Find Strength in God

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1 Samuel 23:1-29 (Keilah, Ziph and Maon)

INTRODUCTION: Our message series is on David and Saul and we are in the part of the story where David is on the run and Saul is hot on his trail. David is tired. He is weary. He is worn out. And he desperately needs some encouragement. This is a beautiful passage because it teaches us what we need to do when we are also feeling beat up and worn out from life. When you’re absolutely drained, when your reserves are running low and you are out of strength, you need to find strength in God. (Read 1 Samuel 23:15-18 and pray)

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When you are stressed or facing difficult times, you need to find strength in God. In our passage today we meet David at three different locations: at Keilah, at Ziph and at Maon. David faces a different obstacle at each location, and through David’s experiences at each location we learn something new about finding strength in God.

I. David at Keilah – the word of God and prayer (1-13)

We find strength in God first of all by seeking God’s will through the word of God and prayer. We learn this at Keilah where David inquires of the Lord. And as we look at David’s interactions with the Lord in this passage, we find two lessons for ourselves about inquiring of the Lord. We should be bold in trusting God’s promises and wise in avoiding unnecessary danger.

   A. Be bold – trusting God’s promises (1-6)
      – Proverbs 28:1; Psalm 118:6

First of all, be bold in trusting God’s promises. Look at 1 Samuel 23:1-6:

When David was told, “Look, the Philistines are fighting against Keilah and are looting the threshing floors,” 2 he inquired of the Lord, saying, “Shall I go and attack these Philistines?” The Lord answered him, “Go, attack the Philistines and save Keilah.” 3 But David’s men said to him, “Here in Judah we are afraid. How much more, then, if we go to Keilah against the Philistine forces!”

4 Once again David inquired of the Lord, and the Lord answered him, “Go down to Keilah, for I am going to give the Philistines into your hand.” 5 So David and his men went to Keilah, fought the Philistines and carried off their livestock. He inflicted heavy losses on the Philistines and saved the people of Keilah. 6 (Now Abiathar son of Ahimelech had brought the ephod down with him when he fled to David at Keilah.) (1 Samuel 23:1-6)

The city of Keilah was located about three miles south of Adullam. It was a walled city on the outskirts of Judah, very close to the Philistine border. It was only about twelve miles from Gath, one of the Philistine capital cities.

When David hears that the Philistines are fighting against Keilah, he asks God whether he should help the people of Keilah. God gives him the go-ahead, but his men are afraid at first. So, David asks the Lord again, and the Lord confirms his word to David: “I am going to give the Philistines into your hand.”

So now David has a word from God. He has a promise from God. And in response to God’s word, David and his men boldly go up against the Philistines, and God grants them success. They rout the Philistines and save the people of Keilah. Even though David is not yet king, he is already acting like the king. Saul should be the one saving Keilah from the Philistines, not David. David is already fulfilling the role God has for him in advance.

Proverbs 28:1 says: “The wicked man flees though no one pursues, but the righteous are as bold as a lion.” (Proverbs 28:1) David acted boldly because he trusted God’s promise to him. As Christians we are also called to be bold. God has given us many precious promises in his word, and as Christians we have every reason to be bold and no reason to be afraid. Psalm 118:6 says: “The Lord is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do unto me?” (Psalm 118:6) As Christians we can be bold in trusting God’s promises.

   B. Be wise – avoiding unnecessary danger (7-13)
      – Matthew 10:16

And although boldness in response to God’s promises is right and appropriate for us as Christians, we also need to be wise in avoiding unnecessary danger. Look at 1 Samuel 23:7-13:

Saul was told that David had gone to Keilah, and he said, “God has handed him over to me, for David has imprisoned himself by entering a town with gates and bars.” 8 And Saul called up all his forces for battle, to go down to Keilah to besiege David and his men.

9 When David learned that Saul was plotting against him, he said to Abiathar the priest, “Bring the ephod.” 10 David said, “O Lord, God of Israel, your servant has heard definitely that Saul plans to come to Keilah and destroy the town on account of me. 11 Will the citizens of Keilah surrender me to him? Will Saul come down, as your servant has heard? O Lord, God of Israel, tell your servant.” And the Lord said, “He will.”

12 Again David asked, “Will the citizens of Keilah surrender me and my men to Saul?” And the Lord said, “They will.” 13 So David and his men, about six hundred in number, left Keilah and kept moving from place to place. When Saul was told that David had escaped from Keilah, he did not go there. (1 Samuel 23:7-13)

Saul finds out that David is in Keilah and notice how he misinterprets God’s will here. His first thought is that God has handed David over to him. It was hard tracking David down when he was on the run, but now in Saul’s words he is imprisoned in a city with gates and bars. Saul sees an opportunity, and h goes all out here. He calls up all his forces to go against David and his six hundred men.

When David learns of Saul’s plot, what does he do? He inquires of God again. He tells Abiathar the priest, “Bring the ephod.” Now you’re probably wondering, “What’s an ephod?” The ephod was a special garment worn by the high priest which contained two mysterious objects called the Urim and the Thummim. We don’t know much about these objects, perhaps they were two jewels or two stones, but we do know that God allowed the priests to use these objects to ask questions to discern God’s will.

Abiathar brought the ephod with him when he joined David, and so David has a valuable, God-given means for inquiring of the Lord at his disposal. Once again, notice the contrast between David and Saul. Saul has to rely on rumors and hearsay. David has a direct line to the Lord.

David asks God two questions. Is Saul coming down to Keilah? And will the people of Keilah deliver David to Saul? God says yes on both accounts. You might wonder why the people of Keilah would give David up right after David has just rescued them from the Philistines. It seems rather ungrateful, and it is. But they probably heard what Saul did to the city of Nob, and they are afraid of suffering the same fate. David inquires of the Lord, the Lord confirms to David that he is in danger, and David wisely withdraws.

Jesus told his disciples in Matthew 10:16: “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” (Matthew 10:16) Jesus says it’s dangerous out there, and so we need to be wise as serpents. We need to be bold in trusting God’s promises, but we also need to be wise in avoiding unnecessary danger.

The key point for us here is David inquiring of the Lord. David doesn’t do anything without checking with God first. And we should do the same. David inquired of the Lord through prophets and priests. God speaks to us today primarily through the word of God and prayer. But the key is to ask God. Be bold in trusting God’s promises, and be wise in avoiding unnecessary danger. Find strength in God by seeking his will through the word of God and prayer.

II. David at Ziph – faith and fellowship (14-18)

We also find strength in God by having faith in God and fellowship with believers. We see this in our next section with David in the Desert of Ziph.

   A. Have faith in God – persevering through hard times (14)
      – James 1:2-4

First you need to have faith in God if you are going to have the strength to persevere through the hard times. Look at 1 Samuel 23:14:

David stayed in the desert strongholds and in the hills of the Desert of Ziph. Day after day Saul searched for him, but God did not give David into his hands. (1 Samuel 23:14)

After withdrawing from Keilah, David and his men keep moving from place to place and eventually end up in the Desert of Ziph. Ziph was about sixteen miles south of Bethlehem, and the desert area was full of all sorts of caves and hiding places. Think of the caves in Afghanistan when the U.S. was looking for the Taliban.

So, David is hiding in the Desert of Ziph, and Saul engages him in a deadly game of hide-and-seek, of cat-and-mouse. Day after day Saul searches for him, but here is the key: God did not give David into Saul’s hands. David was safe because God kept him safe. David was in God’s hands, and it was God who kept him from Saul’s hands. Saul was pursuing David day after day. David could persevere day after day, because God was with him day after day.

You need to have faith in God if you are going to persevere through the hard times. James 1:2-4 says: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. 4 Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:2-4) God was testing David in the wilderness and preparing him for his future role as king.

   B. Have fellowship with believers – encouraging each other (15-18)
      – Hebrews 3:12-13

But you not only need faith in God. You also need fellowship with other believers. Look at 1 Samuel 23:15-18:

While David was at Horesh in the Desert of Ziph, he learned that Saul had come out to take his life. 16 And Saul’s son Jonathan went to David at Horesh and helped him find strength in God. 17 “Don’t be afraid,” he said. “My father Saul will not lay a hand on you. You will be king over Israel, and I will be second to you. Even my father Saul knows this.” 18 The two of them made a covenant before the Lord. Then Jonathan went home, but David remained at Horesh. (1 Samuel 23:15-18)

Saul was getting closer now, and this was a very stressful time for David. It is at this key time that his good friend Jonathan reaches out to him. We have already seen the strong friendship between David and Jonathan, and now Jonathan, at great risk to himself, makes this visit to David in the desert. Jonathan comes not just to encourage his friend, but to help David find strength in God. I like the way one person puts it: “He put David’s hand as it were into God’s hand.” (W.G. Blaikie)

None of us are meant to go it alone, and sometimes we need a little help from our friends. Jonathan helps David by reminding him of God’s promise that David will be king. This is one of the best ways we can help each other find strength in God. We remind each other of God’s promises, especially when a believer is struggling or distressed. We take our friend’s hand and put their hand in God’s hand.

Notice Jonathan’s humility. He recognizes that David will be king rather than himself. He says even his father Saul know this, which Saul himself will admit in 1 Samuel 24:20. David and Jonathan renew their covenant together before the Lord, and then Jonathan goes his way. This is the last recorded meeting between David and Jonathan. When David was at a low point, Jonathan risked his own life to help his friend find strength in God.

Hebrews 3:12-13 says: “See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. 13 But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.” (Hebrews 3:12-13) We need God. And we need each other. We find strength in God by having faith in God and fellowship with other believers.

III. David at Maon – God’s providential care (19-29)

So far, we have looked at David at Keilah and David at Ziph. Now we come to David at Maon. At Keilah we learned that we find strength in God by seeking God’s will through the word of God and prayer. At Ziph we learned that we find strength in God by having faith in God and fellowship with other believers. And now at Maon we learn a third way we find strength in God. We find strength in God by trusting God’s providential care.

There are two lessons in particular here. Be alert, the enemy seeks to destroy you. And be at peace, God is in control.

   A. Be alert – the enemy seeks to destroy you (19-23)
      – 1 Peter 5:8-9

First of all, be alert – the enemy seeks to destroy you. Look at 1 Samuel 23:19-23:

The Ziphites went up to Saul at Gibeah and said, “Is not David hiding among us in the strongholds at Horesh, on the hill of Hakilah, south of Jeshimon? 20 Now, O king, come down whenever it pleases you to do so, and we will be responsible for handing him over to the king.”

21 Saul replied, “The Lord bless you for your concern for me. 22 Go and make further preparation. Find out where David usually goes and who has seen him there. They tell me he is very crafty. 23 Find out about all the hiding places he uses and come back to me with definite information. Then I will go with you; if he is in the area, I will track him down among all the clans of Judah.” (1 Samuel 23:19-23)

After Jonathan leaves David, the Ziphites come to Saul and offer to find David and hand him over to the king. Saul is touched by their offer. He replies, “The Lord bless you for your concern for me.” As usual for Saul it’s all about Saul.

He tells them to go and make further preparation. He warns them how crafty David is. He tells them once they know more about David’s hiding places, once they have definite information, to come back to him and Saul will hunt him down. Saul is relentless in his pursuit of David, and now David has new enemies in the form of the Ziphites.

The Bible warns us as believers that you too have an enemy and therefore need to be alert. 1 Peter 5 says: “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. 9 Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.” (1 Peter 5:8-9) In other words, what you are going through is not unique to you. We have a common enemy, and many of your brothers and sisters in Christ are also under attack.

   B. Be at peace – God is in control (24-29)
      – Psalm 54; Luke 22:42-43

So be alert, the enemy seeks to destroy you. But also, be at peace, because God is in control. Look at 1 Samuel 23:24-29:

So they set out and went to Ziph ahead of Saul. Now David and his men were in the Desert of Maon, in the Arabah south of Jeshimon. 25 Saul and his men began the search, and when David was told about it, he went down to the rock and stayed in the Desert of Maon. When Saul heard this, he went into the Desert of Maon in pursuit of David.

26 Saul was going along one side of the mountain, and David and his men were on the other side, hurrying to get away from Saul. As Saul and his forces were closing in on David and his men to capture them, 27 a messenger came to Saul, saying, “Come quickly! The Philistines are raiding the land.” 28 Then Saul broke off his pursuit of David and went to meet the Philistines. That is why they call this place Sela Hammahlekoth. 29 And David went up from there and lived in the strongholds of En Gedi. (1 Samuel 23:24-29)

David is in the Desert of Maon about five miles south of Ziph when Saul and his men enter the desert in hot pursuit. This is one of the great action scenes in the Bible. I still remember reading this one with my boys when they were younger. Saul and his men are going along one side of the mountain, while David and his men are going along the other side. These two forces are on a collision course, and David is about to be captured.

This is the closest Saul has gotten to David yet. And then just as Saul and his forces are closing in on David, a messenger suddenly arrives with news that the Philistines are attacking. Saul breaks off his pursuit of David and goes to meet the Philistines. As a result, this place got a new name, “Sela Hammahlekoth,” which means “Rock of Parting.” After such a close call, David escapes safely to En-Gedi where he will find both water and shelter.

This is a wonderful example of God’s providence. Was it a coincidence that the messenger arrived just before Saul and his forces would have captured David and his men? Of course not. This was God’s hand of providence. God’s hand of providence delivered David from the hand of the Philistines at Keilah and from the hand of Saul at Maon. When you’re in God’s hands, you’re in good hands.

David later wrote about this incident in Psalm 54: “Hear my prayer, O God; listen to the words of my mouth. Strangers are attacking me; ruthless men seek my life – men without regard for God. Selah. Surely God is my help; the Lord is the one who sustains me.” (Psalm 54:2-4) The strangers in this psalm are the Ziphites who betrayed David to Saul. David cries out to God for help, and then he pauses. That’s what that word “Selah” means there in verse three. It’s a place to pause and reflect. David pauses and reflects on how God saved him from Saul.

And then David says in verse 4: “Surely God is my help; the Lord is the one who sustains me.” David knew he had enemies hot on his trail. Be alert – the enemy seeks to destroy you. But he also knew that the Lord is the one who sustains him. Be at peace – God is in control.

The Lord is the one who sustains you. That means the Lord is the one who gives you strength. That’s the third way we find strength in God. Trust in God’s providential care.

CONCLUSION: When you are stressed or facing difficult times, you need to find strength in God. God is omnipotent. God is all powerful. When you find strength in God, you will find plenty of strength to face the challenges and tasks of each day. When you try to find strength outside of God, you are only setting yourself up for failure.

Before Jesus went to the cross, he went to the Garden of Gethsemane. Like David he was in great distress. So, what did he do? 1) He sought God’s will in prayer. 2) He didn’t try to do it alone. He brought friends along to help him, although they ended up falling asleep. 3) He trusted in God’s providential care.

Jesus prayed: “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42) He submitted himself to God’s will, and then the Bible tells us: “An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him.” (Luke 22:43) Jesus was at his lowest point and what did he do? He found strength in God.

Jesus found strength in God so that he would have the strength to go to the cross to die for our sins so that we also could find strength in God. When you go to God through Jesus, God is always there for you. His word is full of promises for you.

So, seek God’s will through the word of God and prayer. Have faith in God and fellowship with other believers. Trust God’s providential care. When life hits you hard, find strength in God through Jesus Christ our Lord.

© Ray Fowler

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