“But when the Philistines heard that they had anointed David king over Israel, all the Philistines came up to seek David; and David heard of it, and went down to the hold. The Philistines also came and spread themselves in the valley of Rephaim. And David inquired of the LORD, saying, Shall I go up to the Philistines? wilt thou deliver them into mine hand? And the LORD said unto David, Go up: for I will doubtless deliver the Philistines into thine hand. And David came to Baalperazim, and David smote them there, and said, The LORD hath broken forth upon mine enemies before me, as the breach of waters. Therefore he called the name of that place Baalperazim. And there they left their images, and David and his men burned them. And the Philistines came up yet again, and spread themselves in the valley of Rephaim. And when David inquired of the LORD, he said, Thou shalt not go up; but fetch a compass behind them, and come upon them over against the mulberry trees. And let it be, when thou hearest the sound of a going in the tops of the mulberry trees, that then thou shalt bestir thyself: for then shall the LORD go out before thee, to smite the host of the Philistines. And David did so, as the LORD had commanded him; and smote the Philistines from Geba until thou come to Gazer” (2 Samuel 5:17-25).
Almost as soon as they heard that David had reunited Israel and Judah under his kingship, the Philistines gathered to destroy the fledgling nation. They would have been extremely angry that he had removed Jerusalem from their control and made it Israel’s capital city. In our text we read of two battles, which do not seem to be waged too far apart.
Rephaim was situated southwest of Jerusalem; it covered an area of about six square miles and considered to be a fruitful valley. Rephaim formed a “natural entrance” into the city (W. G. Blaike). Rephaim was also known as “The Valley of the Giants” (Jamieson, Fausset, Brown Commentary).
The Philistine’s went to “seek David”, which infers that they wanted him dead. They believe that if he was removed then Israel would topple. They knew that he was strong, courageous and that God was with him. David had only just been delivered from Saul seeking his life, but now he finds himself the focus of another enemy. They gathered a huge army in Rephaim for the sole purpose of removing David. By spreading themselves out in the valley they hoped to frighten the Jews into giving their new king up to save their own lives.
David, instead of going out to attack them, sought the Lord for direction in this matter. It is obvious that his small army was no match for the one the Philistine’s had assembled. The Philistines had brought their national gods with them to secure victory in battle, but David had the only true God on his side. They came to seek David, but he sought the Lord. “Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths” (Proverbs 3:5-6). He is basically praying for God’s will, presence and power.
God gave the command to attack the enemy. Though Israel would be the instruments, it would be the Lord that would deliver the Philistines into David’s hand. This promise was fulfilled to the letter. The huge army looked like a flood of water in the valley, but David was able to defeat them. They left their cherished gods for Israel to burn. It is good to see that David is obeying the will of God in this, for if he took the idols as trophies, then maybe they would eventually be worshipped by Israel. “Burn their graven images with fire” (Deuteronomy 7:5). This victory was over both the enemy of Israel and the false gods. David praised God for the victory rather than exalting himself before the people. “Not unto us, O LORD, not unto us, but unto thy name give glory” (Psalm 115:1). David renamed the valley “Baalperazim” or “God broke through.” It is unknown why David chose “Baal” instead of “El” to rename Rephaim, but it is likely to be a play on words and a reminder to the Philistines that their gods could not help them.
Rephaim – the sequel
The Philistines gathered against David once again soon after. They followed almost the same plan as before. They obviously refused to acknowledge defeat at the hands of David, so regrouped in the valley. If they followed the same plans, then so would David, so he once again sought the Lord’s direction.
Maybe the Philistines thought that Israel would attack them in exactly the same way and prepared themselves likewise. But this time God told David to position his army behind them and attack from the rear. Once there, David had to wait until he heard noises from the tops of the mulberry trees before he went against the enemy. The “sound of going” can be translated as “the sound of marching”, this could be the Heavenly Host gathering both to encourage David and scare the Philistines.
The Philistines were defeated in the same way as before. God Himself went out before Israel, as their true King and Leader, so it is He that won the victory once again. Their defeat was extensive, for David smote them from Geba (ten miles north of Jerusalem) to Gazer (twenty miles northwest of Jerusalem). This indicates that the Philistine control of the area was pushed back much further and enabled David to take more land for Israel. Some suggest that Israel’s borders grew from 6,000 to 60,000 square miles because of this second battle with the Philistines. Because of this the area was recovered and given back to the tribe of Benjamin.
These two victories brought glory to God and honour to David. We read in 1 Chronicles 14:16-17, “David therefore did as God commanded him: and they smote the host of the Philistines from Gibeon even to Gazer. And the fame of David went out into all lands; and the LORD brought the fear of him upon all nations.” This proves that 1 Samuel 2:30 is a promise God will always fulfil. “For them that honour me I will honour.”