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THE world is old enough now to have laid by in store weapons upon whose quality and strength it can pronounce with the emphasis of experience. What occasion is there for us to try newfangled instruments of fantastic shape and unproven temper? Is there an old steel? Are there no historical swords? Are we left altogether without the spell of rousing memories? Are there yet amongst us swords whose touch is an inspiration, because they connect us with the heroisms and victories of other days? It appears from the context that David was flying from the face of Saul, that he came in his course to Nob to Ahimelech the priest, and made a statement of his case more or less correct. At the conclusion of the interview, David told the priest that he had no sword, and asked him for his assistance under these destitute circumstances. "And the priest said, The sword of Goliath the Philistine, whom thou slewest in the valley of Elah, behold, it is here wrapped in a cloth behind the ephod; if thou wilt take that, take it: for there is none other save that here." All the weapons of the enemy will one day fall into the hands of the Church, and great will be the slaughter in the name of the Lord. Goliath never dreamt of the destiny of his sword. It was Philistinian property, intended for Philistinian purposes, and lo! it was wrenched from his hand, and reddened with his own blood. It is so with all evil. It is always preparing a weapon for its own destruction, and twisting a rope for its own neck.
What a companion and friend would this sword be to David! How it would link him with events gone far away! How he would speak in pathetic soliloquy as he looked upon that sword! Would not old stains come upon it and say to him, "All that do wrong shall be put down, and every foul tyranny shall be slain and hidden in the dust, where no man can find it any more"? Would he not think of the call of Samuel, and of the anointing oil, and of the secret with which he had been entrusted; and as he regarded the sword that was in his hand, would not his soul feel the inspiration of a new impulse, would not his lips be opened in a new and tender prayer at the throne of the heavenly grace? It is even so with ourselves. We have old books in our libraries the very touch of which makes us young again; we have passages marked in books the very marking of which causes us to forget the years that have taken away aught of our strength, and rouses us to do, with the old prowess, the old and beautiful deeds. Blessed are they who are rich in memories, who can commune with old milestones on the road, and old stiles where they have lingered, and old trysting-places, and yellow old memories that have the keeping of life within their grasp. Are we living so as to lay up such memories? Or is our life just a superficial scramble, leaving behind us no footprints, no wayside marks, and never enriching our hearts with one recollection that can destroy time and make us young, as if we could draw upon eternity?
How ignoble a thing for Goliath to have been slain with his own sword! To have the weapon wrenched out of one's own hand, and thrust into one's own heart! Well might the eagle, on the poet's page, be made to mourn that out of its own breast had been taken the feather which caused the arrow to fly with a deadlier speed to drink the blood of its heart! It is always so. Whoever is doing wrong will be slain with his own sword; whoever is building upon false foundations will be "hoist with his own petard." You know the case of the minister who, speaking to his friends, in tones too solemn to be other than artificial and untrue, said to them, "Do not read Shakespeare; it is a waste of time to read the pages of such a writer; read other and better literature; else what an account will you be called upon to give when you go to that 'undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveller returns'!" Goliath slain with his own sword; and the minister quoting in the pulpit the very author against whose writings he was cautioning the young geniuses that waited upon his ministry!
We propose to treat this text with special reference to the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, and to contend that in all the conflicts of life there is none like it for routing the foe and adding victories to truth. "The word of the Lord is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart."
The Bible is a complete armoury, as we may read in the sixth chapter of Paul's Epistle to the Ephesians. We in these latter days have seen some curious specimens of cutlery. We have seen the boy with that wonderful thing in his hand of which he is so proud. He says, "That is the great blade for cutting wood and leather and hard substances; and this is a little blade for making pens and cutting pencils; and this is a lancet blade, and this is a bodkin, and this is a piercer of another kind, and this is a screw." And so he turns them all out under one haft. It is even so with this better haft. We can turn all sorts of blades out of it in every possible direction, and hold it up like a complete armoury. We now propose to do so, and to ask whether in all the equipments of life there is aught to be compared to the sword of the Lord.
There is none like it for variety of adaptation. We find in the word of God weapons that we can turn in every direction; weapons that suit every mood, and every combination of circumstances by which we are surrounded. We need not go out of the book for a single answer. Whatsoever may be the peculiar gift of mind or tongue, we find in the word of God without consulting any other author the precise answer to every difficulty, the right method of meeting every opposition, and the one true solace that can get into the heart and heal it with the succour which it needs. Sometimes it is needful to meet spiritual and intellectual opposition by the blade of irony. Behold, we have a blade in this book; for did not Elijah taunt the priests and worshippers of Baal, saying, "Cry aloud, for he is a god"? And may we not, following his example, mock, in many cases, those who with impotent rage are seeking to summon another god than the Jehovah of the universe to take the supreme seat in creation? Yet there are some people who do not understand what irony is.
As for argument, where can we find a blade more keenly argumentative? In the Holy Scriptures we have specimens of the keenest, most lucid and persistent reasoning that can be found within the bounds of all literature. And as for casuistry, cases of conscience which cannot be settled, the sword of the Lord is quick and powerful, piercing to the dividing asunder, getting into the most critical parts of our life, searching out the intents and purposes of the soul: not dealing with broad, general statements only, but dealing with the most subtle, recondite, difficult conditions and experiences of the heart. No man need have any difficulty in piercing any casuistical question to its very marrow, if he will only avail himself of the services of the sword of the Spirit. Then, if aught might be needed to ward off those who would give sorrow to the soul, enemies that would plague the heart with much difficulty, infuse into our troubled life much grief, there is no blade that can reach so far, and strike so keenly, and defend so completely, as the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
I would impress all young readers with the comprehensiveness of the Bible, with its universality of adaptation to all the circumstances and necessities of human life. We may be accused of boldness for making this statement, yet we assert it; for we fear a good many young people and others are going elsewhere for defence, instead of going into the sanctuary of the Lord, where the weapons of Heaven are provided in rich and exquisite profusion. Many men are going to hard books, to elaborate treatises, to severe arguments, conducted by uninspired genius, in the expectation of finding there the answer to some particular difficulty. Men are inquiring again and again, "What books can be recommended to meet certain classes of objections?" We recommend the word of God as the best answer to every objection that can be brought against it. Let the word of the Lord be the defence of the Lord. Let the Lord's own word be the answer to the suggestion of every devil and the seductiveness of every tempter. We find in the Book of God all we need, and we recommend those who are going elsewhere for weapons with which to fight the battles of life to turn back to the old armour set in order by the hand of the Living One himself.
There is none like it for ease of carriage. There are weapons that are very difficult to carry, but the sword of the Lord is not one of them. There are weapons of war very intricately constructed and very difficult of management, very cumbrous, and altogether oppressive; but the sword of the Lord does not belong to that class. Consider how little a book the Bible is, and regard that circumstance as one of the finest proofs of its presumptive inspiration and adaptation to the wants of man. Given the "Encyclopædia Britannica" as a work of inspiration for the guidance of men and who could have read it? Who could have got through its mile on mile of lettered stationery? Who could have comprehended its genius and its scope? Instead of the word of God being the largest book in the library, it is, in some respects, the smallest. "The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed;" "The kingdom of heaven is like to leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal." The word of the Lord is short as to extent, is compassable as to magnitude. Yet who can exhaust it? It is like some of our own monosyllables, pronounceable by the infantile tongue, inexhaustible by the most stupendous intellect. Take one word of the kind which is signified: the word love. A little child can say the word love, but is there an angel in heaven that has touched the shore of that sea? You can carry the word of the Lord in one hand; you can carry it in your smallest pocket, you can read it through from end to end, and keep the memory and all the intellectual and spiritual faculties in concentrated attention while you pass through the exercise. Have you ever tried this? Are we not in danger of snapping off little pieces of the sword and mistaking them for the whole weapon: of taking the mere filings of the steel, and complaining that the sword is without strength or edge? Take it as a whole; abide by it in its entirety; strike with the whole force of it. It is possible to do this, not in the letter, but in the spirit; and when a man wields the whole weapon, he never strikes but to kill the foe; he never puts out his hand but in omnipotent and complete defence.
There is none like it for universality of use. Children and sick persons can use it; the poorest man can avail himself of it; the busiest man may find a moment for its exercise. Are we wrong in mourning the disposition to take away the sword of the Spirit from the use of children? We should never exclude, directly or indirectly, by the law of the land, the Bible from the common schools of Britain. We would exclude the priest and the minister, and the dogmatic teacher, and the sectarian zealot, but never would we consent to have the Bible excluded. Let the Bible be there. Thomas Guthrie tells us that as soon as the children could put letters and syllables together in the elementary schools in Scotland they were turned into the Book of Proverbs; and he traces a great deal of the sagacity and strength of the Scottish character to this early training in that richest of all ethical and philosophical books. Says he, "Think of a child being put down to read such sentences as 'Tom has a dog,' 'The cat is here,' when he might be reading such words as 'God is love.' 'Train up a child in the way he should go'!" Do not take the Bible away from children, but do not make it a task-book. Do not gather around the memories of childhood any evil recollections regarding your severity in compelling them to commit to memory the sacred word. Make it the joy and privilege of their lives; show them how it is the richest of luxuries to be able to know what God has said, and to be able to quote God's wishes in God's own words.
The sick can use this sword of the Lord. It can be wielded in sighs, in broken expressions; it can be hinted at; it can be whispered; the weakest, frailest creature, just trembling on the edge of the grave, can use the sword of the Lord. And the poor man has a weapon which he can use. He is not learned; he cannot speak the language of many who assail his Christian faith; but let him speak a word from the heart, steadfastly and reverently, and in the long run he will slay Goliath with his own weapon, and be more than conqueror through him in whose word his heart has believed.
What sword must we have? It must be the sword of the Lord. There is none like that. It is one, it is simple, it is complete, it is sufficient; it has the testimony of ages written upon it. Who, then, says that he will take the sword of the Lord and fight the battles of life with that? Could the dead bear witness, in countless thousands they would say, with all the emphasis of infinitely varied experience, "There is none like it!" And they have tested many; they know one sword from another, the true steel from the false lead; and all history says in our hearing this day, "If you want a sword that can do execution, that has inspiration in its very touch, victory in its very steel, take the sword of the Lord, for there is none like it."
We have need of it. We have not the answer in ourselves; it is put into us by the breath of the Spirit of the Lord. Life is a war, a fierce and terrible fight. Some of us seem to have no rest night or day; we are besieged by the enemy; we are well-nigh overwhelmed by the foe. What is our defence? The sword of the living God. Let us take the sword of the Lord and of Gideon it smiteth down a host like one man, and cleaveth the banes of the mighty like straw; the helmet of brass is as a covering of ivy before it, and the breastplate of iron as a flimsy gauze Oh, dear, dear sword! The grand old veterans of other days have passed it on to us, and we, with added victories, ought to hand it on to generations yet to come. Every day the Bible seems to be newer, deeper, richer, mightier than ever it did before. It is the sum of all literature, the consummation of all genius, a repository of consolation, a solace of healing and redemption for all the ills and woes and griefs of this poor life. Blessed are they who have hidden this word in their innermost hearts.
"... detained before the Lord." 1 Samuel 21:7 .
Such words are to be used simply by way of accommodation, either for private meditation or for public preaching. There is a detention before the Lord that amounts to imprisonment, the accused having a sense of being arrested and charged at the bar of heaven. Men are detained before the Lord in various ways, as, for example, (a) by conscience, when some moral charge presses its claim upon us; ( b ) by gratitude, when we stand in the act of counting the divine mercies we have received, and numbering the divine blessings which surround us, our hearts all the while overflowing with a sense of thankfulness to the Giver of all good; ( c ) by religious contemplation, when wonder is excited at the greatness of the universe, when amazement seizes the mind because of the minuteness and beneficence of providence, when events so shape themselves as to prove superior to human direction, and yet to be tending in a course filled with blessedness to the human family; ( d ) by loving and exultant devotion, as when the heart is bowed down with pure emotion, and the soul is lifted up in high and unselfish expectation because of the conscious nearness of God and his evident willingness to create for himself an opportunity in our life that he may enlarge all his former gifts in one supreme blessing. Then there is a detention before the Lord that involves the exercise of patience; we do not get an answer so soon as we want it; we think we have an urgent petition, demanding an instantaneous reply, and yet we are kept waiting day by day. Who can tell the meaning of all these detentions? Blessed are they who are detained before God because the Lord has much to say to them in the way of instruction, comfort, and stimulus. Who has not felt the words rising to his lips in many an hour of glowing realisation of the divine presence "Abide with us"?
"... the king's business required haste." 1 Samuel 21:8 .
This is another instance in which the expositor can only proceed by way of accommodation. The accommodation, however, is full of suggestion of a most practical and useful nature. We are always called upon to work as if we had but one day to work in: " I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work." Whatever we can do let us do it now. There is no to-morrow in the life of a Christian who is fully consecrated to the service of his Lord; every day is the last day, every coming day is the day of judgment, the judge always standeth at the door. How many things we are going to do by-and-by! We have no right to talk so, for our breath is in our nostrils. This is a boasting of to-morrow that is forbidden by the Holy Ghost. If we have a gospel to carry we must carry it instantly, or the man for whom it is designed may die. If we have any revelation to declare we must lose no time in the declaration, or we may lose our ability to reveal the message with which God has entrusted us. Such impetuosity need not involve carelessness. The impetuosity that is useful is also earnest. Sometimes men hasten slowly, and therefore hasten the more. The most deliberate things are to be done with the intensest earnestness, and the intensest earnestness is never to allow itself to be deprived of the advantage and utility of the highest spiritual dignity. When the king's business relates to the salvation of souls, who dare say there is a moment to be lost? Are men prodigal of time who are called to extinguish a conflagration? Do men proceed at leisure when the swimmer is struggling with the billows and may at any moment be lost? We should be urged by the necessity of others, and not merely impelled by our own sense of the fitness of things. Where there is need there is a call for help, and need always calls not for remote but for immediate assistance. In all things let us hear the voice of the Saviour saying, "That thou doest, do quickly," whether it be prayer, or gift, or offer of sympathy, or proclamation of the gospel; the next moment may be the last; therefore fill the present breathing space with all faithful action.
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Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 21". Parker's The People's Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
Second Sunday after Epiphany