The primary mission of king David was to subdue the people that lived in and around the Promised Land so that the Israelites could live in peace. In the list of David’s military victories, the Philistines are listed first, probably because it was the most significant of all his accomplishments. It says in 2 Samuel 8, “that David smote the Philistines, and subdued them: and David took Metheg-annah out of the hand of the Philistines” (2 Samuel 8:1).
Metheg-annah was a metropolis that was a chief city, perhaps the capital of Philistia. Not doubt it was important to the Philistine culture and livelihood and could have been a critical link in trade and travel between other cities in the area. In order for David to take control of the Promised Land, he had to cripple the Philistines and diminish their influence in the region surrounding the Promised Land.
The word translated subdued, kâna‘ (kaw – nah´) is properly translated as “to bend the knee; hence to humiliate, vanquish” (3665). David did not convert the Philistines, but he brought them to the point where they realized that God was more powerful than they were and God was on the Israelites side whenever David fought against them, so the Philistines could not overcome the Israelites.
To bend the knee means to submit and it is often used to describe the humbling of enemies. Rather than killing all the Philistines, David probably chose to bring them into submission in order to establish his authority over the surrounding territories and to preserve the region’s economy.
David established military posts in Syria of Damascus and throughout all of Edom and the Syrians and people of Edom became David’s servants (2 Samuel 8:6,14). It says that, “the LORD preserved David withersoever he went” (2 Samuel 8:6,14) meaning David was safe and free to move around as he pleased, his enemies were no threat to him (3467).
David’s life before he became king and after the became king were a complete contrast. Before David became king, he spent many years running and hiding from his enemies, specifically king Saul. After David became king, he subdued powerful nations and cities that were a threat to him.
The difference was not due to David’s favor or lack of favor with God. David was close to the LORD throughout this time. The difference between David’s life before and after he became king was due to his position. As king of Israel, David was given God’s authority to rule over the Israelites and to subdue their enemies. The reason why David was successful militarily was because he exercised the authority that was given to him.