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.
1 Samuel 23:14
The wilderness is a common setting for events in the Bible. We read in the book of Exodus the story of the Hebrew people wandering in the wilderness for forty years after escaping from Egypt. The prophet Elijah hears that Jezebel wants him killed so he flees into the wilderness (1 Kings 19:3-5). And where does Jesus go to be tempted by the devil after being baptized? Into the wilderness (Luke 4:1-13).
The wilderness of the Near East is a desolate place, unfit for habitation. The wilderness, with its challenges, is often a place in Scriptures for a time of testing and time to encounter God. Naturally, it is a challenging place to live, so the wilderness became a symbol for isolation.
In the Bible the wilderness marks a turning point for those who enter it. A time for them to get away from the distractions of the world. In their aloneness, they come to grips in knowing who they are and whose they are. It also must be noted that the wilderness is always a temporary stopover. For God desires for us to be together in community.
There are typically two reasons for venturing into the wilderness: one is either running away from something—away from danger, or is driven into it for a time of testing. Either way, the wilderness can be frightening place, with lots of unknowns as they enter in, plus the shear terror of the experience of being alone. The crucial question for these wilderness moments is like the question of our current sermon series. When faced with such a challenge, how do we respond? Does it drive us toward God, or away from God?
In 1 Samuel chapters 23-24, we read of the encounter of David being pursued by King Saul. Saul was jealous of David, of his military conquests and his popularity with the people, and wanted to kill him. David ran into the wilderness (although he was not alone for his army accompanied him.) Saul was so obsessed with hunting him down that he personally went after him with his military might.
David hid from Saul going from cave to cave. At one point, Saul entered the cave where David was hiding. David could have easily killed him. But he did not. For Saul was still the King of Israel. Later when Saul and David meet and Saul learns how his life was spared, he was very moved. Saul saw God’s hand in what had happened. He gave up his pursuit of David, for the moment at least.
In the wilderness, Saul, with blinders on, was running after David. That is all he could see. Meanwhile David, in the wilderness, was running after God—and found him. David was able to comprehend that God filled the wilderness. The desolate wilderness was still filled with God’s presence, security, and generous love.