The Tops of the Trees
When the Philistines heard that David had been anointed king of Israel, they mobilized all their forces to capture him. But David was told they were coming, so he went into the stronghold. The Philistines arrived and spread out across the valley of Rephaim. So David asked the Lord, “Should I go out to fight the Philistines? Will you hand them over to me?” The Lord replied to David, “Yes, go ahead. I will certainly hand them over to you.” So David went to Baal-Perazim and defeated the Philistines there. “The Lord did it!” David exclaimed. “He burst through my enemies like a raging flood!”
--II Samuel 5: 17-20a
At this point in David’s life, he had finally united all of Israel under his kingship, and he had moved into a palace in Jerusalem. David was an experienced warrior who had led armies into many battles over the preceding years, and he had a victorious track record. Yet all of his experience and all of his power had not made him proud and self-sufficient. David was a man who sought after God and followed His direction; so rather than making plans based upon his knowledge and experience, he inquired of God before going to war against the Philistine army that was threatening him. As we see in verse 19 above, God gave the go-ahead, and David won a resounding victory.
End of story, right? Actually, no. It turns out that these Philistines were like those Bozo-the-clown punching bags that pop right back up, and they soon returned for another attempted attack on Israel. Same scenario…even the same location! They didn’t learn the lesson the first time.
…But after awhile the Philistines returned and again spread out across the valley of Rephaim. And again David asked the Lord what to do. “Do not attack them straight on,” the Lord replied. “Instead, circle around behind and attack them near the poplar trees. When you hear a sound like marching feet in the tops of the poplar trees, be on the alert! That will be the signal that the Lord is moving ahead of you to strike down the Philistine army.” So David did what the Lord commanded, and he struck down the Philistines all the way from Gibeon to Gezer.
--II Samuel 5:22-25
Let me just say that if I were David, I would probably have simply re-gathered my troops and headed back out to demolish the Philistines (for good this time). After all, it was the same enemy, right? The Lord had already given the green light the first time, right? So I would have assumed, logically speaking, that the “green light” still applied.
And I would have been wrong.
I am blown away by David’s humility and his careful, conscientious seeking of God in every decision. He was facing the exact same scenario; yet still he returned to God and asked the exact same question: “What should I do?”
And God gave a completely different, very specific set of instructions! David was to go around behind the enemy and wait until he heard the sound of marching in the tops of the trees, which would be their signal to move out. Just put yourself in that scene for a moment. Can you imagine the men waiting under those poplar trees, listening, listening, listening…
…and then finally hearing the marching that was the very Presence of God going out to battle BEFORE them! If that didn’t instill ultimate confidence in David and his army, I don’t know what would!
This story is instructive on a couple of levels. There are things that God has given me to do routinely, as He has you. For example, I am a worship director, and I plan the church service each Sunday. An easy trap for me to fall into would be: “The songs I picked last week seemed to be really effective, so I'll just use that same system for choosing songs this week…”
Or how about these situations:
“I’ve led a meeting just like this many times before, and I know how to do it. So I’ll just do it like I’ve done it before and everything will be fine…”
“My child needs correction in a certain area. I know just how to discipline her, because it worked great with her older sister…”
But David’s example shows us that every time, EVERY TIME, we must go to God and humbly ask, “What should I do?” His Spirit might just lead differently; He might just put a check in our spirit or a spark of revelation in our mind and heart. But we won’t know unless we ask.
Secondly, God’s presence marches out before us when we are submitted to His plan! David had the once-in-a-lifetime privilege of actually HEARING the presence of God and His forces advancing into battle on his behalf; but that doesn’t mean that it was the only time they were there! No, God’s presence went out before David throughout his lifetime, though most of the time in unseen, unheard ways.
And we can have the same confidence: while we may not hear the audible sound in “the tops of the trees” around us, God’s presence is there. He is clearing the pathway ahead in our battles…daily and mundane as they may seem.
“We can never get too weak for the Lord to use us—
but we can get too strong, if it is our own strength.
We can never be too ignorant for the Lord to use us—
but we can be too wise in our own conceit.
We can never get too small for the Lord to use us—
but we can surely get too big and get in His way.”