul for a short time in some of his battles. These citizen-soldiers usually just stayed for one battle or one short campaign, and they were not as significant as the professional warriors. Generally, they just hung around, and if the battle went well, they provided manpower for pursuing enemies; if the battle went badly, they would have been the first to flee. Because these men were so low in society, however, it is possible that very few of them had any experience at warfare. Certainly, aside from David, none of them were professional warriors – yet. Quite simply, they were afraid.
Last time when Saul wanted his men to take action he spoke to them sarcastically and accusingly. David does neither. Probably mostly out of concern for his men, he asks the Lord a second time. When they hear another affirmative, David wastes no more time. He leads them into battle, and they win a resounding victory, saving the town of Keilah.
But all is not well. No doubt David and his men were tired of living in the forest and the cave. So they weren’t in a hurry to leave Keilah – a real town with houses and even a wall. They were glad to hang out in civilization for a while. Saul hears that they are there, and declares: “God has handed him over to me, for he has trapped himself by entering a town with barred gates.”
I want to pause and point out two things. The first is a small difference. In all David’s interactions with God in this passage, he calls him “the Lord.” Saul calls him “God.” “The Lord,” is the way most English translations express the Hebrew personal name for God. So, in fact, it is a more casual and intimate way to talk to God. To picture it another way, say you were talking about a man named John Smith. David is calling him “John” and Saul is calling him “Mr. Smith.” I think this is a reflection of their different relationships with God. To Saul, God is a distant Supreme Being, one that might possibly be manipulated into helping him (Saul). To David, he is a close personal relation, a friend in all times.
The second thing I want to highlight is their different approach to God’s guidance. David pauses and talks to the Lord multiple times on many occasions. He asks what God wants to do in every situation. Four times in these thirteen verses, we see David seeking God’s guidance. On other hand, Saul simply assumes that God exists to assist him to fulfill his (Saul’s) own ambitions. In these verses, he doesn’t once seek to know what God wants him to do.
Let me state this even more clearly. In Saul’s mind, the whole point of God’s existence is to help Saul have the kind of life he wants. God is his assistant. But in David’s mind and heart, he (David) exists to serve God and carry out his will on earth. He is God’s servant, and even calls himself that exact thing in verse ten. I think that these two attitudes compete for dominance in everyone who believes in the existence of God. Is God there to help us live our lives – or are we here to express His Life and fulfill His Purpose here on earth? In other words, is my life about me (with God as a help and support to me), or is my life about God (with me as his valued tool and helper)? I think we all know the correct answer to that question. But practically speaking, many Christians live as if God is their servant, not the other way round. It is so easy to start thinking that the main point of God is to do good things for me. The truth is, the main point of my life is to let God work through me.
The citizens of Keilah are apparently not very grateful to David for his help. There is no record of any expression of thanks. Instead, when David asks the Lord if it is safe to stay there, the Lord tells him that the people of Keilah will hand David and his men over to Saul, if he stays. Saul’s intention is to surround the city and destroy it, with David and his men inside. It does not say so overtly, but it is quite possible that it was a citizen of the town who went to Saul with the information that David was there.
This is ironic. The people of Keilah rejected their rescuer. They sent for Saul to come and capture David. In rejecting God’s anointed one, the citizens of Keilah were inviting their own destruction. In their rejection of David, they were destroying themselves.
Thankfully for everyone, David sought God’s guidance, as he did so frequently, and he led his men back into the wilderness, saving both himself and the town of Keilah, yet once again.
Now, we have heard the history of what happened. We have noticed how God was involved back then. But what does this mean for you today? How is the Lord using this to speak to you, to help you know Jesus better and walk with him?
Remember that David is a type of Christ. God used his life to show us what the ultimate “anointed one” is like. One of the things I think the Lord shows us here is that the heart of God is to rescue us. David, anointed with God’s spirit, heard of people who were in trouble and oppressed, and his first response was, “Can I go save them? Please?” God’s heart is for redemption. He sees people in trouble and oppressed, and he says to the anointed one, “rescue them!” Jesus’ heart is for your rescue. I know there are many things that happen in this life which we don’t understand. But we can’t doubt that God loves us and wants to save us. He came in the flesh, he gave up his body in tortuous suffering to rescues us. His heart is for our redemption. Whatever you face, you are not forgotten. There is One who sees you as precious and valuable. His heart is for your ultimate salvation, for your best good.
David rescued the people of Keilah. Today, three thousand years later, it makes no difference to those people. But the redemption we get through God’s Ultimate anointed one is eternal. It is the redemption of our spirits, souls and eventually the re-making and resurrection of our bodies. Three thousand years from now, the redemption of Jesus will still make all the difference in the universe.
Sometimes, like the people of Keilah, we don’t welcome the one who delivers us. Their rejection of David is pretty poor behavior. Here, he has just saved them, but now they turn around and try to have him killed. When we reject Jesus, it is just as offensive and ugly. He gave his life for us. Some people would like his salvation, but want nothing to do with him – they don’t want a daily relationship with him. Perhaps he interferes with our lives in ways we don’t like. When we reject God’s anointed redeemer, we are inviting not freedom, but destruction into our lives. Let their behavior caution us to receive what God wants to do in our lives.
Maybe you identify with David’s men. You aren’t a professional, like he is. Perhaps God, through Jesus, is inviting you into something new and scary that you aren’t sure you are ready for. Maybe you’ve been invited to take part in a prayer ministry. You think, “I’ve been around church. I’ve prayed out loud a few times, but I’m not experienced like some other people.” When God’s anointed (Jesus) invites you into his mission, don’t shrink back. David’s rabble weren’t fighters at this point. But out of that same group came the greatest warriors in the history of Israel.
Maybe you think you don’t have the background to pray for others, or to share your faith with your neighbor, or make a stand for God. You might be right. You probably don’t have the right background. But neither did David’s men. All they really needed was enough trust to follow where God’s anointed one led them. That’s all we need. We small, no-account group of Jesus-followers might be exactly the tools God chooses to use.
Let the Lord speak to you right now.