David’s first official act as Israel’s king brought unprecedented unity to the nation of Israel. With the successful establishment of Jerusalem as the capital of the unified tribes of Israel, David reflected on the situation:
“So David knew that the Lord had established him as king over Israel, and that He [God] had exalted His kingdom for the sake of His people Israel” (2 Sam. 5:12).
The newly crowned king humbly recognized that his success was not proof of his own wisdom or ability. God chose to bless Israel by exalting David’s kingdom.
Word quickly spread. When the Philistines—who were living in the coastal plain just north of what is now called the Gaza Strip—discovered that Israel had crowned David king, they also recognized the significance. They were not happy.
David had a reputation. As a teenager, he had accepted Goliath’s challenge that resulted in the humiliating defeat of the giant and the Philistine army (1 Sam. 17:40-51).
In Saul’s army, David was known for unparalleled success in battle with the Philistines (1 Sam. 18:5-7).
David had also spent a year and four months living in Philistia while evading Saul (1 Sam. 27:7). During that time, the Philistines vouched for David’s exceptional leadership and military skill (29:4-5). King Achish was so impressed he made David a life-long body guard (28:2).
The Philistines had little concern about David while he was in exile and hiding from King Saul. They were indifferent to David as king of Judah while he was preoccupied fending off attacks from loyalists in Saul’s army led by Abner. When the unified tribes of Israel anointed David King of Israel, however, it was an entirely different matter.
In an aggressive incursion, “all the Philistines went up to search for David . . . and deployed themselves in the Valley of Rephaim” (2 Sam. 5:17-18). Take note; the Bible emphatically states that all the Philistines went up to search for David (read the context).
The Philistine’s move was not an exploratory foray to gather intelligence. This was not a raid, but a calculated attempt to annihilate Israel.
Likely using the ancient trade route from the coastal plain through the Elah Valley and up the Valley of Rephaim, the Philistines maneuvered toward Jerusalem. On a broad plane a little over three miles southwest of Jerusalem, just before the valley narrows into a steep-walled canyon, the Philistine army established battle lines and waited.
A Miraculous Breakthrough
Hearing of the threat, David secured his fortress and asked the Lord how to respond to the threat. He inquired:
“Shall I go up against the Philistines? Will You deliver them into my hand? And the Lord said to David, ‘Go up, for I will doubtless deliver the Philistines into your hand’” (v. 19).
Responding to God’s assurance of victory, David and his men engaged the Philistines. The text described David’s attack like water breaking through a dam that scattered the Philistines in every direction. As a result, the place became known as Baal Perazim—“the Lord who breaks through” (2 Sam. 5:20). (1)
The Philistines’ retreat was so swift that their idols and good luck charms superstitiously carried into battle were abandoned. It was customary for ancient armies to bring fetishes onto the battlefield to boost prospects for victory. The victor would parade the idols of enemies through the streets as trophies of conquest.
In the text, we are told, David and his men carried them away (v.21). The word translated “carried away” is actually “burned” (Heb. wayisaem, וַיִּשָּׂאֵ֥ם). After removing the pagan symbols from the battlefield, David burned them in accordance with God’s Law (Deut. 7:5).
A Winning Strategy
With just enough time to regroup and re-hone their strategy following their unceremonious retreat, the Philistines returned with renewed threats to destroy David and the capital city of Jerusalem. Unbelievable as it sounds, the Philistines set up their camp in exactly the same location—a situation that borders on humorous.
Careful not to take anything for granted David again asked the Lord for guidance. Unlike the previous occasion, this time, God gave David a specific plan.
“You shall not go up; circle around behind them, and come upon them in front of the mulberry trees. And it shall be, when you hear the sound of marching in the tops of the mulberry trees, then you shall advance quickly. For then the Lord will go out before you to strike the camp of the Philistines” (2 Sam. 5:23-24).
Circling around the Philistine camp, David cut off the enemy’s escape route and waited for God’s signal—the sound of marching in the tops of mulberry trees. It may be that the sign involved the rustling of leaves at the top of the mulberry trees as often interpreted. Or, the sign may have been a supernatural revelation allowing David’s gathered army to hear the marching of the heavenly host going before them into battle. Regardless, David waited for the sign as God instructed.
The result was another decisive routing of the Philistine army. With God’s help, David chased the Philistines 25 miles all the way to Gezer (the northeast corner of modern day Gaza) into the Philistine-controlled area of the coastal plane.
Rather than relying on his own wisdom and ability, David habitually consulted the Lord in all his endeavors. On this occasion, God gave David two decisive victories over the Philistines—the first a miraculous breakthrough—the second a winning strategy. (2)
The long range implications of David’s willingness to seek God’s guidance before engaging Israel’s enemies are observable today. That modern Jerusalem exists, as the capital of Israel is a testament to God’s faithfulness and a powerful example of the fulfillment of prophecy.
Christians living in the 21st century can be assured that like King David of old, God is not only aware of, but desires to work in the realities of our daily experience. If we are willing to seek His guidance and trust Him in threatening circumstances, He will often give a miraculous breakthrough. At other times, God may provide a winning strategy. In either case, we are assured of having all that we need to succeed living the life of faith God’s way.
1) Old mulberry tree in Kibbutz Hanita. (Photo credit: Courtesy, Dr. Avishai Teicher/Pikiwiki Israel, [CC BY 2.5] via Wikimedia Commons/Enhancement,: MKM Portfolios
2) Emek Refaim Street sign (lit. Valley of Refaim Street, a Jerusalem street that descends into the Valley of Rephaim). (Photo credit, By שלט רחוב עמק רפאים) [CC BY 2.0]/Wikimedia Commons /Enhancement, MKM Portfolios
1) Although the Canaanite peoples worshipped a pagan god named Ba’al, the “term” ba’al used in 2 Samuel 5:20 is a common Hebrew word that simply means “lord or master.”
2) God used David’s faithfulness to firmly establish Jerusalem (circa.1003 B.C.) as the official capital of Israel not only during his lifetime, but forever. History supports only one location. Jerusalem is the eternal capital of Israel (2 Ki. 21:7).
Copyright © Charles E. McCracken 2016, devotional comments only. Repost/Reprint with permission from the author. Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Charles E. McCracken is an international Bible teacher, long-time friend of Israel and advocate for the Jewish people. Rev. McCracken authentically communicates biblical truth making his presentations relevant for those seeking to understand the significance of Israel and the church in Bible prophecy. He staunchly supports the nation of Israel and the Jewish people’s right to exist and live in peace.