Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
1 Kings (1 Samuel)
David Delivers Keilah. He Is Betrayed by the Ziphites, and Marvellously Saved from Saul in the Desert of Maon - 1 Samuel 23
The following events show how, on the one hand, the Lord gave pledges to His servant David that he would eventually become king, but yet on the other hand plunged him into deeper and deeper trouble, that He might refine him and train him to be a king after His own heart. Saul's rage against the priests at Nob not only drove the high priest into David's camp, but procured for David the help of the "light and right" of the high priest in all his undertakings. Moreover, after the prophet Gad had called David back to Judah, an attack of the Philistines upon Keilah furnished him with the opportunity to show himself to the people as their deliverer. And although this enterprise of his exposed him to fresh persecutions on the part of Saul, who was thirsting for revenge, he experienced in connection therewith not only the renewal of Jonathan's friendship on this occasion, but a marvellous interposition on the part of the faithful covenant God.
1 Kings (1 Samuel) 23:1
Rescue of Keilah. - After his return to the mountains of Judah, David received intelligence that Philistines, i.e., a marauding company of these enemies of Israel, were fighting against Keilah, and plundering the threshing-floors, upon which the corn that had been reaped was lying ready for threshing. Keilah belonged to the towns of the lowlands of Judah (Jos 15:44); and although it has not yet been discovered, was certainly very close to the Philistian frontier.
After receiving this information, David inquired of the Lord (through the Urim and Thummim of the high priest) whether he should go and smite these Philistines, and received an affirmative answer.
But his men said to him, "Behold, here in Judah we are in fear (i.e., are not safe from Saul's pursuit); how shall we go to Keilah against the ranks of the Philistines?" In order, therefore, to infuse courage into them, he inquired of the Lord again, and received the assurance from God, "I will give the Philistines into thy hand." He then proceeded with his men, fought against the Philistines, drove off their cattle, inflicted a severe defeat upon them, and thus delivered the inhabitants of Keilah. In Sa1 23:6 a supplementary remark is added in explanation of the expression "inquired of the Lord," to the effect that, when Abiathar fled to David to Keilah, the ephod had come to him. The words "to David to Keilah" are not to be understood as signifying that Abiathar did not come to David till he was in Keilah, but that when he fled after David (Sa1 22:20), he met with him as he was already preparing for the march of Keilah, and immediately proceeded with him thither. For whilst it is not stated in Sa1 22:20 that Abiathar came to David in the wood of Hareth, but the place of meeting is left indefinite, the fact that David had already inquired of Jehovah (i.e., through the oracle of the high priest) with reference to the march to Keilah, compels us to assume that Abiathar had come to him before he left the mountains for Keilah. So that the brief expression "to David to Keilah," which is left indefinite because of its brevity, must be interpreted in accordance with this fact.
As soon as Saul received intelligence of David's march to Keilah, he said, "God has rejected him (and delivered him) into my hand." נכּר does not mean simply to look at, but also to find strange, and treat as strange, and then absolutely to reject (Jer 19:4, as in the Arabic in the fourth conjugation). This is the meaning here, where the construction with בּידי is to be understood as a pregnant expression: "rejection and delivered into my hand" (vid., Ges. Lex. s. v.). The early translators have rendered it quite correctly according to the sense מכר, πέπρακεν, tradidit, without there being any reason to suppose that they read מכר instead of נכּר. "For he hath shut himself in, to come (= coming, or by coming) into a city with gates and bolts."
He therefore called all the people (i.e., men of war) together to war, to go down to Keilah, and to besiege David and his men.
But David heard that Saul was preparing mischief against him (lit. forging, החרישׁ, from הרשׁ; Pro 3:29; Pro 6:14, etc.), and he inquired through the oracle of the high priest whether the inhabitants of Keilah would deliver him up to Saul, and whether Saul would come down; and as both questions were answered in the affirmative, he departed from the city with his six hundred men, before Saul carried out his plan. It is evident from Sa1 23:9-12, that when the will of God was sought through the Urim and Thummim, the person making the inquiry placed the matter before God in prayer, and received an answer; but always to one particular question. For when David had asked the two questions given in Sa1 23:11, he received the answer to the second question only, and had to ask the first again (Sa1 23:12).
"They went whithersoever they could go" (lit. "they wandered about where they wandered about"), i.e., wherever they could go without danger.
David retreated into the desert (of Judah), to the mountain heights (that were to be found there), and remained on the mountains in the desert of Ziph. The "desert of Judah" is the desert tract between the mountains of Judah and the Dead Sea, in its whole extent, from the northern boundary of the tribe of Judah to the Wady Fikreh in the south (see at Jos 15:61). Certain portions of this desert, however, received different names of their own, according to the names of different towns on the border of the mountains and desert. The desert of Ziph was that portion of the desert of Judah which was near to and surrounded the town of Ziph, the name of which has been retained in the ruins of Tell Zif, an hour and three-quarters to the south-east of Hebron (see at Jos 15:55).
Sa1 23:14. "And Saul sought him all the days, but God delivered him not into his hand." This is a general remark, intended to introduce the accounts which follow, of the various attempts made by Saul to get David into his power. "All the days," i.e., as long as Saul lived.
1 Kings (1 Samuel) 23:15
David in the Deserts of Ziph and Maon. - The history of David's persecution by Saul is introduced in Sa1 23:15-18, with the account of an attempt made by the noble-minded prince Jonathan, in a private interview with his friend David, to renew his bond of friendship with him, and strengthen David by his friendly words for the sufferings that yet awaited him. Sa1 23:15, Sa1 23:16 are to be connected together so as to form one period: "When David saw that Saul was come out ... and David was in the desert of Ziph, Jonathan rose up and went to David into the wood." חרשׁה, from חרשׁ, with ה paragogic, signifies a wood or thicket; here, however, it is probably a proper name for a district in the desert of Ziph that was overgrown with wood or bushes, and where David was stopping at that time. "There is no trace of this wood now. The land lost its ornament of trees centuries ago through the desolating hand of man" (v. de Velde). "And strengthened his hand in God," i.e., strengthened his heart, not by supplies, or by money, or any subsidy of that kind, but by consolation drawn from his innocence, and the promises of God (vid., Jdg 9:24; Jer 23:14). "Fear not," said Jonathan to him, "for the hand of Saul my father will not reach thee; and thou wilt become king over Israel, and I will be the second to thee; and Saul my father also knows that it is so." Even though Jonathan had heard nothing from David about his anointing, he could learn from David's course thus far, and from his own father's conduct, that David would not be overcome, but would possess the sovereignty after the death of Saul. Jonathan expresses here, as his firm conviction, what he has intimated once before, in Sa1 20:13.; and with the most loving self-denial entreats David, when he shall be king, to let him occupy the second place in the kingdom. It by no means follows from the last words ("Saul my father knoweth"), that Saul had received distinct information concerning the anointing of David, and his divine calling to be king. The words merely contain the thought, he also sees that it will come. The assurance of this must have forced itself involuntarily upon the mind of Saul, both from his own rejection, as foretold by Samuel, and also from the marvellous success of David in all his undertakings.
1 Kings (1 Samuel) 23:18
After these encouraging words, they two made a covenant before Jehovah: i.e., they renewed the covenant which they had already made by another solemn oath; after which Jonathan returned home, but David remained in the wood.
The treachery of the Ziphites forms a striking contrast to Jonathan's treatment of David. They went up to Gibeah to betray to Saul the fact that David was concealed in the wood upon their mountain heights, and indeed "upon the hill Hachilah, which lies to the south of the waste." The hill of Ziph is a flattened hill standing by itself, of about a hundred feet in height. "There is no spot from which you can obtain a better view of David's wanderings backwards and forwards in the desert than from the hill of Ziph, which affords a true panorama. The Ziphites could see David and his men moving to and fro in the mountains of the desert of Ziph, and could also perceive how he showed himself in the distance upon the hill Hachilah on the south side of Ziph (which lies to the right by the desert); whereupon they sent as quickly as possible to Saul, and betrayed to him the hiding-place of his enemy" (v. de Velde, ii. pp. 104-5). Jeshimon does not refer here to the waste land on the north-eastern coast of the Dead Sea, as in Num 21:20; Num 23:28, but to the western side of that sea, which is also desert.
Sa1 23:20 reads literally thus: "And now, according to all the desire of thy soul, O king, to come down (from Gibeah, which stood upon higher ground), come down, and it is in us to deliver him (David) into the hand of the king."
1 Kings (1 Samuel) 23:21
For this treachery Saul blessed them: "Be blessed of the Lord, that ye have compassion upon me." In his evil conscience he suspected David of seeking to become his murderer, and therefore thanked God in his delusion that the Ziphites had had compassion upon him, and shown him David's hiding-place.
1 Kings (1 Samuel) 23:22
In his anxiety, however, lest David should escape him after all, he charged them, "Go, and give still further heed (הכין without לב, as in Jdg 12:6), and reconnoitre and look at his place where his foot cometh (this simply serves as a more precise definition of the nominal suffix in מקומו, his place), who hath seen him there (sc., let them inquire into this, that they may not be deceived by uncertain or false reports): for it is told me that he dealeth very subtilly."
1 Kings (1 Samuel) 23:23
They were to search him out in every corner (the object to דּעוּ must be supplied from the context). "And come ye again to me with the certainty (i.e., when you have got some certain intelligence concerning his hiding-place), that I may go with you; and if he is in the land, I will search him out among all the thousands (i.e., families) of Judah."
1 Kings (1 Samuel) 23:24
With this answer the Ziphites arose and "went to Ziph before Saul" (who would speedily follow with his warriors); but David had gone farther in the meantime, and was with his men "in the desert of Maon, in the steppe to the south of the wilderness." Maon, now Man, is about three hours and three-quarters S.S.E. of Hebron (see at Jos 15:55), and therefore only two hours from Ziph, from which it is visible. "The table-land appears to terminate here; nevertheless the principal ridge of the southern mountains runs for a considerable distance towards the south-west, whereas towards the south-east the land falls off more and more into a lower table-land." This is the Arabah or steppe on the right of the wilderness (v. de Velde, ii. pp. 107-8).
1 Kings (1 Samuel) 23:25
Having been informed of the arrival of Saul and his men (warriors), David went down the rock, and remained in the desert of Maon. "The rock" is probably the conical mountain of Main (Maon), the top of which is now surrounded with ruins, probably remains of a tower (Robinson, Pal. ii. p. 194), as the rock from which David came down can only have been the mountain (Sa1 23:26), along one side of which David went with his men whilst Saul and his warriors went on the other, namely when Saul pursued him into the desert of Maon.
1 Kings (1 Samuel) 23:26
"And David was anxiously concerned to escape from Saul, and Saul and his men were encircling David and his men to seize them; but a messenger came to Saul ... . Then Saul turned from pursuing David." The two clauses, "for Saul and his men" (Sa1 23:26), and "there came a messenger" (Sa1 23:27), are the circumstantial clauses by which the situation is more clearly defined: the apodosis to דּוד ויהי does not follow till ויּשׁב in Sa1 23:28. The apodosis cannot begin with וּמלאך because the verb does not stand at the head. David had thus almost inextricably fallen into the hands of Saul; but God saved him by the fact that at that very moment a messenger arrived with the intelligence, "Hasten and go (come), for Philistines have fallen into the land," and thus called Saul away from any further pursuit of David.
1 Kings (1 Samuel) 23:28
From this occurrence the place received the name of Sela-hammahlekoth, "rock of smoothnesses," i.e., of slipping away or escaping, from חלק, in the sense of being smooth. This explanation is at any rate better supported than "rock of divisions, i.e., the rock at which Saul and David were separated" (Clericus), since חלק does not mean to separate.