After David’s rejection by both the house of Saul and house of Gath in chapter 22, we immediately see a conflict between the two houses in chapter 23 – the Philistines against the Israelites. Is there any reason for David to intervene? Absolutely; for he fought for the chosen church of God, the Israelites; he did not fight just for Saul, and just as the LORD elected him to defeat Goliath, so he also awaits the LORD’s election to defeat the Philistines and save Keilah (v.2). It is the LORD who delivers; but it is through David alone; just as it is the Father who raises up the Son and defeats sin on the cross, but it is done through Christ where the Father and Son, and their Holy Spirit are collectively glorified. It is a mere matter of fact that the men’s weakness was the LORD’s strength as they “struck them [the Philistines] with a great blow… so David saved the inhabitants of Keilah”. Thus, David delivered the Israelites from the hands of the uncircumcised men who blasphemed the true living Yahweh:
1Sa 17:26 And David said to the men who stood by him, “What shall be done for the man who kills this Philistine and takes away the reproach from Israel? For who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?”
These uncircumcised pagans who were robbing the threshing floors, the fruit of the land, and in turn is robbed of their lives – a true parable of Satan robbing the fruit of the church, the vineyard of Keilah, only to be covered in the bloody grapes of the Father’s wrath upon the Son, bruising the enemy’s head.
David, therefore once again, is the LORD-elected redeemer and Saviour of a city which belonged to a nation which either positively persecuted him, or loved him as their typological mediator. Yet, this city belonged to the former: “Will the men of Keilah surrender me into his [Saul’s] hand?” (v.11) “They will surrender you” the LORD replied (v.12). In face of this, we see David fleeing from Saul, even from an enclosed fortitude like Keilah, a town which has “gates and bars” (v.7 – c.f. John 10:39), to display the greater irony that the LORD is not with Saul and will not deliver David to Saul as Saul is not the true anointed. Such is his delusion that he believes the death of David, like the death of the priests in the house of Ahimelech, are a result of the LORD’s blessings (v.21). Contrarily, it is by the LORD that David escaped. Not only this, but it is by the LORD that Saul could not search out David in the wilderness, but Jonathan managed to find him and even renewed their covenant a second time, the third time it is mentioned that a covenant was established between these two brethren in Christ (v.16-18).
It is during a time like this that we see a hallmark image of the tension between David and Saul, many of such images littered throughout the rest of 1 Samuel. It is by this Rock of Escape (v.28), this mountain which divided Saul’s thousands of men from David’s hundreds (v.26), that we see the antithesis of the two. The righteous king is cornered, though he is the victor over the Philistines once over Goliath, twice by instilling fear in the city of Gath, and thrice by defeating the Philistines though his men were weak and unwilling; and yet the actual king of Israel is overcome with jealousy that he would be unaware of the invasion of the Philistines. What a great contrast! David in persecution still loved his people (Luke 23:34); but Saul, doing the persecuting, neglected Israel. He, like the Philistines, was robbing the threshing floors (v.1) of Israel by depriving them of their saviour David. “Behold, we are afraid here in Judah” David’s men exclaimed (v.3) – and we are such men. We need the true David’s leadership and guidance for we are no David; we need the true David’s grace and mercy for we are also the same men who persecute the Son of Man. We stand on Saul’s side of the mountain, and yet in Christ who is our true Rock of Escape, the wrath of the Father’s is propitiated once and for all (Psalm 103:12). It is thus fitting that this chapter closes in reminiscence of the vineyard of the threshing floor, as David left the Rock of Escape where he found refuge in the LORD’s providence, and left Keilah for Engedi – another stronghold which instead is the fount of the kid, celebrated for its vineyards (Song of Songs 1:14), and a prophetic place of men’s salvation. Men of all kinds shall be saved from Engedi to Eneglaim (Ezekiel 47:10), the fish according to their kinds representing the fitting picture of David and his six hundred, tired, weary, weak, hungry, sweaty, bloodied, and yet they are all redeemed men by David’s reliance on the LORD. So we also rely on the Son’s obedience to the Father as we are the subject of the first Fisherman, and in turn we too become the fishermen standing at Engedi to Eneglaim, redeeming all those rejected, warmly welcoming and rejoicing that they have instead joined us at the Rock of Escape, from the persecution of man as they will receive their just deserts just as the story of David in Keilah showed the Philistines.