The Sound in the Mulberry Trees
Dr. Joe Temple

Introduction

We begin our reading today with verse 17 of II Samuel, chapter 5.

II Samuel 5

17But when the Philistines heard that they had anointed David king over Israel, all the Philistines came up to seek David; and David heard of it, and went down to the hold.
18The Philistines also came and spread themselves in the valley of Rephaim.
19And David inquired of the LORD, saying, Shall I go up to the Philistines? wilt thou deliver them into mine hand? And the LORD said unto David, Go up: for I will doubtless deliver the Philistines into thine hand.
20And David came to Baalperazim, and David smote them there, and said, The LORD hath broken forth upon mine enemies before me, as the breach of waters. Therefore he called the name of the place Baalperazim.
21And there they left their images, and David and his men burned them.
22And the Philistines came up yet again, and spread themselves in the valley of Rephaim.
23And when David inquired of the LORD, he said, Thou shalt not go up; but fetch a compass behind them, and come upon them over against the mulberry trees.
24And let it be, when thou hearest the sound of a going in the tops of the mulberry trees, that then thou shalt bestir thyself: for then shall the LORD go out before thee, to smite the host of the Philistines.
25And David did so, as the LORD had commanded him; and smote the Philistines from Geba until thou come to Gazer.

I would like for us to notice particularly the truth of verse 24 as it is related to the rest of the verses. Notice those words particularly:

II Samuel 5

24Let it be, when thou hearest the sound of a going in the tops of the mulberry trees, that then thou shalt bestir thyself: for then shall the LORD go out before thee, to smite the host of the Philistines.

I want to talk with you a little about the sound in the mulberry trees. Now, that may seem like a rather strange subject, but actually I am not going to preach to you today, and I'm not going to bring what we might ordinarily call a Bible exposition.

I want to talk to you a little out of my heart, because you will remember that some weeks ago I gave a you a verse of Scripture that God gave me as my year verse for this year, I Chronicles, chapter 4, verse 10, and I encouraged you to claim it as your year verse as well. Many of you did; perhaps all of you. You will remember that verse, I Chronicles 4:10:

I Chronicles 4

10And Jabez called on the God of Israel, saying, Oh that thou wouldest bless me indeed, and enlarge my coast, and that thine hand might be with me, and that thou wouldest keep me from evil that it may not grieve me! [Then the added sentence] And God granted him all that he requested.

When God gives me a verse of Scripture such as that, I spend a great deal of time in prayer about it, asking God to teach me the verse–not just the words. As a matter of fact, I memorize the Scripture very, very poorly, and I quote it even worse. So I am not talking about memorizing the Word, but I'm asking God to teach me the verse, to help me learn everything that I ought to know about it and with it and through it.

In doing so, God quite often offers to my mind other verses of Scripture for meditation, that I may know the truth related to the original verse. For quite some time He has drawn my attention to the passage of Scripture which I have read today. He has led my mind along the pathway of meditation in relation to this verse, and I want to pass on to you today some of the things which the Lord has taught me. Now, these things will not be new to most of you, I suppose; but there may be some reminders of things about which as the children of God we are prone to become careless.

David's Defeat of the Philistines

Before we meditate on the verse, it would be well for us to know a little bit about the background. Glancing at the chapter, you will see immediately that David had at last been recognized by a few people as king of Israel. He had been anointed a long time before by God, but men would not have what God wanted.

Finally the descendants of Saul had died, and Israel was without a man on the throne. Two tribes had accepted David; the others had not. But in this chapter at which we are looking today, the rest of Israel came to where he was at Hebron, and said, “David, we want you to be king over us.” So David was recognized as king. Hiram, the king of Tyre, sent his good wishes and offered to build a house for David. David accepted the offer and the palace was built.

The Philistines, who hated the Israelites, did not send any good wishes, but rather they said, “We are not going to put up with this. The best thing to do is to nip this thing in the bud. We had better make an attack before David has all of his forces consolidated. We'd better make an attack before David is thoroughly entrenched as king of Israel.”

When we read the paragraph which begins with verse 17, we notice that when the Philistines heard that they had anointed David king over Israel, they all come up to seek David. David heard of it; he went down to the hold. Literally, it means that he went into his fort, into his stronghold; he was going to see what needed to be done before he went out against the Philistines.

The Philistines came and spread themselves in the valley of Rephaim in verse 18. They waited to see what David was going to do. What do you think David did? He didn't take out his army. He didn't get his sword, his spear, and his horsemen. He got alone with God, and in verse 19 he said, “God, should I go up to the Philistines? Should I? Wilt Thou deliver them into my hand? Lord, shall I go? If I do go, are You going to let me win the victory?” And God said to David, “Go up for I will doubtless deliver the Philistines into your hand.”

As we glance at the next verse, we see that is exactly what happened. He went up against the Philistines, and the Philistines were utterly defeated. They had carried their gods into battle with them, according to verse 21, because they thought their gods would give them victory; but when they were defeated, their gods were too heavy to carry with them, so they said, “Fellows, you shift for yourselves; we are leaving.” And they left all their stone images, all their wooden images, on the battlefield. David and his men destroyed them by fire, according to the Word of the Lord.

Return of the Philistines to Battle

But the Philistines were die-hards. They weren't going to give up so easily. So, in verse 22:

II Samuel 5

22And the Philistines came up yet again, and spread themselves in the valley of Rephaim.

What did David do? Well, had David been like a lot of us, he would have said, “Well, I licked those fellows once; I can lick them again. Let's go, boys.” But He didn't. Do you know what he did? He went back down in his stronghold of prayer, and he inquired of the Lord. He said, “Lord, the Philistines are out there again. What ought I to do about it?” It is kind of silly, isn't it, to be bothering God with a thing like that? They were his enemies, weren't they? Why didn't he just go ahead and knock them in the head and get it over with? But He didn't. “Lord,” he said, “shall I go out and do battle against them?”

Now, if David had been like a lot of us, he would have been putting on his armor while he was praying because he would have known what the answer would be. And had he, he would have been surprised, because you will notice in verse 23 that God said, “No, don't go up.” “But, Lord, I did the last time.” “Well, maybe you did the last time, but don't go up now. Don't go up!” “Well, all right, Lord, You don't want me to go up. What do You want me to do?” God said, “I want you to fetch a compass behind them.”

Now, that is a rather involved phrase, and we would hardly know what it meant unless we dug down into it; but what He meant was, “I want you to retreat.” That is what He said. “I want you to retreat, and I want you to go down there back of that clump of mulberry trees, and I want you to stay completely out of sight.” Had David been like a lot of us, he would have said, “Lord, why retreat? I've got them in the palm of my hand.” But God said, “That is what I want you to do. Fetch a compass. Go down by the mulberry trees and be absolutely quiet.”

David Responds to God's Direction

And then the words of our text were given to David. He said:

II Samuel 5

24And let it be, when thou hearest the sound of a going [of something moving] in the tops of the mulberry trees, that then thou shalt bestir thyself: for then shall the LORD go out before thee, to smite the host of the Philistines.

David and his men did as God told them; they went down back of the clump of mulberry trees and lay very quietly waiting, and suddenly they heard a noise in the tops of the mulberry trees. And David said, “Let's go, Fellows.” And out they went. The Philistines were delivered into their hands. Do you know why? Because God had gone before them, that's why.

Seek God's Will About His Will

Now that's the story. I think we can pretty well understand it, and so I would like for you to notice with me very briefly some of the lessons that God has been teaching me as I have been meditating on this passage of Scripture. As I said to you, some of these things will not be new, but they are reminders to us because we can become terribly careless sometimes in our relationship to God, taking so much for granted.

The first lesson that God impressed upon my mind is that it is important always to seek God's will in relation to His will. Now, let me say that for you again because I want you to get it. This is exceedingly important. It is necessary for us to seek God's will in relation to His will.

What do I mean by that? Well, if you read the promise of God to the Israelites concerning the Philistines elsewhere in the Word of God, you will know that it was God's will for the Philistines to be defeated. There was absolutely no question about that. It was God's will for the Philistines to be defeated, and David could well have gone out to battle against the Philistines without praying about it on the pure assumption that it was God's will for the Philistines to die. It was God's will for the Philistines to be defeated. He could have said, “Why, you know it is God's will. What's the use of praying about something that is God's will?”

I have heard that many times, and I dare say that I have been guilty of saying the same thing. What's the use of praying about something that you know is God's will? If it is God's will for the Philistines to be defeated, go defeat them. Why worry God about it?

Listen; though it is God's will for the Philistines to be defeated, it is not always God's will for you to defeat them. And it is not always God's will for you to defeat them in the valley of Rephaim. He may want them defeated somewhere else.

It behooves every child of God to seek God's will about His will. For example, it is God's will for all the world to hear the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. You might read that passage of Scripture and say, “God wants me to be a missionary, so I am going to go be a missionary,” and you just up and go. And you come home utterly disappointed and disillusioned, and many times you wonder if God meant what He said.

You see what happened? You forgot to pray about His will. Yes, it's God's will for the world to hear the story of Christ, but does He want *ULyou*UL to go? Maybe He wants you to make it possible for someone else to go. Is it God's will for you to go there? Maybe He wants you to go over here. You must pray about His will in relation to His will.

Now, time will not permit me to give additional illustrations, but let me suggest this to you in relation to the verse that God has given me and that I entrust to you: “Oh that thou wouldest enlarge our coasts.” It is God's will to enlarge our coasts, but we must pray about that will. Is it God's will to enlarge our coasts through this means, that means, or another means? Through this group or through an individual? Is it God's will to do it in my way, or is it God's will to do it in a way that I have not even thought about?

You see, it is not enough just to pray, “Oh God, enlarge my coasts.” It is necessary for us to say, “Lord, shall I go up against the Philistines? Wilt Thou give them into my hands?” We must take God's will in relation to His will..bp

Changes In God's Will for Individuals

The second lesson God taught me from this passage of Scripture as I have meditated upon it is that we must not assume that what is God's will today is necessarily God's will tomorrow. Will you notice that again? We must not assume that what is God's will today is necessarily His will tomorrow. It may not be, and we must not presume upon God by jumping ahead of God, assuming that something is His will that is not His will.

We touched upon this a moment ago when we said that the second time the Philistines gathered in the valley of Rehaim, David said, in verse 23, “Lord, shall I go up?” It was God's will yesterday; why shouldn't it be God's will today? God may have a different purpose, a different plan today. You make a very grave mistake as a child of God if you try to find out God's will in one simple little decision that will govern everything that you will do for the rest of your days.

Now, I'm quite sure that people will not all agree with the statement that I am going to make; some of you may. I'm quite sure that many people wouldn't. In regard to missionaries who are serving on the mission field (and this is but an illustration), I have counselled with a number of missionaries through the years who are weighted down with the responsibility of going back to the mission field when many things speak out against their going back; they are afraid not to go back for fear someone will think they are remiss in their duties or that they have grown cold and indifferent or that they are out of the will of God.

I have said to such people, “Only God can lead you, but I am not at all convinced that because God wanted you to be a missionary for this term, He necessarily wants you to be a missionary for the rest of your life.” Using the term as we ordinarily do, forgetting for the moment that all of us ought to be missionaries, for the Bible doesn't know anything about foreign mission work, I'm not at all sure that because God calls a man to do something right now, He wants him to do that for the rest of his life. He may have another plan. He may have another purpose.

The main thing I want you to get is that the streams of providence, as an ancient man said, do not always run in a continuous course. Sometimes God interrupts His own plan. Sometimes God interrupts His own program. Sometimes God says, “Don't go.”

David said, “Lord, shall I go up against the Philistines?” And God said, “No. Don't go.”

The Appearance of Retreat

The third thing that God has taught me regarding my meditation on this passage of Scripture is that sometimes to follow God's direction will appear to others as retreat and even as foolishness. Let me say that for you again. I want you to get it. Sometimes to follow God's direction will appear to others as retreat or even as foolishness.

David had a lot of advisers and counselors; everyone does, and kings especially did. I'm quite sure that after David had consulted with the Lord and the Lord said, “David, don't go up, but rather retreat. Fetch a compass. Go down yonder by the mulberry trees,” I'm quite sure that David's counselors said to him, “King, this is foolishness. Here we have them right at our fingertips. Why don't we pursue our advantage? Why don't we wipe them out? Why are you doing a foolish thing like going down by that clump of mulberry trees?”

If you wait upon the Lord, you will find that quite often the Lord directs you to go down by the mulberry trees. It will seem like a very foolish thing to everyone that knows you, and they'll even think that you are surrendering some of your convictions. They'll even think that you are going back on the Lord because they don't understand the ministry of God in the mulberry trees, and you must learn it. Some of them will even accuse you of being a coward, of being afraid to stop out on faith, of being afraid of going on with God; but you are going to have to learn that if you are the recipient of the ministry of the mulberry trees, you can't listen to the voice of men. You have to listen to the voice of God. That is not always easy to do.

Illustration of Philip

I think about a man by the name of Philip; the incident is recorded in chapter 8 of the book of Acts. Philip was in a revival in the city of Samaria that was sweeping the whole city toward God. Any city-wide revival that any modern evangelist like Billy Graham or any of the outstanding evangelists have had was a drop in the bucket compared with that revival that Philip was having. It was tremendous, but Philip knew to seek the mind of God.

One day he said, “Now God, what shall I do tomorrow?” Philip, you fool, why are you asking God what you should do tomorrow? You've got a meeting going on. Preach. What do you think you are supposed to do? But Philip asked, “What shall I do?” And God said, “Philip, I want you to go down to the desert. I want you to leave this meeting and go down to the desert.”

Philip called his men together and said, “I'm leaving tomorrow. God wants me to go.” “But, Philip, you can't do it. We're having a meeting. It is advertised. Everyone is coming out. You can't do it; that's silly; that's foolish. Don't dare.” But Philip said, “I can't help it. God said that I've got to go, and I've got to go.”

They talked about that old fool Philip. Here he had the chance of a lifetime, and he left the chance of a lifetime to do a silly thing. They said, “But you know, Philip has always been emotional. He has always been a fellow that prayed too much. When a fellow prays too much, he gets too emotional, and you can't ever tell what he's going to do. You have to watch fellows like that.”

But Philip didn't mind. He went on down to the desert, and you know what happened. There was an Ethiopian eunuch reading his Bible and no one there to tell him what it meant. Philip told him what it meant, and the Ethiopian eunuch was saved; and the reason Ethiopia is open to the Gospel today as few African countries are is the work of Philip on that day.

You see, it looked like a retreat; it looked like foolishness, but Philip was open to the direction of God. That leads me to another thing that I want to say to you, and that is that sometimes it is wiser to stand by the mulberry trees than to bestir yourself to action. How often people say, “Why in the world don't you do something? Don't just stand there. Do something.” I'm sure they said it to David. “David, what in the world are you hiding behind these trees for? There they are. Look. They don't even know anything is going to happen to them. Do something.” David said, “No; God said, 'Don't go do it,' and I'm going to stand right here.”

The Israelites had another experience like that. They were ready to cross the sea. The Egyptians were behind them and the sea in front of them, and what in the world do you think God told Moses to do? You see, Moses didn't take things for granted either. Any fool would have known that if an army is approaching you and there is a sea in front of you, you'd better dig in tight. What else is there to do? Any fool would know that.

But Moses said, “Lord, what do You want me to do?” I'm sure that people criticized Moses for wasting time in prayer. I'm sure they said, “Moses, what in the world are you praying for? Why don't you dig a trench?” I'm sure they did, but God said, “Moses, stand still. Don't do anything. Stand still and thou shall see the salvation of the Lord.” I believe that it took all the grace of which Moses was capable to stand still. I'm sure he wanted to dig a trench; he was just as scared as anyone else, but he stood still, and God provided that salvation.

If you are going to learn to stand by the mulberry trees, I want to pass on to you three things which God has impressed upon my heart that are absolute necessities. Now, you can die and go to Heaven without learning this ministry of the mulberry trees. You can die and go to Heaven without bothering to ask God's will about anything, but you are going to miss a tremendous blessing if you don't learn the ministry of the mulberry trees.

Implicit Confidence In God and His Word

If you are going to stand by the mulberry trees, there must, first of all, be an implicit confidence in God and His Word. You are going to have to believe that God meant what He said; and if you have people come around and say, “Oh, God couldn't have meant that,” you are going to have to stand firm in your faith and say, “But God did mean it.” If people come around and say, “Oh, you must be mistaken. Surely you are mistaken.” If you have been down in the stronghold of prayer as David was, you're going to have to smile very sweetly and say, “But God means it, and I am going to believe God no matter what anyone says.”

If you haven't already learned this, you will learn it. Most people know far more about God's will for your life than they do about God's will for their own lives. If they spent as much time trying to learn God's will for their lives as they think they know about God's will for your life, they would be a whole lot better off.

You have to believe God. Believe Him no matter what anyone says. You have to believe God no matter what the circumstances are. You have to believe God no matter how things look.

A Sensitive Ear

There is a second thing. If you stand by the mulberry trees, you must not only have implicit confidence in God and His word, but you must have a sensitive ear. The Bible calls it a spiritual ear. In the book of Revelation, several times over we are told, “He that hath an ear to hear, let him hear.” What is the spirit saying? What in the world is the point in talking to a man with two ears, what in the world is the point in saying to that man, “If you have an ear, listen?” “Of course, I've got two of them.” Well, we are not talking about those. We are talking about a spiritual ear. “He that hath an ear to hear, let him hear.”

The spirit is saying to the churches that we need a sensitive ear. If you stand by the mulberry trees, you are going to have to have a very sensitive ear, so sensitive that you can hear what people without spiritual ears can't hear.

Did you notice that the Philistines in the valley of Rephaim heard absolutely nothing? David heard the sound in the tops of the mulberry trees. David heard what they missed because his ear was tuned to God's wave length.

If those men in the valley of Rephaim had heard what David heard, they would have turned and run, because that sound in the tops of the mulberry trees was the sound of the Lord God of Hosts going up with His army to defeat the Philistines.

You see, the first time the Philistines were defeated, David did it. He took his shield and his spear and his swords, and he did it, and they ran. And David burned up their images.

But this time God said, “David, I want to do it. When you hear the sound of going in the tops of the mulberry trees, then you shall bestir yourself.”

If you will look at the last verse:

II Samuel 5

25And David did so, as the LORD had commanded him…

What did he do? Picked up the spoils. That is all there was for him to do. God had gone out before and won the victory.

We must learn to tune our ears to the right wave length so we can recognize the sound of going in the tops of the mulberry trees.

When Paul was on the road to Damascus, he heard a voice. Do you know what the other people with him heard? Thunder, that is all. Some of them didn't hear anything at all. They had an argument about it. Paul said, “A voice spoke to me.” Someone else said, “It did not. I didn't hear a thing.” Someone else said, “Well, I did hear some thunder,” but Paul heard a voice. That's the difference between a sensitive ear and an unspiritual ear. If you are going to stand by the mulberry trees, you have got to learn to listen for the sound, the sound of going in the tops of the mulberry trees.

I don't have time to make parallels. The sound of going in the tops of the mulberry trees could take for you many different forms, but you need a sensitive ear to listen to it.

Readiness to Follow the Directions

The third and last thing that I want you to notice with me, one which is essential if you are going to stand by the mulberry trees, is that there must be a readiness to follow what your ears hear. That is all involved in the word “bestir.”

The English word “bestir” is the translation of a very interesting Hebrew word that is translated several different ways in the Old Testament. It is translated “alert.” Are you alert? When you hear the sound of going in the mulberry trees, do you prick up your ears? Do they stand up in a point? Do you say, “All right, Lord, what next? Ready!” How many people, because they have not been alert to time, have missed God's opportunity!

The five foolish virgins were left out because they were not alert to time. This word “bestir” is the translation of the Hebrew word which is also translated “decide.” When you may have to be ready to make a decision whether you want to or not. That is the reason it is so important to have that sensitive ear. You are not going to have time to call a council meeting when you hear the sound of the noise in the trees. You have got to make your decision right then. There can be absolutely no doubt about it.

And this word–and this is very interesting to me–is also the translation of a word elsewhere translated by the phrase, “move your tongue.” Move your tongue. Sometimes, you know, God wants you to keep quiet; but sometimes when you hear the sound of going in the mulberry trees, He wants you to move your tongue right then–not a minute later, but right then. That's the reason it is so important to be alert.

I would like to say to you that it is a tragedy to go up unless God has already gone out. Those are the words of our text, for if you will look at verse 23, when David inquired of the Lord, He said, “Thou shalt not go up.” Then in verse 24, he said, “Then shall the Lord go out before thee, to smite the host of the Philistines.” God said, “David, don't go up until I've gone out. After I've gone out before you, then you can go up against the Philistines, for the battle is not yours, but Mine.”

Conclusion

I hope that you will learn to take a stand by the mulberry trees and to listen closely for the sound of going in the tops of the trees.


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