“And the Philistines came up yet again, and spread themselves in the valley of Rephaim. And when David enquired 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. “And 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.”-2 SAM. V, 22-24.
THE frequency with which we meet with the Philistines imports that they are intended to represent principles which largely trouble the spiritual Israel. The Philistines were the foes which infested the twelve tribes in the days of Samuel. If we read a chapter of the history of Saul, it is still the Philistines who mainly harass and vex the Israelites: and in the history of David it is again the Philistines who appear, and turn the fair abodes of a peaceful land into a theatre for the horrid scenes of war. When we recollect that the divine history, though a record of what really took place among the nations of Palestine, is representative of Christian life, we cannot fail to perceive that the Philistines must represent states and feelings which are extremely troublesome to the Christian. And indeed, though a quarrelsome Christian is a contradiction in terms, yet there is in everyone so much of what is selfish, that it engenders incessantly states of vexation and trouble, states of envy and animosity states of spiritual pride, which take pleasure in the faults of others, and view their feelings with ill-concealed satisfaction. These states, when they are indulged and allowed to go forth, make the unpleasant neighbour and troublesome man: when they are resisted and overcome, they still give so much of worry and anxiety as to induce at times in the sincere Christian the deeply-felt exclamation, “0 wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death!”
The true Christian is a man of love, of meekness; never unkind, never condemnatory, considerate to human weakness, though a firm upholder of the right, true to virtue, but gentle and amiable in mind and manner, slow to believe ill of anyone, a friend of reconciliation, a man of usefulness and peace. The beautiful definition of charity by the apostle is the definition of the genuine Christian, the Israelite indeed. “Charity suffereth long and is kind: charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil: rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth: beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things: charity never faileth.” He who is in charity is a Christian-one of the Israel of God. He who is not in charity is not a Christian but if he has Christian knowledge and is quarrelsome, he is a Philistine, an enemy of God, and a foe to Israel. Yet how much of the Philistine there is in all! How often will swarms of unkind thoughts and fault-finding dispositions spread themselves in the mind. We may abhor them, and repel them from time to time but they come again, and again seek to possess us with hard thoughts of others, and a depreciation of all around us. We know this is wrong, yet instead of lifting ourselves to high and holy themes by supplying our minds with wholesome reading and solid reflection, we are often oppressed by our Philistines once more. These are the states represented by the Philistines coming and spreading themselves out in the valley of Rephaim.
The valley of Rephaim was so-called from its having been the abode of a race of terrible giants in ancient times. These are alluded to in Deuteronomy; “The Emims dwelt therein in times past, a people great and many, and tall as the Anakim who also were accounted giants (Rephaim) as the Anakim: but the Moabites called them Emim (ii. 10, 11). The Rephaim are also alluded to in several places of Scripture, the word being, in the common view, translated “the dead.” As in Isaiah, “Hell from beneath is moved for thee, to meet thee at thy coming: it stirreth up the dead (Rephaim) for thee, even all the chief ones of the earth; it hath raised up from their thrones all the kings of the nations. All they shall speak and say unto thee, Art thou also become weak as we? art thou become like unto us?” (xiv. 9, 10). Again, “They are dead, they shall not live, they are deceased (Rephaim), they shall not rise; therefore hast thou visited and destroyed them, and made all their memory to perish (xxvi. 14). The valley of the Rephaim, then, was the former abode of the old gigantic races, who were terrible alike for their wickedness and their size.
Spiritually considered, the valley of the Rephaim would represent that region of the soul where old lusts had their abode. The passions which ruled in former times are, of course when a man has become religious, put down by repentance, and thus, like slain giants, are dead and buried. But is there not something solemnly suggestive in the intimation that the Philistines spread themselves out in the valley of the Rephaim? May it not be that a man who was once notorious for outward violence, and who has renounced this at the voice of religion, may in his later career have a tendency to vex and harass others by mental strife? He no longer afflicts men’s bodies, but he has a tendency wofully to afflict their souls. His Philistines spread themselves out in the valley of Rephaim. May it not be that the man, once greedy of unlawful gain, when this is no longer considered allowable, may have a tendency to be greedy of knowledge, or of applause, not from the love of usefulness, but from the love of self? His Philistines would spread themselves out in the valley of Rephaim. We should ever be aware of the possibility of having still to deal with the old man, only under a new face. The Philistines will spread themselves out, if they can, in the valley of Rephaim.
David’s hearing of the invasion by the Philistines, and inquiring of the Lord, represents the perception and anxiety of the spiritual man at the presence of evil feelings. The Lord’s answer, “Thou shalt not go up, but go round, and come behind them, over against the mulberry trees,” represents the teaching of Divine Wisdom as to how these worrying and offensive feelings may best be overcome. Generally, when we are harassed by the presence of evil thoughts and impulses, we are wishful to exterminate them at once. We would like to make short work of them, We are of the same mind as Luther, when he said, if sin were in his coat, he would soon change it, if it were in his hat, he would quickly get a new one: but the change of soul is not thus rapidly to be made. We do not know our inner constitutions, nor our mysterious connections with other spiritual beings, in this wondrous framework of the universe. The Lord, who knows all things, works wonderfully within us, when we are obedient to His Divine counsels; He requires of us patience and submissive waiting, and then all will be well. This was exemplified in His directions to the Israelites when they left Egypt. ” He led them about, He instructed them, He kept them as the apple of his eye” (Deut. xxxii. 10). It is ever so. If we wait patiently on the Lord, He inclines to us, and hears our cry, and brings us out of the horrible pit (Psa. xl. 1, 2). But we must not go as we wish, straight up. We must enter into reflections, and meditate upon the subject and come round it, over against what is meant by the mulberry trees.
To appreciate the Divine lesson intended by their coming out over against the mulberry trees, we must bear in mind that trees are symbols of principles of thought and perception, grown up and expanded in the mind. The seeds of all true principles on religious subjects are contained in the knowledge stored up in the Word. “The seed,” our Lord said, “is the Word of God” (Luke viii. 11). The seeds of Divine instruction are as varied and as multiplied as the seeds of earthly plants. Some are seeds of herbs, some of flowers, some of timber-trees, and some of fruit-trees. There are principles of greater and of less importance to furnish and complete our spiritual state; but the Lord’s will is that the soul should become a little paradise, or as expressed in Isaiah, a watered garden. “And the Lord shall guide thee continually; and satisfy thy soul in drought, and make fat thy bones: and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not ” (lviii. 11). The parable of the trees (Judges ix.) is a lesson of Divine Wisdom leading us to understand the excellency of different principles, according to their specific qualities. The olive represents the highest celestial wisdom, and that tree’s refusal to leave its oil and reign, expresses the quality of that exalted principle, which is TO BLESS, but not to rule. The vine represents the principle of faith, and its animating teachings are the wine which cheers both God and man. These strengthen and direct, but also have no desire to rule. The fig-tree represents the principle which teaches the natural good that ought to be done, and done to benefit others, not to acquire selfish influence, or to gratify the lust of ruling. Each of these trees, with its specific nature, represents a specific principle, and so it is with the mulberry tree.
The mulberry tree seems to have an especial reference to the heart. Its leaves are heart-shaped. Its fruit seems like a little heart, and made up of still smaller hearts. The ripe mulberry is a delicious fruit, and the leaf supplies the proper food of the silk-worm, from which that soft and splendid article of dress, so esteemed in the world, is obtained. The mulberry tree, then, would seem to be the tree of tender sentiment: the principle that teaches the infinite pity of Divine Mercy, and would lead us to be very pitiful to others.
The tree is, as it were, full of hearts, leaf and fruit. And if we have learned how’ the Divine Tenderness of the Lord regards us, and spares, excuses, forgives, helps, and perfects us by love, we are induced to be kind and tender too. Mulberry trees grow up within us. It had a sad influence in the world when men in the Middle Ages, owing to the Gospel being gradually laid aside for human tradition, taught once more the doctrine of a stern and dreadful God. Then came wars in the name of Christ. Persecutions and crusades for their Christ no longer the All-Merciful Saviour, but a God their own dark fancies had made, like themselves. There were few mulberry trees grown then. But since the Word has happily again been set free, and multiplied by millions, and studied and loved the trees of righteousness, the branches of the planting of Jehovah (Isa. lxi. 3) are plenteously to be met with again.
Again, we have learned that the Divine Love pities and forgives, without money and without price. “The Lord is good to all, and His tender mercies are over all His works” (Ps. cxlv. 9). “O give thanks unto the Lord for He is good: for His mercy endureth for ever (Ps. cxxxvi. 1). In His love and in His pity He redeemed us (Isa. lxiii. 9). The Divine Creditor had two debtors; one owed Him five hundred pence and the other fifty; and when they had nothing to pay, He freely forgave them both (Luke vii. 41, 42). The Lord’s mercy extends from the highest heaven to the lowest hell, and our mercy should go out to all. What are we that we should be strict to mark, and keen to punish, we to whom the Lord has been so tender and so sparing? Peter asked of the Saviour how often he should forgive his brother, until seven times? And Jesus replied, “I say unto thee not until seven times but until seventy times seven.” Our mulberry trees should be well grown both in leaf and fruit; or in other words, our thoughts should be full of tenderness of heart, and our deeds full of tenderness of heart.We should have a full grove of them, and then when the Philistines show themselves, and we are tempted to think hardly of others, to worry and to vex them, to be disputatious and quarrelsome, ready to reprobate and condemn, swift to discover, and apt to magnify faults in all around us, the Lord will say to us, “Just come round, and come out over against the mulberry trees, and listen.” All around amongst the mulberry trees the air will seem to be full of lessons of peace and pity. The leaves will tremble with tenderness, and seem to say,
“O be kind to each other,
The night’s coming on:
When friend and when brother
Perchance may be gone.”
But many another lesson will be there, all breathing consideration and kindness. The evil are objects of pity, for they always injure and pain themselves more than they can affect anyone else. Others they can injure temporarily, but they eternally injure themselves. The temporary injuries, too, which the evil are permitted to inflict, are overruled to the real welfare of the good. Joseph was sent to Egypt in bitter circumstances, but it was the means of elevation to highest dignity, and uses of the widest character.
To return then good for evil is not only most Christian but most rational. It may benefit the evil-doer; but it will certainly benefit the doer of good. Besides, we know very little. Much of what seems evil to us may be only the result of misconception and mistake. We see a person limp, but we do not know how the shoe pinches his foot. The proper course is therefore to strive for the best, to make every allowance, and to hope for the best. When we act, if there be good within the object of our care, it will be drawn forth; if there be not, we shall not have injured ourselves by harsh feeling. When therefore the Philistines of harsh feeling, of animosities and condemnations come out and spread themselves out in the Valley of Rephaim, do not go right at them, and begin to quarrel, by quarreling with the quarrelsome, in the vain hope of wrangling them out of their quarrelsomeness, but quietly get behind the whole state, and come out over against the mulberry trees of calm charity and loving gentleness, and listen for the going forth of the Lord,
“Did we the sighs we vainly spend,
To heaven in supplications send;
Our cheerful song would oftener be,
Hear what the Lord hath done for me.”
The sound of a going in the tops of the mulberry trees means illustration and influx from the Lord. When we seek the divine guidance, in a spirit of charity, there is a sweet flowing in from the Lord, full of mercy and full of peace.
Nor must we forget the last use of the mulberry leaves; their transformation by passing through the bodies of the little worms which feed upon them, into that glossy silk which furnishes robes of soft and delicate beauty. They are not wrought gold, but they are little behind it in splendour or in worth. Those silken robes are the emblems of the robes of righteousness the spiritually-minded wear, when they have brought the sweet sentiments of charity through the humble uses of daily practical life to become entirely their own. They have lived the life of angels, they have clothed themselves with the thoughts of angels, and they will shine with the blessed beauty of angels, in which hope, love, gentleness and intelligence will be the symbols in the raiment they wear of the graces possessed within.
But we must also bestir ourselves, when we feel the divine influx directing and impelling. The Lord is operating, we must co-operate. All that is externally required we must supply. The Lord supplies the power, we must supply the means. The favouring breeze has come, we must guide the ship, and so divine aid and human freedom will go hand in hand together.
All. harsh blame, all ill-feeling, uncharitableness and enmities, those Philistines of the soul, then fade away and perish. The whole scene alters from top to bottom, from Geba to Gazer. It is like sunshine dispersing a mass of thunder-clouds. .It is the descent of heaven into the soul. The Lord has dissolved and driven out the host of the Philistines, and all is well. David had very little trouble with the Philistines after this. And if the Christian would always so act, very soon all jarring discord would cease among brethren, and a thousand charities would replace the clangour of quarrel.
One of the most lamentable traits of a shallow Christianity is the. tendency to quarrel about trifles. Not only do nominal Christians differ about differing views of doctrine, or differing modes of expressing the same doctrine, but about things far less serious, about slight changes of form, seeking change when it is known that it would lead to strife for no important end, and for looks, and trifles light as air. But this is Philistinism, it is not Christianity. The Lord Jesus is the Prince of Peace. Of His dominion and peace there should be no end. Heaven is the habitation of peace. The true Christian will make for peace; and if he must fight, he will fight against the tendencies to quarrel in himself. The calmest man will have many a severe battle within, but the results alone will be observed byothers, in steady and courteous tranquility. When he feels himself assailed, he will wait, if need be, until he is perfectly calm. He will never reply in anger. He will come round by the mulberry trees, and regard everything in the most charitable spirit, co-operating in all things with the Lord. Thus the Philistines will cease to harass, and his soul will be at rest.
Let us constantly take this lesson home, and strive against strife. Let us copy the example of the Lord Jesus, and never speak, however taunted, when to speak would increase anger. He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as the sheep before the shearers was dumb, so He opened not His mouth. So shall we, by this heavenly discipline of mind, attain that inestimable blessing–tranquility of soul; and though in the world we may still have tribulation, in the Lord Jesus we shall have peace. Thus will all the Philistines be driven out of our souls, and though we may have other work to do, and other blessings to attain, these wicked ones will cease from troubling, and David in us will have a tranquil land. Sometimes we suffer ourselves to enter into quarrels and excitement, because we fear if we do not speak then, our cause, and the cause of right, we assume, will be lost or suffer disadvantage. But this is a mistake. A good cause is always endangered by hurry and anger. The Lord will Himself sustain His righteous cause, and does not need our fretfulness and impatience to aid Him, Fret not thyself because of evil-doers, neither be thou envious against the workers of iniquity: for they shall soon be cut down like the grass, and wither as the green herb. Trust in the Lord, and do good, and thou shalt feed upon the truth. Delight thyself in the Lord, and He shall give thee the desires of thine heart. Thus will the Philistines perish, and David reign in peace.
Author: Jonathan Bayley