Hand of God
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Bible Passage: 1 Samuel 23
Have you ever felt stuck? Have you ever just felt like nothing you can say or do is going to change anything? It’s not a great feeling – to feel like you’re stuck. I’ve had many people say things like this to me over the years and I’ve felt it too. I hope today’s chapter is encouraging to you as it is to me.
1 Now they told David, “Behold, the Philistines are fighting against Keilah and are robbing the threshing floors.” 2 Therefore David inquired of the Lord, “Shall I go and attack these Philistines?” And the Lord said to David, “Go and attack the Philistines and save Keilah.”
David “asked of” the Lord. Remember that’s what Saul’s name meant – “asked for”. David is the true Saul. He’s the one asking God for guidance. He’s the one saving his people from enemies, not Saul.
3 But David’s men said to him, “Behold, we are afraid here in Judah; how much more then if we go to Keilah against the armies of the Philistines?”
There’s the fear of the people again. This is an important moment. How will David respond?
4 Then David inquired of the Lord again. And the Lord answered him, “Arise, go down to Keilah, for I will give the Philistines into your hand.” 5 And David and his men went to Keilah and fought with the Philistines and brought away their livestock and struck them with a great blow. So David saved the inhabitants of Keilah.
David responded to the people’s fear by asking God for guidance and then obeying that guidance.
6 When Abiathar the son of Ahimelech had fled to David to Keilah, he had come down with an ephod in his hand.
Abiathar was the only survivor from Saul’s attack on the priests at Nob.
7 Now it was told Saul that David had come to Keilah. And Saul said, “God has given him into my hand, for he has shut himself in by entering a town that has gates and bars.” 8 And Saul summoned all the people to war, to go down to Keilah, to besiege David and his men.
9 David knew that Saul was plotting harm against him. And he said to Abiathar the priest, “Bring the ephod here.” 10 Then David said, “O Lord, the God of Israel, your servant has surely heard that Saul seeks to come to Keilah, to destroy the city on my account.
11 Will the men of Keilah surrender me into his hand? Will Saul come down, as your servant has heard? O Lord, the God of Israel, please tell your servant.” And the Lord said, “He will come down.” 12 Then David said, “Will the men of Keilah surrender me and my men into the hand of Saul?” And the Lord said, “They will surrender you.”
David saved the city from the Philistines, and they responded by betraying David to Saul.
It’s easy to be upset with the people of Keilah for this betrayal, but it should remind us of Jesus. Jesus came to His own people and His own people did not receive Him. David escaped again with his life, but the Jews surrendered Jesus to be crucified by the Romans. We’ll come back to this in a moment.
David leaves Keilah and settles in the wilderness.
15 David saw that Saul had come out to seek his life. David was in the wilderness of Ziph at Horesh. 16 And Jonathan, Saul’s son, rose and went to David at Horesh, and strengthened his hand in God.
17 And he said to him, “Do not fear, for the hand of Saul my father shall not find you. You shall be king over Israel, and I shall be next to you. Saul my father also knows this.” 18 And the two of them made a covenant before the Lord. David remained at Horesh, and Jonathan went home.
This is the last time the two men saw each other, but I want us to notice how rich and meaningful this friendship was.
Jonathan went out to meet David in the wilderness, again risking his own life. But his friend was in trouble, and he made the journey for no other reason than to be an encouragement.
And notice the specific encouragement Jonathan gives – He reminds David of God’s promise. “You shall be king”. If Saul killed David, that would make God a liar.
This is perhaps our most important job as a friend. True friendship is encouragement in times of trouble. It is reminding our friends of God’s promises, of truth, of future blessing.
And David got the message. In Psalm 54, he writes: “God is my helper; the Lord is the upholder of my life. He will return the evil to my enemies.”
David wrote that Psalm in response to what happens next. Another group of Jews, the Ziphites, betrayed David and told Saul where he was hiding. But watch what happens.
25 And Saul and his men went to seek him. And David was told, so he went down to the rock and lived in the wilderness of Maon. And when Saul heard that, he pursued after David in the wilderness of Maon.
26 Saul went on one side of the mountain, and David and his men on the other side of the mountain. And David was hurrying to get away from Saul. As Saul and his men were closing in on David and his men to capture them, 27 a messenger came to Saul, saying, “Hurry and come, for the Philistines have made a raid against the land.”
28 So Saul returned from pursuing after David and went against the Philistines. Therefore that place was called the Rock of Escape. 29 And David went up from there and lived in the strongholds of Engedi.
The chapter ends with providential deliverance for David. Saul chases David to the point where it looks hopeless, but a messenger arrives just in time and Saul gives up the chase.
That’s the story, but there’s something important about this chapter that is easily missed.
The word “hand” is used more times in the book of 1 Samuel than in any other book of the Bible. And it is used more times in chapter 23 than in any other chapter. I counted nine uses of the word “hand”. Let’s look at them more closely:
In verse 4, God says to David – “I will give the Philistines into your hand.”
In verse 6, Abiathar the priest comes to David with an ephod in his “hand”.
In verse 7, Saul claims that God has given David into his “hand”.
In verse 11, David asks God if the men of Keilah will surrender him into Saul’s “hand”.
In verse 12, David asks the same question again.
In verse 14, the writer tells us that God did not give David into Saul’s “hand”.
In verse 16, Jonathan is said to have strengthened David’s “hand” in God.
In verse 17, Jonathan says that the “hand” of Saul will not find David.
In verse 20, the Ziphites pledge to surrender David to Saul’s “hand”.
It’s clear what the word means. This is a power struggle. Who has the power? Whose hand will get the job done?
And the context is important. The story is important. David is on the run. His hands are tied. He is powerless to save himself, just like the people of Keilah were powerless to save their city.
If David had the power to control his own circumstances, he probably would not have chosen this life. He’s in the wilderness running from an insane man who wants to kill him, his own people keep betraying him, and David can’t solve the problem. David was literally stuck between a rock and a hard place. All he could do was “play the hand he was dealt” as we say.
But his present suffering was overshadowed by a promise of future glory. Running today, but a king tomorrow… And that is the theme of the Apostle Paul’s words in Romans 8. “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”
And why was the Apostle Paul so confident that his suffering was worth it? How was a man who was beaten, stoned, flogged, shipwrecked, and imprisoned so full of hope?
He says at the end of that same chapter, “Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is [present tense] at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.”
In other words, my present suffering is worth it because Jesus also suffered and where is he now? He’s at the right hand of God. In other words, Jesus is in the most powerful place in the universe. He is in the position of power. And what is He doing? Interceding for us. Praying for us, but also standing in our place. He is advocating for us. He is using His power for us.
But how did Jesus get there?
By literally giving up His power – not just symbolically – He literally allowed Roman soldiers to hammer spikes through his hands, nailing them to a cross.
Most of the conflict in the world today, if not all of it, has something to do with power. That’s true on a national scale, an international scale, and it’s true on a personal level.
Marriage conflict often feels like a power struggle – one or both spouses feeling controlled or feeling a lack of control – feeling stuck.
The fights between parents and children, between parents and teenagers… it’s about who’s in charge. Conflict at work is about who’s in charge.
We are power hungry people and while we all scramble for scraps of feeling powerful, the only One who actually has any power is God – and what did He choose to do with it? He willingly emptied Himself, becoming visibly powerless on the cross.
Listen to how Matthew describes the scene, even before they nailed Jesus to the cross:
28 And they stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, 29 and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on his head and put a reed in his right hand. And kneeling before him, they mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” 30 And they spit on him and took the reed and struck him on the head.
After Jesus rose from the dead, he offered his nail scarred hands to Thomas as proof. And then in John 21, he promised that Peter would suffer a similar fate. He said to Peter, “When you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.”
No servant is greater than his master. In this life we will suffer, we will feel powerless, we will feel stuck, but our present sufferings are no match for the future glory we have in Christ.
This is the promise of God to His children: 27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.
Jesus is our Rock of Escape. If we are in His hands, we are stuck – but that’s a good thing.