His Sojourn at Ziph
1 Samuel 23
"Many are the afflictions of the righteous" (Ps. 34:19): some internal, others external; some from friends, others from foes; some more directly at the hand of God, others more remotely by the instrumentality of the devil. Nor should this be thought strange. Such has been the lot of all Godís children in greater or lesser degree. Nor ought we to expect much comfort in a world which so basely crucified the Lord of glory. The sooner the Christian makes it his daily study to pass through this world as a stranger and pilgrim, anxious to depart and be with Christ, the better for his peace of mind. But it is natural to cling tenaciously to this life and to love the things of time and sense, and therefore most of the Lordís people have to encounter many buffetings and have many disappointments before they are brought to hold temporal things with a light hand and before their silly hearts are weaned from that which satisfies not.
There is scarcely any affliction which besets the suffering people of God that the subject of these chapters did not experience. David, in the different periods of his varied life, was placed in almost every situation in which a believer, be he rich or poor in this worldís goods, can be placed. This is one feature which makes the study of his life of such practical interest unto us today. And this also it was which experimentally fitted him to write so many Psalms, which the saints of all ages have found so perfectly suited to express unto God the varied feelings of their souls. No matter whether the heart be cast down by the bitterest grief, or whether it be exultant with overflowing joy, nowhere can we find language more appropriate to use in our approaches unto the Majesty on High, than in the recorded sobs and songs of him who tasted the bitters of cruel treatment and base betrayals, and the sweetness of human success and spiritual communion with the Lord, as few have done.
Oftentimes the providences of God seem profoundly mysterious to our dull perceptions, and strange unto us do appear the schoolings through which He passes His servants; nevertheless Faith is assured that Omniscience makes no mistakes, and He who is Love causes none of His children a needless tear. Beautifully did C. H. Spurgeon introduce his exposition of Psalm 59 by saying, "Strange that the painful events in Davidís life should end in enriching the repertoire of the national minstrelsy. Out of a sour, ungenerous soil spring up the honey-bearing flowers of psalmody. Had he never been cruelly hunted by Saul, Israel and the church of God in after ages would have missed this song. The music of the sanctuary is in no small degree indebted to the trials of the saints. Affliction is the tuner of the harps of sanctified songsters." Let every troubled reader seek to lay this truth to heart and take courage.
"And David abode in the wilderness in strong holds, and remained in a mountain in the wilderness of Ziph. And Saul sought him every day but God delivered him not into his hand" (1 Sam. 23:14). It is blessed to behold Davidís self-restraint under sore provocation. Though perfectly innocent, so far as his conduct toward Saul was concerned, that wicked king continued to hound him without any rest. David had conducted himself honorably in every public station he filled, and now he has to suffer disgrace in the eyes of the people as a hunted outlaw. Great must have been the temptation to put an end to Saulís persecution by the use of force. He was a skilled leader, had six hundred men under him (v. 13), and he might easily have employed strategy, lured his enemy into a trap, fallen upon and slain him. Instead, he possessed his soul in patience, walked in Godís ways, and waited Godís time. And the Lord honored this as the sequel shows.
Ah, dear reader, it is written, "He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city" (Prov. 16:32). O for more godly self-control; for this we should pray earnestly and oft. Are you, like David was, sorely oppressed? Are you receiving evil at the hands of those from whom you might well expect good? Is there some Saul mercilessly persecuting you? Then no doubt you too are tempted to take things into your own hands, perhaps have recourse to the law of the land. But O tried one, suffer us to gently remind you that it is written, "Avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath . . . vengeance is Mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink" (Rom. 12:19,20). Remember too the example left us by the Lord Jesus, "Who, when He was reviled, reviled not again; when He suffered, He threatened not; but committed Himself to Him that judgeth righteously" (1 Peter 2:23).
"And David saw that Saul was come out to seek his life: and David was in the wilderness of Ziph in a wood" (v. 15). How this illustrates what we are told in Galatians 4:29, "But as then he that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the Spirit, even so it is now"! And let us not miss the deeper spiritual meaning of this: the opposition which Isaac encountered from Ishmael adumbrated the lustings of the "flesh" against "the spirit." There is a continual warfare within every real Christian between the principle of sin and the principle of grace, commonly termed "the two natures." There is a spiritual Saul who is constantly seeking the life of a spiritual David: it is the "old man" with his affections and appetites, seeking to slay the new man. Against his relentless attacks we need ever to be on our guard.
"And David saw that Saul was come out to seek his life: and David was in the wilderness of Ziph in a wood." "Ziph" derived its name from a city in the tribe of Judah: Joshua 15:25. It is surely significant that "Ziph" signifies "a refining-place": possibly the "mountain" there (v. 14) was rich in minerals, and at Ziph there was a smelter and refinery. Be this as it may, the spiritual lesson is here written too plainly for us to miss. The hard knocks which the saint receives from a hostile world, the persecutions he endures at the hands of those who hate God, the trials through which he passes in this scene of sin, may, and should be, improved to the good of his soul. O may many of the Lordís people prove that these "hard times" through which they are passing are a "refining place" for their faith and other spiritual graces.
"And Jonathan Saulís son arose, and went to David into the wood, and strengthened his hand in God. And he said unto him, Fear not: for the hand of Saul my father shall not find thee; and thou shalt be king over Israel, and I shall be next unto thee; and that also Saul my father knoweth. And they two made a covenant before the Lord: and David abode in the wood, and Jonathan went to his house" (vv. 16-18). These verses record the final meeting on earth between David and the weak, vacillating Jonathan. Attached to David as he was by a strong natural affection, yet he lacked grace to throw in his lot with the hunted fugitive. He refused to join with his father in persecuting David, yet the pull of the palace and the court was too strong to be resisted. He stands as a solemn example of the spiritual compromiser, of the man who is naturally attracted to Christ, but lacks a supernatural knowledge of Him which leads to full surrender to him. That he "strengthened Davidís hand in God" no more evidenced him to be a regenerate man, than do the words of Saul in verse 21. Instead of his words in verse 17 coming true, he fell by the sword of the Philistines on Gilboa.
"Then came up the Ziphites to Saul to Gibeah, saying, Doth not David hide himself with us in strong holds in the wood, in the hill of Hachilah, which is on the south of Jeshimon? Now therefore, O King, come down according to all the desire of thy soul to come down; and our part shall be to deliver him into the kingís hand" (vv. 19, 20). Alas, what is man, and how little to be depended upon! Here was David seeking shelter from his murderous foe, and that among the people of his own tribe, and there were they, in order to curry favor with Saul, anxious to betray him into the kingís hands. It was a gross breach of hospitality, and there was no excuse for it, for Saul had not sought unto nor threatened them. It mattered not to them though innocent blood were shed, so long as they procured the smile of the apostate monarch. That Day alone will show how many have fallen victims before those who cared for nothing better than the favor of those in authority.
"And Saul said, Blessed be ye of the Lord; for ye have compassion on me" (v. 21). Thankfully did Saul receive the offer of these treacherous miscreants. Observe well how he used the language of piety while bent on committing the foulest crime! Oh my reader, for your own good we beg you to take heed unto this. Require something more than fair words, or even religious phrases, before you form a judgment of another, and still more so before you place yourself in his power. Promises are easily made, and easily broken by most people. The name of God is glibly taken upon the lips of multitudes who have no fear of God in their hearts. Note too how the wretched Saul represented himself to be the aggrieved one, and construes the perfidy of the Ziphites as their loyalty to the king.
"Go, I pray you, prepare yet, and know and see his place where his haunt is, and who hath seen him there: for it is told me that he dealeth very subtly. See therefore, and take knowledge of all the lurking places where he hideth himself, and come ye again to me with the certainty and I will go with you: and it shall come to pass, if he be in the land, that I will search him out throughout all the thousands of Judah" (vv. 22, 23). Before he journeyed to Ziph, Saul desired more specific information as to exactly where David was now located. He knew that the man he was after had a much better acquaintance than his own of that section of the country. He knew that David was a clever strategist; perhaps he had fortified some place, and the king wished for details, so that he might know how large a force would be needed to surround and capture David and his men. Apparently Saul felt so sure of his prey, he considered there was no need for hurried action.
Then news that the Ziphites had proved unfaithful reached the ears of David, and though the kingís delay gave him time to retreat to the wilderness of Maon (v. 24), yet he was now in a sore plight. His situation was desperate, and none but an Almighty hand could deliver him. Blessed is it to see him turning at this time unto the living God and spreading his urgent case before Him. It was then that he prayed the prayer which is recorded in Psalm 54, the superscription of which reads "A Psalm of David, when the Ziphites came and said to Saul, Doth not David hide himself with us?" In it we are given to hear him pouring out his heart unto the Lord; and unto it we now turn to consider a few of its details.
"Save me, O God, by Thy name, and judge me by Thy strength" (Ps. 54:1). David was in a position where he was beyond the reach of human assistance: only a miracle could now save him, therefore did he supplicate the miracle-working God. Without any preamble, David went straight to the point and cried, "Save me, O God." Keilah would not shelter him, the Ziphites had basely betrayed him, Saul and his men thirsted for his blood. Other refuge there was none; God alone could help him. His appeal was to His glorious "Name," which stands for the sum of all His blessed attributes; and to His righteousnessó"judge me by Thy strength." This signifies, Secure justice for me, for none else will give it me. This manifested the innocency of his cause. Only when our case is pure can we call upon the power of divine justice to vindicate us.
"Hear my prayer, O God; give ear to the words of my mouth" (Ps. 54:2). How we need to remember and turn unto the Lord when enduring the contradiction of sinners against ourselves: to look above and draw strength from God, so that we be not weary and faint in our minds. Well did C. H. Spurgeon write, "As long as God hath an open ear we cannot be shut up in trouble. All other weapons may be useless, but all-prayer is evermore available. No enemy can spike this gun." "For strangers are risen up against me, and oppressors seek after my soul: they have not set God before them. Selah" (Ps. 54:3). Those who had no acquaintance with David, and so could have no cause for ill-will against him, were his persecutors; strangers were they to God. In such a circumstance it is well for us to plead before God that we are being hated for His sake.
We must not here expound the remainder of this Psalm. But let us note three other things in it. First, the marked change in the last four verses, following the "Selah" at the end of verse 3. On that word "Selah" Spurgeon wrote, "As if he said, ĎEnough of this, let us pause.í He is out of breath with indignation. A sense of wrong bids him suspend the music awhile. It may also be observed, that more pauses would, as a rule, improve our devotions: we are usually too much in a hurry." Second, his firm confidence in God and the assurance that his request would be granted: this appears in verses 4-6, particularly in the "He shall reward evil unto mine enemies"óthe "cut them off" was not spoken in hot revenge, but as an Amen to the sure sentence of the just Judge. Third, his absolute confidence that his prayer was answered: the "hath delivered me" of verse 7 is very striking, and with it should be carefully compared and pondered, Mark 11:24.
It now remains for us to observe how God answered Davidís prayer. "And they arose, and went to Ziph before Saul: but David and his men were in the wilderness of Maon, in the plain of the south of Jeshimon" (v. 24). The term "wilderness" is rather misleading to English ears: it is not synonymous with desert, but is in contrast from cultivated farmlands and orchards, often signifying a wild forest. "And when Saul heard that, he pursued after David in the wilderness of Maon. And Saul went on this side of the mountain, and David and his men on that side of the mountain: and David made haste to get away for fear of Saul; for Saul and his men compassed David and his men round about to take them" (vv. 25, 26). How often is such the case with us: some sore trial presses, and we cry unto God for relief, but before His answer comes, matters appear to get worse. Ah, that is in order that His hand may be the more evident.
Davidís plight was now a serious one, for Saul and his men had practically enveloped them, and only a "mountain," or more accurately, a steep cliff, separated them. Escape seemed quite cut off: out-numbered, surrounded, further flight was out of the question. At last Saulís evil object appeared to be on the very point of attainment. But manís extremity is Godís opportunity. Beautifully did Matthew Henry comment, "This mountain (or cliff) was an emblem of the Divine Providence coming between David and the destroyer, like the pillar of cloud between the Israelites and the Egyptians." Yet, a few hours at most, and Saul and his army would either climb or go around that crag. Now for the striking and blessed sequel.
"But there came a messenger unto Saul, saying, Haste thee, and come; for the Philistines have invaded the land. Wherefore Saul returned from pursuing after David, and went against the Philistines: therefore, they called that place The rock of divisions. And David went up from thence and dwelt in strong holds at Engedi" (vv. 27-29). How marvelously and how graciously God times things! He who orders all events and controls all creatures, moved the Philistines to invade a portion of Saulís territory, and tidings of this reached the kingís ear just at the moment David seemed on the brink of destruction. Saul at once turned his attention to the invaders, and thus he was robbed of his prey and God glorified as his (Davidís) Protector. Thus, without striking a blow, David was delivered. O how blessed to know that the same God is for His people today, and without them doing a thing He can turn away those who are harassing. God does hear and answer the prayer of faith! David and his little force now had their opportunity to escape, and fled to the strong holds of Engedi, on the shore of the Dead Sea.