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1 Samuel 18:1-4
The soul of Jonathan was knit with the soul of David.
The story of a great love
True Christianity consists in devotion to a Person, not in the acceptance of a series of doctrines or theories, nor even in the adoption of a certain line of conduct. Doctrines have their proper place, and conduct which is pure and godlike will necessarily flow from it; but the essence of true Christianity consists, as I have said, in the devotion of the human heart to a Person--a personal God revealed in Jesus Christ. Without this our religion is but sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal; we are devoid of that which is absolutely essential to a truly Christian life. How strange a thing it is that we are able to love One whom we have never seen, whose voice we have never heard, with whose form we have never been brought into contact! This is altogether at variance with ordinary human experience. For a great man who lives at a distance we may be able to feel a certain amount of enthusiastic admiration; he may be the leader of some great cause in which we are deeply interested, or his personal talents and character may command our respect; but can we truly say that we love him? We ere living in an age in which not a few remarkable men have attracted public attention, and some of these, like the great Italian patriot, Garibaldi, have stirred our hearts to their inmost depths by their exploits; but while we have admired such persons, could we with any degree of truth have said that we loved them? No; to love them we need to be brought into some kind of direct personal contact with them. But here is One whom having not seen men yet have loved with a greater love than any earthly object. Truly a wonderful thing is the love of God in the heart of man! Indeed, no less can be said of it than that it is a miracle, a thing that cannot be naturally produced, a thing that belongs not to earth, and that can only exist here when it is brought down from heaven by the Spirit of Love, and planted, like a precious exotic, in our heart, a flower of Paradise on the soil of earth. In considering the story of this most remarkable instance of unselfish devotion, we shall find ourselves supplied with a very striking illustration of that higher affection of which I have been speaking, and from this we shall be in a position to learn some important lessons with respect to that life of love which should bind together the true disciple and his Divine Master.
1. And first we observe that the love of Jonathan for David seems to have been caused in the first instance by the act of heroism on the part of David which brought life and liberty to the thousands of Israel. Jonathan had sat by his father’s tent, and washed the single combat on which the destinies of two nations might be said to hang. He had seen the gigantic champion of Gath march down with stately stride into the valley, and his youthful antagonist advance to meet him, and all the chivalrous enthusiasm of his nature seems to have been stirred at the sight. David has been brought into the presence of Saul with the head of Goliath in his hand, and the king proceeds to enquire his parentage, in order that he may mete out the reward promised to the victor. While the conversation is going on between Saul and David, Jonathan, Saul’s son, is standing by, all eyes and ears. Interested from the first in this remarkable young man, he now feels his interest ripen into affection. He admired him at first; he loves him now. Consider the elements of this affection. There was an overpowering sense of gratitude. They were all saved, and David was the saviour. He himself, more than almost anyone else, was under the deepest obligation to the youthful hero; for his life and his honour and his crown had been redeemed. Had David been overthrown, and Goliath victorious, never would he have filled the throne of his father, and reigned over his people. Israel would have become a nation of serfs. Here we have our first lesson, which may serve to show us what it is that first kindles the love of God in the heart of man. We begin to love when we apprehend the first great deliverance which Christ has wrought out for us, and gaze with adoring gratitude upon the Deliverer. We may be interested in the character of Christ, even as David no doubt had excited the interest of Jonathan before the deliverance was wrought; we may admire the Christ as Jonathan did David, when he went forth to meet the Philistine; but love does not spring into life till the moment of deliverance, or of apprehension of deliverance. And even so is it with our Deliverer. The birth of love takes place in the apprehension of that which his love has wrought for us. But here much must depend upon the line of conduct that we assume towards the Deliverer. It is possible to check love at its very birth by averting our inward gaze from Him who has so loved us, and I fear too many believers make a false start here. I fear it is so with many of us who have taken Christ for our Saviour. We needed a deliverer, and we found one in Jesus. The revelation of the cross brought us peace and joy, and set our fears at rest. We rejoiced in the deliverance; but did we cling to the Deliverer? We raised the shout of triumph; we welcomed the happiness and the security and the immunity from condemnation, the freedom from fear, the hope of heaven. But what then? Did we turn from the gifts to the Giver, and fix our adoring gaze of loving gratitude on Him till all our heart flowed out towards Him, and our soul was knit unto Him, and we “loved Him as our own soul”? Or did we go our way, well pleased to reap the benefit of His work, but forgetful of the obligation under which we rested, and of the debt we owed? It is no use trying to make ourselves love God. All love that deserves the name must be spontaneous, and such love can never be generated by an effort of the will, still less by a process of moral analyses and introspection. Love grows by acquaintance with the loved object. Christ will become more to us than Deliverer. We shall love Him because of what He is, as well as because of what He has done, and our souls will be knit unto Him, and we shall love Him as our own soul.
2. Proceeding with the narrative, we observe the immediate results of the establishment of this affection. The first thing that follows is the making of a covenant between the two friends--a covenant involving reciprocal obligations, and binding each to be true to the other in all the various changes and chances of life. Not dissimilar to this is the order of events in the life of love between thy soul and its Lord. The act of Baptism, which in the case of the adult believer would naturally follow immediately on the acceptance of the great deliverance, brings the soul within the bonds of a spiritual covenant, involving reciprocal obligations. Remember, too, that the covenant involves reciprocal obligation.
3. We pass on to the next incident in the story of this great love, and we read that Jonathan stripped himself of his robe, and also his garment, even to his sword, and his bow, and his girdle. It is only in the school of grace, and under the influence of love, that we learn to divert ourselves of all that we naturally prided ourselves upon, and to present all, cheerfully and with an enthusiasm of devotion, to Another. Nor is this all. Jonathan makes over to David, what must always be dear to the warrior’s heart, “his sword, and his bow, and his girdle.” The very weapons which he had carried on many a hard-fought field--weapons with which he had performed already notable and splendid exploits. What is there you most naturally pride yourself upon, or if you do not pride yourself upon it, what faculty or quality are you most conscious of possessing in a special degree? Is it your intellect? Has God given you a strong head, and a clear judgment? Put the bow and the sword into David’s hands. He won’t despise the gift, but use it for his own glory. Has God bestowed on you the gift of language, fluency and readiness in speech? You are quick at repartee; or perhaps you possess a lively humour, and the dangerous gift of wit, and those qualities you were wont to exercise in order to gratify your vanity, or to make yourself highly acceptable to society. Let those lips of yours be anointed with the holy unction of the blessed Spirit, so that through Him you may speak as the oracles of God. Give Him the bow, give Him the sword. Has He given you wealth? Remember it is all His already; but He gives you the privilege of giving it back to Him. Lay it at His feet. Has He given you influence? Consecrate that influence to Him, it belongs to Him. Do not let Him have to ask you for it twice. Give it to Him because you love Him. Whatever it is, my friend, that belongs to you in an extraordinary and unusual degree, these are the special presents that you are privileged to make to Him to whom your hearts are already given, and whom having not seen you have begun to love. (W. H. M. H. Aitkin, M. A.)
Love story of David and Jonathan
Now it is my purpose to use this beautiful love scene between David and Jonathan as an illustration of the love which Christ offers to us.
1. In the first place, it truly suggests that Christ, the Prince of Heaven, comes seeking a compact with us. Christ sees something in man, at his worst, that He loves, and that seems to Him worth living and dying to save.
2. There is another suggestion that is very comforting, and that is that as Jonathan’s love prompted him to give his own clothes to David, so that his humble friend might look as much the prince as himself, Christ comes offering to clothe us in his own beautiful garments of purity and righteousness. It is the glory of Christians that Christ helps them to become like Himself. Our ragged clothing of sin and of evil habit is to be east off, and we are to be clothed with goodness and gentleness and meekness and love and hope. That is the most glorious thing about Christianity. It is not that a man may be simply saved from sorrow and despair and punishment on account of his sins, but the sinner’s nature may be transformed and he may become a prince of God’s realm, a holy man. The drunkard may put on sobriety. And the promise is that this robing of the soul, this beautifying of the character, shall go on until, when we awake in heaven, we shall awake in the likeness of Jesus Christ.
3. There is one other suggestion here which we find also fulfilled in Christ’s treatment of the sinner: Jonathan bestowed upon David, not only his own clothing, but he gave him his own armour and weapons. So Christ equips us with the very weapons with which He battled in this world when He was tempted in all points like as we are and yet came off victorious without sin. He gives us the girdle of truth, and the breastplate of righteousness; on our feet He puts shoes made of the preparation of the Gospel of peace; on the left arm we carry the shield of faith--a wonderful shield that is able to stop every fiery dart of the wicked one. (L. A. Banks, D. D.)
I. The choice of friends. The commonest advice given to young men on this subject is to choose their friends well. But do we really choose our friends? Like love, friendship may kindle at first sight. The instant you see a man, something within you may say, “This is the man for me. This is the man who is going to be the other half of my soul.” “My friends,” says Emerson, “have come to me unsought. The great God gave them to me,” and I expect some of us could say that too. Although in the initial stages friendship seems to be more a matter of good luck than of choice, or, rather, let me say a matter of God’s kind Providence, there are subsequent stages when friendship does need to be cultivated. For instance, when friends separate in Providence to live in different towns or in different countries, unless friendship is to lapse it must be cultivated by correspondence, and letters long unanswered are very apt to cool the heart of a friend. Or when other ties are formed friendship is apt to be sacrificed to them, as, when a man is married, he is apt to drop his friends; but that is a great mistake, because the home is enriched with the visits of friends if they are good ones. What is a man to do if he has been unfortunate enough to contract a friendship which is injurious? There may be such friendships. There are more instances than one of this kind, for example, in the life of Robert Burns, the poet, but one of them was especially influential in determining his moral history. One winter, chancing to be at the town of Irvine, learning flax dressing, a detail of farming in those days, he fell in with a young man rather older than himself, and much more versed in the ways of the world, for whom he instantly contracted a romantic attachment. “I loved and admired him,” says he himself, “to a degree of enthusiasm, and, of course, strove be imitate him. His mind was fraught with independence, magnanimity, and every manly virtue, but he spoke of illicit love with the levity of a sailor, which hitherto I had regarded with horror. Here his friendship did me a mischief.” And the mischief turned out to be more lasting and decisive than, even at the time when writing this sentence, Burns himself had any conception of. Is there not something horrible in the name of friendship being attached to a relationship which is undermining the character and threatening the whole future of one who is engaged in it.
II. The gains of friendship. The prime gain of friendship is just the knowledge of a noble soul. That was what Jonathan felt. It is the man who has most in himself to give who gives most, not the man who has most of what is external to give. No counter gifts can altogether balance those which an opulent nature bestows when it gives itself. That, then, is the first gain of friendship, simply to know a noble nature.
2. The second gain of friendship is that it develops the powers of those engaged in it. History contains many striking instances of how friends have stimulated one another to the highest intellectual attainment. For instance, Goethe and Schiller, the two greatest chiefs of German literature, though differing widely in genius and disposition, both produced their grandest works when living in the same town and daily enjoying each other’s conversation. And German history has a still more striking example. Just as Goethe and Schiller lived together at Weimar, so Martin Luther and Philip Melancthon lived together at Wittenburg, and their friendship did a great deal to stamp its character on the Reformation. It is perfectly delightful to hear Luther and Melancthon speaking about each other. For instance, Luther says on one occasion, “Philip is a wonder to us all. If the Lord will, he will beat many Martins as the mightiest enemy to the devil and scholasticism. I am the rough woodman who has to make a path; but Philip goes quietly and peaceably along it, builds and plants, sows and waters.” On the other hand, the younger man said on one occasion, “Luther supplies the place of all my friends. He is greater and more admirable in my sight than I dare express.”
3. Then a third gain of friendship is that a friend can often speak a good word for his friend, and otherwise promote his advantage. Flattery is the poison of friendship, because it is false, and it has always been counted one of the greatest gains of friendship that cane friend can, without offence, tell the other his faults. An ancient Chinese philosopher says about this close friendship, “The heaven-ordained relationship, on which depends the correction of one’s character”; and a very ancient Indian poet expresses this still more beautifully in these words:
The words which from a stranger’s lips offend
Are honey-sweet if spoken by a friend,
As when the smoke of common wood we spurn,
But call it perfume sweet when fragrant aloes burn;
and the Scripture clinches this matter by saying, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend.”
III. The qualifications for friendship. Philosophers are too apt to speak as if friendship were possible only to philosophers, or men of genius. Thus Sir Thomas Browne says, “This noble affection falls not on vulgar or common constituents, but on such as are marked for virtue.” La Bruyere, the French philosopher, says, “Pure friendship is something which men of an inferior nature can never taste”; and Charles Kingsley says, “It is only the great-hearted who can be true friends; the mean and cowardly can never know what true friendship means.” If a man only be genuine he is quite fit for this relationship, and if in addition he be tender and unselfish he can give the highest pleasure in this relationship. It was part of the low estimate of women universal in the ancient world that the ancient philosophers deny that women could be friends. Christianity, however, has corrected this, as so much else, and we know that women are not only as capable as men of being friends to one another, but of being friends to men. I might quote such historical examples as St. Francis and St. Clara, or as between the poet Cowper and Mrs. Unwin. Is the highest friendship possible without religion? One of the most obvious and inalienable qualities of friendship is this, that friends talk confidentially to each other on important subjects. They exchange with each other their deepest subjects. Now, if the deepest subject of all is excluded--if religion is kept out of the conversation--must we not pronounce the friendship to be imperfect and mutilated? The most elementary dictate about friendship is that one friend must do the other as much good as he can. (J. Stalker, D. D.)
Friendship, a circumstance of holy youth
There have been certain proverbial friendships stereotyped on the social history of the world; those of Pylades and Creates, Nisus and Euryalus, Jonathan and David. Certain similar features marked them all, they were in all cases the friendships of youth, of self-sacrifice, of heroic generosity, and of perseverance to death. Another feature distinguished them. The friendship wag in each case vowed upon the altar of boyish devotion. The boy did not mistake the character of his own disposition or the friend whom he selected; and the experience of after life confirmed and verified the choice of youth. There are many occasions in life in which the boy is not the best decider upon truth, and in which the decisions of early days and first choices are not confirmed by the experience of riper years. It is happily not the case with friendship. There, often, he whom we have chosen as the depository of our first conscious feelings, the chosen companion of the long walk on the school holiday, the friend to whom we have applied in the difficulty of the lesson, is the companion of the sore struggle of after days, the accepted friend of the wife of our choice, and sometimes our kind and tender comforter when we are mourners over the grave of the wife or of the child. In the advance of onward years, the friend of boyhood sits by us when we are dying, follows us to the grave, places the tablet in the church or the inscription on the tombstone, and is steadfast at the last hour, as he was in the schoolroom, by the river’s bank, on the playground and on the holiday. The love of David and Jonathan was singularly beautiful and true.
1. All boys have a natural tendency towards forming friendships. Such friendships tend to bring out the character; without them the powers of a boy will very often lie dormant and undeveloped through his future life. Up to a certain age a youth, though full of affection towards those who are the relations of his life, may be unconscious of them. For his friend at school, in connection with whom none of those relationships exist he is able to realise love and regard, and in connection with him first becomes conscious of the power of love at all. The knowledge of this fact alone expands and invigorates the whole disposition.
2. The friendship of youth frequently ends in important results of usefulness in after life. There is something striking in the altered circumstances which in turn affected the sons of Kish and Jesse; and it was in these very adversities that each was so invaluable to the other. It is very hard to tell what our lot may be in future life. Vicissitudes, as untoward as that which lost Jonathan his throne, may affect us in our onward career; and fortune, as unexpected as that which fell to David’s lot, may fall to our share. Many a boy is flushed with high birth or illustrious parentage, or has some bright promise of future position, which will elevate him above his fellows; but the possibility of a future change in the position of boyhood is strongly brought to mind by the story of Jonathan and David. But while this covenant was thus acted upon in after days, the covenant itself was a very striking and beautiful circumstance. Two young men, each of them full of high energies; ambitious, brave, and noble; were, nevertheless, so deeply conscious of their dependence upon God and the necessity of serving Him, as to bind themselves by an agreement of a distinctly religious character; thus evincing their piety and showing that the claims of God infinitely transcend the highest earthly employment. Such a thing is rare.
3. And again, there is something very grand in the long pause in the personal communications between David and Jonathan. They loved each other as boys and as youths. When David walked forth fresh and ruddy from the wilderness of Bethlehem, and Jonathan shone in all the lustre of the son of a great king, the prince and the shepherd boy loved each other. They took delight in telling their love one for the other, and made their covenant before God in the field of Ezel, and their souls were satisfied. They saw each other no more in the passage of years. Indeed, David’s eye rested not on the countenance of his friend until it was brought a corpse from the streets of Bethsban. Trouble of all kinds marked the interval. Nevertheless, all this sufficed not to shake the foundations of Jonathan’s love for David. It is a very poor and narrow view, to imagine that real friendship should need constant expression. It is a deep, wide, lasting thing, whose seed is sown, as in some eases, in the period of boyhood, and may spring up into a plant which may shadow a long-after day, though the interval that elapses between the ratification of that friendship and the hour of death, may be marked by a long suspension of intercourse: aye! and even by circumstances.
4. Another lesson that we learn from the friendship of these two youths is, that true friendship exists in a desire to discover points of beauty and nobility in everything, however otherwise defective or polluted. Through the outward circumstance of a lineage opposed to the present and future interest of David, he was able to perceive, to value, end to love the noble qualities of Jonathan. While in the shepherd boy, whose destiny had been already declared by an unerring voice to be one which would finally eclipse the house of Saul, Jonathan was able to see the lustre of those qualities which eventually made David “the sweet psalmist of Israel” and “the man after God’s own heart;” and seeing them, he had the disinterestedness to love them, and to ally himself to them. (E. Monro.)
How dreary would this world be if there were no friendships in it, if no heart union between man and man, husband and wife, parent and child, young man and maiden. How narrow must be the soul of that man who has never known what it is to be absorbed in someone else, so absorbed, that the mention of the name of that one will cause a peculiar thrill of joy. How sad to care only for oneself. How woeful to be uncared for. Miserable the state of one represented as saying, “There’s not much to live for. I don’t suppose I have a friend in all the world.” Still sadder to me is the one who replied, “If you have no friend, you have nobody to borrow money of you; nobody to call when you are in the middle of an interesting book; nobody to tell stories about you to other people; nobody, in short, to bore you before your face and abuse you behind your back.” That was a cynical view of a selfish man, of one who never could have tasted the sweets of a real friendship or the magnetic power of love. David drew Jonathan and held him as the magnet does steel filings. You cannot see the subtle power that attracts, but it is there. It is a mystery in evidence.
I. Friendship through respect. Love blazed up towards David very suddenly. Still, it was love, founded on respect. With some love may be more slowly kindled, but may die very hardly. Love at first sight is a possibility, and a constantly-renewed experience in this old world. Thank God that romance is not yet banished from the earth. In some nations affections are more kept under control than in England; marriages are made to depend on the amount of the dowry. Harmony of taste and principle characterised the friendship of the son of Saul and the son of Jesse. There was true piety in both. There is little prospect of happiness in any union without piety. First impressions are not always right. We may not always follow them. Reciprocal was the affection between Israel’s prince and its future “sweet singer.” Sometimes a man may care for one who cares nothing for him. Many a maiden, too, has given affection to one who may not really have had a serious thought about returning it. Imagination can throw round another a glamour of qualities he or she may not possess. People do not always meet with a return of affection. And yet some are as greedy of it as the eucalyptus is of water. Affection should beget affection, but it is not always successful in the transfer. Even when Christ loved with an infinite and Divine love it has not always found a response in souls.
II. Discriminating friendship. Seneca tells of a distinguished citizen of Rome who introduced the fashion of separating his visitors. Some were left in hall or court, others were admitted to the antechamber, and others were led into the boudoir of privacy and rest. Today some are acquaintances of the street, others of the church, and others of the home. A sensible man will know how to discriminate. He will not carry his “heart on his sleeve.” He will not be like bill distributors who thrust their papers into anybody’s hands. He will find an intensified interest in the special affection he has for one of like mind to himself.
1. Unreservedness and unsuspiciousness will be found in a true friendship. A Jonathan will pour out his admiration and affection to a David. He will have nothing to hide. There will be free interchange of feeling. When danger threatens one the other will be alive to it. Faithfulness in a friend is promoted by absolute trust. But let me here say that this absolute trust should not lead to presumings. Some are always ready to act as if the surest signs of friendship were found in free comments on conduct.
2. Disinterested and ready to bestow will be the attitude of a true friend. A Jonathan gives his bow and his robes to David. For him he foregoes his claim to a kingdom. He esteems the friendship of David of greater worth than a crown. How suggestive of that Divine love that gave up majesty, glory, heaven’s rest, for reviling, rejection, mocking, scourging, loneliness, and death, even the death of the cross for sinners such as ourselves.
3. Unchangeable and unwavering to the end will a true friendship be. Some friendships are like the strings of musical instruments that snap so easily when there is an alteration in the temperature.
III. The test of friendship. Adversity is a test of faithfulness. When a man is prosperous he will have many friends. They will flock around, bend heads, and bow bodies. Let the tide of prosperity, however, turn, and many will rapidly fade from vision, having wind and tide in their favour as they speed away. One said, “Early fruits rot soon,” so friendships too rapidly ripened. Gushing protestations are often followed by tantalising flirtations and bitter and cruel estrangements. Trifling is the death of friendship. Not so was it with David and Jonathan. What misery can be wrought into hearts and homes by those who are unfaithful, and who are not worthy the sacred name of friend! Such bitter experiences were unknown to David and Jonathan. They were faithful to each other right to the end. David would have readily died for Jonathan if he could. (F. Hastings.)
In heaven’s vault there are what are known as binary stars, each probably a son, with its attendant train of worlds, revolving around a common centre, but blending their rays so that they reach the watcher’s eye as one clear beam of light. So do twin souls find the centre of their orbit in each other; and there is nothing in the annals of human affection nobler than the bond of such a love between two pure, high-minded and noble men, whose love passes that of women. Such love was celebrated in ancient classic story, and has made the names of Damon and Pythias proverbial. It has also enriched the literature of modern days in the love of a Hallam and a Tennyson. But nowhere is it more fragrant than on the pages that contain the memorials of the love of Jonathan and David.
I. Consider the qualities of this friend whom Jehovah chose for the moulding of the character of his beloved; and then be prepared to surrender to his care the choice of your most intimate associates. He knows what your temperament needs, and where to find the companion who shall strengthen you when weak, and develop latent unknown qualities.
1. He was every inch a man. In true friendship there must be a similarity of tastes and interests. The prime condition of two men walking together is that they should be agreed. And the bond of a common manliness knit these twin souls from the first. Jonathan was every inch a man; as dexterous with the bow as his friend with the sling.
2. He was withal very sensitive and tender. It is the fashion in some quarters to emphasise the qualities supposed to be specially characteristic of men--those of strength, courage, endurance--to the undervaluing of the tenderer graces more often associated with women. But in every true man there must be a touch of woman, as there was in the ideal Man, the Lord Jesus. There should be strength and sweetness, courage and sympathy; the oak and the vine, the rock and the moss that covers it with its soft green mantle.
3. Jonathan had a marvellous power of affection. He loved David as himself; he was prepared to surrender without a pang his succession to his father’s throne, if only he might be next to his friend; his was the love that expresses itself in tender embraces and tears, that must have response from the object of its choice. We judge a man by his friends, and the admiration he excites in them. Much is said of the union of opposites, and it is well when one is rich where the other is poor; but the deepest love must be between those whose natures are close akin.
4. He was distinctly religious. He must be strong who would strengthen another; he must have God, and be in God, who would give the consolations of God to his brother; and we can easily understand how the anguish of Jonathan’s soul, torn before filial devotion to his father and his love to his friend, must have driven him back to those resources of the Divine nature, which are the only solace of men whose lives have been cast in the same fiery crucible.
II. Consider the conflict of Jonathan’s life. He was devoted to his father. He was always found associated with that strange dark character, melancholy to madness, the prey of evil spirits, and yet so keenly susceptible to music, and so quick to respond to the appeal of chivalry, patriotism, and generous feeling; resembling some mountain lake, alternately mirroring mountains and skies, and swept by dark storms. Father and son were together in life, as they were “undivided in death.” When he woke up to find how truly he loved David, a new difficulty entered his life. Not outwardly, because, though Saul eyed David with jealousy, there was no open rupture. David went in and out of the palace, was in a position of trust, and was constantly at hand for the intercourse for which each yearned. But when the flames of hostility, long smouldering in Saul’s heart, broke forth, the true anguish of his life began. On the one hand, his duty as son and subject held him to his father, though he knew his father was doomed, and that union with him meant disaster to himself; on the other hand, all his heart cried out for David. His love for David made him eager to promote reconciliation between his father and his friend. It was only when repeated failure had proved the fruitlessness of his dream that he abandoned it; and then the thought must have suggested itself to him: Why not extricate yourself from this sinking ship while there is time? Why not join your fortunes with his whom God hath chosen? The new fair kingdom of the future is growing up around him--identify yourself with it, though it, be against your father. The temptation was specious and masterful, but it fell blunt and ineffectual at his feet. Stronger than the ties of human love were those of duty, sonship, loyalty to God’s anointed king; and in some supreme moment he turned his back on the appeal of his heart, and elected to stand beside his father. From that choice be never flinched. When David departed whither he would, Jonathan went back to the city. It was one of the grandest exhibitions of the triumph of principle over passion, of duty over inclination, that the annals of history record. Jonathan died as a hero; not only because of his prowess in battle with his country’s foes, but because of his victory over the strongest passion of the human heart, the love of a strong man, in which were blended the strands of a common religion, a common enthusiasm for all that was good and right. (F. B. Meyer, B. A.)
The attachment of Jonathan and David
I. The first particular belonging to this remarkable and most interesting attachment, was its sudden formation. It was from predisposition that this friendship so suddenly arose; from the possession and exhibition of modesty, piety, and courage, that it derived its strength and ardour, and finally its permanence. And all this will, in a great degree, account for the otherwise strange mutability, which we observe in human affections. History, poetry, society, are all eloquent in praise of friendship; yet when we look for such an affection, and tax memory and observation on the question, all we have is an account of sudden or violent attachment, formed upon fancy, and not upon predisposition; of friendships as rapidly dissolved as they are raised; oftentimes converted into animosity and hatred; more frequently wasting and decaying into indifference from their first enthusiasm, and seldom durable except when self-interest was largely and deeply involved. This is no slander upon worldly amity, for every man’s experience will corroborate the truth of the account.
II. The admiration of Jonathan terminated in his affection for David, but the affection became mutual. The friendship of the world, in its best form, seems to be rather favouritism or partiality, than mutual and equal attachment, something more like parental regard or patronage, than that which the word friendship properly expresses. This one-sided regard, this favouritism, has in it none of the advantages of friendship. He who has a friend, as old writers say, has got a second self, doubled powers, for good or for evil. In friendships, and we speak only of religious friendships, how many advantages arise to both parties! Their equality and freedom lead to the communication and increase of piety; to the correction of errors in judgment, and errors of infirmity in moral disposition and practice; to a greater facility of approach to God, and a steadier advance through life to his kingdom.
III. It will be well to thine a little on the means used for its preservation and permanence. These were pious exercises. Thus we read, that Jonathan and David entered into a solemn league and covenant of friendship, with every appeal to heaven to bless their mutual regard, and promote its effects to the advantage of their descendants.
IV. There is one friend to be found, one true heart, one faithful soul, well tried in the furnace of afflictions and temptations, whose proffered regard, with all its enduring and imperishable benefits and excellences, men too frequently overlook. That friend, who, in Scripture language, is said to stick closer than a brother, and is a brother born for adversity, you anticipate me by naming, the Lord Jesus Christ.
1. Jonathan, captivated with David, stripped himself of all his robes of honour, in order to array him with these, as a proof of his affection--the overture of a covenant attachment, never to be violated. So did Christ.
2. Again we are prompted to consider from this narrative the abiding mercies of the Redeemer. Our first acquaintance with Him (if we possess any) arose from His own gracious condescension.
3. On every occasion of intimacy we read that Jonathan failed not “to encourage David’s hand in God.” This was the part of a holy friend, one who saw the value of better things than this world contained, and knew the value of such consolations and encouragements as religion--the true religion alone can give in our times of weakness, and depression, and suffering. Has it not ever been so between Christ and the believer?
4. Finally, we learn that it was never in David’s power to requite the fidelity of Jonathan, save only in the person of his child, Mephibosheth. Yet him he sought out diligently, and to him repaid, as far as possible, the kindness of his departed friend. Oh! is not this a stirring appeal to us in behalf of Christian gratitude and Christian benevolence. Our friend is removed from us, departed to make way for our inheritance to kingly honour. We cannot even pour out our tears upon his grave, or embalm his sacred remains with ceremonious sorrow. Nevertheless his children are amongst us, the poor ones of his flock--the despised and forgotten of the world. Seek them out, feed them, clothe them, comfort them, cheer them; this tribute, and this tribute only, will be accepted. “Inasmuch as ye have done it to the least of these, My brethren, ye have done it unto Me.” (C. M. Fleury, A. M.)
Jonathan the friend
The absence of friends makes the busiest place a solitude; nor is there any vacuum Nature abhors more than that. She teaches us to seek a heart that beats in unison with our own; looks of sympathy and kindness; a bosom into which we can pour the secrets of our souls; when burdens press heavy, an arm to lean on; when our back is at the wall, an ally to stand fighting by our side; in our difficulties a counsellor to advise with; in our sorrows one to divine, and in our joys one to double them. This is so natural, and to possess such a friend is both so delightful and profitable, that, whether his home be a castle or a cabin, and he himself a king or a beggar, oven though he was rich with the wealth of banks, and filled the earth with his fame, for a man to want friends, true friends, according to Lord Bacon, is to find this world a wilderness. The value which all ages and countries have set on friendship may be estimated by the honours they have paid to it, and the care they have taken to embalm the memory of those whose lives have afforded remarkable illustrations of what friendships could dare, and bear, and do. We have an example of this in the beautiful story of Damon and Pythias, where we see how it has filled the worst of men with admiration, disarming the hand and quenching the rage of tyrants. The first, a Pythagorean philosopher, was condemned to death by Dionysius; the execution of the sentence, however, being suspended in consequence of his obtaining leave to go home to settle his domestic affairs--a favour which the tyrant granted on condition of his returning by a stated day to suffer the penalty of death. The promise was given, but not reckoned sufficient. He dies on the spot, unless he finds a hostage--a friend who will pledge himself to die in his room. At this juncture Pythias steps forward; and delivering himself up to the hands of the tyrant, becomes Damon’s surety--to wait his friend’s return, or suffer in his stead. At length the day arrives and the hour; but no Damon. Pythias must be his substitute; and he is ready. Thanking the gods for the adverse winds that retarded the ship in which Damon sailed, he prepares to die, a sacrifice on the altar of friendship. And had fallen, but that before the blow descends, Damon rushes panting on the scene. Now the strange and friendly strife begins. Each is eager to die for the other; and each, appealing to Dionysius, claims the bloody sword as his right and privilege. Though inured to scenes of cruelty, the tyrant cannot look unmoved on such a scene as this. Touched by this rare exhibition of affection, be is melted: nor only remits the punishment, but entreats them to permit him hereafter to share their friendship and enjoy their confidence. What an honour it were to the Gospel were there many instances of such friendship among its professors! Why should there not? Has not Jesus laid this injunction on us all, “Love one another, even as I have loved you?” There is another, and almost equally remarkable, example of friendship told of such as never heard of Him who is the friend of sinners. It is so remarkable indeed that it procured Divine honours to Orestes and Pylades from the Scythians--a race so bloody, rude, and savage that they are said to have fed on human flesh, and made drinking cups of their enemies’ skulls. Engaged in an arduous enterprise, Orestes and Pylades, two sworn friends, landed on the shores of the Chersonesus to find themselves in the dominions and power of a king whose practice was to seize on all strangers and sacrifice them at the shrine of Diana. The travellers were arrested. They were carried before the tyrant; and, doomed to death, were delivered over to Iphigenia, who, as priestess of Diana’s temple, had to immolate the victims. Her knife is buried in their bosoms, but that she learns before the blow is struck that they are Greeks--natives of her own native country. Anxious to open up a communication with the land of her birth, she offers to spare one of the two, on condition that the survivor will become her messenger, and carry a letter to her friends in Greece. But which shall live, and which shall die? That is the question. The friendship which had endured for years, in travels, and courts, end battlefields is now put to a strain it never bore before. And nobly it bears it. Neither will accept the office of messenger, leaving his fellow to the stroke of death. Each implores the priestess to select him for the sacrifice; and let the other go. While they contend for the pleasure and honour of dying, Iphigenia discovers in one of them her own brother. She embraces him; and sparing both flees with them from that cruel shore. Both are saved; and the story, borne on the wings of fame, flies abroad, fills the world with wonder, and carried to distant regions, excited such admiration among the barbarous Scythians, that they paid Divine honours to Orestes and Pylades, and deifying these heroes, erected temples to their worship. But to illustrate what a friend has been, and friends should be, we haves yet brighter example and more certainly truthful story in that of Jonathan--at once so touching and so tragic. It finds its type in those rivers, the Rhine and Rhone for instance, which, fed by exhaustless snows, and springing into light in lofty regions, high above the sea to whose distant shores their waters wend, are rivers at their birth; bursting from the icy caverns of Alpine glaciers in full, impetuous flood. It has its origin in a very memorable event, and on one of the most notable days in the whole history of Israel.
1. The friendships are few that survive years of separation; the shock of conflicting interests; the drain made on our old affections by new claims; the trials they are put to by infirmities of temper, by plain dealing with faults, by a manly independence, by requests refused, by favours unrequited, by the rivalries of business, by the partisanship that springs from creeds or politics, and by a thousand other nameless circumstances. Fragile as the flowers the winter frost traces on our windows, there are friendships that a breath will melt away. It may be very wrong and very pitiful, but, as the wise man says, “a whisper separateth chief friends;” and who lives long lives to see so many, like leaves the frost has nipped, fall off, and the ties which friendship had formed, so often and sometimes so easily dissolved, that he comes to read with little astonishment, and no great sense of exaggeration, the words of one who, describing his relationships, said, “Though the church would not hold my acquaintances, the pulpit is large enough to bold all my friends.” Happily, there are friendships that stand the test of time and the severest strain; but among these, what poet or panegyrist has recorded with glowing pen one to be compared with Jonathan’s? It is quite unique; remarkable as his father’s stature. The words of the poet may be justly applied to Jonathan--
“None but himself could be his parallel.”
For example, men will praise their friends, but how few are generous enough without jealousy to hear others praise them, at their expense, in eulogiums they feel to be disparaging to themselves.
2. Then see what severe trials this friendship endured; and enduring, triumphed overse Saul’s gloomy eye fixed on David, the javelin he hurled to pin him to the wall, the cry of his soldiers echoing from the rocks as they hunted the fugitive from cave to cave, and hill to hill, not more illustrating the words, “Jealousy is cruel as the grave; the coals thereof are coals of fire,” than the friendship of Jonathan did those which follow, “Many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it.” The reed that bends its head to a breath of wind, and the old grey rock which withstands the hurricane that strews the plain with trees and the foaming shore with wrecks, are not more unlike than Jonathan where his own interests, and the same Jonathan where David’s interests were concerned. Such was the depth and power of his affection for his friend. Here neither Saul’s entreaties, nor anger, nor violence could move him. He would part with life to please his father, but not with his love for David.
3. If piety is shown by a regard to God and a Child-like submission to His sovereign will, by taking up our cross and denying ourselves daily that we may follow Christ, by saying, like Jesus Himself, as He book the bitter cup of our sorrows from His Father’s hand, “Father, not My wilt, but Thine be done,” what finer example of this grace than Jonathan? David is to supplant him; David is to enter on the honours and fortune he expected to enjoy; and out of the ruins of Saul’s house, David is to build his own; yet Jonathan ceases not to regard him with unabated and the tenderest affection. Tender as a woman, and yet true as steel, overflowing with generous kindness, utterly devoid of selfishness, trusting as much as he wad trusted, with a heart that reflected David’s as face answereth to face in water, Jonathan was the paragon and perfect pattern of a friend.
4. To make some practical use of this matter, I remark--
(1). Everyone should seek and cultivate friendships. Man has no room in his heart to accommodate many friends; but, as God said in Eden, it is not good that man should be alone. Isolation breeds selfishness, moroseness; and these are apt to run into misanthropy. So necessary, however, is it for the happiness of man and the complete development of his nature, that kings, who are often required by policy to stand aloof on their cold, unenviable elevation from their highest nobles, have raised servants into favourites, and sought the pleasures of friendship in the confidence and company of menials. There is a touching story of a captive, cut off from human society and long immured in a lonely dungeon of the Bastille, whose heart, craving some object of friendship, found it in a spider be had tamed, and which his brutal jailer cruelly destroyed.
(2) In choosing friends, we should select such as promise, by the tone of their conversation, and by their moral and religious character, to prove friends indeed--such as we can trust in the hour of adversity, and would like to see by our dying bed. Acquaintances are one thing, but friends another.
(3) We should seek a friend in Jesus Christ--the best, truest, kindest, surest friend man ever had. Everliving, everloving, and everlasting. Like summer birds which come and go with the sun, like our shadow which deserts us when his face is clouded, like fair flowers that close their leaves as soon as rain begins to fall or cold winds to blow, earthly friends may desert us when we most need their sympathy and support--at the time, and in the circumstances, expressed in the well-known adage, “A friend in need is a friend indeed.” But such a friend is Jesus Christ. One of the old Fathers tells a parable, which, with a slight alteration, illustrates this subject; and, in view of an hour of death, and a day of judgment, may well recommend to our acceptance and confidence and peace and joy the friendship of the Friend of sinners. A man summoned to answer for his crimes, and called in question for his life, sought help of three friends he had. The first agreed to bear him company for a part of the way; the second would lend him some money for his journey; while the third undertook to go all the way with him, to appear in court, and plead his cause. So runs the story. In this man, the representative of a lost and guilty race, we see ourselves: and in the three friends whose help he sought, we see the flesh, or our fellow creatures, the world with its wealth, and Christ, the sinner’s Friend. (T. Guthrie, D. D.)
David and Jonathan
Goliath’s death day was the birthday of the beautiful, memorable friendship between David and Jonathan.
I. Theirs was the friendship of godly men. Enter into no friendship that is displeasing to Christ and that is incompatible with friendship with Him. And in reference to that closest of earthly attachments--which unites for good or ill two lives “till death them do part,” let young Christian people see to it that they “walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise.”
II. Unselfish was the friendship between David and Jonathan. The favour of princes has too often been secured by the designing and depraved; men who pandered to vice, and made more tempting “the primrose path” to perdition. Unsought, unselfish, was Jonathan’s friendship to David. Here is a valid test for friendship. Is it unselfish? Free from rivalry? Able to rejoice at the growing prosperity of the other even while adversity is darkening round itself? Cheerfully willing to pass down from first to second that the other may pass up from second to first? How much of Jonathan’s spirit is in it? The friendship that claims congratulations but is slow to congratulate, that looks for sympathy, but is reluctant to sympathise, or falls away altogether from the friend in his “dark and cloudy day”--such may be the friendship of the world. But how unlike the virtue that ennobled Jonathan, the memory of which keeps his name green and beautiful from age to age.
III. Severely tested by adversity was the friendship between David and Jonathan. True friendship can stand the test of adversity. It can not only live in the sunshine but can also illumine our darkness. When sorrows come; when all things seem against us; when men speak evil of us falsely, then we need a friend. A brother is born for adversity; and such a friend as David called “my brother Jonathan.”
IV. Mutually valuable was the friendship between David and Jonathan. (G. T. Coster.)
David and Jonathan
After the death of Goliath all would seem to go well with David. The admired of all admirers, high in favour, beloved of Jonathan, and living with the king--whose state is so enviable as his? Yet let no one be sure of anything in this world, that is, of anything capable of vicissitude. David’s sufferings and persecutions are beginning now when, to the outward eye, all seems brilliant and prosperous. God, who saw the evil coming, gave him the animating support of dear friend. You will often see how a compensating element is blended with great calamity, and neutralises much of its virus.
1. Put asunder by Saul’s malignant envy, yet I suppose that the remembrance of that great surpassing love of Jonathan’s must have been a presence and a power to David. There is no influence on a feeling mind stronger than the sense of being loved; nothing more elevating, more securing to the inner life. We are dearer to ourselves when we are dear to someone else. Danger, of a very subtle and fatal kind, lurks in the feeling, “No man careth for my soul.” This is, indeed, the fruitful source of suicide. Youths are steadied when away from home by the confidence they have of a mighty love felt for them by their mothers. Is it not Jeremy Taylor who says, “He who loves is happy, but he who is loved is safe!” See how in the constitution of the family, in marriage, in children, in friendship, God has provided a shield for our weakness in the love borne to us. Jonathan saw himself magnified and improved in David, who was his better self. Read the fourteenth chapter to discern the valorous soul of Jonathan. Look at him, with one attendant likeminded with himself, “climbing up upon his hands and upon his feet” into the garrison of the Philistines. “And they fell before Jonathan,” and there was trembling in the host: “and that first slaughter, which Jonathan and his armour bearer made, was about twenty men, within as it were an half acre of land, which a yoke of oxen might plough.” Here was David’s adventurous spirit: Jonathan had seen Goliath for forty days defying Israel, and had not dared to meet him, but he saw David kill him. He loved that which went beyond his own spirit, yet was of the same heroic order. He saw in David a higher and greater Jonathan, the ideal of his own actual life, himself transfigured and perfected. What he had dreamt he might be, he beheld in David.
2. Now, let us turn to the father. Was Saul ever like his son? David, in his song, unites them in a very beautiful harmony: “Saul and Jonathan were lovely and pleasant in their lives, and in their death they were not divided: they were swifter than eagles, they were stronger than lions.” And when we look at Saul’s early history, there gleams on us a ray of his son’s noble spirit. When “the children of Belial said, How shall this man save us? And they despised him, and brought him no presents,” it is added, “but he held his peace.” That faculty of self-control stands in terrible contrast with the utter loss of self-respect and self-government which he afterwards evinced. Moreover, the grief of Samuel at the Divine rejection of Saul (“it grieved Samuel, and he cried unto the Lord all night”) is a touching proof of the truth that Saul was lovely in the early part of his career. Here was a noble nature ruined; but we must confess that his was a situation of such extraordinary difficulty that, while he could have retained his uprightness had he remained in favour with God, yet when we think of his constitutional malady, and of the human and almost necessary vexation which the song of the women must have occasioned; when we think that the praise of higher prowess was bestowed on one who was known to be the aspirant to the throne, as we learn from Jonathan’s words to David, we cannot wonder that jealousy caused his ruin.
There is no habit so easily acquired, so hardly cast off, as jealousy or envy.
1. We may safely affirm that, if you prize communion with God as your greatest blessing, you will be a stranger to envy. It is the presence of God with us which shuts out the base passions, or keeps them from having dominion over us. And let this be a touchstone to us all. When we feel the rising of envious emotion, let us alarm ourselves, let us be sure we are going back; we are descending to a lower level of the Christian life; we are satisfied to pass the day without a hearty effort to realise God’s presence, and therefore has this evil come upon us. Cleave to the Lord, and all virtue, all goodness, all excellence in people whom you meet will be dear to you, because they are His gifts whom you prize higher than all gifts. Envy the gifts! How is that possible when the Giver is yours. Of the Giver “of every good and perfect gift,” you can say, “He is my God.”
2. This is the first great rule to show us how we may shun envy.
3. But, after this, get into the way of admiring worth, independence, and all moral excellence in whomsoever you see it. Love it in an enemy, and then you cannot have one. Sometimes we are slow to recognise high qualities in people who differ from us; but rid yourselves of this meanness, and delight yourselves in the discovery of nobleness, of generosity, of moral worth in books or men. Wordsworth says--
“My heart leaps up when I behold
A rainbow in the sky;”
but what is God’s bow in the clouds for beauty compared to God’s gift of genius, of wisdom, of disinterestedness, of charity, when in our human life they arch heaven and earth with a glory “that fadeth not away?” The nobility of Jonathan’s character cannot easily be over-estimated. (B. Kent, M. A.)
Our social relationships
I. The intimate friendships of life.
1. Friendships spring up often, we can hardly explain why, but they are most real, most helpful, very precious, and frequently lasting. It is an unspeakably blessed thing to have a true friend in whose wisdom you can confide, in whose strength you can shelter your weakness, whose sympathy understands the ever-varying moods of your soul.
2. Advice as to how to obtain and to retain friendship could not be more forcibly given than in the words, “A man that hath friends must show himself friendly.” All expressions of confidence and affection are not to be on one side only; they must be mutual.
3. Our companionships bear testimony to our natures end our convictions. For friendship as I understand it does not consist in the perpetual interchange of compliments and sweet flatteries, but in the endeavour to increase the goodness and the happiness of each other, and sometimes this can be done only by gentle reproof and warning. It is a delicate task, and not unfrequently a most painful and hazardous one. Yet, as one truly says, the best of friends are “they that deny themselves of pleasure for the sake of making me better; they that incur the risk of anger and dislocation of friendship for the sake of telling me a truth that nobody else dares to tell me, and that I die for the want of hearing; they that are more choice of my soul’s interior and essential good than they are of my satisfaction with the pride and the vanities of life, and seek to be physician of my soul, they are my best friends.”
4. The other characteristics of friendships are expressions of love and faithfulness in adversity. Do not, expect to get all and give nothing--to have affection and confidence lavished upon you as though it were your right, and return none. Not so will you acquire and keep friendship.
II. Social acquaintances. “Let every one of us please his neighbour for his good to edification.” (Romans 15:2.) Beyond those dear and gracious ties we form with souls with whom ours are knit we are compelled to enlarge the circle of our associations, and we make acquaintances in a variety of ways, who never become our friends. Either because we know little about them, or are unattracted by what we do know, our intercourse is limited to those few occasions when we meet in social life, our conversation to those superficial topics which may be called the useful but not valuable counters that serve instead of anything more real or worthy. How many of such acquaintances most people can boast. We are familiar with their names, with some facts of their history, and we encounter them at houses where we visit, or are on tolerable visiting terms with them, but they never show us their hearts, and we are equally reserved. That is not altogether unnatural or undesirable. We cannot, take the oaths of true friendship with everybody. The society in which we move is not to be lowered in its tone by our laxity in fashion or in speech. We are not to descend to the level of the standards which satisfy irreligious people, and sometimes are accepted by those who profess to be religious, but we must follow what is right even if it looks ideal. Those around us are gathering from our conduct what is true and pure and good. We mingle amongst various people, and our influence may be felt. What is wanted is a more intelligent conviction of the duties we owe to society, of its need of a constant purifying influence, and that we Christian men and women have a mission to raise its tone and elevate its life. It will be of little avail to stand sway in isolated carelessness, or in a spirit of indignant asceticism from the world’s life, raising an angry protest against its evil; we must resolutely carry the influence of our own principles into its life, and strive by all means in our power to transform and regenerate it. We are to be “in the world,”--as salt to save it from corruption, as light to guide, to beautify, to increase the true joy of it--yet we may not be of the world. (W. Braden.)
1 Samuel 18:4
And Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that was upon him, and gave it to David.
David invested with royal robes
From the days of Homer and the Trojan wars downwards, this has been the method employed by Orientals to denote the bestowment of dignity and distinction. Not more eagerly coveted is the Order of the Garter, or Bath, or Thistle among ourselves than in ancient times was the gift of royal robes. Any portion, indeed, of a king’s wardrobe or jewel box was greatly prized; but the voluntary donation of dress, and more particularly in the act of being worn, rendered the tribute doubly valuable. Whenever this latter occurred the cherished memento was transmitted as an heirloom from sire to son. It was equivalent to a patent of nobility. (J. R. Macduff, D. D.)
We find in Homer a minute enumeration of the armour Ulysses received in a gift from Meriones, and in the story of Nisus and Euryalus, in the IX OEneid of Virgil, there occurs a duplicate picture of that presented to us in the tent of Saul. (J. R. Macduff, D. D.)
1 Samuel 18:9-30
And Saul eyed David from that day and forward.
It is the enmity of Saul which we are to consider--its beginning, its rapid growth, its deadly purpose. The excitement of the war being over, the king has time to think of himself, and he is filled with thoughts of his dethronement; and the envy of David eats into his heart so greedily that his old frenzy is brought on again. On the very next day his heart grew malicious toward David; the evil spirit seized him once more. “Whether this was a diabolical possession or a mere mental malady the learned are not agreed. It seems to have partaken of both. There is too much of apparent nature in it to permit us to believe it was all spiritual, and there was too much of apparent spiritual in it to suffer us to believe it was all natural.” This we know from the plain record: “The Spirit of the Lord had departed from Saul,” and “an evil spirit from the Lord troubled him.” So that, negatively and positively, the hand of the Lord was in it. And yet he was eating the fruit of his own doings--“given over,” as Paul says, “to a reprobate mind.” But Saul’s hate has not abated with the passage of the frenzy. The direct assault has failed, but there are surer methods in reserve. Men are cheap now to the king, who sees his crown in danger, and ten thousand slain or captured will not be missed if David but goes down with them. Yet again he fails. David can wield a thousand men as skilfully as he can swing his sling, and the king grows bitterer still. Saul learns that his other daughter loves this brilliant young captain, and it is surmised that her passion was returned, else the spirited soldier had not submitted so tamely to his twice winning and twice losing Merab. Not to gratify the heart of either does Saul give his consent now; he hopes that Michal “may be a snare to him” and the hand of the Philistine may be against him. He slyly mentions a dower--not directly, but through his courtiers--such as a “poor man,” skilled in fight, might give to a king, the procuring of which he surely thought would bring him his death. And his heart must have been filled with malignant joy as he heard that “he and his men” (his two or three attendants, not his ten hundred) bad sallied forth to slay one hundred men. But “before the days were expired” back be comes, bringing the designated trophies in double tale. But why pursue the disgraceful story further? Each defeat but fans the flame to greater fury, and Saul soon throws off the thin disguise with which he has marked his deadly purpose, and openly “spake to Jonathan, his sons and to all his servants that they should kill David” (1 Samuel 19:1.) At length the sad end came. The life that bad begun in such brilliant promise was closed by self-destruction. His enmity was fruitless, except in bitterness to himself and trouble to Israel. It could not set aside the plans of the Almighty: “His counsel shall stand, and He will do all His pleasure.” These are the practical lessons which the unrelenting enmity of Saul suggests.
(1) Beware of jealousy. “Let the misery Saul brought upon himself remind us what a magazine of self-torture every human spirit contains;” and no single disposition of the soul is more likely to touch off the magazine, and make of the “heart a hell of wildest disorder and ever-dripping woe,” than the disposition of envy, jealousy, and revenge. Jealousy may lead any man who listens to its suggestions into hatred as fierce, and opposition as malignant, and thoughts as deadly, and at last defiance of God as blasphemous, as Saul manifested.
(2) We are reminded by Saul’s conduct how natural it is for a man to throw over on some other the blame of his own hurtful blunders or wilful misdeeds. Rarely, very rarely, do men go down by blunders all their own or wickedness springing from their own hearts. But for some other or others they bad been standing yet.
(3) Saul’s case may warn us of the great danger of becoming embittered and revengeful when going down in prosperity and losing influence and honour. Men rarely stay long at the top. There is an established system of rotation in the universe as regards the tenure of its high places. Men may come down when at the height of their powers and opportunity, or they may stay up till waning powers tell them another must take the place. A blunder may give the start, or the scheming of others may do the work. But whatever causes it, let the declining man crucify his selfishness, curb his tongue from bitter words, and go down gracefully, sweetly, clothed in the kingly garments of dignified self-respect.
(4) As Saul warns of what may take men down, David teaches how to rise in the face of opposition that it would seem should stop our progress. He who fears God will have the favour of the Lord.
(5) We may see in Saul’s fall and David’s rise that God cannot be thwarted in His purposes. In spite of Saul’s javelin, in spite of Saul’s wily scheming, in spite of his pursuing warriors, in spite of the fierceness of the Philistines, he was chosen of the Lord and must take the crown. “Now, therefore, kings, be wise; be taught, ye judges of the earth;” “The Lord reigneth;” “He puts down one, and sets another up.” (T. H. Hanna, D. D.)
The wicked jealous of the good
The incident teaches three things respecting good and bad men.
I. The wicked are often jealous of a good man’s popularity. “And Saul was very wroth, and the saying displeased him.” Saul’s behaviour to David reveals the progress of jealousy in four stages.
1. There is anger. “He was wroth.”
2. There is envy. “And Saul eyed him from that day.”
3. There is madness. “The evil spirit from God came upon him.”
4. There is murder. “And Saul east the javelin: for he said, I will smite David even to the wall.”
It is a sure sign that the Spirit of God has left a man when he is jealous of his benefactor. Jealousy is a foolish passion, and inflicts self-injury. Jealousy is a wicked passion, and displeasing to God. Jealousy is a dangerous passion, and leads to the most fatal issues. “Wrath is cruel, and anger is outrageous; but who is able to stand against envy?”
II. The wicked are often terrified by a good man’s security. “And Saul was afraid of David, because the Lord was with him, and was departed from Saul.” Sin makes a man a coward. “‘Tis doing wrong creates such fears as these, renders us jealous, and destroys our peace.” Saul’s fear led to the adoption of the most desperate measures to ruin David.
1. Saul resolves to dismiss David. “Therefore Saul removed David from him, and made him his captain over a thousand.” Saul wished to prevent David from gaining the affections of the courtiers, and also to excite against him the envy of his subordinates. In both intentions he was disappointed; “for all Israel loved David.”
2. Saul endeavours to provoke David. Saul’s change of purpose in giving his daughter to Adriel was designed to wound David’s honour, and excite his resentment. David had just cause of complaint, but he did not utter a word of reproach against the glaring injustice.
3. Saul determines to kill David. Jealousy extorts the most costly sacrifices--gratitude, honour, affection. A bad man will barter away his own child to accomplish his ends. Under the promise of preferment there may lurk the most deadly designs. Fair words may proceed from a foul heart. The face may beam with the light of heaven, while the heart is inflamed with the passions of hell.
III. The wicked are often defeated by a good man’s valour.
1. In this encounter David fulfils the king’s stipulation.
2. In this encounter David thwarts the king’s purpose.
3. In this encounter David wins the king’s daughter. God can make the impediments that are thrown in the way of His children aids to their progress. The subtle and deadly designs of our enemies are among the ordained purposes of God. (J. T. Woodhouse.)
Saul’s evil eye
I. Saul’s envy. Selfishness, that “root of bitterness” filled him. And from it there sprang the baleful poison-breathing blossom, envy. What a sin is this! Men “enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season,” but no pleasure in this--of all sins the most hateful. It is vexed at another’s good. It sickens to hear another praised. Base, it
“Withers at another’s joy,
And hates the excellence it cannot reach.”
“Envy hath no holidays.” Where it enters it poisons life. “It is a very hell above ground.” Let us beware. Let us not in this thing give place to the devil, but resist him. This Book has solemn warnings enough against this abominable sin. The first death in our world was brought about by it, when Cain, “the devil’s patriarch,” as an old wrier calls him, “laid his cruel club on the innocent head of his brother Abel.” It was the sin of Joseph’s brethren. “The patriarchs,” says St. Stephen, “moved with envy, sold Joseph into Egypt.” It was the sin of Korah, who envied Moses, and of Ahab, who envied Naboth. And the crowning crime of history is put to its account, for the Pharisees for envy delivered our Lord to death.
II. Michael’s deception. There was no need for the deception. It showed her distrust of God. It was wrong, and it led to a lie against the very man she loved. Better to die than to lie. You might as well steal from the rich to help the poor, as to seek by lies to help another. Trust in God and do the right and speak the right. Men may extenuate their falsehoods and call them white lies and “grey fibs.” But God frowns away the epithets. He will not acknowledge them. He bids us speak truth one to another. He declares that lying lips are an abomination to Him; that “a lying tongue is but for a moment;” that “all liars” will be excluded from the Heavenly and Eternal City of Truth and Glory.
III. David’s preservation.
1. From bodily peril he was preserved. As captain of a thousand guarding the frontier--a dangerous service; as proving his worthiness, by deeds of valour, of the hand of Merab. As escaping again and again and again, the hurled javelin that sought to pin him in death to the wall. As watched for by Saul’s assassins; how imperilled, how preserved was David! Not by miracle. Human friendship helped him. Beautiful, magnanimous the pleading of Jonathan with Saul on his behalf. There was a true friend who worked for him with the patience and meekness of wisdom. And who, “with word in season,” shamed the king from his murderous purpose. “So far did Jonathan’s oratory and David’s innocency together triumph in Saul’s conscience.” Thus, for a little while, a debtor to friendship and its successful plea, David had peace. Wifely love helped him. Michal refused to be, as Saul had hoped, a snare to her husband. She warned him of the men of blood that lay in wait for him. She let him “down through a window,” and he escaped.
4. His own valour helped him. Great had been his victory over Goliath. But more than this was needed. His alert and constant watchfulness helped him. When he struck his harp he was never so absorbed in the song as to be heedless of the king. On that javelin sceptre his eye indeed needed to be fixed!
6. Yet the Lord preserved him. For these were but the means by which worked for him the Almighty Preserver of men; the God who had set His love upon him.
7. He was preserved from spiritual peril. He was unharmed by prosperity. With much to flatter him into forgetfulness of his lowly origin, to tempt him into the airs and assumptions of pride, he walked humbly because he walked with God. (G. T. Coster.)
The discipline of an anointed man
Keep in mind the undoubted anointing of David, and then see what untoward and heartbreaking experiences may befall men whom God has sealed as the special objects of His favour and the high ministers of His empire. Given, a man called of God to a great work, and qualified for its execution, to find the providences which will distinguish his course. A child might answer the easy problem: His career will be brilliant--his path will be lined with choice flowers--he will be courted, blessed, honoured on every hand. Look at the history of David for a contradiction of this answer. We shall find persecution, hatred, difficulty, hunger, cold, loneliness, danger upon danger; yet he who endures them all is an anointed man--a favourite of heaven. The history, so far as we shall be able to trace it, shows four things respecting the discipline of an anointed man:--
I. That great honours are often followed by great trials. These trials not to be looked at in themselves, but in their relation to the honours which went before. Imagine a garden discussing the year as if it were all winter. Look at the temptation assailing David, in the fact that he alone had slain the enemy of Israel. Something was needed on the other side to chasten his feeling. Men must be taught their weakness as well as their power.
II. That great trials generally bring unexpected alleviations. “The soul of Jonathan was knit with the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul.” The love of one true soul may keep us from despair. Love is fertile and energetic in device, See what Jonathan did. Love is more than a match for mere power. Love is most valued under such circumstances as David’s. “There is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother.”
III. That no outward trials can compare in severity with the self-torment of wicked men. We are apt to think that Saul did all the mischief, and David suffered it. That is an incomplete view of the case, Saul was himself the victim of the cruellest torment.
IV. That great trials, though calling for self-scrutiny, may not call for self-accusation. This is a point which should be put with great delicacy, because we are too apt to exempt ourselves from self-reproach. The question which the tried man generally asks himself is, What have I done? Days of misery have been spent in brooding ever that inquiry. The question is only good so far as it goes. It should be succeeded by another--What is God doing? Imagine the silver in the refining fire asking, What have I done?--not knowing that it is being prepared to adorn the table of a king! Imagine the field asking, What have I done, that the plough should cut me up? We are strong only so far as we see a Divine purpose in the discipline of our life. “Whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth and scourgeth every son whom He receiveth.” “Let patience have her perfect work.” We are polished by sharp friction. We are refined by Divine fire. Sorrow gives the deepest, and sweetest tone to our sympathy. We should be driven mad by uninterrupted, ever-augmenting prosperity. Over every jealous soul the hand of the Lord is omnipotent. Look at Saul, and the case of David is hopeless: look beyond him, and see how by a way that he knew not the shepherd was being trained to be mighty among kings, and chief of all who sing the praises of God. (J. Parker, D. D.)
The great persecution
The king of Israel has fairly entered on a course of stern hostility to David. With the history of this ruling purpose his whole subsequent career is darkened.
1. The deadly nature of Saul’s enmity. A less thorough tyrant would at the most have deemed confinement retribution stern enough for the crimes of personal bravery, prudent conduct, a happy successfulness given by God, and a high popularity with the people. But Saul’s enmity, once kindled, could be quenched only by blood. “Jealousy is cruel as the grave.” With Saul, as with all tyrants in whom conscience is not quite dead, and fear is keenly alive, it was felt as a desperate necessity that he should proceed to extremities. And so he sought the life of David. Nothing lower would content him. And from that inner hall where the jealous monarch nursed his wrath, the password went that David be destroyed. The persevering obstinacy of it. The proofs of this are mournfully abundant. It may be measured by the plans it contrived, the time during which it lasted, and the obstacles which it overcame.
2. The plans which it contrived. A device to make him fall by the sword of the Philistines. But how sad is the picture of an unnatural father sacrificing the domestic affections at the shrine of his kingly jealousy! Making a daughter’s love the vehicle of vengeance on its object! A state alliance for mere political purposes is bad enough; but to make holiest feelings the slaves, not of public interest, but of private resentment, is immeasurably worse. He assails him again with his own hand, and sends secret agents to his house to slay him. He escaped to Samuel. Two companies of messengers were despatched in pursuit. Yes, from the very horns of the altar the relentless king would drag his victim. But a mighty interposition came from the invisible to shield the innocent.
3. The time during which it lasted. The usual calculations make it eight or nine years. This surely is too brief a period to admit of occurrences so important, numerous, and varied as the history contains. But assuming the accuracy of the estimate, how tenacious must have been the life of a resentment which reigned so long! Time, the great soother of strife, lost here its mellowing charm. The dark passion seems to have wrapped his soul in perpetual gloom, and to have become to him a second nature.
4. The obstacles it surmounted. The monitions of his own conscience; the high character and deserved popularity of David; the immense and ceaseless trouble, and the neglect of grave public duties, involved in pursuing the fugitive. How stern and settled that resentment which so quickly quenched all soft emotion, and craved still for the blood of the brave, forbearing, and generous youth. We shudder at a passion, so fierce, sullen, and enduring. We cannot help discerning in it the malevolent working of hellish inspiration. Saul’s forfeiture of the kingdom was absolute and irreparable. It was emphatically pronounced, more than once, by Him who cannot lie. And yet this poor worm of the dust dares to plant himself in the way, dares to conceive deliberately the design of arresting that series of events, thereby to defeat the purpose of Him who is “great in counsel and mighty in work,” and throw upon the majesty of heaven the ignominy of a conspicuous failure. Amazing fact! Language cannot express the enormity. By what name shall we call it? Infatuation? Madness? Impiety? It is all three in one. To attempt plucking the stars from their seats, or stopping the tidal flow, were not greater madness than to strike at him who is shielded by omnipotence. To blaspheme in words the sacred name of God. Were not more daring impiety than to offer proud and obstinate resistance to His will. To profane and prostitute thus the time, faculties, and privileges He has given is to make life one great oath. (P. Richardson. B. A.)
Looking for the black side
And Saul eyed David--that is to say, cast an askance vision at him; thought mean things of him; was sure there was a black side in him, and steadily looked for it. Saul allowed this looking for the black side in David to become a settled habit of his life. How sad the habit! And the seat of it was a mean, miserable envy. Remember those wise words which the wise Lord Bacon said of envy: “Envy is the worst of all passions, and feedeth upon the spirits, and they again upon the body; and so much more because it is perpetual, and, as it is said, keepeth no holidays.” And this looking upon the black side is not an altogether ancient failing. Some people steadily look for the black side in other people. This, as we have just been saying, became Saul’s way. Saul therefore perpetually misinterpreted David. One is pretty apt to see what one is bound to see. “I have been in India for many a year, and I never saw a native Christian the whole time.” So spoke a colonel on board a steamer going to Bombay. Some days afterward the same colonel was telling of his bunting experience, and said that thirty tigers had fallen to his rifle. “Did I understand you to say thirty, colonel?” asked a missionary at the table. “Yes, sir, thirty,” replied the officer. “Because,” pursued the missionary, “I thought perhaps you meant three.” “No, sir, thirty.” “Well, now, that is strange; I have been in India twenty-five years and I never saw a wild live tiger all the while.” “Very likely not, sir,” said the colonel, “but that is because you did not look for them.” “Perhaps it is so,” admitted the missionary; “but was not that the reason you never saw a native convert?” So it is, one sees pretty generally what one is bound to see, tigers or Christians; and if one is bound to see a tiger, even though there may be no tigers in his country, he can imagine one easily enough, and that, so far as be is concerned, amounts to the same thing. (W. Hoyt, D. D.)
Pride of rivalry
Cicero’s natural place was at Caesar’s side; but to Caesar alone of his contemporaries be was conscious of an inferiority which was intolerable to him. In his own eyes he was always the first person. He had been made unhappy by the thought that posterity might rate Pompey above himself. Closer acquaintance had reassured him about Pompey, but in Caesar he was conscious of a higher presence, and he rebelled against the humiliating acknowledgment. (Froude’s Caesar.)
Jealousy denies justice to others
Napoleon the First absolutely detracted from the merits of his bravest marshals, and was as jealous of fame as a woman or a poet; whilst Oliver Goldsmith used to fume and fret, nay, would ridiculously interrupt the company when he found the praises and attention lavished on his friend, Dr. Johnson, were too strong for his jealous heart. (H. O. Mackay.)
Cruelty of envy
Dionysius the tyrant, out, of envy, punished Philoxinius the musician because he could sing, and Plato, the philosopher, because he could dispute better than himself. (Plutarch.)
Tyranny of self
The friendly biographer of the artist Gustave Dore says of him: “He never heard of any other artist’s success without brooding over it jealously and unhappily. He was ever on the qui vive of envious excitement, and lived with the constant fear gnawing his vitals that any day someone might come to the front and eclipse him.” So the sin of selfishness always in the end punishes the soul that indulges it. It comes like Herodias, a dazzling creature, yet intent on blood. There is no cruelty like the cruelty of sin even to the sinner himself. (H. O. Mackay.)
Envy the parent of crime
Cambyses, king of Persia, slew his brother because the latter could draw a stronger bow than himself; and Caligula, the Roman emperor, put his brother to death because he was specially handsome.
1 Samuel 18:10-11
And David played with his hand as at other times, and there was a javelin in Saul’s hand.
Harp and javelin
What a contrast! David with a harp and enraged Saul with a javelin. Who would not rather play the one than fling the other? But that was not the only time in the world’s history that harp and javelin met. Where their birthplace was, I cannot declare. It is said that the lyre was first suggested by the tight drawing of the sinews of a tortoise across its shell, and that the flute was first suggested by the blowing of the wind across a bed of roods, and that the ratio of musical intervals was first suggested to Pythagoras by the different hammers on the anvil of the smithy; but the harp seems to me to have dropped out of the sky and the javelin to have been thrown up from the pit. Other instruments have louder voice, and may be better for a battle charge, but what exquisite sweetness slumbers between the harp springs, waking at the first touch of the tips of the fingers! It can weep. It can plead. It can soothe. It can pray. The flute is more mellow, the trumpet is more startling, the organ is more majestic, the cymbals are more festive, the drum is more resounding, but the harp has a richness of its own, and will continua its mission through all time and then take part in celestial symphonies, for St. John says he beard in heaven the harps of God. But the javelin of my text is just as old. It is about five feet and a half long, with wooden handle and steel point, keen and sharp. It belongs to the great family of death-dealers, and is brother to sword and spear and bayonet, and first cousin to all the implements that wound and slay.
1. It suggests to me music as a medicine for physical and mental disorders. David took hold of the musical instrument which he best knew how to play and evoked from it sounds which were for King Saul’s diversion and medicament. Why was it a failure? Saul refused to take the medicine. A whole apothecary shop of curative drugs will do nothing toward healing your illnesses if you refuse to take the medicine. It was not the fault of David’s prescription, but the fault of Soul’s obstinacy. Music is the mightiest force in all therapeutics. Its results may not be seen as suddenly as other forms of cure, but it is just as wonderful. You will never know how much suffering and sorrow music has assuaged and healed. A soldier in the United States Army said that on the days the regimental band played near the hospitals all the sick and wounded revived, and men who were so lame they could not walk before got up and went, out and sat in the sunshine, and those so dispirited that they never expected to get home began to pack their baggage and ask about timetables on steamboat and rail train. Theodosius, the Emperor, wrathful at the behaviour of the people of Antioch, who, on some sudden provocation, tore down the statues of Emperor and Empress, resolved severely to punish them, but the Bishop, knowing that the Emperor had a group of boys sing to him while eating at the table, taught the boys a plaintive song in which the people lamented their bad behaviour, and the king, under the pathos of the music, cried out: “The city of Antioch is forgiven.” The rage of Achilles was assuaged by a harp. Asclepiades swayed rebellious multitudes by a harp. After the battle of Yorktown, when a musician was to suffer amputation, and before the days of anaesthetics, the wounded artist called for a musical instrument and lost not a note during the forty minutes of amputation. Filippo Palmo, the great musician, confronted by an angry creditor, played so enchantingly before him that the creditor forgave the debt and gave the debtor ten guineas more to appease other creditors. Over what keys of piano or organ consolation has walked! Yea, in church one hymn has rolled peace over a thousand of the worried, perplexed, and agonised. At the foot of the Tower of Babel language was split into fragments never to be again put together, but one language was not hurt, and that is music, and it is the same all the world overse It is a universal language, and so good for universal cure. When my dear friend Dio Lewis (gone to rest all too soon) conducted a campaign against drunkenness at the West, and marshalled thousands of the noblest women of the land in that magnificent campaign, and whole neighbourhoods and villages and cities shut up their grog shops, do you know the chief weapon used? It was the song:
“Nearer, my God, to Thee,
Nearer to Thee.”
They sang it at the doors of hundreds of liquor saloons which had been open for years, and either at the first charge of the campaign or the second the saloon shut, up. At the first verse of “Nearer, my God, to Thee,” the liquor dealers laughed; at the second verse they looked solemn; at the third verse they began to cry; and at the fourth verse they got down on their knees. You say they opened their saloons again. Yes, some of them did. But it is a great thing to have hell shut up if only for a week. Give full swing to a good Gospel hymn and it would take the whole world for God!
2. But when in my text I see Saul declining this medicine of rhythm and cadence and actually hurling a javelin at the heart of David the harpist, I bethink myself of the fact that sin would like to kill sacred music. It is a fact that sin has a javelin for sacred sounds. In many churches the javelin of criticism has killed the music, javelin flung from organ loft or from adjoining pew of the supersensitive. Soul’s javelin aimed at David’s harp. Thousands of people so afraid they may not sing scientifically they will not sing at all, or sing with such low tone that no one hears them. In many a Church the javelin of criticism has crippled the harp of worship. If Satan could silence all the Sunday school songs and the hymns of Christian worship, he would gain his greatest achievement. When the millennial song shall rise (and it is being made ready) there will be such a roll of voices, such a concerted power of stringed and wind instruments, such majesty, such unanimity, such continental and hemispheric and planetary acclamation, that it will be impossible to know whore earth stops and heaven begins. Roll on, roll in, roll up, thou millennial harmony!
3. See also in my subject a rejected opportunity of revenge. Why did not David pick up Soul’s javelin and hurl it back again? Oh, David, now is your chance! No, no. Men and women with power of tongue or pen or hand to reply be an embittered antagonist, better imitate David, and let the javelin lie at your feet and keep the harp in your hand. Do not strike back. Do not play the game of tit-for-tat, Gibbon, in his history, tells of Bajazet, the great Moslem general, who was brought a captive to the tent of Timur. He bad attempted the massacre of Timur and his men. Timur said to him: “Had you vanquished us, I am not ignorant of the fate which you reserved for myself and my troops, but I disdain to retaliate. Your life and honour are secure, and I shall express my gratitude to God by my clemency to man.” Beautiful! Revenge on Christian’s tongue or pen or hand is inapt, and more damage to the one who employs it than the one against whom it is employed. What! A javelin hurled at you and fallen at your feet, and you not hurl it back again? Yes. The best thing you can do with a javelin hurled at you is to let it lie where it dropped, or hang it up in your museum as a curiosity. The deepest wound made by a javelin is not by the sharp edge, but at the dull end of the handle to him who wields it. I leave it to you to say which get the best of that fight in the palace--Saul or David.
4. See also in my subject that the face that a man avoids danger is not against his courage. When the javelin was flung he stepped out of its direction or bent this way or that--in other words, he avoided it. David had faults, but cowardice was not one of them. What a lesson this is to those who go into useless danger and expose their lives or their reputations or their usefulness unnecessarily! When duty demands, go ahead, though all earth and hell oppose. Budge not one inch from the right position. But when nothing is involved, step back or step aside. Why stand in the way of perils that you can avoid? Go not into Quixotic battles to fight windmills. You will be of more use to the world and the Church as an active Christian man than as a target for javelins. There are Christians always in a fight. If they go into churches they fight there. If they go into presbyteries or conferences or associations, they fight there. My advice to you is, if nothing is to be gained for God or the truth, stand out of the way of the javelins.
5. See also in my subject the unreasonable attitude of javelin towards harp. What had that harp in David’s hand done to the javelin in Saul’s hand? Had the vibrating strings of the one hurt the keen edge of the other? Was there an old grudge between the two families of sweet sound and sharp cut? Had the triangle ever insulted the polished shaft? Why the deadly aim of the destroying weapon against the instrument of soothing, calming, healing sound, Well, I will answer that if you will tell me why the hostility of so many to the Gospel, why the virulent attacks against the Christian religion, why the angry antipathy of so many to the most genial, most inviting, most salutary influence under all the heavens? Why will men give their lives to writing and speaking and warring against Christ and the Gospel? Why the javelin of the world’s hatred and rage against the harp of heavenly love? What has the Christian religion done that it should be so assailed? Whom hath it bitten and left with hydrophobiac virus in their veins that it should sometimes be chased as though it were a maddened canine? Javelin of wit, javelin of irony, javelin of scurrility, javelin of sophistry, javelin of human and diabolic hostility, have been flying for hundreds of years, and are flying new. But aimed at what? At something that has come to devastate the world? At something chat slays nations? At something that would maul and trample under foot and excruciate and crush the human race? No, aimed at the Gospel harp. Oh, I like the idea of that old monument in the ancient church at Ullard, near Kilkenny, Ireland. The sculpture on that monument, though chiselled more than a thousand years ago, as appropriate today as then, the sculpture representing a harp upon a cross. That, is where I hang it now, that is where you had better hang it. Let the javelin be forever buried, the sharp edge down, but hang the harp upon the cross. (T. De Witt Talmage.)
Anger leads to crime
Peter the Great of Russia passed a law that any noble who beat his serfs should be put under restraint, and treated as a minor or a lunatic. Yet one day in a passion he struck his own gardener, who took it so to heart that he died. “Alas!” cried the emperor, “I have civilised my own subjects; I have conquered other nations; yet I have not been able to civilise or conquer myself!” On the other hand, the successes achieved by Marlborough were due in no small degree to his perfect self-control--a temper that nothing seemed to ruffle, whether the cause of irritation were in a military ally or a servant in the house.
1 Samuel 18:12-30
And Saul was afraid of David, because the Lord was with him, and was departed from Saul.
Saul was afraid of David. This is most remarkable, for was not Saul the king, and David but the servant? There must be some explanation of this remarkable fear. What is it? It is the mystery of spiritual character, and that in very deed is the explanation of all the deadliest fear which paralyses the spirit of tyranny and oppression. It is in this direction that we should look for the greatest and best influences of society. What are weapons of war, or mere strength of arms, or largeness of wealth, or the whole pomp and circumstances of monarchy? When the wise man ceases out of the land the power of the land is dead; schools, churches, institutions devoted to the culture of knowledge and the promotion of wisdom, these are the strongest bulwarks and defences of any nation. Righteousness not only exalteth a nation in certain moral senses, but it throws upon the observing enemy all the force of a spiritual fear, because, in striking at such a nation he feels that he is striking at the supreme power and sensitiveness of the universe.
1. A new idea appears to have occurred to Saul, and one which would seem to be inspired by magnanimity. Saul now takes the course up, according to David military promotion. The object was to get David out of the way by sending him to some distant part of the kingdom on any pretence that might arise. The method is a common one today. No matter what honour is given to an enemy if the honour only take him away from sight, and break up his immediate local influence. Men should look into the motives of their honours, for possibly in that, motive they may discover reason for humility rather than boasting. A humiliating sight it is to observe a man making an investment of his magnanimity and earning credit for being generous when in his heart he is inexpressibly mean.
2. David continued in his undisturbed course of wise consideration and noble prudence. There was no stoop of servility in his attitude towards the king, yet; there was neither aspect nor tone of defiance. David simply took the task that was assigned to him, and wrought out its detail with wisdom and care. This is the way to treat every enemy. Instead of directly attacking hostility and so creating partisanship on its behalf, it is infinitely wiser to go about the daily task with simple faith and obvious wisdom, as if content to serve in the lowliest or highest capacity. Patience by long continuance constitutes itself into a solid argument.
3. The religious explanation given in the case of David is marked by beautiful naturalness. Wherever there is true wisdom there is always the presence of the Lord to account for it. “The Lord was with him,” is not an expression limited to any one set of circumstances or one class of favoured men. The Lord will be with the least of us, and direct the way of the humblest of His creatures. Take nothing with your own hands as if by your own strength and skill you could accomplish your purpose: in all thy ways acknowledge God and He will direct thy path. “When a man’s ways please the Lord, He maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him.”
4. Saul being foiled in this direction betook himself to another course of conduct towards David. Saul proposed to further honour the young courtier by making him his son-in-law. In a tone of feigned cheerfulness the king said, “Only be valiant for me, and fight the Lord’s battles.” How the Divine name has been dragged into unworthy end unholy uses! What is this but the most corrupt of all hypocrisy? For Saul said, “Let not mine hand be upon him but let the hand of the Philistines be upon him.”
5. See in Saul the true quality of malice: there is nothing too mean for it to do; there is no course too tortuous for it to adopt; lies, hypocrisy, cruelty, these are the weapons with which it will fight its way to its destiny. How Saul uncrowns himself in the twenty-second verse! When Saul made that speech he took off the crown and became a mean man. How deceitful is the action of iniquity in the heart when it will lead men to abase themselves thus in the estimation of their servants! It did not occur to Saul that when he trusted his servants with this commission he destroyed their confidence and respect in relation to himself. There might, be no outward show of such distinction, but it was not the less a fact in the heart of those who received the king’s wicked instructions. But sin is self-blinding. Again and again we have seen that the sinner is not only a criminal but a fool. (J. Parker, D. D.)
1 Samuel 18:14
And David behaved himself wisely in all his ways.
I. The wisdom of days. The wisdom of David was shown by his conduct in extraordinary prosperity. Suddenly David found himself the popular idol; he was set above the king; but his head was not turned.
1. When Robert Burns was introduced into the brilliant society of Edinburgh--of literary men and gifted women, of peers and noble ladies, the titled of the lend--when all Scotland was at his feet he bore himself as to the manner born. He was as gallant a gentleman as any in the salons of the northern capital. But his head, alas! was turned. His heart was seduced. The praise of men, the flattery of beautiful women, corrupted his simplicity, ruined him. He had poetic inspiration unsurpassed since Shakespeare; but he lacked the inspiration of wisdom. Under temptations far greater, David bore himself undazzled. The excuse has been made for Burns that he was a poet; he had a poet’s exquisite sensibility; the exposure was greater for him than for common mortals. The palliation is admitted. He was more tempted than other men. But David, too, was a poet; he was a musician beside; he had the sensibility which attends both these Divine gifts; he had also the impassioned enthusiasm of a youthful hero. Yet his wisdom did not fail; because it was his mastering inspiration.
2. It increases our admiration of David to remember that he had no preparation for prosperity. Trial is a discipline for success. It has been usual to ascribe the wisdom of Queen Elizabeth, in the extraordinary elevation of her great reign, to the discipline of her exile in youth, at Hatfield, beset by scheming friends and enemies, dreaded and hated by Mary and the Catholic nobles, and only secure of her life by incessant and extreme circumspection. Such wisdom as she displayed in the long struggle through which England safely passed to such a pitch of glory was truly admirable. But this wisdom she might not have sustained if she had been taken to her sister’s court and made a favourite there; if she had been put, with all her youthful charms and accomplishments, in contrast with the sickly, suspicious, bigoted Mary. Yet, even for this trial, Elizabeth had had a partial preparation, in being born a princess. But David was a farmer’s boy. Suddenly, without preparation of any kind, save the native correctness of his judgment and the simple rectitude of his heart he was lifted to the pinnacle of earthly glory. His trials came afterward. His success was his first experience. How few public men who have ever lived have shown such marvellous modesty and self-restraint! The example is a noble one for all young men.
II. The wisdom of David was shown by his conduct under sudden and great reverses.
III. The wisdom of David was shown in his purpose to have the favour of God. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” (Monday Club Sermons.)
The reward of religious obedience.
These words, “he behaved himself wisely,” might be also translated, “he prospered;” and this version the margin affords; either interpretation would be strictly true, as applied to this period of David’s life; and even afterwards, he may truly be said to have prospered, even although his apparent circumstances were adverse; for he was preserved in dangers and calamities to an extent clearly proving that “God was with him” in an especial sense, sheltering him by the presence of his Providence; and, in the midst of his deepest misfortunes and bitterest persecutions, his language is that of a mind absorbed in happiness beyond the control of earthly circumstances. In whichever sense therefore we take the words of the text, either that “he behaved himself wisely,” or that “he prospered in all his ways,” the observation will allow of being extended over that whole portion of David’s life in which he was subject to the persecutions of Saul, and before he was settled in his kingdom.
1. Perhaps in no instance is the truth of the Apostolic observation, “the wisdom of the world is foolishness with God,” more clearly exemplified than in this. God says, “David behaved himself wisely;” the world would say, he behaved himself foolishly, and discovered a defect of spirit. But of what spirit? Of the spirit of him who was a murderer from the beginning. There was no deficiency of courage in the character of David; this his bitterest foes muss allow him. He did not conceive revenge at all necessary to his military reputation. He was totally unaware of that meanness which it is now the fashion to attribute to those who have the fortitude and high-mindedness to forgive. Even a wise and virtuous heathen has justly retorted this charge of meanness, and pronounced revenge to be the passion of a low, weak, and little mind. And if such be the words of Nature and the works of the Law, how shall resentment be tolerated beneath the Gospel?
2. David had sustained deliberate and premeditated injury; but frequently resentment is at groundless as it is guilty; your brother may haw offended unintentionally and inadvertently; you may yourself, also inadvertently, have given him a provocation no less than that which is operating within your own bosoms; or, perhaps, he is even now stung with remorse and sorrow for his fault, and only wants the opportunity of repairing it. Do not forget that others have their passions, prejudices, propensities, and habitual feelings, as well as yourselves.
3. David, during his persecution, was once placed in a dangerous situation. He had his most inveterate enemy within his grasp, and could at once have gratified revenge and shown his own security foreverse But he had no revenge to gratify: and security he sought from another quarter. Had the opportunity been offered to him again and again, it would never have occurred to him to embrace it; but treacherous counsellors are at hand, who would persuade him to sin and destruction. They knew that David was only assailable by religious motives: they therefore urge him with “Behold the day of which the Lord said unto thee: Behold, I will deliver thine enemy into thy hand, that thou mayest do to him as it shall seem good unto thee.” But David knows that what may seem good to him may not seem good to God; and therefore he takes not the advantage which circumstances had placed in his power.
4. We may also observe that the passage of David’s life to which the text may be especially applied, when “he behaved himself wisely in all his ways,” and when “the Lord was with him,” was the time of his outward humiliation and adversity: and this may serve to show us that, although such a state as this is not good or to be sought after for itself, it has its securities: it teaches us to seek protection and comfort where we can only seek them with confidence, and in the same proportion it renders our actions safe. (H. Thompson, M. A.)
1 Samuel 18:17
Fight the Lord’s battles.
The history of the human race is one of progress. Divine revelation has moved accordingly. The character of David is a sore problem to the narrow observer, because he who killed his tens of thousands drew his courage from a Divine fountain. The blame is thrown upon the fountain. A much more elastic view must be taken, and the physical regarded as the basilar of the moral, as the flint hammer of Spiennes was the forerunner of the steam hammer of today. The prowess which slew the giant of Philistia has developed into a moral force which crushes tyranny, slavery, ignorance, and irreligion. As Saul said to David, “Fight the battles of the Lord,” so saith the Spirit, to the Christian Church. The weapons of our warfare differ, and the condition of our courage is not identical. The noble and disinterested Christian has taken the place of the lion-hearted warrior. There must be a determined opposition to every evil, and the war must be carried into the enemy’s camp. When the enormous crimes of today are taken out of the calendar, and society so far regenerated that all shall “know the Lord,” then, and not till then, may the Church lay aside the weapons of war, to enjoy the spoils, the dance, and the timbrel. The conditions of power and efficiency which the Church needs in order to aggressive work. The test question of the late Carlyle to persons seeking his influence was, “What work are you doing?” He measured men’s capacities for that, which they sought by that which they had accomplished. The fact that the followers of Jesus wield an enormous influence, and are doing a grand work at the present time, encourages the belief that they will yet do more. To extend that influence, and multiply actions, two things are needed, viz., the dedication of all learning, talent, riches, power, and time, which the Church possesses, to the service of Christ and man; and then the energising of all these resources by the Spirit of God, that they may become Divine forces in the salvation of the world. It is needless to say that this has not been done to the extent required.
1. There must be a deeper sense of the responsibility of the situation. The Master’s injunction is, “Occupy till I come.” See how it is acted upon in other spheres--the captain on the bridge, the soldier on the battlefield, the premier at the helm of the state, the merchant in the counting house, the scientist in his laboratory, the artist, before the canvas, the musician at the organ, the poet in his study, as well as the husbandman and the workman in their spheres of labour. They all occupy very earnestly their stations. Christians are the dramatis personae who take the stage to show the love of God in Christ Jesus. Time and eternity alike demand the white heat of that earnestness which sacrifices all in order to save come.
2. There must be a stronger faith in the weapons of our warfare. “And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” In the hand of faith the sword becomes omnipotent. (T. Davies, M. A.)
War! War! War!
I. The Lord’s battles, what are they?
1. The Lord’s battle is first of all with sin. Seek grace to fight that battle in your own heart. Endeavour by Divine grace to overcome those propensities which continually push you towards iniquity. On your knees wrestle against your besetting sins. As habits appear endeavour to break them by the battleaxe of strong resolution wielded by the arm of faith. Put down pride, and sloth, and lust, and unbelief, and you have now a battle before you which may fill your hands, and more than fill them. And while this battle is being fought, ay, and while it is still fighting, go out and fight with other men’s sins. Smite them first with the weapon of holy example. Be yourselves what you would have others be; be ye clean that bear the vessels of the Lord. Be yourselves clean ere ye can hope to be the purifiers of the world. Let your testimony be unflinching; never let a sin pass under your eye without rebuke. Go ye forth where sin is the most rampant. Go down the dark alley; climb the creaking staircase; penetrate the dens of iniquity.
2. And even so must we cry against error. It is the preacher’s business to preach the whole gospel of God, and to vindicate the truth as it is in Jesus from the opposition of man. Thousands are the heresies which now beset the church. O children of God! fight the Lord’s battles for truth. I am astonished, and yet more astonished when I come to turn it over, at the want of earnestness that there is in the Protestantism of the present age.
3. And yet again, it is the Christian’s duty always to have war with war. To have bitterness in our hearts against any man that lives is to serve Satan. We must speak very sternly against error, and against sin; but against men we have not a word to say. With men the Christian is one. Are we not every man’s brother? “God hath made of one flesh all people that dwell upon the face of the earth.” The cause of Christ is the cause of humanity. We are friends to all, and are enemies to none.
II. The Lord’s soldiers: who are they that are to fight the Lord’s battles? Not everybody. The Lord has His army, His church: who are they? The Lord’s soldiers are all of His own choosing. He has chosen them out of the world; and they are not of the world, even as Christ is not of the world.
III. The exhortation. “Fight the Lord’s battles.” If you are the soldier of the heavenly King, “To arms! to arms!” And now, I will read you over the code martial--the rules which Christ, the Captain, would have you obey in fighting His battles.
No communication nor union with the enemy! No truce, no league, no treaty, are you to make with the enemies of Christ.
II.--No quarter to be given or taken! Have nought to do with its pretended friendship. Ask nothing at its hands; let it be crucified to you, and you to it.
III.--No weapons or ammunition taken from the enemy are to be used by Immanuel’s soldiers, but are to be utterly burned with fire!
IV.--No fear, trembling, or cowardice! Fear not. Remember, if any man be ashamed of Christ in this generation, of him will Christ be ashamed in the day when He comes in the glory of His Father and all His holy angels.
V.--No slumbering, rest, ease, or surrender! Be always at it, all at it, constantly at it, with all your might at it. No rest. I see sometimes the captains marching their soldiers to and fro, and you may laugh and say they are doing nothing; but mark, all that manoeuvring, that forming into square, and so forth, has its practical effect when they come into the field of battle. Suffer me, then, to put the Christian through his postures.
1. The first posture the Christian ought to take, and in which he ought to be very well practised, is this. Down upon both knees, hands up, and eyes up to Heaven!
2. The next posture is: Feet fast, hands still, and eyes up! A hard posture that, though it looks very easy.
3. Another posture is this: Quick march, continually going onward! Ah! there are some Christians who are constantly sleeping on their guns; but they do not understand the posture of going onward. Quick march!
4. Another posture is one that is very hard to learn indeed. It is what no soldier, I think, was ever told to do by his captain, except the soldier of Christ: Eyes shut, and ears shut, and heart shut! That is when you go through Vanity Fair.
5. And then there is another posture: Feet firm, sword in hand, eyes open; looking at your enemy, watching every feint that he makes, and watching too your opportunity to let fly at him, sword in hand! That posture you must maintain every day.
6. There is one other posture, which is a very happy one for the child of God to take up and I would have you remember today. Hands wide open, and heart wide open, when you are helping your brethren.
7. Above all, the best posture for Christ’s Church is that of patient waiting for the advent of Christ, a looking forward for His glorious appearance, Who must come and will not tarry, but Who will get unto Himself the victory. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
1 Samuel 18:18
What is my life?
The grandeur of life
“Who am I?” and “What is my life?” Am I only like some larger ephemera on the leaves of the green bay tree of existence, born in the morning and gone at evening? Is the inner world of memory, conscience, and hope, only some mocking dreamland of existence? Are all its agonies of remorse, its stretchings-forth into the infinite, its feelings of accountability, only the workings of a diseased imagination? Or am I what I feel to be--a soul--an immortal soul--a responsible soul; having, after the close of life’s brief stewardship, to give account of myself to God? Now there are really two questions involved in this text. The first is, What is life? The second is, “What is my life?” If the Christian ideal be a true one, if each man carries within him the grandeur of immortality, how am I acting with my own great nature? Am I despising and treading under foot my birthright? Am I weaving it into a vestment of beauty, or into a garment of shame?
I. Is my life a new life? Amongst the Hebrews the birth of a child was an occasion of gladdest joy. Its birthday was a festival. So now “there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth.” If we are in Christ we are new creatures, old things are passed away; old ideas of life, old habits of life, old associations of life--all things are become new. Another world has come into sight, as clearly as this world came into the view of the blind man to whom Jesus gave sight. I do not say the old life is altogether gone. No. The silkworm’s winter skin clings to the moth until it is ready to spread its wings and soar away, and much of the old nature clings to the Christian till he is ready to “depart and be with Christ, which is far better.” Paul felt the old man still clinging to him. “O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” So shall we. But for all this, the new life is there. We love prayer, we love God’s house, we love to talk with Christ; we bear the blossoms in us of the better life--the fruits of the Spirit are love, joy, peace.
II. Is my life a dignified life? Yes! Dignified! Have we come to this, that we think ermine-clad judges, and purple-clad rulers, alone have dignified estate? Let me hope not! It was once thought a great dignity to be a Roman citizen--but there was a greater dignity. I am a man! sounds a deeper depth of dignity than I am a Roman citizen. Yes, and what the world wants just now is to feel this: the dignity of life, as life. Why the greatest physical wonder in creation is man; and the greatest moral wonder is man. Do you think if men and women felt this, that our towns and cities would be disgraced as they are by lascivious songs and dances at our places of public entertainment, or by debasing drunkenness, or by hollow-hearted profanity, which misnames itself wit? Do you think, if the dignity of life itself was properly estimated, that men would not rather be bankrupt in cash, than bankrupt in character? Men would say, Think what manner of men we are; and pointing to the lofty hills, or the all-surrounding sea, they would say: these shall perish, but we shall remain.
III. Is my life a Divine vocation? I hold, with Mr. Ruskin, that we were never sent into this world to do anything into which we cannot put our hearts. That is a serious statement, and not to be adopted without reflection; but I for one believe it to be quits true. Now let us remember that every honourable vocation is a Divine vocation; that circumstances and fitnesses constitute the calling of God, the voice speaking to us and saying “Son, go there.” If we miss this, we shall come to artificial ideas of vocation.
IV. Is my life a personal accountability? Is it like imprisoned air, that once released returns to the universal atmosphere? Is it like the tiny mountain rill which flows into the great river, and thence into the wide sea? Is it, that is to say, in any personal sense mine? Upon our answer to this depends our deliverance from all these Pantheistic ideas of God, which make Him the great Spirit of the Universe; all life being His life, and our own spirits only part of the great spirit, departing at death to its central source. Now the Bible declares emphatically our personal and unalterable individuality, and our consciousness accords with this. We are, in the strictest sense of the word, separate existences, and when we depart hence we shall be separate existences still. Any property we may possess, be it large or small, changes hands at death; we brought nothing into the world, and it is certain we shall carry nothing out. But we do not lose ourselves; thought, conscience, memory, remain the same, I cannot change my life for yours, nor can you change with your brother. “What is my life?” Is it a dreary fatalism? Our inner life answers with swift decision,--No! Is it the result of influences which have helplessly overborne us? No. The Spirit of the Living God has been nigh to every one of us. Had this poor man cried, the Lord would have heard him and delivered him out of all his troubles.
V. Is my life a redeemed life? It depends upon which side of Redemption you look at it. In one sense, all lives are redeemed lives. Christ is “the propitiation not for our sins only, but for the sins of the whole world.” Christ “died for all.” So far then as the Great Atonement is concerned, the oblation was for all. “Once in the end of the world Christ appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.” But on the other side of the Redemption comes in our personality again. “Whosoever believeth in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.” “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.” Faith then, as you well know, is the condition of redemption, and faith is the trust of the soul in the redeeming Christ. Surely we know whether we have trust or not. In human affairs it is not so hard to tell. I saw a diamond this week, and held it in my hand, which at the African diggings was sold for three thousand five hundred pounds; it had been consigned to an agent here, far away from its finder and possessor. Could that man, across the seas, have any difficulty in deciding if he had trusted his agent here? I trow not And what does Paul say, “I know in whom I have believed, and that He is able to keep that which I have committed to Him unto that day.” Beautiful are human trusts--in love, in commerce, in friendship--there is poetry enough in human trusts. But there may be failure here. Alas, there often is! But Christ never deserted or failed the soul committed to Him. Never!
VI. Is my life a mortal life. Here again it depends upon which side you study it. On one side it is, “For what is your life, it is even as a vapour which appeareth for a little time and then passeth away.” Yes! “All flesh is grass.” Yes! “The wind passeth over it and it is gone, and the place thereof shall know it no more.” Sad enough on this side is human life. The fairest forms and faces lie tonight amid the clods of the valley. Tennyson’s little May Queen sees the hawthorn blossom no more, and the Pride of the Village becomes the prey of worms. It has been ever so. The dark Egyptian beauties, the fair Grecian forms, the proud Roman damsels, descend to the dust. Pharoahs leave their palaces for the pyramids. Caesars leave their purples for the same chambers that their meanest slaves occupy. There, the rich and the poor--the strong and the weak--the servant and the master--all meet together. Few of us like to think of it. The tabernacles we have dwelt in so long, tended so carefully, adorned so constantly, and have come to consider part of our very selves--these must not only die, but become the subjects of corruption tool. “The grass withereth, the flower thereof falleth away.” And is this, we may ask, all of life? Did God introduce us into this world, where temptation tries, care wearies, doubt perplexes, sorrow burdens, sickness weakens, bereavement embitters--only to pass through much tribulation to the tomb! Oh! it cannot be! All the teachings of Scripture, all the promises of Christ, all the undying hopes of the human heart, tell us it cannot be. Immortality is the birthright of humanity, and though, during long ages the light of this truth burned dimly, Christ “came to bring light and immortality to light through the Gospel.” My life is mortal--and it is immortal too. (W. H. Statham.)
1 Samuel 18:21
And Saul said, I will give him her that she may be a snare to him.
Marriage an instrument of intrigue
We are not without examples in profane history of royal parents employing matrimonial contracts as instruments of intrigue or revenge. Antiochus the Great wedded his daughter Cleopatra to Ptolemy Epiphanes, King of Egypt, in order thereby to compass his destruction, though the baseness of the plot defeated itself (Delany). Saul, doubtless, in ordinary circumstances, would have violently resented the marriage of Michal; but he was artful enough to see, in the preliminaries to such a connection, a new opportunity for effecting his deadly purpose, and that, too, by a repetition of the identical stratagem and unworthy knavery which on two former occasions had been foiled. The thing pleased him, and Saul said, I will give him her that she may be a snare to him, and that the hand of the Philistines may be against him. (J. R. Macduff, D. D.)
1 Samuel 18:29
And Saul became David’s enemy continually.
The evil of enmity
1. The possible doings of one sinful feeling. Jealousy was first awakened in the heart of Saul on that day when Hebrew females sung the praises of the young conqueror of Goliath. “Jealousy is cruel as the grave.” So it proved. At that moment when the dark feeling rose to consciousness it might not seem as if the new guest were endowed with any special capacities. But it soon swelled out to a proportion which dwarfed and overshadowed all the rest. What tremendous energies of evil lurk in our fallen natural. If God judicially let one slip, and cease to hedge it round with inward remonstrances and providential restraints, it will quickly grow to a tyranny beyond resistance, that shall desolate the soul, and sweep away before it the scruples of conscience, the dictates of prudence, the lingering power of affection, friendly counsels, and the pleadings of honour, interest, or decency. Oh, there are within us materials enough to make earthquakes and volcanoes of the soul! Let us pray that they be not “set on fire of hell.” Think not that you are not in danger because neither Saul’s circumstances nor special tendencies are yours. Jealousy is one of a gang. Envy, pride, lust, intemperance, love of money, are notorious confederates. They operate singly or in company. Often quarrelling, they are horribly unanimous in destroying the soul’s purity and joy. O for Heaven’s healing hand to keep them down, to preserve the soul in holy equipoise, to stablish it in self-governing power, and impel it by restraining love.
2. The reality of an invisible power of evil. This is affirmed plainly and frequently. “The Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord troubled him.” The Holy Spirit who had been striving with him for good was provoked away. His deserted soul was occupied by an evil spirit. And how untiring! The foul and cruel inspiration was no passing breath. It prompted many efforts. It suggested many varieties of operation. It absorbed all other energies into one lordly passion. And all this is sustained for years, in growing power, in spite of many obstacles. How awful this persistent malevolence! O what shall break the spell of this terrible witchery? Who shall put an end to this terrible possession? What power shall awaken fear, and bestow a scrupulous caution, and inspire a holy ardour to be free from the galling thraldom, and endow with a holy strength to resist it and to shut up all those avenues of indulgence through which on-waiting spirits of evil issue from their dwelling of darkness! “Thanks be unto God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” “He hath destroyed the works of the devil.”
3. The beautiful character to which Divine grace can frame the human soul. I suppose it will be regarded as sober truth to say that the world’s annals present no parallel to the character which the great persecution developes in David. Whence came that marvellous self-government, which kept him equally from despair and violence? The power that girt up all his faculties was from above. Men speak of virtue and its endurance, of heroism and its daring deeds. Both are good--but in the balance of the sanctuary they are electroplate, and nothing more. To be even ideally complete, a human character must have godliness as its central power. Practically to reach the highest level of what men call the virtues is impossible without the mighty presence of supreme regard to God, maintained by His own quickening Spirit. This it was that nerved the heart of the Hebrew outlaw with an enduring vigour that bore him on amid floods of sorrow, and formed his heart to a fortitude beside which the models of Greece and Rome look dim. Did ever Stoic endure so much with meekness so conspicuous? Did ever Epicurean show a sensibility so delicate and so pure as that which wept on the neck of Jonathan? Did the world’s men of honour ever spare an enemy as David did the tyrant who thirsted for his blood? I trow not. Such triumphs of noble feeling are wrought only by heavenly grace.
4. The opposition between the Church and the World. It will not be questioned that Saul belonged to the latter and David to the former. Nor, on reflection, will it be doubted that this is the secret of Saul’s irreconciliable enmity. The two are ranged on opposite sides. Grace would have quenched the smouldering embers of jealousy. Had the feeling not been rooted in an unsanctified nature, prayer and pains would have dug it up to wither on the surface. And in the bitter, impious and unrelenting nature of this persecution we may see mirrored forth in fearful clearness the world’s irreconciliable opposition to the Church. The circumstances of Saul give us the advantage of seeing this feeling honestly displayed. He did not fear God; and as an absolute monarch he did not need to regard men. But, one way or other, the body of believers may count on meeting the world’s opposition, aye and until the conflict ceases by the everlasting separation of the parties. Every step of her earthly way lies through a wilderness haunted by enemies, whose hostility is sincere and operative, whether they strive to corrupt her like Midian, or meet her boldly with the Amorite.
5. God’s benignant care of His people. To one who looked only on the surface, and took into view nothing more than ordinary human probabilities, it would no doubt have appeared a hopeless folly for David to seek escape from Saul. A private man against a king; a Solitary man against one who had a nation’s forces at his back; a scrupulous man, whose conscience forbad violent resistance, against a reckless man, under the impulse of an over-mastering passion. David’s life lay constantly in the vicinity of death. He walked as if on a narrow ledge, over a frowning gulf. That he was “preserved from falling” is attributable to nothing but an over-ruling care which could not be surprised, defeated, or wearied out. Almighty energy, working in the service of love, wove the tangled texture of events round the living David, and secured his perfect safety. (P. Richardson, B. A.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "1 Samuel 18". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29