Sermon preached on 2 Samuel 5:17-25 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 1/17/2016 in Novato, CA.
2 Samuel 5:17-25
“As Far as Gezer”
The King has come! In both the Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit books, there is this theme of the people rallying behind their king and doing amazing things. In the Hobbit, it’s the dwarf Thorin Oakenshield; in the Lord of the Rings, its Aragorn son of Arathorn. Both tell stories of the troubles the kings have in coming to the throne, but show great victories happening when they do step up as king. Great victories seem to come when you have a great king come. Of course, if we think about this in light of our story in the book of 1 and 2 Samuel, we can see something similar; somewhat. You see, we saw a king come at first, with Saul. But that didn’t go so well. He wasn’t the right king for God’s people. But on the other hand, we have David. David, the king of God’s choosing, had come on the scene, and great things did happen. What made the ultimate difference between these two kings? God was with David. And so a clear way we see this is with the Philistines. Saul in general had the Philistines as a thorn in his side. And Saul’s life and kingship ended by a tremendous loss to the Philistines. And so Saul’s failures as king are seen when you look at what happens between him and the Philistines. For that matter, remember back to why the people had wanted a king in the first place. They had just suffered a huge defeat by the Philistines. That’s when they lost the Ark of the Covenant for a time, captured in battle by these enemies. So, when they asked for a king, they said, in 1 Samuel 8:20, that they wanted a king that would go out before them and fight their battles. They obviously especially had in mind doing battle with these Philistines. But Saul had repeated troubles with these Philistines. Israel’s greatest victories against the Philistines during his reign were really the result and heroics of others, like Jonathan and David, in two separate battles. Of course, then the point was the same; God was with Jonathan and David in those attacks, and in both cases Saul is shown as rather weak in it all.
In contrast, you have now David coming to the throne. We’ve seen the last few passages that the long awaited coming of King David had finally arrived. Two sermons ago we saw him anointed as king over all the tribes of Israel. Last sermon we saw him secure Jerusalem as the nation’s capital and seat of government. We said that was a glorious establishment of his kingdom, and we gave God the credit for it. Well, now that he is firmly established in his kingdom, it makes sense for him to turn his focus on these age old enemies of God’s people. And so we see here two wonderful victories David has over these evil Philistines. But again, why does he have these victories? Because God was with him. That’s what is the key in all this. Yes, the king has finally come. Victory has come with him. But the reason the victory comes is because he is the right king. And what makes him the right king is that God is with him.
And so today we will continue to think about the rise of King David. And the application then for us is to keep before us the one whom King David looked forward to. As we think about what David does here as God’s anointed king, we have to think about what Jesus has done and will do as God’s anointed king. We need to think about how that relates to us and to our life. Keep Jesus’ story in mind as we study David’s story. And that means you’ll have your own story in mind too. Because our story is tied up with Jesus’ story. That means’ that this speaks to our story as well.
So then, let’s begin our first point with some background between David and the Philistines. Remember the history that has taken place between David and the Philistines. The history began with David’s amazing victory over Goliath, who was the Philistine’s champion. The Philistines had rightly put their hope in Goliath, but that hope failed them. David instead put his hope in the Lord who prevailed over Goliath. So that’s how David first gets introduced to these evil pagans. The next thing we see is that David had come to the land of Philistines when he first started fleeing from Saul. He went to the priest at Nob, got some bread and Goliath’s sword, and then immediately fled to the Philistine town of Gath, which was ruled by Achish. This proved a bit foolish of David, because of course the word immediately spread that this was the same David who had slew Goliath. David ended up being called in front of King Achish, but he thinks on his feet and pretended to be mad, and Achish sends him away, thinking he was insane.
Well then after quite some time, David continued to be on the run from Saul, but over time gathered together a small army of loyal followers. He then eventually came back to Gath and again sought refuge, this time with his small army with him. At that point he finds favor with King Achish and Achish gives him a town named Ziklag from which David can have safety and a home base. Yet, David pretends to be loyal in all this to Achish, but really his loyalty lay with God and with God’s people. And yet by God’s providence, David never had to reveal his hand to the Philistines where his true loyalty lied. But you might recall, that the other Philistine kings were not so trustworthy of David. Remember, Achish wanted to bring David into battle against Saul and the Israelites, but the other Philistine lords would not allow that. They rightly questioned how sincere David’s professed loyalty was. So they would not take him into that battle. And that was the battle were Saul and his sons were killed, and Israel had suffered a huge defeat.
Well, now about 7 years has gone by since then. In that time David had become king of his own tribe of Judah. Presumably this posed no issue for the Philistines. In fact, some have suggested that maybe during that time Achish still thought David was his loyal subject, a vassal king of the Philistines. Remember, at that time, David was in continual battle with the house of Saul, which would of course have been seen as favorable by the Philistines. But then we come to verse 17. And we see that now the situation changes.
So then in verse 17, the Philistines are reported as having heard that David had become king over the whole nation of Israel. Now their attitude toward David is markedly different. For it says in verse 17 that they went to search out David. In case this is not clear, they were going to attack him. That’s why when David hears about it, he returns to his stronghold and inquires of God. That’s why we see the Philistines deploying their army in the Valley of Rephaim, which was just southwest of Jerusalem. They were setting up to attack David, and David responds by taking refuge and calling up God.
So this is a bit of the background leading into today’s passage. Now let’s look at David’s two victories here over the Philistines. Notice with me that there are two battles. Both seem to be the instigation of the Philistines. The first one, we saw in verse 17, was because they learned David had become king over all Israel. Presumably it was now clear to everyone that David was not a servant of the Philistines. We see in verse 22, after they lost the first battle, they then again setup themselves in the same valley and essentially try again.
So both times the Philistines seem to be the aggressors, and both times they lose to David. I love to see how it happened. In both situations, it was clearly God who was the ultimate reason David won. For starters, you notice that David inquires of God for both of the battles. Both times, God assures David of victory. The second time, God even gives David some specific military strategy to follow. And then notice how God is described in giving the victory. In the first battle, in verse 20, David says that God broke through his enemies before him. David said it was like a breakthrough of water. The imagery I think of when I hear this is like when I was hiking in the Mount Zion area, there were lots of warning signs that when you are hiking through the canyons, that there is always a serious threat of flash flooding. You have to be diligent that there isn’t suddenly a flash flood of water that comes soaring through as you are stuck in some canyon. That seems to be the kind of imagery here with regard to God. He came upon them like some stream of rushing water that overtook the Philistines and destroyed them. David says this was God going before him and his army. And then the second battle is similar. After following the strategy God says, God says he would go out before you and strike the camp of the Philistines. And of course, that is what God did.
In both victories, the common denominator is that God was the one to go before David and bring the victory. This is especially brought out with the language of verse 24. That’s because the language there is very similar to the language of 1 Samuel 8:20 when the people had first asked God for a human king to go out before them and fight their battles. Well, God gave them Saul, but Saul didn’t do a very good job of that. Remember, he wasn’t out there volunteering to fight Goliath. Nor did he do what his son Jonathan and his armorbearer did in sneaking up on the camp of the Philistines. But now, even when the people finally have a good king, a king of God’s choosing, how do they get the victories over their enemies that they had so longer for? Was it by David going out before the people and fighting their battles? Not ultimately. Yes, David and his army went out. But the victory came because God went out before David and fought the battles for him. God was the one with David and enabling David as king to have such great military success.
And so look at the outcomes then. After the first battle, something very telling is that the Philistines left behind their pagan idols. That’s what verse 21 is talking about. In other words, the assault of God upon them through David was so quick and fierce, in their retreat they don’t even stop to take up their idols. This is almost like a reverse of what happened before when the Philistines had so struck Israel that they lost the Ark of Covenant. But here David and his men take their worthless idols, and according to the account in 1 Chronicles 14, they burn them. This action of destroying their idols also showcases the religious component to this conflict. This battle represented not just a conflict between two nations. It also represented the one true God doing battle against the wicked nations who turn their back on the one true God to go after mute and dumb idols.
And then look at the outcome for the second battle. Verse 25, “He drove back the Philistines from Geba as far as Gezer.” If you look on a map, Gezer is pretty far from the Valley where the battle took place. This is maybe 20 miles or so that David pushed them back. So this is exciting. But I might also add that Gezer would have also been approximately the western border of the more traditional borders of the Philistines. In other words, this would represent a major victory against them. It would have enabled a reclaiming of a lot of territory that was originally Israelite territory but had become under Philistine control. So they were reclaiming and recovering previous losses. But the bottom line is that the Philistines are not fully vanquished yet.
And I think that is important to observe here. Because we’ve been long awaiting David to finally become king over all of Israel. We’ve used language like already and not yet to describe this. Already he had been anointed by God as king over the nation, but he had not yet come into the glory of actually reigning. And now, finally, he has become king. Now he has begun to reign over the whole nation. Now, he had conquered Jerusalem and setup a wonderful capital and made even a glorious palace there to center his government in that important city. And now we see this wonderful double victory over these troublesome enemies the Philistines. I mean of all the nations to beat in battle, how good it must have felt to have these victories against this nation. They had been a constant thorn in the nation’s side. And yet, the war was not over. There would be yet future conflicts against the Philistines. And so as glorious as it is that David’s kingdom had been established as much as it had been, we should recognize that it still was not would it would be. Not only will it yet grow more in David’s lifetime, and especially reach a great glory under his son Solomon’s reign, its glory yet looked to his greater son, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Let me clarify my point. Let me put it simply like this: at the height of David’s kingdom, God’s people still had enemies that defied them. Today’s passage shows something common under David’s great reign, that their enemies were being thwarted and pushed back and suffering great losses. But all the enemies were not fully vanquished. The scripture tells us that this will come when the greater son of David would come.
Well, he came. Jesus, Son of David, came. And already he has dealt a death blow to our greatest enemies, Satan, and death. Those who come in faith and repentance to Jesus Christ have the forgiveness of sin, and eternal life in Christ. We have even been promised a glorious heavenly inheritance. And yet, at this point, there remains enemies of God, and thus enemies to us who are God’s people. We can find some similarity then with David’s time. David’s kingdom had been established in glory. Jesus Christ’s kingdom has been established in glory, and us a part of it! David’s kingdom was advancing militarily. Christ’s kingdom is advancing militarily, through his church, and through gospel preaching. But David couldn’t complete the job. Even though he had God going before him to fight his battles, it wasn’t God’s plan to finish the job through David. He would finish it through Christ. But we live in the time before it’s finished. But we live in the time where God is using us in the battles.
Of course, our battles are not of flesh and blood. The Old Testament did a lot of flesh and blood fighting. And our enemies today still might try to go that route with us. But our battles are chiefly spiritual. We proclaim Christ. We call people to repent of their sins. We expose their sins and rebellion against God and tell them the judgment is coming. But we point them to the amazing love of God that so loved sinners as to make a way for their forgiveness and grace.
If you have not yet come to know this salvation in Jesus Christ, I urge you to throw away your idols and recognize God’s Messiah King. Submit to King Jesus in faith and repentance. Flee to him for grace and mercy, and you will not be turned away. Actually, if you do this, it shows another military victory for Jesus. In that he has conquered your hard heart of unbelief. Best rest assured, this passage shows us that Christ will one day come in judgment and wrath too. So, you can either be conquered right now by way of conversion to Christ, or you can persist in your rebellion and meet an eternal punishment far greater than the loss the Philistines experienced from David.
So then, in some final application, let me say to this to us who are Christians. This passage is meant to encourage us. The people of Israel had been weary for so long with these Philistines. Even when they asked God to solve it by asking for the wrong thing – a king like the world’s king, instead of a king after God’s own heart, God still brought them salvation. God raised up David to make some significant victories over this long standing enemy. This passage should encourage us today when those many enemies we face as Christians seem to continue to plague us. We should remember that we have one who is greater than David on the throne. And Jesus will use us here and now in the battle for advancing his kingdom. And Jesus is coming again when he will finish the war forever.
And so be encouraged from this passage. Think of the false confidence here of these Philistines. They went looking for David; and even came back a second time. May that encourage you as you face unbelievers who ridicule you and keep finding ways to attack you and your faith. God is not unaware or unconcerned. Christ will yet bring the victory as he goes out before you to fight your battles.
Yet on the flip side, may we not be like the Philistines in these battles. May we not trust in our own strength. Remember, David’s strength of victory came here as he sought the Lord’s help, and as the Lord went out before him. When the enemies of the faith confront us, we need to go to the Lord. We probably tend to bring a lot of our old man’s emotions and motives into those confrontations. We might get so angry and so personally offended, that we might sin in our response to them. Oh, we might respond to them with truth, but we might do so without the love and other fruit of the Spirit we should have. I am reminded of Stephen, when they are throwing stones upon him, he had the grace to pray for the forgiveness of his persecutors. Stephen looked at these enemies and took pity upon them. Let us pray for such grace. And it comes from what we see here. The victory has to ultimately be the Lord’s. Just as even David needed God to go out before him to fight their battles. That’s where our hope and peace needs to be in. You see, it was an expression of trusting man and trusting ourselves when the people wanted a human king to go out before them to fight their battles. But David’s story here shows us that when they finally got a good king, he realized that God needed to be the one to go out before them to fight their battles.
Let this be then for us in our confrontations with unbelievers who would deny the faith. Let us call upon God to go before us in that conversation. Let us call for God to break their hard hearts. Yes, let us speak and share the truth with them. We are called to do that. But look for the Lord to be the one to ultimately bring about the conversion. And if he does, praise God! But if he doesn’t at that time, trust in God’s plan. They’ll either eventually come to know the Lord, or have to face the wrath of God on the Final Day of Judgment. But either way God is victorious. And if God wins, since we now are on God’s side, then we win too!
In closing, I leave us with the final words of our passage, “as far as Gezer.” In David’s day the enemies weren’t fully defeated. Amidst much victory and glory, more work was yet to be done. And that’s us. We’ve had so much victory and glory already in Christ. Already the triumph of the cross has come. Already we’ve had the glory of joining with Christ, now a part of his people through faith and repentance. But there is more work yet to be done. Let us take great encouragement then today that God is with us, and God goes before us. We can trust in the final victory. And surely there will be many victories along the way. Don’t be discouraged, be encouraged at your king who reigns even now from the right hand of the Father, full of grace and truth. Trust in him. Amen.
Copyright © 2016 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.