In 1 Samuel 23 David is on the run from King Saul. At this point, Saul has pretty much devoted his life to killing David. Saul’s rejection of God’s word led him down the path of anger, hatred, jealousy, and murder. In fact, in his rage Saul had a large group of Israelite priests killed (1 Sam. 22:18). Word seemed to get around in Israel that Saul was on a rampage. Many people were afraid of him (including David). In fact, after David rescued the people of Keilah from the Philistines, he learned that they were going to betray him and turn him over to Saul (1 Sam. 23:12). Why would the Keilahites betray David after he had just rescued them from the Philistines? I would argue that it is motivated by fear of Saul rather than hatred of David. And there’s good application here too. Robert Vannoy says it well:
Lest our assessment of the behavior of the Keilahites be too harsh, we might ask if we also have not, on occasion, acted in similar ways. We, of course, live in very different times and circumstances, and in a much later period of redemptive history. Our anointed one is not David, but, rather, David’s greater son, Jesus Christ. So the question that we might ask ourselves is, how often have we, in one way or another, denied our identification with Christ out of fear of a perceived threat to our own well-being. Remember what Peter did at the time of the crucifixion of Christ (Matt 26:69–75). Is it not true that there have been occasions when we have refused to identify ourselves with Christ in situations where his name and honor were at stake?
When something of this sort happens, then we, like the citizens of Keilah, have made a choice to identify with the enemies of Christ and his Kingdom, rather than with the one who has redeemed and liberated us.
Fear is a powerful force. It was such a force at Keilah, and it is in our own lives as well. The Bible frequently addresses the destructive power of fear and consistently exhorts God’s people in all times and places to put their trust in the Lord and, by so doing, to turn away from behavior that is motivated by fear (cf. e.g., Deut 31:8; Isa 41:10; Jer 23:4; 2 Tim 1:7–8).
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