I Samuel 23:7–29: Saul Pursues David
Saul hears that David has gone to Keilah (refer to the last passage), which is a city which has gates and bars. So he assumes that God has handed David over to him, by having David go to a city where he will be imprisoned. He gets his men together and heads for Keilah, intent on besieging it, to capture David.
However, David hears about it. He has Abiathar bring the ephod, so that he can inquire of God, and God confirms that yes, Saul is on his way, and when he gets here, the people of Keilah will give David up to him. So David and his men—about six hundred, at this time—leave Keilah, and keep moving from place to place. Saul hears about it, and doesn’t bother continuing on to Keilah, but he does continue his search for David. But God doesn’t give David into his hands.
And then an interesting thing happens:
While David was at Horesh in the Desert of Ziph, he learned that Saul had come out to take his life. And Saul’s son Jonathan went to David at Horesh and helped him find strength in God. “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.” The two of them made a covenant before the LORD. Then Jonathan went home, but David remained at Horesh. (verses 15–18)
So Saul and Jonathan know that David is going to be king.
At one point, the Ziphites approach Saul, because the places David is hiding all seem to be within their territory. They offer to hand him over to Saul, but Saul doesn’t think they’ll actually be able to do it, because David is very crafty. He tells them to come back to him with definite information, and then he’ll come for David. And they must get such information, because David is currently hiding in the Desert of Maon, and Saul heads over there to find him. And then God providentially intervenes again:
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, a messenger came to Saul, saying, “Come quickly! The Philistines are raiding the land.” Then Saul broke off his pursuit of David and went to meet the Philistines. That is why they call this place Sela Hammahlekoth. And David went up from there and lived in the strongholds of En Gedi. (verses 26–29)
According to the footnote for verse 28, “Sela Hammahlekoth” means “rock of parting.”
When Saul hears that David has the potential to be trapped in Keilah, it’s interesting that he thinks the LORD is handing David over to him. Jonathan seems to think that Saul knows David is going to be king, but at the same time Saul thinks that God is helping him capture David? Again, I think that Saul has some mental problems.
I don’t necessarily judge the people of Keilah for giving David up to Saul. (They didn’t actually do it, but the LORD said that they would have, if David had stayed.) After all, when the king of your country shows up and asks you to give up a “criminal,” you can’t be blamed for doing it. I suppose I shouldn’t judge the Ziphites, either, for the same reason, but somehow their actions seem more vile to me.
I’ve been going under the assumption, so far, that Saul has been a bit paranoid about David succeeding him as king. I know that David is going to be king, since I’m looking back in history, but from Saul’s perspective, David has never done anything except faithfully serve Saul. But according to Jonathan, he and Saul both know that David is going to become king. So really, Saul is trying to prevent the LORD’s will from happening—which is always a fool’s errand.