Sermon on 1 Samuel 23:1-14 – “Rendering Good for Evil”

Sermon on 1 Samuel 23:1-14 – “Rendering Good for Evil”

Sermon for Sunday morning, June 30, 2024 at Unionville Presbyterian Church, BPC

Old Testament reading:

[1Sa 23:1-14 ESV] 1 Now they told David, “Behold, the Philistines are fighting against Keilah and are robbing the threshing floors.” 2 Therefore David inquired of the LORD, “Shall I go and attack these Philistines?” And the LORD said to David, “Go and attack the Philistines and save Keilah.” 3 But David’s men said to him, “Behold, we are afraid here in Judah; how much more then if we go to Keilah against the armies of the Philistines?” 4 Then David inquired of the LORD again. And the LORD answered him, “Arise, go down to Keilah, for I will give the Philistines into your hand.” 5 And David and his men went to Keilah and fought with the Philistines and brought away their livestock and struck them with a great blow. So David saved the inhabitants of Keilah. 6 When Abiathar the son of Ahimelech had fled to David to Keilah, he had come down with an ephod in his hand. 7 Now it was told Saul that David had come to Keilah. And Saul said, “God has given him into my hand, for he has shut himself in by entering a town that has gates and bars.” 8 And Saul summoned all the people to war, to go down to Keilah, to besiege David and his men. 9 David knew that Saul was plotting harm against him. And he said to Abiathar the priest, “Bring the ephod here.” 10 Then David said, “O LORD, the God of Israel, your servant has surely heard that Saul seeks to come to Keilah, to destroy the city on my account. 11 Will the men of Keilah surrender me into his hand? Will Saul come down, as your servant has heard? O LORD, the God of Israel, please tell your servant.” And the LORD said, “He will come down.” 12 Then David said, “Will the men of Keilah surrender me and my men into the hand of Saul?” And the LORD said, “They will surrender you.” 13 Then David and his men, who were about six hundred, arose and departed from Keilah, and they went wherever they could go. When Saul was told that David had escaped from Keilah, he gave up the expedition. 14 And David remained in the strongholds in the wilderness, in the hill country of the wilderness of Ziph. And Saul sought him every day, but God did not give him into his hand.

New Testament reading:

[Rom 12:9-21 ESV] 9 Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. 10 Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. 11 Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. 14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. 17 Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Gospel reading:

[Luk 6:27-36 ESV] 27 “But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 29 To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. 30 Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. 31 And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them. 32 “If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. 35 But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. 36 Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.


There is a modern trend of “cutting off ties” with friends and even family. While “estrangement” has been around since the beginning of time, the difference today is that many people RECOMMEND the idea.
Don’t like something your parents said to you? End contact!
Don’t like something your friend did to you? End contact!
Aren’t happy with some characteristic of your partner. Divorce them.
That is the modern advice.
It is to “return evil for evil.”
Or at least, “return avoidance for evil.”
Get out of the situation.
That is the common advice.
But what strikes me about this advice, which I see frequently in our day, is that if you divorce everyone who wrongs you over even the slightest infractions, you’ll soon be all alone.

We all sin and fall short of the glory of God.
We all sin and fall short of being great friends.
But we, as Christians, having a great calling that isn’t “end it” but rather:
“render good for evil.”
When someone has harmed you, don’t respond in kind; respond with KINDness, with love.

One of the greatest examples in world history is that of St. Patrick in Ireland. He wasn’t originally from Ireland. He lived in Briton and was captured and enslaved by the Irish. He spent SIX YEARS as a slave there. And then he escaped and made it back home. Then, what did he do? Did he lead an army against the Irish, his former captors? No, he returned to Ireland to bring them the good news of the Gospel.

Overcome evil with good. That is what Paul says in Romans:

[Rom 12:21 ESV] 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

And Peter speaks similarly:

[1Pe 3:9 ESV] 9 Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.

That is the message we learn from our text when we look at David,
and even more, that is the message we learn from our text when we look at God.

This is the account of David SAVING the town of Keilah EVEN THOUGH they would be evil to him.
And it is the account of God SAVING the town of Keilah EVEN THOUGH He KNEW that they would betray David, his anointed.

So we have three parts to the story:

I. David Saves Keilah from the Philistines (v. 1-6)
II. Keilah Betrays David (v. 7-12)
III. David Escapes from Saul (v. 13-14)


I. David Saves Keilah from the Philistines (v. 1-6)

Word comes to David that the Philistines are fighting against Keilah.

Now, what is Keilah? To me it sounds like the sort of name people are giving to their babies these days. Baby Keilah.

But here it is a city in the lowlands of Judah. A city of Israelites, that needs help to protect itself against the Philistines.

And there is an irony here because Keilah means fortress or citadel, but it is not a strong enough stronghold. They need a rescuer.

So they could call up Saul, or they could call up David.

Saul is the King of Israel. Shouldn’t they call him?

But David is a proven victor. He is know for killing Goliath and defeating the Philistines. And maybe the people of Keilah also realize “God is on David’s side.”

So they choose David. Come save us David. Maybe they have a bat signal; like a giant menorah in the sky. I don’t know.

This is interesting relevant to the theory of “Just War.” I spoke about this some in a Sunday School lesson some weeks ago. One of the points of Just War Theory is that a war is just if it is led under proper authority. But I doubted that point. And here we see a good example. Saul is the King still, not David. Yet, David, I believe, is fully just in conducting the war (or battle) against the Philistines. So I would say “it is preferred that we have the proper channels and authorities to conduct warfare, but there are many occasions where one has to improvise.” The Philistines were attacking, Keilah need defense, and David was able to get there. But David also has the advantage of God telling him directly to lead that battle. That harkens back to these Old Testament times where God made it clear which battles should be fought by telling an Israel leader directly. They didn’t need to consider the points of Just War, but rather listen to the direct command of God.

Now, at first, David is not sure if he should go. He does the right thing; he asks the Lord!

The opposite was done back in the book of Joshua. When, in Chapter 8 of Joshua, the Gibeonites came and dressed up as weary travelers from a far-off land, the elders of Israel believed them and made covenant with them without ever asking counsel from the Lord. So we learned there that we are to do all things in prayer; never in haste or according purely to our own decisions. Seek the Lord. Ask Him.

And God says to David “Go.” Fight the Philistines. This is a good thing. You are protecting the people of Keilah (even if they will later betray him.)

David didn’t have fear of the enemy. He just wanted to do the right thing according to the Lord. But David’s men did have a misplaced fear. They were concerned about battle with the Philistines.

So David again inquires of the Lord. Possibly David asks of the Lord through the prophet Gad who is with him. And the Lord answered, “Arise, go down to Keilah, for I will give the Philistines into your hand.”

So with that blessing of the Lord they go in confidence and are given the victory. “David saved the inhabitants of Keilah.”

And then, in verse 6 we find Abiathar arriving. In the last chapter he had left from Nob where all his priestly family was killed by Saul. Only Abiathar escapes. And we see here that the text isn’t precisely chronological. The massacre at Nob occurred, Abiathar escapes, but around the same time David is called to Keilah and Abiathar arrives there.

II. Keilah Betrays David (v. 7-12)

But the salvation David brings to Keilah is not appreciated. They quickly betray him.

David’s victory at Keilah has drawn Saul’s attention. And Saul think’s “I can finally capture this rascal.” “I’ve got him contained in a city.” The walls of a city are generally used for keeping enemies out, but now Saul thinks these same walls will keep David IN.

And one commentator suggests that Saul even used the occasion of this Philistine attack to raise more of an army for himself from the adjoining districts. But his plan was not to use this army against the Philistines but against David!

The Lord warns David however, saying that the people of Keilah will turn him in. “They will surrender you.” These are the same people David has just saved. But they are pragmatists; they think Saul has a bigger force, and they don’t want to get caught up in the battle and appear to be on David’s side. Remember what happened to Ahimelech at the Priests at Nob afterall! They were all killed for their supposed affiliation with David.

Now, when David did GOOD in saving Keilah he didn’t know that they would soon betray him.
God did know, of course.
And yet God had David continue with saving Keilah anyways.
Good was rendered even though evil was to come from the other direction.

Why did David do this? Why did David save Keilah. Well, for one, it was the right thing to do. To come to the defense of his neighbors. Even if those neighbors might later betray him.

But there is another reason too.

Matthew Henry speaks of it, saying of David, “He must render good for evil, and therein be a TYPE of him who not only ventured his life, but laid down his life, for those that were his enemies.

The ANTI-TYPE is Jesus Christ. David as a type, points to Christ who fulfills the deed more fully as the anti-type.

Christ saves. And he saves people who have been — or even will be — evil to him.

And we think of David’s situation, “that’s not fair.” “I would do nothing to help Keilah.” “I would do nothing positive for such an enemy.” Especially one who would betray me

But fortunately for us, God doesn’t work that way.
If God did not render good for evil, we’d all be toast, for we betray God in our sin. But He saves us anyways.

That is the Gospel: God renders good EVEN THOUGH we are evil.

He sends Jesus Christ to a people who are opposed to Him in ever way, a people who are enemies of Him, people who even kill the Son of God. But in that very evil of man, God is working the good of our forgiveness and salvation.

He renders Good for Evil.
He returns Good for Evil.
He gives not what we deserves, but what he desires for us in His love for us.

III. David Escapes from Saul (v. 13-14)

And so in the end of our passage, David escapes from Saul. (and from Keilah)

And David doesn’t take vengeance on Keilah. He seems to have an army at his disposal that is stronger than that of Keilah. And Keilah just betrayed Him. David could have returned evil for evil. He could have done what the Philistines failed to do; destroy Keilah. But he doesn’t return evil for evil. He escapes to fight another day.


1. Always Seek Direction from God.

It is our duty, and will be our case and comfort, whatever happens, to acknowledge God in all our ways and to seek direction from him.

Always seek direction from God. Even the great David isn’t so wise to be able to determine his own ways; he seeks the Lord.

We should have a low view of our own ways, and a high view of the Lord’s ways, and so seek His council.

2. Render Good for evil, as our Lord himself did.

As Christians, our response to evil should not be to respond in kind with more evil, but to reflect Christ, who works in us.

What did Christ do when evil was against him?

[1Pe 2:23 ESV] 23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.

So when someone has betrayed you don’t think “I wish I wouldn’t have wasted my time being nice to them,” or “I’ll never be nice to them again.” That is the response of the world, not of the Christian. Our response is “pray that I forgive others as Christ has forgiven me; and pray that I love others as Christ has loved me.”

They don’t deserve it, you might say.
We don’t deserve it either. We do not deserve Christ’s love, but He loved us anyways.

It always strikes me, in the Lord’s prayer that we say “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” And some people, honest Christians, don’t like this. They say “Don’t forgive me AS I forgive others.” Forgive me much better! See, we don’t forgive as well as God does. We might even say “teach us to forgive others AS you forgive us.” But I don’t want to question or change the want God has revealed the prayer to us. Rather, I just want us to understand it properly. It is really both. Forgive us, and lead us to forgive others.

So will you put this into practice? Next time someone has slighted you. Next time someone has demeaned you, insulted you, betrayed you, harmed you in some way, or even was late to a meeting with you, what will you do?

Do not render evil in return, but render good as you are called of the Lord to do.

This will take serious guts. And it will take the Holy Spirit in us. For our natural response is not so kind. But, we pray, we shall be helped by God to be slow to anger, and patient, kind, and loving, even when we are wronged. Let the Gospel of Christ so move us: He loved us that we may love one another. Let us pray.