This chapter relates the account of two very different battles between David and the Philistines. In the first battle, David seeks the Lord, and confronts the Philistines directly. His army wins, the Philistines flee in such a hurry that they leave behind the pagan gods they had carried into battle (but which obviously were no gods at all).
In the second battle, God directs David to circle around and attack from a different direction—a sneak attack. But he is also to wait until he hears “the sound of marching in the tops of the poplar trees because that will mean God has gone out in front of you to strike down the Philistine army.”
Why two very different strategies?
There are multiple examples in the Bible where God varies His instructions or methods. In battles, there is this example, as well as the different strategies employed in the battles of Jericho and Ai. When Moses was leading the Israelites in the wilderness, and they needed water, there were times God told Moses to strike a rock to bring forth water, and other times He told Moses to speak to the rock. In Jesus’ ministry, there were times when He healed by touching someone, and times when He sent word from a distance and the person was healed.
In some instances God works through us, and in others He works in ways that are unmistakably His power alone. There are times when He encourages us that, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” and times when He declares, “I am the Lord; that is my name! I will not yield my glory to another or my praise to idols.”
There are times when God calls us to action and times when He calls us to pray and wait on Him. There are seasons when we must go to battle and others when we are called to minister His love and grace. It can be so easy for us to latch on to a particular strategy and wield it in every circumstance, when the key to victory is not the strategy, but the submission to God’s direction.
Knowing God’s plan for each situation requires us to be in constant fellowship and communication with Him. David didn’t presume based on the first battle that he should attack in the same way the second time. He sought the Lord again and He followed the Lord’s instructions again.
Why not just give us one, fool-proof plan and let us stick with that?
God’s desire is not necessarily our victory or our defeat, it’s not even our perfect obedience to Him, it is relationship. Coming to Him, seeking Him, worshipping Him, drawing near to Him—that is the goal. Each battle we face is not about gaining victory, but about building our relationship with God.