It’s been a long 4 weeks since we’ve been in our expositional series for 2016 called ‘Collision’ going through 1 Samuel. So before diving into our text today let me remind you of where we left off.
It’s really nothing that new to us, as soon as we come into today’s text we see things we’ve seen many times before. David is fleeing and hiding from Saul, while Saul is pursuing and seeking David to kill him. In 23:1-5 David saved the people of Keilah from the raiding of the Philistines, yet God tells David in 23:7-14 that the people of Keilah will give him up if Saul comes to attack the city. This is disappointment number 1: the same people David’s just saved are willing to turn their back on him the very next day. Now, in order to save the people of Keilah again, he must leave it before Saul comes to attack the city and the people seize and surrender him to Saul. So off he goes into the rocky wilderness outside the city of Ziph to hide. It’s in this wilderness (23:15-18) where we see disappointment number 2: though it would have been a great encouragement to see Jonathan again and to hear the words he had to say, this was going to be the last time David would ever see him alive. v15-18 is so breathtaking that when we came to this passage 4 weeks ago we paused for an entire Sunday to see how the encouragement between David and Jonathan lays down a model for how sinners saved by grace are to do life with one another in the Church.
Today we pick back up where we left off, in 23:19 to finish this chapter and see disappointment number 3 and a pleasing providence, which delivers David from this third incident.
Apparently in v19-20 a group of Ziphites traveled from Ziph to Gibeah to bring Saul good tidings of great joy. ‘O King, David is hiding among us, come down according to all your hearts desire and we will show you where he is.’ This group is nothing more than political enthusiasts who want to get in good with Saul. Saul’s response to them in v21-23 is incredibly arrogant and self-aggrandizing. In v21 he expresses himself in what can only be described as a kind of pity party. He thanks the Ziphites for coming to him and telling him of David’s whereabouts. Saul communicates this to them by thanking them for showing compassion on him. He’s so thankful for being shown compassion…as if no one else in his life has ever showed him a hint of compassion, as if he’s had such a long and hard life being the king of God’s people. In v22-23 Saul asks the Ziphites to bring him better information about the place David is hiding, about who has seen him there, and all the other places he cunningly walks around the Ziph. Then and only then will Saul come to Ziph to seek David out. In v23b Saul’s pity party all of a sudden turns into a self-aggrandizing statement of his own power to hunt David down. “And if he’s in the land, I will search him out among all the thousands of Judah.” You get the feeling from Saul’s response that he is so desperate that he’s trying to speak his own reality into existence, as if saying that he’ll catch David will make it so.
The speed of the passage increases at this point. In v24-25 we find that the group of Ziphites who had come to Gibeah leave to return to Ziph to find out more details out David’s whereabouts before Saul (whose also left for Ziph) gets there to hunt him down. But David has apparently left Ziph and gone 4 miles south to the wilderness in Maon. Even so, Saul seemed to have picked up on David’s trail so he quickly comes out to hunt him down. David hears that Saul is hunting him so he goes deeper into the Maon wilderness. When Saul heard that David has heard about him coming after him, Saul picked up the pace as well. Then the tension reaches its apex in v26 where it says, “Saul went on one side of the mountain, and David and his men on the other side of the mountain. And David was hurrying to get away from Saul.” Saul has been unable to find David for a long time now, and it looks like he’s about to get him. There on opposite sides of the same mountain. This is the point where we almost want to close our eyes because we know how the rest is going to play out…capture, humiliation, and likely, death.
Before we continue on in the passage to see the outcome we have to remember, this is David’s third large disappointment in a very brief time. First, after saving the people of Keilah they return the favor by being willing to give David over to Saul. Second, though Jonathan encouraged David in the midst of despair it was the last time the two friends would ever see each other. And third, here in our passage: after these two disappointing events, the Ziphites actively seek out David and tell Saul everything about where he is hiding and it seems like he’s about to come to his demise. I wonder how many of you know how David’s feeling at this moment? Perhaps you’ve been there too, where events in your life have at one time or another spiraled out of control, so out of control that you have no idea how move forward in life. So out of control that an evening’s sleep feels like an escape from the days nightmare. Any person whose gone through experiences like this back to back to back is going to have a deep sense of misery, disappointment, or overwhelming agony within them. What can we do in such times of sever disappointment? We cry out to God and ask Him to save us, trusting Him to do what seems good to Him.
When we pick back up in the narrative in v26b-29 we read, “As Saul and his men were closing in on David and his men to capture them, a messenger came to Saul saying ‘Hurry and come, for the Philistines have made a raid against the land.’ So Saul returned from pursuing after David and went against the Philistines. Therefore that place was called the Rock of Escape. And David went up from there and lived in the strongholds of Engedi.” How sweet are the pleasant providences of God in the midst of deep disappointments? Of course you can read this moment in a different way (a foolish way) thinking that David is just lucky the Philistines came to raid Israel at the very last moment possible to save his life. Don’t give way to such nonsense. God, in His sovereign wisdom, ordains whatsoever comes to pass. Nothing happens, even the moving of ants, apart from or outside of God’s providential and purposeful plan. The proper way to read it is that God mercifully rescued David at the last possible moment by sending the Philistines to raid against His people. Seen in this light, we marvel at the endless variety of ways God acts to save His people…even the Philistines are used to save Israel’s young king.
We see some irony unfold here as well. In the beginning of this chapter, in v1-5 it was David and his men who functioned as the unexpected saviors for the people of Keilah who were suffering from the rage of the Philistines. I say it was surprising to see David do this because it should have been Saul who saved them. Contrast that with how this chapter ends. In v19-29 it is the Philistines who function as the unexpected saviors for David and his men who were suffering from the rage of Saul. So David saved Israel from the Philistines to begin chapter 23, and the Philistines saved David from Saul at the end of chapter 23. In the midst of deep disappointments God truly works in strange ways to keep His people on their feet. Remember though, Saul is not gone for good. David is still on the run and his trials are not over. But in the trial and suffering God provides for him by enabling him to keep standing and taste a little of the relief that will one day come in full measure. The Rock of Escape is indeed a suitable name for such a place. Perhaps you can now see many other Rock’s of Escape throughout the rest of the Bible, throughout the life of Christ, and even in your own life when God mercifully showed up to bring rescue at the last possible moment.
Well chapter 23 is now done but we’re not. After the events of this chapter, after these three disappoints and God’s gracious providential rescue in the midst of his third disappointment, David, probably in some level of disbelief, sees his Saul and his men give up their pursuit, and sits down to pen the words of Psalm 54. Listen to the Psalm, “TO THE CHOIRMASTER: WITH STRINGED INSTRUMENTS. A MASKIL OF DAVID, WHEN THE ZIPHITES WENT AND TOLD SAUL, “IS NOT DAVID HIDING AMONG US?” O God, save me by Your name, and vindicate me by Your might. O God, hear my prayer; give ear to the words of my mouth. For strangers have risen against me; ruthless men seek my life; they do not set God before themselves. Behold, God is my helper; the Lord is the upholder of my life. He will return the evil to my enemies; in Your faithfulness put an end to them. With a freewill offering I will sacrifice to You; I will give thanks to Your name, O LORD, for it is good. For He has delivered me from every trouble, and my eye has looked in triumph on my enemies.”
This is David’s prayer and praise for having received deliverance from his enemies. He expresses the pain of betrayal and praise toward God for rescue. The pain of betrayal is seen in the first half of the Psalm while his praise toward God is seen in the back half of the Psalm. David lumps the Ziphites together with Saul and his men calling them strangers and ruthless men who seek his life and do not set God before themselves. It is a painful thing to be betrayed by your closest neighbors, but no matter how close the treachery is…God is closer still. Indeed God is our helper and upholder, He is the One who is faithful to His people and the One who will return evil on all His and our enemies. After David was saved by God, he called this place the Rock of Escape and it was in that very place that he then made an offering and worshiped God saying, “For He has delivered me from every trouble, and my eye has looked in triumph on my enemies.”
We learn many things from this Psalm and the circumstances behind it in 1 Samuel 23:19-29.
1) We cannot get away from evil men by running away. Wherever David fled to, Gibeah, Keilah, or Ziph, he found evil creeping close by. The same is true for us, we will find wicked men in New Port Richey, in all of Florida, and throughout the whole world. Perhaps you already know this and are growing so weary of all the sin you see in the world you want to move out in the middle of North Dakota to get away from it all. Well, I’m afraid that won’t do you any good at all because even when you’re all alone you still have to deal with that one wicked sinner staring back at you in the mirror everyday. Remember, there are only two kinds of people in the world – it’s not good guys and bad guys – it’s bad guys and Jesus. We live in a fallen world, which means the only people we interact with on a daily basis, except God, are fallen people. Don’t put your trust in men, trust in God.
2) Whatever makes us feel our entire dependence on God is good for us. David would not have had the blessing of this Psalm if Saul and the Ziphites had not been seeking to chase him down. He wouldn’t have known God to be his Helper unless God had placed him in a situation where he needed to be helped. Even Jesus’ resurrection and exaltation to the right hand of His Father came after His humiliation in His incarnation, suffering, and death. This pattern is true for us too. Blessing, growth, and delight are waiting after each trial, disappointment, and season of suffering. Knowing that God works like this and grows us through trials of various of kinds changes how we view these difficulties while we’re in them. It enables us to stand in them and look back on them with fondness afterwards. So all trials, small or severe, are great mercies of God to us.
3) David’s escape from Saul, though it seemed as sure as the day, shows us that God can save His people by ordinary means just as He can by extraordinary means. God didn’t part the mountain David and Saul were both on in order to bring David to safety as God did for Moses by the Red Sea. God didn’t cause fire to come down and consume all David’s enemies as God did for Elijah on Mt. Carmel. God didn’t raise up and reveal a vast army from dry bones to David as he did to Ezekiel. God didn’t calm the storm David was in to show His power like He did for the disciples in the boat. God didn’t shake the earth to rescue David as He did to rescue Paul and Silas in the jail at Philippi. But God did save David nonetheless. This is a wonderful illustration that ordinary means are as effective as extraordinary means.
4) After God brought the rage of the Philistines on Israel to save David, David named the place of God’s redemption the ‘Rock of Escape.’ Of this moment he said in Psalm 54, “I will give thanks to Your name, O LORD, for it is good. For He has delivered me from every trouble, and my eye has looked in triumph on my enemies.” Such a sweet moment this was to David, he could always look back on it and be reminded of God’s power to save and God’s love for him. Do you see that we too have a Rock of Escape that we can look back to, to be reminded of God’s power to save and His love for us?
Wherever your Rock of Escape happens to be, see this: the reason we have escaped is because God didn’t allow His own Son to escape.