In the years that the young man David spent fleeing from jealous King Saul, a story in 1 Samuel 23:1-14 tells of a time when David actively led his band of outcasts to rescue a town of Judah, named Keilah, from marauding Philistines. Before David set out on his rescue mission, he inquired of the Lord whether he should go or not and was assured that he should go. Some of David’s men were afraid, so David inquired a second time and was again assured by God he should go, and that God would give him victory over the Philistines. David did win a great victory, as promised, winning spoils of war and saving the inhabitants of Keilah.
In the next stage of the sequence of events, King Saul heard of David’s exploits against the Philistines, learned David’s current location, and perceived this as an opportunity to capture David by besieging a city of his own people. With no guidance from God, and contrary to all that God had previously shown him, Saul rationalized his rebellious course of action as seizing an opportunity given by God (1 Samuel 23:7). Perhaps he thought God had made a mistake. Meanwhile, as Saul prepared to march to war against a peaceful town of his own people, David in turn received word of Saul’s intentions and preparations. David responded by inquiring of the Lord, two specific questions.
David had good information from sources that he trusted about Saul’s intentions and movements, but nevertheless asked whether Saul would indeed march down with his army and besiege the city of Keilah, and the Lord’s answer was, “He will come down.” The second question was, “Will the people of Keilah hand me over to Saul?” And the answer again was in the affirmative, the Lord said, “They will surrender you” (1 Samuel 23:10-12). To save himself, and to save Keilah a second time from invasion, David and his troop of about 600 men abandoned Keilah and resumed a vagabond subsistence of hiding in remote places. Saul was told that David had left Keilah, and so he cancelled his expedition and did not march to Keilah (1 Samuel 23:13).
David’s dependence on consulting God for guidance in making his decisions is certainly a positive lesson in this episode of his life’s story and is in stark contrast to Saul’s presumptive decisions and actions that he disingenuously ascribed to “God given” opportunity (1 Samuel 23:7). There are also lessons here about depending on men, which David was wise enough not to do. He did not determine his course of action based on the feelings of his followers (verses 3-4), nor did he act solely on the basis of definite information supplied by allies (verses 9-10), and David did not assume that the folk of Keilah would gratefully protect him against Saul because of the good he had done for them (verse 11). Then too, David behaved with dignity and mercy when he left Keilah in peace, rescuing the town a second time from military forces by his decision to simply leave in peace without retribution or vindictiveness. He chose to do the right thing, knowing that others would not.
One other insight we might take from the things that happened to David in those days relates to what would have happened but did not happen. David asked specific questions of God and received specific answers about what would happen. “Will Saul come and besiege Keilah? Will the people of Keilah surrender me to Saul?” Those two questions were answered in the affirmative, “Yes, Saul will come.” And, “Yes, they will surrender you.” However, neither of these things happened. These two true prophecies of God did not take place, because they were specific to circumstances that depended on what David did. When David exercised his freewill to take warning and leave Keilah, Saul in turn exercised his freewill and chose not to go to Keilah. Neither of the prophecies was “fulfilled” because both prophecies depended on circumstances that were malleable, dependent on what men would do. If God’s foreknowledge were deterministic, then everything would have played out according to inevitable fate as stated. Saul would have come, and David would have been shut in and betrayed by Keilah. Instead we see that the Lord’s true foreknowledge served to warn and avert an outcome that certainly would have occurred if David had not acted on the information he had. David could and did choose a different course, and a different outcome occurred. Human choice truly affects what happens in this world, including acts of God, and including our relationship with God. Numerous Biblical records similarly recount instances when divinely predicted outcomes were or could have been different if people listened to the prophet and changed their behavior (e.g. see Elijah’s prophecy against Ahab, and God’s mercy when Ahab repented, 1 Kings 21:17-29; or Jeremiah’s word to Zedekiah, Jeremiah 38:17-23; or Jonah in Nineveh, Jonah 3-4).
Long ago the prophet Ezekiel spoke the Lord’s word to Israel and said, “As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, O house of Israel?” (Ezekiel 33:11). Our choices matter so much that God himself acts upon our decisions and requests.