I Chronicles 14 is about David’s battle with the Philistines shortly after he became king. A key theme that came up in my study of this chapter was David’s dependence on and obedience towards God.
1. David inquired of God over whether he should go out against the Philistines, and God gave him the go-ahead, saying that God would deliver the Philistines into David’s hands. David then went out, fought the Philistines, and won. When the Philistines came back, David again inquired of God. God once more gave him the go-ahead, but God also gave David specific instructions about how to fight this time.
This second time around, David was to wait to hear the sound going over the tops of the mulberry trees before he went out to fight the Philistines. Why? There are at least two explanations. The Jewish commentator Radak said that the sound over the top of the mulberry trees would be the footsteps of God’s angels, who would be fighting the Philistines. This makes sense to me, for I Chronicles 14:15 states that “God is gone forth before thee to smite the host of the Philistines” (KJV). The idea is that the Israelites would have spiritual assistance as they smote their enemies. Another explanation is that the sound going over the mulberry trees presented David with an opportune time to strike: the Philistines would think that the sound was just the wind, and they would not notice David and his forces coming out to strike them. This is the opinion of the Jewish commentator Ralbag.
Both the Orthodox Jewish Artscroll commentary and evangelical preachers see significance in David asking God a second time whether he should go out against the Philistines. Why did David ask God a second time? Wasn’t the first go-ahead enough? Couldn’t David just conclude that, because God let him go out the first time and enabled him to win, God would do so again the second time, without David having to ask? The Artscroll and Jimmy Swaggart both speculate that David, a military man, must have struggled with his desire to take matters into his own hands. But David depended on God. Moreover, according to Swaggart (and other evangelicals have made this point), David was serving a living God, and so God’s second strategy may not be the same as God’s first strategy. The Artscroll contrasts David with his predecessor, King Saul. Saul tended to become impatient and take matters into his own hands in disobedience to God’s will, and Saul failed to obey God completely. David, by contrast, was willing to hear and to yield to God’s will.
2. More than one commentator has noted that I Chronicles makes David into a follower of the Torah. II Samuel 5:21 states that David carried away the idols of the Philistines, whereas I Chronicles 14:12 affirms that David burned the idols, which would be in accord with Deuteronomy 8:25. There may be something to that. The Torah as a book probably existed more fully when I Chronicles was written than when II Samuel was written, and so the Chronicler conformed David’s actions to what was commonly believed to be God’s will in the Chronicler’s time: the Torah.
But David in I Chronicles 14 does not entirely follow the Torah. I Chronicles 14:3 narrates that David took more wives, whereas Deuteronomy 17:17 forbids the king to multiply wives to himself. Perhaps the Chronicler did not consider that part of the Torah, or he did not interpret it as a blanket prohibition of polygamy: Deuteronomy 8:25 forbids the king from multiplying wives because that could turn his heart away, presumably from following God. According to I Kings, that’s what happened to Solomon, whose foreign wives turned him towards idolatry. The Chronicler may have thought that such was not a problem for David, whose wives were probably not idolatrous.
Conclusions: Do I believe in a living God who can specifically guide me in my day to day life, or do I rely on a past revelation—-the Bible—-for my instructions? Many Christians do both. They either look to the Bible as God’s general instructions while waiting for God’s voice on specific matters, or, for them, reading the Bible can be a way that God guides them each day, as God illuminates the words of Scripture and applies them to their specific situation. I do not feel that I hear from God, to tell you the truth, at least in such a manner that I know it is God. But I still pray to God, recognizing my dependence on him. Obedience to God’s will in the Bible is also important, especially when that coincides with compassion and justice. Yet, we all have blind spots, and our obedience is often incomplete. God still looks for a willingness to obey, though.