Wouldn’t it be great if you could inquire of the Lord — and He would answer you directly? David learns of the Philistine’s attacking the people of Keilah and looting their threshing floors. David asks the Lord, “Shall I go and attack these Philistines?”
The Lord clearly responds, “Go, attack the Philistines and save Keilah.” (vv. 1-2).
But David’s men are fearful. They say, “Here in Judah we are afraid. How much more, then, if we go to Keilah against the Philistine forces!” (v. 3). Apparently they had not heard the Lord’s voice in telling them to attack the Philistines.
David condescends to his men and inquires a second time of the Lord. The Lord repeats His command: “Go down to Keilah, for I am going to give the Philistines into your hand.” (v. 4).
David and his men obey, fight the Philistines, inflict heavy losses on them, and save the people of Keilah (v. 5). Obeying the Lord is always the right choice!
But how did David know what to do? [I’ve used several commentaries to help with the rest of this post]. We are told parenthetically: “Now Abiathar son of Ahimelek had brought the ephod down with him when he fled to David at Keilah.” (v. 6). One commentator says that in his fright and flight Abiathar came down with the ephod in his hand. Not the linen ephod on his back which the priests in common wore, but the ephod with the Urim and Thummim in his hand. It is likely that this wasn’t just any ephod; this was the ephod of the High Priest, which had the breastplate of judgment (Exodus 28:15) attached to it (Exodus 28:28). The breastplate had in it a pouch with two stones, known as the Urim and Thummim (Exodus 28:30). When David inquired of the LORD, he probably asked Abiathar to use the Urim and Thummim.
How did the priest use the Urim and Thummim to inquire of the LORD? The names Urim and Thummim mean “Lights and Perfections.” We aren’t sure what they were or how they were used. Most think they were a pair of stones, one light and another dark, and each stone indicated a “yes” or “no” from God. The idea is that High Priest would ask God a question that could be answered with a “yes” or a “no,” reach into the breastplate, and pull out the stone indicating God’s answer. This ephod, with the Urim and Thummim, was more helpful to David than a thousand soldiers, because it helped him discern the will of God.
Many Christians today would consider the Urim and Thummim as crude tools of discernment; sort of an Old Testament “Magic 8-Ball.” In fact, using the Urim and Thummim was superior to the tools many Christians today use: relying purely on feeling, or on outward appearances, or simply using no discernment at all. The key to the effectiveness of the Urim and Thummim was that God’s Word gave them. In seeking God through the Urim and Thummim, one was really going back to God’s Word for guidance, because it was the word of God that commanded their place and allowed their use. Today, if we have the same focus on God’s Word, He will guide us also. One old preacher was asked to explain the Urim and Thummim. He said, “Well, this is how I understand it. When I need to know God’s will, I get out my Bible and I do a lot of usin’ and thummin’ through my Bible, and God always speaks to me.” More Christians would know God’s will if they did more usin’ and thummin’!
Go, and attack the Philistines, and save Keliah: By all outward appearance, this was a crazy thing to do. First, David had 400 men whose had thin resumes and bad credit reports (everyone who was in distress, everyone who was in debt, and everyone who was discontented gathered to him, 1 Samuel 22:2); not exactly a regular army! Second, David had enough trouble with Saul, and he didn’t need to add trouble from the Philistines – one enemy is usually enough! Third, this would bring David wide open out before King Saul, and expose him to that enemy also. This was a dangerous course of action!
Then why do it at all? David had two great reasons: the command of God, and the need of the people. David was willing to spend himself, to endanger himself, so that he obey the command of God, and meet the need of the people.