The Lord, Mighty in Battle
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The Lord, Mighty in Battle

2 Samuel 5:17–25  (ID: 3468)

Determined to crush David’s kingdom in its infancy, the Philistines took their stand against God’s anointed king. Rather than trust his own insight, David went down to the stronghold and inquired of the Lord. In response, God commanded David into battle and promised to deliver the enemy into his hands. The Lord is a mighty Warrior-King committed to showing Himself strong for His people, explains Alistair Begg. No rulers or powers can ultimately harm those who take refuge in Him.

Series Containing This Sermon

A Study in 1 and 2 Samuel, Volume 5

The King and the Holy City 2 Samuel 1:1–6:23 Series ID: 109015

Sermon Transcript: Print

I invite you to turn with me to 2 Samuel and to chapter 5, and we’re going to read from the seventeenth verse to the end of the chapter. Second Samuel and chapter 5 and reading from the seventeenth verse.

“When the Philistines heard that David had been anointed king over Israel, all the Philistines went up to search for David. But David heard of it and went down to the stronghold. Now the Philistines had come and spread out in the Valley of Rephaim. And David inquired of the Lord, ‘Shall I go up against the Philistines? Will you give them into my hand?’ And the Lord said to David, ‘Go up, for I will certainly give the Philistines into your hand.’ And David came to Baal-perazim, and David defeated them there. And he said, ‘The Lord has broken through my enemies before me like a breaking flood.’ Therefore the name of that place is called Baal-perazim. And the Philistines left their idols there, and David and his men carried them away.

“And the Philistines came up yet again and spread out in the Valley of Rephaim. And when David inquired of the Lord, he said, ‘You shall not go up; go around to their rear, and come against them opposite the balsam trees. And when you hear the sound of marching in the tops of the balsam trees, then rouse yourself, for then the Lord has gone out before you to strike down the army of the Philistines.’ And David did as the Lord commanded him, and struck down the Philistines from Geba to Gezer.”

Thanks be to God for his Word.

And we bow and pray:

Your Word is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path.[1] We pray now that the light of your Word will shine by the Holy Spirit into our lives, illumining our understanding and showing us Christ and enabling us to bow before him as our Lord and King. For we pray in his name. Amen.

Those of you who enjoyed Shakespeare at school will probably, like me, only remember a very few of the quotes that we were called to recall or to be able to explain. And if you did Julius Caesar, then at least you know that “there is a tide in the affairs of men which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune.”[2] You know that Brutus said to his comrades, seeking to engage them in this military endeavor, that if you miss the tide, then the voyage of your life will be bound in shallows and in miseries. It’s quite a dramatic statement: “There is a tide…” There is a moment. There is a current. If you catch the swell, you can benefit from it. If you miss it, then there is significance to that.

Now, that phrase was in my mind as I came to this passage, because what we have here in the record of these two battles is actually a defining moment in the whole story of David’s kingship. Indeed, either of the commanders could have taken up that quote from Brutus in Julius Caesar and said to their troops, “Now this is absolutely crucial. It is important that we win this battle.” It was an important battle not only for the people who fought it, but it was an important battle for the generations that would follow.

And so, when you’re reading Isaiah the prophet sometime, you will come, around the twenty-eighth chapter, to a section where he actually alludes to what we have described here in 2 Samuel. And he says, you know, “God will rise up, as in Mount Perazim. God will show himself strong, as in the valley of Gibeah.”[3] And what Isaiah recognized was that although those events were two hundred years in the past, they had so embedded themselves in the minds of the people of God that they could be referred to even as a passing reference, in much the same way that the Battle of Dunkirk or the Battle of Britain or the Normandy landings are part and parcel of contemporary conversation, alluded to at various points along the way because everybody recognizes that was a decisive, defining moment.

And so, what we have here in the end of chapter 5 is just such a moment. At this point, the Philistines represent a threat. By the end, they won’t. And by the end, David will be firmly established.

Now, we come to this having endeavored to deal with the previous verses. And let me just remind you that we have seen how David—and you can see, if your text is open—how David was “established,” in verse 12, as the “king over Israel”; in that same verse, how God’s kingdom through David was “exalted”; and how David in turn then came to be recognized—came to be, if you like, internationally recognized, as the king of Tyre, out on the coastline there, came to him to offer his congratulations, to offer his services, to offer his resources.[4]

So you have this picture, then, of David: established, exalted, recognized. Now he has moved from being a cave dweller to being someone who lives in the house of the king, thereby raising the question for himself and for all: We’ve seen that he can live as a kind of renegade in a cave, but how will he do living as a king in a palace? It’s reminiscent, isn’t it, of what Paul says: “I have learned both how to abound, and I have learned how to be abased. I have learned in all things to be contented.”[5]

God’s kingdom is ultimately only safe in the hands of Jesus, who is the King.

Now, as we continue this story, we say, “Well, I wonder how David is going to do.” Because now he has affluence. Now he has the potential for self-sufficiency. Therefore, he is vulnerable. Vulnerable. In fact, I decided that, just to keep the run of the words going, I would say that not only do we see him established and exalted and recognized, but we see him compromised. And those of you who were present last Sunday evening will recall how I said that the fact that he took to himself these concubines and these wives was not a good thing. It was not a good sign. You see, because David knew what the command of God was in relationship to the person who would become the king. And you can follow this up in the book of Deuteronomy. It is clearly there in Deuteronomy 17. And God says through his servant, “The king shall not acquire for himself many wives, lest his heart turn away.”[6]

Now, here’s a question: Didn’t David know this? Of course he knew it! So what does he think he’s doing? Has he now found himself in the position that others find themselves in, where they begin to say to themselves, “I know the rule, but I don’t think it applies to me; I think it applies to everybody else”? And what he’s actually done here is he has succumbed to the cultural mores of his time rather than submitted to the law of God.

Now, you say, “Well, I thought David is our great hero?” No, he’s not our great hero. You’ve gotta be careful of heroes. You’ve gotta be careful of heroes both in the Bible… There’s only really one hero in the Bible, and that is God himself. You’ve certainly gotta be careful of heroes who represent to you anything by way of the role of whether it is pastor or elder or leader or whatever it might be. Because everyone is sinful. Everyone has feet of clay. Everyone will at some point eventually let you down. You can guarantee it.

And so, there is a warning, there is an inherent warning in this. And some of us recoil from this, because we think, “You’re not allowed to say anything bad about David, because this is… David is the king!” No, David is capable of acts of phenomenal bravery and at the same time of stupidity. Because what these marriages are doing—and we’ll find this if we ever live long enough to continue the story—what these marriages are actually doing is paving the way for rivalry, chaos in the family, and actually, ultimately for civil war. So in other words, that the temptation, the allure, the possibility of building a dynasty for himself… “Hey, I’m the king. This is what kings do.” “Yeah, but what about the law of God?” “Don’t worry about the law of God right now. This is what I want to do.” Well, guess what? You will pay the price. “God is not mocked. Whatsoever a man sows, that he also reaps.”[7]

Now, what does this mean? It means at least this: that by this point in the story, all of us ought to be absolutely clear that God’s kingdom is ultimately safe only in the hands of “great David’s greater Son”[8]—that God’s kingdom is ultimately only safe in the hands of Jesus, who is the King; Jesus, who was able to say, “I always do what pleases the Father.”[9] Always, without exception—unlike David, who foreshadows him.

Now, with all that said—and heeding the inherent warning that is contained in it, I hope—we actually now have David at his best. We have the spotlight shining on him, and he’s doing a tremendous job fighting the Philistines. Because, after all, that was the divine mandate that had been prepared for him. When Abner had gone to the elders, he had said to them, “You know, this is God’s plan for David, this is why you ought to join his army, this is why we ought to be united under his rule: because ‘by the hand of my servant’”—this is 3:18—“‘by the hand of my servant David I will save my people Israel from the hand of the Philistines.’” And so Abner says, “So it only makes sense that you folks who are in the South and all who are in the North should be united under the kingdom of David himself, because after all, the Philistines have been a complete, utter disaster and nuisance to us for such a long time.” Incidentally, if we were to backtrack on that, you can see, all the way into the book of Genesis, how when God gives a command and says to destroy something or get rid of something and people say, “No, I don’t want to, I just want to keep a little bit of it, I want to keep some of them over there, just a little part,” and so on, the inevitable impact of that eventually comes home.

And that’s exactly what we have here. That’s why these people, the Philistines… We tend to think of the Philistines as sort of crass, people who wouldn’t go to the Cleveland Symphony or something like that. But no. The Philistines were at the very forefront of things at this point in history. They were the ones who, in terms of their military prowess and in their organization and everything else, they were the force to be reckoned with. And David understands this. And therefore, they must be dealt with.

Now, what you have in the balance of the passage is two attempts by the Philistines to crush the kingdom in its infancy. To crush the kingdom in its infancy. It makes perfect sense, doesn’t it? Once they hear of what has taken place, they say, “Well, the best thing we can do is go and deal with it.” It’s the story, actually, throughout the Bible. It’s why we read in Psalm 2: the kings of the earth unite against the Lord’s King, whom he sets in Zion[10]—all the way through Scripture. That’s why when you come to the advent series and when you come into the birth of Jesus, what do you find? That one of the kings of the earth takes his stand against the Lord’s Anointed. He says to the wise men, he says, “Listen, if you could go and find him and come back and bring me news of him, I would really be interested, you know, to meet him and so on.”[11] But in actual fact, what is Herod doing? In his fury, he then calls for the slaughter of the innocents, for male children in the region under the age of two. What is happening there? The same thing that is happening here, you see: that the kings of the earth take their stand against the Lord’s Anointed. David is the Lord’s anointed. The Philistines say, “Let’s go and take him out right now.”

The First Battle

Now, rather than try and come up with some clever points here, let’s just follow the camera, as it were, as it swings back and forth between David and the Philistines.

First of all, the camera is on the Philistines here in verse 17: “When the Philistines heard…” When they heard. Well, what was it that they heard? Well, they heard, essentially, the third verse of the chapter: that King David had made a covenant with the elders of Israel at Hebron, and that he had been anointed as the king over all of Israel. And that news had reached the Philistines.

Incidentally, the Philistines are nowhere in these first five chapters, are they? So, they haven’t been on vacation. They must have been doing whatever they were doing. But the narrator has not included anything about the Philistines. And here they come again: “[But] when the Philistines heard … [they] went up to search.” They “went up to search.” “All the Philistines went up to search.” The little “all” is important. They went en masse. They were a significant force. They all went up to search, and then, if you look down, it says that they then, in verse 18, they came and they “spread out in the valley of the Rephaim.”

Now, that little phrase there, “and [they] spread out,” is just making the point that there was a great, vast army of them. There wasn’t just a handful of people. This was not the kind of search party that you might send out just for an individual. No, this was a display of force: “What we’re going to do is we will establish ourselves. We will spread out across the valley of the Rephaim.” The Rephaim were the giants. Therefore, they spread out in the valley of the giants. David knew about giants. He had dealt with one of the Philistine giants, as you know.

He also knew that they had made a complete mess of Saul’s army. They had defeated Saul’s army. We read that back at the end of the first book. So he knew what they had done and what they were capable of. But at the same time, they knew him and what he was capable of. Because remember, he had actually gone over to the Philistines. I hope we haven’t forgotten that already. Remember, strangely, we said, that he went over and he joined Achish, and Achish said, “Why don’t you have Ziklag?” So he had his own little place and his own territory, and he went out, and he made these raids on people. And when he came back, Achish said, “What were you doing today?” He says, “Oh, I was dealing with your enemies.”[12] Achish might have said, “Why do you never bring any of them back?” The narrator tells us why he didn’t bring any of them back: he had them all killed! Because if he brought any of them back, then those people would tell him exactly what was going on, which was that he was not actually killing any of his own people. He wasn’t dealing with Israel. He was dealing with the enemies of the Philistines, but he was not dealing with his own people.

And that, you remember, led to the great compromise where the battle is going to have to go. He’s gonna have to be on the side of the Philistines. He gets bailed out by the fact that some of the people who are the commanders of the forces came to Achish and said, “You can’t have this guy in our team, because after all, he may turn around and use this as a rear-guard action and slaughter the whole lot of us.” And, of course, he’s dispatched at that point.[13]

Well, the Philistines heard, and the Philistines searched, and the Philistines spread out. Now the camera turns to David: “But David heard of it.” “David heard of it.” So they heard he was made the king, he’s now being told that they have spread out in the valley of the Rephaim, and David then “went down to the stronghold.” Where that stronghold is we’re not told; therefore, we won’t spend time speculating.

It’s interesting that he “went down to the stronghold.” We had looked at this Millo in our study, I think, last Sunday evening, the possibility of what it might represent.[14] What it represented was safety. I actually first of all wrote down, “And the Philistines went up to search, and David went down to hide.” And then I thought, “No, I don’t think it’s fair that he went down to hide. I don’t think he was necessarily hiding. But he was phenomenally sensible, wasn’t he?” He could have started immediately on, you know, “I’m the king. I’m the king of the castle. These Philistines, these dirty wee rascals, these folks, I’ll take care of them.” No! No.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
 and do not rely on your own insight.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
 and he will direct your paths.[15]

That was David’s boy that wrote that.

So David is eminently sensible here. One of the things that it is important for us as pilgrims along the journey to remember is that common sense is really pretty helpful. Especially the greater its absence, the more wonderful it is when we discover it. And so that’s what he did. He “went down.” His response was a sensible response, and his response was a submissive response. He “went down to the stronghold,” and then, notice, he “inquired of the Lord.” “Inquired of the Lord.” And his inquiry was straightforward: “Shall I …? Will you …?” “Shall I go up against the Philistines?” And secondly, “Will you give them into my hand?” So we don’t have a king here who’s just blustering ahead. He goes to the stronghold. He inquires of the Lord.

And the Lord’s reply is straightforward, there in 19b: “And the Lord said to David, ‘Go up’”—that’s the command—“‘for I will certainly give the Philistines into your hand’”—that is the promise. So God gives him a command to obey, and he gives him a promise to trust. You say, “Oh, maybe that’s why we just sang that hymn.” That’s exactly why we sang that hymn! A command to obey and a promise to trust.

And what happens? In taking the Lord at his word, “David defeated them there”: “And David came to Baal-perazim, and David defeated them there.”

Whatever the idol is, it is an absolute folly. The idols of every age promise, but they can’t satisfy.

Now, as a result of that, the place got its name: “‘The Lord has broken through my enemies before me like a breaking flood.’ Therefore the name of that place is called Baal-perazim.” It wasn’t called Baal-perazim when he went there. It was called Baal-perazim after he had done what he did. Because Baal-perazim means “Lord of the breakthrough.” So, in other words, he inquires of the Lord; he gets a clear command from the Lord, a promise from the Lord; on the strength of that, he goes forward; the Lord breaks through; and David essentially says, or someone says to him, “You know, we’ve got to call this place the ‘Lord of the breakthrough’ place.” Because what had happened was he discovered that the Lord, in the way that a huge flood may come through and drive everything in its wake, God had come in that way—a torrent of water breaking everything in its path. God streams out, as it were, on behalf of his people. Ralph Davis puts it in his own inimitable style when he says, “Yahweh levels the opposition, and David names the site Smasherton.”[16] Smasherton. That is pretty good! “And he called the name of the place Smasherton.” Well, that drives it home, doesn’t it? He absolutely smashed them.

You see, what had happened is an incredible reversal. You say, “What’s the reversal?” Well, remember how the book ended in chapter 31, where the Philistines were fighting against Israel, and “Israel fled before the Philistines and [lay] slain on [the mountain of] Gilboa.”[17] And as you read through that, you remember that the Philistines absolutely decimated them. And at the end of that, Saul was decapitated, and the messengers were sent through the land—I hope you remember this—they were sent through the land to carry the good news of what had happened to the place of their idols. I’m just looking for this. It’s in verse 9, 31:9 of 1 Samuel: “So they cut off his head,” they “stripped off his armor,” they “sent messengers throughout the land of the Philistines, to carry the good news to the house of their idols and to the people.”

Now, if you look back at where we are: “‘The Lord has broken through my enemies before me like a … flood.’ Therefore the name … is … Baal-perazim.” And then look at this picture, verse 21: “And the Philistines left their idols there, and David and his men carried them away.” Now, we can’t keep backtracking all the time, but you ought at least make a note in your head that says, “Now, wait a minute. We’ve seen this from the beginning, haven’t we?” Yes, we have. Do you remember when they captured the ark? And when we get to 6, the ark will be back. But when they captured the ark, they thought, “If we have the ark, we’ve got their god. Because they’ve got God in a box.” And you remember what happened with Dagon, and how Dagon falls on his face, and they prop him up, and he falls on his face again. And eventually somebody says, “You know, we’ve gotta get rid of this ark. This ark is killing us!”[18] The ark, if you like, was consuming them. And now here is this great reversal, and now the idols of the Philistines are consumed by David and his forces. And they lie there as a silent testimony to their futility.

All the idols that man creates, that we create for ourselves, they are all self-depleting. They make promises, but they can’t satisfy—whatever our idol of choice is. My own significance: “How significant are you?” “Not as significant as I would like to be, but more significant than her, a little more than him.” So you die as a result of your insignificance in your search for significance. Whatever the idol is, it is an absolute folly. The idols of every age promise, but they can’t satisfy. Isaiah classically, when he speaks of this in the middle of his book, he gives us this amazing picture about the peoples making idols for themselves, and he says, “They lift it to their shoulders, [and] they carry it, [and] they set it in its place, and it stands there; it cannot move from its place. If one cries to it, it does not answer or save him from his trouble.”[19]

You say, “Is this possible, that people would do such things?” Do you have a mirror? This is what we all do! This is what we are by nature! We do not worship God with all our hearts and soul and mind and strength. We worship ourselves. The reason that we want to take arms against God’s Anointed is because it interferes with our lives. So it’s better if you can have one or two little idols that will be submissive to us, that we can carry around. We can take them on vacation. It’s pathetic! But it’s real.

They took these idols into battle because they thought that they would protect them. And look at them, scattered, and the idols are there, “and David and his men…” Yeah. That must have been a great moment for David: “Why don’t you pick all these things up? We’re gonna burn them, fellas. We’ll just burn them.” You say, “Well, did you make that up?” No. Chronicles tells us that they burned them—1 Chronicles 14.[20] So he said, “We’re gonna gather this stuff up, and we will destroy it.”

The Second Battle

Well, that’s how battle one ends, and then, secondly and briefly, battle two then ensues. “If at first you don’t succeed…” And so “the Philistines came up yet again,” and they “spread out in the Valley of Rephaim.”

So, here we are, so far on the same track. They come up. They establish themselves in the valley. David does not presume upon victory based on his previous success. Once again, he inquires of the Lord. I think it’s safe to assume that he asks the same two questions: “Shall I go up? Will you deliver them into my hand?” And this time he gets a different answer: “No, you shall not go up. Instead, go around. Take up a position near to the balsam trees, and await my signal.”

Now, just in passing, let’s notice, those of us who are of the kind of approach to life that says, “If it worked once, it’ll work again. If it was right then, it’s gotta be right now. Play it again, Sam. It worked last time. There’s no need for discussion, no need for inquiry. Let’s just go. We asked him before. We don’t need to keep asking.” Mm, I don’t think so. No. Because if he had just stumbled ahead, he would have found himself in a far different position. There’s no value in him just repeating that simply because it was God’s purpose before.

You see, in the outworking of the plan of God for his kingdom, you know, there are places where repetition is essential, but there are other places where tradition will kill you. And I’ve been saying this very much to our church leadership, with the constant quest on each of our parts to try and get things “back the way they were.” I say, “Well, wait a minute. What if ‘back the way they were’ is not the place we’re supposed to be? What if up there, where we’ve never been, is where we’re supposed to be?” “No, no, no. It was working so well. Consider it. Play it again, Sam.”

“Shall I go up?” “No, don’t go up. Go around. Surprise attack.” He doesn’t trust his own experience. He seeks fresh guidance: “Lord, I need you. … Every hour I need you.”[21]

And the signal, the sign, is there in verse 24: “And when you hear the sound of marching in the tops of the balsam trees…” “The sound of marching in the tops of the … trees.” Well… Have you ever heard marching in the tops of trees? I’ve heard rustling, rustling in the tops of trees. But if he says, “And whenever you hear rustling in the tops of trees,” I said, well, I mean, “You’d be hearing rustling in the tops of trees sort of willy-nilly.” So I take it that there’s something far more significant than that.

No, the sound of the marching in the trees is gonna be an unusual sound. It’s gonna be an unmistakable sound. It’s going to be an undeniable sound. In the same way that when David says, “And the Lord broke through; like a mighty torrent, he decimated them, and we played catch-up to that, and we were able to put paid to their great protest and aggravation,” now their anticipation is that somehow or another that the Lord will come rushing through and will go before them. And they’re going to anticipate that. They’re going to wait for that. Because he is the Lord, the God of Hosts. He’s the God of heaven’s armies.

Essentially, Yahweh styles himself as the Great Warrior. The Great Warrior. One of the problems in our day is that the pictures of God, if you take it even just in the world of art… I know very little about art, which is in a category alongside a lot of other things that I know very little about. But in The Times, they show art on a weekly basis, and so I can see, you know, what is in the museum or whatever it might be. And one of the things that I’ve noticed, and I wonder if you have too, is that the pictures of God, the art in relationship to God a generation back, two generations back, two hundred years back, three hundred years back, God is depicted as mighty. God is depicted as fearful. God is depicted as someone with whom we have to deal. God is up there at the very top of the chapel or right up in the roof.

If there is any depiction of God now in twenty-first-century Western Europe or America, he has definitely been brought down. No, he is a manageable God. He’s just a little kind of God. He’s a nice God. He’s not someone you need to fear, not somebody at all. Oh, that’s not right! Psalm 24: “Open the gates! Open the gates, that the king might enter!” And the antiphonal response of the choir is “Who is this king?” And the reply comes back, “He is the Lord, mighty in battle.”[22] “Mighty in battle.”

Makes me think of, you know… What do we call that thing in the summertime with our children, where we have that thing? Yeah, whatever it is. Everybody comes here for a week and causes chaos. Whatever that is. (And wonderful chaos!) And it’s in that kind of context that you have these amazing pictures locked in your mind of tiny little children standing in the Thursday evening event, going like, “Our God is so big, so strong and so mighty, there’s nothing that he cannot do.” And they do it like this, and their arms like mine, pathetic—like, just tiny little arms: “The rivers are his, the mountains are his.”

This is what’s happening here. David is the Lord’s anointed, but Yahweh is the one who is mighty in battle. The fact that he came in this way did not leave David with nothing to do. No! “He will go out before you and strike down the army of the Philistines.” It’s quite remarkable, isn’t it? Because what was it that the people said to David when they made him the king? They said, you know, “In time past, when Saul was king, it was you who led out and brought in Israel. It was you. You’re the man, David. You’re the man.”[23] And here David is realizing, “I may be the man of God’s appointing, but it is the Lord who is the Mighty Warrior. He is the one strong in battle. He is the one who sets his king on a holy hill in Zion.”

And so he “did as the Lord commanded him,” and he “struck down the Philistines,” and the tables were decisively turned, so much so that from that time on, as you read through the remainder of the story, the Philistines cease to be a serious threat. They continue to show up, they continue to cause a wee bit of trouble, but it’s over.

“Rejoice, for the Lord Is King!”

“Well,” you say, “we must stop.” I agree entirely.

At this point, as we conclude chapter 5 and take maybe two or three weeks off from Samuel to try and catch our breath, it’s a good time to remind ourselves of our theme verse. You say, “There is one?” Well, in my mind at least, that’s Romans 15:4. When we began 1 Samuel and we said, “Are we really going to study something that took place three millennia ago?” we reminded ourselves what Paul writes: “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.”

David is the Lord’s anointed, but Yahweh is the one who is mighty in battle.

So all that is happening in the then of David’s day, as the enemies of God’s king oppose him, has happened all the way along since. And the victory of David over the forces of opposition simply foreshadows the victory of Jesus the King at the cross, where he disarms the rulers and the authorities, putting them to open shame. That King, the Ascended One, then pours out his Spirit upon his people. And for them on that day, it was not the sound of marching in the balsam trees that they were to wait upon. No! But in the same way as David and his troops were commanded to await the signal, so, we will remember, God’s people—the apostles and those who were gathered with them—before they went out onto the streets of Jerusalem, they were to wait.[24] And then there came, remember, the sound of a great “mighty rushing wind.”[25] God goes out before them.

And then, in a waft of the supernatural, they go out onto the streets of Jerusalem. And before they’ve hardly got into their stride, they are opposed: “What are you doing out here on the streets of Jerusalem with this story of this King Jesus? We’ll put you in jail for that, you know. We’ll get rid of you. We have no interest in this at all.” And so Peter and John are released in chapter 4 of the Acts. And fascinatingly, “When they were released, they went to their friends,” they told them. When their friends heard it, “they lifted [up] their voices … to God and [they] said, ‘Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them’”—in other words, “We know who you are: you’re the God of the creation, you’re the God, mighty in battle”—“‘[it was] through the mouth of [your] father David, your servant, [that you] said by the Holy Spirit’”—now we’re quoting Psalm 2—“‘“Why did the Gentiles rage, and the peoples plot in vain? [And] the kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers were gathered together, against the Lord and against his Anointed.”’” And the apostles say, “‘[But listen,] truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod … Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, [but they were only going to do what] your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.’”[26]

Think of Jerusalem today. The significance of Jerusalem is actually because of what we’re reading here. The significance of Jerusalem is not because Jerusalem is so very special. It was David that made it special. It is God that made it special: “And [he] called it the city of David.”[27] And there’s not a day passes in our twenty-first-century world of vast communications when Jerusalem is not in the news, for one reason or another. If there was ever a place where an absolute bloodbath would break out, Jerusalem’s perfect. Because there you have Islam, there you have Judaism, there you have Christianity, all gathered in the one place.

“Ah,” you say, “so that’s what it’s about.” No, it’s not what it’s about. It’s about the new Jerusalem and the ascended King. Because when you think about it, the Bible makes it very clear to us that one day at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, every tongue confess that he is the Lord’s Anointed.[28] “He was despised and rejected.”[29] He’s opposed today. Religion’s not opposed today. Even Christianity is not opposed today. Jesus is opposed today. Try it in your office. Try it in your school. Don’t say, “I believe in the tenets of Christianity.” Big deal! Tell them that you have bowed before Jesus, that he is your King, and that one day there will be no refuge from him save the refuge that is to be found in him. That, again, is Psalm 2.

Remember that unlike Islam, this is not a physical battle for the Christian. “The weapons of our warfare” are not swords and guns and uniforms. We “have divine power to [bring down] strongholds.”[30] “We wrestle not against flesh and blood.”[31] But we are called to a battle. And in the Second World War—it was done seven years before I showed up, but there was still rationing when I was born—in the Second World War, when people used to say, “You know, isn’t that a shame you can’t get a dozen eggs for the life of you?” the response was always the same: “Hey, don’t you know there’s a war on?” “Don’t you know there’s a war on?” You say, “Oh yeah, that’s right.” Well, the fact that we’re in a battle changes perspective dramatically, doesn’t it?

Now, you would be disappointed if I didn’t have a final little song from my childhood to wrap this up here in chapter 5. I know that, because you tell me. Some of you know this song. I won’t sing it for you, out of kindness. And we do have a closing song, but it will not be this one. Do you remember the song?

Sound the battle cry!
See, the foe is nigh,
Raise the standard high
For the Lord.
Gird your armor on;
Stand firm, every one;
Rest your cause upon
His Holy Word.

Rouse, then, soldiers, rally round the banner!
Ready, steady, pass the word along;
Onward, forward, shout aloud hosanna!
Christ is captain of the mighty throng.[32]

And again, we used to sing that—The same kind of voice that I just used before, you know: “Rouse, then, soldiers, rally around the banner.” What did I know at the age of six or seven of banners and soldiers and anything? I know now, at sixty-eight, that I’m in a battle royale, and so are you. And if you forget that, you’ve forgotten a fundamental premise that undergirds everything that we’re considering in the story of King David: King Jesus, despised, rejected by men, opposed by the kings and rulers of the earth, has been set on God’s holy hill. And therefore, to the people of God the exhortation comes: “Rejoice, for the Lord is King!”

[1] See Psalm 119:105.

[2] William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, 4.2.

[3] Isaiah 28:21 (paraphrased).

[4] See 2 Samuel 5:11.

[5] Philippians 4:12 (paraphrased).

[6] Deuteronomy 17:17 (paraphrased).

[7] Galatians 6:7 (paraphrased).

[8] James Montgomery, “Hail to the Lord’s Anointed” (1821).

[9] John 8:29 (paraphrased).

[10] See Psalm 2:2–3, 6.

[11] See Matthew 2:8 (paraphrased).

[12] See 1 Samuel 27.

[13] See 1 Samuel 29.

[14] See 2 Samuel 5:9.

[15] Proverbs 3:5–6 (paraphrased).

[16] Dale Ralph Davis, 2 Samuel: Out of Every Adversity (1999; repr., Fearn: Christian Focus, 2018), 69.

[17] 1 Samuel 31:1 (ESV).

[18] See 1 Samuel 4–5.

[19] Isaiah 46:7 (ESV).

[20] See 1 Chronicles 14:12.

[21] Matt Maher, “Lord, I Need You” (2013).

[22] Psalm 24:7–8 (paraphrased).

[23] 2 Samuel 5:2 (paraphrased).

[24] See Luke 24:49; Acts 1:4.

[25] Acts 2:2 (ESV).

[26] Acts 4:23–28 (ESV).

[27] 2 Samuel 5:9 (ESV).

[28] See Philippians 2:10–11.

[29] Isaiah 53:3 (ESV).

[30] 2 Corinthians 10:4 (ESV).

[31] Ephesians 6:12 (KJV).

[32] William F. Sherwin, “Sound the Battle Cry” (1869).

Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.