Skeptical seekers for truth tend to fall into one of two categories. We might call them the mystics and the mathematicians—those who seek supernatural signs they can see, hear, and touch, and those who want all their intellectual ducks in a row before they will believe anything. “Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom,” was how Paul saw it (1 Cor. 1:22). Both groups were evading the claims of God by insisting on “evidences” that would obviate any necessity for a living faith in the Lord, the Lord’s way. It was not as if they had not been given sufficient information, in terms of both the words and works of God.
In Jesus’ parable, the rich man wanted to send Lazarus back from the dead to warn his hell-raising brothers. Abraham responded, “They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them” (Luke 16:29). In other words, “No more arguments and evidences, no more miraculous wonders. You have plenty of both. Just listen to God’s Word and your soul will live” (see Isa. 55:3). Besides, “If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead” (Luke 16:31).
The Lord Who Speaks and Acts
The Bible’s faith is at once historical and supernatural, but it is neither relentlessly rationalistic nor monolithically mystical. Faith is, by its very nature, “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1). Faith responds to revealed truth, but likewise looks at “the things which are not seen” (2 Cor. 4:18). It listens to the Word of God and, as Paul says, welcomes it “not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which also effectively works in you who believe” (1 Thess. 2:13).
That said, God’s revealed will, as recorded in Scripture, is always presented with intellectual integrity. All of which brings us to 2 Samuel 5:24: “And it shall be when you hear the sound of marching in the tops of the mulberry trees, then you shall advance quickly. For then the Lord will go out before you to strike the camp of the Philistines.”
The Lord Who Preserves His People
Some eight years after Saul’s death, God had raised David to the kingship of a united Israel. The Philistines attempted to assert their hegemony over Israel (2 Sam. 5:17ff). David knew it was a test of his kingship and sought the Lord’s guidance and blessing. God gave him victory at Baal Perazim, but the Philistines mounted another thrust through the Valley of Rephaim. David “inquired of the Lord.” The Lord told him to outflank the enemy and take them in the rear “in front of the mulberry trees” (v. 23). And He gave him a sign to indicate the moment of attack—“the sound of marching in the tops of the mulberry trees” (v. 24).
There is more to this than mere tactical advice. It carries the obvious connotation that the God who gives the sound of marching in the tree-tops is Himself on the march in history.
- It is an assertion of God’s sovereignty: “He is a great King over all the earth,” and this calls us to “sing praises with understanding” (Ps. 47:2, 7).
- It is a seal on David’s kingly office; the Lord is with him as “a man after His own heart” (1 Sam. 13:14).
- It is a ratification of God’s covenant faithfulness: “He who keeps Israel” is watching over His people (Ps. 121:4).
- It is a promise of the power of the Spirit of God, reaching from Creation (Gen. 1:2) to Pentecost (Acts 2:2) and to the work of the Holy Spirit in the regeneration of sinners and the sanctification of believers (John 3:8; 14:26).
The Lord Who Gives New Life
This sign, uniquely given to David for a specific manifestation of God’s love for His people, remains through the Bible’s record as a sign forever of the Lord’s determination to keep “the Israel of God” in every time and circumstance (Gal 6:16). When David earlier praised the Lord for delivering him from Saul, he rhapsodized that “He flew upon the wings of the wind” (Ps. 18:10). The ordinary wind became to him a glorious creational reminder that his Creator-Redeemer was at work. When David announced the yet-future reign of Christ, he saw him on the march to victory: “He shall drink of the brook by the wayside; therefore He shall lift up the head” (Ps. 110:7).
The supernatural sign attached to that one victory for God’s people leaves a timeless echo of encouragement for the Christian in the wind and the trees. It points to the ongoing experience of “triumph in Christ” as the Gospel goes out into the world (2 Cor. 2:14) and as Christians expectantly look “for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13).
If we still have the sign of the sound of marching in the mulberry trees to strengthen our discipleship, we should not forget that Jesus has given us a vastly greater standing sign, a sign to end all sign-seeking—that of the “sign of Jonah.” Jesus tells us, “ ‘For as Jonah became a sign to the Ninevites, so also the Son of Man will be to this generation’ ” (Luke 11:30). He refers to His resurrection! He is risen! And this is the ultimate sign that all who are in Him by faith have everlasting life and will also rise from death to “bear the image of the heavenly Man,” the “Lord from heaven” (1 Cor. 15:47–49).