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The Rock of Escape

For the past several weeks, it feels as if I’ve introduced my messages in the exact same way every Sunday. It seems that every week I tell you, ‘When we last left David, he was hiding out from Saul who was determined to kill him.”

That’s been the running theme for about the last six chapters as we’ve been reading through the book of 1 Samuel.The details of the story change from chapter to chapter, but the basic premise remains the same. “Good and faithful David is running for his life from jealous, selfish King Saul.”

 And this morning, nothing has changed. Today we are going to read through the second half of 1 Samuel chapter 23, and that’s the exact plot line again. “Good and faithful David is running for his life from jealous, selfish King Saul.”

And just before we get into today’s message, maybe that’s a question that we should ponder: Why does the author of 1 Samuel put so much emphasis on this time of David’s life? Why is it important that we see this same story play out time and time again? Is it showing us David’s faithful and loyal character? Is it reminding us of God’s goodness and protection? Is it warning us through the life of Saul of the consequences of turning away from God? Or on a grander scale, is this all somehow foreshadowing the life and person of Jesus Christ?

God’s chosen to include all these stories in his divinely inspired Word for a reason, so what do you suppose that reason is?

Well, I’m actually not going to answer that question for you today, but I’d challenge you to think about it and maybe even do a little research on your own. The point of these Sunday morning sermons isn’t just for me to dispense all the answers to you, but for me to challenge and encourage you to get into the Word of God yourself. At the end of the day, you’re the one who is responsible for your relationship with God, and so I’d encourage you to make it your habit to study the Word of God for yourself.

But on that note, we do want to take some time to look at God’s Word together this morning, so let’s jump right into our passage.

So as I mentioned before, “When we last left David, he was hiding out from Saul who was determined to kill him.” Or more specifically, according to verse 14…

14 David now stayed in the strongholds of the wilderness and in the hill country of Ziph. Saul hunted him day after day, but God didn’t let Saul find him.

15 One day near Horesh, David received the news that Saul was on the way to Ziph to search for him and kill him. 

1 Samuel 23:14-15

And we’ll pause here just for a moment. I don’t know if you’ve noticed this or not, but it sure seems like David has a good communication network in place. David never seems to get caught by surprise, because he’s always hearing of Saul’s plans before Saul gets a chance to carry them out. That was the case earlier in this chapter when Saul was planning to come and capture David at Keilah. Somehow David got wind that Saul was coming for him, and God confirmed that, and so David took off before Saul had chance to besiege the city and capture him.

Now again, while David is near Horesh, David heard the news that Saul was on his way to search for him and kill him. Now I don’t know if maybe there is someone among Saul’s men that is tipping off David – sending out secret messages to warn David of Saul’s plans. The Bible doesn’t say so specifically, but that certainly wouldn’t be impossible. Jonathan, for example, had previously warned David though a secret code that Saul was determined to kill him. We read about that back in chapter 20. So its quite possible that Jonathan or some other person close with Saul was sneaking out information to David.

 Or it could be that David just had lots of loyal supporters throughout the country. Remember, the people of Israel, generally speaking, loved David. He was a national hero! The women sang “Saul has killed his thousands and David his ten thousands!”  So perhaps it was the people of Israel who kept David informed of Saul’s movements.

But however David got his information, we can be sure that God had a hand in it somehow. We see from verse 14 that although Saul hunted for David day after day, God did not allow Saul to find him. God was at work, watching over David, protecting him, and keeping him safely out of the hands of Saul.

And not only did God work to keep David safe, we can also see that God was a work to keep David encouraged. I’m sure that having your father-in-law constantly trying to kill you would certainly take it’s toll on your emotional and mental well-being. So God sent along David’s #1 fan to encourage and strengthen him. Verse 16

16 Jonathan went to find David and encouraged him to stay strong in his faith in God. 1 Samuel 23:16

I’ve mentioned before how much I admire and appreciate the character of Jonathan – and this verse only reaffirms that once again.

Jonathan knows that all of this running and hiding from Saul must be hard on David. David has been separated from most of his friends and family back home for quite a while now. He’s had to pretend to be insane so that he could escape the King of Gath. He constantly on the move, trying to keep one step ahead of Saul. And as we read last week, God had just told David that the leaders of Keilah, whom David had just rescued, were going to betray him to Saul.

So I would be very confident that David has been a little short on encouragement in these last days.  And I imagine that Jonathan knew that as well. So what does Jonathan do? Like the faithful friend that he was, good ‘ol Jonathan leaves home to go find David and to encourage him!

And notice that Jonathan was very intentional about encouraging David. This wasn’t just one of those chance meetings where Jonathan just happened to cross David’s path one day and shared a few encouraging words. No, Jonathan purposely went out of his way to encouraging David. I mean, Jonathan didn’t even know where David was – he had to find him first!

Jonathan made a very intentional choice and took deliberate actions to encourage David.

And the Bible tells us to do the same thing. The encouragement of others is not something to leave to chance or convenience. It’s something that we need to be deliberate and intentional about. Hebrews 10:24 says…

24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

Hebrews 10:24-25 ESV

Notice how that verse starts – let us CONSIDER how to stir up one another to love and good works. Let’s carefully think this through – Let’s make a plan and then carry it out – as to how we will encourage one another and spur each other on.

Do you do that? Do you consider how to stir up the people in your sphere of influence? Do you make a plan to encourage your family? Do you carefully scheme and plot how you can strengthen your brother or sister in the Lord? We need to do that.

We are told repeatedly throughout the Scriptures that we are to encourage one another. It’s too important to just leave to chance and convenience. Like Jonathan, we have to be intentional.

And Jonathan also shows us what it actually means to encourage someone. Look at these next verses.

17 “Don’t be afraid,” Jonathan reassured him. “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

Notice Jonathan’s very first words. “Don’t be afraid.” 

To encourage someone is to fill them with courage. When you truly encourage someone, in some way, your encouragement addresses their fears and gives them strength and courage to move forward.

And that’s exactly what Jonathan is doing for David. He is addressing David’s fears and is giving him the strength and courage to move forward. And how does he do that? 

Well, he doesn’t just say, “Don’t be afraid” and then leave it at that. He goes on to say why David doesn’t have to be afraid. He goes on to remind David of the promises of God. God has told David that he will be king. And if God has promised that David will be king, then David can take courage in knowing that God will keep him safe from Saul and will indeed, one day, be King.

And this is a great pattern for us to follow when we encourage one another. We are to remind each other of the promises of God. What better way to fill someone with courage than to remind them that the Almighty God of the universe is on their side and is BY their side, loving them like crazy, working all things together for good. And those are just a few of the promises of God. You could probably make a list of hundreds of God’s promises that might encourage someone in different situations. 

And actually, that’s probably not a bad idea. Making long list of the promises of God is not only a great reminder for us, but it would certainly come in handy the next time you need to encourage someone.

But anyways, so Jonathon encourages David – that is, he reminds David of the promises of God and then we read in verse 18:

18 So the two of them renewed their solemn pact before the Lord. Then Jonathan returned home, while David stayed at Horesh. 1 Samuel 23:18

This is now the third time that David and Jonathan have sworn allegiance to each other. This is obviously something they both take quite seriously. This will also be the last time that David and Jonathan will see each face to face. Of course, they don’t know that, but as we read on, we’ll see that it’s not too long from now that Jonathan will be killed in battle with the Philistines.

But that comes later. For now, this short visit is a blessing to both David and Jonathan, I’m sure. They pledge allegiance to one another once again, and the two men part ways.

David has been encouraged by Jonathan’s visit and by his reminder of the promises of God, and he now has the courage to move forward. And based on what is about to happen next, it was probably a necessary encouragement, because David is about to be betrayed again. Let’s read on in verse 19.

19 But now the men of Ziph went to Saul in Gibeah and betrayed David to him. “We know where David is hiding,” they said. “He is in the strongholds of Horesh on the hill of Hakilah, which is in the southern part of Jeshimon. 20 Come down whenever you’re ready, O king, and we will catch him and hand him over to you!” 1 Samuel 23:19-20

I mentioned earlier how all the people of Israel loved David – well, apparently not ALL of them. The men of Ziph were still very loyal to Saul and the eagerly offered to capture David and to hand him over to the king. Acording to these verses, they knew the whereabouts of David and invited the King to come on down whenever he was ready, and they would take care of Saul’s little problem.

And of course, Saul response in a very typical ‘Saul’ way.

21 “The Lord bless you,” Saul said. “At last someone is concerned about me! 22 Go and check again to be sure of where he is staying and who has seen him there, for I know that he is very crafty. 23 Discover his hiding places, and come back when you are sure. Then I’ll go with you. And if he is in the area at all, I’ll track him down, even if I have to search every hiding place in Judah!” 24 So the men of Ziph returned home ahead of Saul.

1 Samuel 23:21-24a

Saul’s response is almost comedic! “The Lord bless you,” Saul said. “At last someone is concerned about me!” It’s like someone finally attends the pity-party that Saul has thrown for himself! 

You can almost hear Saul singing that dumb little song “Nobody likes me, everybody hates me, I guess I’ll go eat worms.” Saul is so filled up with himself that he believes the whole world is against him. Everyone, of course, except Doeg and now these men of Ziph who have so thoughtfully offered to capture David for him.

But Saul counsels the men of Ziph to do their homework first and find out all of David’s hiding places because he knows that David is very crafty, or so he says…. I think the word that Saul is actually looking for here is, “The Lord is with David and is keeping him safe from Saul.” But of course, Saul certainly doesn’t want to admit that. He’d rather attribute his inability to catch David to David’s craftiness than to recognize that he’s been fighting against the Lord this whole time.

So the men of Ziph return home to learn all they can about David’s whereabouts and his hiding spots. But David’s extensive communication network comes through for him again and we read in verse 24:

Meanwhile, David and his men had moved into the wilderness of Maon in the Arabah Valley south of Jeshimon. 25 When David heard that Saul and his men were searching for him, he went even farther into the wilderness to the great rock, and he remained there in the wilderness of Maon. But Saul kept after him in the wilderness.

1 Samuel 23:24b-25

And that sets the stage for the final showdown of this chapter. In his attempt to keep one step ahead of Saul, David has fled to the wilderness, but Saul is right on his tail. Saul has followed David to the great rock and is relentlessly chasing after him. In fact, according to the next verse,  we see that soon they are separated only by a short distance. It says in verse 26.

26 Saul and David were now on opposite sides of a mountain. 

1 Samuel 23:26a

Now keep in mind that these mountains that the Bible talks about are not the mountains like we know them. Saul and David are not on either side of the Rockies! This mountain between them is more like a large hill. Saul is closing in. He is just hours or even minutes away from capturing David! If we didn’t have God’s assurance that David will be king, we’d be thinking this is the end for David for sure.

But of course, we do have God’s assurance that David will be king – Jonathan just reminded us of that moments ago – so the question isn’t “Will David escape?” but rather the question is, “How will God come to David’s rescue?” Well, let’s keep reading and find out.

Just as Saul and his men began to close in on David and his men, 27 an urgent message reached Saul that the Philistines were raiding Israel again. 28 So Saul quit chasing David and returned to fight the Philistines. Ever since that time, the place where David was camped has been called the Rock of Escape. 29 David then went to live in the strongholds of En-gedi.

1 Samuel 23:26b-28

As God so often does, God came through for David just in the knick of time. Just as Saul is ready to pounce on David, an urgent message arrives that Saul is needed back home. The Philistines are raiding again and Saul must go and fight them off!

The timing of this message was certainly not a coincidence or a mere stroke of luck for David – but clearly, this was God’s divine intervention – once again rescuing David from the hand of Saul.

And from that point on, the place where David was camped was then called the “Rock of Escape”. This would always serve as a reminder of how God rescued David that day. 

In fact, the “Rock of Escape” had a double meaning. Not only did it speak of the place, the mountain where David was rescued, but it also spoke of the person who did the rescuing! The Lord was David’s Rock of Escape.

If you look at Psalm 18, many scholars believe that David wrote this Psalm as he recalled this very event. And you know how sometimes there are those little notes of explanation at the beginning of some psalms? Psalm 18 has this little note:

For the choir director: A psalm of David, the servant of the Lord. He sang this song to the Lord on the day the Lord rescued him from all his enemies and from Saul. He sang:

1 I love you, Lord;

    you are my strength.

2 The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my savior;

    my God is my rock, in whom I find protection.

He is my shield, the power that saves me,

    and my place of safety.

Psalm 18:1-2

Isn’t that fantastic? What a great reminder! Can I just encourage you this morning – can I fill you with courage by reminding you of the promises of God?

Our security, strength, and our safety is not found in our home security system, or our bank accounts, or our governments, or our healthcare system, or anything else that we tend to put our trust in. Our security, our strength, and our safety is ultimately found in Lord Jesus Christ – the Rock of our Salvation.

Another Psalm of David, Psalm 95, says this:

1 Come, let us sing to the Lord!

    Let us shout joyfully to the Rock of our salvation.

2 Let us come to him with thanksgiving.

    Let us sing psalms of praise to him.

3 For the Lord is a great God,

    a great King above all gods.

4 He holds in his hands the depths of the earth

    and the mightiest mountains.

5 The sea belongs to him, for he made it.

    His hands formed the dry land, too.

6 Come, let us worship and bow down.

    Let us kneel before the Lord our maker,

7     for he is our God.

We are the people he watches over,

    the flock under his care.

Psalm 95:1-7

The God of the heavens – the Rock of our Salvation – is our God. We are the people he watches over – we are the flock under his care.

So this morning, if you have any variety of fears or concerns, or worries or troubles of any kind, I would encourage you to go to the Rock!

This year at camp they started singing an old Gaither song – for those of you who are too young to know what a Gaither song is, that’s old Gospel music from the 70, 80s, & 90s. But the song they started singing at camp was a song called “I go to the Rock”. We’re going to try to sing it in just a minute, but the chorus goes like this:

I go to The Rock of my salvation

I go to The Stone That the Builders Rejected

I run to The Mountain and The Mountain stands by me

When all around me is sinking sand

On Christ, the Solid Rock I stand

When I need a shelter, when I need a friend

I go to The Rock

And I would just encourage you this morning that you too, can go to the Rock. Like David, you can count on the Lord to be your fortress, your shield, the power that saves you, and your place of safety. You can go to Him and He will be your Rock.

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