As we return to 2 Samuel, we find David beginning to secure that national stability that God had said must come before the building of the temple. God already has given him “rest” from his enemies (7:1), meaning that they are beaten back so that they no longer threaten Israel’s very survival. But the enemies are still there, and they are occupying territory God promised to Abraham and his descendants (Gen. 15:18; Josh. 1:4). Therefore, David “now has commission given him to make war upon them, and to act offensively for the avenging of Israel’s quarrels and the recovery of their rights; for as yet they were not in full possession of that country to which by the promise of God they were entitled,” Matthew Henry writes in his commentary.
First, David attacks and subjects the Philistines, long Israel’s main thorn in the flesh. He takes a place called “Metheg Ammah” (literally “The Bridle of the Mother City”). First Chronicles 18:1 says he takes Gath and its villages, so perhaps this somehow refers to the Philistine capitals. Next he turns his attention to Moab, though it is not clear why—he was on good terms with Moab in 1 Samuel 22:3. He apparently kills two-thirds of the peoples and lets the other third live as tributaries. Such they will remain until Moab rebels after the death of King Ahab (2 Kings 3:5).
After that, pressing his claim to the lands stretching to the Euphrates River, David moves north and defeats the king of Zobah. He takes a thousand chariots, seven hundred horsemen (or seven thousand, 1 Chron. 18:4), and twenty thousand soldiers. But David hamstrings most of the horses to make them lame, obeying God’s command that the king not put his trust in horses but in God (Deut. 17:16). When the Syrians of Damascus come to help Zobah, David defeats them, too, killing twenty-seven thousand. Further, he captures shields of gold carried by the Syrian king’s servants, as well as a large amount of bronze from other Syrian cities. This precious metal he sets aside, probably for use in the temple. He then seals his triumph by setting up a garrison in Damascus, forcing the Syrians to bring tribute.
Suddenly, David is much, much stronger. But our text leaves no doubt as to the reason for his success. It is because “the Lord preserved David wherever he went.”