When the Philistines heard that David had been anointed king over Israel, they went up in full force to search for him, but David heard about it and went down to the stronghold. Now the Philistines had come and spread out in the Valley of Rephaim; so David inquired of the Lord , “Shall I go and attack the Philistines? Will you deliver them into my hands?” The Lord answered him, “Go, for I will surely deliver the Philistines into your hands.” So David went to Baal Perazim, and there he defeated them. He said, “As waters break out, the Lord has broken out against my enemies before me.” So that place was called Baal Perazim. The Philistines abandoned their idols there, and David and his men carried them off. – 2 Samuel 5:17-21
When I was in elementary school we had a forested area to roam in during our recess times. Recess for me was a wondrous break from the confines of the classroom. I was a little ADHD when I was a kid…OK I still am a bit ADHD but I have learned to cope. My mother used to tell a story about my first grade teacher’s frustration at this little bundle of activity in her classroom that would stand on his head during story time….I have no idea who she was talking about….but I was always more comfortable listening upside down.
Anyway the playground was a bastion for busy little beavers and we did our best, with the 30 minutes we had during recess, to dominate and transform our world. This included creating epic dams across a drainage ditch that traversed the playground made of rocks, sticks, clumps of grass, and leaves. Some of these dams were taller than we were, which was not that tall, but probably over three feet. The highlight was when the bell rang and we got to “free the river” and watch the havoc we could cause by letting the “waters break out”.
I am pretty sure this is not what David had in mind when he used this phrase to describe God. So what did he mean and what does it tell us about God’s nature? I do not recall this particular language being used to describe God up to this point in the bible. Water breaking out could have many levels of meaning, but anyone who has ever tried to dam up water knows that it has a way of finding the weaknesses in any structure. Water with enough force can even cause concrete to corrode and break apart.
David was clearly paying God a complement when he described Him “breaking out like water” — uncontrollable – in a good way. At this point in time David really seems to get it. God is God and we are not. We can attempt to build all the dams and diversions we want but they will not contain God if He chooses to break out like water. This is both humbling and horrifying.
One approach to staying out of God’s way is to try to ignore Him altogether. This is the path that atheists have chosen. This can work for a time, but one day even atheists can find themselves careening down a river impossible to ignore. Another approach is to acknowledge God’s existence but run like heck at the first sight of high water. This is the path that agnostics have chosen, and the path I chose for a time in college. The tricky thing about running from God, or water, is that we do not always know which way to run. God always seems to find a way to break through our stubborn skin of sophistry.
Another path is that chosen by David and Christ followers, which is to acknowledge God’s power and do our best to work with the “Mighty River” rather than against Him. Allow His Holy Spirit to shape our souls like islands sculpted by a glacier.
Prayer: God may we celebrate when your waters break forth in our lives rather than run from, or ignore, them.