Click here to learn more!
1 Samuel 16:1
How long wilt thou mourn for Saul.
Overmuch sorrow, and its aura
In one of the visions of the prophet Ezekiel, a man with a writer’s inkhorn in his hand was commissioned to “set a mark upon the foreheads of the men that sigh and cry for all the abominations that be done in the midst” of Jerusalem. Samuel was one who sighed and cried for the abominations which were done by Saul in his day. But sorrow, however reasonable and becoming, may be carried too far. It may be indulged until it unfits us for duty, or darkens our hope in God; it may disturb our peace and weaken our energies; it may be made an occasion of our halting, and of our neglecting public duty. The very tenderness of Samuel’s heart and his jealousy for God had bedimmed his faith, and kept him bewailing the case of the king. There is a lesson in this of very great practical importance. We may have lost a bosom friend or we may have witnessed a son of many prayers despising parental counsel, and rushing headlong to eternal ruin. God’s wisdom is infallible, and in its developments in Providence is always pared by His love to us. His removal of any of the objects of your affection is now beyond recall. You have duties to God, to your own soul, and to others, which cannot afford the consumption of your energies in sorrow. In the obedience of His will your griefs will be assuaged and sanctified. Samuel was summoned from his vale of tears to undertake a new commission and provide a new leader for the chosen people. A new care is to occupy the prophet’s mind, a new friend is to draw forth his affection, and new objects of labour and of love are to engage him. The sense of personal and relative responsibility is made by God to rebuke and cure a sorrow deemed inconsolable. Those whose spirits were burdened by heavy grief, caused by losses or by crimes, took up a pilgrim’s staff and made a journey to the Holy Land. It was generally believed that a pilgrimage, or a soldiership in the holy wars, was penance sufficient to expiate sin and remove the burden of a sorrowful spirit. But there is a pilgrimage and a cross-bearing eminently serviceable to heal a sorrowful spirit, and to this every mourner is personally called. “How long wilt thou mourn? . . . Fill thine horn with oil, and go, I will send thee.” Yes, mourner, take your staff and go. You have rested long enough at Marah, and drank enough of its bitter water. Circumstances call upon you to journey in the service of the Lord. Your regrets and melancholy indicate need of further conformity to the Lord Jesus. Your grief will be moderated by the satisfaction of obedience to Christ.
1. There is a duty to the Lord. Like Samuel, you are in His service, and have vowed to do His will and to acquiesce in His ways. David lay upon the earth, fasted, and prayed, while affliction was upon his child; but when he learned the issue--that the child was dead--he “arose from the earth.” God does yet forbid tears, but He expects obedience in resignation and the discharge of duty.
2. There is a duty to your own soul. “Why go I mourning? Why art thou east down, O my soul? And why art thou disquieted within me? Hope thou in God; for I shall yet praise Him, Who is the health of my countenance, and my God.” The greatest cause for mourning in this world is conviction of personal guilt in the sight of God. The effect of God’s truth upon the conscience is to calf forth bitter sorrow. The convicted sinner repents and wrings his soul in sorrow, and often in tears. In the Puritan revivals of the seventeenth century this was no less characteristic of the awakening appeals of Baxter and of Flavel, of Owen and of Howe, of Rogers and of Bunyan, of Welch and of Dickson, of Rutherford and of Blair. Deep sorrow for sin marked all awakened souls in that extensive reformation of religion. At such a time many do not know what to do to obtain peace. They cry with the Jews of old, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” and with the jailer, “What must I do to be saved?” There is oil of joy for such mourning. Relief must come from without. It is not to be got by brooding over your guilt and sorrow, but by arising and going to the Saviour.
3. There is a duty to others. Samuel had something more to live for than his own interest. He was an important member of the Hebrew commonwealth. His grief was a public calamity. The sorrow into which he was plunged might do injury. When there are others to care for, sorrow must not be immoderate. Our friends make demands upon our anxieties, and prayers, and labours. No partial affection for those who are lost can excuse neglect of those who are spared. No regret for the dead can apologise for inattention to the living. How strong an appeal is this to moderate and sanctify sorrow! Labourers for Christ! you may have to mourn over disappointed hopes and lost opportunities, and you may be ready to give way to melancholy at the retrospect of your want of success. But this mourning is ill-judged, sinful, and disastrous. Arise, fill your horn with oil and go to work again. (R. Steel.)
Mourning for the living
We generally mourn for a man when the light has gone from his eye and his form is still in death. But Saul was worth a good many dead men. He did not pass to his fathers for twenty-three years after the time these words were spoken concerning him. And yet with Saul in the very prime of manhood, God said unto Samuel, “How long wilt thou mourn for Saul?” Samuel had seen with sorrow the king’s lack of high purpose and endurance. He had seen the stress of life tearing the anchor from the rock. Judging by the subsequent life of the ex-king, the rejection was a deeper sorrow to Samuel than to Saul. Samuel knew that in the chosen king was that spark of goodness that needed but to be fanned to become a flame; he knew also that Saul by his own acts was extinguishing even that spark. In the life that men saw, Saul was enriched: in the life that God saw, he was impoverished. And when the inevitable judgment came--in the removal of the sceptre--Samuel mourned for Saul. Of what truths does the story of the royal castaway remind us?
I. That a man may be dead while yet alive. All around us we see men dumb to Divine questionings, deaf to human pleadings, blind to the uplifting vision, men whose Bible is the ledger, whose only church is the shop, whose one god is gold. Such men are dead while yet alive. Samuel of old mourned for the living, and the living still causes hearts to mourn. A mother’s tears for her prodigal son may be more bitter than those which fall upon his coffin. A father’s anguish for his daughter’s sin may be more intense than the anguish born of her passing into the Unseen. The presence of the dead is physically harmful to the living, but the spiritually dead are more harmful. Physical death is inevitable, but it is not the worst thing that can befall a man. The death of the soul causes the very angels to weep.
II. That to live truly is to live triumphantly. And to be victorious in all things is one of the natural and inherent desires of the human heart. Men desire to be mighty, but the might of man must be based upon the eternal right of God. Triumph cannot be divorced from truth, for God has joined them in an indissoluble bond. There was no hope for Saul as a king, but there was hope for him as a man. The old adage, “While there’s life there’s hope,” is profoundly true. If we will but, stand still, we shall see the salvation of God. The very atmosphere in which we live and move and have our being is charged with resurrection power. “Awake thou that sleepest, and Christ shall give thee light.” (F. Burnett.)
I have rejected him.
The root of national faults illustrated in the life of Saul
The character of Saul would be by itself sufficient to arrest the attention of the most heedless reader of the annals of human nature; but seen by the side of David, it is more remarkable still. The contrast between the two is strong and lucid at every point. Saul is the man of the world in every respect. He is the Roman hero, shot with the colours of the despotic East; the kind of man who ever has been the hero and demi-god of the world’s idolatry and worship, and ever will be; while David in but few particulars would obtain the admiration of mankind. There is just the difference between the two that there is between the natural and spiritual man; between him who is governed by natural religion, and him who is governed by the grace of God. But while this is the case with Saul as an individual, he resembles in a striking manner the character of nations. While he embodies the spirit of Rome, and the philosophic Greek, and bears the strong impress of the Asiatic despot he gathers up into himself the leading features of our own nation. He is very Saxon. The errors which we as a nation are constantly making, are, in all their leading features, those of the King of Israel. We are inclined nationally to embody the elements which form Saul’s character, and to worship the result. We are inclined as a nation, in each circle of our society, educated and uneducated, to despise those elements which form David’s.
1. The character of Saul:--Saul’s appearance was in his favour: men always are favourably impressed by personal advantages. Height, power, and beauty are ever weights thrown into the descending scale in the hand of the world. Facility is half the man.
2. He was reserved; and every man who has the power of reserve gains two steps to the one gained by him who speaks his feelings; simply because the tongue is the first instrument of hurried conviction, and the rapid speaker makes many slips. To have perception, feeling, and discernment, but to be able to hold them all in check, is one of our greatest powers. But the same force which Saul could use over his private feelings of this kind, he was also able to use over his affections. The world has ever admired this kind of trait, from Brutus downwards; but after all it may be an over-rated virtue. Saul valued religion. With no religious faith, he knew the value of religion.
5. Saul, too, was proud, intensely proud. Saul bad no vanity; but he had genuine pride.
6. Then he was generous; and generosity is ever valued by the world.
7. But the determination to recognise the externals of religion led him often into something very like dissimulation. But dissimulation in certain things is a virtue in the world; it is so with matters to do with religion.
8. But there is a second stage in Saul’s Career which is highly significant. God gave up Saul, and the difference was manifest; the evil spirit occupied him at once.
9. Then came the third stage,--strikingly consistent, however paradoxical, with the others--the stage of superstition. The large-minded infidel becomes narrowed to the small compass of the superstitious, and he for whom God and His Church were not wide enough, satisfies himself with the Witch of Endor. He who found the priesthood too confined a means to attain his end, and the sacrifices too formal, bowed before an incantation, and shivered before a ghost. The only truly wide-minded man is he whose thought and soul are limited by the Word and Will of Gad. His death was worthy of him. The Roman philosopher fell upon his sword; and Saul strove to perish by suicide.
II. But Saul is best seen in contrast. The key to Saul’s character is self-seeking: that unlocks each portion of his being. David’s soul was fixed on seeing God. He was absorbed in the Being in Whom he lived, died, and had his being. The world cannot appreciate this; and if the world cannot, still less the infidel.
1. Saul, I said, delighted in reserve: David expressed everything. His heart was full, and “out of the abundance of his heart his mouth spake.” Saul delighted to show independence of everyone, and contempt of those on whose aid he might be supposed to rely. Far otherwise with the son of Jesse. He was ever bewailing the conduct “of the sons of Zeruiah,” courting Abner, or pacifying Joab. He seemed to delight in showing his real dependence on all who surrounded his throne.
3. Saul calmly swore that Jonathan should die, and the entreaty of a people and a devoted army could hardly rescue him from his hands; and yet what son deserved more at a father’s hands than Jonathan? David wept for Absalom, a rebel and a hardened libertine.
4. With Saul, sacrifices, priests, and prophets were but useful unrealities, figures of a clever fiction, dramatis personae of the stage on which he happened to be acting: with David they were powerful realities.
5. Saul reserved the prey and spoil for himself, and made his own compromise with God. David’s obedience was entire; his own wail was that it was not more perfect than it was. Saul never committed himself before the people; David often did. He never strove to conceal the feeling which worked within him.
6. One feature in Saul’s character I have not mentioned--his regard for aristocracy and wealth. Agag and the flocks were saved, and that at the expense of God’s Will and word. The son of Jesse found delight equally with the poor and lowly, as with the sons of kings and the hereditary princes of foreign lands.
7. Saul became the slave of Satan, and his heart the dismal scene of the operations of evil spirits; David became “the man after God’s own heart.”
8. Saul’s soul narrowed as he advanced: the temple in which it at last worshipped was the Witch’s Cave at Endor. David’s daily widened. The Temple of Jerusalem was the design of his old age; and the expansive knowledge of God and His Law is recognised in many a Psalm. Saul lived to establish and elevate self. Proud, independent, and ironical, he moved over a plane of his own. But he left no crown to his son His very descendants were extirpated. David had no such aim; he never thought of aggrandisement or of self; but his son sat on his throne, and that to many generations. And the Son of David occupies the throne of eternity. “He shall reign forever and ever Lord of lords and King of kings.” The two are placed in such singular juxtaposition and contrast, that they must be intended to be viewed together.
III. The striking application of the character of Saul to our own nation and race. Is there not among us an inclination to view the Church as a means rather of keeping the people in subjection, and a great and efficient instrument for education, than as having a real and intrinsic power of its own--a sacramental energy, which is there, whether we use it or no? Is there no tendency, too, besides that very superstition, when we are religious, which marks the impression of unreality as clinging to all the great external observances of Christianity?
1. We have national traits of pride, independence and reserve, which remind us of the clever king. When his election was in hand, “he hid himself among the stuff, and he could not be found.” It was the affectation of reserve. His contemptuous silence at the neglect of the men of Belial, and those other occasions referred to above, show the same tendency. Our reserve as a nation goes far, and shows itself in many ways. There is a lurking disposition to suppress the expression of distinctive Christianity, and to use the parlance of natural religion in preference to that of the Christian. Is it not true that that very suppression of natural impulses which society is inclined to admire and almost to deify, is after all often a cloak for a more subtle form of self-seeking and proud independence? We see the inclination to suppress natural affections from an early age. The schoolboy scarcely likes to own his mother, and is not sure whether he ought not to be ashamed of his sister. This state of things belongs especially to my own country. It is not found in the same way on the continent. The natural emotions of the heart are more recognised and honoured among other people than among ourselves. We may rate the subjugation of natural affections too highly; we may be passing by some other tendency, in whose discipline we shall gain a higher standing.
2. But there is a still more striking parallel in the case of Saul. His tendency was aristocratic and avaricious. He obeyed God’s order in invading the territory of Amalek. But he preserved the king and the sheep. The soft yet imperious call of kindred sovereignty were too much for the lowly-born monarch. For this he sacrificed his obedience to God. The tinkle of the ornaments which sounded on the camel’s neck of the Amalekite prince, were more attractive than the approval of the Prophet. May we here, too, find no parallel with ourselves? Though we are proud of the free access to high position offered to the lowliest born of those whose circumstances are most humble; and while a popular government guarded by the restraints of a monarchical and aristocratical influence is our often-repeated boast among the nations of the earth; still, is there not a singular inclination to covet the smile and favour of the nobly-born, and a constant recognition of the fact that we would sacrifice distinctive Christianity rather than the approval and countenance of a court? We worship respectability. Its forms peer in the background of all our professions.
3. But more, Saul saved the sheep. Money is sometimes the cry of a nation, and the amassing wealth, or standing high in a commercial reputation, frequently transcends the homage paid to God Himself.
4. But a graver evil still is suggested by Saul’s character. His religious belief was broken. It rung to the touch of the world outside; but it had no substance. It was not faith. Religion and the Church were machines with him available for important State purposes, but here they stopped. The ministry of the Church may be represented as, and treated like, a foible, with no commission beyond the civil appointment. The Church herself is looked upon as a State machine, to be curtailed or amplified at no higher bidding than that of the earthly sovereign. And yet with all this the respect paid to those who occupy ecclesiastical position and office reminds us at every turn of Saul’s homage to Samuel, while he laughed at the effort made by the Prophet to establish anything more than a conventional position. The day may come, and that soon, when this momentous question may sever man from man with a wrench, for which Church history in this country has scarcely a parallel. The day when men must say whether there be anything or nothing in the Holy Eucharist; whether the ministry be an order which holds its charter from heaven; and whether the Church herself, be descended by Divine appointment through successive ages, the Bride of Christ and the instrument of salvation to man; or whether she be merely the best arrangement existing to carry out the ends of the politician and the legislator. These things are either anything or nothing.
5. But the end of Saul was singular. From the dreams of unrealities and shams he betook himself to the pursuit of the figures of superstition. He forsook the boundless expanse of scepticism to pen himself up in the dark and confined cell of superstition. In pursuing the parallel we must see whether, as a nation, we may not be yielding to superstition, while we reject religion. The attendance at church on Sunday morning performed as an act of expiation for the sins of the week past, and palliation of the intended laxity of the week to come; the subscription offered to the swelling list of benefactions for this public charity or the other; the mite offered from the ample fortune to the Church to justify the alienation of the remainder of fortune to self; are really acts of superstition. Saul perished on the field of battle. It may be that by a fall from the pride of military glory nations of similar characters to the Israelitish king may have yet to learn that it is not in the bow, or in the horse, or in princes is the safe trust, but only in the Lord our God. Men tell us we must have a fall. The world at large have detected British pride. It may be magnificent, it may be successful, it may draw down admiration, or fear, or awe; it may compel homage; it may dazzle the eye of the observer, lest he detect flaws which really exist; but it must be offensive to God, it must “have a fall.” It is “the meek who will inherit the earth.” (G. Monro.)
The true and the counterfeit
as the Bible may be called God’s Picture Gallery so the Holy Spirit frequently bangs up side by side two portraits which bear much resemblance to each other, and yet have points of striking difference. I think it is plainly one of God’s great purposes to help us to discriminate between the true and the false. Judas and Peter both act basely; but one is a traitor, while Peter, with all his sin, is a genuine disciple. The same contrast, again, we observe in the ease of Demas and Luke. “For,” says St. Paul, “Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world, and is departed to Thessalonica:” “Only Luke is with me.” One more contrast let me remind you of. In the eighth chapter of the Acts we read of Simon Magus, how he was astonished, believed, and was baptised; but he was not converted; his heart was not right in the matter; and Peter tells him, “Thou art in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity.” But at the close of that chapter we have in the Ethiopian eunuch a beautiful instance of honest search after truth, and simple belief.
I. The sad story of Saul’s life. I think we shall be led to observe the dramatic effect produced in the arrangement of the First Book of Samuel. As in the earliest chapters the pious childhood of Samuel is contrasted with the profligate career of the sons of Eli, so, as we dwell upon the later chapters, our minds are continually divided between admiration of David’s fortitude, charity, and holy faith; and pity for the sinful course and evident misery of the once noble king of Israel.
1. There is certainly much about Saul’s early conduct which is very captivating. He was a very fine young man; taller by a head and shoulders than any of the people, and there seems to have been, at first, a very pleasing humility in him; he said nothing to his uncle of his prospects. Then he was a man of warm affections. Again, he was a man who had evidently received some religious impressions. Still I think we are warranted in saying that there was no work of grace in his soul. It is said indeed of Saul, that “God gave him another heart,” and that “the Spirit of God came upon him;” but as God never calls to a work without giving the power to perform it, this only refers to his qualifications for government.
2. Notice, next, the steps in his decline. While he was in humble life he had a humble spirit, but prosperity was too much for him: with wraith and power came spiritual decline. Oh, beware of ambition: beware how you “seek great things for yourselves.” You are thinking of advancement, perhaps, desiring promotion, or laying up a fortune. Look at Saul; look at Solomon; and I think you will pray, in the words of our Litany, “In all time of our wealth, Good Lord, deliver us.” Saul’s prosperity was his ruin. David says, “It is good for me that I have been afflicted:” nay, I am inclined to think that even in his ease there is a beautiful simplicity of character, and steadfastness of faith, a singleness of eye, during the times of his affliction, which we often look for in vain when things went well with him. Next, we observe in Saul what is sure to come with pride and ambition, a want of faith, and an impatience, which led him to offer the sacrifice, instead of waiting for Samuel. Prosperity had been too much for him: he had begun to depart from God. When faith in the unseen is weak, and heavenly things do not occupy the soul, it almost always falls a prey to covetousness: and hence his sin on this occasion; the spoil was too tempting, and he seizes upon it like Achan.
II. Your duty towards mere professors--towards those who, while in many respects they resemble Christ’s disciples, are not really the people of God. It is said that one use that is being made of the metal called aluminium, is the manufacture of sovereigns so nearly resembling the current coin that it is extremely difficult, to distinguish between them. The stamp is in all respects perfect, the colour is the same, they are even of the same weight, and the application of some acids produces no results. Still there is a difference in value, and of course they will be able to discover it at the banks. Satan is very clever; he has been able to produce, in all ages of the Church, splendid hypocrites, such as have deceived some even of the elect. Still, there is a difference at heart between every child of God and every child of the devil. How shall I know a Judas from a Peter, a Demas from a Luke, a Saul from a David? Contemplate Jesus: let His perfect term continually fill your eye: walk yourself habitually with Him; and then you will not long be deceived.
1. There is a duty of separation. It became Samuel’s duty to separate from his friend; and we read that “Samuel came no more to see Saul until the day of his death. Are you as particular about this as you should be? You must not be too lax in your judgments. Those first six verses of Matthew 7:1-29, show you that while it is not your duty to condemn, it is your duty to discriminate.
2. Yet there is one more duty which we learn from Samuel’s conduct towards Saul. Samuel mourned for Saul And so we have the picture of the one man going on from bad to worse, adding sin to sin; and his friend, who, from duty to God, felt constrained to keep aloof from him, still mourning over and praying for him: even as Jesus wept over Jerusalem. (C. Bosanquet, M. A.)
Vindication of the sentence on Saul
Saul was a man, an Israelite, a king, the first king of Israel; under these heads let us group our observations.
1. He was a man. Is this a great thing? Yes, very. There are so many of us that we think lightly of our kind. But what lofty dignity there is in manhood! What marvellous responsibilities cluster about it! Crowned with a kingly immortality how sublimely important is each individual! God’s claims are on that heart. Each instance of withdrawal or suspension of its homage, nay, even the independent action of its powers without reference to heavenly supremacy, is an act of disloyalty. If this earth contained but one rebel how would his loyal fellows stare at the prodigy! But no familiarity with sin can, in God’s estimate, take away its first offensiveness. How preposterously foolish to quarrel with the Great King when, in any instance, He makes the line of judicial infliction in temporal things approach the line of the sinner’s deservings!
2. Saul was an Israelite. As such, the claims of God, and his own responsibilities were largely increased. The will of God pressed with peculiar force on the conscience of every member of that nation. The Jew who neglected, or interfered to modify the Divine will was doubly culpable. Still further aggravated would be the offence if that will were plainly laid before the mind and emphatically pressed upon the conscience. Precisely such was the case of that offender whose conduct we are reviewing.
3. Saul was king of Israel. As such, he was vicegerent of God. God’s lieutenant and the asserter of Israel’s rights ought to have set himself promptly to the completion of the case against Amalek by avenging upon them the dishonour of God, and the damage done to His people. See we not here that insubmissiveness of will, that independence of aim and action which form the germ of all the evil that has intruded upon God’s holy universe. Nor is it a valid plea, palliating deviation from the strict and full performance of his commission, that it involved a dreadful sacrifice of human life. And if his heart recoiled more violently from the execution of the king than from the carnage of the whole nation, this only adds another touch to the outline of his vanity. It would be a rare triumph for him to lead about the captured king of their oldest and bitterest enemies.
4. Saul was the first king of Israel. The nation had just passed through an important crisis. The change of government was the permitted consequence of national unfaithfulness to God. His holy presence, as their immediate Ruler, was irksome to their criminal independence, and alarming to their conscience. When their king fully develops his character, he is found to be animated by the same views and feelings. Here, then, are most critical circumstances. The people have drifted far into the region of disloyalty to God and indifference to Divine things, and the change of Government which this ungodliness introduced has added new force to the current of growing degeneracy. The king has connived at disobedience. Most perilous precedent! Doubly so at the commencement of a new regime which it must help to mould. If knighthood, in its early days, be permitted with impunity to tamper thus with the behests of God, and vaunt itself in the spoils of authority reft from the majesty of heaven, what shall the end be? The case is urgent. A preventive, however terrible, must be applied. (P. Richardson.)
1 Samuel 16:4-18
And Samuel did that which the Lord spake, and came to Bethlehem.
Samuel’s visit to Bethlehem
1. How much history is entwined around one locality! The very name of a village recalls events most momentous to the world, and fills our minds with the memories of the past. “Man is a materialist, and he tries to give a material magnitude to memorable places; but God chooses any common spot for the cradle of a mighty incident, or the home of a mighty spirit.” “Twenty years ago,” says the writer from whom we have just quoted, “Some English voyagers were standing on a flat beach within the Arctic Seas. From the excitement of their looks, the avidity with which they gazed into the ground, and the enthusiasm with which they looked around them, it was evident that they deemed it a spot of singular interest. But anything outwardly less interesting you could hardly imagine. On the one side, the coast retreated in low and wintry ridges; and on the other, a pale ocean bore its icy freight beneath a watery sky; whilst under the travellers’ feet lay neither bars of gold nor a gravel of gems, but blocks of unsightly limestone. Yet it was the centre of one of nature’s greatest mysteries. It was the reward of years of adventure and hardship; it was the answer to the long aspirations and efforts of science--it was the Magnetic Pole. The travellers grudged that a place so important should appear so tame. Bethlehem was “little among the thousands of Judah” in its palmiest days, and it has not advanced in civic greatness since; yet one of the most celebrated spots of which the world is proud. While yet without its village, it had a hallowed name in Hebrew story as the birthplace of Benjamin and the burial place of Rachel. There were the fields of Boaz, where Ruth gleaned behind the reapers amidst the golden sheaves. There Jesse held his patrimony, and in his dwelling was the nativity of the minstrel king. There was anointed the man after God’s own heart to be the king of Israel, by which his native village was made the mother of a long line of princes. Here halted the star that had guided eastern sages to behold the King of kings. And behind the khan, in one of the oxen’s stalls, a wayfaring woman “brought forth her first-born son, because there was no room for her in the inn;” and in that babe of Bethlehem the incarnate God was manifest. Many have gone far to behold this sacred spot, and have lingered devoutly over its scenes as they recalled the glorious events of which it has been the theatre.
2. Samuel had felt it hard to bow to the decree of God, and sorrowed so much as to receive a rebuke--the only one recorded as spoken by God to him. He was reluctant to go to Bethlehem even after his commission. He “shrunk from this task which added all that was wanting to confirm the doom of Saul. He sought to shun the duty by expressing apprehensions for his safety should Saul hear of the transaction.” “How can I go? If Saul hear it he will kill me.” This was a question of inquiry, perhaps, rather than of distrust--a question such as Manoah put regarding the angelic visitant to his wife, and such as the Virgin Mary proposed when she asked regarding the unparalleled annunciation which Gabriel had made to her. Samuel sought counsel from the Lord in his extremity, that he might be enabled to fulfil the Divine command. It was not that he shrank from duty, however trying, but that his way might be opened up for its discharge. God suggested a way: “And the Lord said, take an heifer with thee, and say. I am come to sacrifice to the Lord. And call Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show thee what thou shalt do; and thou shalt anoint unto me him whom I name unto thee.” This removed the great difficulty, and guaranteed Divine wisdom to direct his conduct. How safely might he go when he had the counsel of God--when he was assured of strength and wisdom according to his day! It is ever thus with obedient faith in following the path of duty. The believer may go on when he has the word of God to encourage him. The Lord opened up Samuel’s way by suggesting an exercise that concealed his chief object. He was to take a heifer with him, and call Jesse to the sacrifice and feast. This seems to have been not an unusual occurrence. A similar occasion took place when Saul was first apprised of the kingly dignity awaiting him. It was quite an event in Bethlehem that the venerable prophet should be there. The people held him in very high esteem, and felt an awe upon their spirits in his presence. His was entirely, so far as they were concerned, a religious errand. He declared his purpose thus:--“I am come to sacrifice unto the Lord; sanctify yourselves, and come with me to the sacrifice.” So Samuel desired the purification of the sanctuary to be passed by those that joined with him in the sacred ordinance. They were to wash their clothes--indicative of the spiritual cleansing of the heart which is essential to the right observance of the sacrifice. Samuel assisted in the exercise, he performed for them the priestly service, as Moses did for Israel and gob for his sons. It is meet that there should be special preparation for holy services. It is true that believers are always understood to have a right to privileges; but they have not always the fitness. They may have been backsliding; their hearts may have been polluted; they may have become entangled in worldly cares. A season of preparation is, therefore: proper and useful. How solemn it makes a communion when you go from the laver to the table, and from the robing room to the banquet hall! How sweet it makes the fellowship when you realise acceptance, and have communion with the Father, and with the Son, and with the Holy Ghost! That sacrifice at Bethlehem had its joys; and its blessed influence would long be felt by Jesse and his sons. But ere they sat down to feast upon the offered victim, Samuel had another ceremony to perform.
3. He sought a special interview with the sons of Jesse, that he might set apart one of them for a high dignity in the future history of the Hebrew commonwealth. The Lord said unto Samuel, Look not on his countenance, of on the height of his stature: because I have refused him: for the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart. The beautiful is not always the true nor is that real beauty which is merely outward. In man the material is superseded by the moral. The nation of highest cultivation in heathendom worshipped the beautiful to the neglect of the moral. Greek religion was aesthetic, not holy. The goodly countenance fascinates, and then too often deceives; but it is “the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit which is in the sight of God of great price.” The opinions of God an those of men are much contrasted here. “The Lord looketh on the heart.” Solemn thought! He knoweth fully all that characterises the inward and spiritual nature of man. The quaint, but spiritually-minded John Berridge thus wrote of his heart: “O heart heart, what art thou? A mass of fooleries and absurdities, the vainest, craftiest, wickedest, foolishest thing in nature.” Beholding himself in the mirror of God’s word, his opinion agreed with that of God. David must have had a similar view of his when he prayed, “Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.”
4. The man after God’s heart at last, was found! The captain of the people of God, who would fulfil in his rule all the will of God, was selected. The great type and the earthly progenitor of the Messianic King, and the pledge of Israel’s greatness, stood out before the prophet’s eye. Samuel’s grief was assuaged. We are thus introduced to one whose personal history and typical character are of undying interest to the Church of God. Genius was born with this son of Jesse. Music and poetry were a part of his nature, and received a high development from his ardent cultivation. His harp often beguiled the loitering day or the weary night, as he watched his flocks; and, when a minstrel was sought to soothe by melodious sounds the agitated mind of Saul, whom God’s spirit forsook, the young Bethlehemite was made musician to the king. David was a poet, and sang his own Hebrew melodies to his tuneful harp. He was godly, and dedicated his music to the praise of Jehovah. He was profoundly acquainted with the word of God, and while setting many of its heroes of faith and events of grace to music, he was permitted to add largely to the volume of inspiration. Samuel rejoiced in David ca the day of his anointing, though he saw not yet all things put under him. In like manner may the believer rejoice in the Son of David and the Son of God, though he sees not yet all things put under His feet. We have a pledge of his future government of all things after God’s own heart in what He has already done. (R. Steel.)
1 Samuel 16:7
Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature.
God’s estimate of human availability
This enunciation of one fixed principle in the Divine government is of immense value as having a practical bearing upon all the mighty relations which each man sustains to his Maker.
I. Let us try to analyse the statement on the negative side, to begin with. The Lord does not look upon the outward appearance in fixing His judgment of any human soul. It so happens that this very narrative actually specifies many of those particulars which men are wont to regard as highest in value.
1. For example, the Lord does not look upon one’s social rank. The family of Jesse had no conspicuousness or remarkableness, as the world reckons. Moreover, David was the one that made it royal, and when he was chosen he was by no means the head of it. Good Lady Huntingdon used to say she thanked God for the letter M, for he did not tell Paul to say “not any,” but “not many.” Now it is certainly true that the best part of the world’s highest worth has risen from what would by some be called its lowest sources. It is usual to sneer at the plebian birth of Oliver Cromwell as well as that of Napoleon Bonaparte; but this had nothing to do with any vices they displayed or any virtues they possessed. These men were kings of other men by reason of a manhood which Charles the First; never got from the contemptible Stuarts, nor Louis the Sixteenth from the more contemptible Bourbons. The pride of rank is prone to run into an extreme of superciliousness, of self-seeking, and of oppression. Cornelius Agrippa actually institutes an argument to prove that there was never a nobility which had not wicked beginning.
2. Furthermore, the Lord does not look upon one’s family history. The lineage of Jesse, Obed, and Ruth was quite humble in its origin. David’s mother is not even mentioned by name in the Scriptures. It is pitifully mean and conceited for anyone to set himself up as meritorious because his family once had a hero among its members.
3. Again, the Lord does not; look upon one’s fortune. If anyone supposes that the wealth of the “rich kinsman” Boaz had come down by inheritance into this family estate, we are surely without hint that the property had anything to do with the lot of the shepherd boy David.
4. Nor does the Lord look ripen one’s appearance. It is interesting to notice that in the margin of our English Bibles the words in the seventh verse of this chapter, “the outward appearance,” are rendered more literally “the eyes;” and also the words in the twelfth verse, “a beautiful countenance,” are rendered “fair of eyes.” That is to say, David is not chosen for his good looks, nor is Eliab rejected because of his; they may both have had fine eyes, but; the Lord doth not regard such things in His selection of men for high service of Himself. John Milton was blind, and Thomas Carlyle was not considered attractive in showy company. Paul was diminutive and half blind, in bodily presence weak and in speech contemptible; “but,” says Chrysostom, “this man of three cubits’ height became tall enough to touch the third heaven.”
5. Once more: the Lord does not look upon one’s age in making His choice of men. He sometimes selects children, and then trains them at His will. Polycarp was converted at nine years of age, Matthew Henry at eleven, President Edwards at seven, Robert Hall at twelve, and Isaac Watts at nine. God chooses His best workers often in the beginning of their intelligent existence; they that seek Him early are sure to find Him.
II. Turn to the positive side of the statement concerning the Divine choice of men. The Lord does not look upon the outward appearance: what does he look upon? What is meant here by the word “heart?” “The Lord seeth not as man sooth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart.” It is not necessary that we try to be abstruse and philosophical in giving an interpretation to this familiar word “heart.” The entire nature of the individual is brought into view.
III. In a sober review of what has already been said, it seems as if there might be wisdom in picturing our own lives for a little while, in holding them out before careful and discriminating analysis. Then we can put some fair questions.
1. For example, this. Do we hope for God’s favour on the ground of a long line of personal recommendations? Some there are who conceive of their advantages as far higher than those of others, although many men with whom they compare themselves are on much superior elevations both in experience and in communion with God.
2. Then again: this subject leads us to inquire whether our personal salvation is to be settled by what the world around us thinks about, our showy piety, or by what the Lord Himself thinks. There is an outward sanctimoniousness which looks very like sanctity: will it all end the same way?
3. Finally, in view of this subject, there would follow this question: How much of what worldlings prize will vanish when the Lord makes known His register of actual worth? Calmly does that eye of God keep gazing down upon men: it registers us all justly; end that estimate will stand forever undisturbed. (C. S. Robinson, D. D.)
Men of the world worship outward beauty, but if they find it nothing more than an appearance without a reality in manner and deed, it soon tires them. An old writer compares beauty to an almanac; if it last more than a year it is a marvel. Men weary of that, beauty which is nothing more than an ornamental show. A modern writer aptly says that “the highest beauty is the expression of an honest heart and a sweet disposition.” There is a flower known by the name of “Imperial Crown,” which is admired on account of its showy appearance, but you throw it away because of its unpleasant perfume. The Lord values men and women, not by their diamonds, their gold, their carriages, and their titles, but by the purity of their heart and the helpfulness of their disposition. In God’s mind, there is no distinction of plebeians and aristocracy. The only nobility God recognises is the truth of the heart and the goodness of the life.
1. God has created us in order that we may acquire true beauty. If we are honest, we shall admit that in heart we are not beautiful. The New Testament, confirms this; but the gospel is good news, revealing that every man may be transformed into the children of light by the indwelling of the beautiful spirit of God. When governed by the new nature, which God gives to everyone that asks, all mankind shall become beautiful. He is still a man, but he has received the nature of a God. Do you think God sent you into the world only to stitch at that machine, or to go up a ladder with bricks, or to sweep that gutter? He sent you into the world to be made a beautiful being, with a holy character, a sweet disposition, an angelic life. Let us live for our high destiny. Do not be troubled though it takes many years to grow beautiful.
2. If we would be beautiful in the sight of God, and exhibit this character to our fellow men, we must learn His will, and do it, and on no account grieve Him.
3. Another foundation for a beautiful character is that you are not only to love God, but also love your fellow men. If you would be beautiful in your life, you must copy the disposition of Jesus, Who lived for one great object, namely, to bless and save mankind. (W. Birch.)
Man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart.
God’s estimate of human character
I. God’s purpose claims a specific direction: the “Lord looketh on the heart.” What, does this mean? David’s own understanding of the examination through which he in company with his brothers passed in this instance comes to view afterward in the rehearsal of one of his historic Psalms for the temple use: “The Lord shall judge the people: judge me, O Lord, according to my righteousness, and according to mine integrity that is in me.” The chief of all the words he here employs is “integrity:” this he accepts cordially for himself and repeats with equal candour for the aid of others. Now we know that the word “integrity” is derived from the Latin integer; and the meaning of integer is “whole;” and wholeness is our old strong Saxon for holiness. That is to say, what God means by stating that He looks upon, not the outside of a man, but his “heart,” is, that He considers the wholeness of one’s nature, and desires it to become holiness. He looks at each man through and through, and registers him by his soundness, his genuineness, his entire character.
II. God’s purpose erects a fixed standard. A man’s “heart,” as thus understood in the religious sense and as worthy of the Divine regard, depends upon the thoroughness with which the man adjusts each exertion of his will to the Divine wall. That is to say, God’s heart is the test of man’s heart, God’s wish, God’s plan, God’s purpose--in a single word, God’s law--showing the perfect standard.
III. God’s purpose starts a permanent revolution in a human character. The most interesting verse in this narrative, as well as the most valuable, is that which announces how “the Spirit of the Lord came upon David from that day forward.” If, is wonderful to think of these changes now wrought upon thin anointed stripling. Henceforth he is to be the shepherd of Israel; so he continues to manage his father’s flocks a while longer, in order that he may learn the shepherd’s duty. Henceforth he is to be the sweet singer of Israel; so he lingers out under Bethlehem sunsets and Syrian stars, in order that he may seek poetic images a while longer for some additional Psalms. Henceforth he is to be the monarch of Israel; so he is led a while longer among fierce outlaw experiences, consorting with the oppressed and the poor, in order that he may learn to understand his own subjects before he has hold of the sceptre by which be is to rule them wisely. And during this entire period this crownless king is hastening unconsciously forward in the lines of God’s unfaltering purpose. The Unseen One is the All-seeing One. He does not look on the outward appearance at all, save as one of His ways of knowing the man’s heart. This leads to another question: What is the use of wasting years of weary life in just trying to keep up appearances before men and women and before God? Oh, how full this old world is of those who spend their time and energy in fashioning parades of unreality and hypocrisy and emptiness, not one of which is looked on by God, not one of which is respected by meal. And this, too, to the neglect of the heart, upon which are grounded the decisions of present favour and future destiny. What disappointments at the day of final reckoning there will be for men and women who have fought for a title, a star, or a ribbon, in the vain hope of being looked upon because of it! What disclosures of folly, what revelations of surprise! How ignoble their aims, how empty their achievements, how absurd their ambitions, how fierce their rivalries, how useless their victories, how unimportant even their worst defeats! The call of God does not confer on any one the privilege of pride or the indulgence of haughtiness; it calls a servant to service, and kingship comes further on. It only makes a true soul more knightly and more bumble to know that he has been summoned in secret into the grand purposes of God. (C. S. Robinson, D. D.)
The standard of God’s judgment
I. We learn the difference between God’s judgment and man’s. God looketh on the heart; man on the outward appearance. The greatest heart, in that family best in the humblest bosom. God saw the only kingly heart in the shepherd boy, and He made him king. So the world stands before God. He divests men of the trappings of wealth, the robes of office, the assumptions of power These things are temporal and adventitious circumstances, mere cobwebs we have woven round us. Man looks on the face, God on the heart; man on the body, God on the soul. Man’s judgment is false; God’s is true.
II. Then we learn that appearances are often deceitful. Our race has had bitter lessons of this truth. Our first parents learned that the glittering folds of the serpent only covered the malignant spirit of the devil. How often have we learned “one may smile and smile and be a villain.” I remember that the grandest man I saw in the war, grand in the splendour of his military equipment, was an ignorant and presumptuous corporal; and the plainest and most unpretentious man was the greatest general. In the Saviour’s time the most pretentious men, who “thanked God they were not like other men,” were the Pharisees, who paraded their virtue and advertised their pride before the ignorant and astonished multitude.
III. We learn that honour belongs to no station. This man was a shepherd. His brothers were warriors. God put the shepherd over the soldiers. When He would select a man to write the immortal “Pilgrim’s Progress,” where did he find him? A noble from the English court? A professor from the Oxford faculty? No; but a tinker from Bedfordshire. Here is his own description of himself: “I was of low and inconsiderable generation; my father’s house being of that rank that was meanest and most despised of all families in the land. I never went to school to Aristotle or Plato, but was brought up in my father’s house in a very mean condition among a company of poor countrymen.” James A. Froude says of this man: “This is the account given of himself and his origin by a man whose writings have, for two centuries, affected the spiritual condition of the English race, in every part of the world, more powerfully than any other book or books except the Bible.” God saw the heart of a kingly man beneath the tinker’s coat of John Bunyan. Do you wonder at the astonishment of the people when a poor peasant stood up in the synagogue in his own village and said: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me.” Do you wonder that they said, “Is not this a carpenter, the son of a carpenter?” That is the language of men.
IV. Finally, let us be content with an humble station. David’s life is an illustrious example of this: He was, doubtless, never so happy or contented as when following his father’s sheep over Judea’s hills. His greater honours only brought him greater cares and greater sorrows. Then let us learn humility and contentment in our lot. (E. O. Guerrant, D. D.)
The imperfection of human insight
From the outset of David’s life, then, we may draw three important conclusions. First, that God makes choice of those to inherit His best blessings whose hearts He knows to be right. Secondly, to be very cautious in our opinions concerning ourselves. Thirdly, to be equally circumspect in our judgments concerning others.
I. First of all it is to be observed, that, when the Scriptures speak of persons as ordained and predestinated to future blessings, it is only either because their lives and conversation are pleasing to God, or, if not be, because He foreknows that they will afterwards prove so. When it is said of Abraham that “he shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him;” a reason immediately follows: “For I know him that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord to do justice and judgment.” When the honour of giving existence to John the Baptist is bestowed on Zacharias and Elizabeth, the sacred historian takes pains to inform us that “they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless.” When Cornelius was chosen to be the first- fruits of the Gentile harvest, we are told: “He was a devout man, and one that feared God with all his house, which gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God always.” The case of St. Paul, which is ordinarily brought forward as an especial proof of God’s arbitrary selection, is, indeed, a confirmation of what we are now saying. The heart of Paul was especially adapted for receiving, embracing, and diffusing the mercies of the Gospel. Man, who looked on the outward appearance, judged otherwise;--Ananias, who knew him only by the fame of his persecutions, would remonstrate with God: “Lord, I have heard by many of this man, how much evil he hath done to Thy saints at Jerusalem; and here he hath authority from the chief priests to bind all that call on Thy name.” But the Lord replied as he did to Samuel; he confuted the proud self-complacency of human penetration, with “go thy way, for he is a chosen vessel unto Me.” Similarly in the text, the reason given for the selection of David from all the sons of Jesse is, “the Lord looketh on the heart.” The Lord knew the sincerity and the piety of his intentions, and therefore, although he was despised of men, he was accepted of God This conduct of the Lord, with respect to David, is especially important, because it is only a sample of His dealings in regard to ourselves. The Lord is now looking on the heart of everyone amongst us. It should be remembered that the greatest sinner may be anxious to preserve a good reputation with the world, because without this, it would be impossible to maintain a comfortable existence: but it should also be remembered that reputation is not virtue, but only its semblance: and those who strive to obtain a good name are generally successful, since man looketh only on the outward appearance. Doubtless, a good name is a valuable possession; but we are not to suppose that we are good precisely in proportion as we are so reputed. We may act from a desire to stand well with the world, instead of a wish to approve ourselves to God. Regard not the opinion of the world as any standard of your situation in respect of God. Like Eliab, you may win the admiration and affection of the world, and yet not be accepted by God.
II. Moreover the Christian will acquire another important lesson from the text, as regards the consideration of his own condition. No one among us ought to esteem himself unhappily circumstanced, whatever may be his situation, or whatever his afflictions. Remember that of the sons of Jesse seven were honoured and esteemed by their father, add among men; one was neglected and despised; yet were all the former rejected by the Lord, while the poor unhonoured David was taken from the sheepfold to be a king and the ancestor of the blessed Messiah. But at the same time remember, that David was not chosen because he was despised among men, but, because his heart was right towards God; poverty and lowliness of estate in themselves give us no title to the favour of God; but the poor who endeavour to do their duty in their station, and the afflicted who bear their afflictions patiently, have no reason to repine: the Lord has looked on their hearts, and pronounced concerning them.
III. What the text instructs us with regard to our judgments of others. The text shows the extreme unreasonableness, no less than wickedness of such conduct. We can only judge by outward appearance after all: Samuel, a religious man, chosen by God to be His minister and interpreter, is mistaken in his estimate of Eliab: and, after this, we must acknowledge that the wisest among us have little chance of an insight into the character of others, so long as our opinions must be guided by outward appearance. But above all, this incapability of seeing the hearts of men should restrain us from all curious speculation on the characters of those with whom we have no concern. Could we see their hearts as clearly as we can observe their outward conduct, we should still be inexcusable, as frail and fallible creatures, in passing judgment on our brethren: but, as it is, our judgments may be false as they are cruel and criminal: like Jesse, nay, like Samuel, we may despise those whom God has not despised. (H. Thompson, M. A.)
David anointed king
Samuel’s grief over Saul’s failure and consequent rejection seems natural. To Samuel Jehovah had first revealed the fact that Saul was to be king Samuel had anointed him. Samuel stood sponsor for him. Between them had grown up a warm attachment, so that one ground of his grief would be the sense of personal disappointment. Then he also grieved for the nation. But even sacred and sincere grief may transgress its law and become sinful. There is a natural and healthy sorrow for what is gone, that is right. And there is a morbid and unreasonable clinging to what we cannot call back, that is wrong. There is a stubborn refusal to accept the situation, that is rebellious and wicked. Then Jehovah states the ground for this chiding: “How long wilt thou mourn? I have rejected him I have provided me a king among the sons of Jesse.” Kings come and go, but the kingdom stays. God’s workers appear and disappear, but His work goes on The importance of a single individual to the success of God’s work is often exaggerated. The very life of this church is said to depend on the ministrations of a certain pastor. The loss of this generous and devout layman, we are told, would kill the church. But if the rank and file are steady and faithful, the loss of a leader does not bring inevitable defeat. God provides against emergencies. At every great crisis, God speaks and says: “I have provided me a man.” When the time has come for missionary work among the Gentiles, Paul is ready When the time is ripe for the Reformation, Luther is ready. When American slavery is to be fought with words and laws and grape shot, Wendell Phillips and Lincoln and Grant are ready. Every large doorway of opportunity is filled with a large man. But back behind all emergencies God sits and waits. His great right hand is full of men, and when the hour strikes he speaks to the crisis and says: “I have provided me a king.” Men who do not know God wonder at the opportune appearance of the right man at the right place and lust in the nick of time. It all comes naturally and inevitably in the order of Providence. When summer comes, the beasts of the field need shade trees to protect them from the heat of the sun. But the same sun that brings the necessity for shade calls out the leaves to furnish it. There is purpose and unity in it all. The children of God never marvel at the meeting of the man and the occasion. And in this passage, one hand of God was rejecting Saul, was clearing the ground for a new and better reign; and the other was already reaching for David, anointing him king, and leading him up to the empty throne. “I have rejected, I have provided,” are the two aides of the picture, the two hands of God’s activity. One makes the emergency, the other makes and moves the needed man to meet it. The chief grounds for choosing Saul, the former king, had been his physical and fighting excellence. Now in the face of this failure, which resulted from the lack of inward fitness, it was natural that Jehovah should say to Samuel: “Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; . . . for the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart.” Saul was selected for his outward excellence, but now a man must be chosen who has the inner qualities of faith and obedience; one who, because of that inner attachment to God may become in spite of faults and sins a “man after God’s own heart.” The Lord seeth not as man seeth. Jehovah is not simply asserting his keener judgment, but that his seeing is bent on different objects. It goes for the inwardness of things. And it is important that God’s children should have firm hold of this same canon of judgment--not the outward, but the heart. It is a valuable principle in judging individual men and in judging wide movements of men. Some proposed social or industrial reform may wear an attractive outward appearance, but we are to look to the real inwardness, the heart of it. In the last analysis what will it do for the spirit of man, for the man who lives in and back of all the outward prosperity and adversity with which the reform deals? The purpose of society is not so much to get the bodies of men well fed, well housed, well clothed, as to make men. And you can only make men as you get down to where the man lives, where the man is. Within all prosperity or adversity dwells an ethical and spiritual being, and he must be faced and provided for. And all social efforts must look at the heart and recognise that nothing but the bringing of the heart into harmony with the Divine order will secure permanent and prosperous harmony in things outward, so that, before we can anoint any movement and call it king, we look at its inwardness. Thus instructed by the spirit of the Lord as to the principle of right judgment, Samuel reviews the remaining sons of Jesse with new eyes. He realises now that we cannot put a man on the scales and weigh him or stand him against the wall and measure him and tell how much man we have God in choosing kings and leaders breaks away from our little man-made rules of primogeniture. He ignores our petty conventionalities as to grades of honour and dishonour in kinds of honest work. His choices seem to go across lots and break down the little fences men have built along the lines of succession. The Spirit of God, which is the only anointing and ordaining power in the Church or in the world, goeth where it listeth. So in this lesson the spirit of God looked over the tops of the little objections Jesse laid in the way, on out to the fields where the last son of the family was humbly tending sheep, and recognising the royalty in him, said: “Send and fetch him: we will not sir, down until he comes hither.” And when David came the Lord said: “Arise, anoint him: for this is he.” Here was another proof of the central thought, that the Lord seeth not as man seeth. David had done nothing kingly yet. The signs and tokens of coming royalty were not in any outward marks or deeds. He was all in the bud. But the Lord looked on the heart and saw inside of the shepherd, a king, and he knew that it only required time to make the kingliness live and grow and sit upon its throne. (C. R. Brown.)
The Divine method of judging character
I. It is exclusively Divine. It is not given to man, not given perhaps to the highest created intelligence, to peer into the depths of another spirit, and there sound all the motives and impulses of action. In sooth, man is unable to detect or ascertain all the varied forces even within himself, which prompt his own actions. “Who can understand his errors? cleanse Thou me from secret faults.” Still less able is he to penetrate into the motives of his fellow men.
II. It is manifestly just.
1. To judge from appearance would be very inaccurate judgment.
(1) Some of our external actions have no intentions at their root. They start from blind impulse, break forth from a sudden rush of passion. Such actions are scarcely ours. From a sudden gust of feeling the soul has lost its balance, and an act is performed which is regretted the moment after its execution. Surely it would be wrong to judge a man from these sudden outbreaks of impulse, the rare exceptions of his life.
(2) Actions apparently bad spring sometimes from good intentions. Saul persecuted the Church of God from good intentions.
(3) Sometimes actions apparently good have their rise in bad intentions.
2. To judge from appearance would be a very partial judgment. Suppose it were possible to catalogue all your external actions, say for one week of your existence, and then catalogue also the unembodied desires, wishes, volitions, cravings, aspirations of the soul during that week, what would be the one compared to the other? A page to a volume. Our inner activities are incessant, varied, and almost innumerable. Therefore to judge a man by his external conduct would be a very partial judgment. From this it seems clear that God’s method of judgment is after all the true method.
III. It is alarmingly suggestive.
1. It suggests the imperfection of the best of us in the sight of Heaven.
2. It suggests terrible revelations at the last day.
3. It suggests the necessity of a heart’s renovation. (Homilist.)
The fallibility of human judgment
Here is a principle of the Divine government which is well worthy of attention; for it is put before us in direct contrast with our own natural tendencies and habits; and put before us in a way powerfully calculated to show us the fallacy and the carnality of our own mode of judging of each other. “The Lord seeth not as man seeth.” Now, it is not to be supposed that man is condemned because he has not the omniscience of the Deity: it is not man’s sin that he does not look at the heart; he cannot look at the heart. But the error into which Samuel fell, and into which the majority of men fall, is, a carnal readiness to form a conclusion, in a manner not delegated to them, upon inadequate grounds. It is wisdom in such a case to recognise our unfitness to form a judgment, owing to the scanty range of our knowledge: and yet we see how frequently the reverse is the case, and how, on inadequate grounds, men rush to an immediate conclusion. Samuel suffered all the testimony of his experience, founded on Saul’s wilful and impenitent conduct, to be silenced by the outward personal attractions of Eliab: and though he had manifest proof of the unfitness of Saul for the throne, he did not allow himself to entertain the idea which his experience might have suggested to him, that, in this case also, a comely exterior might cover a weak understanding and a depraved heart. This, then, is the difference between the judgment of man and the judgment of God. God looks through all the motives, and forms a just and impartial judgment from all the premises before Him: man sees but little indeed; but he forms a hasty, and partial, and inferior judgment from all the evidence that is really before his eyes. The various scenes of life present unnumbered instances of the evil to which we refer.
I. With a view, therefore, to correct this evil, allow me to illustrate it by a reference to several facts of Scripture. The Scripture supplies us with some very striking cases which exemplify this impartial judgment of the Lord.
1. The judicial decision in the garden of Eden is a remarkable instance of it. Both Adam and Eve throw the blame from themselves. But how wisely and justly does the holy Lord God discriminate between them, and so fairly apportion to each their due measure of punishment, as to leave it beyond all question that “the Lord searcheth the heart.”
2. There are some striking instances in which God marks and discerns the wickedness that is unseen by man. The instance of Enoch is one of these. The ungodly men of his days had spoken hard speeches against him, and decided him and his prophecies: but, in the meantime, “Enoch walked with God;” and the eye of God was upon him, and he saw not as men seeth.
3. The history of Moses presents to us a similar instance. In his early endeavours to benefit his people, he was misunderstood; and, having interfered for their welfare at the risk of his life, he was driven by the treacherous conduct of those whom he laboured to serve, to leave the palace and seek shelter in the wilderness. But there the Lord recognised him as a chosen servant; and from hence, at length He called him to be the leader and commander of His people and the law-giver to the whole world.
4. There is a still more striking case in the mysterious dealing of God with Job. The misfortunes which burst simultaneously upon him, deceived his best friends; and, judging from outward appearances, they pronounced him a wicked man. But, in the midst of all these trials, the Lord knew him to be “a just man, one who feared God and eschewed evil;” and, in the end, He brought forth his judgment as the light and his righteousness as the noon-day.
5. We pass on to the instance of the Redeemer Himself. Our blessed Lord was regarded by the priesthood and the people as a madman and a deceiverse Men accounted Him a blasphemer; but the Lord declared that “grace and truth were in His lips.” Man regarded His death as a satisfaction due to the broken law of His own nation; the Lord accounted Him the spotless victim in the cause of redeeming mercy. There never has been a more striking exemplification of the difference between the judgment of God, and that of man.
6. A similar difference of estimation, also is found with reference to the Apostles, the first preachers of Christian truth. Men thought lightly of their character. He speaks of their being regarded as “reprobates.” But what in the midst of this contempt of men, is the judgment of God? “We are unto God a sweet savour of Christ, in them that are saved, and in them that perish.” They were approved by the Divine wisdom as the ministers of God, and in all their varied labours they had his testimony with them.
7. We may just glance at other instances, where those who obtain the favourable estimation of men, stood condemned before Him who searcheth the heart. This was the case with Saul, who was still honoured before the people, long after God had rejected him: with Absalom, whose personal appearance stole away the hearts of the people, and seduced the subjects of David from their rightful sovereign: with Nebuchadnezzar, who, walking in his pride, commanded the adoration of the people to a golden image, which he blasphemously set up to represent himself: and the Lord doomed him seven years to a degraded condition in the wilderness. It was the case also with Herod, who, while the people cried, seduced by his oratory, “It is the voice of a god, and not the voice of a man,” was smitten by the angel of the Lord, and was eaten of worms, because be gave not the glory to God.
II. We ought to endeavour to profit by these considerations: and although we cannot impart to ourselves the accuracy of full and unerring observation and judgment, yet, at least, the consideration of the circumstances in which we are placed, and of our tendency to error, ought to lead us to watch with jealousy the judgment we form.
1. In the first place, then, we should suspect the judgment that we form of the outward appearance, and the importance we are sometimes led to attach to it. Why should we estimate so highly that which is so soon to decay? Let us learn from the pestilence that walketh in darkness, and from the destruction that wasteth at noon-day, the madness of priding ourselves on distinctions which a single hour may destroy.
2. How erroneous is the estimate that men in general are disposed to form of character. We are perpetually the slaves of our own prejudices; led by a few general blandishments, we mistake that which is faulty for that which is good, and account all that glitters gold.
3. How much deeper is our error in the defective and partial standard by which we judge ourselves; and yet, we are willing to acknowledge we stand on a very different ground for judgment. Conscience brings us near to God; even we do not bear with the outward appearance. No man can so completely turn away from his inward conscience as not to know something that is passing within--something of his defects; in some measure, in fact, to look at the heart. One of the great sins of man, however, is the settled, resolute habit of looking only to external and superficial merits, and trying to destroy all consciousness of the future by the follies of the life that is present.
4. Consider again, bow this view of the dealings of God exalts the grace of redemption. “The Lord looked down from heaven,” we are told; and when he saw there was none righteous--no, not one, then His own arm brought salvation. He knew the amount of the evil that was in the creature He determined to redeem, or the remedy would not have been adequate. But what a thought it is that the Lord should so provide for the cure of sin in all its disgusting forms, and, in His pity, should blot it out forever by the blood of His own Soul. It is almost inconceivable that such a price should be paid for such a race and nothing but such evidence as God has vouchsafed, could make us believe it.
5. “The Lord looketh at the heart.” If His inspection is such at all times, how much more solemn is the thought of His coming, when He shall judge the secrets of men’s hearts at the last day! (E. Craig, A. M.)
Judgments, Human and Divine
Admiration for physical height and bulk natural to warlike peoples. Regarded by them as indispensable qualification for leadership. Thus Herodotus tells us that the Ethiopians “confer the sovereignty upon the man whom they consider to be of the largest stature, and to possess strength proportionable to his size.” And again, after stating that the armies of Xerxes numbered more than five millions of men, he continues: “But of so many myriads, not one of them, for beauty and stature, was more entitled than Xerxes himself to possess the power.” Saul then was just the kind of man to fulfil such conditions as these. “From his shoulders and upward he was higher than any of the people.” Nor was he deficient in other qualities, courage for instance, such as would recommend him to a bold and warlike people. But in judgment he was lacking, and in action self-willed. The malady which came upon him during his later life was the fit precursor of his tragic end. His sun set in darkness and in blood upon the mountains of Gilboa. The gloom of Saul’s closing years had been deepened by the knowledge that he had been superseded by the Divine degree, and that as he had been the first so he was to be the last of his family to occupy the throne. Soma years before the death of Saul, Samuel had been seat to Bethlehem to anoint one of the sons of Jesse king in his room. We must not however suppose, because David was chosen by Him Who “looketh not on the outward appearance, but upon the heart,” that he was not well-favoured and attractive. Physical beauty even, if more than skin deep, if it result from the shining through the windows of the beautiful tenant within the house, is and always has been a great moral force in the world. The thing to be noted, however, is that while these attractions were well fitted to be the handmaids and helpers of the internal qualities which the fair young shepherd boy possessed, it was not on account of his graces of form and feature that the Lord “chose David His servant, and took him from the sheep folds,” etc. (Psalms 78:70-71.)
The principle on which the selection was made is clearly indicated in the words, “The Lord looketh on the heart.” What was there in the heart of David to commend him? There was that in the heart of David which in some way or other rendered applicable to him the designation which was thus prophetically given him, and which has clung to him ever since. “Saul had been man’s man, David was to be God’s man.” And yet rash and sinful though Saul was we do not find that he descended to such depths of wickedness as those which David, in his later history, fathomed. We encounter something like the same difficulty here as we are familiar with in the matter of the Divine preference, shall I say? of Jacob to Esau (Malachi 1:2-3; Romans 9:13). Naturally Esau’s was the more generous and open nature, just as there are magnanimous traits in the character of Saul which it would not be easy to find so prominent in the disposition of David. But the truth is that: both in Jacob and in David, with all their faults and failings, there were aspirations after goodness, which were altogether foreign to the natures of the two men with whom, on the page of history, they stand contrasted. We cannot imagine Esau occupying the place, or undergoing the experience of Jacob at Peniel. Neither can we think of Saul as the author of such outpourings of “a broken and a contrite spirit” as the penitential psalms. And one of the best answers that can be given to the question, How comes it that such an one as David could be spoken of as “a man after God’s own heart?” is to be found in such words as those of Thomas Carlyle on the subject. The text then presents us with a contrast between human judgments and the Divine judgment of men and things. “The Lord seeth not as man seeth,” for “Man looketh on the outward appearance.”
I. Here we have the secret of the imperfection, the necessary imperfection of human judgments.
1. The “outward appearance” may lead us to over estimate the values of things. In small things and in great we are to a large extent at the mercy of the impressions made upon us through the senses. How slow we are to learn that an attractive exterior may conceal a false and faithless heart; that the value of a deed depends not upon the scale on which it was done, but upon the motive which inspired it; that the only true greatness, whether of men or of actions, is that which is moral and spiritual.
2. But, on the other band, we must also remember that we may easily be led by the “outward appearance” to the undervaluing of men’s motives and characters. There are a hundred and one facts which ought to be taken into the account before a perfect judgment of any man can be formed, facts of which his fellow men are, and must be, largely ignorant. Again, “The Lord seeth not as man seeth,” for “The Lord looketh on the heart”
II. While our judgments must be partial and imperfect because our knowledge is so limited, there is One Who knows. The features in any man’s life and character, our ignorance of which disables us from appraising at their proper worth his words and actions, are all known to God: the hereditary bias towards some form of evil which has made his life a continual battlefield; the educationary influences which surrounded him in early youth, and which have necessarily done so much to make him, for good or evil, what he is today; all these and many other factors in the problem which every human life presents, are fully known to Him.
III. This great and solemn truth yields us two lessons:--
1. One of warning. We may impose upon our fellow men, and even delude ourselves, but we can never deceive God.
2. One of consolation and encouragement for all who have been made the victims of the slander and misrepresentation of their fellows, etc. What does He see when He looks upon your heart and mine? (F. R. Bailey.)
Deceptiveness of appearance
Were men to be guided by the appearance of things only, in forming their judgment, how erroneous and deceptive would it be! The sun would be no more than a few miles distant and a few inches in diameter; the moon would be a span wide and half a mile away; the stars would be little sparks glistening in the atmosphere; the earth would be a plain, bounded by the horizon a few miles from us; the sun would travel and the earth stand still; nature would be dead in winter and only alive in summer; men would sometimes be women and women men; truth would often be error and error truth; honest men would be rogues and rogues honest men; piety would be wickedness and wickedness piety. In fine, there is scarcely any rule so deceptive as the rule of appearance; and there are multitudes who, in many things, have no other rule by which they form their judgment. Hence the errors of their speech and life; the ridicule and blunders into which they plunge themselves before the world. If appearance were the only rule of judging, what would you say of Jesus in His humble birth; in His lowly training; in His fasting and temptation; in His servant form; in His persecutions from the people; in His poor disciples; in His bloody sweat; in His base trial; His mock kingship; His ascent up Calvary; His crucifixion with two thieves; His dying exclamation? What would you say of Christianity as the religion of this Man and His poor Apostles? But you are not to judge Jesus and His religion by the appearance, any more than nature and man.
The Lord’s choice
The world loves that which strikes the eye, something or somebody who is imposing in appearance, and who makes an impression. How far is this from the thought of God! He would not have a repetition of Saul. It was just because Jesus had “no beauty”--according to the eyes of men--“that they should desire Him,” that the people of Israel despised and rejected Him They wanted one whose pomp would vie with the court of Rome. They wanted one who should resist evil; one who should value earthly glory; another Solomon. And they saw a Man coming from the carpenter’s shop, meek and lowly in heart, associating with the very poorest, touching the leper, allowing the vilest of women to weep over His feet, eating with publicans and shiners: One whose only might was over sin, sickness, sorrow, and death. And they despised His meekness and poverty of spirit; there was nothing in Him that the world could pride itself upon; so they cast Him out and crucified Him. (M. Baxter.)
The Lord looketh at the heart--
The life of the heart
Judge not realities by appearances. Let me point out to you a most thriving and prosperous man, whose case will explain exactly what I mean. There is no question that in trade he is very successful. He drives into town every morning as well? Yes. And generally has a flower in his button hole? Yes. His name is seldom seen on a subscription list, and he makes but a poor figure amongst the charities which are popular in the circle in which he moves, he is called stingy and mean: people say sharp things about him when his back is turned. You saw him putting down five pounds just now, and you thought the figure looked shabby without a cypher at the end of it; but you don’t know that last year be paid a thousand pounds of his father’s debts, for his father, though an honourable man, had been ruined in business; nor do you know that only this morning, on which he gave the despised five pounds, he sent a cheque for fifty guineas to his two sisters, end that he sends them a cheque of the same value four times in the course of every year! nor do you know that he is paying for the education of two brothers, and that he is laying by what he can afford to give them a nice start when they are ready for business. Judge not, that ye be not judged! The Lord looketh on the heart! There is another side to this picture. Here is a fine dashing fellow, who is the charm of every circle into which he enters. A free-handed, genial, sparkling man. Many a ten-pound note he gives away; many a subscription list he nobly leads. Wherever he is known he is praised as a charitable man. Could you have heard as I have heard him, your feelings would undergo no trifling change. I have heard his words in secret, end seen his face when the true expression of the soul was upon it. “Why not lessen your expenses?” said a confidential friend. “Appearances,” he sternly replied, “must be kept up. We must get money somehow. What securities have we in hand, we mortgage them, sell them, do what you like with them--only get me what money I want.” He must keep the blacking on his boots and the nap on his hat, for if he fail in surface he will fail altogether. He is made up of surface. A pin point could scratch it off. So let him beware, for a touch may topple him over into his own place. Man has a heart life as well as a hand life. It is upon the heart life that God looks, and upon it that He pronounces His judgment. We cannot put all that is in our heart into our hand. God knows our advantages and disadvantages, and His judgment is the result of His omniscience. There was a sharp discussion the other day in a gentleman’s kitchen. One speaker said to another, “I am ashamed of you; we ought not to be in the same house together; you are common and vulgar looking, besides being scratched and chipped all overse Look at me; there is not a flaw upon all my surface; my beauty is admired, my place in the house is a place of honour.” The other speaker was not boisterous; there was no resentment in the tone of the reply: “It is true that you are very beautiful, and that I am very common, but that is not the only difference between us. See how you are cared for; you are protected by a glass shade; you are dusted with a brush made of the softest feathers; everybody in approaching you is warned of your delicacy. It is very different with me; whenever water is wanted I am taken to the well; when servants are done with me they almost fling me down; I am used for all kinds of work; and there never was a scullery maid in the house who did not think herself good enough to speak of me with contempt.” It is so with men. Some of us live under glass shades; others of us are as vessels in common wear; but we could not change places; each must do his proper work, and each will have his appropriate reward. The Lord looketh on the heart! There are two gravestones in yonder churchyard which occasion a good deal of remark. You will be pleased to hear something about them. The first is considered a marvel of art. The marble and the granite of which it is composed are the purest that can be found, and what can exceed the brilliance of their polish? The stone tells you that it is put up to commemorate the life of the best of mothers. It was erected by her son, who resides in the chief mansion in the vicinity. He is proud of the stone. For nothing else is he known but for that stone He has never written his name on the holy roll of charity. No poor family would miss him were he to have a similar stone put above his own head. The other stone is modest, but really good. There is not one line of pretence about it. It, too, was put up by filial piety to commemorate motherly excellence You should hear how it is talked about by the man who owns the fine stone He says: “I am ashamed of such men! It is true enough that he was not very well off when his mother died but look how he has got on since! Why, he must be worth some thousands a year. I wonder he is not ashamed of himself, to leg that thing stand there--he should take it up and put another in its place. I don’t know how men can do such mean things.” And having so said he walks towards his own stone, and heaves a sigh that has meaning in it. And how about that other son? Thus! He never allows a poor woman to go from his door without help because her presence reminds him of what his own mother used to be in the days of her poverty, and never does he give the help without saying in his heart: “Sacred to the memory of my dear mother.” He never sees a poor woman go along the road but he looks after her end says: “Once my mother was very much like that, and for her sake I must do something for this poor creature.” It is in this way that he sets up his gravestones; in this way that he honours his mother, he says nothing about it. He writes epitaphs on hearts, not on stones; and though be is misjudged by man there is One who makes an imperishable record of his love--for the Lord looketh on the heart!
1. The Lord looketh on the heart,--This must be terrible news to a bad man.
2. The Lord looketh on the heart,--This is the joy of all men who live in truth.
3. The Lord looketh on the heart,--Then man’s supreme concern should bear upon his spiritual life. Fool is he who filters the stream when he might purify the fountain. How is it with our hearts? (J. Parker, D. D.)
Man’s heart under God’s eye
The man who simply looks at himself in the light of the opinions which his fellow men form of him, is in imminent danger of making fatal mistakes. The man who even looks at himself in the light of the favourable judgment which the Church of Christ may form of him, is in a most dangerous position. But no man is in this danger who has formed the habit of always judging of himself, as he appears to himself when he stands face to face, if I may use this phrase, with God. The reason of our mistakes upon most subjects is, that we have too much fellowship about them with God’s erring creatures, and too little communion with Himself.
I. God’s knowledge of human nature. It is--
1. Immediate and direct. His acquaintance with us men is not through outward appearance; it is not in any sense by the outward; He looketh on the heart. The body does not intercept His vision. The body is not even a medium, he sees the body, and knows the body as perfectly as He knows the spirit. He is not dependent on our words for His knowledge of sin. He is not dependent upon our actions for knowledge of us, neither upon our history. He has no informant. God’s knowledge of human nature is not second-hand or inferential, but immediate and direct.
2. Being immediate and direct, God’s knowledge of man is perfect. His eye is upon your thoughts and your thinkings. His eye is upon your reason and upon your reasonings. His eye is upon the emotional part of your nature, and the rising and falling of your emotional susceptibilities. Sin, while being conceived, He sees.
3. Because God’s knowledge is direct and perfect it surpasses men’s knowledge of each other, and of themselves. It surpasses what call be known by men of themselves, and of each other. Men, with reference to self-knowledge, consult their consciousness. I do not say the conscience. The word consciousness is a more general word, including a state of the entire nature; but I speak not of the state of one faculty, but rather, I repeat, of the whole being. Men consult consciousness, and they consult memory. But then, “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked;” so that men, with relation to self-knowledge, are very often self-deceived. Now, on all these grounds, God’s knowledge surpasses that knowledge of ourselves, and of each other, that is even possible to us. But yet, more, does it surpass what is actually known; because none of us, or few of us, have the knowledge of human nature, the knowledge of ourselves, or of each other, which we might have, perhaps, if we sought for it. This seems to be the doctrine of the text.
II. Now let us consider the life lessons it yields.
1. The first practical thing here taught us is, the folly of permitted self-delusion. Now do not call the words permitted self-delusion, a contradiction, for they do not involve a contradiction, or, it they do, it is just one of those contradictions that we so often find in human nature. Permitted self-delusion is not uncommon in other spheres. The case of a man who, in trading, knows perfectly well that he is not solvent, but tries to believe that he is solvent, and goes on as though he were solvent, is a ease of permitted self-delusion. The man does not actually face his business circumstances. I say that is a case of permitted self-delusion, and there is something very much like this in professed religious life. Men more than half know that they are not Christians, but they try to persuade themselves that they are Christians. Now the doctrine we have been looking at, or rather, the fact of God’s perfect knowledge of human nature, shows the utter stupidity of all this. Delusions and deceptions with reference to character cannot continue. Just as in the spring and autumn, you have often seen the early mists dispelled by the sun, so all mists on all subjects, and especially on the character of man, will ere long be dispersed by the strong light of God’s light, and every man will appear to be just what he is--exactly what he is.
2. At the same time it shows us the utter uselessness of all hypocrisy. The two things are so closely connected together that it is only for the sake of giving force to them that I can at all separate them. Say that instead of a man being thus willingly self-deceived, he wears a mask, and does not mind saying, in certain quarters, and to certain persons, that he wears a mask--how utterly useless that mask is! because the eye with which we chiefly have to do, has never rested on that mask, as on a surface; it has always gone right through it--piercing it at every point. On the mask there is the eye of a saint, and on the eye of the real face there is the eye of a lascivious, sensual sinner. But God has never been cheated by that mild saint’s eye.
3. Then we learn, further, the exposed position of all our sins. But there is another view we may take of this subject, that may help us in another direction.
4. We see through God’s perfect knowledge of human nature, His thorough competency to save us. Men die of diseases with which their medical attendants are unacquainted, as the best physician and surgeon would frankly acknowledge. Every day mistakes are made--unavoidably made, I say, not carelessly made. Men go down to the grave, and all about them are ignorant of what bus taken them down to the tomb. Now, suppose God were in this position with reference to our sins. You see at once that He could not entirely save us. We have accustomed ourselves, therefore, really to look on God’s searching the qualifications to redeem us.
5. There is another lesson we may learn here, that is, the duty of being passive under Divine discipline. Troubles may come upon you, and you may perplex yourself as to their intent. You cannot see what faults they are sent to correct. But, generally, you will find, when God chastens, there is a close connection between the sort of chastening and the fault He chastens for, so that you can tell whether the affliction be a correction--whether it be a chastening or not. But very often sorrows are sent not as chastisements. And they are sent for what purpose? They are sent to prevent sin; not to correct you for sin already committed, but to prevent you committing come sin.
6. And we see, the reasonableness of our acting on God’s judgment of men. Do let us look upon mankind, brethren, with the light of God’s Word about men. You will find here, in the truth of the text, an antidote for disquiet under misconception and misrepresentation; a motive to diligence in keeping the heart. And you will learn, further, the advantageous position of Him who is now our Lord and Master, and Who will come to be our Judge. Let us just recognise our ignorance even of our own nature. There is a sort of rebuke here, or if not a rebuke, God points with His finger at our limited knowledge. “The Lord sooth not as man seeth.” That implies that we do not see all; we see only in part; we see only imperfectly. Let us recognise the limit of our knowledge, let us recognise the fact that we do not, except as we see ourselves, in light of God’s light, see our own real hearts, and that we are not in a position, alone, even to understand ourselves. Let us apply this rule in judgment of our fellow men, cherishing, at the same time, if we be God’s children, a child-like trust in God’s knowledge. I see nothing terrible in this truth if a man be sincere. I see everything terrible in it if a man be willing to deceive himself, or if a man be a hypocrite. (Samuel Martin.)
God looketh on the heart
God does not judge of the heart by the actions, but of the actions by the heart. In His sight the stream of our conduct is pure or impure according to the state of the heart--the fountain of action: “Out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies.”
I. That it is the exclusive prerogative of God to look upon the heart. The heart is covered with an impenetrable veil, through which no eye can pierce; it is a field of operation into which we cannot look. Within its secrecies the meanest feelings are fostered, and the most generous purposes rise unnoticed and unknown. The knowledge of the human heart is, in fact, a portion of the experimental philosophy, and is only to be acquired by a careful investigation of facts. It is a solemn consideration, but it is possible that our hearts may be filled with enmity or love to the Creator, our minds may be essentially carnal or spiritual, while our nearest earthly friend is wholly ignorant of the relation in which we stand to the eternal world. Were our most intimate friend, to endeavour to unbosom his mind to us, with how little would he make us acquainted; how much must there ever remain wrapt in obscurity, and in all the darkness of secrecy! All we know of the hearts of others is what they are pleased to tell us; but we are frequently deceived; our confidence is often betrayed, and we receive the thrust of an enemy through the professions of a friend. We are not even free from deception and mistake if we turn to our own hearts. We vary frequently persuade ourselves that we are actuated by right motives, whilst a secret principle of selfishness is contaminating the fountain of action. The Lord looketh on the heart, not as implying a curious search, arising from previous ignorance. It is said of the angels concerning the mysteries of redemption, that they desire to look into them, but there are no secrets with the Divine Being. When it is said that “God looketh on the heart,” it is implied that He regards the state of the heart: it is not an inoperative knowledge, a passive contemplation, but an influential regard in opposition to the procedure of man, who is only influenced by the outward appearance. The state of the heart is not a matter of indifference to Him, but His watchful eyes are ever engaged in a vigilant inspection of human spirits. No barriers can interrupt His view. He marked the sin of Achan when his covetousness was excited by the wedge of gold, and the Babylonish garment; He detected the same sin when Gehazi robbed Naaman, and lied unto the prophet, and he exposed the guilt of David in the matter of Uriah.
II. The administration of the Divine government proceeds on the principle of my text. The Lord looketh on the heart, not only in the administration of His laws, but the scheme of Providence in all its ramifications is but an adaptation of His perfections to this truth. However inscrutable His dispensations may appear to us, they are not an unmeaning exercise of power, a blind bestowment of favour, or a tyrannical infliction of pains and penalties, they are the exercise of His power according to the dictates of infinite wisdom and goodness. In selecting instruments to carry into effect these purposes of His will, the Lord looketh on the heart: He sent Samuel to Bethlehem to the family of Jesse, and ordered him to anoint one of Jesse’s children, whom He would point out to him, to be king over Israel. In illustration of the same truth, we may refer you to His choice as the messenger of His grace to the Gentile world. Who would have selected the persecutor breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the church of God, to display a warmer zeal and holier courage in building up the temple he once attempted to destroy? Infinite wisdom discerned the fitness of the instrument, and consecrating it to the most hallowed purposes. Whenever the church has revived, and Zion has arisen from the dust and put on her beautiful garments, individuals have been selected eminently calculated to effect the desired object. Witness the holy energy and unconquerable perseverance of Luther. In the field of missionary labour we have a Brainerd and a Swartz, a Morrison and a Milne. The venerable Carey, whose power in acquiring languages has only been equalled by his unpretending piety, and his devotion to the sacred work of his Master, was selected by that God who looks on the heart, and was raised to a dignity and moral elevation which the grace of God could alone enable him to adorn. By the same principle God overrules the machination of wicked, and the errors of good men, for His own glory. In the ordinary dispensations of His Providence He acknowledges the same principles of operation. He has perpetual reference to the state of the heart. He is subjecting us to a moral discipline, by which we are to be trained up for glory, and virtue, and immorality. We must not imagine that affliction is the only way by which God manifests a vigilant attention to the heart. He makes the opposite state of felicity and enjoyment a proving time. How frequently has the accumulation of wealth proved to be the touchstone of a man’s character. But not only in the arrangements of our worldly affairs, but in His gracious dealings with us, the Lord looketh on the heart. The discipline to which Christians are subject, arises from the intimate acquaintance which God has with the hearts of all men.
III. We must improve our subject, which is full of instruction.
1. It teaches us the necessity of uprightness. Does God look upon the heart? How vain will it be, then, to garnish our exterior, whilst the soul remains unclean and polluted!
2. Again, our subject teaches us the nature of all acceptable worship. God is a spirit, and must be worshipped in spirit and in truth. Mere formality must ever appear hateful to Him. Where the heart is not engaged, there can be no true worship.
3. Our subject teaches us the awful condition of the impenitent sinner. He lives forgetful of God, but God is not forgetful of him.
4. Our subject is a source of encouragement to the church collectively, and to the individual believerse Are the affairs of this world managed, and the interests of the church superintended on the principle that the Lord looketh on the heart?
5. But it is not only a source of encouragement, but our text is a motive to holiness. All the dispensations of His Providence, end the operations of His grace should furnish a separate motive to purity. (S. Summers.)
I. The Divine superiority to human prejudices. The prophet was misled by a mere prejudice. Very frequently the outside show, the mere accidental circumstances of personal appearance, wealth, or position, are taken as criteria of worth. Now we may observe respecting such modes of estimation:--
1. That the standard is obviously false.
2. It is one of which many take advantage. Many avail themselves of this common prejudice for purposes of the darkest villany. It is the convenient cloak of the base and the hypocritical.
3. It is often the cause of great wrong. Much injustice is perpetrated through the force of this prejudice. The wicked are justified while the righteous are condemned.
II. The certainty of the right-hearted being preferred. Those whose hearts are right with God may be contemned by the world, but they may be sure of approval in His sight “who looketh on the heart.” That such will ever be the ease may be argued:--
1. From universal conviction. False as are the principles on which men choose to act, their convictions are generally on the side of the right. The common conscience of humanity testifies to the worth of right-heartedness.
2. From the voice of revelation. The Bible is decisive in its assertion of this principle. It pronounces as with a voice of thunder, its indignant repudiation of the prejudice by which human conduct is governed, and maintains the opposite as the eternal rule of Divine preference.
3. From their own consciousness. The wrong-hearted are self-condemned, while those whose hearts are right with God enjoy a cheering consciousness of His approbation.
III. The importance of attending to heart culture. It is of vital importance to have the heart made and kept right with God. How is this to be secured?
1. It can be attained only through Christ. The heart will never be right with God till it is made so through the redemptive work of Christ.
2. It requires the operation of the Holy Spirit. To obtain such views of “the truth as it is in Jesus,” and such signify for it, as shall issue in the rectification of the heart God-ward, there must be the cooperation of the Spirit.
3. It demands the most strenuous efforts. The most strenuous efforts, on the part of man, are required to become and continue right-hearted. Learn--
(1) To value men as God values them.
(2) To consider the question, is thy heart right with God?
(3) To give greater attention to the culture of the heart. (S. A. Browning.)
Man measured from the depths
When in Scotland recently, I went to a very interesting place, the Observatory at Paisley. I there saw an instrument for measuring earthquakes, a seismological register. A block of stone, twenty-four solid feet in depth, was thrust into the ground; down and down it went, standing like an isolated column in the vacuum carefully preserved on every side of it. On the top a delicate instrument was poised, which actually wrote with a pencil a record of the vibrations and oscillations that were taking place in every part of the globe. Said the gentleman in charge, “If an earthquake were to take place in Japan, its motions would be written here as faithfully as though we were on the spot to measure it.” “Then what about the rumbles here in Paisley?” said I. “You make noises enough in your streets: would they be registered by your instrument?” “No,” was the reply. “We do not trouble about vibrations on the surface. We measure from the depths.” That is the way to measure--truth in the inward parts. We do not, measure by a man’s profession, but by what comes from the depths of his nature. (R. J. Campbell, M. A.)
1 Samuel 16:10-13
Jesse made seven of his sons to pass before Samuel.
How God’s election works
Our subject is the choosing of a king from among the sons of Jesse the Bethlehemite. This narrative shows how the choosing was done. I have a situation to offer. There is no doubt about the offer or about the gift; the only doubt lies with yourself, as of old the difficulty lay among the sons of Jesse. For what is the office of the preacher, but always to be on the errand on which Samuel went, to that glen in Bethlehem of Judaea? We are ambassadors of Christ; we are here to offer to men a crown, a Kingdom that never fades away. Ah, wake up and listen! “The King has come very near to people who could have had no expectation that He would come so near, when the preacher stands before an audience in London or anywhere else. Why did not Eliab get Samuel’s gift?” “Ah!” says the Spirit of God, virtually, “just, because he was too big; he made too big a show in the flesh, and too little a show in the spirit. And a number of us are kept from Christ, and kept out of the Kingdom, for the very same reason. If you are going to be proud and lifted up, man, you will do for the devil, and you will come to the devil’s reward at the end. But the Son of God will do without you. If there is anything that God sets Himself against, it is this. “A high look is an abomination unto God; and that is what makes me tremble for some people when I am preaching the Gospel. Unless my judgment utterly fails me, you have not a gracious look, my poor lad; it does not seem as if the humbling and subsequently elevating grace of God had ever scratched the surface of your pride. There is a veneering over you, and would be God, as your friend, I could strip that paint off! Now, will you remember that the Lord Jesus Christ looks upon the heart, and a high look and a lofty look are an abomination unto Him. He will go past us, notwithstanding all our physical inches, and all our intellectual endowment, and He will take somebody out of the gutter, lift up that soul, and show that he is beholden absolutely for nothing to pride of mental or bodily girth. But before Samuel got to David he had more to do with other sons of Jesse. In came Abinadab, the second; and he said, “Neither hath the Lord chosen thee.” Then came Shammah--he passed by and out. And seven sons of Jesse, in they came, and out they went.
I. Why did these seven lose it? Look at that procession--and I ask, what was wrong with them? Well, I think this is it: Eliab lost it because he was too big, too much concerned with himself, too proud; he would not do. And I rather think these other sons lost it because they were away at the other extreme; while Eliab was too big, they were too small, too little. Do not go about flaunting like a peacock, drawing all eyes to yourself and your strutting. But, on the other hand, and as much on the other hand, do not be a nobody. Do not be a round O, a mere decimal; and do not be thus, because life has in it one splendid opportunity that should compel every man to be bright and eager, and on the outlook for it, as it domes within his reach. I think, too, that it is depressing to read how these seven came in and went out, when I read their names, because in the Old Testament names meant something. Names nowadays mean nothing; they mean less than nothing and vanity. I met, not, so long ago, a poor abject creature with the glorious name of Hampden stuck upon him as a kind of sarcastic label of what he was not! So you have it hero. One of these is Abinadab, and another Shammah; great names that have something noble in them, as many Hebrew names had. Yet, notwithstanding their names, there may be no more in the owners of them than a day’s work, a day’s whistling at the plough tail, an evening’s pleasure, a night’s sleep, and their wages, Oh, they sadly lost it; and it came so near to them and it hung after all so far above their heads! For when we are going to be nobodies, God will treat us like that, and will not, come and thrust upon you this salvation of yours, that cost Christ, His precious blood and all the wonderful thirty years of His incarnate history hero among men. They missed it because they deserved to miss it, because it, would have been wasted on them.
II. Now, how did David get it? After these seven came in and went out, David’s turn camel. Here David came m, and be is described for us; just as Eliab was described so David is. And they sent and brought him. Now, he was ruddy, and withal of a beautiful countenance, and goodly to look at. The Lord hath no objection to fine looks, the Lord has no objection to a fine physique, and no objection to your developing your physique, in all natural, healthy, gymnastic exercises, as far as you please and as far as you may. God never wastes Himself on nothings and nobodies. Of course, to Him be all the praise; it is He who makes us what we are. Oh, will you humbly return from the pride and conceit that are killing you, and come to God, for He will build you up on a new plan altogether. In came David; and the Spirit of God said to Samuel whenever his eyes lit on him, “Arise, anoint him; for this is he.” How did David get it?
1. First of all he got it because he was there to get it. Suppose somebody had come to my father and said, “I want to choose one of your family for my situation, and I had been considered likely, and that I had been sent for, expecting to find me faithful to little things--namely, keeping crows away--but, lo, I was gone away hazel-nutting or bird-nesting, miles off!” The point is this: Be faithful where you are, whatever your sphere, be diligent,. And if you want the call of God in the Gospel to surely settle on your head, be on hand when the call is made. I want to say a word about non-churchgoing. Man, you are playing the devil’s game, and he is winning with that trump card every time, since he got you to give up going to bear God’s Gospel preachers, and since he made you think there is nothing in it. Notwithstanding all, there is the Gospel, and God is behind it, and His offer is sincere; therefore, quit your careless ways and be on hand, be in the market when the marketing in heavenly merchandise is going on.
2. David got it because he was there to get it, and, last, of all, because he took it. You can imagine David being just like the rest, and saying to Samuel, “I beg to decline. Really. Samuel, you have landed upon me too suddenly; don’t you see, prophet, I have no time to think of this? I was out there keeping sheep, and I was suddenly called in; and here you are going to make me king, with all that that involves. I have no ambition that: way; it is not for me; give it to Eliab”--I think they all thought Eliab was the man “and let me go away back again.” Do not take it home to think about it. The chances are--and here the parable of the sower comes in--that as surely as you go cut undecided, the devil will pick your pocket of my invitation and call to coma to Christ. For many of us are like the wayside hearers. “The fowls of the air came,” says Christ, “and picked up the seed.” Ah! this great day that, came to David did bring him trouble, it did bring him suffering. He was not, called to the throne, nor after that to the skies, but be was sustained, he came to the kingdom, and he came to the Eternal Kingdom in the fulness of time. There were dark days when David was hunted among the hills, when he might have said that the darkest day that ever came to him was the day when Samuel came and called him from following the sheep to be God’s anointed king. But he held on to God, and God held on to him; and God justified all that He had said, and God fulfilled all that He had promised. (John McNeill.)
1 Samuel 16:11
Send and fetch him, for we will not sit down till he come hither.
Taken from the sheepcotes
The story of David opens with a dramatic contrast between the fresh hope of his young life and the rejection of the self-willed king Saul, whose course was rapidly descending towards the fatal field of Gilboa. No bad man drifts down the rapids unwarned, unwept; but the Divine purpose cannot stay till such pitying tears are dried. Nor must we cling to the grave of the dead past, whence the Spirit of God has fled; but arise to follow as He transfers the focus of His operation from the rocky heights of Benjamin to the breezy uplands of Bethlehem, and conducts us to the house of Jesse. In the selection of every man for high office in the service of God and man, there are two sides--the Divine and the human: the election of God, and its elaboration in history; the heavenly summons, and the earthly answer to its ringing notes. We must consider, therefore.
I. The root of David. Once in the prophecy by Isaiah, and twice in the Book of Revelation, our Lord is called the “Root of David.” “The Lion of the Tribe of Judah, the Root of David, hath prevailed to open the Book and to loose the seven seals thereof.” “I, Jesus, am the Root and the Offspring of David; the Bright, the Morning Star.” The idea suggested is of an old root, deep hidden in the earth, which sends up its green scions and sturdy stems. David’s character may be considered as an emanation from the life of the Son of God before He took on Himself the nature of man, and an anticipation of what He was to be and do in the fulness of time. Jesus was the Son of David, yet in another sense He was his progenitor (Mark 12:35-37). There are four great words about the choice of David, the last of which strikes deeply into the heart of that great mystery.
1. The Lord hath sought Him a man (1 Samuel 13:14). No one can know the day or hour when God passes by, seeking for chosen vessels and goodly pearls.
2. I have found David my servant (Psalms 89:20). There is ecstasy in the voice, like the thrice repeated found of Luke 15:1-32. And was there not some secret glad response to the Master’s call, like that which the disciples gave, when Jesus found them at their nets, and said, “Follow Me?”
3. He chose David to be His servant (Psalms 78:70). The people chose Saul; but God chose David. This made him strong. We are immovable when we touch the bedrock of God’s choice, and hear Him say, “He is a chosen vessel unto Me, to bear My name.”
4. The Lord hath appointed him to be Prince (1 Samuel 13:14). Saul might chafe and fret; but from amid the ruins of his waning power the authority of David emerged as a sin from a wrack of clouds, because God willed it.
5. I have provided Me a King (1 Samuel 16:1). The Divine provision meets every need, silences every anxiety. In some unlikely quarter, in a shepherd’s hut, or in an artizan’s cottage, God has His prepared and appointed instrument. As yet the shaft is hidden in His quiver, in the shadow of His hand; but at the precise moment at which it will tell with the greatest effect, it will be produced and launched on the air.
II. The stem of Jesse. We turn for a moment to consider the formative influences of David’s young life. David says nothing of his father, but twice speaks of his mother as “the handmaid of the Lord.” From her he derived his poetic gift, his sensitive nature, his deeply religious character. To his father he was the lad that kept, the sheep, whom it was not worth while to summon to the religious feast; to his mother he was David the beloved, and probably she first heard the psalms which have charmed and soothed the world. The lad may have owed something to the schools of the prophets, established by Samuel’s wise prescience to maintain the knowledge of the law in Israel. They appear to have been to Israel what Iona was to the wild tribes of the North in later times. (F. B. Meyer, B. A.)
The shepherd foreshadowing the king
In the boyish days and deeds of distinguished men, biographers delight to illustrate the adage that the boy is father to the man. In sacred story, the younger child of Rebekah taking hold of his brother by the heel, as if with intent to supplant him; in classical mythology, the infant Hercules strangling in his cradle the serpents sent by Juno to destroy him; in modern history, the schoolboy Napoleon Bonaparte, rearing his snow fortifications in the playground, and teaching his school fellows to attack or defend them--are samples of the shadows of the future that are often projected on the childhood of great men. The early years of King David exhibited more than one instance of this foreshadowing of the future.
I. It, certainly was not by accident, that, when Samuel went to Bethlehem to anoint one of the sons of Jesse as king, the son on whom the Divine choice fell was at the very moment keeping his father’s sheep. His early employment had a direct and Divine bearing upon his later. In some of his psalms--the beautiful closing verses of the 78th, for example--the Divine connection is transparent. “He chose David also His servant, and took him from the sheepfolds; from following the ewes great with young He brought him to feed Jacob his people, and Israel his inheritance. So he fed them according to the integrity of his heart, and guided them by the skilfulness of his hands.”
1. As a shepherd, keeping his father’s sheep, the sense of responsibility to another was powerfully called into exercise. The flock was not his own. The servant-feeling thus beautifully called into play, was transferred, in full integrity, to the higher sphere of the kingdom. To the people of Israel he felt that he stood in the same relation as he had occupied to his father’s sheep, and to God in the same place in which he had stood to his father.
2. Further, the shepherd occupation of David led him, from its very nature, to seek the welfare of the flock. Suitable pasture had to be provided; shelter had to be found from the heat by day and from the cold by night; protection had to be secured from wolves and lions; the diseased had to be nursed, the wounded cared for, wanderers bad to be followed, rescued from danger, and brought back to the fold. These were the ideas of duty with which David became familiar as a shepherd. And when his charge was changed, these ideas of duty remaining in his heart, and influencing his public conduct, made him the eminent ruler be became. The welfare of his people was his constant aim. In the view of duty to the flock, all thoughts of fear and danger fled from David’s mind. Self-sacrifice for the welfare of others was the ruling principle at once of the shepherd and of the king.
3. Yet further:--In his office as a shepherd, David had constantly to study the increase and improvement of the flock. It was not enough for the shepherd to keep the flock as he got it. The flock was not properly kept, unless every season brought a great increase to its number, and a large addition to its value. The same thought manifestly influenced David’s kingly administration, he constantly consulted for the progressive improvement and elevation of his people. And in all the higher departments of progress, the same spirit of improvement prevailed. Great warrior though he was, the spirit most congenial to him was that of peaceful development and progress. We cannot omit to add, that the shepherd employment of David, by leading him to give special attention to the weak, the helpless, and the distressed of his flock, trained him for one of the most blessed and Christ-like functions of a godly ruler. What a contrast, the spirit of David’s pastoral and royal office, and of Christ’s blessed rule, to that of most earthly governors l What a contrast to the spirit of the well-known saying of the “most Christian king”--“L’etat, c’est moi”--I am the State! The Christian shepherd is not the flock, the Christian ruler is not the state. He is God’s servant, intrusted with the rod of authority for the true good of the flock. The more forgetful be is of self, in his anxiety to discharge his trust, and do good to his flock, the more worthy is he of the title of “a Christian king.” While we speak thus strongly of the devotion of King David to his own people, we must add that in its very intensity, that devotion was not unaccompanied by traces of human infirmity. His love was confined to his own people; and for all beyond that circle, he not only had no warm love, but hardly even the ordinary feelings of brotherhood. It would have been more difficult for a Jew to attain the happy medium, the right equipoise of feeling for the uncircumcised nations around, lying somewhere between brotherly love on the one hand, and bitter hatred on the other. But David gave himself no trouble to find this happy medium. It is a mystery how such tenderness, and such relentless severity, should have been found in the same man. Whatever may be urged in extenuation of his severity, rests on his position as a Jew. For our part, we must ever remember that to enlarge the sphere of kindly feeling is one of the great objects of the Christian dispensation. “Let brotherly love continue” for the members of the household, certainly; but “if ye love the brethren only, what do ye more than others?” (W. G. Blaikie, M. A.)
The call of David
David, the son of a man in humble life, and the youngest of his brethren, was chosen by Almighty God to be His special servant--to be a prophet, a king, a psalmist; he was anointed by Samuel to be all this; and in due time he was brought forward by Almighty God, and as a first act of might, slew the heathen giant Goliath. Now let, us apply all this to ourselves.
1. David seemed born to live and die among his sheep. Yet God took him from the sheepfolds to make him His servant and His friend. Now this is fulfilled in the case of all Christians. They are by nature poor, and mean; but God chooses them, and brings them near unto Himself. He looks not at outward things; He chooses and decrees according to His will, and why He chooses these men, and passes over those, we know not. Here we differ from David. He was chosen above his brethren, because he was better than they. It is expressly said, that when Samuel was going to choose one of his elder brethren, God said to him, “I have refused him; for the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart;” implying, that David’s heart was in a better state than his brother’s, whom Samuel would have chosen. But this is act our case; ye are in nowise better by nature than they whom God did not choose. God hath chosen all of us to Salvation, not for our righteousness, but for His great mercies.
2. Observe, too, God chose him, whose occupation was that of a shepherd; for He chooses not the great men of the world; He passed by the rich and noble (James 2:5). The Angel appeared to the shepherds as they kept, watch over their sheep at night. The most solitary, the most unlearned, God hears, God looks upon, God visits, God blesses, God brings to glory, if he is but “rich in faith.” One person is a king and rules, another is a subject and obeys; but if both are Christians, both have in common a gift so great, that in the sight of it, the difference between ruling and obeying is as nothing. All Christians are kings in God’s sight; they are kings in His unseen kingdom, in the Communion of Saints.
3. Next, observe God chose David by means of the Prophet Samuel. He did not think it enough to choose him silently, but He called him by a voice. And, in like manner, when God calls us, He does so openly. He sent His minister, the Prophet Samuel to David; and He sends His ministers to us.
4. When Samuel had anointed David, observe what followed. “Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the midst of his brethren: and the Spirit of the Lord came upon David from that day forward.” God’s spirit did but come upon David, and visit him from time to time; but He vouchsafes to dwell within the Christian, so as to make His heart and body His temple.
5. Though David reached the gift of God’s Holy Spirit, yet nothing came of it all at once. He still seemed like any other man. He went back to the sheep. The Spirit of the Lord had come upon him, yet it did not at once make him a prophet or a king All was to come in good time, not at once. God the Holy Ghost leads on the heirs of grace marvellously. You recollect when our Saviour was baptised, “immediately the Spirit of God led Him into the wilderness.” What happened one way in our Saviour’s course, happens in ours also. Sooner or later that work of God is manifested, which was at first secret.
6. Lastly, then, let us inquire who is our Goliath? who is it we have to contend with? The answer is plain; the devil is our Goliath. By degrees our work comes upon us; as children we have to fight, with him a little; as time goes on the fight opens; and at length we have our great enemy marching against us with sword and spear, as Goliath came against David. And when this war has once begun, it lasts through life. (Plain sermons by contributors to the “Tracts for the Times.”)
God’s choice and preparation of men
Samuel is the light by which young David reads the handwriting of Jehovah upon the walls of his spirit, learns his destiny, and prepares for his high calling. So the living God in His marvellous mercy hides Himself behind man that not being overpowered by His splendours, we may be won to open our hearts to receive of His fulness and grace for grace. Who of you will be His anointing prophets this day, and go ca this blessed ministry! Care you not for the future of His kingdom? Is there no David whose spirit you can fire by the outshining of your conviction and the best of your enthusiasm for the salvation of men? Seize your privilege, and hand on to unborn generations the gifts of vision and power the Eternal has bestowed upon you!
1. We now ask, why is it that David of all the sons of Jesse, and of all the children of Israel, is elected by the prophet for this special consecration of kingly place and power? The answer, fortunately for us, is as near as it is definite, and as simple and authoritative as it is decisive and Divine. Speaking of Eliab, God says to Samuel, “Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him; for the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart.” There is at once the principle of the Divine choice, and the condition of the prophetic inspiration. David has that inner consecration without which the outward anchoring is an utterly unmeaning and damaging ceremony. “The unction of the Holy One” has preceded the symbolical oil of the prophet. For though God accepts and adopts human meditation as the principal avenue along which He meets the souls of men, He has many other ways of finding us besides that of a faith-begetting human presence. The Idea of God grows unawares upon our inward sight, and we are learning more and more about Him when no visible teacher is near and no human voice is heard.
2. It were, indeed, the gravest of mistakes to regard this day of consecration as the first descent of the Spirit of the Lord on young David’s heart--
“Let no man think that sudden in a minute
All is accomplished, and the work is done.”
God does not anoint unprepared men for kingship. “The boy is father to the man.” Not as a vaunting soldier, not even as a brave patriot, does David go forth against Goliath of Gath; “but that all the earth may know”--for the fight is a missionary’s evangel, and a soldier shepherd’s “apology” for God--that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, who does not give victory to mere bulk, or even to military prowess, but to sincerity of heart; to humility, purity, and largeness of soul. Evermore God’s unseen educating ministry goes forward. He is always preparing the world’s kings. True rulers are never absent. We indeed see not their crowns. No sceptre is in their hands. They neither wear king’s clothing, nor sit in king’s houses. They are with us in our families, despised by their elder brothers, and unrecognised by all; but when the clock of time strikes, and their hour is come, they take their place and do their work, and we are debtors all. The earliest stages of regeneration are unconscious. Visibility is not the measure of reality. “The kingdom of God comes without observation.” We live months and years before we talk in fluent English. We know not the day of our birth, and we cannot tell what we shall be. The issues of our acts are hidden from us. Alertness of vision, openness to receive the Spirit, will be surprised after a while by a God-sent Samuel anointing you for a higher vocation. But we are not right within. We know it. There is an aching inside us. Our sins look us full in the face. We want place rather than preparation, thrones rather than disciplined ability, glittering crowns rather than true and unfaltering obedience. We crave and pant to be thought somebody, instead of bending our whole will on being as God wills.
3. But David, we may be certain, were he guiding us, would take us another step backward in order to see the building work of God in its earlier stages; for nothing more ineradicably rooted itself in his mind, or found more pathetic expression in his songs, than the immense educational influence of his family and shepherd life. As a boy he was a keeper of sheep, and he never forgot it. The influence of that shepherd life was never exhausted. It was the salt of his career. It fed his humility and inspired his praise; purified his thinking, and sobered and deepened his emotion. It brought him face to face with reality; shut out the crowding and gossiping life of the city, threw him back on his own thoughts, gave him leisure and facility to strip off the shows of things, and get at their heart, developed an inwardness of being that brought peace and power for evermore. Thus David got his education, in the plain everyday uses of life, and was fitted for his consecration to kingship by patient, plodding, and loving service. As Moses led the sheep in the desert before he led Israel out of Egypt, as Gideon received his call to take charge of the hosts of God whilst be was threshing wheat, as the mantle of Elijah fell on Elisha at the plough, as Matthew heard the summons to the apostolate at the tollbooth, so David got his first training for his high place amid the lowly duties of his shepherd life. I suppose we shall learn some day, that the faithful doing of our actual work, the doing it for use, and not merely for gain, from love of God and love of men, is recognised by Heaven as the surest preparation for future promotion and enlarged service. Then we shall have no need to seek change of place, in order to be ready for God’s prophet with his horn of anointing oil, but only “to keep our heart right.” (J. Clifford, D. D.)
The unlikely selected
Dr. Isaac Barrow, when a lad, was most unpromising. Such was his misconduct, and so irreclaimable did he seem, that his father, in despair, used to say that “if it pleased God to remove any of his children, he wished it might be his son Isaac.” What became of the other and more hopeful children of the worthy linen draper, we cannot tell; but this unworthy son lived to be the happiness and pride of his father’s old age, to be one of the most illustrious members of the university to which he belonged, and one of the brightest ornaments of the church of which he became a minister. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
1 Samuel 16:12
Arise, anoint him, for this is he.
The Anointed Shepherd
Not a few of the most impressive characters of Scriptures come before us its adult strength. Abraham, Elijah, the apostles, lived an unrecorded youth. Not so wish David. When we see him, ruddy from the fold, bow to receive the holy chrism from the hand of Samuel, he is alert with the grace and comely with the beauty of youth. Hence much of the spell his story has cast upon the young of all the ages. Now look at--
I. Young David’s home. His mother’s name is untold. But, as we might expect, she was a godly woman, “Thy handmaid,” as David could say in prayer to God. His father Jesse was an old man in David’s youth (1 Samuel 17:12). With seven brothers and two sisters, Zeruiah and Abigail, he was apparently the youngest of them all. The companionship that failed him with his much older brothers he probably found with his sisters’ sons--Joab, Abishai, Asahel, and Amuse--who would be to him more like cousins than nephews. His father was the grandson of Boaz and Ruth, the Moabitess. Jesse was not like Boaz, a “mighty man of wealth.” He kept no servant, as far as appears in the record. His flocks were “a few sheep.” In much solitude, though one of many children, and meeting little appreciation--though surely the mother must have read some great promise in her youngest son!--grew David. To and fro, between his home and flock, he went, and the simple people of Bethlehem little imagined that he was to make their own town famous through all lands, and to be to men of all ages one of their holiest and most helpful teachers. Who can forecast the destiny of the children we meet, the children of our homes? A future is before each of them; it may be of lowly usefulness, if not of eminence. And the thought even of young David, to whom, it seems, small appreciation gathered, will give point to our Lord’s solemn warning, “Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones.”
II. David’s occupation. It was that of a mountain shepherd. The shepherds of Bethlehem--which stood on a rugged ridge of the hill country of Judah with deep gorges eastward to the Dead Sea and westward to the Philistine plain--had to keep their sheep amid no ordinary difficulties. Every Syrian shepherd’s life was one of exposure and privation. Alertness and courage needed in the shepherd were found in David. Much alone, toiling as humble youth among humble men, not a day but by the work of his hands, his companionships, his perils, he was being prepared to be the shepherd of a nation. And because he was faithful over a few things--feeding sheep, nursing lambs, going after the lost, fighting back the thief--God purposed to make him ruler over many things. However lowly our station and inconspicuous our toil, we are to be faithful in it. Our business may be small, but it is big enough to be faithful in.
III. David’s endowments. Though not of commanding stature like Saul, he was endowed with uncommon beauty. Dwelling among a dark-complexioned, black-locked people, “he was ruddy,” “cherry cheeked,” as an old English writer calls him, or, according to the rendering of the ancient versions, auburn-haired. David was endowed with the poet-soul. The experiences of his shepherd occupation coloured many of his Psalms. The value of David’s great musical and poetic gift to himself must not be overlooked. But not because of his physical beauty or poetic genius was David chosen to the throne. It was because of his true and holy character. “From a child he knew the Holy Scriptures,” a portion of them consisting of but little more than the Pentateuch. His delight was in them; they were his meditation day and night. His heart was right with God. He was “glad in the Lord” With radiant piety he went to daily duty and through it. “He carolled to his fleecy care.” He was not the less but the more manly for his piety. Wild beasts found in him their victor. And the violent robber retreated before this young but valiant man of war. His heart was right and so his life was right for duty or danger. The Lord looketh on the heart. Then what does He see in us? The “heart right with God” is the grand essential to all valuable and enduring service to our generation. Where God looks let us look. Let our heart be right, and then though our intentions, motives, conduct, may be questioned and maligned by men all will be well with us, God Himself will vindicate and reward us in that great day when the thoughts of all hearts shall be revealed.
IV. David’s anointing. When David comes before us in the sacred record it is to be anointed by aged Samuel, last and purest of the judges. Thus the obscure shepherd lad, the menial of his father’s family, first meets us in history. Anointed! Did that family know the meaning of the rite? Prudential reasons would conceal it from them. Did David know? Most likely not. But he knew that God’s favour was on him, and that of some kind, a great future was before him. He was not impatient; for it. He would prepare for it; by study of God’s law, in which he may henceforth have received instruction from Samuel, whose home (for there were several Ramahs) was, very likely, not many miles away; by still tending his sheep he would also prepare for it. When the great future comes it will know where to find him. In the faithful discharge of daily duties every Christian man is preparing for heaven’s glorious future. He is being trained up for an eternal, if not a temporal throne. (G. T. Coster.)
The anointing of David
Samuel, the venerable and almost outworn prophet, would have made a mistake upon this occasion. When he looked upon Eliab, he said, “Surely the Lord’s anointed is before Him.” It is clear, therefore, that even inspired and honoured prophets were not, in themselves, infallible. It would further appear that their inspiration was occasionally suspended. Now and again natural judgment interposed its opinion. Now and again the natural sense spoke first, without allowing the spiritual sense to lead the way. Appearances ought to mean something. If a man have a noble physical appearance, that appearance ought to carry with it some moral significance. If it do not, the man himself should retire into his own heart, and ask himself a plain question or two. Did God fashion palaces for dwarfs? The man should inquire whether God intended that his outward nobleness of form and aspect should be inconsistent with his inner and better life? Ought not the natural to be the expression of the spiritual? Ought a man to have a noble head and nothing in it? great physical power and no power of soul? an open, beautiful countenance, yet the heart of a hypocrite or the soul of a villain? As with personal appearance, so with social appearance. Our outward figure in society ought to mean something good; something according to the measure of its greatness, and the intensity of its splendour. Shall a man live in a great house, and be surrounded by all the signs of luxury and advanced civilisation, and yet that appearance fail to denote that the inhabitant of that house and the owner of that property is a man of the noblest charity, and that what is round about him is but a poor figure and dim emblem of the reality of his spirit, and the inexhaustibleness of his love? A man ought not to feel himself at liberty to be inconsistent, to exhibit a daily discrepancy between his appearance and his reality, whether it be his personal appearance or his social appearance. On the other hand, there is a higher law. There is a law which takes us clear out of the realm of appearances. So, whilst our subject gives a ceil to those who are favoured with outward beauty and external majesty, it also sends a message to those who have no such physical and external advantages. It says: True beauty is beauty of the heart, true greatness is greatness of the mind, abiding majesty is moral majesty; what thou art in reality, thou art in thy soul! The bloom shall be taken off thy cheek, the lustre shall be dimmed in thine eye, the sap shall be taken out of thy bodily strength: moral elements, spiritual qualities, spiritual beauties--these survive all wrecks, these grow, these increase in lustre, beauty, and worth; these, partaking of the very nature and quality of God, shall abide through the ages of His own eternity! Turning specially to the anointing of David, we shall regard it in its bearing upon the Divine law of election, which is so mysteriously, yet so certainly and inexorably working amidst the affairs of men. Looking at that law of Divine election within the limits of the present instance, two things are plain.
I. It is plain that the law of Divine election pays no regard to human prejudices. There is, for example, a prejudice in favour of appearance. Samuel himself was the subject of that prejudice. We may, too, have prejudices as respects age. We rightly say that age should speak, that a multitude of days should teach wisdom, that a man who has come to maturity, or grey hairs, has a right to a certain measure of supremacy. There is, too, a prejudice as regards employment. We infer that because a man has been brought up in a lowly employment, therefore he is not qualified for high rule, for supreme command. Now as Samuel had the one prejudice, Jesse had the other. Thus setting aside human prejudices, and working according to a law which never has been sanctioned by the merely natural reason of mankind.
1. By calling unlikely men to the front, God humbles human judgment. No man can arise and say, “This is the Lord’s chosen one,” or “That ought to be the specially honoured servant of the Most High.” Not the keenest, wisest, strongest of us is entitled to say who shall be sent on the Lord’s errands. We are ruled by prejudices, we are sometimes victims of appearances. We see form, not soul--hands, not hearts. We draw conclusions from things seen and temporal. God hushes all our voices, and says, “I am the Lord; I will send by whom I will send: the work is Mine, and the Master must choose the servants.” God also keeps the world in constant expectation by calling unlikely men to do the chief of His work in society. The Lord is round about us, and at any moment He may charge us with His messages, and clothe us with His power!
3. By calling unlikely men to the front, God equalises the conditions of society. Suppose for one moment that all men were called from one class. What a change would take place in our social relations! what pride would inspire some people, what despair would chill and darken others! But God is continually working by a sovereign law, which we cannot understand, but which always vindicates its own mercifulness, as well as shows its infinite wisdom. God equalises one aristocracy with another, and daily teaches us that no man is to be despised; that in the meanest of His creatures He can set up His temple, if He will!
4. See then the graciousness of the law of sovereign election. We do not speak of the majesty, the impressiveness, and sublimity of the law. But in this law of sovereign election, daily at work amidst the affairs of men, we discover infinite graciousness, beneficence, compassion. The law has not only a sublime side, but a side which appeals to our emotions, to our gratitude, to our confidence. God’s strength is the measure of God’s love. So had I any choice in the matter, I should prefer that God should elect to rule according to His own counsel without ever consulting me. I would pray Him to save me from consultation; I would appeal to Him not to make me a party to a decision; I would be His servant, His agent, His son. I am but an insect born yesterday. What shall I say to the eternal and infinite God? I say, “Do not ask me; do not consult me; Thou knowest all; let me find my liberty in Thy sovereignty; let me find my freedom in Thy rule; what Thou doest, infinite, living One, must be best!”
II. It is plain from this instance that the law of Divine election proves itself in spiritual gifts. We read, “The Spirit of the Lord came upon David from that day forward.” The same thing we see in the case of Saul, upon whom the Spirit of the Lord came, and of whom we read, “The Lord gave him another heart.” So it was with Joshua. In like manner we read that “the Spirit of the Lord came upon Jephthah.” So with Samson the strong man. It is of supreme importance that this side of the doctrine be understood; so that the law of Divine election may be saved from abuse. Let us understand, therefore, what we are talking about; namely, the law of Divine election vindicates itself in spiritual expression on the part of those who are divinely elected. How is a man to shew his election? Not by pretension. Not by contemptuous treatment of other workers. The divinely-elected man is a magnanimous man. He rarely has recourse to contempt; when he is contemptuous, it is for moral, not for merely personal, reasons. How, then, is a man to prove that he is called of God to do a special work, or to occupy a special position? I answer, distinctly and emphatically, by the purity and force of his spiritual qualifications. Only so far as he has the Holy Ghost is he the elect servant, the representative of God! There must be something about him that is not merely physically distinctive, separating him from all other men, and giving him a bearing and force which could only be derived from long-continued fellowship with the unseen ever-living Lord! An intelligent appreciation of this law of Divine sovereign election would be attended by the happiest consequences. Life would no longer be looked upon as an irregular warfare. Lose your grasp of this doctrine of the Divine rule and the sovereign majesty of God, and life becomes a scramble on the streets; the strongest wins, the weakest is knocked to the wall; and as for the spiritual man, the soul that has not lost its sensibility, the man that has ideas of righteousness, truth, and honour--such men must be trampled in the dust. Lay hold of this doctrine, that God is at the centre, God is on the throne, marshalling all forces, and ruling all events; and how confused soever may be present appearances, you will find a law working itself out which shall justify everyone who is good, vindicate every righteous claim, confound the wicked, and bear them away upon the whirlwind of Divine indignation. Not only will this result follow; but responsibility will be felt to be measurable by proper limitations. All men are not equally responsible before God. Some of us require he be comforted upon this point, because this great question of responsibility is so heavy to carry; it troubles and overweights us till we can hardly get along at all--so grievous is our sense of personal responsibility. Tell me that God gives be every man a certain number of talents--five, two, or one. Tell me that from him to whom much has been given, much will be required, and that from him to whom little has been given, little will be required; then I begin to feel the justness, the equity, and graciousness of the living Lord. You may expect me to say one word about another kind of election, or another bearing of this law of election. Let me, then, deny, that any man is elected to badness of character. I ask you to prove, by any correct quotation from the Divine record, that God ever called a man to wickedness. The whole tone of Biblical teaching is against a theory so monstrous. I do read of election to righteousness, of calls to high offices and noble functions. I never read of God electing a man to hell! As to this matter of election, I would to God that some who object to it were as commonsense in this matter as they are in the daily actions of ordinary life! There is a prize to be given in the school. It is one prize; there are five hundred scholars in the school. The boys say, “Well, only one of us can get it, why should five hundred of us be toiling and fagging for it?” Another boy says, “I know if I am to have the prize I will get it; so I shall read no books, and make no preparation.” You would not allow a boy to reason so. Yet there are men who say this, “If we are called to heaven, we’ll get to heaven; if we are elected to be saved, we need not make any effort about it.” “Thou wicked and slothful servant: out of thine own mouth I condemn thee;” the whole action of thy evil life shall be thy answer on the day of judgment, and thou shalt be condemned to an ignominious silence because of a self-accusing conscience. With God upon the throne, why should we be distressed by unhappy appearances and unwelcome rumours? The Lord reigneth; that is enough. The sovereignty of the Lord is the security of all goodness. Destroy sovereignty, and you inaugurate confusion. What would be our poor human life, were God to leave the throne, and allow us to go our own way, and do our own bidding? (J. Parker, D. D.)
David, the chosen of God
The aged Samuel and the youthful David contrasted present a touching subject, for contemplation. Samuel had weathered the storms of life for many weary years; David had scarcely commenced to fight his life battles. Samuel was about to enter into rest; David had to live and work and fight. Samuel had one important duty to perform, and then he could lay down his weapons--that duty had reference to the youthful David.
1. The despised of man is in this case the chosen of God. It seems that David was not thought much of at home, but God valued him highly. How often has it happened that boys who have been the subjects of special care, being regarded as geniuses, have repaid the care taken with them by running wild, and thus piercing a tender mother’s and a loving father’s heart. Whereas, on the other hand, some who have been comparatively neglected, can account of their seeming stupidity, have turned out, real heroes, the props of parents’ declining years. “Many a gem” that shall sparkle brightly in the place of happiness is here unseen, and “many a flower” that shall bloom in the soil of Paradise hides its head on earth, like the “modest” violet. Poor Christians, never heed if you are slighted by purse-proud brethren. Jesus will say to you by and by, “Come up higher;” while He will say to those, “Go down lower.” Everyone, sooner or later, will find his proper level. Merit will be rewarded, if not in this world, in the next. As Christians, we can well afford to wait for our exaltation.
2. What sort, of a youth was this David? David was a true child of nature. As “a blithesome shepherd-boy.” he was always reading in her wide-extended book, which told him of the glories of the God of the Hebrews. As nature’s child, he could sing with all artlessness unto nature’s God. He glorified God in his own shepherd language, as the shepherd of Israel. David’s personal appearance was but the reflex of his inward beauty! where it exists ii; stamps its image upon the plainest countenance, and makes it lovely. David, ruddy and beautiful, was called by God; hence let us learn that God requires the young, the beautiful, to be His servants. Now, I take this picture of David to be a good type of the Church of Christ. It is certain that the ideal Christ, of which we love to think, will be “ruddy, beautiful, and goodly to look to” it, all completeness, but this is in measure the appearance of the real Church of today. “Ruddy, and beautiful, and goodly to look to”--oh yes! for she is baptised with the Redeemer’s blood; His own image impressed upon her makes her exceedingly lovely. Do you ask “Where is the proof of her vigour?” Ten thousand proofs are at hand. On the icy plains of the far North some are found who delight in calling upon the name of the Lord Down at the extreme South are those who worship the Father in spirit and in truth. Thank God, the church can never lose its youthful vigour whilst young recruits are stepping up in the ranks to supply vacancies caused by the removal of hoary warriors whose warfare is ended.
3. Let us make one or two other practical remarks on this passage. The Lord’s people form a family; but there are many who, like David in the next, are not now in the family circle: many are keeping sheep for Satan, and refuse to attend the family meal. God says, “Send and fetch them, for we will not sit down till they come hither.” A great feast day is approaching, when all true worshippers shall sit down in the banqueting house, and feast with Jesus. God wants to have a full house then. Shall Satan’s dram shops, and public houses, and dancing saloons be filled on earth, and the Lord’s table empty in heaven? No. “Send and fetch” them in the name of God. Ages have rolled by since David departed from earth; but do no sweet sounds of David’s harp still linger on the ear. “I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the Lord.” (A. H. Jones.)
David under the holy horn
The eldest of Jesse’s sons, Eliab, was the largest of them all; he was like Saul in his figure, a great, tail, broad-shouldered, magnificent-looking specimen of physical manhood. All the others in the crowd looked little and insignificant when compared to him, and when Samuel saw him he said to himself, “There is the man. Surely the Lord’s anointed is before him.” But the Lord made Samuel know his mistake. I remember a friend of mine telling me of a young man who was living in Boston during the years when Phillips Brooke was doing his great work there in Trinity Church. This young man was converted to Christ under Phillips Brooks’ ministry, and he explained to my friend how it came about he said the first thing that attracted him to Mr. Brooks was his giant-like physical form. He used to see him walking down the street every morning, and he said to himself, “What a man that is!” He was thinking only of the physique, and nothing else. But he so greatly admired the splendid appearance of the man that he went to hear him preach, and as he listened to his clear expositions of the Scripture and was charmed by his flights of eloquence, he began to admire the intellect of the man, and he said to himself, “What a splendid brain he has; it is equal to his body; he is a giant in intellect as well as in physique.” But as he went on listening to Mr. Brooks’ sermons, the Spirit of God used the word as a “two-edged sword,” and he became greatly troubled because of his sins, and finally he was so troubled that he went to see Mr. Brooks and opened his heart to him, and then the great man’s tenderness of heart, and toying sympathy with him, as he cleared away his doubts, swallowed up all his previous thoughts concerning him. The young man not only came to know Jesus Christ as his Saviour, but his heart was flooded also with the knowledge that Phillips Brooks was as great in his heart and in his spiritual nature as he was in body or brain. Surely that is as it ought to be always. It is a shame for a man to be large in body and mind and little and narrow and mean in spirit. The same is true of the circumstances in which we live. When you see a man living in a large and splendid house, having about him all the evidences of abundance, you feel that out from such a house there should flow streams of benevolence. When it proves to be true it is a beautiful thing. But when such a place is full of selfishness and greed, you feel that it is a shame and only a mockery of what it professes to be. Is not the same thing true of our spiritual blessings? What a mean thing it is for us to take all the comfort and peace of God’s great mercy, and fail so give ourselves up to seeking after the lost. And so Samuel passed Eliab by; and the next, and still the next, came on, until seven sons of Jesse had passed before him. They sent then for David. He was only a shepherd lad; but in David, after all, was the hope of the family. How many of us are thus blind today! There is a boy who lives next door to us, but he is young and awkward, and when we are thinking of the people we can win to Christ we are likely to pass him by. There is a boy working in the same store with you, but he is young and uninteresting, and it does not occur to you that it would be a great thing, a marvellous thing, to turn those young, awkward steps toward heaven. But nobody can tell what the boy will grow into if the Spirit of God can be put upon him. A recent writer tells how, over in old Scotland many years ago, a faithful minister coming early to the church met one of his deacons, whose face wore a very resolute but distressed expression. “I came early to meet you,” be said. “I have something on my conscience to say to you. Pastor, there must be something radically wrong in your preaching and work; there has been but one person added to the church in a whole year, and he is only a boy.” Said the old man: “I have great hopes of that one boy--Robert. Some seed that we sow bears fruit late, but that fruit is generally the most precious of all.” The old minister went to the pulpit that day with a grieved and heavy heart. He closed his discourse with dim and tearful eyes. He lingered in the dear old church after the rest were gone he wished to be alone. Before this altar he had prayed over the dead forms of a bygone generation, and had welcomed the children of a new generation; and here, yes, here, be had been told at last that his work was no longer owned and blessed. No one remained. Not one? “Only a boy.” The boy was Robert Metier. “Well, Robert,” said the minister. “Do you think if I were willing to work hard for an education I could ever become a preacher?” “A preacher? Perhaps a missionary?” There was a long pause. Tears filled the eyes of the old minister. At length he said: “This heals the ache in my heart, Robert. I see the Divine hand now. May God bless you, my boy. Yes, I think you will become a preacher.” The old minister sleeps beneath the trees in the humble place of his labours, but men remember his work because of what he was to that, one boy, and what that one boy was to the world. “Only a boy!” A spiritual revolution would take place in this city if all of us were as truly anxious here that the young boys and girls, the young men and women, should be anointed to the service of Christ as Samuel was to see David appointed king. (L. A. Banks, D. D.)
The enervating of David
Few questions are more frequently asked than these: How shall I get on in life? How shall I give the right impulse to my children? How shall I plan for their making the most of themselves? Our study of the Old Testament has this advantage, that the hand and counsel of God are formally presented and connected with the rise and fall, the well and ill-doing, of men. Saul has failed through forgetfulness of what he was to be and to do, and the self-will of the people is being punished through his failure. The God of Israel might have left them to reap as they had sown, but He is patient, and if one will not do His will, He will, within certain limits, find another. Hence the mission of Samuel His prophet to Bethlehem. The tenderness of Samuel appears in his sorrow for Saul’s rejection (1 Samuel 15:35; see Elijah’s case, 1 Kings ch. 19), but grief must not keep us from duty and adequate provision for the future. Israel had chosen to have a king; now God will provide a fitting leader, having in view not only present interest, but interests stretching forward into a boundless future. Samuel is to go and anoint the king of God’s providing. But, godly and loyal as he is, Samuel fears, for the best men are not always at their best. Saul is still actual and rightful king, and he may hear of this and treat him as a rebel. So he is directed to a course which is not marked by duplicity, but prudence--not by lying, but by reticence. Silence is sometimes as much a duty as plain speech is at other times (1 Samuel 10:16). A man may be reticent, but not deceitful, as that minister might be if questioned by meddlers regarding the man he warned. The Divine word is, “Arise, anoint him.” Concurrently with this solemn rite, a Divine gift was given David. How much was explained to him we are not told, but he began from that hour to receive a preparation of mind through the teaching and power of the Holy Ghost. New ideas, aims, hopes, took hold of his nature. Samuel went to Ramah, but, David would be in communication with him, and get further light in what was for the present a secret. (chaps. 19, 20)
1. We see here how man’s sinful will is regarded, overruled, and used for the exhibition of God’s will, yet without sin in God. Are we trying to do God’s will as His? We must carry it out in the end, but is it to be willingly or the reverse?
2. We see how God prepares His instruments for their work in their mind and character. David’s training begins, perhaps, by hopes and longings put into his heart, of which his language in ch. 17 is the outcome.
3. But this does not remove from view the fitness in him, coming of a good family where piety was prized and life was trained for God (Numbers 1:7; Numbers 2:3; Ruth 4:20). Jesse was an acquaintance of Samuel--a good sign. No training, however, and no anointing, dispenses with the Holy Ghost (verse 13).
4. David in his shepherd life was being made ready for his work and for his typical place.
5. Even an eminent prophet needs to be guided as to his feelings and his judgments. God is “the only wise.” (John Hall, D. D.)
God determines His own methods for accomplishing His own ends. When an evil spirit had come upon Saul, and he had proved himself unworthy longer to reign over Israel, a train of influences was put in operation to bring another and more worthy incumbent to the throne.
I. A divine directing. Samuel was at Ramah. Here the Lord meets him, with the direction to fill his horn with oil and proceed to Bethlehem, where from the family of Jesse is to be taken Israel’s future king. Samuel foresaw the difficulty. There would be peril to his life in doing publicly so rash an act as anointing Saul’s successor while as yet he sat on the throne. But He who has promised to give wisdom to those who seek, now guided the prophet’s way. “Those,” says Matthew Henry, “that go about God’s work in God’s way shall be directed step by step.” Thus obeying and praying, the prophet enters the town. The appearance, however, of this man of God in the little village filled the elders with alarm. Too often, in planning even for the Lord’s work, His servants fall into as great unwisdom as would the prophet had he openly proclaimed in the streets of Bethlehem, “I am come to anoint Saul’s successor.”
II. A Divine selecting. God has indicated one to become ruler of the nation. The people had selected Saul; God has appointed David Saul was chosen for qualities which men hold in high esteem; David was appointed because of the spirit which dwelt within. “Man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart.” Doubtless there was not one in Israel who would have looked on David as suited to become Saul’s successor. We learn from this that no choice is wise which Heaven does not direct. Now, as then, if any one seeks wisdom, he must ask it from above. Man often chooses to his hurt because he chooses without God. Now, also, as then, right qualities of heart are needed in positions high or low. Again, we learn that the hope of the matron and the world is in the young. Jesse and his household thought that the child David alight not be invited into the prophet’s presence. So think multitudes today. When churches spread their feast, and families gather at the sacramental board, by the absence there of youthful faces, one is often painfully reminded of the question Samuel asked--“Are these all my children?” Parents, Sabbath school teachers, churches, pass not the children by.
III. A Divine qualifying. Although by Samuel’s act the youthful David was now anointed, he was yet to be trained to become a king. This God effected by methods of His own. The lad returned from the feast to his shepherd life. He was, however, preeminently in God’s school. He was the same boy, but with his thoughts lifted higher. Significantly is it said that “The Spirit of the Lord came upon David from that day forward.” Henceforth the ordinary events of life were to him God’s messengers--instruments by which he was being fitted for a throne. (Monday Club Sermons.)
We shall now view the ordinance through which David passed, and the farther endowments bestowed on him in order to the effective discharge of regal duty. In the ordinance itself we are warned that all authority and dignity emanate from God. The ceremony as commanded in the text was highly interesting, impressive, and instructive. The unction here used was a real one. Priests had been anointed, and prophets likewise; before this occasion, however, the ceremony of kingly unction had never been witnessed except in the case of Saul.
1. The object of the ceremony, then, was first official. It intimated, by its solemnity, and its minister, that the work was of God--His design and His appointment, and, therefore, not to be disputed. This sacredness of the ceremony precluded all jealousy and contention. God had avowed David as His representative, and so declared Himself for his protection.
2. Our business now is to view natural abilities and endowments in the same light with those official qualifications. We have no miracles, they are unnecessary; we have no form or ceremony, which, by its own virtue, or the virtue of agents and ministers, can communicate to us any unusual or supernatural quality. Nevertheless, the Creator of mind is the ruler of mind; and we observe that by a train of known and ordinary circumstances, providentially directed, He has often raised to honour, and qualified with ability, the very men whom least of all and last of all we should have singled out for advancement. Our position was a gift from God, a free election on His part: our natural endowments likewise came from His special favour. There is an account demanded of our duties--our ordinary ones, our social ones our worldly work and occupation, how far we have been faithful, and how far everything committed to our trust has been dedicated and applied to the good of man and glory of God as God is now revealed to us. A general impression prevails with men as to moral responsibility, but the responsibility which presses on us connected with the Gospel of Christ, this is not so fully admitted. Then let us remember that if we are thus Christ’s people we are so far a purpose that must be fulfilled. “Ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood; you are called to a regal office, see that ye fulfil it.” It is this you are called to reign over sin. (Romans 6:12.) You are called to reign over the world, to overcome it in all its forms of hostility against Gad and godliness. Who is sufficient for these things, who could venture on the mere calling or appointment, without the becoming qualifications? Hence our eyes and hearts must be on the spiritual consecration. “But ye have an unction from the Holy One.” (1 John 2:20.) That is our oil of consecration, and by it we receive virtually the power to sustain us in our great appointment.
3. The first influence of this unction is knowledge, the last is glory. Knowledge was the ambition of man, under the false teaching of Satan, and he found it not except in the discovery of his own guilt, and the experience of sin. Now, we know better things; we know the love of Christ, the remedy for sin, the love of the Father, the peace of faith, the abiding succour of the Holy Ghost.
4. The prophetic or typical signification of the ceremony directed in the text. David was a figure of Christ, and a striking one. He is called, He is adopted, and visibly before His household is ordained to be the preserver and king of Israel. Are we not led instantly in our thoughts to the commission and action of the Baptist? Urged on by his own predictions, and administering the rite of baptism preparative to the arrival of this Saviour, we may easily imagine with what an ardent and inquiring gaze this herald of the Redeemer’s approach looked for him, to whom was turned both true and false, the expectation of the world. We can conceive his repeated disappointment when noble after noble swept along in proud array, perhaps to hear and honour his awakening call to penitence; still no recognition was afforded--no signal yet declared the promised Saviour. At last a lowly form draws near--an humble garb, a gentle mien, an unpretending aspect, which exact no worldly reverence. He is mingled, too, in the crowd of publicans and sinners, who throng the Baptist’s ministry, to win some peace, some hope, to their afflicted, guilty hearts. Here is one without comeliness or external majesty, from whom the common eye would turn heedlessly away; but the spirit within the Baptist calls to homage--“Arise, anoint him, this is he.” At the baptism of Christ we are told the spirit of the Lord descended on Him--the full unction of the Holy Spirit was poured out on Him. (Matthew 3:17.) Christ, then, was publicly anointed, to be our prophet, priest, and king. Let us follow a few passages of Scripture which hear upon His consecration to office.
(1) The consecration of Christ rehearses to us that our deliverer was one in whom dwelt the whole fulness of the Godhead bodily. He was no creature, but the God of creation; no inferior power of Heaven, but the Supreme Being Himself, and hence our redemption is most sure.
(2) In the consecration of Jesus Christ at the Jordan, there was a special conveyance made of qualities suitable to His prophetic office; in these qualities rest all our comforts. Hear the commission of this Saviour, and the qualities conferred on him for the fulfilment of his office. (Luke 4:18-19.) “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,” etc.
(3) And, finally, this typical import of David’s consecration was a representation of Christ’s royal appointment. In the forty-fifth Psalm this royal appointment is described; there the Divine origin of Christ is proclaimed, and His perfect Deity is insisted on. His unction, too, is specified, but it is for authority and government, rather than spiritual ministry--“Thou lovest righteousness and hatest wickedness, therefore God, thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows.” Ministry is over, and suffering, and death, and all inferiority; He sits now on the throne of glory, waiting till His foes become His footstool, waiting till the hour arrives for the judgment of a world which shall have outlived the period allotted for repentance, and yet repented not. (C M. Fleury, A. M.)
The anointing of David
I. The shortsightedness of even the best of men. Even Samuel was taken by the fair face and imposing stature of Eliab. Yet he knew nothing of Eliab’s inner man. Human nature must be estimated simply by external observation. Hence it is only natural that he should make mistakes.
II. The inscrutable purposes of God. He overrules all the estimates of men, and His estimates are very different to those of men. The servants of Jesse had not even thought it worth while to call David in. This is only reasonable. For,
1. He must know the nature of man.
2. Because He has no selfish purposes to accomplish.
3. Because He is actuated by the most benign of motives to all.
III. The valuable instruction to be derived.
1. Moral worth is the truest beauty.
2. We should seek to form our standard of excellence by the character of God.
3. We must not be rash in our judgment of any one’s character. (Homilist.)
The principle of Divine selection
The first great principle involved in the choice of David is that which runs through all Scripture, because it runs through all Providence, that “the first shall be last, and the last first.” Low valleys are blessed with broad rivers; the heights are barren and parched. God’s gifts are given to the lowly in heart, and His judgments fall “upon all that is proud and haughty, and it shall be brought low,”--“and the Lord alone shall be exalted in that day.” Not once nor twice in the world’s history have its deliverers and guides sprung from the lower classes. “In vain is salvation hoped for from the hills.” A miner’s son in Thuringia remoulds the Church which a Prince’s son on the papal throne was corrupting still more; a brewer in Huntingdon fashions England “into another mould.” And as regards individual salvation, it is the “meek and lowly in heart” who comes to Jesus and find rest to their souls, while “the wise and prudent” have no eyes to see the Light of light. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
The future king anointed
The anointing of David was a mysterious incident. Saul knew nothing of it. He went on as before. The kingdom was undisturbed, though a new king was in its midst. So it is in the world today. Jesus Christ is crowned King of kings, but the world over which He has supreme authority knows in its carnal confidence nothing at all of what is going on behind the veil of destiny. Even while winter storms are raging the summer is prophesied by the tiny buds that quietly nestle in the bark of the trees. A new life is secretly Cradled there, but months must pass before it is manifested. So Jesus Christ will come secretly, first in what the early Greek Christians called the “Parousia,” His presence in the air; and afterwards He will appear in the “Epiphany,” the brightness of His manifestation. (Christian Commonwealth.)
Who are elected?
Samuel was sent to Bethlehem to discover the object of God’s election. This would have been a very difficult task if the God who sent him had not accompanied him, and spoken with the sure voice of inspiration within him so soon as the chosen object stood before him.
I. The surprise of all when they found that David, the least in his father’s house, was the object of the Lord’s choice, a king over Israel.
1. Observe that his brethren had no idea that David would be selected; such a thought had never entered into their heads.
2. It is more painful to notice that David’s father should have had no idea of David’s excellence. It sometimes happens that one in the family is overlooked, even by his parent, in his hopes and prayers. The father seems to think, “God may be pleased to convert William; he may call Mary; I trust in His Providence we shall see John grown up to be a credit to us; but as for Richard or Sarah, I do not know what will ever become of them.” How often will parents have to confess that they have misjudged, and that the one upon whom they have set the black mark has been after all the joy and comfort of their lives, and has given them more satisfaction than all the rest put together.
3. It is clear also that Samuel, God’s servant, had at first; no idea of David’s election. Sometimes the Christian minister is deceived. He consults with flesh and blood, and selects Eliab, the man with a fine person. Then rank will come before the minister, and if he sees a person of high estate cheerfully listening to the gospel, he is very ready to think, “Surely the Lord hath chosen him.” Again, others are so well educated that when the Word is preached they appreciate the style in which it is delivered, and the remarks which they make concerning it are so sensible and so judicious that the preacher is apt to say, “Surely the Lord hath chosen these!” At times, we feel sure that we have now pitched upon the right man, for we are charmed with our bearer’s natural amiability of disposition, end are cheered by his tenderness and susceptibility of mind to religious impressions; and yet we are disappointed. Many lovely blossoms never become fruits, and hopeful saplings prove not to be plants of the Lord’s right hand planting, and therefore are plucked up. At times, too, we hear such admirable conversation about religion that we conclude, “Now we have found out the chosen of the Lord.” Meanwhile, the very one whom we overlooked, the least one in the assembly, has been the David upon whom God’s blessing has fallen. How matchless is the sovereignty of God! “His ways are past finding out.” The very poorest, the most illiterate, the meanest and most obscure, the things despised, yea, “the things that are not,” doth He choose, to bring to naught the things that are that no flesh should glory in His presence. It strikes me that there was one person more astonished when David was anointed than even his brothers, or his father, or the prophet--and that was himself. He was a wonder unto many, but chiefly to himself.
II. The token of election, the secret mark which the Lord sets in due time upon the chosen. In due time every chosen person receives the seal of grace. That stamp is a new heart and a right spirit. What kind of heart had David? We may find it out by his Psalms. We cannot tell when some of the Psalms were written, but if any of them were written in his youth, the twenty-third was certainly one.
1. That beautiful pastoral poem opens a window into the heart of David, leg us look through it, and we shall soon perceive that he possessed a believing heart. How sweet is the sentence, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.”
2. We note, as we read the psalm, that David’s heart was also a meditative heart. Mark the words, “He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: He leadeth me beside the still waters.” He elsewhere writes: “My mediation of Him shall be sweet.”
3. Go on with the Psalm, and I think you will be struck with the humble heart which David had, for all the way through he does not praise himself. “He leadeth me beside the still waters, He restoreth my soul.” See, he has no crown for his own head; the crown is all for the Mighty One who is His shepherd.
4. We should altogether fail in describing David if we were to omit other qualifications. His was a holy heart. Observe in the same Psalm, “He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.” David delighted not in iniquity; the men of Belial he put far from him. “A liar shall not tarry in my sight,” said he. He loved the people of God he styles them, “The excellent of the earth, in whom is all my delight.” Holiness which becomes God’s house was very delightful to David’s soul. He loved the commandments of God because of their holiness. “Thy word is very pure, therefore Thy servant loveth it.” (Psalms 119:140.)
5. Note what a brave heart beat in his breast. Where will you find a braver man than David? Let me remind you that he had a very contented and grateful heart.
6. You should further observe the constancy of David’s heart. He says, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” He was not one of the Pliables, who set out and turn back again at the first slough into which they tumble. By such marks may we know our election. I would God that those who are so positive of their election would condescend sometimes to try themselves by Scriptural marks and evidences.
III. Manifestation, or the way in which the election of God is made apparent to ourselves and others. We cannot see the hearts of our fellow men, and therefore the heart can never be to us the way of distinguishing the elect of God, except so far as it is seen in the acts and words.
1. Now the first sign by which this election was made known to David himself and to a few others, who probably did not know much about it, was by his being anointed. There is a season when God anoints His people. They have believed but there may elapse a little time between the believing and the conscious anointing; but suddenly, when the Lord has illuminated their hearts to know and understand Divine things clearly, the Spirit of God comes with a sealing power upon them, and from that day forward they rejoice to know that they have the indwelling of the Spirit, and that they are set apart for God.
2. The manifestation, however, went on in another way. After the anointing it appears that David became a man distinguished for the valour of his deeds.
3. It appears, too, that he was very prudent. The same witness bearer said he was “a man prudent in matters.” Such will you be, when as the elect of God the Spirit of wisdom rests upon you.
4. Mark well that one of the ways by which your election will become clear and sure to all God’s people wilt be this:--If you are anointed king as David was before you, you will come into conflict with Saul. It cannot be possible that the chosen of God shall forever live in peace with the heirs of hell.
5. I think David was never more clearly manifested to be God’s elect, except at the last of all, than when he was an outlaw. He never seems such a grand man as When he is among the tracks of the wild goats of Engedi. We do not read of many faults, and slips, and errors then. The outlawed David is most certainly manifested to all Israel to be the chosen of God, because the chosen of man cannot abide him. The brightest days for Christian piety were the days of martyrdom and persecution. Scotland has many saints, but she never has had such rich saints as those who lived in covenanting times; England has had many rich divines who have taught the word, but the Puritanic age was the golden age of England’s Christian literature.
6. Remember that after all conflicts were over, David was crowned. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The anointed of the God of Jacob
1. The historical narrative commences just where David’s life becomes an instrument of service for God. Is this not where our life history commences, the point from which the record starts? The years of training for the work require no record there God’s plan concerning our creation has one great object, “that we may glorify Him”; and when our will is consciously surrendered to His, then our names appear as fitted into the mosaic of His purpose. Then, and then only are we co-workers together with Him. No true heart ever altogether loses the influence of early days, and when those days are saturated with the piety of a godly mother, the influence is an important factor in the formation of character.
2. Samuel was on the Lord’s work when his judgment was at fault. How often we need to be kept back--prevented from going as otherwise we would beyond our instructions! He who sends will tell you when to lift and on whom to empty the horn of consecrating oil.
3. We are reminded here of the old but ever-needed truth, that in the diligent performance of present duties lies the road to further usefulness and honour. David was just attending to his ordinary duties, minding the sheep. So was Gideon, when God’s angel called him. Levi also was at the receipt of custom, end the disciples were mending their nets.
4. All great deeds are built upon and built up with little ones. The stupendous monoliths are grains, and rest upon atoms. The mightiest mountain is the aggregate of smallest grains, as is the ocean of tiny drops of water. So the hand that was to lay low the Philistine giant learned its accuracy of aim by exercise in daily duty.
I. In the Divine call lies the secret of all successful service as of all joyful life. And God knows where and when to find us. He sends His messengers direct to us. Every place is open to the coming of the Holy Spirit’s monitions.
II. The Divine call comes irrespective of others. No brethren, or sisters, or elders can hinder. If there be no Samuel at our feasts, there is ever the Spirit of God calling us through varied instrumentalities to arise. His whispers thinly heard must be obeyed. Sheep nor brethren, business nor friends, must keep us from obedience.
III. The Divine call comes to the individual. David is the one whom Samuel takes apart and tells of God’s choice.
IV. The Divine call separates us from others. Eliab, Abinadab, Shammah, Nathaniel, Raddai, Ozem, and, maybe, Elihu (1 Chronicles 27:18), the brothers, may be standing by, but Divine anointing separates. The Divine call separates you from yourself unto God’s own self. And all that stands in the way of this separation makes misery. Beware. Obey. Response to Divine invitation is the only way to advance to Divine service. (H. E. Stone.)
The coming man
The son of Jesse will henceforth be the hope of the nation.
I. God does not act from impulse. He always has a reason for any changes He makes; hence we hear Him say to Samuel, “How long wilt thou mourn for Saul, seeing I have rejected him?” Tears are too precious to waste on these whom God has forsaken. It is as wise to thresh chaff as hope for results where divinity has withdrawn itself. The changes which history brings all go to show that the Ruler of the universe never is at fault. Calmly He lays His hand on the helm, and without fuss the course of a nation is altered. If the patriot or the Christian remembered this he would not be so ready to imitate the sin of Uzzah. Let us not tremble for the ark of God.
II. The coming of Samuel to Bethlehem proclaims the fact that slain opportunities have no resurrection. Saul had a great chance. Never had a monarch such a beginning. Opposition only helped. Rivalry was an impossibility. Spring and summer held the field. If be had been loyal to God, what was not possible? The greater the opportunity, the more the loss if we miss the tide. Ships in ballast can afford to wait longer than those in cargo. The more learning, or genius, or even religion, the more waste if we miss our chance. Saul is rejected of God. Henceforth he must be in eclipse. What is true of persons is still more so in churches. Neither Bishops nor Convocations can afford to disobey the mandate of God.
III. Saul has unfitted himself to carry out the Divine programme, but God is never at the end of His resources. The son of Jesse can take the place of the son of Kish. What examples of this same thing abound in political life! How historic names pale and famous places cease to be known! Judah takes the place of Benjamin, and unknown Bethlehem wins a place on the map of the world. Tamworth, Bedford, Knowsley, Hawarden, Beaconsfield may in future be names in guide books rather than history. Possibly Oxford and Epworth may share their fatal. But other names appear. Providence has always arrows in its quiverse If one man will not, another will! There were many learned and eloquent clergymen in England when John Wesley and George Whitefield began to preach. Many of them might have shared the glory of saving our country from that which defiled and devoured France. God is not at the far end nowadays.
IV. Jesse did not know the great man he had among his sons; for when Samuel came and called for the young men, David was left out of the reckoning: but then the elect are never overlooked by God. Human eyes may not see the nimbus, but He who put it there does.
V. After all, let us say to the anointed, promotion is not all profit. The javelin is in the palace. Men rise to become prominent as targets. If you don’t like to be shot, don’t come when Samuel sends for you. The Church and the nation are crying out for men for the forlorn hops. Honour awaits the man who is not too anxious for the safety of his father’s son. But Saul is envious, and has a javelin for the harper; so stay and prove your fitness for the company of the ewes--if you are afraid of the risk which comes to those who climb above their fellows. (Thomas Champness.)
The blessed discovery of incipient greatness
Sir Humphry Davy, when asked to give a list of his discoveries, carefully traced the history of those successive researches which made him the first chemist of his day, and then significantly added: “But the master discovery of my life was the discovery of Michael Faraday!” He found him the untaught son of a smith, taking notes of his lectures, and yearning to study science. He took him into his laboratory, and there discovered that he had in his humble assistant one who would some day rival, if not eclipse, his master. Blessed work of discovering men. (Arthur J. Pierson, D. D.)
1 Samuel 16:13
The Spirit of the Lord came upon David from that day forward.
“From that day forward”
From whatever side we view the life of David, it is remarkable. It may be that, Abraham excelled him in faith; and Moses in the power of concentrated fellowship with God; and Elijah in the fiery force of his enthusiasm. But none of these was so many-sided as the richly-gifted son of Jesse. But in all he seemed possessed of a special power with God and man, which could not be accounted for by the fascination of his manner, the beauty of his features, the rare gifts with which his nature was dowered, or the spiritual power which was so remarkable an attribute of his heart. “The Spirit of the Lord came mightily on David from that day forward.”
I. It began like any ordinary day. No angel trumpet heralded it; no faces looked out of heaven; the sun arose that morning according to his wont over the purple walls of the hills of Moab. With the first glimmer of light the boy was on his way to lead his flock to pasture lands heavy with dew. His father and brothers had followed their pursuits and pleasures in almost total disregard of the young son and brother who was destined to make their names immortal. He had borne it all in patience. It was a genuine pleasure to feel that the family circle in great Samuel’s eyes was not complete till he had come He therefore left his sheep with the messenger, and started at full speed for home. Let us so live as to be prepared for whatever the next hour may bring forth. The spirit in fellowship with God, the robe stainlessly pure, the loins girt, the lamp trimmed. The faithful fulfilment of the commonplaces of daily life is the best preparation for any great demand that may suddenly break in upon our lives.
II. It was the consummation of previous training. We must not suppose that now, for the first time, the Spirit of God wrought in David’s heart From his earliest days, David had probably been the subject of His quickening and renewing work; but he had probably never experienced, before the day of which we treat, that special unction of the Holy One symbolised in the anointing oil, and indispensable for all successful spiritual work. Our Lord was born of the Spirit; but His anointing for service did not take place till at the age of thirty, when on the threshold of His public work, He emerged from the waters of baptism. The Apostles were certainly regenerate before the day of Pentecost; but they had to wait within closed doors until they were endued with power for the conversion of men. This blessed anointing for service cannot be ours, except there has been a previous gracious work on the heart. There must be the new life--the life of God. The descending flame must fall upon the whole burnt offering of a consecrated life.
III. It was ministered through Samuel. The old prophet had conferred many benefits on his native land; but none could compare in importance with his eager care for its youth. Saul, in the earlier years of his manhood, felt the charm and spell of the old man’s character. The descent of the oil was symbolical; in other words, it had no spiritual efficacy, but was the outward and visible sign that the Spirit of God had come mightily on the shepherd lad.
IV. It was a day of rejection. Seven of Jesse’s sons were passed overse (F. B. Meyer, B. A.)
The secular gifts of the Holy Ghost
It is not necessary to state that the gifts of the blessed Spirit have always been holy and good; but it is important to observe that they differ in the two Testaments. In the new covenant they are bestowments of grace and spiritual powers; but in the older prominence is given as well to secular gifts--skill for the craftsman, courage for the soldier, and statesmanship for the ruler. It is greatly wise to take this wider view of the Spirit’s work as seen in the world as well as in the Church, in the more secular gifts of the great men of old time as well as the spiritual gifts of the holy apostles and prophet. In Illustrating the secular gifts of the Holy Ghost, and the value of inspiration in common life, this discourse will deal with three eventful periods of Old Testament, end shew how apposite were the bestowments of the Spirit.
1. The first period gives an example of inspiration in the world of art. In the wilds of Sinai Moses received the command to build the tabernacle, and to prepare the vessels for holy ministry; the voice Divine saying with much impressiveness: “See that thou make all things according to the pattern showed to thee in the mount.” “The Jews alarmed that an ark of fire and a table and lamp stand of fire came down from heaven to Moses as patterns, and that Gabriel, clothed as a workman, showed Moses how to make them.” But this is a needless and clumsy invention; nor can we think of the gentle presence-angel descending to earth in the guise of a grimy Vulcan. Comparing this commission with that given to David, we find the true interpretation: “All this the Lord made me understand in writing by His hand upon me, even all the works of this pattern.” But the task of embodying the types shown to Moses fell to humbler minds and hands. God’s “Where art thou?” seldom fails to bring out the man for His service; and in this case it drew out of obscurity the first sod only great artist that Israel ever produced; and the name and effigy of Bezaleel, the son of Uri, appear on the Albert Memorial in Hyde Park among the greatest sculptors and painters known to fame. It is remarkable that the inspiration of Bezaleel is mentioned most clearly and fully three times over, more emphatically than that of any man in the Scriptures. Statuary was not permitted in Israel until the days of contact with the Assyrians, and so one department of art was excluded; but in the very varied work connected with the construction and ritual of the tabernacle there was scope enough for the large inspiration of the great artist. What a striking witness to the existence of the religiousness of true work lingers among us in the common word “calling”--a man’s daily task regarded as a Divine appointment! The builders of our ancient minsters have long commended this spirit to later times; and in such truth and patience Bezaleel wrought his holy task. It may be that an undesigned proof of the religious spirit of this artist is to be found in the chapter following the account of his call and equipment. When the people madly cried, “Up, make us gods,” the too compliant Aaron, who lacked not the family genius, was ready for the task; and when the moulded calf was brought forth, it was he who gave it the finishing touches with a graving tool. Is it not natural to ask how it came to pass that his nephew Bezaleel was not employed in this shameless violation of the first commandment? Is it not fair to conclude that he firmly declined to debase his gifts in such a service, and that, like the Hebrew confessors of an after time, he refused to bow down to the golden image? The gifts of the world’s greatest artists have been consecrated to the service of the Church, and he who would see their highest proofs of genius must visit the noble temples of Christendom. Shall we deny a Divine inspiration to these men? It is said of the Spanish painter, Juan Joannes, that he first received the sacrament before commencing any great work; of Fra Angelico, that he never put his brush to the canvas without kneeling on the floor of his cell to ask help of God; of John of Fiesola, that all his tasks were inspired by religion, and in earlier days Paulinus of Tyre was called the second Bezaleel. Nor have the “evangelists of art” ceased from among men. The pictures of Holman Hunt and Noel Paten have touched thousands whom a sermon flies. Let us own that “the worlds of science and of art” are both revealed and ruled by God, and let us pray for the artist as well as the preacher, that he may be so touched by the simple story of Bethlehem and the pathos of the cross, and so moved by the Holy Ghost, that he may in turn move the hearts of multitudes.
II. The next instance of secular inspiration belongs to the iron age of the Judges--a troubled, restless time, that called not for the artist, scarcely for the prophet (for the voice of Deborah alone breaks the long silence between Moses and Samuel), but the soldier with his gifts of prowess and courage. The inspiration of the great chiefs of that period is distinctly asserted. The lesson of Horeb is still needed by the nations, that what Hazael’s sword of war could not effect should be done by Jehu’s sword of justice, and what this could not smite should fall before Elisha’s two-edged blade of truth. But though war is not the mightiest force, it has unquestionably played a great part in the history of the world, and an honourable part when it has been waged, not in wrath and ambition, but in defence of country and conscience. Surely we may believe that Joshua is not the only soldier to whom the heavenly Warrior has appeared, that Gideon is not alone in his claim to wield the sword of the Lord, and that the book of Joshua does not contain the last of the wars of the Lord. If we allow Heaven’s inspiration to a man like Jephthah, it is not irreverent to claim it for Gustavus Adolphus, whose motto was, “God is my armour”; for our Alfred the Great, who felt himself to be the instrument of the Eternal; for Francis Drake, who said when he stepped on board his tiny craft to meet the thundering fleets of Spain, “I have put my hand to the plough, and by the grace of God I shall never look back.” History records few nobler utterances than the reply of William of Orange to Governor Sonoy: “You ask me if I have entered into a firm treaty with any king or potentate; to which I answer, that before I ever took up the cause of the oppressed Christians in these provinces, I had entered into a close alliance with the King of kings; and I am firmly convinced that all who put their trust in Him shall be saved by His almighty hand,” Truly
The peace of heaven is theirs, that lift their swords
In such a just and charitable war.
III. We pass to the days of the Kings for a third example of secular inspiration. Saul turned his steps homeward after his memorable interview with the grand old king-maker. As the elect of God drew near the company of prophets the Spirit of God came mightily upon him, and he began in almost a paroxysm of inspiration to join in their sacred exercises. The importance of that high visitation is strongly marked by two statements: God gave him “another heart,” and he was “turned into another man.” These expressions must not be charged too strongly with theological meanings; they are rather assurances that the awkward peasant, trembling at the destiny awaiting him, was then and there endowed with gifts befitting the head of the nation. The same high inspiration came to the second king of Israel. No sooner had the anointing oil fallen on his head than it is recorded that “the Spirit of the Lord came upon David from that day forward.” God’s cruse of holy oil is not yet exhausted, nor are all His great commissions given out. Shall we allow, as we are bidden, that Cyrus the heathen was called and girded by God, and deny the gift and calling of Heaven to that young English Daniel who ere he was little beyond his teens guided the labouring ship of state through the wild white waters of England’s most perilous days?
Young in years, but in sage counsel old,
Than whom a better senator ne’er held
The helm of Rome.
Without irreverence we may believe that the Divine call which drew David from the sheepfolds to guide the destinies of his country, brought forth that poor country lad from the far wilds of the west, and made him the occupant of the White House, that he might do that deed of glory which sheds undying lustre on his rule--the freeing of the slave. (R. Butterworth.)
Emerson says, “the main enterprise of the world, for splendour and for extent is the upbuilding of a man.” Of that enterprise, David, the son of Jesse, the victor of Goliath, the King of Israel, and the Poet of Humanity, is one of the most signal and fruitful examples. It is difficult, if not impossible, to find his peer. David is not only the topmost man of his century, but also the climax of the best life of the chosen people of God, the consummate flower of the religion of Moses in its best days. Hence, with a full recognition of his place in the building up of the life of men the Hebrew annalists record his career with a fulness of detail, warmth of colour, and rapture of feeling, that belong to no other biography of the ancient Revelation; as that we know “the darling of Israel” as well as we know General Gordon, and better than we know the Apostles Paul and John; as well as we know St. Augustine from his “Confessions” and sermons, and far better than we know Socrates from the reports of Xenophon and the dialogues of Plato. It is the real humanness of David that wins all hearts, and perpetually renews his influence in the thought and life of the world. It is David, the man, the young man, the man in the making, that fixes our gaze. He is not a priest exciting a momentary curiosity by superb attire and solemn acting, or kindling awe by an assumed mastery of the secrets of the invisible world. He is not a prophet, starting up out of the desert sands, like the Bedouin Elijah before Ahab, and terrifying us into submission. Nor, indeed, is it his kingly greatness and courtly magnificence that holds us spellbound in his presence. Nor again, is it his physique that gains upon us. It is rather that we see in him one of our very selves, a man springing from the people, sharing their lot, and bearing their misfortunes; but battling on, and still on, using as his strongest weapon that true trust in a spiritual God which is within every man’s grasp, and of which he never relaxes his hold. What then is the full tale of this man’s upbuilding? How was he put together?
1. Remember first, man is a spirit. We know him as body, as we know electricity by a shock from a battery or a message from a distant friend, or as we know chemical force by its effects. But the body is only the wire along which the spiritual electricity runs, the case in which the actual watch ticks, the pipes and reeds through which the soul of the organist thrills us, the cage in which the bird sings, the tent in which the man dwells. The man is not in the till but in the character, not in the nerve but in the conscience, not in the sense but in the regal will, not in “the outward appearance” but in “the heart.”
2. Remember next, “that which is born of the flesh is flesh.” Spirit builds spirit. Soul makes soul. “Man does not live by bread alone”--he cannot live without it, but he does not live the life of a man by it, “but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.” Standing in full view of these eternal principles you are not surprised that the Hebrew historian, with an exuberant enthusiasm and an unquestioning assurance, accounts for David--for all he was and all he did--by the simple and comprehensive statement, “the Spirit of the Lord came upon David from that day forward”--came decisively and clearly, and continued to come with character-building energy for evermore. With similar prominence does this fact bulge in all David’s references to himself. “Thy humility,” i.e., Thy condescension, Thy eagerness to dwell in the heart that is contrite, to guide the spirit that looks for Thy leading, to give strength to those that fight for Thee, to reward all those who serve Thee--this hath made me great. But decisively and fully as this exposition of the upbuilding is given in the Hebrew Scriptures it does not content us. We still ask for light as to the way along which the universal Spirit of God came to, and took possession of him, the method by which the diverse materials of his nature were completed into a spiritual and vital unity, and the processes used in raising them to their maximum of energy and serviceableness. The anointing of David was not only the designation of a successor to Saul; it was also the crowning and perfecting of the long influence of Samuel on David’s heart and character. Josephus suggests that as the consecrating oil bathed the flowing locks and fell on the garments of the lad, the prophet “whispered” his kingly destiny in his ear, and so set his whole soul aflame with Divine ambitious, far-reaching yearnings, and oppressive and goading solicitudes. Certainly such Divine whispers have often been heard from human lips. Does not Hugh Miller fix the moment, as one of mental regeneration is which he was roused to the consciousness of the possession of a power superior to that required in shaping stones? Did not Henry Martyn start on a new and higher career after he had been made aware of his possibilities, and inspired by a friend to say, “I verily think I may do something, and I will set about it?” Were not the germs of the new life infused into Saul of Tarsus as he gazed on the angelic patience and undying devotion of Stephen, the first of Christian martyrs? It is God’s law. He does not dispense with the human, He uses it. Man is saved by man. The Incarnation and the Cross are the type and pattern of all life, and of all ministry, and of all progress. God flows through man to man. Samuels anoint Davids. (J. Clifford, D. D.)
1 Samuel 16:14
But the Spirit departed from Saul.
Temptations driving to God
Saul was rejected from being king, and the Spirit of God taken from him, and at the same time an evil spirit from the Lord troubled him, terrified or seized him suddenly. How startling this is! But, observe, it is not an evil spirit of the Lord. Evil spirits are not of God. Their evil is opposed to His will. He is wholly and unchangeably opposed to evil. No man can say when he is tempted of evil--I am tempted of God, for God cannot be tempted of evil, neither tempteth He any man. But when a man chooses and cleaves to sin, clings to his own way, and persists in rebellion against God, he opens his mind to evil spirits and evil influences of all sorts. Even the natural world radiates influences which to a being like man are not ell good, are sometimes even directly evil. The cunning, deceit, treachery and cruelty of some animals has a malign influence, The influences of nature, bland and stern, present subtle and powerful temptations. Over against the influences for evil, often inextricably intertwined with them, are the influences for good. Men feel that the drift and tendency of things is toward goodness, that the constitution of things favours righteousness. And over all things and every heart the Spirit of God broods, seeking to bring order out of chaos and life out of death. To moral beings belongs the prerogative of resisting and repelling influences, or welcoming and absorbing them. But how was this evil spirit from the Lord? It was permitted by God as a punishment. But this is not all; the terror, pain and strife raised by the evil spirit were meant by God as a force to constrain Saul to turn and cry to God for help. Saul was delivered up to this evil spirit that he alight know that it was an evil and bitter thing to depart from God. Had the rebellious Saul, sick, laden and tortured by evil, cried to God, he would have been heard, and would have become a better man than he ever was, a new man. Though he might not have been a king, he would have been a true child of God, a spiritual king and priest.
I. Men must either have the Holy Spirit of God, or an evil spirit. God loves to dwell in the human heart. That is His chosen temple. The sky is vast. Its canopy is thick with worlds. But God does not choose that temple. Man rears lofty piles, and spends labour and art on them, lavishes beauty and splendour which are precious as evidences of love and reverence: but God’s chosen temple is not there. His temple is in the lowly heart, in the bosom of the meanest of the sons of men who cries out for the living God. That temple may be stained and defiled, haunted with unclean things; but if there is penitence and faith in God’s Son, God will come in and Himself cleanse the house. God abides in the soul, fills it and gladdens it. But if man will not have God, he cannot shut the door of his heart against other visitors. It is the nature of a spirit to come into contact with spirit, as it is the nature of the body to come into contact with matter, and either attract or repel it. Spirit cannot isolate itself from spirit, any more than matter can from matter. But the spirit can decide whether it will ally itself with the good or the evil. Whosoever receives the Infinite Spirit into his soul takes the one way of shutting out evil of every kind. Exclusion of God is not emptiness, it is most positive, active, and decided evil. Men that will not have God are really claiming kindred with evil spirits, and opening their heart to be inhabited by them. Man is like a house situated between two winds. On the one side comes the wind from a dreary, bleak desert, laden with fog and disease, blowing across foul and rotten things. The other side of the house fronts the sunlight and winds that blow from the wide, fresh sea and over gardens, orchards, and blooming fields. Everyone must decide on which side he is going to open. Both doors cannot be shut. You can only get the dismal, fatal door shut by opening wide the door that looks to the sea of eternity and the sunshine of God. The wind blowing in through this open door keeps that door of ruin about.
II. The stress of inward temptation and trouble is often peculiarly fitted and evidently intended to drive men to God. Of temptations and troubles which have this adaptation in a marked degree may be mentioned first--
1. Melancholy. Saul’s was a very conspicuous and overmastering melancholy. Melancholy is essentially the feeling of loneliness, the sense of isolation, of having a great burden of existence to bear. It is the soul’s fear and shrinking and chill in the vast solitude of its house. It has driven many souls to God. Such haunted souls can scarcely escape an earnest look at life. They are continually incited to seek a medicine for their malady. They cannot rest in a formal, superficial religion, but must get into the very secret of God. So the melancholy man may become the most joyous of religious men.
2. A feeling of the vanity of existence is another great temptation and trouble. This is not melancholy; for men who have this feeling may be merry enough. To be followed, as many are, by the thought that life is a poor game at best, without substance, not worth the trouble that men take with it--this must take earnestness out of life, and make men mockers. It is a sore disease thus to live on the very surface of things, and feel as if one were only playing a part. Many are infected with the tendency. What does this feeling of emptiness and vanity point to? What is the voice that comes from it but this--Escape to the one substance and reality which alone gives substance and reality to life.
3. The mystery of life weighs on others. The sense of weakness and ignorance in the midst of a vast system of forces; the feeling of chaos that rules in the moral world and human life; the black tragedy of so many lives; the calamities, wars, inconceivable woes of millions; the disappointment, chagrin, disease, crime, and ruin everywhere--these press on some minds at times with immense weight. That is what Wordsworth calls. “the weight and mystery of all this unintelligible world.” There are men to whom these questions are inevitable, rushing upon them like beasts of prey, or stretching like thunderclouds between them and the sun. Where is relief from such thoughts to be found? Where but in the belief in infinite goodness and wisdom lying behind all, can any thinking soul find rest?
4. The gloom and desolation of doubt and unbelief constrain and impel men to turn to God. It sometimes happens that men who have long hovered round religion, making it an object of curiosity and speculation and debate, rather than matter of heart and life, fall gradually away from all belief. Even those who have never speculated, but only maintained a careless attitude towards religion, drift in this direction. But here a state of feeling arises which they had not dreamt of. Though they never had any earnestness in religion, yet the kind of belief they had gave them comfort and threw a certain meaning into life. Now they feel lonely without a Father in Heaven. The whole aspect of things has grown bare. They are no longer sure of right. The cord that tied things together has been taken away. Then comes the period of decay when all types lessen and lower down to the original blank. And certainly, if the fortunes of the human race are bound up with the history of the sun, nothing else can he looked for. Since all suns and worlds are like flowers that blossom and then wither, the doom of beings dependent on them cannot be different if there is no God and Father, there is no escape from this conclusion. If there is no eternal home, where He gathers souls beyond the reach of evanescent systems, this is the prospect. There is no other outlook, if we cannot turn to Him and say, “Doubtless thou art our Father: Thy name is from everlasting.” See you not how men are being taught by this loneliness and utter desolation what an evil and bitter thing it is to depart from God? Do you not see how the feeling of orphanhood, uncertainty, barrenness, coldness, and hopelessness are constraining the heart to cry out for the living God.
5. Fierce temptations to evil drive many souls to God. (J. Leckie, D. D.)
An evil spirit from the Lord troubled him.--
Saul troubled by an evil spirit
We see, especially in the history of Saul, the awful progress of the soul, from the gradual changes that take place in him, while in his successive trials evil prevails over the Spirit of grace and opportunities of good. There is also a sort of natural goodness about him that rivets our interest; so that from the very feeling of a common nature we are partly inclined to forget his crimes in his miseries. Scripture always speaks to us in history and life what it enjoins us in word and precept: our Lord says, “Hold fast, that no man take thy crown,” and here before our eyes we see the choice and the crown transferred from one to another, and we see the reasons why--and the effect. Let us not put away from us this account of Saul as belonging to another state of things, for whatever it may speak to kings and nations, it is full of a home lesson for the heart of each. For may not each of us in the home of his own heart have an evil spirit that troubleth him? It may be so with many in various degrees who think not of it. The cares which most suffer are from this source. What is envy, covetousness, impatience, the plague of the heart, but this, that a man has in some degree, perhaps in years long past, sinned in this way; and so, not having repented, given place to an evil spirit that troubles and keeps him from God? This may be the case, and yet for awhile he may have much comfort in religion, as Saul had in the harp of David; Church music may in like manner soothe him and raise him up as it were to Heaven; or it may be impressive sermons; or even the study of God’s holy Word; so much so that under the influence of these the evil spirit may depart, and he may be refreshed, nay, more, he may find rest in Christ. But this is not enough, unless he press forward earnestly, and give no place to such an inmate in his breast any more. Scripture reveals to us that there is in such eases a spiritual being, a living person, who takes possession of the mind. And I would particularly call attention to the expression of the text, “an evil spirit from the Lord.” Now, although this is an awful expression, yet it is also full of instruction and comfort, as everything must be which reminds us that we are in the hands of God; as we noticed in the history of Pharaoh. When we trace in our very disquietudes and sorrows the indications of an evil spirit that troubles us, this teaches us where our health is. That this evil spirit is from God is no proof that we are given up of Him. For, indeed, even David himself when he numbered the people had an evil spirit from God, allowed to bring upon him that temptation and its consequent misery. He can touch no one but as permitted of God; and that permission may be for various reasons: he was allowed to tempt Job for his greater perfection; through the false prophets he deluded Ahab to bring upon him God’s judgment; he troubled Saul with gloom and pride on his departing from God; he tempted Judas that he might go to his own place; he prompted David to sin from which he speedily recovered by repentance. In like manner he is allowed to tempt us; and it is indeed sometimes, as in the case of Saul and of David, a judgment upon us for some fault on our part, or some secret unbelief or pride of heart, but we are thus by this expression of the text taught to go to God for help. We cannot be too often urged in every way to do this. When you find in yourself any ill-will, any worldly disappointment or envious sadness, go to Him at once in earnest prayer, entreating Him to remove from you the power and guilt of that sin which has allowed the evil spirit to disquiet you. When you have thus done all in your power, then again the lesson of Saul and David will come in for your guidance, warning you not to take things into your own hands from impatience and distrust of God, but to wait patiently upon Him. He will have the remedy and deliverance to be entirely His own doing. He only wants your faith and confidence in Himself. And His word is “Be still then, and know that I am God.” (Isaac Williams, B. D.)
“An evil spirit from the Lord”
All great painters and poets whose works are of the first order have availed themselves of the force of contrast--that there should be a dark background to set forth some beautiful and radiant object. The Bible excels in its use of this striking method of laying emphasis.
I. the dawn of a fair promise. “Samuel cried unto the Lord” for Saul, if haply he might arrest the terrible and imminent consequences of his sin. But he was made aware that prayer would not avail. It seemed as though Saul had already made the fatal choice, and had committed the sin which is unto death, and concerning which we have no encouragement to pray. The summons of the hour was, therefore, not to prayer, but to action. The Spirit of God bade Samuel go to Bethlehem, and among the sons of Jesse discover and anoint the new king.
II. An overcast afternoon. We have morning with David; afternoon with Saul. Here youth; there manhood, which has passed into prime. Here the promise; and there the overcast meridian of a wrecked life. You will notice that, whereas it is said that the Spirit of God descended upon David, we are told that “The Spirit of the Lord had departed from Saul.” That does not necessarily mean that all the religious life of Saul had become extinct, but that the special faculty and power by which he had been prepared for his kingly work was withdrawn from him. It is abundantly sure that the work which a man does in this world is not wrought only by the force of his genius, the brilliance of his intellect, or by those natural gifts with which God may have endowed him, but by a something beyond and behind all these--a spiritual endowment which is communicated by the Spirit of God for special office, and which is retained so long as the character is maintained. So Saul lost the special enducement of power which had enabled him to subdue his enemies and to order his kingdom. Secondly, we have the mysterious power of opening our nature to the Holy Spirit of God, who is the medium of communicating all the virtue, the energy, and the life of God; filling spirit, soul, and body; quickening the mind, warming the heart, elevating and purifying the whole moral life. We have also the awful alternative power of yielding ourselves to the evil spirits, or demon spirits, of which the spiritual sphere is full. It is affirmed that “an evil spirit from the Lord” troubled Saul. To interpret this aright we must remember that, in the strong, terse Hebrew speech, the Almighty is sometimes said to do what He permits to be done. And surely such is the interpretation here. When, therefore, we read that an evil spirit “from the Lord” troubled Saul, we must believe that, as Saul bad refused the good and gracious influences of the Holy Spirit, and definitely chosen the path of disobedience, there was nothing for it but to leave him to the working of his own evil heart.
III. The lurid gleams of an overcast sky. In 2 Samuel 21:2, you have this: “The king”--that is, David--“called the Gibeonites--(now the Gibeonites were not of the children of Israel, but of the remnant of the Ammorites; and the children of Israel had sworn unto them: and Saul sought to slay them in his zeal to the children of Israel and Judah).” Saul was smarting under Samuel’s words, writhing under the sentence of deposition, and his soul was stirred to neutralise, if possible, the Divine verdict, so as to still keep the favour of God. It was true, and Saul knew it well, that he had failed in one distinct call to obedience; he had kept the choice of the spoil for himself--but why should he not, by excessive zeal in other directions, win back his lost inheritance? Now there were two such commandments which seem to have occurred to him. The one enacted that when the children of Israel entered the Land of Promise they should destroy all the people of the land. The Gibeonites, however, succeeded in securing that they should be excepted, because they had made a covenant with Joshua, and Joshua had sworn to them (Joshua 9:1-27). The Gibeonites, therefore, had lived amongst the children of Israel for many centuries, and had become almost an integral part of the nation. But in his false zeal for God Saul seems to have laid ruthless hands upon these peaceable people. Secondly, there was on the statute book a very drastic law against necromancers and witches, and it was commanded that these should be exterminated from the land (Exodus 22:18). Therefore, Saul turned his hand against them. In his heath he still believed in them. In order to show his zeal for God, and to extort the reversal of his sentence, he began to exterminate them. But as his edicts went forth, there was rottenness in his heart. While on the one hand, therefore, there was this outburst of lurid zeal for God, his own heart was becoming more and more enervated and evil. Do not we know this in our own experience? When one has fallen under the condemnation of conscience, the heart has endeavoured to whisper comfort to itself by saying, “I will endeavour to redeem my cause by an extravagance of zeal.” We have plunged into some compensating work to neutralise the result of failure. It is zeal, but it, is false, it is zeal, but it is strange fire; it is zeal, but it is self-originated; it is zeal, but it is only for self and not for God; it, is zeal, but it is zeal for the letter, for the tradition, for the external form--it is not the zeal of the man who is eaten up and devoured by a passionate love for the Son of God and for the souls He has made. (F. B. Meyer, B. A.)
1 Samuel 16:17-18
Provide me now a man that can play well.
The promotion of David
Sin is the harbinger of sorrow. A bad heart makes a troubled life. One sin may blight the fairest prospects and fill a palace with gloom. Saul’s courtiers knew the cause of the king’s depression, yet they did not counsel him to abandon his sins, and cry to God for mercy; but they said: “Command thy servants to seek out, a man who is a skilful player on an harp.”
I. The fame of David the harper. “I have seen a son of Jesse the Bethlehemite, who is a skilful player, and a mighty, valiant man.” David possessed four qualifications for the duties he was expected to discharge.
1. He was skilful. “A cunning player.” True greatness reports itself. The right employment of our leisure moments may fit us for the most exalted positions in life.
2. He was courageous. “A mighty valiant man.” Courage in the discharge of ordinary duties is a pledge of devotion in more responsible trusts. “He that is faithful in that which is least, is faithful in much.”
3. He was prudent. Men require various qualifications for the efficient performance of official duties--wisdom, tact, and prudence.
4. He was devout. “The Lord was with him.” The inward work remains when the outward sign is lost. There was no oil left on David’s bead, but the work of grace was progressing in his heart
II. The journey of David the harper. “Wherefore Saul sent messengers unto Jesse, and said, Send me David, thy son, who is with the sheep. And Jesse took an ass laden with bread, and a bottle of wine, and a kid, and sent them by David his son unto Saul”
1. David’s journey was undertaken by royal request, Saul sent for David. When God calls a man to a special work, He will make the way clear for him. God has access to every heart. A man’s enemies may become his helpers. Preferment comes through the most unlikely persons, and in the most unexpected ways.
2. David’s journey was undertaken in a loyal spirit. David did not run before be was sent, but immediately the summons came he was ready.
III. The arrival of David the harper. “And David came to Saul, and stood before him: and he loved him greatly; and he became his armour bearer.”
1. David’s introduction made a favourable impression on the king. “Saul loved him greatly.” True men win the admiration and esteem of the wicked. Goodness is power.
2. David’s services were speedily rewarded by the king. “He became his armour bearer.” The wicked prefer the services of the good. Worth wins.
3. David’s acceptableness was openly acknowledged by the king. “He hath found favour in my sight.” It is a good thing to be surrounded by religious influences. Devout men are a blessing to society.
IV. The success of David the harper. “And it came to pass, when the evil spirit from God was upon Saul, that David took an harp, and played with his hand: so Saul was refreshed, and was well, and the evil spirit departed from him.”
1. Notice Saul’s depression. However exalted a man’s position may be, sin will make him unhappy. Happiness or misery depends on the state of a man’s heart. A bad heart makes a dark life. If the Holy Spirit leave us, the bad spirit will find us. A heart without God is like a universe without a sun.
2. Notice Saul’s recovery. “So Saul was refreshed, and was well, and the evil spirit departed from him.” (J. T. Woodhouse.)
For the first time we now see David come forth into publicity from his quiet, peaceful life. Already there begin to appear about him faint traces of that future greatness which in continuous unfolding presented itself to the hopes of the thoughtful in Israel. Let us see how he came to King Saul and what he experienced at the king’s court. We know that something sorrowful has happened. The king has sinned grievously. When Samuel charged him with his transgression, the whole impurity of his character came out to view. Instead of being led to resolve, with contrite heart, to seek the face of the Lord, he rather, like Cain, and afterwards Judas Iscariot, fled in terror still farther from Him. So it happened to him also at last, as it once did to the unhappy apostle. Through the righteous judgment of God, Satan was permitted to gain dominion over him. “The Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord troubled him.” These words are not to be understood as figurative, nor only as indicating a paroxysm of mental dejection, nor a darkening of his soul under the shadow of a great sadness, but open up before us a more dismal sphere than that of a natural melancholy. The power of darkness, which is personal, and in souls in the condition of that in which Saul’s now was, finds all open for his operations, wrought in him with prevailing energy to deepen yet more and more that dreadful gulf which separated the king from Jehovah, yet, to increase the estrangement of the miserable man from God yet more and more, till it became a demoniacal hatred of God. What wonder, therefore, that we meet the king today in a state of mind which makes us scarcely able to recognise the man once so cheerful and vigorous in action. His eye appears fixed, his lips are violently compressed, and his whole countenance bespeaks a deep, bitter animosity and gloom. How could be have peace after be bad put himself into hostility both with God and the world? The melancholy of the king naturally lay like a dark pall over the souls of all the courtiers, yea, spread its sorrowful, gloomy shadow even over the surrounding neighbourhood. “In the light of a king’s countenance,” says Solomon, is life, but the wrath of a king is a messenger of death.” The truth of this latter saying was now felt throughout almost the whole land. The royal servants advised this and that for the purpose of trying to set free from this dismal state of mind their high lord, whose palace was now more like a dull chamber of sorrow than the proud residence of a monarch. The accustomed scenes of revelry, shows, banquets, spectacles, dancing, and such like are denied to the servants. Then at last there occurred to them, as one would say, a “happy thought.” They appeared before their master, and said to him, “Behold now, an evil spirit from God troubleth thee: let our lord now command thy servants, which are before thee, to seek out a men, who is a cunning player on an harp: and it shall come to pass, when the evil spirit from God is upon thee, that he shall play with his hand, and thou shalt be well.” What a saying was this! Does not the penetration of these people, who, in forming a judgment regarding the melancholy of their master, did not look at the surface, but descended into the depths of the matter, excite our surprise? Are we not astonished at the far reaching enlightenment which they here manifest in their knowledge of the existence of a world of fallen spirits, whom Jehovah is wont to make use of, not seldom, for putting to trial His own people, as well as for visiting with punishment the wicked? Must we not conclude that they were indeed already acquainted with the book of Job, and that it was a constituent, part of their holy canonical books? What we further wonder at in the courtiers of King Saul is, first, the clearness with which they recognised demoniacal agency in the disconsolate condition of their master; then the frankness, combined, indeed, with the deepest respectfulness, with which they, regardless of the consequences which might arise to them from such a step, announced their opinion of his ease, which was by no means flattering to him; and, finally, the suitableness of the counsel which they felt themselves constrained to give to him. They recommend to him the power of music as a means for relieving his mind, but with a wise, discriminating judgment regarding its character. There was, indeed, no lack of musicians at the court at Gibeah; but they appear to have been devoid of the qualifications which were at this time needed. The music which the servants of the king thought of was not that which pleaser the world, and which only opens the door to unclean spirits, but such as animated by a nobler inspiration, might insensibly elevate the soul by its harmonious melody, as on angels’ wings, towards heaven. And when the king, as if in a waking dream, entered into the proposal of his well-meaning servants, and said to them, “Provide me a man that can play well on the harp, and bring him to me,” one of them remarked, “Behold, I have seen a son of Jesse the Bethlehemite, that is cunning in playing, and a mighty valiant man, and a man of war, and prudent in matters, and a comely person, and the Lord is with him.” He who communicated it proved himself hereby to be a man of understanding, in that he placed in the foreground those qualities of the musician he recommended, which he believed would at once secure the favour of the king; but, on the contrary, that which was to him the chief matter, and by which he principally expected the deliverance of the king from the demon of dejection, viz., the piety of the harper, and the fact that God was with him, he mentioned last, as if it had been a trivial circumstance. It is, indeed, greatly to be desired that they who are called to the office of seeking to heal diseased souls, and to help into the right path those who have erred from the ways of morality, should not only possess piety, but also other mental endowments, such as are held in estimation by the world. And how frequently has the gospel, in such circumstances, proved itself to be a “power of God.” which is a match for every influence which holds the soul in thraldom; and substantially, though with more lasting results, there has been frequently repeated what we here today see happen at the court of Gibeah. David at length reaches Gibeah, carrying his harp hanging on his shoulder band, and is immediately introduced to the king. Here now they stand opposite each other--the one like the clear shining of the sun in spring, the other like a black thundercloud ominous or evil; the one full of blooming, hopeful life; the other, a dark spectre arising from the realm of death. It was a song without words whose soothing melody then fell upon the ear of the king. Words corresponding to the music would have effected the contrary result to that which was aimed at, and might even have increased the ill-temper of the king. There are even yet men enough of his sort--persons without faith, yea, at variance both with God and the world--whom solemn music is able most powerfully to delight, and in whom it awakens, at least for the time, dispositions which border on devotion and piety, while yet the words which correspond to the sacred melody would produce in them the very opposite effect. What is manifest from this, but that in the soul of such persons the last point at which they may be touched by that which is sacred, has not yet wholly decayed away? The sounds from David’s harp had, for the moment at least, wrought a true miracle. “Did the music,” we ask, “banish the demon?” Not so; but the higher frame of mind into which the king was brought by it sufficed to limit at least the sphere of the operation of the evil spirit within him; while a full, clear, conscious life of faith on the part of Saul, would have altogether destroyed the power of the wicked one. Besides, the silent intercessions which David sent up to heaven on the wings of the music of his harp must have contributed not a little to the results with which his melodies were crowned. It appeared to be God’s purpose in sending David to the king, to afford to him a new and a last means of grace. He must become conscious of what a man of childlike piety, such as David is able, by the help of God, to do against all the powers of darkness; and, in the way of such an experience, he ought himself to have been won to a life of piety. But, alas! all the efforts to deliver the unhappy man were fruitless. One of our great secular poets has imagined what an elevating, yea, sanctifying power, may dwell in a God-consecrated music. He represents the hero of his poem as saved from an assault of darkest thoughts by harmonies of a sacred choir sounding out from a neighbouring cathedral into his chamber. But the poet did not understand the rich harmonious music before which the power of all evil spirits must yield, not for a passing moment only, but foreverse This is the music of the holy gospel. (F. W. Krummacher, D. D.)
The harper foreshadowing the Psalmist
The nature of the malady that afflicted Saul, and that was overcome for a time by the soothing influence of David’s harp, has been copiously illustrated from history. A whole book was written on the subject by a learned professor at, Wittemberg illustrating the remarkable power of music in soothing both mental and bodily ailments. Kitto and other writers have added more recent instances, One is a case mentioned, among many others, in the Memoires of the French Royal Academy of Sciences for 1707--that of a person seized with a fever which threw him into a violent and raging delirium, and for which music proved an effectual remedy. When the music was discontinued, the symptoms returned; but by frequent repetitions of the experiment, during which the delirium always ceased, the power of the disease was broken, and the habits of a sound mind reestablished. Six days sufficed to accomplish the cure. Another case is that of Charles IX of France, of whom it is said that after the massacre of St. Bartholomew his sleep was wont to be disturbed by nightly horrors, and he could only be composed to rest by a symphony of singing boys. Still more striking and more like that of Saul, is the case of another royal personage, Philip V of Spain. He was seized with deep dejection of spirits, which totally indisposed and unfitted him for all public duty and appearances. A celebrated musician, Farinelli, was invited to Spain; and on his arrival it was contrived that there should be a concert in a room adjoining the king’s apartment, in which the artist should perform one of his most captivating songs. The king, says Kitto, appeared surprised at first, then greatly moved; and at the end of the second air, he summoned the musician to his apartment, and loading him with compliments and caresses, asked him how he could reward such talents, assuring him that he could refuse him nothing. The musician answered that he desired only that his Majesty would allow himself to be shaved and dressed (which hitherto he had obstinately refused to be), and that he would endeavour to make his appearance in the council as usual. The king yielded; from this time his disease gave way, and the musician had all the honour of the cure. We may readily believe that that harp in its soothing power was not inferior to any of the other instruments to which allusion has been made. Still, with all its temporary success, it was but a humble and ineffective method of soothing a troubled spirit, compared to the methods which David was afterwards to employ. It dealt chiefly, if not exclusively, with man’s animal nature. It did not deal with man as an intellectual and moral being; it did not strike at the root of all trouble--alienation from God; it did not attempt to apply the only permanent and effectual remedy for trouble--restoration to His favour and fellowship. It was a mere foreshadow, on a comparatively low and earthly ground, of the wondrous way in which David, as the Psalmist, was afterwards to provide the true “oil of joy for the mourner,” and to become a guide to the downcast, soul from “an horrible pit and the miry clay,” up to the third heaven of joy and peace. The temporary calm which the soft notes of David’s harp spread over the stormy soul of Saul was but a superficial emotion compared to the holy rest, on the bosom of their God, to which the Psalms have guided many an anxious and weary sinner. It was like the passing emotion of an Oratorio, compared to the deep peace of the Gospel. Nor is the contrast less striking between the results of the two kinds of repose. Under the soothing influence of David’s harp, Saul might have calmness enough to plan a few useful measures, or to execute a few needed reforms; but under the influence of the holy rest into which many a believer has been guided by the Psalmist, some of the greatest victories have been gained over sinful tendencies, and some of the highest achievements of the new nature have been realised. The prisoner, soothed to patience and contentment in his dismal dungeon; the tortured confessor nerved in the hour of fiery trial to regardlessness of man; the martyr, elevated to a sublime contempt alike of worldly pains and worldly joys; have all, in these great victories, exemplified the influence of the tranquillising yet elevating spirit that breathes out from the Psalms, and seems to say, “Return unto thy rest, O my soul, for the Lord hath dealt bountifully with thee!” (W. G. Blaikie, M. A.)
A young man
It is noteworthy that the character of David, as given in this verse, is from the mouth of a servant; from a human standpoint, it was simply the reputation he had among those about him.
1. First of all, he was “cunning in playing.” David all this time had no idea, of course, of how by this very skill, and by the means of his enemy Saul, the road to the throne was to be opened to him. It is often when a young fellow really hands himself over to God, body, soul, and spirit to be used by Him, that he sees how even in his unconverted days God had His plan of preparation in the thing that he did. He sees this by the light God has now abed on his life’s track--a light that will never fade. Now, is there not many a young fellow who is not cultivating even his own natural abilities, who is not developing what is already in him? And the Gospel quite encourages this cultivation: it does not say to us, “Be so heavenly-minded that you can’t touch a flute.”
2. David was fond of music, with all the soothing and refining influences it brings--he loved it--but at the same time he was “a mighty valiant man.” And it is worth while noticing how the two things are put side by side. I like the combination. We are apt to think that those who bare a turn for music, and develop it, are soft men, mere carpet knights, fit only for drawing rooms and small concerts, without grip and sinew and muscle. Such, at all events, was not, the ease with David, and God knew it when He chose him. God is always looking out for capable men, so keep yourself up to the mark--develop all that is in you. David was a brave spirit, too--“a man of war.” he had the grand and wonderful combination of the suaviter with the fortiter. How many of us have this? There are some of you, I grant, who have quite enough of the flint about you, and whom I shouldn’t care to thwart or cross, but what about the soft side of your nature? Others, again, are all soft, and haven’t a bit of the flint at all, though it will have to come in and on you before you’ll make much progress, either as regards this world or the next. David was brave, outspoken, and manly. He was “prudent in matters.” This point will come home to many of you if the foregoing haven’t. Perhaps you have no taste for music, and you haven’t had a chance to cultivate or display your bravery like him. But here is prudence--this is a thing you find you need right in your everyday life. It seems to be just the next thing to the Grace of God. David had it, and by it he reined in his burning and ardent convictions, which would otherwise, perhaps, have borne him to destruction When we sit down to a game of chess or draughts we need, in order to win the game, not so much great dashes, but simply prudence and watchfulness. A hush falls on yourself and your partner, and the excitement is just enough to call forth all your powers, but if you mean to do well it will not go the length of making you nervous or fumbling, or cause that dimness in hand and eye which ends in a blunder. So it is in life: we ought to be keenly alive to what is going on around us, and of our position in the midst. I fear that oft-times from our young men trying to be too supernatural, they fall beneath the level of average commonsense, which they would have avoided had they but exercised a little prudence.
4. David was also “a comely person.” Some of you may not be so, and are not to blame for your physique, for you had not the making of yourselves, but don’t you think you might be a little better than you are? We ought to train and develop our bodies. I never did so much tossing the caber, or putting the stone, or used the dumbbells to such an extent as after I was converted. I felt then that I had a body that wanted looking after. David was a fine, strapping, stalwart fellow, “ruddy and good to look to,” and we also ought to be as comely as God intended we should be.
5. Now we come to the point; not as in the case of Naaman--“he was a leper”--but “the Lord was with him.” Can we meet David here? Have we got the supernatural as well as the natural? We have the same chance here at all events, as he had, if in all the other respects he stands alone. He accepted the Lord when He came to him on Samuel’s feet, and without Him he would have been a mere skilful player and valiant man, that was all. But the Grace within could not be hid. It would not, and permeated far and wide. It was the common report that he was a good and religious fellow For, remember again, that this is the estimate of him by one of those among whom he was. God grant that we too may so live that the world may say of us, “There is something good about that man.” (John McNeill.)
Early years of David
I. Some remarks on David’s early life and on his character as therein displayed. David’s anointing was followed by no other immediate mark of God’s favour. He was tried by being sent back again, in spite of the promise, to the care of his sheep, till an unexpected occasion introduced him to Saul’s court. David came in the power of that sacred influence whom Saul had grieved and rejected. The Spirit which inspired his tongue guided his hand also, and his sacred songs became a medicine to Saul’s diseased mind. Saul “loved David greatly, and he became his armour bearer;” but the first trial of his humility and patience was not over, while many other trials were in store. After a while he was a second time sent back to his sheep. An accident, as it appeared to the world, brought him forward. I need not relate how he was divinely urged to engage the giant, how he killed him, and how he was, in consequence, again raised to Saul’s favour; who, with an infirmity not inconsistent with the deranged state of his mind, seems to have altogether forgotten him. From this time began David’s public life; but not yet the fulfilment of the promise made to him by Samuel. He had a second and severer trial of patience to endure for many years; the trial of “being still” and doing nothing before God’s time, though he had (apparently) the means in his hands of accomplishing the promise for himself. It was to this trial that Jeroboam afterwards showed himself unequal. He, too, was promised a kingdom, but he was tempted to seize upon it in his own way, and so forfeited God’s protection. David’s victory over Goliath so endeared him to Saul that he would not let him go back to his father’s house. Repeated attempts on his life drove David from Saul’s court; and for some years after, that is, till Saul’s death, he was a wanderer upon the earth, persecuted in that country which was afterwards to be his own kingdom. Like Abraham, he traversed the land of promise “as a strange land,” waiting for God’s good time. Nay, far more exactly, even than to Abraham, was it given to David to act and suffer that life of faith which the Apostle describes, and by which “the elders obtained a good report.” By faith he wandered about, “being destitute, articled, evil-entreated, in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens, and in caves of the earth.” On the other hand, through the same faith, he “subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens.”
II. Now, then, let us consider what was, as far as we can understand, his especial grace, what is his gift; as faith was Abraham’s distinguishing virtue, meekness the excellence of Moses, self-mastery the gift especially conspicuous in Joseph. This question may best be answered by considering the purpose for which he was raised up. (1 Samuel 13:14.) The office to which first Saul and then David were called was different from that with which other favoured men before them had been intrusted. From the time of Moses, when Israel became a nation, God had been the king of Israel, and His chosen servants, not delegates, but mere organs of His will. Moses did not direct the Israelites by his own wisdom, but he spake to them, as God spake from the pillar of the cloud. Joshua, again, was merely a sword in the hand of God. Samuel was but His minister and interpreter. God acted, the Israelites “stood still and saw” His miracles, then followed. But, when they had rejected Him from being king over them, then their chief ruler was no longer a mere organ of His power and will, but had a certain authority entrusted to him, more or less independent of supernatural direction; and acted, not so much from God, as for God, and in the place of God. David, when taken from the sheepfolds “to feed Jacob His people and Israel His inheritance,” “fed them,” in the words of the Psalm, “with a faithful and true heart; and ruled them prudently with all his power.” From this account of his office, it is obvious that his very first duty was that of fidelity to Almighty God in the trust committed to him. Saul had neglected his Master’s honour; but David, in this an eminent type of Christ, “came to do God’s will” as a viceroy in Israel, and, as being tried and found faithful, he is especially called “a man after God’s own heart.” David’s peculiar excellence, then, is that of fidelity to the trust committed to him; a firm, uncompromising, single-hearted devotion to the cause of his God, and a burning zeal for His honour. There is a resemblance between the early history of David and that of Joseph. Both distinguished for piety in youth, the youngest and the despised of their respective brethren, they are raised, after a long trial, to a high station, as ministers of God’s Providence. Joseph was tempted to a degrading adultery; David was tempted by ambition. Both were tempted to be traitors to their masters and benefactors. Surely the blessings of the patriarchs descended in a united flood upon “the lion of the tribe of Judah,” the type of the true Redeemer who was to come, he inherits the prompt faith and magnanimity of Abraham; he is simple as Isaac; he is humble as Jacob; he has the youthful wisdom and self-possession, the tenderness, the affectionateness, and thee firmness of Joseph. And, as his own especial gift he has an overflowing thankfulness, an ever-burning devotion, a zealous fidelity to his God, a high unshaken loyalty towards his king, an heroic bearing in all circumstances, such as the multitude of men sea to be great, but cannot understand. (J. H. Newman, B. D.)
A young man from the country
Now, many testimonials which young men carry about with them are hardly worth thy paper on which they are written; but this certificate of character is so genuine and so comprehensive that it is worth our looking into for a little. In our passage we meet with David as still but a young man; and there are five distinct things mentioned about him, which you may find it interesting and useful to consider.
I. I wish to say something to you about his person, his pleasing and attractive presence or address. Someone says to me, “You may pass over this matter, it is a point of little importance.” I beg your pardon; it is not a point of little importance. A man may have a very shabby exterior, and yet be a true nobleman. M. Renan speaks of St. Paul disrespectfully indeed, but perhaps truthfully, as “the ugly little Jew:” and yet, we all know that though “his bodily presence” may have been “weak,” that man had moral weight enough to shake the world. There are deformed men, and dwarfs, and cripples, who command instant and profound respect; whilst there are fine-looking, strapping fellows, who are only big boobies. Sometimes, though the casket is very poor, there is a glorious jewel within. Perhaps you would be surprised to see, in running through the Bible, how frequent is the allusion to bodily form. Why, I could give you quite a string of names of persons, both male and female, who are described as having been “comely” to look to. The body, no doubt, is but the tabernacle, the shell; but don’t despise it; it bears the stamp and image of God. He was “a young man from the country.” None the worse for that. As I read the story of his life, I smell the breath of the new-mown hay, and I hear the bleatings on the Bethlehem hills. A good many of us have come from the country. And some are silly enough to be ashamed of it. Be proud of it. Be proud if you know all about yoking the horses and herding the cattle, or even (as Mr. Gladstone said one day when addressing the young men of Glasgow University) about blowing the country forge, or keeping the toll gate.
II. But now for a few words, secondly, upon his pastime. Every sensible man must have some pastime. We cannot be always working. We are not mere mechanics; both body and mind demand occasional relaxation. In the LXX version of the Old Testament--that copy of it from which our Lord and His Apostles generally quoted--I find, strange to say, an additional Psalm to the hundred and fifty in our Bibles. It is entitled “A genuine Psalm of David.” “Small was I among my brethren, and youngest in my father’s house; I tended my father’s sheep. My hands formed a musical instrument, and my fingers tuned a psaltery. And who shall tell nay Lord? The Lord Himself, he hears, he sent forth His angel, and took me from my father’s sheep, and He anointed me with the oil of His anointing. My brothers were handsome and tall; but the Lord did not delight in them. I went forth to meet the Philistine, and he cursed me by his idols. But I drew his own sword and beheaded him, and removed reproach from the children of Israel. Praise ye the Lord.” Well, I want you to observe that David consecrated this great gift of his to the highest ends, and that he found music to be most enjoyable when it was linked with sacred themes. What a pity that so sublime a gift is often prostituted to ignoble ends! What a shame that it is so frequently consecrated to the devil! And what vile rubbish you do sometimes listen to under the name of music! The grand chorales of Luther did quite as much as his preaching to arouse the people from their slumber of spiritual death. Now, hundreds of you are crazy about music. It is your chief pastime. And an elevating one it is, if wisely directed and controlled.
III. I point you now to his patriotism. The text calls him “a mighty valiant man, and a man of war;” but I must have you notice that David’s courage and chivalry were not confined to camps and battlefields, but characterised his whole life. If ever man loved his country it was he. If ever there was a noble, chivalrous, magnanimous, unselfish spirit it was he. His heroic fearlessness of danger was constantly put to the proof. True men, nature’s noblemen, are scarce; and Goldsmith was right when he said:--
“Ill fares the land, to hastening ills a prey,
When wealth accumulates, and men decay,”
A healthy and unselfish public spirit needs to be cultivated. We want a larger number of young men who, not content to see their country’s honour and weal in the hands of a select few, are ambitious of contributing their quota to the formation of a healthy public opinion; and will willingly bear burdens, and take rubs, and forego conveniences, if they can in any way advance the national welfare. There must be some here who well remember how, during the Franco-Prussian War, many a young German, knowing his country was likely to be invaded, hurried home from a safe and lucrative position in England and America, to take his place in the line of battle, and, if need be, pay the penalty with his life. And when the war rolled over into France, many a young Frenchman went from quiet homes in distant and safe parts of his own land, to march with disorganised armies, and under doubtful generalship, through great and constant hardships; destined, alas! to find in a few weeks a nameless grave. Well, they only did their duty. And I am as certain as I am of my own existence that there are scores of young patriots here, who, under similar circumstances, would do precisely the same. There are bloodless achievements within the reach of all of you, by which you can nobly serve your fatherland. Ay, there are battles to be fought in Cornhill and Lombard Street, in Manchester and Liverpool, and thousands of other places at home, that demand a perseverance, a pluck, and a heroism quite as great as though you were summoned, with rifle and knapsack, to the jungles of Burmah or the mountains of Afghanistan.
IV. I point you now to his prudence. The text describes him as prudent in matters”--i.e., a young man of sound judgment, of sterling common sense. This is a wonderful recommendation to a man, no matter what kind of office he has to fill. Next to piety--and we are coming to that immediately--there is no endowment more valuable than what in England goes by the name of good common sense. “Prudent in matters.” This word “prudent” is just a contradiction of “provident,” and provident literally means looking before you, providing for the future. The one hundred and twelfth Psalm is just a portrait of a wise and generous man; and in it David says that such a person will “guide his affairs with discretion,” and in consequence, “will not be afraid of evil tidings.” if you are prudent in your affairs you will not spend all you earn upon immediate gratification, but will endeavour to make some provision for after days, and for those who possibly may be dependent on you I suppose there were no life insurance offices in those early times, or I feel sure David would have taken a wise step, which I urge upon every young man; and the sooner you take it the better.
V. And last point of all, David’s piety--“And the Lord is with him.” He was “a man after God’s own heart.” The breathings of his soul in these wonderful Psalms have for ages been, in the whole Christian Church--alike Greek, Latin, Puritan, and Anglican--the chosen expression of the most profound devotion. Now you may have all the other qualifications described here, yet, if you lack this, you are awfully incomplete; you cannot be presented to the King, nor stand, harp in hand, before His face in glory. A friend was one day speaking to the late learned Dr. Duncan, of Edinburgh, about religious life in England, and was contrasting southern theology with the robust and stern orthodoxy of Scotland, and he let fall the expression, “It is like a limpet, it has no bone in it.” “Ah, well,” replied Dr. Duncan, “a limpet is not a strong thing, but it cleaves fast to the rock.” Cleave to the rock, and you will not be swept away by those strong currents of error or torrents of temptation which are sure to sweep around you. Decide what the principles of your life are to be, and stand by them at any cost. Have more manliness than to heed the jeers of the scoffer. The world is always for compromise; compromise between truth and error, between right and wrong. If a man dies for his flag, the world calls him a hero; but if he is prepared to die for a principle, it calls him a fanatic. Yet the latter is the nobler of the two. (J. T. Davidson, D. D.)
1 Samuel 16:19
Send me David thy son, which is with the sheep.
Life of David
The formal induction of David into the office for which he was selected, was not devoid of its appointed influence. The ceremony was a sacred one, by special direction of God, performed by a sacred band in the days of miraculous agency, days long since passed away. Consequently a marked alteration occurred in the whole character of this lowly shepherd boy. It was not conversion, for David, you remember, before this ceremony, was conversant with godliness, and replete with spiritual and legitimate piety. We may call this alteration or improvement, devotedness; he was warned of the purposes of Providence concerning his future life, and hence became, by a noble ambition, as well as by supernatural gifts, devoted to the destiny, the high appointment to which he was ordained. After the interview with Samuel, David resumed his former position and avocation, but with new thoughts, new hopes, and new practices. His life was still a private one, but the virtues of an exalted mind, and of increased piety, displayed themselves with such fulness that the respect of all men was tendered to him in tributary homage.
1. Here is a volume of wisdom opened to us. We have a double calling--one to future dignity in God’s set time, another to present duty in our earthly state. Our wisdom, then, our duty, our religion, is to realise, by sober contemplation, the heaven that awaits us. We have not here to follow the guidance of mere fancy; we have not here the deceitful rule of passion, to observe which will paint a paradise, according to each man’s peculiar lust. We have the solemn and copious narrative of revelation; the history of successive periods yet to come; of gradation above gradation in eternal glory for the saints; of resurrection joy, millennial glory with Christ, abiding favour with the Father; of physical happiness, as well as filial consolations; of a promised land, a better country, a heavenly city, of many mansions. Our other calling is to glorify God in that station where His Providence has placed us. The description of David, while be remained a commoner, signifies that he had given himself, with every diligence as a man in ordinary life, to discharge his office, to the very best of his ability, religiously. The devices of the enemy are innumerable, to prevent our success in piety, our utility to man, and our honourableness to God. We must understand thoroughly that in spite of all contrary exhibitions and persuasions, suggested by our infirmities, that the post we occupy is exactly that in which we are placed, stand fast and quit ourselves like men. That our ages, callings, situations, fortunes, are just the very ordinances of Jehovah, and that in these things, and no others, we are required to show forth His glory, and magnify His name. Thus did David.
2. We must thus conclude our considerations about his private life, and follow him out upon the great stage of the world. But ere we view him on that stage we must observe that his exaltation occurred in exact accordance with his private virtues. These spread abroad his fame, sent it to the king’s palace, and led him from obscurity. “Seest thou a man diligent in his business? He shall stand before kings, he shall not stand before mean men.” “Godliness hath the promise of this life, as well as of that which is to come.” The command for David’s separation from the humble lot in which he had enjoyed so much of a happy converse with heaven, has arrived--“Send me David thy son, who is with the sheep.” Thus were the unsolicited promises of Samuel hastening to fulfilment. David had not sought greatness, and we may conclude that this call to another mode of life, so dissimilar to all his early habits, was obeyed, not with the alacrity of ambition, but the integrity of religion. He obeyed, because he felt it to be his duty. He must henceforth find his interviews with God diminished, and his intimacy with an evil world a source of continual danger, and cause of continual self-restraint and watchfulness. In the life of the believer, all things have their appointed use, according to the words--“All things work together for good, to them who love God.” Solitude, or retirement rather, had witnessed the first dawn of piety in this servant of God, and confirmed it in every principle, up to the full blaze of faith, and courage, and devotedness. Now society, and society in the most dangerous form, in the very circle of the court, must train the future monarch for his onerous responsibilities.
(1) It was a more difficult task by far to combat the influence of flattery, now heaped on David. He was an accomplished youth, of goodly appearance, graced, too, with all the freshness of innocence and piety, and the prime favourite of the king; it is said here, “he loved him greatly.” These things were so many attractions to flattery, so many inlets to the poison of pride, which kills the soul of the unconverted, and which, when it gains admission to the hearts of the children of God, requires for them a discipline of misery, to expel the moral pestilence.
(2) Another risk must now be encountered, the power of prevailing levity. Man in solitude is serious, in society is often a mocker. Whether it be the courage Which springs from fellowship, or the poor ambition of obtaining notoriety amongst his fellows, that stirs a man to levity; it is always true that the society of ordinary men is ruled by levity--a reckless disregard for things Divine, or a wild and boisterous exuberance of mirth, where piety dare not appear. Courts are composed of men, not always of the best men, and so he, whose infancy and early youth had been imbued with the deepest reverence for the mysteries and truth of revelation, had now to brook the wild scorn of the infidel, or the injurious babble and enervating levity of the gay and thoughtless sycophants of greatness. We must watch here, against the influence of the world’s irreligion upon ourselves, it is our hour of temptation.
(3) Lastly, David had to encounter worldliness--that is, the predominant vice in the vicinity of kings. A spiritual man may loathe all this; but repetition blunts his first feelings of abhorrence. Far from the precincts of the court we may pass the residue of our earthly period, but there are agencies abroad to raise within us the love of this evil world, and increase it, too, as that world is fading from our grasp. (C. M. Fleury, A. M.)
1 Samuel 16:21
And David came to Saul, and stood before him.
Life in a palace
1. We see one seated on a throne, and yet not happy. We see his royal magnificence, and just as plainly we see his knitted brow and wild eye. Let our riches be ever so great, we are not rich enough to buy a house into which trouble cannot come. We wish, with a deep, restless eagerness, for more of the world. Our secret feeling is, that our pains are well spent if the outcome be that we stand higher in the world, or grasp more of it. We are sure that happy circumstances shall bring happiness into our heart. Let us but climb the throne, and we shall sit down pleased. Vain, then, were the lordliest mansion reared for us, and crowded with friends, and stored with plenty, if we already have not a happy heart. “The heart is its own place, and of itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.” A heart at one with God, and like His, is the only spring of true joy. Such a heart has God’s smile for its light. His praise and the hope of His glory make a music that never wearies us. All outward pleasure is brightened by the bliss within.
2. Once more we turn our eyes on the king, and we see one healed by the world and yet not cured. We see David as he lifts his harp and strikes the strings, and we mark how the music softens the hard lines in that troubled face, and brings a glint of pleasure into that gloomy eye. We see the world’s medicine in conflict with man’s worst ailment. For the king is not ill in body, but in spirit. His spiritual health is ruined, and the flickering goodness that is left only shows him what might have been, and what ought to be, without arousing any will or power to change He is fatally sick in spirit, but he does not seek a cure by returning to breathe the pure air of Divine truth, and to exercise himself in holy doings. He catches at the advice of his lords, and calls for music. Since the worldly pleasures he has do not please, he is fain to try yet another. And the harp in the skilful hand of David does drive away the throng of vexing thoughts. For the time he enjoys a higher and calmer mood. He indeed is healed by the world, but he is not cured. That is an instance of how the world treats its stricken ones. It can only prescribe the medicine which it has. It offers amusements, business, ambitions, and the like as the cure for ills that are in the spirit, and deeper than such things can go. It is successful in thrilling the nerves, in engrossing the energies, and in thus turning a man’s thought away from himself. He is happy, as the sleeper is happy in his dreams. Let the young put themselves beforehand on guard against the world’s nostrums for spiritual ills. A harp--a harp is the charm for a spirit in which heaven and hell are at war and eternity at stake! Go not to one who does but trifle with death. If no saintly Samuel is known to you, from whose goodly wisdom you may win guidance, then all the more keenly listen to God Himself, as at the very centre of your being He echoes the words of Jesus, and sends you to that sole Physician of the spirit. Face to face to the sated but unsatisfied man of the world there stands a robust youth. As yet he is fresh to the city and the court. He has been spoken of to the king as a brave and accomplished man. As we look further, and think of his life heretofore and its results, we see a like contrast to the history and character of Saul.
3. We see one who links lowly duty with lofty hope. David felt the stirrings of genius, and the anointing had confirmed him in high hopes, yet he did not despise his crook. He was not forever grumbling that such a clever fellow as he should be condemned to common toil. In the full expectancy of a great future he gave his best energy to the lowly business which now was duty. And the duty of today is ever God’s apprenticeship of us for the greater things of the morrow. To kick at the lowly work set before us is to kick down the ladder God has brought to our feet. See how David rose by fidelity to the present. But, unfaltering in his hope, he was not hurried away by it. He did not let it carry him off to the court or the camp in chase of fortune. He bade his eager spirit bide its time. And now, in the due time of God’s choosing, and still but following the duty of the hour, David has taken another step forward. He has come to be Saul’s minstrel. Let us be faithful to the calls of each day as they come, and we too shall grow royal and reach our own throne. Jehovah is no respecter of persons, but deals with us as wisely and as lovingly as He dealt with His servant David.
4. We see one who links pleasant leisure with rich profit. The shepherd’s day was long, but it was not without many spare moments. In that solitude which was full of God this man, like others called to lofty tasks, was made great. Slowly he was ennobled and made royal in heart. Without having seen the court he had a grace which indeed no earthly palace could have given. Not for David alone, but for every youth, fate lies hid in those leisure hours. As he deals with them he is dealing with his whole future. Out of them shall spring his fortune in this life and in the next. Who makes himself worthy of success shall find it at last coming to meet him by the way on which he journeys. And, just as surely, the time which is not filled with good is room kept for evil. It is not merely that the man robs himself of the accomplishments and character and capabilities which might have been his. For lack of noble interests and patient work he deteriorates. He falls beneath himself. And, looking back on this subject, let us be warned from Saul to distrust the world for our peace. Let us copy David and make the Lord our portion. Jehovah is now more easily known and more readily found than in those ancient, days. (David Burns.)
David before the King
1. This is a melancholy picture l The collapse of what gave promise of being a brilliant career is very affecting, particularly when it is the result of moral failure (1 Samuel 10:2). What contrast could be sharper than that, which is expressed by the words, “The Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord troubled him” (ver 14)!
2. But to turn to the other side, how mysterious are the methods of Divine Providence! The successor of Saul is admitted into his presence on account of his musical capabilities Thus natural gifts were made to subserve Divine purposes. Little did David think, when he was playing in the tent of Jesse, that the pastime was a preparation for his future destiny; and evidently little did Jesse think that the youngest of his sons was the one who should be “taken from the sheepfolds” to feed Israel.
I. Saul’s condition.
1. First he was in a state of dejection. I use the word “dejection,” because it is a stronger term than “depression; depression is but a degree of dejection” (Crabb). Then dejection seems to be oftentimes measured by the height of previous exaltation, and so to be a very suitable term in the ease of Saul, Wordsworth says:--
“As high as we have mounted in delight,
In our dejection do we sink as low.”
There are those who would go further than this, and describe the king as suffering from “melancholia,” and the hypochondriacal term of it. Perhaps the tendency is too common to attribute moral disease to mental. Saul was a disappointed man, and became the prey of his evil passions.
2. But this is only a part of the matter Saul’s miserable condition is attributed in the Bible to the workings of an “evil spirit.” It is a very unwarrantable method of dealing with the statements of holy Scripture, to assert that this is only the Jewish way of saying Saul was mad. No one can read the New Testament accounts of demoniacs, or our Lord’s words as to devil-possession, and be satisfied with such an explanation. The same words describe the departure of the Spirit of God, and the arrival of an evil spirit,.
3. Again, this spirit is said to be “from the Lord,” for even over evil spirits God has sovereignty. Satan could not tempt Job without Divine permission and Divine restrictions; his emissaries must therefore be allowed by God to tempt or torment man. This was a part of Saul’s punishment; as, bodily and mental disorders are often the penalties of personal sin.
II. David’s remedy.
1. Saul, when these spiritual paroxysms were upon him, was soothed and calmed by the sweet strains from David’s harp. Commentators say, that this power of music is well known.
2. Such an effect bears testimony to the source from which music had been said to come--the land of peace. Newman could not believe that, such effects as music wrought could be produced by that which is “unsubstantial” and transitory. Similarly, Kingsley says, “Music has been called the speech of angels.” Music is a language, a universal language, which appeals to the heart of man; and as it gives expression to every feeling and emotion, so it has the power of calling every movement of the soul into play.
3. But they were the strains of David’s harp alone which allayed the commotion in Saul’s spirit, and drove off the evil influence. There is music and music. There is music which elevates and calms and spiritualises, and there is music which stirs evil passions and excites sensuous impulses It is music which appeals to what is Divine in man, and lifts up his thoughts and affections to the “far-off land,” which has the power by its stern sweetness of pacifying the passions, and dissipating the gloom which hides the face of God.
1. To take warning from the history of Saul, lest through unfaithfulness to God we should forfeit the opportunities of service which He gives us, and so through disappointment become the prey of evil passions and evil powers.
2. To realise the need of watchfulness (Ephesians 6:12).
3. That music in the service of the sanctuary is not for purposes of entertainment, but to lift up the soul to God.
4. Finally, we may surely, with the mystical interpreter, see an image in this incident of the work of Christ, the true David, the Prince of Peace, who came to deliver mankind from the tyranny of Satan, and to restore to peace and harmony those who were distracted by divers lusts and passions; and further, inquire whether we have obtained that peace which Christ came to bring. (Canon Hutchings.)
The Sweet Psalmist in the Court of Saul
The scene changes. “We are no longer sitting among the sheep with David, watching the departure of the prophet, and the dispersion of the guests; we are not now among the home circle in Jesse’s house, but in the court of Gibeah. Here is state and grandeur and Eastern magnificence. The king has evidently all the absolute power of an Eastern monarch. But these things will make no man happy; for we read (verse 24): “The Spirit, of the Lord departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord troubled him.” Is it so? that powers and talents are taken from one man and given to another? Are we so far stewards of all our faculties, that if we misuse or abuse them, God will transfer them to our neighbour? The kingdom was taken from Saul, so Samuel had told him, and was given to another. You recollect what our Lord says in the parable of the pounds: “And he said to them that stood by, Take from him the pound, and give it to him that hath ten pounds. For I say unto you, That unto everyone which hath shall be given, and from him that hath not, even that he hath shall be taken away from him.” The more you act as faithful stewards of your money, your talents, and your faculties, the more God will commit to your trust. But if, like the unjust steward, you “waste your Lord’s goods,” then you will lose what you have, and be no longer stewards. Sin draws after it many consequences. Little did Saul think that he should lose the kingdom, when he spared the king of the Amalekites; and he never could have foreseen that, fearful visitation that was coming on him. Boast not of your gifts or your mental powers, it needs but for God to remove His hand, and what a multitude of evil spirits may possess our souls! It is only by God’s will that we live? What a contrast between Saul returning from the slaughter of the Ammonites, and Saul, as now, a prey to fits of mental derangement! Yes, we are in God’s hands, and everything is at His disposal. Now we may be conscious of some power of mind and a consciousness of power, of course, gives pleasure. But a stroke of paralysis might lay us prostrate in a moment; the faculty of speech, the faculty of memory, might be taken from us, and we be enfeebled in mind for the rest of our days. This affliction of Saul’s is called “an evil spirit from the Lord.” The Spirit of the Lord was gone from Saul, gone because of his sin; and the evil spirit from God had come upon him. The servants prescribe only a half-remedy: the music may drive away his sadness, may restore the balance of his mind; but this, because it cannot bring back the favour of God, will not restore peace to his soul. Only the gospel can give real comfort. And now one of the servants of Saul, perhaps a man with more religious feeling than the rest, mentions David’s name. And so David is sent for to the court of Saul. God’s purposes are sure to come to pass. When Moses was forty years old, he thought the time had come for him to deliver his brethren; but there were to be forty years of discipline yet both for him and them. When Saul was arrested by the vision on the road to Damascus, he was told of God’s designs about him; but many years passed before he was ordained to the apostleship David’s faith and patience were put to the test in the interval that elapsed between his anointing and his summons to the court; and now, in a very humble capacity indeed, he enters the palace: he is nothing more than a musician, and afterwards made one of the bodyguard. Music has a wonderful power over the spirit. Saul felt its influence, and his spirit was “refreshed,” but he remained the same character; his soul was in no way the better for it. It is very difficult to distinguish between natural sentiment and religious enthusiasm, between genuine spiritual ecstacy and mere sensuous delight. God forbid our church music should not be good of its kind! We ought to offer the best of everything to God; only with this passage in Saul’s life before us, let us be careful that while we delight in the singing, we are not insensible to the deep meaning of the words. When you think that a musical service has really been a blessing to your soul, then ask yourself these questions: “Have I been humbled in my own eyes?” “Do I loathe myself?” Is Christ more precious to me as the Saviour who has died for me?” and “Do I feel more abhorrence of the sin that is close and natural to me?” For if you have been excited, but not really moved to humiliation and prayer, the musical service will only have strengthened your natural propensities; and though I say nothing against the singing of the Psalms of David, yet I say thin--and that in the face of the musical taste of the present day--that the effect of a high musical service upon soma natures may be baneful in the extreme. God has given to some of you great talents; mind that, like David, you use them to His glory. Have you beauty? Have you intellect? Have you musical talent? Thank God for every gift: but remember that it is a trust: you may use it in the service of God, or in the devil’s service. (C. Bosanquet, M. A.)
1 Samuel 16:23
So that Saul was refreshed and was well.
The minstrel physician
Long and varied was to be David’s education for the throne. His shepherd experience had been one of his schoolmasters. And now acquaintance with the Court, and the glimpse it gave him into the duties of government and the nation’s condition, was to be another. At Court, too, he was to learn the poverty of human power. Was not King Saul bound in the cords of misery, and one of the poorest, because wretchedest, men in that or any other kingdom? Thus the King-elect was being prepared for his future eminence. But how came he at Court? By no seeking of his own. The youth had become a man. And many marked him, and one who had seen him told the king of him and wound up his eulogium with “the Lord is with him.” That servant’s knowledge of David, and the king’s ignorance of David, for little did he suspect that the commended shepherd youth was to be his successor, “worked together” for David’s advancement to be the royal harper. Thus the way began to open to the throne. By what varied and strange instrumentalities God’s purposes are wrought out! We see it in this ancient story. And do we not see it today in the life of nations? Think of United Italy and how Mazzini’s pen, and Cavour’s brain, and Garibaldi’s arm worked and successfully to the one difficult end of giving this beautiful, long-oppressed land a rightful place among the nations. Think of the enslaved multitudes of America, and of the many who, militant only for the “Union,” involuntarily helped them into liberty. The doors of opportunity have swung upon little hinges. He whose eyes are quick to note Providence in his life will never lack a Providence to note.
I. Saul’s need of David. He needed someone. God indeed, was his need! But that he forgot, as did his servants. They counselled a harper as the best physician for his melancholy madness. David’s name was mentioned. At length he stood before the king. What was this malady? Is the phrase “evil spirit,” “evil spirit from God” (or that came by Divine permission), only a strong Orientalism for melancholy? That is bad to bear, and, rooted in physical causes, many a good man has had to bear it. Dr. Johnson was one, and once under its terrible depression exclaimed, “I would consent to have a limb amputated to recover my spirits.” But such an interpretation as this will not cover the large, sad statements in reference to Saul. Josephus says, “The Divine Power departed from Saul, and strange and demoniacal disorders came upon him, and brought upon him such suffocations as were ready to choke him.” David “charmed his passion, and was the only physician against the trouble he had from the demons, whensoever it was that it came upon him, and this by reciting of hymns, and playing upon the harp, and bringing Saul to his right mind again.” (Antiquities, b. 6. c. 8.) Whatever view is taken of Saul’s malady the record is full of warning to us all. Well may we in the recollection of Saul “Stand in awe and sin not.”
II. The power and powerlessness of music. David proved its power upon the evil-possessed Saul. Great the mystery of music. It sighs in the breeze, whispers in the stream, thunders in the sea, rolls in the mountain echoes, “thinner, clearer, farther going.” It is hidden, too, in the very substance of things. From wood of most musical quality, the rarest, finest-sounding viols are made. Music waits to be tinkled out of steel, clashed out of brass, blown from horn, struck from tense string. Man plays upon the instrument and the instrument plays upon the man. In the words of Bushnell, “A man may plod, plot, speculate, and sneer, who has no fibred harp of music hid in his feeling; he may be a qualified atheist, usurer, demagogue, dogmatist, or hangman: but he cannot be one that stirs men’s blood Divinely, whether in song or in speech, and is very little like to be much of a Christian.” History has much to tell us of this wondrous God’s gift to man. The wisest ancient heathens told of the influence of music in their fable of Orpheus around whose lyre thronged trees and entranced rocks, and wild beasts charmed for awhile from their fury. One of our poets has imagined Cain, “an awful form,” half brute, half human, listening to Jubal’s harp, listening to the novel, anguish restraining harmony--
“Till remorse grew calm;
Till Cain forsook the solitary wild,
Led by the minstrel like a weaned child.”
This, if no more than a poet’s fancy, is at any rate his confession of the power of music. What nation has lacked its patriotic anthem? Songs like the Marsellaise have aided nations into freedom. Music is freedom’s friend and languishes in bondage. God’s gift is it to man. Cultivate home music, then. Let it be of the best. Alas! that this God’s gift should be desecrated. The noblest music is religious. It comes to its crown of nobility as it is consecrated to the Highest. We see it in David. What larger legacy of blessing could he have left than he has in his psalms? They are never old. They are the possession, the voice of God, of each willing soul. And they are all of musical make: written to be sung: sung when first written by Hebrew choirs and choral multitudes in worship. Grateful for this Divine gift, let us holily use it. The devil fled from his flute, said Luther. Let us, with cheerful, holy music, keep at distance the evil ones of doubt, fear, care. Let, the love of Christ be the marching song of our life. May His name be our life’s sweetest music. And may the music of that name be the refreshment of our dying hour. (G. T. Coster.)
The worth and worthlessness of music
1. In this chapter we have Saul and David brought together; and round the combination of these two names a wonderful history gathers. Saul and David! How bright is the halo that surrounds one of those heads, and how dark is the cloud that settles on the brow of the other! how increasingly bright the one; how increasingly dark the other! And let me say that these two men represent two great but opposing principles. David represents the man of grace. A man he is with many faults, with many things which make him like other men at their worst; but a man who is, notwithstanding, by grace, although with who could be Saul, a man who could be and might be Saul at his worst, but who, with all this, knows that he is bad, sincerely repents of his evil, and asks for grace that he may be better. And Saul is a man after, not God’s own heart, but a man after his own heart. Saul, notwithstanding many points wherein he seems to be a David, is of a totally different spirit from David. How bright he was at the beginning! how frank, how modest, how generous, how ingenuous! David himself could scarcely have played the part better than Saul played it at the time when he was chosen to be king by Samuel, and suddenly exalted to that high dignity. And yet Saul, after all, was so centred in himself, so proud, as rebellious, so possessed of an evil spirit, that his day went down into deep and deepening darkness.
2. Notice further how the old Book does not hesitate to trace everything up to God. The writers of this Book, whenever they come across a dark, perplexing problem, are men of this stamp--they get themselves to rest, to mental rest and consistency, when otherwise all things would rock and reel, by pressing everything up to God and letting it lie there. To put the very devil into God’s hands gives rest; I can wait now; he is on a chain Why is evil here? And it is remarkable how the writers of the Bible, without making God responsible, put Him in there in the meantime. We rest here, “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” You see how the problem breaks out upon us. “An evil spirit from the Lord troubled Saul.” What is this? What imp from hell crept up to the Bible and wrote that in it? “An evil spirit from the Lord.” Well, but that rings all through the Bible! The Lord is put in in the meantime, for us short-sighted mortals, and He seems to say, “Rest here; nee as far along the difficulty as Me, and do not ask anything further.” And although it seems herd for Me, and although it seems awkward for Me, I will bear the brunt; and in the end of the day I will be just and justified, and clear Myself when I am judged.”
3. But now we will come at once, for we must hasten, to the real explanation of Saul’s misery It was this--secret sin; but I will give that sin a name: secret sin, taking the shape of self-will, which was not repented of and done away with self-will was the secret explanation of all Saul’s inward and outward misery, of all the still heavier distress which overtook him later on. The Spirit of God has laid Saul bars to the very backbone, and we know what was his disease. When will we understand that the Lord is always trying to lay us bare to ourselves? There is a stone in the machine: may it soon be detected and put away, then all the wheels shall move swiftly and without friction, as they used to do. There is war in your own heart. I grant there are troubles without--external sources of trouble and annoyance--but how many of us here today can say that we are free from the battle that raged in Saul’s breast--that worst of all fights: the fight between a man and his conscience; between a man and his God? Saul’s lust was a lust for power, a lust for his own way. But he cloaked it, he covered it, he disguised it, he twisted it into religious phrases, he kept justifying himself to himself and to Samuel. But he is laid bare, and all subterfuges are torn to pieces.
4. Just a word about the too-cheap and slim and utterly inadequate remedy that was tried for Saul. The help and the helplessness, the worth and the worthlessness of music--the use and the uselessness of recreation, of changer of pleasure, of relaxation. How far these go; and how far they don’t go! His servants came around Saul and virtually said, “What you need, dear master, is change; what you need is relaxation; what you need is music.” No treasures, says the poet of my country--
“Nae treasures, nae pleasures can mak us happy lang,
The heart’s aye, the pairt aye, that makes us richt or wrang,”
And if God is not in the heart, then the evil spirit is in it. Music! Well, we will say nothing against music. Music hath charms of every kind; who has not felt its power? The man is not influenced and softened by music, we are almost inclined to say with Shakespeare, “Let no such man be trusted.” We feel naturally suspicious of him. And yet how little it does! When we see what music sets itself to cure--London’s music, London’s sacred music, or its secular music--when we see what it is called in to cure, it is no wonder if I should get a little outspoken about it. Music for a madman!--whenever did it cure madness? Music for a man who needs Almighty God!--what a pitiful remedy! And is not that what the very Church of God is saying today? The masses--the squirming, wretched howling masses--fiddle to them, oh, fiddle to them; get up music for them, get up popular entertainments for them. Cast out the devil with the fiddle! You talk about curing earthquakes with pills, it is very much the same as curing poor Saul’s trouble by getting a man who was skilful with his hands upon the harp. And a word, let me put in here, to people who are susceptible of music. This which was meant to do good to Saul, I rather think that in the end it only deepened his trouble; for medicine, when brought in in a case like this, if it does not permanently benefit, it will permanently injure. Said a young man to me, “When I go into a church where there is an organ, even before the sermon begins, and there is ‘the long-drawn aisle and fretted vault;’ when the music from the organ begins to peal and to steal, I almost begin to think I am a new creature.” Well, if the organ is going to do it, it was an awful mistake for Christ to have climbed upon the cross. That was the blunder of all time--the Crucifixion was not needed if music and organs and choirs can cast out the evil spirit from a man. That is the trouble. Nothing will cure thy heart but the almighty grace from the Lord Jesus Christ, through the Word and the Truth of His Gospel. No; one of the sad things of this story is to find how near Saul came to a cure, and how far he remained from it. One could almost cry out, “Oh, Saul, you are on the right track, and yet you are altogether wrong! Oh, Saul, take not only the harp and the music, but if you would take the harper to your heart, that would cure you!” What was all Saul’s trouble? It was David. David was the stone, the stumbling stone, over which he tripped and fell. The story gets breathless in its sad interest: David brought so near; and if Saul had only lent his heart as well as his ears, and taken David in and loved him, David would have been his salvation. My parable is easily applied. You do make a certain use of Christ; like Saul, you make a certain use of David and a certain use of religion, and you admit its power so far as you use it. Now, in the name of salvation, come farther. You like music, you like sacred music; I have seen it on your faces--how the eye gets filled over the singing, and for the time being, a brief but holy light settles upon your troubled face, and I believe that a corresponding peace comes into your war-broken soul. But if that is all, if it is only these sounds and strains and these sweet words, that is not enough. The devil in you can stand that, and still be what he is. If, however, you would take in not only the praise, but Him who is praised, if you would take in Christ, you would be saved. Poor man, Saul was allowing his wound to be slightly healed, to be slightly skimmed over, and soon it broke out with worse virulence than everse The evil spirit departed from him when David took the harp and played with his hands; Saul was refreshed, but, as we know, only for a season. You are as near to the perfect cure as Saul was. See that you get it. And the perfect cure is to take the Lord Jesus Christ, who is the centre of the Church’s service, and the centre of the preacher’s preaching. Get past the singing, go past all our service, go past the preacher. I am but a harp, and a very poor harp, with little more than one string; but if the Spirit of God struck me, what wonderful tones He might bring out. Go past the harp, go past the sound that comes from the harp, and see to it that you discern Him. See that you discern the heavenly David who holds this rude instrument in His hand. Yea, I say unto you, “See that you discern Him and love Him; take Him in to you; then shall the devil of discord leave thy breast, and thy soul shall begin to fill with heaven’s own melody.” (John McNeill.)
The influence of music
Out of so distant a past as this comes this famous illustration of the influence of music. The power with which music is credited to “soothe the savage breast” will only be disputed by those who maintain that the noises that soothe the savage breast do not deserve the name of music at all. But to this it is sufficient answer that for elementary life elementary forms of music are appropriate. Nay, we might descend lower still, and illustrate our subject by examples of the influence of music over the lower forms of animal life. Even a very dull and unmusical ear can detect the difference between the low, dulcet strain that soothes the spirit and assuages its tumult, and the sharp, ringing, martial air that sets the heart heating and the feet starring. When it was said of John Knox that his voice stirred Scotland like the sound of a trumpet everyone realised the appropriateness of the simile. In the crises of great struggles men have been “played up” almost impossible ascents, when neither the ardour of the fight nor the chance of defeat would have stirred them sufficiently. The little child’s sleep waits on the croon over its cradle; and the strong man’s death in battle is made easy by the shrill call of the bugle or the pipes to blood and brain. Music can strike a chill to the heart with the wail of a dirge, or it can set the pulses dancing to the thrill of the march, or lift the soul irresistibly heavenward on swelling billows of chorus or magnificat. The passage that I have taken as a text has been expounded by Robert Browning in one of the greatest poems of the nineteenth century. It is in itself a moving incident, the great first king, drear and stark in his tent, and the bright, blithe young harpist seeking by music to win his soul back from the inferno of despair, where it was overwhelmed. But how? By what fashion of music can this miracle be accomplished? What craft can avail to bring back the dead to life? First, says Browning, he plays the tune of the sheepfold, the musical call to which they flock across the hills in the evening when the stars are coming out. Then he played strains which the creatures loved, the quails and the crickets, and the jerboa. And then the reaper’s song of rejoicing, and then:
The last song,
When the dead man is praised on his journey.
And then he breaks into the glad marriage chant, and follows this with a battle march, and then again with:
The chorus intoned,
As the Levites go up to the altar in glory enthroned.
This last effort, according to Browning, wrung a deep groan from the lips of the afflicted and desolate Saul. There was power in the music to break the chain of Saul’s captivity. But now, in my judgment, Browning is absolutely right in representing that for the higher and deeper influence music alone, mere instrumental music, will not suffice. David realises this; he begins to sing to his harp; he makes the music the vehicle of great and inspiring thought; and he sings these uplifting and invigorating beliefs and hopes into the sorrow-stricken soul before him. The question now comes to be: how much of this result was the influence of music, and how much the influence of ideas? I would say, rather, there is a previous question. Would the bare ideas alone have had this wizard power over the soul apart from the music? The language of music is broadly understood by all peoples. The music of Beethoven is far more universally appreciated than the poetry of Milton, because of the disabilities inflicted on mankind by the tower of Babel. A Greek or an Italian cannot understand a line of Shakespeare, but Wagner’s dramatic speech they comprehend. And, indeed, it may require a sensitive and discerning mind to appreciate Michael Angelo’s expression in stone or on canvas of the woes of Italy, but it hardly needs education to realise how the tragedies of Poland fail through the music of Chopin.
I. The danger of self-indulgence. An absorbing enjoyment of music and devotion to music is one of the commonest forms of selfishness. This power of music to take a masterful grip of the senses is so remarkable that it very commonly means the exclusion of all other objects and interests whatsoeverse Even as the Pied Piper in Browning’s legend played the children to their doom, and they followed him laughing and dancing, and careless of everything but, the pleasure of the hour, so, as it seems to me, the influence of music may be full of a fatal fascination, in the presence of which all life’s prosaic and commonplace duties go to the wall. There are tens of thousands of musical people, keenly sensitive to its almost incomparable joys, who ask only to be lapped
in soft Lydian airs
Married to immortal verse.
They seek life itself
In notes, with many a winding bout
Of linked sweetness long drawn out.
And the temptation of the Lotos eaters is their temptation, and the music of the Sirens draws them to their fate. It is in that nobler Orpheus song, of which it is recorded:
Nor sang he only of unfading bowers
Where men a tearless, painless age fulfil
In fields Elysian spending blissful hours
Remote from every ill
But of pure gladness found in temperance high,
In duty owned, and reverenced with awe:
Of man’s true freedom, which may only lie
In servitude to law
And how ’twas given through virtue to aspire
To golden seats in ever calm abodes;
Of mortal men admitted to the quire
Of the immortal gods.
Even the Siren sisters, so the legend ran, ceased their music and listened wistfully to so high and noble and deathless a strain as this.
II. The musical temperament. There is another peril, due less perhaps to the music itself than to the musical temperament. Life cannot be all music. Nothing that you and I can ever do can entirely rule the discords out of it. And when the hour of music is over the reaction is apt to be extreme. The musical temperament is for this very reason subject more than most to nervous irritabilities. It is subject to wide extremes of sensation and emotion. One hour it, is strung up to the keenest sensitiveness; but unstrung it is dull and flat beyond the common. And like all nervously fashioned temperaments this tendency to sudden and violent reactions brings special moral perils in its train. The lives of great musicians are almost without exception melancholy reading. As the Scotch would say, they were “gey ill to live wi’.” You have to be very charitable to their genius if they are to retain your respect.
III. Harmony in church choirs. And here you know, as one who has known so little of what many ministers have known so much, I might say a word on the thorny subject of church choirs. John Wesley, who never worshipped at Kensington Chapel, held strong opinions on this subject. But, honestly, I cannot say that I have come across what is ignorantly assumed to be the regulation trouble in churches, that these contribute least harmony who are humorously said to lead the harmony of the church. But, if it were so I should not be surprised. Let those be censorious who know least about the constitution of the musical temperament. I want to say, as I close, that, the truth of truths in regard to this subject is that the influence of music is a good servant but a bad master; that you need a higher master-influence over your lives than the influence of music. The famous lines of Milton ere no exaggeration:
Or bid the soul of Orpheus sing
Such notes as, warbled to the string,
Drew iron tears down Pluto’s cheek,
And made Hell grant what Love did seek.
Iron tears down Pluto’s cheek! There is power in music to soften the hardened spirit till it weep iron tears, till those who are familiar with evil catch a glimpse of love and innocence such as breaks down their self-complacency and stoicism. “And made Hell grant what love did seek.” Yea, it was the music of the life of Jesus--love seeking a lost world from the grip of hell, that conquered the powers of evil, and delivered humanity from its dark captivity. It was this Divine Orpheus who sang such piercing and penetrating strains that the captives of Hell were enamoured once again of the life of faith and virtue. He made Hell grant what Love did seek. Think of that, if you will, as illustration of the influence of the higher melodies. (C. Silvester Horne, M. A.)
The remedial power of music
The healing power of music has been recognised in all ages; and the afflicted who have come under its charms have often been conscious of relief. “Theophrastus is mentioned by Pliny as recommending it for the hip gout; and there are references on record by old Cato and Varro to the same effect, AEsculapius figures in Pindar as healing acute disorders with soothing songs.” It is said that Luther, who was often haunted with the demons of melancholy, had frequent recourse to music. “He had,” says Sir James Stephen, “ascertained and taught that the spirit, of darkness abhors sweet sounds not less than light itself; for music, while it chases away the evil suggestions, effectually baffles the wiles of the tempter. His lute, and hand, and voice, accompanying his own solemn melodies, were therefore raised to repel the vehement aggressions of the enemy of mankind.” Now, if true music has this power, we should observe:--
I. The kindness of the Creator in endowing some men of every circle with musical genius and voice. That man’s social circle must be very limited which does not contain someone whom nature has gifted with this remedial power. Schiller, in his dark hour of sorrow, calls to a little girl full of music, and says:--
Come here, my girl, seat thee by me,
For there is a good spirit on thy lips.
Thy mother praised to me thy ready skill:
She says a voice of melody dwells in thee,
Which doth enchant the soul.
Now such a voice
Will drive away from me the evil demon
That beats his black wings close above my head.”
II. The obligation of those thus endowed to cultivate their talents for the common good.
III. The mercy of God in ordaining its use in public worship. In the Temple of old, music of the highest class was appointed by God, and placed under the direction of the most musical spirits and accomplished performers.
IV. The duty of those who have the conduct of worship to promote the best psalmody. Good psalmody must include good hymns as well as good melodies. (Homilist.)
Cunning in playing
I. The minstrel. He had the poetic temperament, sensitive to nature, open to every impression from mountain and vale, from dawn and eve; and he had beside the power of translating his impressions into speech and song. A great modern poet imagines him reciting, as he sang to his harp, his call to his sheep, the song of the autumn vintage, the joyous marriage lay, the solemn funeral dirge, the chant of the Levites, as they performed their sacred duties, the marching music of the men of Bethlehem when they repelled some border foray. And we might add to these his marvellous power in depicting the sacred hush of dawn. The marvellous description of the thunderstorms, that broke over Palestine, rolling peal after peal, from the great waters of the Mediterranean, over the cedars of Lebanon to the far-distant wilderness of Kadesh. The psalm began with David. Its lyric beauty and tender grace; its rhythmic measure; its exuberant hallelujahs and plaintive lamentations; its inimitable expression of the changeful play of light and shade over the soul; its blending of nature and godliness; its references to the life of men and the world, as regarded from the standpoint of God--these elements in the Psalter which have endeared it to holy souls in every age owe their origin to the poetic, heaven-touched soul of the sweet singer of Israel. What wonder that Saul’s young man said that he was cunning in playing!
II. The young warrior. There was abundant opportunity for the education of his prowess. The Philistines’ frontier was not far away from his native town; and probably there were many repetitions of the incident of after years, when the sons of the alien held it, and placed a guard demanding toll of the water of the well of Bethlehem that was by the gate. But he would have been the last to attribute his exploits to his sinewy strength. By faith he had learnt to avail himself of the might of God.
III. Prudent in speech. David was as prudent to advise and scheme as he was swift to execute. He had understanding of the times, of human hearts, of wise policy; and he knew just how and when to act. Frank to his friends, generous to his foes, constant in his attachments, calm in danger, patient in trouble, chivalrous and knightly, he had every element of a born leader of men, and was equally at home in the counsels of the state and the decisions of the battlefield. Whatever emergency threatened, he seemed to know just how to meet it. And this was no doubt due to the repose of his spirit in God. The sad mistakes he made may be traced to his yielding to the sway of impulse and passion, to his forgetfulness of his habit of drawing near unto God, and inquiring of Him before taking any important step.
IV. The charm of his presence. He was David the beloved. Wherever he moved, he cast the spell of his personal magnetism. Saul yielded to it, and thawed; the servants of the royal household loved him; Michal, Saul’s daughter, loved him; the soul of Jonathan was knit with his soul; the women of Israel forgot their loyalty to Saul, as they sounded the praises of the young hero. (F. B. Meyer, B. A.)
Theatrical estimate of life
Now listen to the poor hard-driven prayer: “Provide me now a man that can play well.” Can we trace the genesis of that poverty-stricken cry? I think we can. Begin here. “He who drives out the prophet will come to whine for a fiddler.” In the beginning, hard-pressed days with Saul found a messenger on the road speeding for Samuel. “Send for the prophet, bring the seer.” But now he asks for no prophet. The counsellors he seeks are a feckless company, whose theatrical estimate of life can suggest to them no better medicine for a mind diseased than song and minstrelsy, and for a soul tragedy no better helper than “a cunning player.” Surely better the prophet though his truth be hard, than this despairing hunt for a minstrel. It all has point for us. There are some of the young men, to whom I specially address these words, who have felt how serious the problem of life is, to whom sin and its penalty are real, and goodness known as the only lasting and blessed thing. But the prophet taxed their thinking, troubled their conscience, cut too deep for comfort, pointed a way too hard, and they dropped him. They do not take the preacher seriously; they do not want the seer with fact-seeing eyes and fact-revealing speech; they have no longer mind for the prophet who speaks through the strong, great pages of literature. Instead of such company they like the set who say, “Find a cunning player;” and the round of pleasure, the worship of recreation and sport, the steeping of mind in the frippery literature of poor romance, is their way of saying, “Provide me now a man who can play well.” But though the poor cry may assume with them a bravado’s bounce, it is at root a whine, and the confession of a bitter need for more radical deliverance than anything that touches only the senses can give. You can track still further the cry. You cannot satisfy the soul by the tickling of a sense. The soul is satisfied only with God, and Saul has lost touch with God. The Maker of us has so fashioned us that our nature must go out of itself, and make its sanctuary in a greater and holier nature, before it can be rightly centred or rationally satisfied. “Lead me to the Rock that is higher than I,” is the expression of this in David’s life. (Thomas Yates.)
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "1 Samuel 16". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent