1 Samuel 23:1-29 – David in the desert



1 Samuel 23:1 -29 (Psalm 142 and 57)




ILLUS.: 1984 I went to luncheon with a friend – BU {Baptist Union} Assembly in RSA {South Africa} – I went reluctantly – a promational lunch from by a Tour company promoting tours to Israel. At the end there was a ticket draw and guess who won! The following year I went to Israel for a week, all expenses paid.

During that week we went to En-Gedi, an oasis alongside the Dead Sea – I swam (floated) in the Dead Sea.


West of the Dead Sea are very steep cliffs and crags and precipices – they are barren and dry and dusty – it is a vast expanse of wilderness with many caves and canyons. It is one of the harshest and most inhospitable places on earth.


It is sorching during the day – the heat is so oppressive that it feel like you are under a magnifying glass in the noon day sun. At night, esp. during the winter, it is bitterly cold.




In the wilderness of En-Gedi is where David spent many years eking out an existence while he was on the run from the murderous king Saul.


ILLUS.: Ever watched a Western movie and seen the parched, austere Badlands?

En-Gedi is like that!!


Wilderness is harsh and wild and yet there is something strangely attractive about the wild –

Jack London’s famous book is entitled The Call Of The Wild – and there a call – there is something that draws us.


There is something wonderful and well as frightening about the wild. There are sights and sounds and smells — there is silence sometimes, and solitude.

The majestic mountains, the deep ravines, the rolling plains, the torrents of whitewater or the parched riverbed …

There are certain things you can only know when you have climbed a mountain or walked a trail.


David didn’t start off in the wilderness nor did he end up there BUT he spent some very important years there. It seems that those, like David, who have a heart for God, spend some time in the wilderness.

David didn’t choose to go into the desert – he didn’t go on a safari – or a nature trail to photograph lizards and hyenas or exotic wild flowers. His name was David the shepherd of Bethlehem — NOT David Attenborough of the BBC.

He went there are a fugitive – running for his life from the maniac who wanted to kill him, King Saul.


In the wilderness David found peace and beauty.


The wilderness can be a place of beauty and of danger. A majestic mountain can become dangerously deadly when the mist descends and the cold front arrives; a magnificent animal in a camera lense can suddenly become a deadly killer; a picturesque mountain stream can become an icy killer [or grave] if your foot slips…


We are removed from the physical wilderness as we surround ourselves with all the mod cons — towns and cities, roads and streetlights, central heating and superstores, NHS and life insurance…

BUT there are times and circumstances in life that no matter how modern or sophisticated we have become we are plunged into a wilderness.

We can be going along fine – life is good to us and suddenly – suddenly we are no longer in control – something goes wrong – Our physical health, our emotional wellbeing, our jobs, our friends, our family …


All of a sudden we are in a terribly frightening and dangerous desert – we are seeing and hearing and experiencing things that are new and scary – a normal response!! BUT if at the same time we will be alert to the dealing of God in our life – there can be great beauty in the desert as we learn something of the  mystery of God and the wonder of life.


The PLACE David was in — starting the cave of Adullum … the desert of Ziph … the wilderness of En-Gedi.




When David first ran – he was alone – first to the Priests at Nob and then to Gath, the Philistine town and then to the cave of Adullum …

In a strange place away from all that is familiar – alone except for God … it is during this time that he writes …

Psalm 142:1-7

1 [A maskil of David. When he was in the cave. A prayer.]

I cry aloud to the LORD; I lift up my voice to the LORD for mercy.

2 I pour out my complaint before him; before him I tell my trouble.

3 When my spirit grows faint within me, it is you who know my way.

In the path where I walk men have hidden a snare for me.

4 Look to my right and see; no-one is concerned for me.

I have no refuge; no-one cares for my life.

5 I cry to you, O Lord; I say, “You are my refuge, my portion in the land of the living.”

6 Listen to my cry, for I am in desperate need;

rescue me from those who pursue me, for they are too strong for me.

7 Set me free from my prison, that I may praise your name.

Then the righteous will gather about me because of your goodness to me. (NIV)


Does David express how you have felt at times ~~ (he does for me) ~~ it that how you feel now?? ~~ If you are a child of God there will be times when he takes you through the wildernesses of life.

Remember that those he loves he disciplines and puts to the test ~~ an easy, comfortable, problem-free life is not necessarily a sign of God blessing.


God was preparing David for kingship and he was putting him through a vigorous training programme ~~

God has removed all the props from David’s life ~~ in that aloneness, in that dark cave, in the despair, there is no escape and no one to turn to BUT God!!


The people that David encounters in these chapters are not those who come to help him BUT those who come to him for help … his family, who had always treated him well – remember how he wasn’t even invited to the party when Samuel came to visit; and how his brothers ridiculed and criticized him when he arrived in the army camp –  …

then look at the rabble that God sends him to be the raw material that he has to work with to build an army …

1 Samuel 22:2 2 All those who were in distress or in debt or discontented gathered round him, and he became their leader. About four hundred men were with him. (NIV)

Saul had mistreated and abused the country and those disaffected came running to David — he was a kind of Robin Hood of the time ..


God was beginning the process of rebuilding David’s life … this rabble, initially about 400,  this motley crew were to become David’s mighty men of valour, his right hand men, the officers in his government when he became King.

This number soon became 600 … and then continued until the whole nation was behind him.


Later another would come … led into the same wilderness … put to the test … he would draw around himself a motley bunch of people who in time, in dependence on God would turn the world upside down … and his holy nation, the church is still growing, and will continue until he is crown King of Kings and Lord of lords.


God had a plan for David … to use him for his glory. He has a plan for you and for me; it won’t always be pleasant – it will sometimes go through the wilderness BUT the wilderness is there to teach us and mould us in a way that nothing else can.




Besides the harshness of living in the wilderness David had other pressures to cope with …

1) He was surrounded by fearful followers.

Fear had caused David to panic and run and in the process make some major blunders. Now he has 400 men who are afraid .. can he teach them from the lessons he has learned.

The Philistines are attacking Keilah .. David consults the Lord, something he had failed to do at Nob and Gath … God says go and help …BUT

1 Samuel 23:3   3 But David’s men said to him, “Here in Judah we are afraid. How much more, then, if we go to Keilah against the Philistine forces!” (NIV)

David is learning to check it out with God … David and his men go to help Keilah and routed the Philistines.

Brought courage to the hearts of his men and rescue to the citizens of Keilah.

You would think they would be eternally grateful but not so …


2) He was rejected by those he had helped.

When Saul discovers that David is in Keilah he sets off to capture him …

David consults the Lord … 1 Samuel 23:12

12 Again David asked, “Will the citizens of Keilah surrender me and my men to Saul?”

And the LORD said, “They will.” (NIV)


He had put his life and the life of his men at risk … now he is kicked in the teeth … ingratitude is hard to swallow … our natural reaction is retaliation.

There is no hint of that here … David walks away … he hadn’t rescued them for their praise BUT because God had told him to … he was simply being obedient to God’s word.


When our motives for doing good to others is to gain their praise and approval we will be disappointed … God calls us to obey .. to do good to others because it is right and what he desire of us!!


3) He is betrayed by strangers.

David and his men flee to the Desert of Ziph. BUT some of the men from that area, for unknown reason [possibly to gain favour with the king], betray his position to Saul.

He had fear in the ranks, ingratitude from those he’d helped and now treachery from strangers.


4) He is pursued by his enemy.

David has to constantly watch his back. He knows that Saul will be after him at every oppotunity. Saul army way out numbers David’s rabble force and as they close in and it looks like all is lost God arranges a diversion…

1 Samuel 23:26-28

26 Saul was going along one side of the mountain, and David and his men were on the other side, hurrying to get away from Saul. As Saul and his forces were closing in on David and his men to capture them, 27 a messenger came to Saul, saying, “Come quickly! The Philistines are raiding the land.” 28 Then Saul broke off his pursuit of David and went to meet the Philistines.


Many years later the apostle Paul would write words David would readily understand …

1 Corinthians 10:13 13. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted [tested] beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted [tested], he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it. (NIV)


When the pressure was to great God stepped in.

Have you ever been in a situation where you are at your wits end and you can’t go on and then God steps in … often in the form other people to help.


ILLUS. maybe under pressure at work — it becomes unbearable and at breaking point your vindictive boss resigns or you are offered a different post.


Sometimes after a period of spiritual struggle when you are ready to give up God draws near in a very special way that you find difficult to discribe but is nevertheless very real and uplifting.


*5) He is encouraged by a friend.

1 Samuel 23:15-18         15 While David was at Horesh in the Desert of Ziph, he learned that Saul had come out to take his life. 16 And Saul’s son Jonathan went to David at Horesh and helped him to find strength in God. 17 “Don’t be afraid,” he said. “My father Saul will not lay a hand on you. You shall be king over Israel, and I will be second to you. Even my father Saul knows this.” 18 The two of them made a covenant before the LORD. Then Jonathan went home, but David remained at Horesh. (NIV)

When we are in the wilderness – the love and encouragement of a friend can be infinitely precious.


ILLUS.: When we first came to England – life was hard for us in many ways – we had no family here – our finaces were very tight – my work was very insecure. We were at a very low time.

A friend who was travelling through Europe en route to USA took a special detour at his own expense to come and spent three days with us – he had no hidden agenda – he wasn’t using us as a B&B – he came for us.


I can’t tell you what that meant to Janet and me! He did for us what Jonathan did for David … helped him to find strength in God.


Do you know of a friend in the wilderness right now … go to them … you don’t have to preach a sermon .. or have all the answers … just let them know that you care … a visit – a card – a phone call – a hug – — it does wonders at any time but especially when  you are in the wilderness!!




Going through a wilderness experience doesn’t necessarily cause us to grow and learn the lessons God is trying to teach us. It is possible to encounter hard time and to regress.

It is possible to become so full of bitterness and self-pity and anger that we only ever look inward and never upward ~~ I am not saying that we will never be angry or bitter or sorrow for ourselves these are natural reactions to difficulties ~~ BUT when we wallow in self-pity and harbour a bitter and angry spirit on and on and on … Then we will not learn what God has for us.

Instead of being like David who looked up and cried out to God for deliverance we will become like Saul, bitter and twisted, bent on a course of self-destruction — and we harm not only ourselves but those aroung us!!


We can be in the wilderness and be so absorbed with the harshness that we miss the beauty …

ILLUS.: A friend took some American young people to the Kruger National Park in RSA – all the seemed concerned about was when they would get lunch/ supper and breakfast – The opportunity to sit at a watering hole and watch the African sunrise and the animals coming to drink – but some were so self-absorbed they didn’t even get out of the minibus and go into the hide – what an opportunity missed.


If God  is taking you through the wilderness of life don’t miss the beauty of what he is trying to teach you through it.


David learned from God because he was prepared to admit his need and cry for help.


I am sure that there were many lessons that David learned in those years in the desert BUT one, I believe stands out.

Over and over again in the Psalms we come across this word – REFUGE – a place to run to in time of stress / danger / temptation ~~ as we read about this in the writings of David we can’t help but see the word as conveying a good experience, BUT what drove David to refuge was a bad experience.

He started out running for his life and found the life he was running for = God. “God is our refuge”


The prayer that David prayed in the wilderness is recorded in

Psalm 57:1-11

1 [For the director of music. [To the tune of] “Do Not Destroy”. Of David. A miktam. When he had fled from Saul into the cave.]

 Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me, for in you my soul takes refuge.

            I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings until the disaster has passed.

            2 I cry out to God Most High, to God, who fulfils [his purpose] for me.

            3 He sends from heaven and saves me, rebuking those who hotly pursue me; Selah

                        God sends his love and his faithfulness.

4 I am in the midst of lions; I lie among ravenous beasts —

            men whose teeth are spears and arrows, whose tongues are sharp swords.

5 Be exalted, O God, above the heavens; let your glory be over all the earth.

6 They spread a net for my feet — I was bowed down in distress.

They dug a pit in my path — but they have fallen into it themselves. Selah

7 My heart is steadfast, O God, my heart is steadfast; I will sing and make music.

8 Awake, my soul! Awake, harp and lyre! I will awaken the dawn.

9 I will praise you, O Lord, among the nations; I will sing of you among the peoples.

10 For great is your love, reaching to the heavens; your faithfulness reaches to the skies.

11 Be exalted, O God, above the heavens; let your glory be over all the earth. (NIV)


Going through a wilderness doesn’t automatically make us like David.

Saul was in the wilderness too, running after David, obsessed with hunting him down, full of murderous intent.

Meanwhile David is running to God, finding his refuge in God, alert to the wonders of his wilderness.

Peterson “We can’t be naive about the wilderness; it’s a dangerous place. But we must never avoid the wilderness; it’s a wonderful place”





1 Samuel 23:1-29  (Psalms 57 & 142)



  •  A wilderness can be harsh and frightening

      as well as beautiful and peaceful.



  •  At first he was alone
  •  Then came his family
  •  Then came the distressed and discontent



  •  He was surrounded by fearful followers
  •  He was rejected by those he had helped
  •  He was betrayed by strangers
  •  He was pursued by an enemy
    •  He was encouraged by a friend



  • Saul’s wilderness experience made him 

    angry and bitter

  • David’s wilderness experience turned him

    towards God where he learned that God

    alone is a refuge


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s