Rock of Escape.

David saw that Saul had come out to seek his life. David was in the wilderness of Ziph at Horesh. And Jonathan, Saul’s son, rose and went to David at Horesh, and strengthened his hand in God. 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.” And the two of them made a covenant before the Lord. David remained at Horesh, and Jonathan went home.

Then the Ziphites went up to Saul at Gibeah, saying, “Is not David hiding among us in the strongholds at Horesh, on the hill of Hachilah, which is south of Jeshimon? Now come down, O king, according to all your heart’s desire to come down, and our part shall be to surrender him into the king’s hand.” And Saul said, “May you be blessed by the Lord, for you have had compassion on me. Go, make yet more sure. Know and see the place where his foot is, and who has seen him there, for it is told me that he is very cunning. See therefore and take note of all the lurking places where he hides, and come back to me with sure information. Then I will go with you. And if he is in the land, I will search him out among all the thousands of Judah.” And they arose and went to Ziph ahead of Saul. – 1 Samuel 23:15-29 ESV

Verse 14 of this same chapter stated that Saul sought David every day. He was on a relentless, obsessive mission to destroy David because he knew that as long as David was alive, his crown was in jeopardy. He had even warned his son, Jonathan, “For as long as the son of Jesse lives on the earth, neither you nor your kingdom shall be established” (1 Samuel 20:31 ESV). And it seems that Jonathan had taken those words to heart. He risked the wrath of his father and his own life by covertly arranging to see David one more time. And at that reunion with his best friend, he disclosed to David, “My father will never find you! You are going to be the king of Israel, and I will be next to you, as my father, Saul, is well aware” (1 Samuel 23:17 NLT). Jonathan had seen the handwriting on the wall. He somehow knew that David was to be the next king and that it would be the will and work of God. The text tells us that Jonathan “strengthened his hand in God” (1 Samuel 23:16 ESV). He encouraged David to trust God. Not even his father, Saul, was going to be able to stop what God had ordained. Jonathan knew his father was in the wrong and would eventually fail in his attempt to thwart the will of God. It had become increasingly clear to him that Saul’s obsession with David’s death was not only uncalled for, but would prove to be unsuccessful. These words from his best friend and the rightful heir to the throne had to have encouraged David greatly. Jonathan was abdicating any right he had to be the next king because he believed David to be God’s choice for the role.

It is interesting how God sometimes uses others to reveal to us information regarding us that has escaped our notice. All David seemed to know was that Saul was out to kill him. It would seem that he had not yet put two and two together and arrived at the conclusion that Saul’s obsessive-compulsive behavior toward him did have a reason: Saul knew David was God’s choice to be the next king. It took Jonathan to add up the facts and present David with what should have been an obvious conclusion: He was going to be king of Israel. Jonathan assured David that even Saul was well aware of this fact. We are not given insight into David’s reaction at this news, but it had to have been an epiphany for him, a light-bulb-illuminating-over-the-head moment. Suddenly, it all began to make sense. The anointing, spear-throwing, raging, and running all began to come together into a clear picture of what God was going. The last time the two of them had met, David had asked  Jonathan, “What have I done? What is my guilt? And what is my sin before your father, that he seeks my life?” (1 Samuel 20:1 ESV). Now he knew the answer. He was Saul’s God-appointed replacement. No wonder Saul was acting the way he was.

But even with this eye-opening, riddle-solving news, David’s lot in life didn’t undergo any kind of remarkable change. Jonathan would return home and David would find himself still living as a wanted man. In fact, it wouldn’t take long for reality to set back in as David’s location in the wilderness of Ziph was disclosed to Saul by the area’s residents. They ratted David out, informing Saul of his whereabouts, and promising to turn him over to the king.

To get an idea of what David was thinking at this stage of his life, all we have to do is turn to Psalm 54, which was written at this very time. In this psalm, David bears his heart to God. He calls on God to save him. And he promises to offer sacrifices to God when He does finally provide him with deliverance.

O God, save me by your name,
    and vindicate me by your might.
O God, hear my prayer;
    give ear to the words of my mouth.

For strangers have risen against me;
    ruthless men seek my life;
    they do not set God before themselves. Selah

Behold, God is my helper;
    the Lord is the upholder of my life.
He will return the evil to my enemies;
    in your faithfulness put an end to them.

With a freewill offering I will sacrifice to you;
    I will give thanks to your name, O Lord, for it is good.
For he has delivered me from every trouble,
    and my eye has looked in triumph on my enemies.

One of the revealing statements in this psalm is David’s conclusion that those who were seeking him and those who would betray him “do not set God before themselves.” The New Living Translation phrases it this way: “They care nothing for God.” The actions of Saul and the Ziphites had nothing to do with the will of God. David describes them as strangers, ruthless, and enemies; and he refers to their actions as evil. David realized that this was a spiritual battle between those who care nothing for God and God Himself. So David calls on God to do what only He can do. He pleads with God to save and vindicate him, to avenge and deliver him, to hear and help him. David knew that his life was in God’s hands. God had anointed him and would be God who would have to protect and deliver him.

And David would receive yet another timely example of God’s ability to deliver. When Saul heard that David and his men had relocated to the wilderness of Moan, he set out in hot pursuit. The passage tells us, “Saul and David were now on opposite sides of a mountain. Just as Saul and his men began to close in on David and his men, an urgent message reached Saul that the Philistines were raiding Israel again” (1 Samuel 23:26-27 NLT). Just in the nick of time, God stepped in. It would be tempting to write this off as nothing more than a very timely coincidence. But for David, it would have been the very well-timed, miraculous intervention of God. Just when Saul and his men were closing in, God stepped in and provided a way of escape. And God would use the enemies of Israel to deliver the next king of Israel. The Philistines had chosen that particular moment in time to raid Israel, forcing Saul to abandon his pursuit of David and return home. The name of that place became known as the Rock of Escape. God had become a rock of escape for David, protecting him from his enemies and providing a miraculous, perfectly timed deliverance from his enemies. But notice that God did not eliminate Saul. He did not provide a permanent victory over Saul by allowing David to kill him in battle. He simply removed the immediate threat and gave David a glimpse of His capacity to save. God was not interested in removing the difficulties from David’s life as much as He was in getting David to trust the One for whom no problem was to difficult. Saul was not going to go away, but neither was God. David’s life was not going to be problem-free, but David was going to learn that nothing that happened in his life was free from God’s all-seeing eye. Which is why David, years later, would later be able to write these words:

You are my rock and my fortress.
    For the honor of your name, lead me out of this danger.
Pull me from the trap my enemies set for me,
    for I find protection in you alone.
I entrust my spirit into your hand.
    Rescue me, Lord, for you are a faithful God. – Psalm 31:3-5 NLT


English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson