Therefore David inquired of the Lord, and He said, “You shall not go up; circle around behind them, and come upon them in front of the mulberry trees. (2 Samuel 5:23)
There is something about David that strikes a chord within me. Here is a man anointed and appointed by God, a man who made a difference in his generation, who is described in the Bible as being a ‘man after God’s own heart,’ who established the line of king-priests after the order of Melchizedek of which our precious eternal King, Saviour, and High Priest was born…a man who was passionate, bold, and full of faith, but who was also undoubtedly human. This is perhaps the quality that sets David apart so dramatically. He seems a man of contrasts, a man who displays a faith that slays Goliath, an integrity that holds his hand from destroying Saul…and enough human weakness that he is real, believable, and intrinsically human. We see in this great warrior-king-priest our own aspirations and our own own weakness. That is what endears him to us, but something else sets him apart, something beautifully simple that serves as a challenge and encouragement to us – David displayed an attitude of surrender to God’s sovereignty – an ‘ask God before we act’ attitude.
When we ask God before we act, we avoid the traps of complacency and habit and are assured of victory.
Today’s verse occurs after David has taken Jerusalem. His kingdom is established. The days of running and hiding from Saul are over. All the elders of Israel have recognised His anointing to rule, and he has a reputation as a bold, decisive warrior well able to take on and defeat his enemies. All in all, David is riding the crest of the wave of success. He sees the promise and anointing of God come to fruition, and it would be so easy to slide into a place of complacency and pride. So many of us do. It’s the flesh and the world in us, tempting us into that place of relying on self rather than on God. It’s so easy, when relying on previous victory, to step out of surrender to God’s sovereignty, to assume we know what is expected and to miss the simple ask God before we act imperative.
I confess, it’s something I need to constantly check in my own life. As I pondered this – in relation, specifically, to receiving clear direction from God after yesterday’s devotional – I realised that presumption has a lot to do with it. That and our tendency to become creatures of habit. Presumption and habit so easily get in the way of hearts which ask God before we act. It’s significant to note that this particular verse occurs after God has helped David defeat the Philistines. David has already has the taste of victory. He has experience in this particular battle. Would we blame him if he simply brought his knowledge and experience to bear on the problem and set off to battle based on what has happened in the past?
Experience is a powerful force in our lives. Add to the fact that ‘battle strategy’ followed fairly conventional, tried and tested, accepted ‘rules.’ This usually involved the attacking army finding higher ground wherever possible. It put the defenders at a disadvantage – they would have to attack uphill – and gave the attackers a clearer view of the battlefield so they could easily see the ebb and flow of the fight and where to concentrate which troops. Absolutely logical, really. Why would we, if it were us, need to stop and ask God before we act?
The answer comes in God’s reply, which demonstrates His miracle-working power. First, He commands them to approach from behind, between the Philistines and the mulberry trees – a move which would have horrified any commander worth his salt because his men would essentially have been trapped. Mulberry trees are not exactly battle-friendly. There is little space to swing a weapon, and troops would have been separated. Add to this the Lord’s instruction not to attack until they heard the sound of of marching in the tops of the trees. Many of us would have hesitated at this point. Some would even question whether, in future, we should ask God before we act.
I can imagine the thoughts going through the minds of David’s soldiers, yet their king not only asked but obeyed. In other words, like Gideon and many other kings who were miraculously delivered, David defied conventional wisdom and obeyed the clear direction he had received. Two truths emerge here. The first is that God will not necessarily repeat a miracle. He may, but He more often will not. Our blessings – which include divine deliverance – are new every morning. What happened yesterday may not be the perfect solution to today’s battle. The second is that God’s answer may appear completely ludicrous. That, after all, is what miracles are all about – the impossible. The final truth is that we may miss the miracle if we don’t ask God before we act.
David’s life shows us very clearly that he made mistakes. This makes him human. We can identify with him – to quote a well-worn saying: he’s not so heavenly-minded that he’s no earthly good. I have never commited murder, but the truth is that my sins and David’s sins are just the same. What sets David apart is that he had heart which hungered after God. In all his trials, his victories, and his failures – and there were many failures – he always inquired of God. Most times, he asked before he acted. When he didn’t and distaster resulted, he drew near to God in humility and repentance. The tragic consequences of his adultery and pride – which tore apart his family – should remind and encourage us to ask God before we act, to live as ‘a man after God’s own heart.’
We fall so quickly into patterns of habit. What worked yesterday and the day before will surely work today. Habit enables us to do things without conscious throught. They become instinctive and therefore quicker, saving us time and effort. But they also lead us into presumption – the certainty that ‘what worked before will work again.’ This is the place of self-reliance, the place where God is slowly excluded and our habits take centre stage, the source of our security. Yet, over and over, God challenges this complacency, often through the ‘disasters’ which follow our choices. The lesson is to ask God before we act, but it’s one we will no doubt take our entire lives to learn. Like David, our hearts may be ‘after God’ but our flesh keeps getting in the way.
It’s very easy to speak truths such as ‘God knows best,’ ‘God is sovereign,’ or ‘His ways are higher than ours,’ but in practical terms, how often do we live these? It’s all to easy to assume that God isn’t bothered by what we have for dinner. After all, it’s simply a meal, a ‘nothing’ in the bigger scheme of things. Yet God has tasked Himself to care for and nurture us, to sustain us and keep us in health. It may seem like a foolish example, but it’s one very close to my heart. Living with an autoimmune disease, I have learned that what I eat is critical to sustaining my health. With all the various foods that should be avoided and the reasons why, it was so easy to get disheartened and confused. But herein lies the answer – ask God before we act. Even in this, He provides what is needed to meet the need. I no longer stress about what should or shouldn’t be included. I’ve learned to trust what He tells me, knowing that He works all things to my good, as ludicrous as they may sometimes seem.
Our lives are filled with quandries, difficulties, trials and battles, and the only way through is to turn to God in surrender and obedience. More often than not, things do not make sense. David must surely have wondered why he was still plagued by the Philistines when he was at the height of success. He must have wondered why God wanted him to skulk around in the mulberry trees waiting for the impossible – the sound of marching in the tops of the trees. We know from the psalms that he continually voiced his confusion to God. But David stands out in history as a man who always turned to God in humility, faith, and rejoicing. This is the man who danced unashamedly before the Ark of the Covenant, rejoicing that the presence of God was restored to Jerusalem, the seat of royal-priesthood. From both his victories and his failures, we learn the simple lesson to ask God before we act in absolute faith. And, once we have asked and heard, to obey – even if the answer seems utterly impossible.
Lord, we acknowledge this morning that Your ways are not ours, that we often forget to ask before we act and move in presumption. Help us to bring all things to You, the large matters and the little, to learn to rely on You alone instead of our own presumption and habit. Help us to ask and obey in absolute faith that You will accomplish what You purpose, no matter how illogical or impssible it may seem.