“Then came up the Ziphites to Saul to Gibeah, saying, Doth not David hide himself with us in strong holds in the wood, in the hill of Hachilah, which is on the south of Jeshimon? Now therefore, O king, come down according to all the desire of thy soul to come down; and our part shall be to deliver him into the king’s hand. And Saul said, Blessed be ye of the LORD; for ye have compassion on me. Go, I pray you, prepare yet, and know and see his place where his haunt is, and who hath seen him there: for it is told me that he dealeth very subtly. See therefore, and take knowledge of all the lurking places where he hideth himself, and come ye again to me with the certainty, and I will go with you: and it shall come to pass, if he be in the land, that I will search him out throughout all the thousands of Judah. And they arose, and went to Ziph before Saul: but David and his men were in the wilderness of Maon, in the plain on the south of Jeshimon. Saul also and his men went to seek him. And they told David: wherefore he came down into a rock, and abode in the wilderness of Maon. And when Saul heard that, he pursued after David in the wilderness of Maon. And Saul went on this side of the mountain, and David and his men on that side of the mountain: and David made haste to get away for fear of Saul; for Saul and his men compassed David and his men round about to take them. But there came a messenger unto Saul, saying, Haste thee, and come; for the Philistines have invaded the land. Wherefore Saul returned from pursuing after David, and went against the Philistines: therefore they called that place Selahammahlekoth. And David went up from thence, and dwelt in strong holds at Engedi” (1 Samuel 23:19-29).
King Saul did not waste anytime in pursuing David again. David finds himself fleeing from one wilderness to another, but in Maon Saul catches up with him. Since God is with David, He intervenes to distract Saul from his murderous plan, which in turn allows the fugitive to escape to Engedi.
After assisting the Ziphites David was betrayed by them. They told Saul exactly where David and his men were hiding. We could understand this unjust act if David had done them any harm, but to do so after he came to deliver them from them enemy is unforgivable, especially since the Ziphites were of the Tribe of Judah like him (Joshua 15:55). They were willing to side with Saul to save their own skins.
Psalm 54 was composed to as a memorial to the treachery of the Ziphites. “Save me, O God, by thy name, and judge me by thy strength. Hear my prayer, O God; give ear to the words of my mouth. For strangers are risen up against me, and oppressors seek after my soul: they have not set God before them. Selah. Behold, God is mine helper: the Lord is with them that uphold my soul. He shall reward evil unto mine enemies: cut them off in thy truth. I will freely sacrifice unto thee: I will praise thy name, O LORD; for it is good. For he hath delivered me out of all trouble: and mine eye hath seen his desire upon mine enemies.” We shall find that these people actually betrayed David again.
King Saul was delighted with the news the Ziphites brought him, so much so that he hypocritically blessed them in the name of the Lord. As Matthew Henry noted, “So near was God to his mouth, though far from his heart.” Saul was also delighted to learn that there were still people loyal to his cause and willing to turn David over to him. We remember in 1 Samuel 22:8 he remarked, “There is none of you that is sorry for me.” He wanted others to have compassion on him, but was unwilling to show the slightest bit of compassion for others, even members of his own family. He was so full of self-pity that he could not see the hurt he was causing for everyone else.
Saul realised that he probably would not find David if he blazed into the camp, so he commissioned the treacherous Ziphites to be his spies and make sure David was still where they thought he was. At their word King Saul marched against David. The army halted on the opposite side of the mountain to where David was camped. David had his watchmen ready for such an eventuality, and instead of fighting, he decided to flee from Saul, but soon found that he was actually surrounded and had no way of escape. “Many are the afflictions of the righteous” (Psalm 34:19). To an onlooker David was surely defeated and doomed for destruction.
While the righteous do face many afflictions, he can be assured that “the LORD delivereth him out of them all” (Psalm 34:19). On the brink of the battle Saul was told that the Philistines were invading Israel, and so had no choice but to turn from his pursuit of David. God had frustrated Saul’s evil plan once again. God may deliver His people at the last moment, but His deliverance never comes too late. He is able to deliver us no matter how bad the situation is. Matthew Henry says that God “is never at a loss for ways and means to preserve His people.” It is likely that Saul actually caused the Philistine attack anyway, for their spies knew that Israel was open to them since the army was engaged elsewhere.
David and his men were no doubt relieved to see Saul march away from them. They renamed the area “Selahammahlekoth” in commemoration of the miracle of deliverance. The name means “rock of divisions.” “That is, the rock of divisions, because there Saul was separated, and in a manner pulled asunder from David, who was now almost within his reach” (John Wesley). David went to Engedi, situated near the Dead Sea, because “On all sides the country is full of caverns, which might then serve as lurking places for David and his men, as they do for outlaws at the present day” (Jamieson, Fausset, Brown Commentary).
Like David, we must trust that God will bring about our deliverances and fulfil His plans for our lives. “If ye will not believe, surely ye shall not be established” (Isaiah 7:9).