Samuel anointed David to succeed Saul as king of Israel, but the prophet never promised the son of Jesse that his path to the throne would be easy (1 Sam. 16:1–13). Indeed, as we have seen thus far in our study of the Old Testament Historical Books, David’s ascension was by no means simple. He had to serve a fickle, insane king who had David in his good graces one moment and wanted him dead in the next. He had to spend much of Saul’s reign on the run from the king, lest he be captured and killed (chs. 17–22).
Given these difficult conditions, a word of encouragement from the Lord certainly would have been welcome. God provided that to David, as we see in today’s passage. The events of today’s passage took place south of Jerusalem and west of the Dead Sea as David continued to evade Saul and yet deliver Israel along the way. First, we see that David rescued the city of Keilah from the Philistines. Encouragement from the Lord in this case consisted in God’s telling David to rescue Keilah and His promising to give the Philistines into David’s hands (23:1–5).
Once Keilah was rescued, however, David learned that the leaders of Keilah wanted to hand him over to Saul. He received this information from the ephod held by the priest Abiathar. As described in Exodus 28, the ephod was the high priest’s garment and included a breastpiece that housed the Urim and Thummim, objects that were drawn from the breastpiece to discern God’s will (1 Sam. 14:41). David could not count on the loyalty of Keilah, but he could count on the Lord’s encouragement and protection. God told him that Keilah would hand him over, enabling him to flee to safety (23:6–14).
This brought David to the wilderness of Ziph, where Jonathan encouraged the son of Jesse by telling him that Saul would by no means succeed in his mad pursuit (vv. 15–18). Whether speaking to David directly through the ephod or indirectly through the refreshing words of Jonathan, God was at work in protecting and guiding His chosen successor to Saul. When the Lord chooses someone for a specific purpose, He will surely put that person in place.
Finally, 1 Samuel 23:19–29 tells us that David barely escaped Saul when the inhabitants of Ziph revealed David’s whereabouts to the king. David escaped because Saul was forced to go off and deal with the Philistines. It was a strikingly unexpected providence for God to use Israel’s enemies to make it possible for David to escape.