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Bible Search
In the Presence of My Enemies
From the Sheep Pen to the Palace
In the Presence of My Enemies
I Samuel 23
 
We are studying the early years of the life of David as he makes his way from the sheep pens of Bethlehem to become King of Israel.  And alothough I haven't made it a centerpiece of our study, I do want us to keep in mind that we are on our way to a throne as well. 
 
Jesus has promised that one day, we will rule and reign with Him when He comes to assume the throne. And my prayer is as we travel along with David, we can learn from his experiences and his decisions, both good and bad, and hopefully, know and enjoy some of the blessings he knew and miss some of the tragedy he encountered. 
 
We are now at chapter 23 of 1 Samuel in our journey.  Little by little the teenaged shepherd is learning how to be a king. And some of the lessons are painful indeed.
 
This little poem captures a great truth about the way God prepares us for the future.
 
When God wants to drill a man, And thrill a man, and skill a man; When God wants to mold a man to play the noblest part, when he yearns with all his heart to create so great and bold a man that all the world shall be amazed,
 
Watch his methods, watch his ways— How he ruthlessly perfects whom he royally elects.
How he hammers him and hurts him, and with mighty blows, converts him into trial shapes of clay
Which only God understands,  while his tortured heart is crying, and he lifts beseeching hands.
 
How he bends but never breaks when his good he undertakes.  How he uses whom he chooses, and with every purpose fuses him, by every act induces him to try his splendor out. God knows what he’s about.
 
First Samuel 23 is all about the last line of that poem: “God knows what he’s about.” Everything that happens to David seems to be one random event after another, and yet behind it all stands the Lord, guiding events with his invisible hand.
 
If you ask, “Where is God in this chapter?” He is nowhere and he is everywhere. Just because you don’t see him or hear him or feel him, that doesn’t mean that God isn’t there. He is always with us even in our darkest moments, even when we feel forgotten and abandoned. In those moments when we are in the wilderness wondering why God has left us alone, even then we discover that he is with us to deliver us “at just the right moment."
 
When we pick up the story, David is at a place called Keilah.  And there,
 
1.  God Gives a Victory
 
1 Samuel 23:1-3
 
A couple of background facts help us understand this story. David has just experience the devastating realization that his lies and deception have caused the murder of 85 priests of God and their families.  In humiliation and fear, he has been running and hiding from Saul. 
 
He finally makes his way to a place called Hereth and there, 400 of the dregs of Israel join him.  They are described in the opening verses of chapter 22 as those who are in distress, debt and discontented.  Eventually these men will be known as valiant warriors, David's select forces. 
 
But for now, they are hiding in in the forest of Hereth in Judah. It’s a good hiding place and naturally the men don’t want to leave it. Keilah was on the plain near the border with the Philistines.
 
If they leave the forest, they will be out in the open and could be wiped out by the Philistines, or perhaps worse than battling Philistines, Saul could catch them before they return to the forest and identify them as accomplices of David.
 
They aren’t cowards, but they also aren't idiots and they just don’t think the danger is worth the risk. Keilah will have to defend itself.
 
So, in a major turnaround for David, he inquires of the Lord not once, but twice. Remember, jsut a few days ago, he was lying about what he was doing and depending on the sword of Goliath to defend him.  But now, he is back before the Lord seeking his direciton and blessing. 
 
And both times the Lord tells him to go and attack the Philistines and save Keilah. And not only does David seek God's direction, but he immediately obeys once he knows God’s will. And even though it is risky, David is determined to obey God no matter what the cost.
 
So notice what happens:
 
1 Samuel 23:7-8
 
Not only does God give a victory,
 
2.  God Gives a Warning
 
It's interesting to me that Saul was unwilling to send forces to defend the city of Keilah, which was in Judea, but he is willing to throw everything he has available at David and his men.
 
And suddenly we have this very interesting situation developing in that we have two men believing they are doing God's will and yet they are going in opposite directions. Obviously, only one man has it right. 
 
David had a word from God.  Saul did what we often do in that he mistook his own personal desires for the will of God and he proceeded to misinterpret events on the basis of what he wanted instead of what God wanted.
 
Notice what happens:
 
1 Samuel 23:9-12
 
The ephod was the priestly garment. Calling for it was David's way of saying to the priest, I need you in your official capacity.  I need a word from God. 
 
And when David realized the seriousness of the situation, David became a man on the run.  He and his men nit the road again, moving from one place to the other, trying to stay one step ahead of Saul.
 
In all of this he continued to seek the Lord’s will in everything. And God shows his approval by sending a warning so that David can get out of town before Saul arrives.
 
He and his men hid out in the Wilderness of Ziph.
 
verses 13-15
 
Ziph was a village located about seven miles southeast of Hebron. That region was remote and desolate and offered excellent places to hide. Saul kept looking for David but God would not let him find him.
 
And even though God kept him safe, I wonder what was going on in David's mind.  After all, he has returned to the Lord and is seeking God's direction.  But strangely enough, it seems like no matter what he does, things get worse. He rescues a village only to end up running from Saul all over again.
 
I really don't have to wonder what David was thinking because several of the psalms in our Bible were written during that time.  If you read primarily Psalms 52-59, you will find a man that is lonely and afraid, discouraged and waiting for God to deliver him.
And I think most of us can understand what he's feeling. You serve God, you do the best you can, you risk your life to help others, and all you get for your trouble is more trouble and sometimes it seems like God has forgotten you.
 
But there is an important biblical principle at work here. Have you ever noticed how very often right after you have a mountaintop experience witht he Lord it is followed by a time of challenge and discouragement and oppression? 
 
I've watched that happen time and time again with young people returning from Falls Creek.  There is this spiritual high that is followed by a time of crisis or temptation. 
 
Or maybe it is after a time of rededication or recommitment and immediately the devil goes to work to undo what has happened.
 
We see this many times in the Bible. After Elijah defeated the prophets of Baal, he ran away and hid by the brook, sinking into a deep depression and asking God to let him die, 
 
It often happens that when God is about to honor us, he humbles us by allowing us to enter a period of personal sorrow. And when God wants to raise us up, he first casts us down that we may learn to depend wholly on him.
 
And in some ways David now is worse off than before he entered Keilah. The harder he tries, the worse things get. This is a dark riddle the righteous will never fully solve.
 
But a word from the Lord is about to come to David because while he was hiding in the forest in the Wilderness of Ziph,
 
3. God Sends a Friend
 
I Samuel 23:16-17
 
We looked at this section two weeks ago when we explored the friendship of David and Jonathan, but now he have it in its context.  God sent Jonathan to “strengthen David’s hand in God.” This is the finest thing one friend can do for another. Jonathan didn’t simply say, “Attaboy, David. Chin up. Hang in there and everything will be alright.”
 
He did that but he also reminded David of the promises of God: “Right now things look bleak for you. But one day you will be king, David. God has promised it and he will do it.” They soon parted and as far as we can tell, never saw each other again.
 
Again we see God at work in the timing of life. “At just the right moment” Jonathan shows up. This is no coincidence. When God puts us in the wilderness, he sends a Jonathan to encourage us. Many of us can testify to the help we have received from a friend who came along and encouraged us when we felt like giving up.
 
Through everything that is happening to him, David is being weaned away from the world. His sorrows are teaching him that nothing in this world can satisfy. Friends come and go, no one stays in one place forever, our health fails eventually, and life itself comes to an end.
All earthly treasures fade and even our cherished dreams vanish in the mist. Only God lasts forever and only he can satisfy us forever.
 
One final scene records for us, that in an odd twist of circumstances, as
 
4.  God Sends the Philistines
 
I Samuel. 23:19-22
 
You need to know one crucial background fact. The village of Ziph was in the territory of the tribe of Judah. David was from the tribe of Judah. He had every reason to expect that his kinsmen would protect him.
 
But instead they sold him out by going to King Saul and revealing his location. Saul’s response shows how utterly he misunderstands the situation. He mouths godly words but his heart is full of evil. No doubt he thought he had David trapped this time for sure.
 
So the men of Ziph go back home, locate David in the wilderness, and send a message to Saul who
leads his army after David. Eventually they locate David near a mountain in the Desert of Maon. What happens next is an Old Testament Merry-Go-Round:
 
I Samuel 23:26-28
 
In my mind I have this picture of an ancient Keystone Kops comedy film. Here comes Saul, there goes David. Round and around and around they go with Saul edging closer and closer. Finally he is ready to close in for the kill.
Suddenly a messenger arrives with news that the Philistines have invaded the land. That shouldn’t bother Saul. After all, he didn’t care enough to rescue Keilah, which is why David got involved in the first place.
 
Perhaps this time the invaders have come much deeper into Israelite territory. The situation is so critical that Saul can’t waste any more time chasing David. Off he goes in pursuit of the Philistines. David is saved. In honor of God’s deliverance, he and his men named that place “Rock of Escape.”
 
In all of this we see the invisible hand of God intervening “at just the right moment.” To make matters more ironic, God is now using his enemies (the Philistines) to save his servant David.
 
From all of this, several things become apparent:   
 
First, God sometimes allows his servants to be reduced to desperation.  It happens to all of us sooner or later.  Second, he never allows them to stay in a state of desperation without sending divine aid.  Third, he often delivers them at the moment of greatest peril. Fourth, he makes use of varied and unexpected means.
 
As the chapter closes David is still on the run, still in trouble, still hiding from Saul. But he is protected by God at every step. His escape in the desert is a miracle of God’s timing. As Saul chases David around the mountain, he comes closer and closer and closer. Finally he moves in to capture him. Just then—in the nick of time!—the messenger arrives. Consider how many things had to happen at exactly the right time and in exactly the right sequence:
1) The Philistines had to attack at just the right moment.
 
2) A messenger had to be dispatched to find the king.
 
3) Someone at the palace had to know where the king was.
 
4) The messenger had to get precise directions to find the king.
 
5) He had to arrive just before David was about to be captured.
 
If the messenger gets lost or doesn’t arrive on time or if he gets the wrong directions, or if anything else happens other than what did happen, David is a dead man. Thus we see the hand of God at work protecting his servant. No wonder they called that spot the “Rock of Escape.”
 
 I wonder if David was thinking about his close call when he wrote these famous words: “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies” (Psalm 23:5).
 
Now, if you happen to find yourself in the wilderness, then this sermon should have a special meaning for you.  And if you're not in the wilderness, then you should take good notes because you're liable to be there before long. 
 
But for whoever cares to learn, there are four primary truths that emerge from this section:
 
 
1) When your circumstances are confusing, remember that God is still in control.
 
It is easy to believe that God is in control when the sun is shining, you have money in the bank, a good job, a happy marriage, wonderful children, no health problems, and the future looks bright.
 
But what will you say when your money runs out, your boss fires you, your spouse leaves you, your children disappoint you, your health fails, and your friends desert you? Is God still on the throne? Or is your God only a God of the good times?
 
And before you answer that please keep in mind that all over the world at this very moment there are Christians who are being severely persecuted for their faith.  They live everyday in dangerous, difficult, chaotic circumstances. Yet they trust the Lord, even to the point of death.
 
And you and I can't seem to find the strength of fortitude to even make it to church a couple of times a week.  Things are just so tough for us! 
 
I want to remind you of something I said earlier.  Just because you don’t see God, don’t feel God, don’t hear God, that doesn’t mean he isn’t there. Your emotions and your senses are not a reliable guide to God’s presence. Whether you feel him or not, he is always there and all things are under his control.
 
2) When you are tempted to panic, turn to the Lord.
 
In one of those oddities of the faith, many believers will turn away from the Lord in the time of trouble. I have never understood how someone comes to believe that turning away from God will help you when life crumbles around you.  I don't understand how people can become so spiritually confused that they believe running from God is better than running to God.
 
Listen:  if you run from God, you are abandoning your only source of help. When hard times come, you need the Lord, you need the Lord’s people, you need the Word of God and you need the worship of the church. You need the hymns and prayers and your friends in class.  You need the traditions of the faith.  You need the sermons and the foundations of your faith. 
 
Those are the things that will keep you on fourse.  Those are the things that will steady you in the storm.  that's what gives you strength and hope and builds your faith.  That's will reorient you to what is really true. If you turn from God’s appointed means of grace, the world has nothing better to offer and you are destined for a shipwreck.
 
3) When you don’t know what else to do, do God’s will even if it doesn’t make sense to you.
 
It’s easy to lose your way and become disoriented in the wilderness. Sometimes we shut down altogether because we don’t know what to do or where to go. I am impressed that when God told David to fight the Philistines at Keilah, he got up and obeyed the Lord.
 
That’s always the safest thing to do. David’s men didn’t want to go into battle because they confused safety with geography. They thought they were safer in the forest than they would be on the plain.
That’s perfectly true from a human point of view. But God’s perspective is entirely different. He can deliver on the plain just as well as in the forest. He doesn’t need trees and caves to protect his people. The safest place in the world is doing whatever God has called you to do wherever God has called you to do it.
 
David understood that safety is a matter of proximity, not geography. If you are where God wants you to be, then God himself is there with you, and you are the safest person in the whole universe. That’s why it’s safer to fight Goliath in the valley than to cower in fear behind the boulders.
 
So if you don’t know what to do because the situation is so confused, don’t stay in bed moaning about it. Get up, get dressed, wash your face, put on a clean shirt, dedicate the day to God, and then go out and do what you need to do. If it makes sense, fine. If not, do it anyway. And God will bless you for it.
 
4) When deliverance comes, don’t forget to thank God and give him the glory.
 
Sooner or later God always delivers his people. You won’t stay in the wilderness forever. When God’s purpose has been fulfilled in your life, he will bring you out into a better place. When that day comes, be sure to give God the glory. There are far too many “foxhole Christians” who cry out to Jesus when they are in trouble but forget him the moment the crisis is over. Don’t be like that.
 
 
When God delivers you, stand up and say, “If it had not been for the Lord, I would not have made it. If the Lord had not been on my side, my feet would have slipped and I would have fallen. If the Lord had not helped me, I would not be here today.
 
If the Lord had not taken up my cause, I would have been destroyed and my enemies would have triumphed against me. But because the Lord is good, I can testify that he brought me through and I stand here today by the grace of Almighty God. To him alone be the glory forever.”
 
Don’t forget to say it. And then say it again. Tell it to everyone who will listen. When God delivers you, don’t be timid. Stand up and bless the Lord so that by your example others may bless his holy name.
 
So let me end where I began with this affirmation: When God wants to shape us and mold us and make us into something better than we were before, he often sends us to the wilderness for a season. Like David we may find ourselves bumping and bouncing from one crisis to another and we may even wonder why God has left us.
 
But be of good cheer. Our God never abandons his children. Even when you don’t see him, God is still there. Wait on the Lord and when the time is right, God will deliver you. You will discover the same truth that David learned. Even in the wilderness, “God knows what he’s about.”
 
Let's pray.
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