WHEN thousands of Philistines poured into the valley just south of Jerusalem, David was uncertain as to what his battle strategy should be. He had to ask God what to do. When he was told that the Israelites would win if they were to attack the enemy, his usual confidence was restored.
Faith and Wisdom
He didn't rush out immediately toward the Philistines just because he knew God could and would help him. He used the good judgment and strategy that God expected of him. Next, he quickly deployed parts of his army out beyond both rims of the valley so that they couldn't be seen by the enemy. He put the Israelites in positions to surround the Philistines, who were gambling that the Israelite army would probably hole up in the strong fortress at Jerusalem. The sudden attack of the Israelites down the sloping sides of the valley was too much for the Philistines. They realized that such a thing could happen, and they felt that they were prepared. But when David's troops actually came rushing down at them in a squeeze maneuver, they broke ranks and frantically raced back toward the southwest. So many of them were killed by the Israelites that they were utterly defeated without being able to fight in their usually furious manner. In their hasty retreat they lost much equipment and arms valuable to the Israelites. Even many of their idols — good luck charms of that day — were left behind. These were mostly small images of animals carried on the persons of the soldiers, who looked to them for protection and welfare. Ridiculous as this seems, many people today still carry certain small items they seriously regard as their "good luck" charms. These can be anything from coins and crosses to four-leaf clovers and rabbits' feet. Not all the Philistine soldiers' idols were the kind that could be carried in pockets or bags. Some were so large that they had to be borne on frames or pedestals carried by men. Large or small they were all burned in a roaring fire. They were worthless objects, and David knew that God wanted them destroyed. (II Samuel 5:17-21.) Back when the Israelites were in the fortieth year of their wandering in the deserts, God informed Moses that idols should be burned. (Deuteronomy 7:5, 25.) If they weren't, they could end up as souvenirs for the Israelites, some of whom might develop a superstitious attitude toward them. David was thankful that God had helped defeat the Philistines. But he knew that one defeat wouldn't keep them away for very long. He returned to Jerusalem with his army to enjoy several months of peace. Then the enemy appeared again in Rephaim Valley, this time in even greater numbers. (II Samuel 5:22.) Once more David asked God what to do. God told him that he should wait until the Philistines had pitched camp in the valley, and then take his men, quietly and unseen, to one side of the valley where there was a long, thick stand of mulberry trees. He was to wait behind the trees with his men until a strong breeze would come up to rustle the mulberry leaves. That was to be the signal for the Israelites to attack. Later, as David and his soldiers patiently waited after dark behind the trees, a breeze came up after a calm of several hours. At first the gentle movement of air only slightly stirred the leaves. As it grew stronger, the leaves began to rustle in such a way that they produced a suspicious sound. This sound grew in volume until it reached the ears of the Philistines, part of whom were camped close to the trees. To them, as it became louder, it was like many men sneaking through the trees. Convinced that a tremendous force was coming toward them, the Philistines fell into a state of panic. At the same time, David's men raced through the trees and fell upon their distraught enemies with such force that thousands of the Philistines died in the valley. Thousands more managed to elude the attack by the Israelites, who stubbornly pursued them so tenaciously that they kept picking off the fleeing Philistines as they struggled to reach safety in their native country. The Israelites didn't give up the chase until they had run the remnants of the enemy army all the way to southern Philistia near the border of Egypt close to the Great Sea. (II Samuel 5:23-25.)
David Brings the Ark to Jerusalem
With the Philistines again defeated through God's help, David was for a time free to apply himself to matters other than war. For one thing, he wanted to bring the ark of the covenant to Jerusalem from the hill town of Kirjath-jearim. There it had been left many years before, after the Philistines had fearfully sent it back following their miserable experiences with it. (I Samuel 6.) Traveling with many Israelite leaders and musicians, and with a magnificent procession of thousands of soldiers to put down any possible trouble from the Philistines, David went to the home of a man named Abinadab in Kirjath-jearim, about eight miles west of Jerusalem. (II Samuel 6:1-2.) The ark had been in that home for several decades, where it was watched over by a priest named Eleazar, one of Abinadab's sons. (I Samuel 7:1-2). The ark was loaded on a cart that had been built especially for the purpose of transporting it, although that was not the means by which God meant it to be carried. (Exodus 25:10-16; Exodus 37:1-5.) Uzzah and Ahio, two of Abinadab's sons, drove the ox team that pulled the cart. (II Samuel 6:3.) To give an air of celebration to the bringing of the ark to Jerusalem, David's musicians walked before the cart and played their harps, tambourines, cymbals, drums and psalteries. David marched behind the cart, and behind him came the thousands who had accompanied him to obtain the ark. As the colorful procession neared Jerusalem, one of the oxen stumbled in a rut. The cart was jerked so severely that it appeared that the ark might tumble over. Without giving a thought to what the result would be, Uzzah reached out to steady the ark with one hand. That was the last act of his life. (II Samuel 6:4-7.) The ark was to be handled only by the poles that were extended through its rings, and touching it was strictly forbidden. (Numbers 4:15.) God made no exception with Uzzah, even though that man's intentions may not have been consciously wrong. Uzzah should have known the consequences, for the Levites had copies of God's Word. They were required to know what they were doing and to keep the Scriptures always before them. (Deuteronomy 17:18-20.) When David saw that Uzzah was dead, he was very grieved. The happy temperament of the whole procession sank. Thinking that God may have been displeased because of the moving of the ark, David decided not to try to take it any farther. He directed that it should be left at the nearby home of an acquaintance named Obed-edom, who lived on the western outskirts of Jerusalem. (II Samuel 6:8-10.) As the weeks went by, David became more concerned about the ark. He feared he might be responsible for bringing some kind of curse on Obed-edom by leaving the ark with him. Three months after Uzzah's death, upon inquiring about Obed-edom, David was pleasantly relieved to learn that the man had recently come into a state of prosperity and that everything was going well for all his family. Some members of his family who had been ill were enjoying the best of health because they had been suddenly and miraculously healed. David could only conclude that God had blessed the people in Obed-edom's home because of the presence of the ark there. (II Samuel 6:11.) This caused him to decide to go at once to bring it to Jerusalem.
The Right Way to Rejoice
Having planned and prepared more carefully this time, David and the high priest instructed Levites in how to handle the ark. (I Chronicles 15:2.) They carried it on foot as they should, holding the poles on their shoulders. Musicians and singers went ahead of the ark, and there was constant music and happy shouting. As before, a great throng followed. Occasionally the ark bearers would stop with their load and burnt offerings would be made nearby on temporary altars that had been built along the route into Jerusalem. As the procession entered the city, David felt constrained to express his gay and thankful emotions by dancing. Tossing aside his royal tunic, he broke into a very strenuous series of surprisingly graceful leaps and gyrations to the accompaniment of the musicians. The crowd was pleased. (II Samuel 6:12-15.) Probably God was pleased, too, because the Bible says that we should praise the Creator by song, instrumental music and proper dancing. (Psalm 33:1-3). But there was one watching from a window, who was anything but gratified. It was Michal, Saul's daughter, one of David's wives. (II Samuel 6:16.) She hated her husband for what he was doing. She thought it was shameful for David to dance a "Highland fling" as the common people might do. "What a conceited show-off!" she thought. "He's making a disgraceful fool of himself just to impress all those silly young women in the crowd. He won't feel so much like an athletic hero when I tell him what I think of him when he comes home!" The ark was brought into the special tent that David had prepared for it. More burnt offerings and peace offerings were made. A great amount of food was distributed to the crowd, including bread, meat and wine. After all had eaten, David pronounced a blessing on them and they returned to their homes. (II Samuel 6:17-19.) David was pleased because of the day's events, but he wasn't very happy when he returned to his home to be confronted by Michal's glaring eyes. "How glorious was the king of Israel today," Michal smirked. "Did you really imagine that the young women were moved by your odd motions? I saw you prancing around out there. You acted as though bees were trapped inside your clothes!" "I danced only because I was happy that the ark was being brought into Jerusalem," David sternly told Michal. "I did nothing shameful. I could have done much worse and still not be as vile as you seem to think I have been. I'm sure that those who watched me have more respect for my conduct than God has for yours in accusing me of trying to show off before young women!" Angered because of her husband's rebuke, Michal flounced away. From that day on David had little or no affection for her. As a result of speaking so unjustly to David, she never had any children. (II Samuel 6:20-23.)
Build a Temple?
After David had moved into the building that had been a gift from Hiram, king of Tyre, David began to consider how much better his personal surroundings were than those of the ark, which was housed only in a tent. "The ark should rest in a more elegant place than that in which I live," David told Nathan the prophet. "What do you think of my planning a fine temple to house the ark?" "Surely God would be pleased by such a respectful act," Nathan replied. "I should think that He would bless you and all Israel for carrying out such a wonderful idea." That night, however, God contacted Nathan in a vision to tell him that David's plan wasn't according to what God approved. "Tell David that I haven't required anything more than a tent or a tabernacle for my presence since the Israelites came out of Egypt," God informed Nathan. "I have never suggested that I want or need any other kind of dwelling for the ark. Years from now, when David is dead, I shall have his son erect a building to be dedicated to me. But there is something more important. Unlike Saul's family, which I put aside because of disobedience, one of David's descendants will rule forever over the kingdom I shall establish. Thus, instead of David building a house for me, I shall build a house for him — the ancestral line that will be known as the house of David." (II Samuel 7:1-16.) Next morning Nathan told David of his vision and all that God had said to him. David wasn't disappointed to learn that God didn't want him to build a special house for the ark. Instead, he was happily excited to learn that he would have a son whom God would direct in building a temple that would be dedicated to the Creator, and which would be an appropriate resting place for the ark. David immediately sought a place of privacy to sit in meditation before God and give thanks for God's wonderful promises and blessings to himself and to Israel (II Samuel 7:17-29.) Because of David's obedience and because the people were looking more and more to God for the right ways to live, a period of release from surrounding enemies began to dawn for all Israel. Since Israel didn't completely trust God for divine protection, however, this security came about only after furious battles through which David led his troops with God's miraculous help. Even though Israel didn't completely trust God, He kept His promise and delivered them from their enemies.
Little Faith — Little Peace
One of David's first military accomplishments at that time was to attack the Philistines on the west border of Canaan and force them so far back into their territory that the Israelites seized some of their main cities and occupied them for several years. This reversed conditions for the Israelites who lived near Philistia. They had long been subject to the demanding whims of the Philistines. (II Samuel 8:1.) After establishing garrisons to keep the Philistines subdued, David took his army to the east border of his nation, where he waged a powerful attack against the Moabites. David's friend, the old king, had died. Under a hostile new king, the Moabites were constantly trying to push over across the Jordan, but this time they hastily withdrew deep into Moab in an unsuccessful attempt to escape. The Moabites were fierce desert fighters, but they were no match for the inspired Israelites. After disposing of them in vast numbers, the Israelites took over most of their cities. Those who were spared were forced to pay a regular tribute to Israel to make up for what they had taken in former raids into Canaan. (II Samuel 8:2.) There was still another area where Israel was troubled by enemies. It was in the territories of Manasseh, Gad, and Reuben, whose northern and northeastern limits were meant to extend to the Euphrates River. After Joshua's time, this had become a part of the land of the Syrians. (Syrians are called Aramaeans in the original Hebrew Bible.) The chief Syrian kingdom was Zobah. The king of Zobah long since had moved his army southwest across the Euphrates River with the intention of edging on down through the territory of Manasseh. Intent on recovering the region occupied by the enemy, David marched his army northward to the general vicinity of Mt. Hermon. Scouts who had gone in advance returned to tell their king that thousands of Aramaean soldiers of Zobah were encamped on a high plain farther on to the north. "Besides a great army, they have thousands of horses and chariots," the scouts reported. "Most of the ground is fairly level, and they can make terrible use of their bladed vehicles!" David was far from happy because of this report. But he wasn't discouraged. He was aware that it was God's intention that the Zobahites should be driven out of Canaan, and he was confident that the army of Israel could be the means by which the task would be accomplished. After moving within sight of the enemy forces, David could see that they were extended over such a wide area that it would be unwise to try to surround them. A close study of the terrain gave him an idea how he might deal with the Aramaean chariots, a matter of deep concern to him. After conferring with Joab, who was now next in command under him, and with his lesser officers, David moved his men to a part of the plateau heavily strewn with small boulders. By this time the Syrians (Aramaeans) had seen the Israelites, and there was feverish activity in their camp. The Bible doesn't give any details of the battle that quickly ensued. But it is possible that at Joab's command part of the Israelites marched on across the rocky region and out to a smoother part of the ground. A wide cloud of dust swelled up off the plain in front of the Aramaean camp. It was a welcome sign to David, because it meant that the chariots had been sent out to attack them. Soon the thunder of thousands of pounding hoofs could be heard across the plateau. At another command from Joab the marching Israelites came to a halt. Then, as the chariots came nearer, the troops obeyed another order to swiftly retreat. The men of Zobah, now very close, hoped to race into the ranks of the fleeing Israelites and mow them down with the big, sharp blades that extended from the sides of the chariots.