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Jul 27, 2023

David stayed in the wilderness strongholds and in the hills of the Desert of Ziph. Day after day Saul searched for him, but God did not give David into his hands.  While David was at Horesh in the Desert of Ziph, he [was afraid because] Saul had come out to take his life. And Saul’s son Jonathan went to David at Horesh and helped him find strength in God.  “Don’t be afraid,” he said. “My father Saul will not lay a hand on you. You will be king over Israel, and I will be second to you. Even my father Saul knows this.”  The two of them made a covenant before the LORD.  Then Jonathan went home, but David remained at Horesh. (1 Samuel 23:14-18)



This is the story that introduces the cat and mouse game of David evading Saul in the wilderness.  It happens at “Horesh,” which is a word that can take two different meanings.  It can refer to a sort of silence, or to the work of human hands.  The same word shows up earlier in the chapter in Saul’s “plotting” against David.  Here in this wilderness place of Horesh where he is faced with God’s silence and his own fear at the threat of Saul, will David trust his fear and so rely on the work of his own hands to solve it, as Saul has?  Or will he trust in this God he cannot see nor hear?


It is here in this wilderness that David must begin to learn a more mature fear of the Lord.  This is not the battle of David and Goliath where the battle lines are clear, the army and King stand behind him and the Lord before him.  No, now David is a fugitive from the State, driven from his home, searching in deserts and foreign countries for refuge, clinging to the promise of God while facing down God’s silence.  Will David continue to fear the Lord—trust this God who he cannot see nor hear in this wilderness of fear? 


It is not unlike so many wilderness moments in our own life.  Something happens that unsettles us, leaves us feeling threatened.  A medical scare, a financial jolt, a shifting landscape underfoot in the society or institutions we thought were secure—even the church.  Faced with God’s relative silence and a threat looming overhead do we choose to fear the Lord or the threat? 


It is at this moment that Saul’s son Jonathan suddenly appears.  No one knew where David was.  Yet somehow Jonathan appears.  His name means “gift of God.”  Nathan being the Hebrew word for “gift,” and “Jo” being a prefix that refers to God. 


The text says that God did not “Nathan”/give David into Saul’s hands.  But God’s hand does offer a Jo-”Nathan”/gift to David.  What is this gift of God?  A friend who appears in a silent, wilderness moment to help David re-find his strength in God.  “Do not be afraid” Jonathan says.  They then reaffirm their love and commitment to one another and Jonathan leaves.  David remains in Horesh, this wilderness place of silence.  But now, somehow, David is no longer quite so alone or afraid.  God may be silent, but by his gifts of friendship and encouragement, David can once again recognize God’s hand on the move.


As the story continues, Saul really does find out where David is and comes down in pursuit of him.  However, we discover that David is no longer in “Horesh.”  Now he is in the Desert of “Maon,” a word which means “help” or “refuge.”  Here David goes down to “the rock,” and at that rock, though “Saul and his forces were closing in on David to capture them,” God suddenly intervenes to force Saul to turn away.  David and his men are saved, not by what their hands have done, but by the one in whom they have taken refuge. 


One can hear Psalms begin to percolate as David grows a little more to maturity.  The Lord who is my rock, my salvation, my refuge and strength in times of trouble.  Through loving friends, David learns to entrust his life to the hand of God even when God seems silent. 


How might you entrust yourself to God today against the silence and the threats that face you?  Are there “gifts of God” that show God’s hand to you in this moment?  How might you be a gift-of-God friend to someone in such a place?