Here is, I. Saul contriving within himself the destruction of David (1 Sam. 23:7, 8): He heard that he had come to Keilah; and did he not hear what brought him thither? Was it not told him that he had bravely relieved Keilah and delivered it out of the hands of the Philistines? This, one would think, should have put Saul upon considering what honour and dignity should be done to David for this. But, instead of that, he catches at it as an opportunity of doing David a mischief. An ungrateful wretch he was, and for ever unworthy to have any service or kindness done him. Well might David complain of his enemies that they rewarded him evil for good, and that for his love they ere his adversaries, Ps. 35:12; 109:4. Christ was used thus basely, John 10:32. Now observe, 1. How Saul abused the God of Israel, in making his providence to patronise and give countenance to his malicious designs, and thence promising himself success in them: God hath delivered him into my hand; as if he who was rejected of God were in this instance owned and favoured by him, and David infatuated. He vainly triumphs before the victory, forgetting how often he had had fairer advantages against David than he had now and had yet missed his aim. He impiously connects God with his cause, because he thought he had gained one point. Therefore David prays (Ps. 140:8), Grant not, O Lord! the desires of the wicked; further not his wicked device, lest they exalt themselves. We must not think that one smiling providence either justifies an unrighteous cause or secures its success. 2. How Saul abused the Israel of God, in making them the servants of his malice against David. He called all the people together to war, and they must with all speed march to Keilah, pretending to oppose the Philistines, but intending to besiege David and his men, though concealing that design; for it is said (1 Sam. 23:9) that he secretly practised mischief against him. Miserable is that people whose prince is a tyrant, for, while some are sufferers by his tyranny, others (which is worse) are made servants to it and instruments of it.
II. David consulting with God concerning his own preservation. He knew by the information bought him that Saul was plotting his ruin (1 Sam. 23:9) and therefore applied to his great protector for direction. No sooner is the ephod brought to him than he makes use of it: Bring hither the ephod. We have the scriptures, those lively oracles, in our hands; let us take advice from them in doubtful cases. “Bring hither the Bible.”
1. David’s address to God upon this occasion is, (1.) Very solemn and reverent. Twice he calls God the Lord God of Israel, and thrice calls himself his servant, 1 Sam. 23:10, 11. Those that address God must know their distance, and who they are speaking to. (2.) Very particular and express. His representation of the case is so (1 Sam. 23:10): “Thy servant has certainly heard on good authority” (for he would not call for the ephod upon every idle rumour) “that Saul has a design upon Keilah;” he does not say, “to destroy me,” but, “to destroy the city” (as he had lately done the city of Nob) “for my sake.” He seems more solicitous for their safety than for his own, and will expose himself any where rather than they shall be brought into trouble by his being among them. Generous souls are thus minded. His queries upon the case are likewise very particular. God allows us to be so in our addresses to him: “Lord, direct me in this matter, about which I am now at a loss.” He does indeed invert the due order of his queries, but God in his answer puts him into method. That question should have been put first, and was first answered, “Will Saul come down, as thy servant has heard?” “Yea,” says the oracle, “he will come down; he has resolved it, is preparing for it, and will do it, unless he hear that thou hast quitted the town.” “Well, but if he do come down will the men of Keilah stand by me in holding the city against him, or will they open to him the gates, and deliver me into his hand?” If he had asked the men (the magistrates or elders) of Keilah themselves what they would do in that case, they could not have told him, not knowing their own minds, nor what they should do when it came to the trial, much less which way the superior vote of their council would carry it; or they might have told him they would protect him, and yet afterwards have betrayed him; but God could tell him infallibly: “When Saul besieges their city, and demands of them that they surrender thee into his hands, how fond soever they now seem of thee, as their saviour, they will deliver thee up rather than stand the shock of Saul’s fury.” Note, [1.] God knows all men better than they know themselves, knows their length, their strength, what is in them, and what they will do if they come into such and such circumstances. [2.] He therefore knows not only what will be, but what would be if it were not prevented; and therefore knows how to deliver the godly out of temptation, and how to render to every man according to his works.
2. David, having thus far notice given him of his danger, quitted Keilah, 1 Sam. 23:13. His followers had now increased in number to 600; with these he went out, not knowing whither he went, but resolving to follow Providence and put himself under its protection. This broke Saul’s measures. He thought God had delivered David into his hand, but it proved that God delivered him out of his hand, as a bird out of the snare of the fowler. When Saul heard that David had escaped from Keilah, he forbore to go forth with the body of the army, as he intended (1 Sam. 23:8), and resolved to take only his own guards, and go in quest of him. Thus does God baffle the designs of his people’s enemies and turn their counsels head-long.