II Samuel 5:17-25
17 When the Philistines heard that David had been anointed king over Israel, they went up in full force to search for him, but David heard about it and went down to the stronghold. 18 Now the Philistines had come and spread out in the Valley of Rephaim; 19 so David inquired of the Lord, “Shall I go and attack the Philistines? Will you deliver them into my hands?” The Lord answered him, “Go, for I will surely deliver the Philistines into your hands.” 20 So David went to Baal Perazim, and there he defeated them. He said, “As waters break out, the Lord has broken out against my enemies before me.” So that place was called Baal Perazim. 21 The Philistines abandoned their idols there, and David and his men carried them off. 22 Once more the Philistines came up and spread out in the Valley of Rephaim;23 so David inquired of the Lord, and he answered, “Do not go straight up, but circle around behind them and attack them in front of the poplar trees. 24 As soon as you hear the sound of marching in the tops of the poplar trees, move quickly, because that will mean the Lord has gone out in front of you to strike the Philistine army.” 25 So David did as the Lord commanded him, and he struck down the Philistines all the way from Gibeon to Gezer.
1. The Occasion and Need for Inquiry 17-19
The particular service for which David was raised up was to free Israel from Philistine oppression. II Sam. 3:18, says, “For the Lord promised David, ‘By my servant David I will rescue my people Israel from the hand of the Philistines and from the hand of all their enemies.’” This plan of God for David and Israel gave an opportunity for accomplishing two great victories over the Philistines. David not only balanced the disgrace of Israel’s loss from the battle at Jezreel in which Saul and his sons were killed, but also obtained other benefits. These victories further established David’s leadership, Israel’s reputation and God’s glory. But most importantly for you and me today, these battles provide an opportunity to learn the most effective way to serve God in prayer; not so much by asking, requesting or imposing our plans and ambitions on God, but by asking God what He wants to do and then praying and acting accordingly. This is the most effective way to pray. When the man or woman of God learns to inquire of God in prayer, the effectiveness and efficaciousness of his or her prayers increases exponentially because prayer for the fulfillment of God’s plan is the best way to cooperate with God in the cycle of effective prayer.
In both these actions the Philistines were the aggressors, activated themselves towards their own destruction, and pulled doom down on their own heads. They knew that under Saul David had slain his ten thousands and worried, what he would do when he himself came to be king! Apparently they thought this was an opportunity to crush David’s government in its infancy, before it was well settled. Their success against Saul, some years earlier encouraged them to make this attack upon David, but they failed to realize a great difference between Saul and David. David had the presence of God with him which Saul had carelessly lost by his willful disobedience. The kingdom of God is also under attack and in each of our places of ministry we must resist that attack. “Why do the nations conspire and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth rise up and the rulers band together against the Lord and against his anointed, saying, ‘Let us break their chains and throw off their shackles.’” You are God’s chosen and anointed servant. The unbelieving heathen may rage about you, and the rulers of the governments in your community may set themselves to oppose you, but their opposition is in vain. The destruction will turn in your favor against them, as it did in the battles at Baal Perazim. Isaiah 8:9-10 says, “Raise the war cry, you nations, and be shattered! Listen, all you distant lands. Prepare for battle, and be shattered! Prepare for battle, and be shattered! Devise your strategy, but it will be thwarted; propose your plan, but it will not stand, for God is with us.” And just as the Philistines came up again, so your enemy will be persistent. But you will defeat them again. “Once more the Philistines came up” (v 22). They may have hoped with hardened hearts to recover what they had lost in the first try. They may even, as the Philistines did “spread out in the Valley of Rephaim.” Rephaim was close to Jerusalem a city they hoped to take for themselves before David had finished fortifying it. Jerusalem, from its infancy, has been aimed at, and struck at, with a particular enmity. Spreading themselves out suggests that they were numerous and made a formidable appearance. The threat of their appearance gave David a good reason to inquire of the Lord. Both times David wanted to know that he should attack the enemy.
His enquiry had two parts: “Shall I go” concerned his duty. Shall I have a commission from heaven to attack?” One would think David had no need to doubt this; what was he made king for, but to fight the battles of the Lord and Israel? But a good man loves to see God going before him in every step he takes. “Shall I go up now?” It is to be done, but is it to be done at this time? Perhaps years later Solomon remembered his father's history when he wrote Proverbs 3:5-6: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” The situation was complex and complicated with many different factors. It might not have been all that easy for David to decide. After all, though the Philistines were public enemies, yet some of them had been his particular friends. Achish had been kind to him in his distress, and had protected him. “Now,” David may have thought, “should I not, remember Ashish’ help, and rather to make peace with them than war?” “No,” God said, “they are Israel’s enemies, and are doomed to destruction, so lay personal issues aside and “Go.”
The first question addresses the issue of of duty, the second one addressed success. His conscience asked the former question, Shall I go? His prudence asked the second one, “Will you deliver them into my hands” (v 19)? David acknowledged his dependence on God for victory, that he could not conquer them unless God delivered them into his hand, and referred his cause to the good pleasure of God. “Will you do it?” And God answered, “Yes, I will do it.” If God sends us, He will bear us out and stand by us. The assurance God has given us of victory over our spiritual enemies, that He will tread Satan under our feet shortly, should animate us in our spiritual conflicts. We do not fight without certainty. David now had a great army at his command and courageous support from them from their hearts, even so, yet he still relied more on God’s promise than his own force.
This is why inquiry is so important. The battle is won or lost depending on God’s involvement. In I Sam. 17 we find the thrilling story of David killing the giant, Goliath. As he approached Goliath, David made a wonderful speech at the end of which he declared a truth very important to our lesson today. “All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves; for the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give all of you into our hands” (v 47). David not only said this publicly, but believed it from the bottom of his heart. If the battle is the Lord’s then it follows that we should conduct or not conduct the battle in full accord with God’s intent. In other words, the successful pastor, evangelist, missionary or church leader needs to learn how to inquire of the Lord if we want to have the consistent string of battle victories David had. David knew how to fight because he knew when and how to inquire of the Lord.
2. The Results of David’s First Inquiry 20-21
In the first of these two engagements David routed the army of the Philistines by reason of the sword and for this he gave God the glory; he said, “As waters break out, the Lord has broken out against my enemies before me.” I could not have done it if He had not done it before me; He opened the breach like the breach of waters in a dam, which then opened grows wider and wider. The principal part of the work was God’s doing, so the proper response is to say, not to us, but to you, Lord, as David wrote in Psalm 115:1, “Not to us, Lord, not to us but to your name be the glory, because of your love and faithfulness.” And then, so that future generations would remember what God did in that place he called it Baal-Perazim” meaning Master of the breaches or Master of the place of breaking through.
The Philistines brought images of their gods to the field as their protectors, possibly remembering that the Israelites had brought the ark into their camp; but, when they were put to flight, they could not stay around to carry them off. Those images, like the images of all false gods, even the idols in our hearts today, are a burden: Isaiah 46:1 says, “Bel bows down, Nebo stoops low; their idols are borne by beasts of burden. Their images failed them, and gave them no help, and therefore they left their images to shift for themselves.” God can make men weary of those things they have been most fond of, and compel them to desert things they cherish and praise.
Isaiah 2:20 says, ”In that day people will throw away to the moles and bats their idols of silver and idols of gold, which they made to worship.” If there is any idol in my heart that I have not recognized, I want the Lord to reveal it so I can abandon it. David and his men took the plunder and burned the gods. II Samuel says David’s army carried them off, but Chronicles 14:12 sets the record straight, they burned them in the fire which would have been in obedience to Deut. 7:5. What a contrast! When the ark fell into Philistines’ hands, it consumed them, boils broke out and images toppled over, but, when these Philistine images fell into the hands of Israel, they could not save themselves and were burned.
3. The Results of the Second Inquiry 22-25
In the latter of these engagements God gave David specific direction, told him not to attack directly, but to go around behind them and wait for the sound of the wind in the tree branches which would be the sign that the armies of God had gone out before them. “Do not go straight up, but circle around behind them and attack them in front of the poplar trees. As soon as you hear the sound of marching in the tops of the poplar trees, move quickly, because that will mean the Lord has gone out in front of you to strike the Philistine army” (vs 23-24). You will not see it, but you will hear the armies of the Lord. When God gave him the victory, David gave God the credit. At the first battle, when God gave David the victory, David gave God the glory. Now God does it again. For those that honor God in what He has done for them, God will do more, but even so, though God promised to go before David, David still had to wait and then move out. Both are important, waiting for the right time and moving quickly at the right time.
If God works in us both to will and to do, it does not follow that we sit still, as those that have nothing to do, but for our part we are to work out our own salvation as Phil 2:12&13 says, “Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.” When God fights against us it is said in Lev.26:36 that “‘As for those of you who are left, I will make their hearts so fearful in the lands of their enemies that the sound of a windblown leaf will put them to flight. They will run as though fleeing from the sword, and they will fall, even though no one is pursuing them.”
When the kingdom of the Messiah was to be set up, the apostles that were to fight spiritually against the devil’s kingdom, were not to attempt anything until they received the promise of the Spirit, who came with a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind (Acts 2:2). Can you see the similarity between the sound of the going on the tops of the mulberry trees in David’s day; and sound of the wind of the Holy Spirit proceeding in advance of the Christian armies at Pentecost? When we remember and recognize that sound, we too must rise as David’s men rose and conquer.
4. Our Opportunities for Inquiry
Who was David? A soldier; a good soldier. A leader of soldiers; a good leader of soldiers. David had been the best general in Saul’s army and now he was king. When the Philistines drew near to Jerusalem to attack, you would think that David would know what to do. “Come on, men, let’s go after the Philistines.” Is that what David did? No. He did not trust his own understanding and inquired of the Lord. When the victory occurred, Israeli territory was preserved, God’s people were safe, God was glorified and the Philistines were no longer there. This because the king inquired of the Lord.
When the Philistines came again, you would think that David, coasting on the momentum of the previous victory, would for certain know what to do this time. “Come on, men, let’s do it again.” Is that what David did? No. Once again he did not lean on his own understanding. He inquired of the Lord. And this second time, the Lord said, no, go around behind and wait. It is easier to be active than to wait, but David was learning God’s ways as he approached the problem from a different angle and is this time waiting for the right time. At the right time David and his men attacked. And again Israel territory was preserved, God’s people were safe, God was glorified and the Philistines were no longer there. This was because the king again inquired of the Lord. God answered David in different ways. God has many different means and we should not expect that He will lead us the same way every time. We need to know how God is answering each individual, specific time. Our problem is that we do the will of God too long; we fail to stay abreast of new ways He may be wanting to work this time.
David was successful against Amnon, Amalekites, Edom, Moab, Philistia and Aram. He had success everywhere he went. How did he do that? He learned the value of inquiring of the Lord. You and I serve the same God David served. If we will learn to inquire of the Lord, He is able to show us what projects are opportunities and which ones are interruptions. We could possibly have a Bible study, conduct children’s classes, lead people to the Lord in a tea party, organize a Christian football club where we teach young boys how to play football and how to become a Christian or conduct an adult Bible study in an office downtown and win men to Jesus. The success or failure of such possible projects depends on the Lord. If we will learn to inquire of the Lord and then listen to and obey how God answers, we too can have success everywhere we go. I believe in fasting and prayer, praying earnestly, praying until we get the answer and praying with energy. But even so, more important than energy in prayer is accuracy in prayer. It is more important to be praying the correct thing about the right issues than it is to be putting a great deal of energy into wrong prayers which will only lead to wrong answers. Direction is more important than speed. Speed is not important; praying in the right direction is.