Friday, May 21
First Samuel 16: As Saul was introduced by the combination of three episodes, so is David: First, there is a private anointing: Saul in 9:26—10:1, David in 16:1-13. Second, there is a more elaborate introduction: Saul in 10:20-24, David in 16:14-13. Third, there is a military exploit: Saul in 11:1-15, David in 17:1-31.
Whereas chapter 15 ended in Samuel’s mourning for Saul, at the beginning of the present chapter the Lord tells him it is time to stop mourning and so something positive about the situation. The time has come to disregard Saul who belongs—already!—to the past. Samuel must forget those things that are behind and reach forward to those things that are ahead.
Like Saul (9:16; 10:1; 11:15), David will be anointed three times: by Samuel (verse 13), by the tribe of Judah (2 Samuel 2:4), and by the elders of Israel (2 Samuel 5:3).
Right from the beginning of David’s rise, Holy Scripture insists that the process of that rise cannot be understood by external observation. Considerations of flesh and blood do not explain it. The meaning of it eludes the scrutiny of the “objective historian,” who will see in it only a political narrative. Such a one will comment on the various political forces, including David’s own ambition, which will bring the son of Jesse to the throne. All such considerations, however, fail to cover the case, says Holy Scripture.
Consequently, Samuel is cautioned not to regard the matter solely with human eyes, because “God does not see as man sees.” David will become king because God wants him to be king. Whereas Saul was chosen, in part, because he looked like a king (9:2; 10:23), such considerations must now be excluded from the process (verse 7).
As in the case of Saul (9:12-24), David’s first anointing is preceded by a sacrificial meal (verses 3-5).
As is so often the case in Holy Scripture—Abel over Cain, Isaac over Ishmael, Jacob over Esau, Ephraim over Manasseh—David is chosen instead of his older brothers. As the “youngest” (haqqatan—verse 11), David is presumably the smallest, a feature in which he is contrasted with Saul (cf. 9:2; 10:23).
At the end of the first scene (verse 13), the Spirit of the Lord rushed upon David and abode there “from that time onward.” Only at that dramatic point is David’s name actually used.
Samuel leaves the scene and will not appear again until three chapters later (19:18).
The second scene in this chapter, which brings Saul and David together for the first time, introduces a situation of mammoth irony. The Spirit of the Lord, in descending on David, departed from Saul. The latter, as a result fell into a state of ever deepening depression—“an evil spirit”—manifest in jealousy (18:3-8), intrigue (18:15); violence (19:9-10; 20:33; 22:16-19), paranoia (20:25), and superstition (28:7-13).
To minister to this rapidly disintegrating king, David was introduced into the court as a musician, because Saul’s depression responded positively to the influence of music. The reader and—except for David—only the reader recognizes that this musician had already been anointed as Saul’s replacement on the throne! The irony is heightened by the fact that Saul cherished David (verse 21).
We may be correct in the suspicion that some of David’s psalms may have come from this period.
In this chapter is our first explicit assertion that the Lord was “with” David (verse 18). Indicating the source of David’s wisdom and strength, this assertion will be repeated several times (cf. 18:12,14,28; 2 Samuel 5:10).
Saturday, May 29
First Samuel 17: Here we come to the famous story of David and Goliath.
This chapter presents greater textual challenges than any we have met so far. The reader will sense the magnitude of the textual problem if he simply compares the usual translations of it (New King James, Revised Standard Version, etc.) with the much shorter version in The Orthodox Study Bible. The latter is based on some major (but not all) manuscripts of the Greek Septuagint, while the former translations were made from the Hebrew text inherited from the medieval Massorites.
Why are the Greek manuscripts of this chapter shorter than the Hebrew? After all, when these two textual traditions differ, the Hebrew readings tend to be shorter than the Greek. The best hypothesis—though not absolutely certain—is that the Greek translators shortened the text in order to avoid the general awkwardness and historical inconsistencies characteristic of the traditional Hebrew text of this chapter.
These inconsistencies include the fact that when David appears in this story, he comes as a total stranger; one would never suspect that he was already well known at court and served as Saul’s armor bearer. Because of such inconsistencies in the Hebrew text, some commentators argue that the Greek translation, especially in the Vaticanus manuscript, better preserves the original form of the story.
To me the very opposite seems to be the case. That is to say, it seems far more probable that the story was shortened in order to eliminate narrative inconsistencies than that these inconsistencies were gratuitously added to the text at a later date. At the same time, as I have noted, I regard the question of a “more original” text as a literary, not a theological, concern. Both versions of the story of David and Goliath have been handed down by the People of God. Following the path consistently pursued throughout these comments on Samuel, both traditions will be considered here, but I consider it probable that the received Hebrew text—the Massoretic—represents the earlier form of the story.
With respect to the historical inconsistencies in that text, I will simply note their existence. If they did not bother the inspired biblical writer, there is no reason why the Bible reader need be concerned about them.
The Philistines, who arrive in the Holy Land about the same time as the Israelites, came from the Greek coastlands and islands. Indeed, the Egyptians called them “the sea peoples.” Thus, they were Europeans, whose ways were quite alien to the Semite territory they invaded. Indeed, the Philistines were very much the same people described in Homer and other ancient Greek literature. We are correct, therefore, in regarding them as the first Western invaders of the Middle East. Thus, there is a special irony in the fact that the very name of these invaders—“Philistines”—is the root word that eventually gave its name to the region they invaded: “Palestine.”
Two things are notable about this battle.
First, we observe the attention given to single-handed combat, a feature this story has in common with so many battle scenes in Homer. Because so much of ancient warfare was hand-to-hand, stories of individual heroism tended to dominate ancient epic accounts of battle. Although thousands of men fought on both sides of the Trojan War, for instance, the interest of the poet was largely directed to just a few outstanding warriors on each side, whose battles he describes in dramatic detail. In this respect the present chapter of 1 Samuel almost reads like a page of Homer.
Second, in that classical literature the significance of such battles was indicated to the reader through the dialogue in which the battles were set. Thus, for instance, the significance of the fight between Hector and Patroclus is to be found in the brief speeches that each man gives in preparation for the encounter. The same is to be said for the final fight between Achilles and Hector.
We find much the same thing here in 1 Samuel. The significance—in this case, the theological significance—of the fight between David and Goliath is to be found in the dialogues and speeches of this chapter: Goliath’s challenge, the announcement by Saul’s spokesman, David’s dialogue with his brothers and the other soldiers, the conversation between D
avid and Saul, the challenges hurled at one another by Goliath and David, and the dialogue of Saul with Abner. David’s pre-battle declarations carry the theological weight of the narrative.
Great attention to detail characterizes the description of the giant and his armor (verses 4-7). He is definitely “the strong man fully armed.” With respect to the prophetic mystery of the battle with Goliath, our Teacher commented, “But if I cast out demons with the finger of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you. When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are in peace. But when a stronger than he comes upon him and overcomes him, he takes from him all his armor in which he trusted, and divides his spoils” (Luke 11:20-22). In this text, Jesus discloses the deeper identity of Goliath and David.
When David arrives at the battlefield, things are not going well for Israel. First of all, the tallest man in the army, King Saul, is terrified of the apparently taller Philistine (6’9” in the Greek, 9’9” in the Hebrew). Since his recent emotional collapse, His Majesty is way off his stride. Saul is so chowderheaded that he does not even recognize David, who has already been identified as his armor bearer. Even at the end of the chapter, when the immediate crisis has passed, Saul has no idea who David’s father is, even though he wrote a letter to that father in the previous chapter (16:19). The king’s weakness and confusion have infected the whole army, as David discovers on his arrival at camp.
Goliath is said to “challenge” or “reproach” Israel; the verb, haraph, found five times in this chapter (verses 10,25,26,36,45), bears both meanings. It conveys insult, not only to Israel’s army, but also to Israel’s God. We gain some sense of the verb’s meaning in this chapter by consulting the Psalms: “My enemies reproach me [herpuni], / While they say to me all day long, / ‘Where is your God?’” (42:10). Again, “My dishonor is continually before me, / And the shame of my face has covered me, / Because of the voice of him who reproaches (mehareph) and reviles” (4:15-16).
Recognizing the blasphemy of Goliath, David could well have prayed on this occasion, “O God, how long will the adversary reproach [yehareph]? / Will the enemy blaspheme Your name forever?” (74:10; cf. 55:13; 74:18; 79:12; 89:53; 89:52 (twice); 102:9).
This battle is really about Israel’s “living God” and the idol of the Philistines. That is to say, this is a repeat of the battle earlier waged in Dagon’s temple. When the mortally wounded Goliath falls on his face, he assumes the posture in which Dagon was found before the Ark (5:3).
Sunday, May 30
First Samuel 18: Like the previous chapter, though not quite so extensively, the present chapter exhibits a high percentage of variant readings between the Hebrew and Greek textual traditions; here, too, the traditional Hebrew text is more ample and detailed. Sometimes the differences are significant. For instance, the Greek version says nothing of David’s proposed marriage to Saul’s eldest daughter, Merab.
The chief motif of chapter 18 is Saul’s growing suspicion and distrust of David, which is elaborated in the context of Saul’s family. Both his son, Jonathan, and his daughter, Michal, quickly become fond of David.
With respect to Saul’s daughter, Michal, the king sees a way to use her affection for David as a means to dispose of him: He offers the girl in marriage, but requires his planned son-in-law to pay one hundred Philistine foreskins as a bridal price. Saul presumes that this requirement—which includes a course ethnic joke about Philistine genitalia—will enrage the Philistines enough to finish David off. In the Greek version, David simply produces the one hundred foreskins, but the Hebrew text is more interesting and ironical: David decides to show Saul a thing or two by producing—and counting out!—two hundred Philistine foreskins!
(When he came to tell this story to his Roman readers, Josephus had a problem: According to Philo, a contemporary of Josephus, the culture of the day regarded circumcision as an object of ridicule [Special Laws 1.1.2]. In this respect, Roman custom continued the anti-circumcision preference of the Greeks. We recall that when Antiochus IV Epiphanes forbade circumcision within his realm, including Judaea, the prohibition was partly a cause of the Maccabean wars [1 Maccabees 1:48; Josephus, Antiquities 12.5.4; Tacitus, Histories 5.8]. Both Hadrian and Antoninus Pus promulgated laws against circumcision. How, then, did Josephus handle this wedding gift arrangement of Saul and David? He simply changed the Philistine foreskins into Philistine heads. The Romans, after all, had no problem with beheading! [Antiquities 6.10.2-3[201-203])
With respect to Saul’s son, Jonathan, the king observes with distress that he become deeply attached to David, much impressed with the latter’s handling of Goliath. David’s abrupt intervention on the battlefield, at the hour when “Saul and all Israel . . . were dismayed and greatly afraid,” seized the attention of Jonathan. His eyes fixed on this newcomer walking calmly back into the camp, his one hand gripping the giant’s sword and his other swinging the giant’s severed head.
Jonathan, unlike most godly men of the Old Testament, died young. Indeed, combat being a pursuit commonly ungenerous in respect to years, Jonathan’s prospects for maturing to grey hairs were never promising. However, as we have seen, he fought with a derring-do that lowered those chances further still. As for the enemies of Jonathan, their odds for old age were even worse, for he was truly fearsome in the arts of war.
Though he was manifestly adept as a swordsman, it was chiefly as an archer that men remembered Jonathan. They often watched him begin his day in the discipline of that skill (20:20–22, 35–38). The funeral dirge of Saul and Jonathan, memorized by the Israelites and in due course recorded in the Book of Jasher, was known, in fact, as the “Song of the Bow” (2 Samuel 1:18), named for that line that reads, “the bow of Jonathan did not turn back” (1:22).
Jonathan’s pursuit of warfare was formed by, and inseparable from, a warm commitment to his father’s throne. He was a faithful son, but his fidelity will be sorely tried in the chapters that follow. As it became obvious to both father and son that David, not Jonathan, would be the next king (20:15; 24:20), the situation grew tense and progressively complex.
Saul, increasingly deranged and acting in rage, not only disputed the fidelity of Jonathan (20:30, 31), but even made an impetuous attempt on his life (20:33). Remaining ever loyal to David, however, Jonathan stayed steadfast at the side of his doomed father, finally dying with him on the desperate slopes of Gilboah, brave and faithful to the end.
Monday, May 31
First Samuel 19: This chapter is structured on three episodes, in each of which David is delivered from the clutches of Saul: (1) with the aid of Jonathan; (2) with the aid of Michal; and (3) with the aid of Samuel. There is a progressive intensity in these three episodes: in the first, David is delivered by negotiation; in the second, by a ruse; and in the third, by a demolishing counter-attack.
In the first episode (verses 1-7) Jonathan, following a promise to David, persuades his father to call off the execution of his friend. David is so placed that he can hear the conversation and be reassured. The intervention is successful, and David returns to court. This arrangement, nonetheless, is not permanent, because David’s continued military success plunges Saul once more into a deep and murderous madness (verses 8-10).
In the second episode (verses 11-17) Michal, learning that Saul’s executioners are plotting to kill her husband the next morning, plotted his escape during the night. H
er ruse included placing a statue of a household god in David’s bed and pretending he was sick. Meanwhile, David has made good his getaway.
This story reminds the reader of Rachel, who, like Michal, also employed the services of a household god to deceive her own father, Laban (Genesis 31:19,34-35). The similarity between the two cases, moreover, prompts the reader to recall that Laban, like Saul, meanly used his two daughters to exploit Jacob; both Laban and Saul delayed handing over the desired daughters and increased the price for them.
In the third episode (verses 18-24) Samuel, receiving David at his home in Ramah, protects him from Saul and the agents Saul sends to capture the fugitive.
This episode is elaborately told: Three delegations are dispatched. At each instance, Samuel and his prophetic followers are raised to ecstatic experience, causing a negative and debilitating reaction among those dispatched to capture David. (They become as helpless as the three delegations sent to arrest Elisha in 2 Kings 1:9-18.) Finally, Saul himself arrives, and in this case the debilitating reaction becomes extreme: Saul goes completely mad, strips off his clothes, and lies naked in the dirt.
The final details of this third episode form a contrasting parallel with Samuel’s first encounter with Saul at Ramah in chapter 9. There are five points of correspondence: (1) Both meetings take place at Ramah; (2) in each case Saul makes inquiry how to find Samuel; (3) in each case the inquiry is made at a well (cf. 9:10-11; 19:22); (4) in each case Saul is gripped by an ecstatic experience; and (5) in both cases the bystanders inquire, “Is Saul among the prophets?
This detailed parallel, however, serves entirely to heighten a contrast. Whereas in the first encounter with Samuel Saul was elevated in honor, in the second he is utterly degraded. In the first case, the question, “Is Saul among the prophets?” invites a positive response: “Yes!” In the second case the same question solicits a negative answer: “No, Saul is among the hopelessly insane!”
As Saul slips into lunacy, David makes his escape. Never again to appear in the court of Saul, he begins to live as a fugitive and outlaw, a thing not so easy to do in a place as small as the Judean Desert.
Tuesday, June 1
1 Samuel 20: It would be a simple matter to document the political crisis brought about by the decline of Saul and the simultaneously increasing success of David. Holy Scripture is not content, however, simply to chronicle the details of this crisis. Two other aspects of the political situation are objects of his interest and reflection: the divine purpose and the human drama. The first aspect is concerned with theology, and the second with psychology.
First, with respect to God’s purpose in the painful unfolding of the events in these chapters of Samuel, the comments of Holy Scripture are necessarily brief, modest, and occasionally indirect. The biblical writer claims no clarity of perception into the divine mind beyond the experienced conviction that the Lord of history had a decisive hand in the political development described in these pages. Things did not simply happen. They happened, rather, because they were guided by an obscure providential impulse that nudged events along in a determined direction. At no point in the story, moreover, did this providential impulse violate or impair the free choices and decisions of those taking part in the drama.
Here and there the biblical author points to some seam in the story’s fabric where God inserts a subtle but determining influence. For instance, when David and his two companions gain the advantage over Saul as he sleeps in the camp at Hachilah (chapter 26), the author discerns the subtle divine intrusion that makes the story’s outcome possible: “David took the spear and the jug of water at Saul’s head, and they slipped away; and no man saw or knew it or awoke. For they were all asleep, because a deep sleep from the Lord had fallen on them.” How did this happen? The writer has no idea, but he is sure of it, and that little detail determines the outcome of the narrative.
Sometimes the author’s perception of the providential influence is so oblique that he refrains from drawing attention to it. The reader is obliged to ferret the matter out for himself. For example, after going into minute detail on everything David did on the morning he set out for Saul’s camp near Azekah (chapter 17), the biblical writer barely hints at (wehinneh—“and behold”) the significance of Goliath’s appearance at the very moment David arrives on the scene. If the reader is unable to spot the significance of this “coincidence,” the author will not insult him by pointing it out.
More often the biblical writer summons his characters to become the spokesmen for his thesis. In the present chapter, for instance, Jonathan conveys his conviction that God is leading David to the throne; the Lord, Jonathan asserts, will be with David as He was, in former days, with his own father. Abigail, too, in chapter 25, voices this same conviction about the divine plan. She says to David, “For the Lord will certainly make for my lord an enduring house.” Even Saul becomes the spokesman for this thesis, declaring in the following chapter, “May you be blessed, my son David! You shall both do great things and also still prevail.”
Second, with respect to the human drama of this political crisis, the biblical author describes in detail the complex psychological experiences of the major characters.
Chief among these is Saul himself, who suffers the emotional trauma born of his rebellion. For a brief period—lasting exactly one verse in the previous chapter—Saul lets Jonathan persuade him to abandon the persecution of David. Saul is unhappy at his state of soul, but it avails him nothing. Deeper than these transitory impulses of remorse is his radical rebellion against the divine will. Even though Saul can say—and evidently, for the time being, believe it—“I have played the fool and erred exceedingly,” David cannot trust the king’s emotional instability.
In the present chapter, the author examines the inner suffering of Jonathan, who is understandably torn between the obligation of piety to his father and loyalty to his friend. Intrinsically opposed, both claims were equally tested. Even as he is faithful to his father, Jonathan is fully aware that the old man cannot be trusted, even with his son’s life. Saul is doomed, and Jonathan knows it, but Saul is still his father. David, to whom he is bound by personal covenant, is in danger, and Jonathan must protect him, even at the cost offending Saul.
At the same time, he knows, David will prevail; David will wear the crown, not Jonathan, and what will David do, when he comes to power, to secure his power against the claims of Jonathan’s own family? Most of all, in the present chapter, what can Jonathan do to demonstrate his absolute loyalty to his friend, whom the rest of the world must see as Jonathan’s rival for the throne? Was ever a friendship so tested as this one?
Wednesday, June 2
1 Samuel 21: Jonathan, though sorely pressed in the effort, found a way to remain loyal to David without breaking his allegiance to Saul. Not everyone involved in the crisis was able to do this. The priests at Nob, for example, one of whom David now approaches in the first story of this chapter (verses 1-10).
Ahimelch, chief of the priests at Nob, was the great-grandson of Eli, the priest of Shiloh, who was so important to the first chapters of this book. That family moved south after the Philistines’ capture of the Ark and the death of Eli, and now we find them at Nob, not far from Jerusalem.
Ahimelch, acquainted with reports of the deteriorating relationship between the king and his son-in-law, is at first fearful to receive David. Doubtless he knew these reports from his brother, Ahijah, who served as Sau
l’s chaplain (14:3). Ahimelch is nervous.
He has reason to be: Although David has struggled to remain an obedient subject of the king and a faithful friend to the king’s son, he is not overly scrupulous with the truth on every occasion, including two occasions in this chapter.
In short, David deceives Ahimelch, perhaps with the intention of giving him an excuse if Saul should learn of this meeting. First, David is well aware that Ahimelch has custody of the sword of Goliath. Indeed, it was to obtain this sword that David has come to Nob. Nevertheless, he never mentions the sword; he simply requests a weapon, and he does so near the end of his visit, as though it were an afterthought.
Second, David deceptively reassures Ahimelch that, far from being on the outs with Saul, he has just been dispatched by the king on a top-secret mission. He goes on to elaborate this hoax by mentioning that the rest of his party is concealed in the neighborhood.
That is to say, David hoodwinks the priest into helping him—the first of many beggars to hoodwink the clergy this way—and when the incident is very soon reported to Saul, Ahimelch will pay a dear price for his kindness. In due course, David’s conscience will not lie easy on this matter.
The bread David receives from Ahimelch come from “the loaves of the presence,” the dedicated bread placed in the sanctuary before the Lord and replaced each Sabbath (cf. Exodus 25:30; 35:13; Leviticus 24:5-9; 1 Chronicles 9:32). Normally this bread is eaten only by the priests, but Ahimelch makes an exception in the present case. This exception will later meet a very important approval (cf. Matthew 12:3-4; Mark 2:25-26; Luke 6:3-4).
One verse mentions that Saul’s spy witnesses the entire transaction. Not good.
In the second and shorter story (verses 11-16), David continues to elude Saul by going southwest and crossing into Philistine territory. This is risky, but David is a bit desperate. We suspect that reports of the political crisis in Israel may have reached Philistine ears, but David takes no chances. To make certain the Philistines will see in him neither a threat nor an advantage, he begins to act demented. When David recently watched Saul in a completely demented state, he took notes and knows what to do. The Philistines are impressed.
There had been abroad lately rumors of whole sections of Saul’s army—even Saul himself—suddenly growing crazy, so the Philistines are on their guard. The problem might be contagious, for all they know, so Achish, the king of Gath, declines to have anything to do with this mad visitor from Israel. Out with him!
While David is playing the idiot in Gath, Saul’s Edomite spy wastes no time getting word to the king about what has just happened at Nob.
Meanwhile, it occurs to David that his own family is at risk; he must get them to safety, away from Saul. They will be safest in Moab, he considers. Through their venerable ancestor, Ruth, the family has a touch of Moabite blood. It is time to turn east.
Thursday, June 3
1 Samuel 22: This chapter is formed of three parts, the first concerned with the journeys of David (verses 1-5), the second with the activities of Saul and Doeg (verses 6-19), and the third with the flight of Abiathar (verses 20-22).
Several significant facts emerge from the first section:
First, David is joined in his wanderings by his family and other outcasts interested in eluding Saul. This group will provide the wanderer with the makings of guerilla army.
Second, David puts his family under the protection of the king of Moab, who feels no qualm, we imagine, to helping someone he thinks is opposed to the king of Israel.
Third, David begins to receive guidance from a prophet, Gad, who enters his service and will remain with him for years to come (cf. 2 Samuel 24:11-19; 1 Chronicles 21:9-19).
This chapter’s second part, concerned with the activities of Saul and Doeg, presents three scenes:
First, Saul convenes a sort of “court of inquiry,” during which he upbraids his officers for their alleged disloyalty to him (verses 6-8). Doeg, by way of defending himself against this indictment, reports on David’s helpful reception by the priests of Nob (verses 9-10).
Second, in pursuit of Doeg’s charge, Saul subpoenas the Ahimelech and interrogates him on the charges alleged by Doeg (verses 13-15). In spite of the priest’s able defense and asseverations of innocence, Saul condemns him and all his family to death (verse 16).
Third, when Saul is unable to find anyone else to do the deed, he commissions Doeg to execute the priests, and his slaughter is extended to the entire priestly city of Nob (verses 17-19). Even the farm animals are slain, as Nob were a city—like Jericho of old—under a divine ban (cf. Deuteronomy 13:16-17; 20:16-17; Joshua 10:28,30,32; Judges 1:8,25).
The number of slain priests varies in the sources: the Massoretic text—85; the Septuagint—305; Josephus (Antiquities 6.12.6)—385.
The final section of this chapter (verses 20-23) tells of the escape of Ahimelech’s son, Abiathar, who seeks and finds refuge in David’s company. Now this group includes a priest as well as a prophet.
Saul’s mental and spiritual deterioration is now extreme. What began as personal jealousy is quickly becoming a civil war, including the willful slaughter of innocent people.
Saul has sunk so low that he throws in his lot with the likes of Doeg, arguably the worst man in the Bible. When Dante put Judas Iscariot in the lowest place in hell, he must have forgotten about Doeg. This was a man of cultivated cruelty, an individual with a developed taste for evil and a singular delight in the shedding of blood, a callous villain of no remorse.
Doeg’s ethical stature did not rise so high as hopelessness. As a moral character Judas seems preferable. Doeg would never have been capable of a moral sentiment so “sensible” as despair, nor a moral statement so “principled” as suicide.
Friday, June 4
1 Samuel 23: Three episodes make up the narrative of this chapter: first, David at Keilah (verses 1-13); second, Jonathan and David together (verses 14-18); and third, Saul’s further pursuit (verses 19-28).
The complex episode at Keilah, in which David delivers the city from the enemies of Israel, may be contrasted with the story of Nob, in which there was no one to deliver the city from the King of Israel.
Faced with reports of the Philistine siege of Keilah, David is uncertain of his course: Does he dare take his modest guerilla band to fight the besiegers, even as Saul pursues him with a large army? David is no coward, but He also does not want to tempt the Lord by presumption.
Well, then, there is nothing for it but to consult the Lord, and recent events have made this recourse a bit easier. When Abiathar fled from Nob, he took with him the oracular ephod used by the priests to discern God’s will (verse 6). David, who appeals to this source several times in the present chapter, seeks guidance what to do about Keilah. He consults the oracle once for himself, and then again to reassure his men. The answer, both times, is “Go for it!” He does, and a might victory ensues (verses 1-5).
Saul, who should have been the one to help Keilah, learns that David is now in the city, behind its walls. Aha, says he to himself, now we’re got him. Forthwith, the king proceeds to march toward Keilah.
David now confronts a new dilemma: Should he stay and take a stand in Keilah, to face Saul’s inevitable siege of the city, or does he flee before Saul arrives? There is a more direct way of posing the question: Will the citizens of Keilah protect David from Saul as he protected them from the Philistines?
On the face it, there is every reason to believe that the people in Keilah will be unwilling to put themselves at risk. They know what Saul just did to Nob, when he believed that city had a
ided David. David, again guided by oracular counsel, leads his men out of Keilah. It is a close call, nonetheless, and David is afraid (verses 14-15).
Jonathan, learning David’s whereabouts, leaves Saul’s force and comes to visit his friend in the Judean Desert (verses 16-18). On this, their final meeting, they renew their fraternal covenant.
One surmises that if Jonathan can ascertain the whereabouts of David, so can Saul, and he does. Just as he is about to move on David, however, messenger arrives to report that the army is needed elsewhere, to counter another Philistine attack. David experiences, yet again, a providential mercy.
Before Jonathan departs from his friend, he professes certainty that David will inherit the throne. He adds that Saul, too, knows this. Thus, the reader is given an update on the state of Saul’s mind: He is aware of the hopelessness of his cause; he is conscious of resisting the inevitable.
This resistance, nonetheless, is still pretty strong. Relying on further reports of David’s whereabouts in the southern desert, Saul again advanced and closes in on him. Just as the situation seems critical for David, word reaches Saul that he must break off the pursuit and journey back to deal with those pesky Philistines (verses 19-28). Divine Providence strikes again.