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SAUL'S PROBATION AND FAILURE (CHS. 13-15.).
WAR AGAINST THE PHILISTINES (verse 1-14:46).
1 Samuel 13:1
Saul's age and length of reign. Saul reigned one year. This verse literally translated is, "Saul was one year old when he began to reign, and he reigned two years over Israel." In its form it exactly follows the usual statement prefixed to each king's reign, of his age at his accession, and the years of his kingdom (2 Samuel 2:10; 2Sa 5:4; 1 Kings 14:21; 1 Kings 22:42, etc.). The rendering of the A.V. is too forced and untenable to be worth discussing. As we have seen before, the numerals in the Books of Samuel are not trustworthy; but the difficulty here is an old one. The Vulgate translates the Hebrew literally, as we have given it; the Septuagint omits the verse, and the Syriac paraphrases as boldly as the A.V.: "When Saul had reigned one or two years." The Chaldee renders, "Saul was as innocent as a one-year-old child when he began to reign." In the Hexaplar version some anonymous writer has inserted the word thirty, rashly enough; for as Jonathan was old enough to have an important command (1 Samuel 13:2), and was capable of the acts of a strong man (1 Samuel 14:14), his father's age must have been at least thirty-five, and perhaps was even more. As regards the length of Saul's reign, St. Paul makes it forty years (Acts 13:21), exactly the same as that of David (1 Kings 2:11) and of Solomon (1 Kings 11:42); and Josephus testifies that such was the traditional belief of the Jews ('Antiq.,' 1 Samuel 6:14, 1 Samuel 6:9). On the other hand, it is remarkable that the word here for years is that used where the whole number is less than ten. The events, however, recorded in the rest of the book seem to require a longer period than ten years for the duration of Saul's reign; thirty-two would be a more probable number, and, added to the seven and a half years' reign of Ishbosheth (see 2 Samuel 5:5), they would make up the whole sum of forty years ascribed by St. Paul to Saul's dynasty. It is quite possible, however, that these forty years may even include the fifteen or sixteen years of Samuel's judgeship. But the two facts, that all the three sons of Saul mentioned in 1 Samuel 14:49 were old enough to go with him to the battle of Mount Gilboa, where they were slain; and that Ishbosheth, his successor, was forty years of age when his father died, effectually dispose of the idea that Saul's was a very short reign.
OCCASION OF THE FIRST WAR AGAINST THE PHILISTINES (1 Samuel 14:2-7).
1 Samuel 13:2
Saul chose him. Literally, "And Saul chose him," the usual way of commencing the narrative of a king's reign. He probably selected these 3000 men at the end of the war with the Ammonites, to strengthen the small bodyguard which he had gathered round him at Gibeah (1 Samuel 10:26). As being always in arms, they would become highly disciplined, and form the nucleus and centre of all future military operations (see on 1 Samuel 14:52). He stationed these on either side of the defile in the mountain range of Bethel, so exactly described in Isaiah 10:28, Isaiah 10:29, where Sennacherib, as we read, leaves his carriage, i.e. his baggage, at Michmash, and after defiling through the pass, arrives at Geba. Gibeah, where Jonathan was posted with 1000 of these picked warriors, was Saul's home, and his son would have the benefit there of the aid of Kish and Abner, while Michmash was the more exposed place, situate about seven miles northeast of Jerusalem. Conder ('Tent Work,' 2:110) describes this defile as "a narrow gorge with vertical precipices some 800 feet high—a great crack or fissure in the country, which is peculiar in this respect, that you only become aware of its existence when close to the brink; for on the north the narrow spur of hills hides it, and on the south a flat plateau extends to the top of the crags. On the south side of this great chasm stands Geba of Benjamin, on a rocky knoll, with caverns beneath the houses, and arable land to the east; and on the opposite side, considerably lower than Geba, is the little village of Michmash, on a sort of saddle, backed by an open and fertile corn valley. This valley was famous for producing excellent barley. Every man to his tent. This with us would be a warlike phrase; but as the mass of the Israelites then dwelt in tents, it means simply their dispersion homewards; and so the Syriac translates, "He dismissed them each to his house" (see Psalms 69:25).
1 Samuel 13:3
In Geba. By this garrison the Philistines commanded the further end of the defile, and they had also another outpost beyond it near Gibeah itself (1 Samuel 10:5). Probably neither of these garrisons was very strong, and Saul may have intended that Jonathan should attack them while he held the northern end of the pass, which would be the first place assailed by the Philistines in force. As regards the word translated garrison, attempts have been made to render it pillar, and to represent it as a token of Philistine supremacy which Jonathan threw down, while others, with the Septuagint, take it as a proper name; but the word smote is strongly in favour of the rendering of the A.V. Let the Hebrews hear. Saul must have intended war when he thus posted himself and Jonathan in such commanding spots, and probably all this had been sketched out by Samuel (see on 1 Samuel 10:8). He now summons all Israel to the war. It is strange that he should call the people "Hebrews," the Philistine title of contempt; but it is used again in verse 7, and of course in verse 19. The Septuagint reads, "Let the slaves revolt," but though followed by Josephus, the change of text is not probable.
1 Samuel 13:4
That Saul had smitten. Though the achievement was actually Jonathan's, yet it belonged to Saul as the commander-in-chief, and probably had been done under his instructions. Israel was had in abomination with the Philistines. They must have viewed with grave displeasure Israel's gathering together to choose a king, and Saul's subsequent defeat of the Ammonites, and retention with him of a large body of men, and so probably they had been for some time making preparations for war. Saul, therefore, knowing that they were collecting their forces, does the same, and the people were called together after Saul. Literally, "were cried after him," i.e. were summoned by proclamation. For Gilgal see 1 Samuel 7:16; 1 Samuel 11:14. This place had been selected because, as the valley opens there into the plain of Jordan it was a fit spot for the assembling of a large host. For its identification see Conder, 'Tent Work,' 1 Samuel 2:7-12.
1 Samuel 13:5
Long before Saul could gather Israel the Philistines had completed their preparations, and invaded the country in overwhelming numbers; but thirty thousand chariots compared with six thousand horsemen is out of all proportion. Possibly the final l in Israel has been taken by some copyists for a numeral, and as it signifies thirty, it his changed 1000 into 30,000. Or, simpler still, shin, the numeral for 300, has been read with two dots, and so changed into 30,000. They came up, and pitched in Michmash. Saul had withdrawn eastward to Gilgal, and the Philistines had thus placed themselves between him and Jonathan. There is a difficulty, however, in the words eastward from Beth-aven; for as this, again, was east of Bethel, it puts the Philistines' camp too much to the east. As it is not, however, the regular phrase for eastward, some commentators render, "in front of Beth-avon." "It means 'the house of naught,' and was the name originally given to the desert east of Bethel, because of its barren character" (Conder, 'Tent Work,' 2:108). The Philistines, however, had come in such numbers that their camp must have occupied a large extent of ground.
1 Samuel 13:6
The people were distressed. Literally, were squeezed, pressed together, were in difficulties. The Philistines had so promptly answered Saul's challenge, that the Israelites, forgetting their victory over Nahash, whose men, however, had probably very inferior arms to those worn by the Philistines, lost courage; and even the picked band of 2000 men dwindled to 600. As for the mass of the people, they acted with the most abject cowardice, hiding themselves in caves, of which there are very many in the limestone ranges of Palestine. David subsequently found safety in them when hunted by Saul. Also in thickets. The word as spelt here occurs nowhere else, nor do the versions agree as to its meaning. Most probably it signifies clefts, rifts or fissures in the rocks. The next word, rocks, certainly means precipitous cliffs; and thickets or thorn bushes would scarcely be placed between caverns and cliffs, both of which belong to mountains. In high places. This word occurs elsewhere only in Judges 9:46, Judges 9:49, where it is rendered hold. But this meaning is not supported by the ancient versions, and it more probably signifies a vault or crypt, which better suits the hiding place next mentioned, pits, i.e. tanks, artificial reservoirs for water, with which most districts were well supplied in Palestine, even before its conquest by Israel. They were absolutely necessary, as the rains fall only at stated periods, and the chalky soil will not hold water; when dry they would form fit places for concealment.
1 Samuel 13:7
Some of the Hebrews. A contemptuous name for Israel (see 1 Samuel 13:3). If the reading is correct, it must be used here of a cowardly portion of the people (as in 1 Samuel 14:21), for the insertion of some of in the A.V. is unjustifiable. But by a very slight change, simply lengthening the stalk of one letter, we get a very good sense: "And they went over the fords of the Jordan to the land of Gad and Gilead," i.e. to the mountainous district in which the Jordan rises.
SAUL'S RASH SACRIFICE (1 Samuel 13:8-14).
1 Samuel 13:8
Seven days, according, to the set time. See on 1 Samuel 10:8. The lapse of time between Samuel's appointment of the seven days during which Saul was to wait for him to inaugurate the war of independence, and the present occasion, was probably not so great as many commentators suppose; for 1 Samuel 13:1 is, as we have seen, wrongly translated, and everything else leads to the conclusion that the defeat of the Ammonites, the choice of the 3000, and Jonathan's attack on the garrison at Geba followed rapidly upon one another. As the Philistines would rightly regard Israel's choice of a king as an act of rebellion, we cannot suppose them to have been so supine and negligent as not at once to have prepared for war. Had appointed. The Hebrew word for this has been omitted by some accident. It is given in the Septuagint and Chaldee and some MSS. The whole importance of the occurence arose out of its having been appointed by Samuel on his selection of Saul as king.
1 Samuel 13:9
A burnt offering, etc. The Hebrew has the definite article, the burnt offering and the peace offerings, which were there ready for Samuel to offer. He offered. Not with his own hand, but by the hand of the attendant priest, Ahiah, who was, we know, with him. Possibly, nevertheless, the Levitical law was not at this period strictly observed.
1 Samuel 13:10
That he might salute him. Literally, "bless him," but the word is often used of a solemn salutation (2 Kings 4:29). It is evident that Samuel came on the seventh day, and that Saul in his impetuosity could not stay the whole day out.
1 Samuel 13:11
What hast thou done? The question implies rebuke, which Saul answers by pleading his danger. Each day's delay made his small force dwindle rapidly away, and the Philistines might at any hour move down from Michmash upon him at Gilgal and destroy him. But it was the reality of the danger which put his faith and obedience to the trial.
1 Samuel 13:12
I have not made supplication unto Jehovah. Literally, "I have not stroked the face of Jehovah," but used of making him propitious by prayer (Exodus 32:11; Jeremiah 26:19). I forced myself. Saul pleads in his justification the imminence of the danger, and perhaps there are few who have faith enough to "stand still and see the salvation of Jehovah" (Exodus 14:13).
1 Samuel 13:13
Thou hast done foolishly. Saul had not only received an express command to wait seven days, but it had been given him under special circumstances, and confirmed by the fulfilment of the appointed signs. He knew, moreover, how much depended upon his waiting, and that obedience to the prophet's command was an essential condition of his appointment. Nevertheless, in his impatience and distrust of Jehovah, he cannot bide the set time; not really because of any wish to propitiate God, but because of the effect to be produced upon the mind of the people. It was tedious to remain inactive; his position in the plains was. untenable; at any moment his retreat to the mountains might be cut off; and so he prefers the part of a prudent general to that of an obedient and trustful servant of God. And we may notice that there is no confession of wrong on his part. His mind rather seems entirely occupied with his duty as a king, without having regard to the higher King, whom it ought to have been his first duty to obey.
1 Samuel 13:14
Jehovah hath sought him a man after his own heart. The language of prophecy constantly describes that as already done which is but just determined upon. As David was but twenty-three years of age at Saul's death, he must now have been a mere child, even if he was born, (see 1 Samuel 13:1). But the Divine choice of Saul, which upon his obedience would that day have been confirmed, was now annulled, and the succession transferred elsewhere. Years might elapse before the first earthly step was taken to appoint his successor (1 Samuel 16:13); nay, had Saul repented, we gather from 1 Samuel 15:26 that he might have been forgiven: for God's threatenings, like his promises, are conditional. There is no fatalism in the Bible, but a loving discipline for man's recovery. But behind it stands the Divine foreknowledge and omnipotence; and so to the prophetic view Saul's refusal to repent, his repeated disobedience, and the succession of David were all revealed as accomplished facts.
CONTINUANCE OF THE WAR (1 Samuel 15:15-18).
1 Samuel 13:15
Samuel … gat him up from Gilgal to Gibeah of Benjamin. Samuel would pass by Gibeah on his way to his own home at Ramah; but he seems to have tarried there to encourage the people; and probably he carried instructions from Saul to Jonathan to unite his forces with him, as we next find the father and son there in company. Even if this be not so, yet friendly relations must have continued between Saul and Samuel, as the latter would otherwise certainly not have chosen Saul's home for his halting place; nor would he go thither without seeing Jonathan, and giving him aid and counsel. Saul numbered. See on 1 Samuel 11:8. After summoning the whole nation there did not remain with him even as many as a third of his selected band.
1 Samuel 13:16
In Gibeah of Benjamin. This is an arbitrary change of the A.V. for Geba, which is the word in the Hebrew text. Our translators no doubt considered that as Gibeah of Benjamin occurs in the previous verse, this must be the same place. But our greater knowledge of the geography of the Holy Land enables us to say that Geba is right; for, as we have seen, it was at one end of the defile, at the other end of which was Michmash; and here alone could the small army of Saul have any chance of defending itself against the vast host of the Philistines. However much we may blame Saul's disobedience, he was a skilful soldier and a brave man, and his going with his little band to the end of the pass to make a last desperate stand was an act worthy of a king.
1 Samuel 13:17, 1 Samuel 13:18
The spoilers. The conduct of the Philistines is that of men over confident in their strength. They ought to have pounced at once upon Saul in the plain of Jordan, where their cavalry would have secured for them the victory, and then, following Samuel's and Saul's route, have seized the other end of the defile, and overpowered Jonathan. But they despised them both, and regarding the country as conquered, proceed to punish it, as probably they had cone on previous occasions, when no one had dared to make resistance. Leaving then the main army to guard the camp at Michmash, they sent out light armed troops to plunder the whole land. One company turned unto the way … to Ophrah, unto the land of Shual. This company went northward, towards Ophrah, a place five miles east of Bethel. The land of Shual, i.e. fox land, was probably the same as the land of Shalim in 1 Samuel 9:4. Another company, etc. This went eastward, towards Beth-heron, for which see Joshua 10:11. The third went to the south east, towards the wilderness of Judaea. Zeboim, and all the places mentioned, are in the tribe of Benjamin, which had committed the offence of making for itself a king. To the south Saul held the mountain fastnesses towards Jerusalem.
DESCRIPTION OF ISRAEL'S EXTREME STATE OF OPPRESSION (Joshua 10:19-23).
1 Samuel 13:19
There was no smith. This accounts for the contemptuous disregard of Saul by the Philistines. The people were disarmed, and resistance impossible. Apparently this policy had been long followed; but we need fuller information of what had happened between Samuel's victory at Mizpah and Saul's appointment as king, to enable us to understand the evident weakness of Israel at this time. But probably this description applies fully only to the districts of Benjamin, near the Philistines, The people further away had arms with which they defeated the Ammonites, and Saul and his men would have secured all the weapons which the enemy then threw away. But evidently no manufacture of weapons was allowed, and no one as far as possible permitted either to wear or possess arms.
1 Samuel 13:20
The Israelites went down to the Philistines. I.e. to their land. This could only have applied to the districts near the Philistines, unless we suppose that they set up forges also at their garrisons. To sharpen. The verb chiefly refers to such work as required an anvil and hammer. As regards the implements, not only do the versions disagree in their renderings, but the Septuagint has a very curious different reading, to the effect that at harvest time the Israelites had to pay the Philistines three shekels for repairing and whetting their tools. The share is more probably a sickle. The coulter is certainly a ploughshare, as rendered in Isaiah 2:4; Joel 3:10. Of the ax there is no doubt; and the mattock is a heavy hoe for turning up the ground, as spades for that purpose are scarcely anywhere used, except in our own country.
1 Samuel 13:21
A file. Margin, a file with mouths. The word only occurs here, and is translated a file on the authority of Rashi. Almost all modern commentators agree that it means bluntness, and that this verse should be joined on to the preceding, and the two be translated, "But all the Israelites went down to the Philistines to sharpen his sickle, and his ploughshare, and his axe, and his mattock, whenever the edges of the mattocks, and the ploughshares, and the forks, and the axes were blunt, and also to set the goads." The Israelites were thus in a state of complete dependence upon the Philistines, even for carrying on their agriculture, and probably retained only the hill country, while their enemies were masters of the plains.
1 Samuel 13:22
There was neither sword, etc. Armed only with clubs and their farming implements, it is no wonder that the people were afraid of fighting the Philistines, who, as we gather from the description of Goliath's armour, were clad in mail; nor is it surprising that they despised and neglected Saul and his few men, whom probably they regarded as an unarmed mob of rustics. The Ammonites probably were far less efficiently armed than the Philistines, who, as commanding the sea coast, could import weapons from Greece.
1 Samuel 13:23
And the garrison, etc. When the Philistines heard that Saul with his six hundred men had joined the small force already at Geba with Jonathan, they sent a body of men to occupy an eminence higher up in the defile which lay between Geba and Michmash (see on 1 Samuel 13:2). The purpose of this was to keep the route open, that so, when they pleased, they might send a larger body of troops up the defile in order to attack Saul. It would also keep a watch upon his movements, though they could have had no expectation that he would venture to attack them. It was this garrison which Jonathan so bravely attacked, and by his success prepared the way for the utter defeat of the enemy.
1 Samuel 13:1-7
The great antagonism.
The facts are—
1. Saul, entering on the military organisation of his kingdom, forms a select force under the command of himself and Jonathan.
2. The defeat of the Philistine garrison by Jonathan is announced to all Israel.
3. This first success arouses the hostility of the Philistines, who threaten Israel with overwhelming numbers.
4. The effect of this display of force is to dishearten the followers of Saul who waited at Gilgah The presence of the Philistines within the borders of Israel was inconsistent with the privileges originally granted, and was a perpetual source of danger and annoyance. One of the ends contemplated in seeking a king was to clear the promised land of foes. The normal state of the people of God was only realised when the land was the exclusive home of the descendants of Abraham. The reformation, in slow yet steady progress, created the ambition and effort to cast out the enemy. Saul's movements, therefore, were a correct expression of national feeling, and in harmony with the high purpose of Israel's existence. In this attempt to subdue the great enemy of the kingdom we have an historic representation of the great conflict which is ever being waged between the spiritual kingdom and the evils which largely hold possession of the world; and in the varying experience of Israel we see shadows of truths that find expression in Christian times.
I. The EXISTENCE OF THE KINGDOM OF CHRIST INVOLVES A CONFLICT WITH A WATCHFUL, POWERFUL FOE FOR THE POSSESSION OF THE EARTH. The separate existence of Israel, combined with the promise made to Abraham (Genesis 15:7), and the spiritual purpose to be wrought out for the glory of God, rendered war with the Philistines at this time inevitable. The existence of Christ's kingdom in the actual separation to himself of those who form his Church, combined with his right to be King of every land and heart, and the prediction that he shall have the uttermost parts of the earth for his possession, involves ceaseless strife with men, spirits, customs, laws, principles, purposes, and all else, visible and invisible, that is incompatible with his full and blessed sway. Light is not more opposed to darkness, life to death, purity to corruption, than Christ and his holy rule are opposed to much that now governs human society.
II. The EARLY EFFORTS OF THE FAITHFUL ARE ENSAMPLES FOR FUTURE CONDUCT, AND THE TRIUMPHS WON ARE AN EARNEST OF WHAT MAY BE ON A LARGER SCALE. The early efforts of Saul and his followers were characterised by faith in their mission as people of God, loyalty to the Divine cause they represented, courage and self-denial for the good of the land, unity of aim and concentration of strength. They had-a right to believe in success, because the promised land was for Israel, and not for the idolatrous Philistine. The victory at Geba was a pledge of coming events. The war against sin has been carried on ever since the first promise cheered the heart of our fallen ancestor. But we may regard the exertions of the early Christian Church as the first organised effort, under the laws of the kingdom of Christ, for the extirpation of all sin and evil. The early Christians were fine examples of clear and deep conviction that they were the servants of Christ, and had a Divine mission to work out in an antagonistic world. And the splendid triumphs won, though, compared with the area of sin, as small as.was the capture of Geba relatively to the whole possessions of the Philistines, are an indication of what awaits the Church if only, laying aside internal strifes, worldly policies, self-indulgence, she will but brace her energies to the perfecting of the conquests already made. Novelties we need not; the old weapons, the old spirit, the old consecration, the old singleness of aim, will pull down strongholds still.
III. The ANTAGONISM MAY GROW IN INTENSITY AS A CONSEQUENCE OF SUCCESS. Up to a given point success in war arouses more thoroughly the energies of the defeated. The acquisition of Geba made Israel more than ever detestable to the Philistines, and developed their resources. The same effect was produced by the triumphs of Pentecost (Acts 4:1-37.). Subsequently rulers took counsel, being afraid "whereunto this would grow" (Acts 5:24), unless more severe measures were taken to suppress it. It was the necessarily aggressive spirit of Christianity, combined with its growing influence, that aroused the fierce, persecuting spirit of ancient Rome. The more a pure Christianity is urged on men, the more do evil passions arise in resistance. It is probable that there are seasons when the "principalities and powers" of the unseen world combine in all fierceness to arouse human antagonism to the gospel. The bitter hostility and outspoken defiance of the present day are in instructive coexistence with Christian efforts and triumphs surpassing in range any recorded in history.
IV. HOPE OF FINAL VICTORY DEPENDS MORE ON OUR FAITH IN GOD THAN ON THE WEAKNESS OF THE FOE. The followers of Saul became disheartened when they heard of the tremendous efforts of the Philistines. As Peter on the sea looked away from Christ at the waves, and began to sink, so these men lost hope when, forgetting the "mighty God of Jacob," they fixed attention on the forces of the enemy. It was not a question of few or many Philistines, but of faith in their God. The faintheartedness of Israel finds its counterpart in modern times. The vast area over which evil reigns, the desperate vices that enchain thousands, the extent to which society is impregnated with principles alien to the gospel, the utter absorption of millions in matters purely material, the fierce assaults made on the supernatural character of Christianity, and the growing positiveness and intellectual licence of many who fight under the stolen banner of "science"—these signs of power are brooded over, and the heart sinks for fear. This faintheartedness is as irrational as it is sinful. Is Christ a living Saviour? Is he the Lord of all? It is a simple question of fact. If not, then our Christianity is a delusion; we are without hope in the world, and life is an insoluble, awful, heart piercing enigma. But if he is, then who are men, or what are their resources? They are but creatures of a day, and their strength perishes. He must reign. On his own head his crown shall flourish.
1. Every Christian should inquire how far he, in loyalty to Christ and full conviction of his triumph, is doing his part in the common work of the Church.
2. It is a matter of inquiry how far we may be impeding the progress of Christianity by compromising with the world in hope of lessening antagonism.
3. It should guide our conduct to remember that the severest holiness of life, blended with the tenderest love, has ever accomplished the most enduring spiritual work.
4. It will tend to nourish faith in the sufficiency of God if we, by thought and prayerfulness, habituate ourselves to actual fellowship with him.
1 Samuel 13:8-16
The facts are—
1. Saul, waiting at Gilgal for Samuel, gives orders for the observance of sacrificial worship.
2. Towards the close of the ceremony, and before the full time was expired, Samuel makes his appearance.
3. In reply to Samuel's remonstrance, Saul assigns the reasons for his conduct—the discouragement of the people, the non-arrival of Samuel, and the threatening attitude of the foe.
4. Samuel charges Saul with having failed to keep the commandment of God, and declares that his family shall not succeed to the throne.
5. Samuel retires to Gibeah, whither Saul and his son also go with their followers. Whether the appointment to meet at Gilgal was that mentioned in 1 Samuel 10:8, or a subsequent arrangement, does not affect the fact that, in view of measures to be taken conjointly, Saul had been distinctly commanded by God, through the prophet, to wait seven days till Samuel came. Evidently it was a distinct understanding that in the coming effort to rid the land of the Philistines the spiritual power, represented by the, prophet of God, was to be prominent. Thus would the "manner of the kingdom" (1 Samuel 10:25) be recognised, and Israel's ruler, though a king, would still be the agent for working out a spiritual destiny. It was of immense importance that, having a king like unto other nations, Israel and the monarch should still be made to feel that, not the form of government, but the blessing of God granted in answer to prayer, and on due recognition of the spiritual institutions, was the most important thing. And the command to wait for the spiritual guide and ruler was eminently fitted to impress Saul and the people with the undiminished authority and value of the spiritual head. There is no evidence that the end of the seven days had come, only that it was nigh. Even had it come, the Author of the command was responsible for consequences, not Saul. The first duty of a subject is to obey law. Saul had no right to break the commandment of his King. The assumption of the control of spiritual functions violated a great principle in the eyes of the people. It would mean, the prophet of God can be dispensed with; the king can invent ways other than God's of meeting pressing dangers; rigid obedience to God's command is not expedient at all times; the religious arrangements in the recent settlement of the kingdom, impeding as they do the military movements, are defective; all must, by pressure of events, come into the monarch's hands. Thus the very essence of the constitution, as approved by God and explained in act and word by Samuel (1 Samuel 9:26, 1Sa 9:27; 1 Samuel 10:1, 1 Samuel 10:8, 1Sa 10:25; 1 Samuel 12:13, 1 Samuel 12:14), was set aside.
I. LIFE INEVITABLY BRINGS WITH IT TEMPTATIONS TO SACRIFICE CLEAR DUTY TO SINFUL EXPEDIENCY. The difficulties surrounding Saul seemed to rise from the natural course of events. The defection of many of his followers was as readily accounted for, by the overwhelming force of the enemy and the inactivity enforced by the absence of Samuel, as it was, from a heathen point of view, pregnant with disaster. The military power of the nation, in being thus subject to spiritual arrangements, was less an arm of strength than a monarch might desire. The first operation of the subordination of man's skill and force to the religious element of the national life was by no means promising. Was it not expedient to act without the spiritual authority as at present constituted? Now this temptation was no "strange thing." It was just an early and sharply defined form of what Saul would be liable to all his days; for events and his own imperfect nature would constantly conspire to raise the question as to whether he would not better hold his own in war if he were not troubled by non-military considerations. The spiritual character of the kingdom would continually test his loyalty to God. His case was not singular.
1. Moral life on earth involves trial. Created moral existence is not possible apart from liability to the rival claims of duty to God and regard for self, in some form supposed to be more or less expedient. Temptation grows out of the conditions under which we live.
2. Every special course of life is attended with temptations peculiar to its nature. Saul as king would feel the pressure of what, as a man living in obscurity, he would not have known. Israel chosen of God to traverse the desert and attain to freedom and rest in Canaan were open to trials of faith which, as bondmen in Egypt, would not have come to them. Our Saviour himself endured temptations in virtue of his unique position as Founder of a spiritual kingdom.
II. It is A MERCIFUL PROVIDENCE WHEN REPRESENTATIVE TEMPTATIONS COMING EARLY IN LIFE'S CAREER ARE UNDER CIRCUMSTANCES MOST FAVOURABLE TO RESISTANCE. The circumstances of a temptation tell wonderfully in the act of resisting. Should it find the mind predisposed by dallying with evil, or should it come in the absence of clear and recent indications of duty, with a sudden impulse, or insinuating itself into intricate considerations and engagements, the chances of its success would be increased as compared with opposite conditions. This temptation to sin came on Saul when he was free from the entanglements of a court and domestic politics; it was in sharp contrast with a most explicit command; it was counter to the recent instance of God's help in presence of a great danger (1 Samuel 11:4-14); and it came when his moral sense was at its best. Inasmuch as during coming years Saul would inevitably feel the force of temptations to assert his own methods and will as being apparently better than those indicated by the spiritual requirements of the kingdom, it was really a mercy that this representative temptation came when it did, and in a form most easy to resist. If resisted, a principle would assume an incipient form of habit. The moral strength of the man would be developed by exercise. Success over the foe, consequent on the first triumph of faith in God and submission to his spiritual order, would be a memorial for future inspiration. We have here a clue to the solution of other trials. It is too often imagined that the trial of Adam, of the Israelites at the Red Sea, of Christ in the desert, and of the apostles during the dark days of the crucifixion and death, were arbitrary, severe, and, at least, without a clear trace of kindness. But consider—
1. Life in each case was liable to many temptations. It was inseparable from Adam's existence as a man on earth, from Israel's march to and occupation of Canaan, from our Saviour's position among men and the evil spirits who would act upon his soul, and from the apostolic career in face of Jewish and Gentile antagonism, that temptation again and again, in forms peculiar to each, would arise. So, also, with every man's life.
2. In each case the conditions for resisting representative temptation of what was coming were most favourable at the entrance on the career. Man in Eden was pure, free from bad impulse, independent of entanglements and want, familiar with the emphatic and recent command. Israel at the Red Sea had just seen marvellous and repeated tokens of the sufficiency of God to shelter them and ward off danger, and the command to go forward to the sea was explicit. Our Saviour when tempted of the devil was fresh from the baptism of the Holy Spirit, as yet not worn down by ingratitude and scorn, filled With the call to enter on his work in founding a spiritual kingdom. So, likewise, when a monarch, or pastor, or Church, or any individual first enters on an office or work, there is a freedom from the entanglements which spring from mixed relationships, an eclat which inspires hope, a sense of responsibility which makes the spirit sober and watchful, and a fame to win which appeals to the noblest sentiments of duty and honour.
3. Resistance in each case would impart a moral force which would be of great advantage in all subsequent conflicts. Had Adam said a final "nay" to the tempter, his moral conquest over all other temptations would have been comparatively insured. Imperfect as Israel were in the desert, their moral power was greatly strengthened both by the act of faith at the Red Sea and the consequent victory over Pharaoh. As One who had conquered in the desert, our Lord would doubtless confront the later temptations to exchange poverty and want and spiritual rulership for the pomp and outward splendour of an earthly kingdom with a more equable spirit. And the endurance of the apostles during those dark and harrowing hours prior to the resurrection would only render their faith a mightier power wherewith to face the persecution of men and the seeming tardiness of the world's subjugation to Christ. So, likewise, those who are brought by Providence to bear temptation under favourable conditions when entering on a career actually receive a great mercy. They are enabled thereby, if they will, to gain power for life and to qualify for higher service. This will find illustration also with the young. Their early trials, under good conditions, make them more competent to cope with all that is sure to follow.
III. SIN COMMITTED UNDER CONDITIONS FAVOURABLE TO THE RESISTANCE OF TEMPTATION BECOMES THEREBY AGGRAVATED IN CHARACTER. Saul's sin was great. It was marked by deliberation and yet by extreme folly. He "forced himself." The command was so clear, the risks of disobedience so palpable, that only a perverse ingenuity could persuade him to disobey. The effort to silence the conscience always aggravates a crime. Prompt, unquestioning obedience is due to clear commands. Man is not responsible for anything but duty. The folly was conspicuous. To break a clear command in order to offer an act of worship is the perfection of foolishness. Only a "lying spirit" could induce a man to honour God by dishonouring him. The blind reasoning of the heart when once clear duty is trifled with is extraordinary. It would be a wonderful revelation of perverted intellect if we could read the processes of thought by which men are led to force themselves to deliberate acts of sin.
IV. THE PUNISHMENT FOLLOWING ON SIN INCLUDES THE LOSS OF THAT FOR WHICH THE SIN WAS COMMITTED. Two consequences ensued on Samuel's exposure of Saul's sin—the forfeiture of his family's permanent possession of the throne of Israel, and the withholding of immediate interposition on behalf of the nation. Now it is obvious that Saul had yielded to the temptation in hope thereby of inspiring his followers to action, and of insuring the stability of his throne for himself and family in the subjugation of his foes. There was an eminent propriety in Saul's sin being visited by a loss of the kingdom to his family. He was the people's king—chosen because they desired a monarch. Therefore it was in harmony with the usual course of Providence that, though he sinned, he should be allowed to rule, and thus by his infirmities be the rod for their chastisement. Although representing in his virtues and failings the people who demanded a king, he was afforded by the recent trial a good opportunity of conforming to the higher spiritual order, and of thus becoming by degrees educated into the loftier spiritual aims of the national life. Therefore, failing to rise to the level essential to the Messianic conception of the kingdom, he proved the moral unfitness of his principles and methods for transmittal to successors. Have we not here a truth of constant recurrence? Sin is committed to realise a purpose, and the purpose is not realised, but is missed by the very act of sin. Our first parents sought the rest of satisfaction in taking the forbidden fruit; but whatever rest they had before was lost in the act of disobedience, as also the kind of rest sought by the deed. The unhappy man who, under pressure of circumstances as trying to him as the hosts of Philistia were to Saul, forces himself to commit a fraud in order to insure relief and final success in his enterprise, learns to his cost, when once the act is committed, that mental relief is further off than ever, and a remorseless course of events ultimately brings on ruin to the enterprise. "He that seeketh his life shall lose it."
1. When pursuing a path of duty, impatience with God's ways should be strictly suppressed, or it will lay us open to the pressure of strong temptations.
2. In the high service of God we may be placed in circumstances of extreme peril, but these should never shake confidence in his all-sufficiency.
3. Sometimes the loftiest path of duty is "to be still," and pray for grace "to enter not into temptation.''
4. The Christian is warranted, by the fact of the existence of "the kingdom," as also by the experiences of the past, to believe that above all the forces that threaten the Church there is a Power that sometimes restrains its manifestation for purposes of discipline.
5. It is a profitable study for the Church to consider how far prayer is not effectual in consequence of the constant breach of plain commands.
6. It is the sign of a guilty conscience, and of the hardening effect of even one sin, that plausible reasons are ready at hand to justify conduct.
7. If we prove ourselves unfit for service by our lack of spirituality, Providence will sooner or later remove us for others more spiritual.
1 Samuel 13:17-23
The ramifications of evil.
The facts are—
1. In the absence of Divine interposition, and consequent on Saul's inability to resist advance, the Philistines develop their forces and plunder certain districts of country.
2. As a matter of policy on their part, and as one result of Saul's transgression, the Philistines deprive the people of the ordinary means of conducting warfare.
3. This state of things necessitates Saul's protracted inactivity, and inflicts considerable inconvenience on the people with respect to their daily pursuits in agriculture. Although we cannot say precisely what course events would have taken had Saul, in loyalty to God, awaited the arrival of Samuel (1 Samuel 13:8-10), yet the whole history of Israel and the recent promises made through Samuel (1 Samuel 12:20-25) lead to the belief that, as when Jabesh-Gilead was in danger help came from God (1 Samuel 11:6), so now the Philistines would have been scattered by a Power more than human. The facts given in this paragraph appear to be designed to prepare the way for the narrative of Jonathan's heroism in the following chapter; at the same time they illustrate, in themselves, some truths of wider range than Israel's political and social condition. We have here an instance of—
I. THE DEPRESSING INFLUENCE OF A SENSE OF GUILT ON THE CONDUCT OF AFFAIRS. The military inactivity and general helplessness of Saul after Samuel's interview with him (1 Samuel 13:11-14) are in striking contrast with his energy at other times, and are not altogether to be ascribed to the absence of special Divine interposition. The explanation is to be sought in his personal conviction of sin. There was no joy, no hope, no spring in his soul, no eagerness for a close conflict with the foe; and that, too, because a sense of sin brought moral paralysis upon his entire nature. The sense of guilt is not always present in men, but when it is brought home to a man it exercises a depressing influence on his entire life, and seriously affects the transaction of affairs. Conscience, when guilty, not only "makes cowards of us all," but it robs life of brightness, drains the springs of hope, fetters the operation of the faculties, and impairs the sum total of energy. No man's life is made the most of as long as some unrepented and unforgiven sin haunts his spirit. This is the reverse side of another fact, namely, that the soul possessed of the peace and joy of the reconciled is in a condition to render its best service to the world, and to attain to the most perfect development of its powers. The wisdom of every one oppressed with a sense of guilt is to humble himself before God, and seek in Christ forgiveness and power for a truer life in future.
II. THE MANIFOLD RAMIFICATIONS OF EVIL. The sin of Saul did not begin and end with himself. His failure in duty affected the general interests of his kingdom. Even the brief narrative before us enables us to see how directly and indirectly the following circumstances were connected with his disobedience—namely, the inability of Israel to assail the threatening host; the depredations of the three divisions of the Philistine army; the private and social misery over a considerable area inseparable from the raids of the invader; the cutting off of the ordinary means for waging successful war; the impediments to the pursuits of trade and agriculture; the general humiliation and dread brought on the non-combatants of the land; and the withdrawal for a while of the counsels and encouragements of the prophet of God. The truth thus exemplified in the instance of a monarch's sin finds expression also in every sin, and especially in sins of persons in responsible positions. No sin can end in the act or in the person of the sinner. It impairs the tone and force of the entire man; it adds another item to the germs of future sorrow and shame; it further disqualifies for conferring on the world spiritual good; it gives a stronger taint of evil to the current of thought and feeling which flows out from the inner man to the world. Sin in us is as a wave of influence that spreads out, by laws of association and impulse, over the whole area of the spirit, and modifies all conduct for the worse. Especially is this true of persons in office and of parents. A monarch's official acts reach all classes. A parent's sin ramifies through the home—inducing, it may be, loss of peace, certainly loss of hallowed influence over children, and possibly ruin to health in offspring.
III. UNFAITHFULNESS IN THE SERVICE OF GOD DEPRIVES US OF A MOST IMPORTANT MEANS OF ACCOMPLISHING OUR MISSION AS CHRISTIANS IN THE WORLD. The scarcity of smiths and weapons of war is evidently associated by the historian with the disobedience of Saul. It is possible for Christian men engaged in the endeavour to maintain and extend the kingdom of Christ to be brought into an analogous condition as a consequence of their manifest unfaithfulness. In our conflict with the world it is of supreme importance that we make use of the ever available and potent instrument—influence of character. With this as a weapon we can accomplish much, by the blessing of God. If this be lost, if by our manifest inconsistencies before the world we virtually place this instrument of war at the feet of the men whom we seek to bring to Christ, then we shall be as powerless with them as was Saul and his people when the Philistines had control of their smiths and weapons of war.
1. The general spiritual power of our life will be in proportion as we keep pure, or, in case of falling into sin, at once humble ourselves before God and seek for pardon and a right spirit (Psalms 51:6-13).
2. It is an encouragement to holiness and obedience to know that the ramifications of righteousness may become as wide as are those of sin.
3. It is a mercy to know that, though the enemy may sometimes triumph over the servants of Christ because of their weakness of character, yet the eternal Source of strength is in reserve, and will manifest himself.
HOMILIES BY B. DALE
1 Samuel 13:1-7. (MICHMASH, GIBEAH, GEBA, GILGAL.)
The trumpet sounded.
"And Saul blew the trumpet throughout all the land, saying, Let the Hebrews hear."
1. The great conflict between good and evil which has been waged from the first (Genesis 3:15) has been concentrated in every age on some particular issue. At this time it was whether Israel and the worship of the true God or the Philistines and the worship of idols should prevail. It was thus of the highest importance in relation to the kingdom of God upon earth.
2. The Philistines were old enemies and powerful oppressors (Judges 3:3; Judges 10:7; Judges 13:1; 1 Samuel 7:2). During the administration of Samuel they were held in check (1 Samuel 7:13), although they appear to have had military posts or garrisons in the land (1 Samuel 10:5; 1 Samuel 10:3), and the overthrow of one of these by Jonathan (at Geba, four miles north of Gibeah, and opposite Michmash) gave the signal for renewed conflict. Having evacuated Michmash, where he had stationed himself with an army of 2000, Saul summoned all the men of Israel to gather to him at Gilgal; but the advancing hosts of the enemy filled the country with terror, so that he was left with only 600 followers, and found it necessary, after his interview with Samuel, to join his son Jonathan at Gibeah (Geba) (1 Samuel 13:2, 1 Samuel 13:16; 1 Samuel 14:2). Meanwhile the enemy occupied Michmash, whence three companies of spoilers issued, plundering the plains and valleys. A second and greater exploit of Jonathan, however, drove them out of Michmash, and it was followed by a general engagement, in which large numbers of them were slain, and the rest "went to their own place" (1 Samuel 14:23, 1 Samuel 14:31, 1 Samuel 14:46).
3. The conflict to which Israel was summoned represents that to which Christians are called. It is a conflict with physical and moral evil, with the world, the flesh, and the devil (John 15:19; 2 Corinthians 10:4; Ephesians 6:12; 1 Peter 2:11; 2Pe 5:8; 1 John 2:16), and with men only in so far as they are ruled by sin, and in order to their salvation; a conflict which is good ("the good fight of faith"—1 Timothy 6:12) and necessary, and affords full scope for whatever warlike instincts and energies are possessed. What does the sound of the trumpet signify? (1 Corinthians 14:8).
I. A BLOW HAS BEEN STRUCK AGAINST THE FOE. The greatest blow that was ever inflicted upon the "power of darkness" was struck by "the Captain of our salvation" in his life and death and glorious resurrection (John 12:31; John 16:33; 1 John 3:8); and in the spirit and power of his victory his followers carry on the conflict (Matthew 10:34). At times there seems to be something like a truce, but it never lasts long; and when a fresh blow is struck by "a good soldier of Jesus Christ" it—
1. Reveals the essential difference between the spirit that is in "the Israel of God" and "the spirit that is in the world."
2. Intensifies their antagonism (1 Samuel 13:4).
3. Commits them to more definite and decisive action. And to this end the fact should be proclaimed. "When Saul the king of the Hebrews was informed of this (1 Samuel 13:3), he went down to the city of Gilgal, and made proclamation of it over all the country, summoning them to freedom" (Josephus).
II. THE ENEMY IS MUSTERING HIS FORCES (1 Samuel 13:5), which are—
1. Exceedingly numerous, "as the sand which is on the sea shore."
2. Skilful, crafty, and deceitful (2 Corinthians 11:14).
3. Very powerful. There is at the present day an extraordinary combination of anti-christian agencies (2 Timothy 3:1-9; Revelation 13:11-18), threatening Christian faith and practice, which might well fill us with fear, did we not believe that "they that be with us are more than they that be with them" (2 Kings 6:16). "The spirits of the unseen world seem to be approaching us. Times of trouble there have been before; but such a time, in which everything, everywhere, tends in one direction to one mighty struggle of one sort—of faith with infidelity, lawlessness with rule, Christ with antichrist—there seems never to have been till now" (Pusey).
III. THE FAITHFUL MUST RALLY AROUND THEIR LEADER. The gathering forces of the enemy should constrain us to closer union, and the proper centre of union is he of whom the greatest kings and heroes were feeble types and shadows.
1. He has been Divinely appointed, and claims our obedience and cooperation.
2. He is fully qualified as "a Leader and Commander of the people."
3. He is the only hope of safety and success. "God is with him" (1 Samuel 10:7).
"With force of arms we nothing can,
Full soon were we down ridden,
But for us fights the proper man,
Whom God himself hath bidden.
Ask ye, Who is this same?
Christ Jesus is his name;
The Lord Sabaoth's Son;
He, and no other one,
Shall conquer in the battle"
IV. THE SUCCESS ALREADY ACHIEVED GIVES ASSURANCE OF VICTORY (1 Samuel 11:11; 1 Samuel 11:3).
1. What triumphs has he gained in former days I
2. They are an earnest of "still greater things than these."
3. And they should inspire us with the confidence and courage which are needful to participation in his victory and glory (Revelation 17:14; Revelation 19:11). "This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith."—D.
1 Samuel 13:8-15. (GILGAL.)
The first wrong step.
All men are subjected in life to various tests which prove "what spirit they are of." These tests may appear insignificant in themselves (like that which was applied to Adam and Eve—Genesis 2:17), but they involve important principles, and the manner in which they are endured is followed by serious consequences. The position of Saul necessitated a trial of his fidelity to the fundamental principle of the theocratic kingdom, viz; unconditional obedience on the part of the king to the will of God as declared by his prophets. He was directed
(1) to wait for Samuel seven days, and
(2) to attempt nothing till he came (1 Samuel 10:8). He omitted the former and did the latter, and thus took his first wrong step—a step never retraced, and leading to a course which ended on the fatal field of Gilboa. Observe—
I. ITS APPARENT EXPEDIENCY. His conscience told him that it was not right, as he virtually acknowledged in the defence he offered for his conduct (1 Samuel 13:11, 1 Samuel 13:12). Yet he persuaded himself (as others are accustomed to do) that it was venial, expedient, and even necessary, because of—
1. The pressure of worldly circumstances. "Because I saw that the people were scattered from me," etc. Resources diminish, and danger is imminent. When they are considered in themselves alone, anxiety and fear increase, and temptation becomes strong to make use of any means of relief that may be presented. How often are men tempted by the plea of necessity to disobey the voice of conscience! The tempter says, "It is better to steal than starve, better to sin than perish."
2. The disappointment of religious expectations. "And that thou camest not at the appointed time." "Help has been long waited for, but it comes not; nor is it likely, now that the seventh day is drawing to a close, that it will come at all. The promise has not been fulfilled. The time for action has arrived, and the long delay indicates that the most expedient course must be taken. Nothing else remains. If there be any blame, it cannot be attributed to one who has waited so long, has been left in such extremity, and acts for the best."
3. The efficacy of ceremonial observances. "And I forced myself, and offered a burnt offering." Inasmuch as such an offering was required on entering upon his enterprise against the Philistines, he could not hope to succeed without it, and he had at all times great regard for the external ceremonies enjoined by the law (1 Samuel 14:33, 1 Samuel 14:35). A doubtful or wrong act is often supposed to be blameless when performed in connection with sacred rites, or with a righteous end in view (John 16:2); and disobedience is sometimes clothed in a religious guise, its real nature being thereby obscured to the view of conscience, and its commission rendered easy.
4. The prospect of immediate advantages. Apparent and immediate good is the first and last and most powerful incentive to departure from the path of duty. "The tree was good for food, and pleasant to the eyes," etc. (Genesis 3:6). "And the history of Adam is as ancient as the world, but is fresh in practice, and is still revived in the sons of Adam."
II. ITS REAL CULPABILITY. "What hast thou done?" said Samuel, speaking' as with the voice of God, and seeking to arouse his conscience and lead him to repentance. He had been guilty of—
1. Disobedience to a plain commandment. "Thou hast not kept the commandment of the Lord thy God" (1 Samuel 13:13). The fact could not be denied. He had not waited all the appointed time, and he had acted without Divine direction. He had rejected the supreme authority of the Divine King, and no excuse that might be made could do away with his guilt. "Sin is not estimated by God according to its outward form, but according to the amount and extent of the principle of evil embodied in that form."
2. Distrust of promised help. Men sometimes wait long for the fulfilment of Divine promises, but not long enough; and their lack of perseverance shows weakness or absence of faith. The force of adverse circumstances is exaggerated by being exclusively dwelt upon; doubt of the power of God prevails through disregard of preservation from harm hitherto afforded; and as faith unites the soul to God, so unbelief severs it from him, leaves it a prey to disquiet and impatience, and leads it to adopt worldly and godless expedients. Unbelief was the root of the transgression of Saul, as it is of the transgression of men generally.
3. Formality in religious service. A burnt offering was a symbol and expression of consecration, and when offered aright, in a spirit of obedience, it honoured God and obtained his blessing; but when wrongly offered it was worthless, dishonoured him, and was abomination in his sight (1 Samuel 15:22; Proverbs 21:27; Isaiah 1:13). It is the same with other outward forms of service. "Saul is a specimen of that class of persons who show a certain reverence and zeal for the outward forms of religion, and even a superstitious reliance on them, but are not careful to cherish the inner spirit of vital religion" (Wordsworth's 'Com.').
4. Self-will, pride, and presumption. In disobeying the will of God he set up his own will as supreme, and was guilty of pride, "by which sin fell the angels." It is not said that he offered sacrifice with his own hand, and he may have simply directed it to be done by the priest who was with him (1 Samuel 14:18); nor is it certain that if he had done so he would have gone beyond the privilege and prerogative possessed by other kings. His sin did not consist of intrusion into the priestly office. It was nevertheless very great. "He had cast away his obedience to God. The crown he thought was his own. From that moment he fell; for all our good qualities retain their ascendancy over our evil passions by the presence and power of God claiming them as his." "Samuel, according to modern expositors of the story, was angry because he felt that he was losing his own influence over the mind of the king. No; he was angry because the king was so much the slave of his influence, or of any influence that was exerted over him for a moment; because he was losing the sense of responsibility to One higher than a prophet, to One who had appointed him to rule not in his own name, but as the minister and executor of the Divine righteousness" (Maurice).
III. ITS EXCEEDING FOLLY. "Thou hast done foolishly" (1 Samuel 13:13). The folly of the sinner appears in his—
1. Being deceived by the appearances of things—the magnitude of danger, the false promises of advantage, the specious arguments of expediency. He is like the foolish man who built his house upon the sand, instead of "digging deep and laying the foundation on a rock" (Luke 6:48). He is infatuated, fascinated, and under a glamour cast over his mind by his own evil desires and the spell of the tempter.
2. Making light of the enormous evil of sin. It is the only real evil. But he is thoughtless, ignorant, and foolish enough to account it a trivial thing, which may be easily excused and passed by. As he who says in his heart "No God" is called a "fool," so he who deems it a little matter to offend him is appropriately designated by the same name. "Fools make a mock at sin" (Proverbs 14:9); and he who makes light of sin makes light of God.
3. Leaving the only path of safety and honour. "For now" (if thou hadst obeyed his commandment) "the Lord would have established thy sovereignty over Israel forever."
4. Entering on a course of certain loss and misery.
(1) Inward—weakened moral power, increased tendency to sin, unsteadiness, rashness, etc. What a man does once he is almost certain under similar circumstances to do again. Saul's subsequent course was a continuation and complete development of the same kind of transgression as he now committed. He was already so blinded by sin as not to repent.
(2) Outward. "But now thy sovereignty shall not continue," etc. (1 Samuel 13:14). The sentence "embodied the principle that no monarchy could be enduring in Israel which did not own the supreme authority of God," and it declared that Saul's crown would not be transmitted to his descendants; but not until afterwards was he personally rejected from being king (1 Samuel 15:23). Having failed to endure the trial to which he was subjected, he was left by Samuel (1 Samuel 13:15), and nothing is further recorded of his intercourse with the prophet for some years. "He had not even accomplished the object of his unseasonable sacrifice, viz; to prevent the dispersion of the people" (Keil). O that he had waited a little longer! "Saul lost his kingdom for want of two or three hours' patience."
1. Beware of the first wrong step. "It is always marked by a peculiarity of evil which does not attach to any subsequent offences". (Miller). Principiis obsta.
2. If you have taken such a step, instantly repent of it. "It is not sinning, that ruins men, but sinning and not repenting, falling and not getting up again."—D.
1 Samuel 13:14. (GILGAL.)
A man after God's own heart.
This expression occurs only here and in the quotation (Acts 13:22), "I have found David the son of Jesse (Psalms 89:20), a man after mine own heart, which shall fulfil all my will."
1. It was uttered by Samuel on the occasion of his reproving Saul for not obeying the commandment of the Lord (1 Samuel 13:13).
2. It formed a part of the announcement of the purpose of God to appoint another man to be "captain over his people" in consequence thereof. The time of its fulfilment was not defined, nor was it known to the prophet who he should be; it is uncertain even whether David was yet born.
3. It was descriptive of his character in contrast to that of Saul, and it had respect to him in his public official capacity as theocratic sovereign rather than in his private moral life, although it is impossible wholly to separate the one from the other. He would obey the commandment of the Lord, and, as it was predicted of "a faithful priest" (1 Samuel 2:35; 1 Samuel 3:10), "do according to that which was in his heart and in his mind;" he would "serve the will of God in his lifetime" (Acts 13:36), and second and carry out his purposes concerning his people (Isaiah 44:28); he would be truly "his servant," and therefore his throne would continue and (in the full realisation of the theocratic idea it represented) be established forever (Psalms 89:19-37). In "a man after God's own heart" (such as David was) there is—
I. THE RECOGNITION OF THE WILL OF GOD as supreme. His will is above that of king and people; declared in manifold ways, it is the rule of human life; and he who perceives it most clearly and observes it most humbly and constantly approaches nearest to perfection. Saul paid but little regard to it, and, when it was opposed to his own inclination or judgment, set it aside and went his own way. With David it was otherwise. In his royal office especially he embodied the spirit of loyalty to the invisible King of Israel, and of zeal for his law and ordinances. "The vain cavils of infidels appear to have arisen from not considering that the phrase to which they object may be interpreted with equal propriety as referring to the Divine purpose, design, or intention as to designate peculiar favour and affection. The latter undoubtedly was true, yet the former is most clearly the meaning intended here" (Poole).
II. THE CONVICTION OF THE CALL OF GOD to his service. Unlike Saul, he felt deeply and constantly that he was individually an object of Divine regard, and appointed to do a certain work from which he neither desired nor dared to shrink. And a similar feeling exists in every true servant of God. "The life of David is the life neither of a mere official fulfilling a purpose in which he has no interest, nor of a hero without fear and without reproach; but of a man inspired by a Divine purpose under the guidance of a Divine teacher" (Maurice).
III. DEVOTION TO THE HONOUR OF GOD from the heart. Although Saul possessed many admirable qualities, he sought to honour God by outward sacrifices rather than real obedience, his noblest deeds were the offspring of sudden and transient impulses, and his predominant motive was his own honour and glory. "He had none of the work of Divine grace upon the heart, turning impulses into principles, ruling all actions by the law of an unseen Judge. He never experienced what the apostle calls the powers of the world to come, that is to say, the sense of God, of another world, smiting upon his soul through the veil of visible things, and making him feel the presence and the real, awful personality of his Maker. His soul was not like David's, a harp touched by the hand of the Almighty, and attuned to celestial melodies. It was only an instrument over which the wind swept wildly, waking a fitful and irregular music which soon died away into the confused murmurs of a harsh and tuneless discord" (A. Blomfield).
IV. DEPENDENCE ON THE HELP OF GOD for success. Saul was proud of his own strength, and both in ruling the people and contending against their enemies he relied on his own skill and prudence, and "an arm of flesh." David trusted in God foreverything. "He never represents himself as a compound of strength and weakness. He represents himself as weakness itself—as incapacity utter and complete. The Lord is his strength. He has faith in God as his physical Inspirer or Protector. He has a deeper, a far deeper instinct than even that—the instinct of a communion, personal, practical, loving, between God, the Fount of light and goodness, and his own soul, with its capacity of darkness as well as light, of evil as well as good. In one word, David is a man of faith and a man of prayer" (Kingsley, 'Four Sermons').
V. REPENTANCE AT THE REPROOF OF GOD on account of sin. The heart of Saul trembled not at the word of the Lord. When the prophet said, "What hast thou done?" he offered excuses for his conduct, and when on a subsequent occasion he was constrained to say, "I have sinned," his confession was insincere and hypocritical. How different was it with David when Nathan said to him, "Thou art the man." "Never was repentance more severe, or sorrow more sincere; so that he may justly be said (his repentance included, though not his fall) to be a man after God's own heart" (Yonge).
VI. SYMPATHY WITH THE PEOPLE OF GOD in their experience. He identified himself with them, made their varied joys and sorrows his own, and thereby (as well as by other means) promoted their highest good. His character "gathered into itself—so far as might be—all the various workings of the heart of man. This is the special attribute of the life and character of the son of Jesse. There is a hard, narrow separateness of soul marked in every line of the character of Saul. He is a wayward, wilful, self-determined man, well nigh incapable of any real sympathy with others. Such an one could learn little of the workings of the human heart, which is so immeasurable in the multitude and compassion of its tones. Deep as were his sorrows, he never knew the grace of contrition. Thus his dark heart is full of sullenness and suspicion, inviting the entrance of the evil one, who came at his bidding, and closed with yet sterner bars all the avenues of his soul. In every one of these particulars David is the most complete contrast to Saul" (Wilberforce, 'Heroes of Heb. Hist.').
VII. SINCERITY IN HIS WHOLE RELATION TO GOD and in the main course of his life. "What are faults—what are the outward details of life, if the inner spirit of it, the remorse, temptations, true, often baffled, never ended struggle of it be forgotten?… David's life and history, as written for us in those Psalms of his, I consider to be the truest emblem ever given of a man's moral progress and warfare here below. All earnest souls will ever discern in it the faithful struggle of an earnest human soul towards what is good and best; struggle often baffled, down as into entire wreck, yet a struggle never ended; ever with tears, repentance, true, unconquerable purpose begun anew" (Carlyle, 'Heroes').—D.
1 Samuel 13:16-23. (MICHMASH.)
Under the heel of the oppressor.
"Now there was no smith found throughout all the land of Israel" (1 Samuel 13:19). The invasion of the Philistines produced great fear and distress among the people. Many hid themselves in caves, and thickets, and cliffs, and vaults, and pits; others fled across the Jordan; those who followed Saul did so with trembling (1 Samuel 13:6, 1 Samuel 13:7); his army melted away—some deserted to the enemy, or were pressed into their service (1 Samuel 14:21); their homes and fields were plundered by marauding bands (1 Samuel 13:17; 1 Samuel 14:22), which went forth from Michmash without fear of resistance, for the people had been disarmed and deprived of the means of making weapons of war, and even of sharpening their implements of husbandry (2 Kings 24:14) when they became blunt (literally, "there was bluntness of edges;" A.V; "they had a file"), except at the pleasure of their oppressors (1 Samuel 13:21). The result of the burdensome necessity of going to the Philistines was, that many tools became useless by dulness, so that even this poorer sort of arms did the Israelites not much service at the breaking out of the war" (Bunsen). How long this state of things continued is not recorded; but it was sufficiently long for those who remained with Saul and Jonathan (1 Samuel 13:22) to be left without "sword or spear," or any regular armament. Their condition was thus one of helplessness, dependence, and wretchedness, and affords a picture of that to which men are reduced by error and sin. In it we see—
I. THE MANIFEST FAILURE of a self chosen way. "Nay; but we will have a king over us" (1 Samuel 8:19). They have a king self-willed like themselves; but their way fails, as the way of those who prefer their own plans to the guidance of God must ever fail.
1. In delivering them from the evils of which they complain (1 Samuel 8:5), or which they fear (1 Samuel 9:16).
2. In preserving to them the advantages which they possess. "Ye dwelled safe" (1 Samuel 12:11). Where is their safety now?
3. In procuring for them the good which they desire—liberty, power, victory, prosperity, honour, and glory (John 11:47, John 11:48; Romans 10:2, Romans 10:3). How completely do the prospects that lure men onward in their self-chosen way vanish before them as they advance!
II. THE MISERABLE SUBJECTION of those who forsake God. "They have rejected me" (1 Samuel 8:7). With what result? They are "delivered unto the will of them that hate them" (Ezekiel 16:27; Deuteronomy 28:48), and endure—
1. Oppression that cannot be effectually resisted. "Of whom a man is overcome, of the same is he brought in bondage" (2 Peter 2:19), and without the means of freeing himself.
2. Increased difficulty, toil, and trouble in the necessary pursuits of life. Life itself without the friendship of God is a burden too heavy to be borne.
3. Shame and contempt continually (1 Samuel 13:4). "Is this the grandeur and power which they fondly expected under their king? Was it for this they rejected the Shield of their help and the Sword of their excellency?"
III. THE MERCIFUL PURPOSE to which trial is subservient. "The Lord will not forsake his people" (1 Samuel 12:22). Their distress has some alleviation, and it is designed (in his abounding goodness)—
1. To convince them of the evil of their way.
2. To teach them to put their trust in God, and serve him in truth (1 Samuel 14:6).
3. To prepare them for help and Salvation.
1. The highest wisdom of man is to submit to the wisdom of God.
2. The service of God is the only true freedom; the way of honour and happiness. "To serve God is to reign."
3. They who refuse the free service of God fall into the forced service of their enemies.
4. In the greatest of earthly calamities there is no room for despair. "If from thence thou shalt seek the Lord thy God, thou shalt find him" (Deuteronomy 4:29).—D.
HOMILIES BY D. FRASER
1 Samuel 13:13
Tried and found wanting.
I. THE STORY. Saul's bright morning was a very short one, and his sky soon gathered blackness. Beginning with popular acclamation, succeeded after the exploit in Gilead by popular enthusiasm, he lost in a very short time the respect of his subjects. Beginning with a Divine sanction signified through the prophet Samuel, and with appearances of religious fervour, he quickly forfeited the favour of the Lord and the good opinion of the prophet. The ship of his fortunes had hardly left the harbour, with sails set and flags flying, before it ran aground on a rock of wilfulness, and though it kept afloat for years, it ever afterwards laboured uneasily in a troubled sea. The critical question for Saul was whether or not he would be content to act simply as executant of the Divine will. Samuel had pressed this upon him again and again. Would he wait on God, and act for him; or would he act for and from himself? Would he lead the people still to look up to Jehovah as their real King and Lawgiver; or would he imitate the heathen kings, who themselves took the initiative, and then called on their gods to be propitious to them, giving them success in their expeditions and victory in their combats? Would Saul do his own will, expecting the Lord to follow and favour him; or would he set the Lord always before him, follow and obey his voice? It is a great mistake to think that Saul was hardly dealt with on a point of small importance. The principle at stake was great, was fundamental. The test was definite, and was applied in the most public manner before all the army of Israel. The courage which had been roused against the Ammonite invaders of Gilead was now turned against the still more formidable Philistines. The gallant Jonathan struck the first blow, and then his royal father, knowing that the Philistine army could and would be very soon mobilised (as the modem phrase is) and hurled against Israel, summoned his people to arms. But, alas, the greater part of them were afraid to come, and in the threatened districts hid themselves. So the king found himself at Gilgal in a terrible plight, at the head of a small and dispirited force. He must have known that, unless Jehovah came to their help, all was lost. Let it not be said that it was unreasonable to judge and punish a man for anything done by him in such an emergency. Saul had received long notice of this week of patience. On the morning when Samuel anointed him three signs were given him, all of which had been exactly fulfilled. Then he had been told that he would have to tarry seven days at Gilgal for the coming of Samuel to offer sacrifice. But he had forgotten this. The word of the prophet had made no lasting impression on his mind. There was nothing profound about the man. He had no controlling reverence for God, no abiding faith. So he acted from himself, only calling on God to help him in what he was going to do, instead of waiting to know what the Lord would have him to do, and acting as his servant. He bore the strain of anxiety for days, but not till the end of the time appointed. The troops were faint hearted, and but loosely attached to the standard of their king. They wondered why the sacrifice was delayed. They feared that God would be displeased, and not fight for them. Then Saul, impulsive and unwise, ordered that the sacrifice should proceed. Rather than wait a few hours more, he violated the direction he had received from the prophet of the Lord, and betrayed once for all an unreliable character and presumptuous heart.
II. THE LESSONS.
1. God rules men on large principles, but proves them by specific tests. His law is great and equitable; the trial of obedience to it is sometimes quite minute. In the garden within the land of Eden man and woman were put under a rule of universal obedience to the voice of the Lord, and they were tested by this specific requirement, to abstain from the fruit of one of the trees in the garden. Lot, his wife, and daughters were rescued by angels from a doomed city, and enjoined to flee to the mountains; "but his wife looked back from behind him, and she became a pillar of salt." Hezekiah, devoutly referring everything to God, had great deliverances, and a prosperous reign; but failing to consult the Lord when a flattering embassy came to him from Babylon, he revealed vain glory lurking in his heart, and broke down the wall of defence which his previous piety had reared round his throne. Saul was tested more than once, but this one trial at Gilgal was enough to prove his unfitness to rule over God's heritage. The fact is, that one act may show character as clearly and decisively as a score or a hundred could do; not, indeed, an incidental act of inadvertence or error, but a thing done after explicit instruction and warning, lie who breaks through the line of obedience at one point, out of self-will, is not to be depended on at any point. He disentitles himself to confidence by one instance of misconduct, not because of its intrinsic importance, but on account of the key which it gives to his inward tone of character.
2. One action, hastily performed, may carry irremediable consequences. Adam ate of the forbidden fruit, and he could never reverse that fatal act. Cain struck down his brother, and was from that day a wanderer and an outlaw on the earth. Esau sold his birthright, and never could recover it. Moses erred once at the rock in Kadesh, and forfeited his entrance into the promised land. The sins of those who are penitent are forgiven; but there are consequences of sinful habits, nay, even of one sinful act, which have no cure or corrective. It is well that this should be kept sternly before the eyes of men; for the moral nature of many is slippery and self-excusing, and they are too ready to count on impunity, or on finding some easy corrective for what they do amiss. The truth is, that one action may spoil a whole life, and, indeed, may hurt not oneself only, but many others also; just as Saul's impatience at Gilgal injured not himself alone, but the nation of Israel during all his unhappy reign.
3. He whom God will exalt must first learn patience. For want of this was Saul rejected from being king. By means of this was David educated for the throne. The son of Jesse was privately anointed by Samuel, as the son of Kish had been. Thereafter he came into public notice by his promptitude and bravery against Goliath, just as Saul had come into public favour by similar qualities against Nahash. So far their paths may be said to have corresponded; but then they quite diverged. Saul, impatient, behaved foolishly, and fell. David, when tried, "behaved himself wisely," made no haste to grasp the sceptre, waited patiently till God should lift hint up. So when the time at last came for his elevation, he knew how to reign as God's king on the hill of Zion. How beautiful is this in the Son of David, the meek and lowly One, who, because he patiently observed the will of God, has now a name above every name! Jesus pleased not himself. He always spoke and acted as in behalf and by direction of his Father in heaven. Therefore has God highly exalted him.
4. It is a dangerous thing to ask for, or accept, a vicegerent of God on earth. It betrays unbelief rather than faith, and it entails tyranny and confusion. What a calamity it has been to the Latin Church to have an alleged vicar of Christ on earth! The arrangement quite falls in with the craving for a spiritual ruler who may be seen, and the uneasiness of really unspiritual men under the control of One who is invisible. So there is a Popedom, which began indeed with good intentions and impulses, as did the monarchy of Saul, but has long ago fallen under God's displeasure through arrogance, and brought nothing but confusion and oppression on Christendom. We are a hundred times better without any such vicegerent. Enough in the spiritual sphere that the Lord is King. Our Divine Saviour, now unseen, but in due time to appear in his glory, is the only as well as the blessed Potentate, Head of the Church, Captain of the host, Lord of all.—F.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 13". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 8 / Ordinary 13