I hate war, but I’ve always been a sucker for a good war story. When I was a child, despite my mom’s protests, my dad would sometimes tuck me in at night with a long, drawn out retelling of a World War II battle. They were my favorite, so much better than those boring fairy tales. I still love the courage and suspense, sacrifice and schemes that make up a good battle plan. The Old Testament is chock full of great war stories. And I believe studying these ancient battle plans can actually better prepare us for the battles that we each face every day. Today’s reading of 2 Samuel 5 includes one of my favorite war stories, with some great lessons as well.
David is no longer a shepherd boy slaying giants. At the age of 30 he became King of Judah and 7 years and 6 months later he now reigned over all Judah and Israel in the newly captured capital city of Jerusalem. He has led many successful military campaigns against those who had not been conquered or driven out when Joshua first led the Israelites into the Promised Land. But the strong Philistines (those from Goliath’s tribes) were not giving up. When they heard David was made king of Israel they sought David and revenge. They were camped out in the valley below. What would David do?
David inquired of the Lord – is this even a battle you want me to fight? Is it the right time? Am I the right person? Is this what you want me to do? And he didn’t ask just once – it was a repeated question before making battle plans (2 Samuel 5:19 & 23). David knew it was useless entering a battle if it’s not a battle God wanted him in at that time.
And then he listened for the answer. God didn’t reply, “I’ve got this covered for you – you just stay home or hide or play a few more video games, watch a few more shows, put your feet up and relax.” God said GO! David went. And there was a great victory.
Before the next potential battle, David inquired again. The enemy was back, camped out in the valley, again. Sometimes the enemy doesn’t stay away too long. We are still celebrating one victory against the evil one when we find him camped out in our backyard again. Will there be another battle? If so, when? Where? What does God want us to do this time?
It was good that David asked again, because this time the answer was a little different. Yes, David was to attack – but not the same way as before. We can fall into the trap of assuming that because God gave us victory before, that is the same way we should continue to attack. Sometimes God might want us to change our approach. This time when David inquired, God said, “Do not go straight up, but circle around behind them and attack them in front of the poplar trees.” (2 Samuel 5:23 – different versions call them different types of trees – balsam or mulberry or poplar. Perhaps the ancient Hebrew language was a little blurry on tree identification. But the type of tree doesn’t matter, what God did with those trees does.) God’s new plan for this battle was going to take additional time and effort. David could have disregarded it and blazed straight into the valley. But he would have missed the chance to hear and see the way God was going to lead them and provide for them. If he would have attacked as before perhaps the Philistines would have had his head at the end of the day. But David listened. And more directions followed.
“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.” (2 Samuel 5:24)
Wait – what’s that? I’ve heard lots of war stories and never-before-done daring battle plans – but none with the sound of marching in the tree tops! We don’t see an army in the tree tops. Who could be up there making all that noise? Oh, could it be God’s Angel Army? Pretty creative, God! And extremely reassuring as well! Thank you for sending us the sound of marching in the tree tops. Thank you for going out before us.
We are in a war today – the enemy is camped out in the backyard waiting to see how God’s people will react. There is a lot we don’t see with our eyes. Just doing it the way we’ve done it before (since it worked well once) could lead to a dismal defeat. Inquire of the Lord. Ask Him if this is where and when he wants you to fight? Ask him how He wants you to fight – with truth and love and boldness. Listen for the sound of marching in the tree tops. Then move quickly. And do as God commanded. Thank you for showing us that even when we can’t see you, you lead the way – when we do it YOUR way. Your battle plan is always best, God.
Questions for Reflection and Discussion
- What is the difference between asking God to bless what we do or being blessed for following God where and how He leads? Can you think of an example from each in your own life, or in other Bible stories? What was the result?
- How can we tune in better to God’s battle plans – to hear his instruction and receive the reassuring sound of God’s angel army leading the way? How might God want us to change our approach, in order to follow Him better?
- Why did God want the Israelites to rid the land of the godless back then? (2 Samuel 5:21 gives a clue – and a little more detail is found in 1 Chronicles 14:12 where this same story is repeated for the benefit of the Israelites returning to Israel years later after being punished for disobedience.) What evidence do you see of being in a war against godlessness today? (Ephesians 6:10-20) How would God have us fight this war? What specific battle is He calling you to?