When the Philistines heard that David had been anointed king over Israel, all the Philistines went up to search for David. But David heard of it and went down to the stronghold. Now the Philistines had come and spread out in the Valley of Rephaim. And David inquired of the Lord, “Shall I go up against the Philistines? Will you give them into my hand?” And the Lord said to David, “Go up, for I will certainly give the Philistines into your hand.” And David came to Baal-perazim, and David defeated them there. And he said, “The Lord has broken through my enemies before me like a breaking flood.” Therefore the name of that place is called Baal-perazim. And the Philistines left their idols there, and David and his men carried them away.
And the Philistines came up yet again and spread out in the Valley of Rephaim. And when David inquired of the Lord, he said, “You shall not go up; go around to their rear, and come against them opposite the balsam trees. And when you hear the sound of marching in the tops of the balsam trees, then rouse yourself, for then the Lord has gone out before you to strike down the army of the Philistines.” And David did as the Lord commanded him, and struck down the Philistines from Geba to Gezer. – 2 Samuel 5:17-25 ESV
Upon hearing word that David had been crowned king of Israel, the Philistines determined to attack him before he could establish his reign and gather strength. It seems that while he had been king over the single tribe of Judah, they had been content to leave him alone, seeing him as little to no threat. But now that he had unified all 12 tribes, he had gotten their attention. So they came in search for him. Having just taken the city of Jerusalem, and not having had time to fortify it, David and his men made their way to their stronghold. We’re not told where this stronghold was. It could have been the cave of Adullam, near Hebron. Or it could be a reference to the fortress of Zion (verse 7). Most likely, David returned to his original stronghold in the wilderness. It would have made sense for David to return to familiar ground and draw the Philistines away from Jerusalem and the other tribes of Israel. The Valley of Rephaim was southwest of Jerusalem and closer to Hebron and the border between Israel and the Philistines.
Before attempting to do battle with the Philistines, David sought the counsel of God. He wanted to know two things: Should he fight with the Philistines and, if he did, whether or not he would be successful. David could have easily assumed that war with the Philistines was inevitable and simply marched into battle without seeking any word from God. He could have rationalized that, as the king of Israel, doing battle with the enemies of Israel was his duty. It came with the job description. But instead of acting rashly or presumptuously, David turned to God. He wanted God’s blessing and approval. But more than anything, He wanted God’s help. And God assured David that He would be with him and give him victory over the Philistines. And after defeating the Philistines, David name the place of the battle Baal-perazim, which literally means, “the Lord of breaking through.” David explains the meaning of the name when he says, “The Lord has broken through my enemies before me like a breaking flood” (2 Samuel 5:20 ESV).
The victory was so quick and decisive that the Philistines abandoned their idols on the battle field. Their gods had been worthless because they were lifeless. So David and his men gathered them up and burned them (1 Chronicles 14:12).
But while the Philistines had lost the battle, they were not giving up the war. They gathered once again in the Valley of Rephaim. And again, David sought the counsel of God. This time, God gave David different instructions, commanding him to take his troops and prepare for a rear action against the Philistines. And God told David to wait until he heard “the sound of marching” in the tops of the trees under which they were taking cover. This was to be God’s sign to go into battle. David did just as God commanded and, once again, he handily defeated the Philistines that day.
These two victories had been God’s doing. Yes, David and his men had to fight, but it was God who gave them success. David’s naming of the first battleground, “the Lord of breaking through” provides us with insight into David’s perception of the events of that day. It had been God who had broken through his enemies like a flood. David would experience other victories like this one. And with each win over his enemies, David would grow in his faith and confidence in God. This dependence upon God for aid in his battles is reflected in his psalms.
God’s way is perfect.
All the Lord’s promises prove true.
He is a shield for all who look to him for protection.
For who is God except the Lord?
Who but our God is a solid rock?
God arms me with strength,
and he makes my way perfect.
He makes me as surefooted as a deer,
enabling me to stand on mountain heights.
He trains my hands for battle;
he strengthens my arm to draw a bronze bow.
You have given me your shield of victory.
Your right hand supports me;
your help has made me great. – Psalm 18:30-35 NLT
Praise the Lord, who is my rock.
He trains my hands for war
and gives my fingers skill for battle.
He is my loving ally and my fortress,
my tower of safety, my rescuer.
He is my shield, and I take refuge in him.
He makes the nations submit to me. – Psalm 144:1-2 NLT
David’s break-throughs were God’s doing. His victories were the direct results of his reliance upon God. God didn’t win the battles without David. He won the battles using David as His preferred agent, His divinely chosen instrument to accomplish His will. And God has chosen us, believers in Jesus Christ, to act as His agents of change and spiritual army to bring about His victories on this earth. But as Paul reminds us, we are not fighting against flesh and blood.
Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.
Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm. – Ephesians 6:10-13 NLT
God has provided us with spiritual armor. He has equipped us with spiritual power in the form of the Holy Spirit. He has assured us of victory over our enemy. But we must fight according to His terms while utilizing His strategies. We must seek God’s will regarding the battles we face. As Paul reminds us, we must “Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere” (Ephesians 6:18 NLT). David was victorious because He sought the will of God. He won because God gave him a break-through against his enemy. The same thing will be true for us, as long as we turn to God, rely upon God, and do what God commands us to do. Attempting to do battle for God, but without His permission and help is doomed to failure, no matter how well-intentioned we might be.
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.