1 Samuel 23
Saul and David play cat and mouse
David rescues city from Philistines1Some people told David, “Philistines are raiding the town of Keilah.  They’re robbing farmers who are shaking loose grain kernels at the threshing floors.”  2David asked the LORD, “Should I attack the Philistines?” The LORD answered, “Yes. Save Keilah.” 3But the men in David’s militia said, “Look at us. We’re already afraid of what our own people might do to us in our own tribal land of Judah. And you want us to attack the Philistines?”
4David took his request back to the LORD. Again, the LORD said, “Yes. Go to Keilah. I’ll make sure you win, and the Philistines lose.” 5David took his men to Keilah. They crushed the Philistines and saved the people of Keilah and their livestock. 6David was in Keilah when the priest Abiathar, son of Ahimelech, arrived and joined his group. The priest brought a sacred ephod  apron with him.
7When Saul found out David was staying at Keilah, he said, “We’ve got him now. He’s waiting for us, trapped inside a city surrounded by stone walls and locked city gates.” 8Saul gathered his army to lay siege to Keilah.
David uses ephod apron to contact God9When David heard Saul was planning to come for him, he told the priest Abiathar, “Bring the ephod apron.” 10David prayed, “LORD and God of Israel, I’ve heard Saul is coming to destroy this city because of me. 11Is Saul coming? LORD and God of Israel, I’m your servant. Please tell me. 12Will the people of Keilah save themselves by turning us in? Will they give me and my men to Saul?” The LORD said, “Yes.” 
13By then, David had 600 men. They all left Keilah and roamed throughout the territory. When Saul heard that, he ended his Keilah campaign before he even got on the road. 14David and his men started camping in Ziph Desert, a wasteland around the city of Ziph.  They camped at sites easy to defend.  Saul obsessed every day over David and constantly hunted him. But the LORD didn’t let him have David.
Jonathan agrees David will become king15David was in Horesh,  a city in Ziph Desert, when he got word that Saul was on his way to kill him. 16Saul’s son Jonathan found David at Horesh and encouraged him with words inspired by God. 17Jonathan said, “Don’t be afraid of what’s coming. My father Saul will never catch you. You will become Israel’s king. I’ll take a seat behind you. I know it and my father knows it.”
18The two made a verbal contract—a covenant agreement. In the LORD’s presence, they accepted that David would one day become king. Jonathan would not.  David stayed in Horesh, while Jonathan returned home.
Locals offer to catch David for Saul19Some people from Ziph went to Saul’s town, Gibeah, and told him, “David is hiding down where we live. He camps in defensible locations around Horesh, on the hill of Hachilah.  It’s south of Jeshimon. 20Whenever you come down, we’ll arrest him and turn him over to you.”
21Saul said, “May the LORD be as kind to you as you have been to me. 22Go scout and find out exactly where he’s staying. I’ve heard he’s a crafty character. 23Find out all his favorite hiding places. Then come back and tell me exactly where they are. We’ll go there together and find him, as he tries to hide among the crowds of Judah.
24So the men went to Ziph ahead of Saul. But by that time, David and his men had moved to Maon Desert,  in the Arabah valley south of Jeshimon. 25Saul and his posse went looking for him. When David got the news, he left for a place in Maon Desert called On the Rocks.  Saul found out about David’s move and followed him there.
Philistine attack forces Saul home26David and his men hid on one side of the mountain, while Saul and his army hunted on the opposite side. David was frantically rushing to get away, but Saul and his men were closing in. 27In the middle of the hunt a messenger came running to Saul. The man said, “Hurry, they need you. Philistines have invaded the land. They’re raiding it now.” 28Saul gave up the hunt for David and he went to fight the Philistines. After Saul and his men marched away, On the Rocks became known as Rocky Road. 
29David left there and moved to En Gedi,  a hidden oasis surrounded by cliffs and caves.
Keilah is linked to a ruin called Khirbet Qila, in the Judean foothills on the border between Philistine land on the coast and Israel in the hills. The ruin is about a half-day walk east of the nearest major Philistine city, Gath—about 10 miles (16 km). It was also about 14 miles (22 km) southwest of David’s hometown of Bethlehem.
Farmers used flat ground or flat rock as a threshing platform to beat grain kernels free from the stalks.
“Apron” is a guess. Scholars aren’t sure what an ephod looked like. Several centuries before Samuel, in the time of Moses, an ephod was an apron or vest worn by the high priest. Some scholars describe it as a skirt or a shift-like garment that covered the body from about the waist to the mid-thigh. Inside the ephod the priest carried the Urim and Thummim, objects described as meaning “lights” and “perfection.” These were two objects never described in the Bible. They show up first in Exodus 28:30. They might have been stones, marked or colored in different ways. The high priest used them to answer questions with a “yes” or “no” or “wait.” It might have worked a bit like tossing two coins in the air and seeing how they land. Two heads for “yes.” Two tails for “no.” One of each for “wait.” It might seem foolish to make an important decision that way, such as whether to go to war. But the people of Israel seemed to believe that God controlled these sacred objects that the priests used.
See note for 23:6 about the objects in the ephod that gave yes or no answers for God.
Ziph is usually linked to a ruin called Tell Ziph, roughly 15-miles southeast of Keilah—less than a day’s walk. The Desert of Ziph, or Wilderness of Ziph as some translations say, was the wasteland around the city.
David apparently looked for campsites with cliffs and caves and large rocks to provide cover and protection in an attack.
Horesh might mean woods, woody hills, lumberjack. Some associate it with a ruin called Khirbet Khoreisa, about two miles (3 km) south of Ziph.
It’s a fair guess that this is when David agreed to protect Jonathan’s family. It was common for a new king coming in and ending a family dynasty to kill anyone with a claim to the throne. Any descendants of Saul would have had a claim to the throne. David later protected Jonathan’s son, Mephibosheth, from execution (2 Samuel 21:7-14).
Locations unknown for Hachilah and Jeshimon, sites also reported in 1 Samuel 26:1, 3.
Maon is linked to the ruins of Khirbet Ma ‘in, about 20 miles (32 km) south of David’s hometown of Bethlehem—a day’s walk.
Well, it could have been. The Hebrew word is sela, which means something involving rocks: rock canyon, rocky place, stones, cliffs.
This is even more of a stretch. The Hebrew words are sela hammaḥlᵉqôt. The second term is little more than a mystery. Some Bible translators don’t bother. They just spell it phonetically as they pronounce it in Hebrew: Sela Hammahlekoth (SAY luh HAHM uh lay koth).
En Gedi is a small oasis near the western banks of the Dead Sea. It’s nearly surrounded by cliffs and rocks about 25 miles (40 km) south of Jerusalem and beside the Dead Sea. David hid in the caves there when King Saul, jealous of the giant-killer’s popularity, was hunting him in hopes of killing him. En Gedi is a park today. A waterfall collects into a pool about 200 meters above the lowest dry spot on earth, the beach of the Dead Sea (423 meters below sea level, about -1,400 feet). Anyone attacking a camp there had to charge uphill against defenders hiding behind huge and towering rocks. It would have been a bit like charging toward a walled city on a hilltop.
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