The particular service for which David was raised up was to save Israel out of the hand of the Philistines, 2 Sam. 3:18. This therefore divine Providence, in the first place, gives him an opportunity of accomplishing. Two great victories obtained over the Philistines we have here an account of, by which David not only balanced the disgrace and retrieved the loss Israel had sustained in the battle wherein Saul was slain, but went far towards the total subduing of those vexatious neighbours, the last remains of the devoted nations.
I. In both these actions the Philistines were the aggressors, stirred first towards their own destruction, and pulled it on their own heads. 1. In the former they came up to seek David (2 Sam. 5:17), because they heard that he was anointed king over Israel. He that under Saul had slain his ten thousands, what would he do when he himself came to be king! They therefore thought it was time to look about them, and try to crush his government in its infancy, before it was well settled. Their success against Saul, some years ago, perhaps encouraged them to make this attack upon David; but they considered not that David had that presence of God with him which Saul had forfeited and lost. The kingdom of the Messiah, as soon as ever it was set up in the world, was thus vigorously attacked by the powers of darkness, who, with the combined force both of Jews and Gentiles, made head against it. The heathen raged, and the kings of the earth set themselves to oppose it; but all in vain, Ps. 2:1-12 The destruction will turn, as this did, upon Satan’s own kingdom. They took counsel together, but were broken in pieces, Isa. 8:9, 10. 2. In the latter they came up yet again, hoping to recover what they had lost in the former engagement, and their hearts being hardened to their destruction, 2 Sam. 5:22. 3. In both they spread themselves in the valley of Rephaim, which lay very near Jerusalem. That city they hoped to make themselves masters of before David had completed the fortifications of it. Jerusalem, from its infancy, has been aimed at, and struck at, with a particular enmity. Their spreading themselves intimates that they were very numerous and that they made a very formidable appearance. We read of the church’s enemies going up on the breadth of the earth (Rev. 20:9), but the further they spread themselves the fairer mark they are to God’s arrows.
II. In both, David, though forward enough to go forth against them (for as soon as he heard it he went down to the hold, to secure some important and advantageous post, 2 Sam. 5:17), yet entered not upon action till he had enquired of the Lord by the breast-plate of judgment, 2 Sam. 5:19; and again, 2 Sam. 5:23. His enquiry was twofold:—1. Concerning his duty: “Shall I go up? Shall I have a commission from heaven to engage them?” One would think he needed not 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? In all thy ways acknowledge him. And besides, 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,” says David, “ought not I, in remembrance of that, rather to make peace with them than to make war with them?” “No,” says God, “they are Israel’s enemies, and are doomed to destruction, and therefore scruple not, but go up.” 2. Concerning his success. His conscience asked the former question, Shall I go up? His prudence asked this, Wilt thou deliver them into my hand? Hereby he owns his dependence on God for victory, that he could not conquer them unless God delivered them into his hand, and refers his cause to the good pleasure of God: Wilt thou do it? Yea, says God, I will doubtless do it. If God send 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 at uncertainty. David had now a great army at command and in good heart, yet he relied more on God’s promise than his own force.
III. In the former of these engagements David routed the army of the Philistines by dint of sword (2 Sam. 5:20): He smote them; and when he had done, 1. He gave his God the glory; he said, “The Lord has broken forth upon 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 when once opened grows wider and wider.” The principal part of the work was God’s doing; nay, he did all; what David did was not worth speaking of; and therefore, Not unto us, but unto the Lord, give glory. He hoped likewise that this breach, like that of waters, was as the opening of the sluice, to let in a final desolation upon them; and, to perpetuate the remembrance of it, he called the place Baal-perazim, the master of the breaches, because, God having broken in upon their forces, he soon had the mastery of them. Let posterity take notice of it to God’s honour. 2. He put their gods to shame. They brought the images of their gods into the field as their protectors, in imitation of the Israelites bringing the ark into their camp; but, being put to flight, they could not stay to carry off their images, for they were a burden to the weary beasts (Isa. 46:1), and therefore they left them to fall with the rest of their baggage into the hands of the conqueror. Their images failed them, and gave them no assistance, and therefore they left their images to shift for themselves. God can make men weary of those things that they have been most fond of, and compel them to desert what they dote upon, and cast even the idols of silver and gold to the moles and the bats, Isa. 2:20, 21. David and his men converted to their 13ed own use the rest of the plunder, but the images they burnt, as God had appointed (Deut. 7:5): “You shall burn their graven images with fire, in token of your detestation of idolatry, and lest they should be a snare.” Bishop Patrick well observes here that when the ark fell into the Philistines’ hands it consumed them, but, when these images fell into the hands of Israel, they could not save themselves from being consumed.
IV. In the latter of these engagements God gave David some sensible tokens of his presence with him, bade him not fall upon them directly, as he had done before, but fetch a compass behind them, 2 Sam. 5:23. 1. God appoints him to draw back, as Israel stood still to see the salvation of the Lord. 2. He promised him to charge the enemy himself, by an invisible host of angels, 2 Sam. 5:24. “Thou shalt hear the sound of a going, like the march of an army in the air, upon the tops of the mulberry trees.” Angels tread light, and he that can walk upon the clouds can, when he pleases, walk on the tops of trees, or (as bishop Patrick understands it) at the head of the mulberry-trees, that is, of the wood, or hedge-row of those trees. “And, by that sign, thou shalt know that the Lord goes out before thee; though thou see him not, yet thou shalt hear him, and faith shall come and be confirmed by hearing. He goes forth to smite the host of the Philistines.” When David had himself smitten them (2 Sam. 5:20), he ascribed it to God: The Lord has broken forth upon my enemies, to reward him for which thankful acknowledgment the next time God did it himself alone, without putting him to any toil or peril. Those that own God in what he has done for them will find him doing more. But observe, Though God promised to go before him and smite the Philistines, yet David, when he heard the sound of the going must bestir himself and be ready to pursue the victory. Note, God’s grace must quicken our endeavours. If God work in us both to will and to do, it does not follow that we must sit still, as those that have nothing to do, but we must therefore, work out our own salvation with all possible care and diligence, Phil. 2:12, 13. The sound of the going was, (1.) A signal to David when to move; it is comfortable going out when God goes before us. And, (2.) Perhaps it was an alarm to the enemy, and put them into confusion. Hearing the march of an army against their front, they retreated with precipitation, and fell into David’s army which lay behind them in their rear. Of those whom God fights against it is said (Lev. 26:36), The sound of a shaken leaf shall chase them. (3.) The success of this is briefly set down, 2 Sam. 5:25. David observed his orders, waited till God moved, and stirred them, but not till then. Thus he was trained up in a dependence on God and his providence. God performed his promise, went before him, and routed all the enemies’ force, and David failed not to improve his advantages; he smote the Philistines, even to the borders of their own country. When the kingdom of the Messiah was to be set up, the apostles that were to beat down the devil’s kingdom must not attempt any thing till they received the promise of the Spirit, who came with a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind (Acts 2:2), which was typified by this sound of the going on the tops of the mulberry trees; and, when they heard that, they must bestir themselves, and did so; they went forth conquering and to conquer.