Marching on the Trees by Jason Caywood
One of the repeated refrains from the narrative historical sections of the Hebrew Scripture (Old Testament) is that God must go before the people of Israel for them to have victory. Many Psalms praise this facet of God’s activity in the history of Israel and some lament God’s apparent absence from Israel’s political and military challenges. But the core conviction remains the same: God must be present with his people for them to succeed in doing what God brought them into the land to accomplish. One narrative section stood out to me recently—for in it I was reminded of an aspect of the reality of the world I easily forget (or if not forget, then do not take seriously in the stress of the moment).
Tucked away in a section describing some of King David’s activities soon after becoming officially recognized as Israel’s King (by all 12 tribes) is a record of conversations between God and David regarding going to war with the Philistines. The Philistine’s heard that David had become King in Israel and decided to immediately attack him before he could become more of a threat than he already was. So David sought from the LORD (YAHWEH) an answer regarding whether he should attack the gathered troops of the Philistines. God said to attack them. David did so and there was a great victory of Israel’s troops. (2 Samuel 5:17-21)
But the story line continues because the Philistine’s regroup and come back to attack in large numbers. David wisely asks again if he should attack them. The answer from God is yes but the strategy is different. He is to have his forces attack from behind where their troops are gathered. And further, he is to wait for one thing in particular before launching the attack. “When you hear a sound like marching feet in the tops of the poplar trees, be on the alert! That will be the signal that the Lord is moving ahead of you to strike down the Philistine army.” (2 Samuel 5:24, NLT)
Who would be “marching” on the tops of the trees? Certainly no human army. This must refer to the angelic host of God marching on into battle against the evil spirits that stand behind and animate the Philistines. This text reveals that the military battle was more than just a battle between human armies or strategy devised by kings to defeat their enemies. Why else would God tell David to wait till he heard this “marching feet in the tops of the poplar trees”?
One could at this point either dispute the importance of this reference or further elaborate on it, and listing Scripture passages that demonstrate this truth. I leave that to the reader to go and search the Scriptures to test my assertion about not only this particular text but of the many others that point to this invisible reality. What I want to impress upon myself (in the act of writing this) and upon all who read this is the following: We are foolish if we do not take seriously the teaching of Scripture regarding the existence and hostility of evil spirits and if we do not recognize that we need to have God’s protection on us.
So many Christians put God to the test by not heeding the exhortation of Paul to be strong in the Lord and to stand firm against the devil and his demons (see Ephesians 6:10-12). The practice of our lives gives ample evidence that we either do not understand or we do not take seriously the invisible reality of spiritual conflict (which we are in the middle of). How many of us live mediocre spiritual lives because we insist upon believing that we have the ability to fight demonic spirits in our own spiritual energy. How many Christians are deceived about their own hardness of heart and do not even recognize it because they have believed the lies of Satan? How many Christians go through life defeated because they refuse to recognize the connection between their own sin and the enemy’s activity in their lives to oppress them and keep them from prospering spiritually?
I can hear an objection now: But Christians cannot be “possessed” by demons because of the Holy Spirit dwelling in them. I do believe that to be true. But that is not the point here. Rather, I am talking about forms of oppression which hold Christians back from learning to flourish in God’s grace. All such demonic oppression is rooted in decisions to “give place” to the enemy (Ephesians 4:27). We must choose to renounce sin and yield ourselves wholeheartedly to God in order for the power of the blood of Christ to heal our very nature. To have faith in Christ as redeemer is necessary to salvation but to experience the full freedom which our Lord suffered death to give us requires a yielding to the Holy Spirit of the whole person (so far as one understands how to do that at any given moment); the Spirit will cleanse and set us apart for holiness and teach us how to abide in the Vine.
We have in the example of David a model for how to proceed in our lives and in our decision-making. Seek the Lord for guidance and then obey fully and specifically what we are given to know to do. Only when the Lord’s armies go before us to battle against the evil spirits who seek to destroy God’s children can we hope to have victory in our service to bring the Lord’s freedom to others. And we can only expect to experience God’s freedom ourselves in this life if we are actually obeying him in sincerity of heart according to our understanding of his will. His grace covers us. The power of the blood of Christ is our hope; in Christ is salvation of the whole human being.