free while helping to build churches and support pastors in Uganda.
Click here to learn more!
2 Samuel 1:1
Now it came to pass. During the last few days events had been crowding fast upon one another. Living as fugitives at Ziklag, in the land of the Philistines, David and his men, unfit for the peaceful occupations of agriculture, had been driven to seek their maintenance by raids upon the wild tribes in the desert. Of these the chief were the Amalekites, whose home was the bare region lying between the south of Judah and Egypt. We have ample proof that this race was utterly hostile to all order and quietness; it lived by the plunder of others, and, sheltering itself in the recesses of the wilderness, broke out thence on every opportunity to carry, ravage and ruin into all the neighbouring districts. The Amalekite was thus every man's enemy, and the object of universal dislike; and the cruelty which he habitually practised would justify to David's mind the barbarity with which he put to death all whom he found, man and woman alike. But his object was not justice. His cruelty was the result of selfish motives. For it was necessary for him to keep tidings of his real doings from the ears of Achish, who naturally would not approve of David's military activity. He very probably had put him there upon the borders to protect his realm from incursions; but David in the Amalekite war was the assailant, and was, moreover, practising his men for ulterior objects. Achish most probably received a share of the captured cattle; but his inquiries were met with an equivocation (1 Samuel 27:10-12), which made him suppose that David, with the usual bitterness of a renegade, had been harrying his own tribesmen. And the falsehood soon entangled David in most painful consequences; for Achish, nothing doubting of his fidelity, and of his bitter hatred of Saul. determined to take him with him in the grand army of the Philistines, which was slowly moving northward for the conquest of the land of Israel. David had God's promise of ultimate safety, and he ought not to have deserted his country. As a deserter to the Philistines, he had to descend to falsehood, and now treason seemed inevitable. His only choice lay between betraying his country or the king who had given him so hospitable a refuge. The jealousy, or rather the good sense, of the Philistine lords (1 Samuel 29:4) saved him from this dreadful alternative, and he was sent back, to his great joy, to Ziklag. But it was a dreadful sight which there met his view. With strange mismanagement, he had left no portion of his men to guard his little city, and the Amalekites had made reprisals. The news of the Philistine army upon its march upwards would be quickly carried through the desert, and the wild tribes would be sure to take the opportunity for gathering plunder far and wide. So undefended: was the whole country, that they met nowhere with resistance. And David saw, on his return, only the smoking ruins of the little city where for many months he had dwelt. His wives, Ahinoam and Abigail, the wives and children of his men, had all been carried away for the Egyptian slave market. So secure were the Amalekites, that they had no fear about encumbering their march with a vast multitude of children and cattle. And to add to his distress, his men, indignant, and not without reason, at David's want of precaution, were threatening to stone him as an alleviation for their distress. Never had David's fortunes fallen so low as at that moment; but quickly they were to rise again. By energetic action he not only recovered the spoil and the captives taken from Ziklag, but also won the immense wealth gathered by the Amalekites in a wide raid made at a time when there was no one to resist them. His own share of the spoil was so large that he was able to send valuable presents of sheep, oxen, and camels to his friends in Judaea, probably not without some prescience that the way to his return might be opened by the events of the war between the Philistines and Saul. The dangerous issues of that war could not be hidden from him; but he would find solace for his anxieties in the active work of restoring order at Ziklag, and in providing hasty shelter for the women and children whom he had brought back to their desolated homes. But his suspense did not last long. For when David had abode two days in Ziklag, news came which confirmed his worst fears. The battle had Been fought; Israel had been routed; and Saul and Jonathan, the friend who had been to him more than a brother, lay among the slain.
2 Samuel 1:2
On the third day. This means the third day after David's return with the spoil and captives recovered from the Amalekites. If we study the data, we find that David had marched with Achish as far as Aphek in the plain of Jezreel (1 Samuel 29:1), opposite to which, on the rising ground near Gilboa, Saul had posted his army. A march of three days had brought him back to Ziklag (1 Samuel 30:1), and after the shortest possible delay he had started in pursuit of the Amalekites. The rapidity of his movements is proved by so large a proportion of his hardy men falling out of the ranks at the brook Besor; but nevertheless some time must have been lost at Ziklag in discovering the greatness of their disaster, in searching for any who might possibly have escaped, in getting food, and in mustering again together for the pursuit. Near the brook they seem to have found the Egyptian slave who became their guide, and who had been abandoned three days before David found him. It follows, therefore, that the Amalekites were then three days' march in advance, and however rapidly the pursuit was urged on, we cannot allow less than five days for it, and one for the battle (2Sa 1:12, 2 Samuel 1:13, 2 Samuel 1:17). The march homeward would take a longer time, as David was now encumbered with flocks and herds, women and children. If it took eight days, the time occupied in it by the Amalekites, the whole period that had elapsed since David was sent away from Aphek by the Philistine lords would be eighteen or nineteen days; and it is thus evident that the Amalekites were plundering Ziklag at the very time when he was being dismissed, half angry, half rejoicing, at the slight put upon him, but little thinking of the sad need there was for his presence elsewhere. Now, the messenger from Gilboa, if an active runner, weald easily traverse in two days the distance which David and his men had travelled in three. And thus it follows that the battle at Gilboa was fought on the very day of David's happy return from the pursuit, and about nineteen days after the review at Aphek. If the word "tomorrow" in 1 Samuel 28:19 seems to imply a more rapid march of events, we must remember that the meaning of the word in Hebrew is more indefinite than with us (comp. Genesis 30:33; Exodus 13:14). With his clothes rent, and earth upon his head. Though the Amalekite came out of the camp, yet we are not to suppose that he had been one of the combatants. Every army is followed by a vast number of vagabonds, intent upon gain, purchasing of the troops their booty, plundering wherever they have the chance, and carrying on a lucrative but illicit trade. He was more probably a sort of gipsy sutler than, as many suppose, the slave of some Israelite. He professes, however, to be upon Israel's side, and appears with the usual marks of sorrow. By so doing he hoped to commend himself to David, whom he knew to be too patriotic to rejoice at the defeat of his countrymen, though he doubted not that he would hear with joy of the death of so inveterate a personal enemy as Saul. On this account, and because the way would now stand open to David's ambition, he evidently felt sure of receiving a large guerdon for his news. There is, moreover, a further interest in his conduct; for it demonstrates the existence of a widespread popular feeling that David was destined to be Israel's king. It was this conviction which made him give David kingly honour; for he fell to the earth, and did obeisance. And all Israel, on the morrow after the defeat, would probably have done the same, but for David's own conduct. Israel was too high-spirited a nation to take at once for a king a man who had marched with their enemies to fight against them, even though they knew that the voice of prophecy had appointed him to inherit Saul's throne.
2 Samuel 1:3
Out of the camp of Israel am I escaped. Non-combatants would hang about the army, watching, as soon as the battle had begun, the fortunes of the day, and immediately that they saw the impending defeat of their own side, would think chiefly of their personal safety. But for an active young man the opportunity would then have come for booty. The Philistines, in pursuit of the enemy, would soon leave the battlefield in their rear, and multitudes would quickly prowl about it to plunder the dead. While so busied, the Amalekite falsely represents himself as having come by chance upon the wounded, but still living, Saul.
2 Samuel 1:6
As I happened by chance upon Mount Gilboa. The story of the Amalekite is at variance with the account of Saul's death given in the last chapter of the preceding book. There, sore pressed and wounded by archers, hopeless of escape, and unable to make any further resistance, in sore distress at the death of his sons and the loss of the battle, Saul and his armour bearer fall upon their own swords. Here, closely pursued by chariots and horsemen, the king is so utterly deserted by all his body guard that he cells to a vagabond prowling about for booty to slay him. Naturally, Ewald and his followers, who regard the books of the Bible as mere patchwork, find here the marks of different narrators, whose stories the compiler of the Book of Samuel pieced together without having the shrewdness to observe that they were utterly irreconcilable. Some modern commentators have, however, attempted to harmonize them with little success. Really, the story of the Amalekite is a most improbable fiction, and utterly untrue. He knew nothing as to the manner of Saul's death, but found the body, probably some time after the king had fallen; and he was able to strip it because the pursuing Philistines were hurrying forward to make their victory complete, without being aware of what was the crowning glory of their success. As the pursuit advanced it would soon become safe for the Amalekite and others like him to try and secure some of the booty before the Philistines returned. Archers shooting from a distance might easily so distress Saul as to make him despair of escape—and it appears from the first narrative that they had not recognized him; for Saul is afraid lest they should do so, and, having taken him alive, should "abuse," or make a mock of him. Here chariots and horsemen are in close pursuit, and the king faces them grimly; nevertheless, they allow a stranger, who would not have dared to mix himself up with the battle, to rob them of their prize. We may feel sure that it was not until the tide of battle had moved onward in pursuit that the Amalekite ventured upon the field to rob the dead. When so occupied he came upon a corpse, now for some brief space dead, and at once recognized the tall form of the king, whose identity was made more plain by the golden circlet upon his helmet. At Once he saw the chance of larger gains, and hastily tearing off the royal crown and the bracelet from the fallen monarch, without a thought of rescuing the remains from the indignities which the Philistines were sure to inflict upon them, he hurried away with his tidings. Of course, he knew nothing of David's recent conduct, nor that for some time he had accompanied the invading army, nor that Ziklag had just experienced rough treatment from his own countrymen. Still, if he had told the truth, he would have fared well; for he brought news of great importance. But truth was not a virtue much practised in those days, and, fancying that the treatment he had met with from Saul would fill David's heart with bitter rancour against him, the Amalekite invented this story of his having slain the king with his own hands, in the expectation that it would win for him a double reward.
2 Samuel 1:9
Anguish. This word, which occurs only in this place, comes from a root signifying to entwine or knot together. On this account Jewish commentators explain it of cramp, which often follows upon loss of blood; but it is equally possible that it means vertigo, or giddiness, when things seem to dance or interweave themselves together before the eyes. The next words signify, For yet is my life whole within me, and give the reason why Saul asked the Amalekite to slay him. The story is at least plausible. It represents the king as deserted by his army, even to the last man, and with the Philistine cavalry and chariots in close pursuit. He is not mortally wounded, but, as giddiness prevents his escape, there is danger of his falling alive into the enemy's hand; and as they would probably not have killed him, but carried him in triumph through their cities, the way would still have been blocked against David's succession. The fear of this indignity would account for Saul's earnest appeal to the Amalekite to slay him, and, so requested, it seemed right to put him to death, instead of trying to carry him off to a place of safety. But all this was merely to keep up appearances, and in his heart he doubted not that David would regard it as a signal service that his enemy was put out of the way.
2 Samuel 1:10
After that he was fallen; Hebrew, after his fall; that is, his defeat; for Saul was standing and supporting himself with his spear. The crown, probably, was a narrow band of gold encircling the royal helmet. Bracelet. We read of "bracelets" in Numbers 31:50, in the enumeration of the spoil taken from the Midianites, and there too apparently they were the ornaments of warriors. In the Assyrian monuments chiefs are generally represented with ornaments upon their wrists and arms (see Layard, 'Nineveh,' etc; pl. 18).
2 Samuel 1:12
They mourned, and wept, and fasted. The sight of Saul's royal insignia was clear proof of Israel's disaster; and this sorrow of David and his men shows how true their hearts were to their country, and how unbearable would have been their position had not the prudence of the Philistine lords extricated them from the difficulty in which they had been placed by David's want of faith. But David had other reasons besides patriotism for sorrow. Personally he had lost the truest of friends, and even Saul had a place in his heart for he would contrast with his terrible death the early glories of his reign, when all Israel honoured him as its deliverer from the crushing yoke of foreign bondage, and when David was himself one of the most trusty of his captains. Otto von Gerlach compares David thus weeping over the fall of his implacable enemy with David's Son weeping over Jerusalem, the city whose inhabitants were his bitter foes, and who not only sought his death, but delivered him up to the Romans, to be scourged and spitefully intreated, and slain upon the cross.
2 Samuel 1:15
Go near, and fall upon him. This was no hasty sentence, for they had "fasted until even." And before pronouncing it David asks, "Whence art thou?" that is, he makes more full inquiry into his condition and previous doings. He knew that he was an Amalekite, and most probably had seen clearly enough that his whole story was false; but before deciding upon his fate, he desired fuller information as to the man's previous life. His question elicits from him that he was a subject of Saul. For the word "stranger" means a settler, who had withdrawn from his own country and joined himself to Israel. Moreover, it was the Amalekite's father who had done this, and probably he was one of many, who, finding their old nomad life too dangerous, had sought a home in the southern districts of Judah; but when the war broke out, the old instinct of these Bedaween made them follow the army for pilfer and trade in spoil. But as the son of a settler, the Amalekite owed by birth allegiance to Saul, and, should the occasion arise, was bound to render him loyal aid. Now, according to his own account, he had found Saul in no immediate danger of death, "for his life was still whole within him." Escape was at least possible with the Amalekite's aid, but he is eager to hill him. And David's question, "How wast thou not afraid …to destroy the Lord's anointed?" virtually means, "How wast thou not afraid to kill thy own king?" The Lord, that is, Jehovah, was no name of power to any outside the covenant people, nor in settling in Judea did the Amalekites accept the national religion. But the words would show even to a stranger that Saul was Israel's lawful and consecrated king. Commentators, with strange perverseness, have found in these words an outbreak of selfishness on David's part, and have supposed that he wished to guard his own person against future treason by making a wholesome example. But this is both to misunderstand the examination of the culprit summed up in 2Sa 1:13, 2 Samuel 1:14, and also to put aside all account of the deep and agonizing sorrow which was rending David's heart. What would have been an Englishman's feelings if news had come that we had lost, for instance, the battle of Waterloo, and if the fugitive who brought the information had said that he had killed the wounded commander-in-chief? In David's case, besides deep distress at the disaster which had befallen his country, there was personal grief for the death of Jonathan and of Saul's other sons, who were David's brothers-in-law; and the words really prove his loyalty to Saul himself. He was still Jehovah's anointed, whatever his conduct might have been; and we have found David on previous occasions actuated by the same generous respect for duty when clearly it was contrary to his own interests (see, for instance, 1 Samuel 26:9). David put the wretch justly to death for meanly murdering one whom he might possibly have saved. And the man's very purpose was to suggest to David, in a covert way, that escape really was possible, but that he had made all things sure, and so deserved a large reward. As a matter of fact, he had not killed Saul, but had invented the story because, judging David by his own immoral standard, he had supposed that he would regard the crime as a valuable service.
2 Samuel 1:17
David lamented with this lamentation. The Hebrew word for "lamentation" is kinah, a technical term for an elegy or poem commemorative of the dead. Thus Jeremiah wrote a kinah in memory of King Josiah (2 Chronicles 35:25); and there is little doubt that the "lamentations" there spoken of were a collection of dirges, in which probably this ode written by David held an honoured place. In 2 Samuel 3:33, 2 Samuel 3:34 we have a short kinah in Abner's honour, which possibly formed part of a longer poem, of which those two verses only are quoted as sufficing to prove, not only David's innocence, but also his indignation at Joab's foul deed. In both these places we have remains of David's secular poetry, and find it marked by the same strong emotion and the same sublimity of thought as distinguish his psalms. We observe also the nobleness of David's nature in his total silence concerning himself, and his generous eulogy, not of Jonathan only, but also of Saul. The mean envy and the implacable jealousy of the latter are no more remembered, and he sees in him, not the personal foe, but the brave king who has fallen in his country's cause.
2 Samuel 1:18
Also he bade them teach the children of Judah [the use of] the bow. The old view is that given by the inserted words, and is well put by Ephrem Syrus in his commentary upon the passage. He says that, as Israel's defeat at Gilboa was the presage of a long struggle, and as the Philistines had gained the victory there by their skill in archery, David used his utmost authority with his own tribe to get them to practise this art for their protection in future wars. This explanation would be plausible were it not that we have reason for believing that the Israelites were already skilful in the use both of the sling and the bow, in both of which the Benjamites especially excelled (1 Chronicles 12:2). The modern view is that given in the Revised Version, where the inserted words are "the song of" the bow. "The Bow" is thus the name of the elegy, taken from the allusion to Jonathan's skill in the use of that weapon; and the meaning is that David made his own tribesmen, who were probably ill disposed to Saul and his family, learn this dirge, not so much for its preservation, as to make them give the fallen king due honour. Similarly Exodus 3:1-22. is called "The Bush" in Mark 12:26. The book of Jasher. See on this book Joshua 10:13, where the Syriac Version calls it "The Book of Canticles," and understands by it a collection of national ballads commemorative of the brave deeds of Israelite heroes. Jasher literally means "upright," and the Book of Jasher would be equivalent to "Hero book," the Hebrews always looking to the moral rather than the physical prowess of their great men.
2 Samuel 1:19
The beauty of Israel. The word zebi means both "beauty" and also "the gazelle." Ewald takes it in the second sense, and explains it of Jonathan. "everywhere the first in courage, in activity, and speed; slender also and of well-made figure, and whose personal beauty and swiftness of foot in attack or retreat gained for him among the troops the name of 'the gazelle.' The Syriac Version also translates 'gazelle,'" but Ephrem says that the whole Israelite nation is meant, the flower of whoso manhood lay slaughtered on Mount Gilboa. Which signification we take must really depend upon the meaning we attach to the words, "thy high place;" and these in the Authorized Version have nothing to refer to, and so become unmeaning. The Revised Version follows the Vulgate in taking Israel as a vocative, sad renders, "Thy glory, O Israel, is slain upon thy high places." The sense would thus be that given by Ephrem, Israel's glory being its "mighty" men or heroes, its warriors slain upon Mount Gilboa with their king. But 2 Samuel 1:25 makes it plain that the "high places" are Jonathan's, and not those of the nation; and the more correct rendering is "O beauty [or, 'gazelle'] of Israel, slain upon thy high places! how are the heroes fallen!" Thus Jonathan is certainly meant, and the heroes are the young, prince and his father; and as the hunted antelope is said to return to its lair in the mountains, and there await its death, "gazelle" is probably the right rendering. In a dirge in honour of Saul and Jonathan we may be pretty sure that Jonathan would be referred to in its opening words, and the camp name of his friend would bring back to David's mind many a brave feat wrought together, and many a pleasant hour of companionship in past years.
2 Samuel 1:20
Gath … Askelon. By thus localizing the triumph, and bringing before the mind the thought of multitudes in these well-known places rejoicing with dance and song over the news of their victory, a more affecting picture is produced by the contrast with Israel's distress than could have been effected by mere generalizations. Probably, too, there was present in David's mind the remembrance of scenes which he had witnessed in these towns. In course of time, "Tell it not in Gath" became a proverb (Micah 1:10). The daughters. It is the custom in the East for the women to celebrate the prowess of the nation's warriors (Exodus 15:20; 1 Samuel 18:6; Psalms 68:11 Revised Version). Uncircumcised. For some unknown reason, this word is used as a term of reproach, especially of the Philistines (1 Samuel 14:6; 1 Samuel 17:26).
2 Samuel 1:21
Fields of offerings; Hebrew, fields of terumoth. The terumoth were heave offerings (Le 2 Samuel 7:14, 32), and the Vulgate, regarding these as thank offerings, translates, "Fields of firstfruits." The sense would thus be, "Fields of corn such as was used for heave offerings." Still, this gives us no suitable meaning; for Gilboa was not a place fit for the growth of corn; and Theodoret, in his version, has preserved a different reading, which is probably right, namely, "Ye fields and mountains of death." The shield … is vilely east away. This rendering contains a classical idea derived from the Greeks and Romans, among whom it was a disgrace for a soldier to return without his shield. But this imputes personal cowardice to Saul—a reproach which is entirely undeserved; for he did not east away his shield, but remained steadfast unto death. The right translation is, "For there the shield of heroes, yea, the shield of Saul, was defiled," stained, that is, with blood. We have no proof whatsoever that the Israelites had the same notion as the Greeks, and if they had, David would certainly not have put such a stigma upon the fallen king. [As though he had] not [been] anointed with oil. By rejecting the inserted words, we get the original, with all its simplicity, but with all its difficulty.
"There the shield of the heroes was defiled:
The shield of Saul not anointed with oil."
The interpretation put upon these words in the Authorized Version is taken from the Vulgate, no mean authority, but it is one which cannot be reconciled with the Hebrew, where it is not Saul, but his shield, which is referred to. It was a Jewish custom to anoint the shield with oil before a battle (Isaiah 21:5), in order probably to make the missiles of the enemy glance off from it without injury. And bearing this in mind, David now contrasts the sad issue of the battle with the hopes with which the warrior had in old times gone forth to war. Then his shield glistened brightly; now it was defiled with blood. In the Revised Version the rendering, "vilely cast away," is retained, the Revisers not having perceived that "defiled," which they have placed in the margin, is absolutely required for the text by the contrast with "the shield not anointed with oil."
2 Samuel 1:22
From the blood of the slain. In old time, Saul and Jonathan had been victorious warriors, who had returned from the battlefield stained with the blood of their enemies: from this battle they return no more, and their weapons have lost their old renown.
2 Samuel 1:23
Lovely and pleasant. The words of the Authorized Version contain a beautiful antithesis, which, however, does not exist in the Hebrew, which celebrates the close union of father and son in life as well as in death.
"Saul and Jonathan, the lovely and pleasant,
Neither in their lives nor in their death were they divided."
Notwithstanding Saul's rash vow, Jonathan had ever been his father's faithful friend and companion, nor had his affection for David made him untrue to the ties of natural affection. And David generously commends his friend for thus acting.
2 Samuel 1:24
Ye daughters of Israel. In old time, the women of Israel had celebrated Saul's triumphs (2 Samuel 1:20), but now it is their sad office to bewail his death. And a touching reason is given for their sorrow. During Saul's reign the condition of the women had greatly improved. When a nation is in the miserable plight described in 1 Samuel 13:19-22, there is neither safety nor comfort for the weak; but when the strong arm of Saul had won freedom for Israel, the women were the first to reap the benefit, and "their scarlet clothing with delights," that is, their delightful or delicate clothing of bright colours and their golden ornaments, prove that the nation had made a great advance in prosperity and culture during the happier years of Saul's reign.
2 Samuel 1:26
Thy love to me was wonderful. Never was there a purer friendship than that of Jonathan for David. It began just after the combat with Goliath, when the young prince, instead of seeing in David a rival, who had equalled his own feat of valour, took him to his heart, put upon him his own robe and armour, and thus presented him to the army as his friend and brother. Nor did his father's hatred of David, nor the knowledge that David was to inherit the kingdom, interfere with his love. He remained a dutiful son to his father, and accepted his inferior position with magnanimity, without once seeing in David cause for blame; and it surpassed the love of women, because, to requite their devotion, they look for protection and homage, the more delightful because it is paid by the strong to the weak. But here the lives of the two friends could not combine in one happy fusion of mutual union. Their hearts were bound together, but a hard fate, of which they were fully aware, made the ruin of the one the certain result of the happiness of the other. Nevertheless, Jonathan, with everything to lose, and David with everything to gain, remained true and loyal friends.
2 Samuel 1:27
How are the mighty fallen! This lament, which occurs three times, is the central thought of the elegy. Glorious and noble in their pest lives, the heroes had now fallen, not as Wolfe fell at Quebec, with the shout of victory in his ears, but in the lost battle. And David seeks relief for his distress in dwelling upon the sad contrast between the splendid victories which Saul had won for Israel when first chosen to be king, and the terrible defeat by which life and kingdom had now been lost.
2 Samuel 1:1-10
The facts of this section may be stated thus:
1. David having retired to Ziklag during the conflict between Israel and the Philistines, a messenger from the seat of war comes to pay him homage.
2. David, being as yet in ignorance of the event on Gilboa, and being impressed by the signs of mourning on the stranger, is prompted to ask whence he came.
3. Eager to ascertain further information, he learns from the Amalekite, not only that Saul and Jonathan were dead, but that, according to the stranger's story, the former had been killed by the hand of the narrator.
4. In evidence of the truth of his story, the man produces Saul's crown and bracelet.
Waiting on Providence.
David's retirement at Ziklag is to be regarded in connection with his well-established conviction that he was the chosen servant destined to occupy a foremost place in establishing the kingdom of God, and his persistent resolve not to take a single step of his own devising that would seem to force on the removal of Saul from the throne, in order to secure thereby his own elevation. Events had forced him into a quasi-public position as the rival of Saul, much as he disclaimed all rivalry; and now, in a foreign land, with a following not of his own seeking, and sensible that a crisis was at hand, he felt that he could do nothing but maintain a resolute inactivity, leaving the issue of impending events to Providence. A belief in Providence is very common; in word men express their dependence on it, and there are seasons in human life when, perhaps, all we can do is to wait on Providence. There is, however, a false, even wicked, waiting, which is but another name for idleness or fatalism, or vague looking for some lucky chance. Considering the case of David, we can trace some of the features of a true waiting on Providence. There is—
I. DEEP CONVICTION OF BEING DEVOTED TO A HOLY CAUSE. Life is devoted to a Divine, not a merely human, purpose. This was pre-eminently characteristic of David at this time. He was conscious of being personally identified with the working out of God's holy purpose towards mankind. He had passed out of the realm of self-seeking into the kingdom of God, and in public and private lived for God. Here lies the beginning of our right and privilege to wait on Providence. As our Lord's life was a nobler instance of consecration to a holy cause than was David's, so now ours may be an instance less conspicuous than his, though in our measure as real. It is possible for us to be one with Christ and his kingdom—absorbed, amidst even private and domestic life, with the purpose dear to his heart. Our life gains power and glory only in proportion as we are enabled to cherish a well-founded conviction that we are not living for merely temporal and material considerations, but for God, and in that sense are his chosen servants for specific purposes, as truly as was David when, in retirement at Ziklag, he knew he was the chosen King of Israel.
II. FREEDOM FROM SELFISH AND MALEVOLENT DESIRES. David desired not elevation for the sake of personal gratification; nor did he desire disaster for Saul that a great obstacle to his own advance might be put aside. Men consecrated to God are open to the subtle temptation of desiring events to move on so as to promote their own personal ease at the cost of much that is sacred. Under plea of greater usefulness, we may long for Providence to open a pathway for us, when, if motives are severely scrutinized, there is discovered a secret longing for personal gratification. The interlacings of human life are such that the displacement of one may be a prerequisite to the freer action and wider usefulness of another; and one whose course is hampered by obstacles may almost unconsciously cherish the wish that some event may happen which, by the trouble and loss it brings to another, will promote his own interests. No one truly waits on Providence who cherishes this spirit. The man of business who, amidst difficulties, looks out eagerly for the downfall of others as a means of his own improved chance in competition, must not flatter himself that all along he has been quietly waiting on Providence. It often requires very high religious principle to labour on in obscurity, blessed by apparently few results, with a calm trust in God untainted by the desire that others, possibly less worthy in character, may be swept away by resistless events to make more room for ourselves. David's sentiments towards Saul, who stood in his pathway, are full of instruction to all.
III. RECOGNITION OF GOD'S CEASELESS CONTROL OVER OBSTACLES, AND OF HIS STEADILY UNFOLDING PURPOSES. Most probably David's followers, knowing as they did that Saul stood between him and the throne, often marvelled at his patient inactivity. But by a keener spiritual vision than they possessed, he recognized the perfect control of the God he served, and had amazing faith in the sure though slow unfolding of his purposes. Hence he could wait and be still. This quality has always entered largely into the character of those who have done great service in the interests of truth and righteousness. Our Saviour, during his earthly life, was a conspicuous instance. He was despised, rejected, of the people there were none with him, and events seemed to the minds of his disciples (John 14:1; John 16:19-22; Luke 24:21) to be disastrous to his cause; and yet all through he never distrusted the Father, and in fulness of confidence could anticipate the results of a steady unfolding of the Divine purpose (John 10:16). So likewise we in secular and spiritual affairs may be said to wait on Providence when, in spite of difficulties that almost crush out our life, we, being conscious of oneness with Christ, stagger not in our belief in the all-controlling wisdom and power, and rest in the certainty of an order of things which is being directed towards the realization of the Divine purposes with which our entire life is identified. "Have faith in God." He slumbers not; he sleeps not; he works, and who shall let?
IV. HEADINESS FOR ACTION, REGULATED BY RESOLVE ONLY TO ACT IN HARMONY WITH HIGHEST LAW. David was ready to act whenever occasion offered; but he would not create occasion, and that because he saw that, in the continuance of Saul's life and reign, there was involved a great principle. For had he not been chosen by God? and was not God now allowing him to work out his own chastisement in harmony with far-reaching moral laws? David could only act in harmony with the Divine law which seemed to be expressed in Saul's sad life—namely, the removal of the unworthy by a natural process. There was a reserve of power in Christ during his life among men which could have accomplished startling results had he put it forth—just as David could have precipitated events by putting forth his strength against Saul—but he restrained himself. He was patient, and abstained from any action that would run counter to the moral and physical laws by which God was then governing mankind. On the same principle he now carries on his work in the world. Men do not understand him when they look for an extension of Christianity in violation of the laws of moral and social life which God has ordained. We are entrusted with more power than it is fit to put forth. Its exercise is to be regulated by regard to law. Especially in embarrassed circumstances, when it seems as though, in our business, our domestic affairs, or Church action, we could make marked advance by a vigorous effort in a given direction, does it become us to ask whether such action would be in harmony with the law of righteousness. During the sorrows of the Church (Luke 21:9-21), when it seemed as though active resistance by the sword was essential to self-preservation, the disciples were to be patient, and not run counter to the law of the gospel by endeavouring to maintain a kingdom of peace by carnal weapons. We must wait for God, be ready to act when action will harmonize with the holy laws of God's government.
V. JUDICIOUS USE OF TIME, AS JUSTIFIED BY THE CIRCUMSTANCES OF OUR POSITION. David could not act against Saul; he could not benefit Israel by seeking to rid them of an unworthy ruler; but he could seek to remedy the evils caused by the Amalekites at Ziklag (1 Samuel 30:1, 1 Samuel 30:26), and also discipline and organize his adherents (1 Chronicles 12:1-40.), and so put himself and his men in a position to move towards Palestine when God opened the way. The disciples of Christ were powerless to act on the world for some weeks after his death, but they cherished faith in their Lord, and, till the time appointed by Providence came, they wisely kept together for prayer and mutual encouragement (Acts 1:14; cf. Acts 2:1-13). The Christian Church may believe itself called to enter on a great missionary enterprise in an at present inaccessible country. It must not violate the laws of God by rushing into disaster under plea of promoting a good cause, hut must gather up materials and become ready to enter in when a higher power opens the way. The same principle applies to our extension of business, our entering on new or wider professions, and especially if we are ambitious to consecrate ourselves to the work of the Christian ministry. Those who, after the example of David, wait on Providence, will find in the end that the ways of God, though apparently slow and often trying to patience, are indicated by the issue.
A subtle temptation.
The Amalekite who came to David may be regarded as an instance of a quick-witted cunning man, observant of facts affecting the interests of others, and swiftly ingenious to work them up into a plausible form, ostensibly for the advantage of strangers, but really for his own advancement and material gain. He knew just enough of the outward development of the kingdom of God to see m events an opportunity for making them subservient to his own purposes. Like some of the present day, who are aliens to the spiritual Christian commonwealth, but who scruple not to make a profession of some interest in it a means of attaining to social position and material prosperity, so did he pay honour to the chosen servant of God for what he could gain thereby. But the main point in his conduct centres on David. He came practically in the form of a tempter to one who had long been under the force of strong temptation to desire and seek the removal from position, if not from life, of one who had been both an ungrateful enemy and an obstacle to the carrying out of his life's mission. We have seen in our comments on the First Book of Samuel bow bravely David had withstood all the influences which urged to action against Saul. He had triumphed, and was now calmly waiting on Providence at Ziklag. But now the hand of Providence was being manifested without any action of his own. For does not this stranger declare the great news that the miserable king was fallen; that by an act of his own he had saved Israel from the shame of his dying directly under Philistine hands; and that the crown—the symbol of authority—was now within David's own camp? Is there not here, then, release from the severe tension of self-restraint which for years had been put on thought and deed? Now surely David may breathe freely, and even bless God and take courage! Gratitude to such a newsbearer was surely due, and a sobered gladness may legitimately be cherished! Let us, then, consider the nature of subtle temptations.
I. THEY MAY SPRING FROM UNLOOKED FOR SOURCES, AND SO TAKE US OFF OUR GUARD. Who would have supposed that an Amalekite—a man whose tribe had been in conflict with David—would have appeared before him as bearer of news most momentous as affecting his future career? The apparent disinterestedness of one who could not be a partisan would render David open to the natural effect of the tidings on an ordinary heart. So in our life subtle temptations, calling us to no ostensible act of wrong, spring up we know not how, and take us by surprise. It may be an evil thought is suddenly obtruded in a line of ordinary thought; or a friend hints at a possibility without suggesting a deed or a feeling; or a set of facts start before the observing faculty, conveying, by their convergence on a matter of special interest to us, an impulse to cherish a definite class of feelings which, when examined in cool moments, is found to be essentially unholy. "Watch and pray, lest ye enter into temptation," was an exhortation based on a profound knowledge of the manifold avenues along which subtle promptings to evil may enter into and possess the soul.
II. THEY MAY NOT CALL TO ANY DEFINITE ACTION. In this case David was even relieved, by the fact of the tidings, from the pressure that had so long been on him to take action for his own advancement. Whatever appeal there was in the temptation was simply to the seat of feeling. The constitutional weakness of man is to feel satisfaction when an enemy is removed, and, though conventional custom may lead us to say that that satisfaction is tempered by sadness, it is to be feared that in this there is more of form than reality. Many men would not see any temptation in this narrative. They cannot see that character lies in feeling cherished, more than in acts that manifestly violate some law of God or man. Incitements to deeds of open vice do not form the most dangerous evils of our lot. Satan ruins more by undermining than by direct assault. The weakening of the inner seat of purity and kindliness alone need not involve any deed or word known to our fellow creatures.
III. THEY MAY PRESENT THEMSELVES UNDER COVER OF CONSIDERATIONS OF EXPEDIENCY. Judging from the standard that governs the lives of most men, the Amalekite imagined that his story would gratify David for two reasons—one, that hopes long cherished of being of service to Israel were soon to be realized; the other, that Saul was set aside by other hands than his own. There can be no doubt but that, in proportion to the strength of his hope of some day being the means of raising Israel from the sorrows which had come by the misrule of Saul, so would be the tendency to rejoice in its speedy realization; and this he knew would be legitimate. Hence, although, as a kindly good man, he might well abstain from cherishing any secret satisfaction at the disaster which had befallen Saul, yet, in view of the beneficial issues about to flow from the event, would there not be valid ground for so doing? Was not the welfare of the nation of more importance than sentiment for an individual? And could he not distinguish between malicious joy, and satisfaction in the rising of public good out of personal disaster? It is thus easy for one nation to find, by a swift process of thought, plausible pretext for satisfaction in the calamities of another nation. Possibly our Church life is not free from the subtle temptation, when we observe, in the decay of rival parties or denominations, a probable increase to the strength of our own. Business men may argue that benefits to society arise from the downfall of houses trading on an insecure basis, and so cover the real character of the personal satisfaction entertained. We need to be much on our guard when the reasoning powers are stimulated to justify sentiments which in their simple nakedness would be instinctively abhorred by a very holy and loving nature. In moral matters the first judgments are safest.
IV. THEY DO NOT REVEAL OR SUGGEST THE IMMEDIATE AND REMOTE CONSEQUENCES OF YIELDING. The point of the temptation, as it fell on David's nature, was simply to develop a certain feeling of satisfaction that, as he could not and would not raise a hand against Saul, some one else, in a natural course of events, had been permitted by Providence to do so, and thus had secured the opening of the door for which he had been waiting. Now, this feeling, so natural to many men, so commonly cherished under kindred circumstances, even though a human weakness, was simply a private transitory sentiment passing over the inner life, and forming no feature in conduct. It seemed to begin and end there and then. Its presence, if permitted, was a trifle, and inflicted no injury on society. Thus, while other temptations on presentation startle the ordinary mind by being associated at once with damage to social position, or to family or nation, temptations of this class do not reveal or suggest at the time their consequences. Of course, evil is to be resisted as evil apart from effects; and a pure mind will immediately detect the essentially immoral nature of any internal incitement to transitory impurity of sentiment. But it is easier to many to detect and resist temptations of the other class. No doubt every deterioration of feeling does issue in disastrous consequences, as surely as do open acts of vice, only the subtle process escapes notice. Consequently many good men, forgetting this, often entertain suggested transitory feelings of evil, which, did they hut duly consider the necessary deterioration of their entire life which thereupon sets in, they would carefully watch against and resist.
1. We ought to act at all times under the influence of the fact that at no hour are we free from the possibility of being subjected to very subtle temptations.
2. The more cultivated and tried our piety, the more likely is it that the trials of our religious purity will come in forms not suggestive of open acts of transgression.
3. Whenever the reasonings of expediency come in to justify the indulgence of sentiments of which doubt may have arisen as to their moral quality, we may safely be suspicious of fallacy, and so should close the debate at once.
4. It is very possible that a long season of persistent temptation to actual wrong, as in the case of David for years past, may culminate in a temptation more severe, because more difficult of detection, and which, if yielded to, would virtually undo the work of years of resistance. Therefore we need to be specially watchful when the end of our trials is near.
2 Samuel 1:11-27
The facts of the section are:
1. Having become assured, through the testimony of the Amalekite, of the defeat of Israel in the death of Saul and Jonathan, David and his men spent the rest of the day in mourning.
2. On the morrow David examines the Amalekite as to the particulars of Saul's death, and being shocked at the sin and shame of slaying the Lord's anointed, he condemns the man to death.
3. Being left to his own reflections on the sad event which had happened to Israel, he composes an elegy, as an expression of his own feelings and for the use of Israel, in which he refers in impassioned language to
(1) the greatness of the calamity;
(2) its possible humiliation and shame to Israel should it become freely known in Philistine cities, and its future mournful associations with the locality in which it occurred;
(3) the better qualities of Saul and Jonathan in their relation to their country and to each other;
(4) the reason for sorrow even among the non-fighting members of the community, as they reflect on the improved Personal comforts incident to Saul's reign; and
(5) his special friendship with Jonathan, as the joy and solace of bygone years. The teaching of these facts and expressions of feeling may be summarized by embracing the public act of mourning for Saul and the poetic lament under one conception, and unfolding the various truths thus contained. But, in order to secure more consecution in dealing with those two items, we may consider first the teaching embodied in the conduct of the Amalekite in its contrast with that of David; and this can perhaps be best expressed by retting forth a contrast of states of mind. Hence notice—
Secularity and spirituality of mind in contrast.
The conduct of the Amalekite was very natural, as we find men in general. So far as he had a policy, it would have commended itself to multitudes. Observant, shrewd, and on the alert for an advantage, he evidently was well aware of the feud between Saul and David; and knowing how of late David had smitten his own countrymen, he judged it more prudent to conciliate him by performing an act conducive to his elevation to a throne, than by simply purloining jewels on a battlefield. The story concocted about his actually slaying Saul was told with the utmost self-complacence, as though no one could doubt the mercifulness and the utility of the act; and no one could have been more amazed than himself when David represented the act as most shocking, and condemned him to die for such Wicked temerity. On the other hand, David's conduct is the reverse of what would have been generally pursued. For Saul had been a most bitter and unrelenting enemy; had charged him with crimes most heinous; had driven him into a painful exile; had returned generosity by increased hatred; and was, as David knew, the only living obstacle to his return to Israel and elevation to the throne. And yet, not only had David been unwilling to do a single deed that might be construed as tending to weaken Saul's legitimate authority, but he now even deplores the reported action of this his would be foreign helper, and charges him with having committed, on his own showing, a most shocking crime. Now, the contrast of the conduct and views of the two men is to be found in the utter dissimilarity of their respective habitual states of mind. The one was intensely secular, and the other intensely spiritual. Consider—
I. IN WHAT SECULARITY AND SPIRITUALITY OF MIND RESPECTIVELY CONSIST, AND HOW THEY EXPRESS THEMSELVES.
1. The one consists mainly in the tendency to look at things out of their spiritual relations, and the other to look at them in those relations. As a matter of fact, we know that, consequent on the existence of a supreme Being and a moral government which he exercises over spiritual beings, the whole universe is comprised of two distinct yet interrelated spheres—the material and perishable on the one hand, and the spiritual and imperishable on the other. As men necessitated to work out the first lines of our destiny under material conditions, and therefore in incessant contact with the perishable, we are, through the bluntness of our superior perceptions, superinduced by sin, prone to regard all events as pertaining to our fleeting earthly experience. This is secularity of mind—the mind that sees only the lower side of man's life, and takes no note of the higher destiny of which he is capable. On the other hand, spirituality of mind, while recognizing the value and Divine source of our common lot as creatures of struggle under material conditions, perceives the reality of the higher invisible sphere, and estimates all things in the lower according to its relation to the great facts and dominating laws of the higher. The Amalekite looked on Saul as simply a man belonging to a mundane order of things, in which other men were striving for the mastery with him. David saw the existence, alongside the mundane order, of an invisible kingdom, and he recognized in Saul an embodiment of a Divine principle—an institution of Divine authorization. For was he not the Lord's anointed? Was there not more in his existence than was comprised in range of Amalekite vision? Here lies the dividing line between the two great classes of men. The one sees a passing age, with its wants and struggles appropriate to that age; the other sees an invisible and enduring spiritual order, and that man is to be viewed in relation to that order. The one, therefore, is carnal, restricted in range, utilitarian, and in league with practices that "pay;" the other is religious, wide as infinity in range, pervaded by conscious supremacy of holy principles, and in alliance with only what is pure and pleasing before God.
2. In accordance with their essential nature, they will respectively manifest themselves at times, the one in a use of sacred things for personal gain, and the other in self-abnegation out of reverence for what is Divine. It was the purely secular mind of the Amalekite that led to his endeavour to make gain out of the death of the Lord's anointed, and that, too, without supposing that he was doing anything remarkable. It was David's high-toned spirituality that led him to ignore all the wrongs he had experienced at the hand of Saul, and to pass by the faults and follies of the unhappy monarch, and, instead of finding pleasure in prospect of his own coming promotion, to feel as though in the act done by the Amalekite a violence had been perpetrated against the most holy of institutions. So has it been in all ages, and is still. Men can barter religious professions for gain; or calmly and irreverently handle sacred subjects as though of common import; or behave in the presence of sacred realities as though treading on unhallowed ground. Judas, Simon Magus, the revilers at the cross, have their counterparts in those who seek gain by complying with the will of godless authorities, professional zealots for Christianity, and cynics who make sport of sacred things.
3. But, also, it is a tendency which in each case gives colour to the entire life. It was not a new thing for the Amalekite thus to think and feel concerning Saul and his relation to Israel and David; for all along Saul had been to him simply one of many rulers among men, and the conflict of the past years had been only a trial of human strength and skill. And, also, David's profound reverence for the Divine idea in Saul's kingship, and his faith in the reality of a Divine purpose for men being incorporated with it, had permeated his life during the weary days of exile. The two men were always governed by their respective tendencies. The one life was narrowed, rendered gross and hard by persistent secularity; the other was broadened, refined, and beautified by constant communion with the unseen and eternal. The whole domestic and private as well as public life of men is affected for the worse or better as they are secular or spiritual in tone. Spirituality is favourable to every phase of human experience. Secularity means debasement. Were society pervaded by so pure, unselfish, and spiritually perceptive a temper as was David's, and more so, David's greater Son, how smoothly would the machinery of life move on, and what music would there be in its roll!
II. THE FINAL RESULT OF INDULGING IN THESE OPPOSITE STATES OF MIND. AS a fact, the Amalekite's zeal brought him disappointment—death. David's fine perception of the sanctities of life, his habitual reverence for Divine institutions as seen in all his relations to Saul, his consciousness that God was establishing his own kingdom in his own way,—all this issued in elevation to a position where spirituality of mind could be exercised for the greater good of Israel. Prophetic is this of the end of all secularity and spirituality. The one must end in disappointment—in loss of those things which it was thought would be gained, and even in judicial separation from the pure in heart (Matthew 16:26; Matthew 7:21-23). The other is an education by which we become qualified to rise in the kingdom of God, to exercise over others a higher and wider influence than otherwise could be obtained (1Jn 3:2, 1 John 3:3; Matthew 25:23; 1Ti 6:11, 1 Timothy 6:12; Romans 3:21).
1. It is a dangerous thing to form our estimate of what others may do from the ideas and feelings that govern our own actions. The Amalekite could not conceive of any one not rejoicing in the death of a foe.
2. Dull perception of spiritual realities is a real impoverishment of life, as truly as is an affliction of blindness or deafness.
3. Regard for Divine institutions is to be cultivated irrespective of the imperfect character of men who act in connection with them.
4. The exposure of a base spirit is sure to be the result of a direct judgment of the Son of David when we are called to stand before him.
5. Any attempt to court the favour of the chosen King in Zion by deeds and spirit not in harmony with the holy laws of his kingdom, will inevitably end in banishment from his presence (Luke 6:46; Luke 13:25-27).
Sorrow for the miscarriage of life's great purpose.
Contrary to what ordinary men would have imagined, the news of the death of Saul at once diverted David's thoughts from his own personal advantage accruing therefrom, and at once developed an extraordinary sorrow. It must not be concluded that the setting apart of the rest of the day for purposes of mourning (2 Samuel 1:11, 2 Samuel 1:12) was simply compliance with custom in paying outward respect for the memory of a deceased monarch and his son. No doubt such an act could be decently performed by one who saw in the disaster an occasion of personal joy; indeed, a heartless rival, who cared alone for his own elevation to the throne, would, as a matter of mere policy, encourage the observance of tokens of public sorrow; for history testifies to the presence of a large element of hypocrisy in the elaborate manifestations of grief that have characterized the obsequies of rival rulers. But David was not a man of ceremony; and the elegy penned for the expression of his own anguish of spirit—so tender and pathetic as it is—must be accepted as the interpreter of the act of public mourning in David's camp. None but a deeply earnest and sincere man could thus write of the woe which came to men on the heights of Gilboa. Tested by the principles that govern the secular mind, the elegy is perfectly unaccountable, especially considering Saul's long-continued persecution of David and the open pathway to the throne which the defeat at Gilboa laid open to him. But there was a wonderful spiritual unity in David's life; and to those who have followed our interpretation of his conduct and motives as set forth elsewhere, there can be no difficulty in perceiving in this public act, and in the elegy, a culmination of the intense and painfully loving interest with which he all along had watched the downward course of the unhappy monarch. There were, indeed, several items entering into his sorrow. He thought of the kingless nation, and mourned for the bereaved "house of Israel" (2 Samuel 1:12). He thought of the chosen people, distinguished above all nations as the channels of a great and merciful Divine purpose to the world, and he mourned for "the people of the Lord." He could not forget the man whose love to him had been "wonderful, passing the love of women," and he wept for Jonathan (2 Samuel 1:12, 2 Samuel 1:26). But, most of all, he thought of one great in position, great in responsibilities, who once had set before him the possibilities of a grand destiny in connection with the unfolding of God's merciful purpose to mankind; and he mourned with an overwhelming sorrow that he had fallen on the field a defeated, ruined man, covered with the shame and misfortunes of a woeful miscarriage of his life's mission.
I. FAILURE IN LIFE'S MISSION IS THE GREAT DISASTER OF LIFE. David knew that death came to all men, and that the removal from earth of one who has figured before our vision disturbs the whole current of feeling. Had Saul died under some circumstances David would have sorrowed, but the pang of this his sorrow would not have been experienced. He had known Saul as the chosen of God, equipped for high enterprise in the kingdom of God, and in a position to prepare the pathway for the coming of a mightier king. Splendid opportunities arose; strong influences were brought to bear; but all in vain. Life's mission failed. The noble work was not done. Fine abilities were wasted. Dishonoured, abandoned by God, covered with shame—the shame of an abortive life—he passed away. Simple death would have been glory and blessing as compared with this. What was true of Saul may be true of others and, unhappily, is too often the fact. God has a purpose in the life of every human being, and our business in this world is to comprehend the nature of that purpose and realize it in our experience. It is an unutterable disaster if, knowing why we are here, and possessing all the appliances and means of carrying out God's will, we nevertheless pass away as unprofitable servants (Matthew 25:26-30). There are instances of frequent occurrence in which splendid abilities, robust health, excellent social position, fine openings for usefulness, are all wasted by the dominance of unholy passions, and men have to witness the sad spectacle of early promise issuing in a dishonoured name and premature grave. Those who believe that all who are born amidst Christian influences are sent into the world to work out for themselves and others a pure and blessed destiny, and that this can only be secured by our personally falling in the line of Christ's purpose and becoming one with him in the deepest spiritual sense, as Saul was expected to fall in the line of God's great purpose to man through Israel, and live in its spirit,—such persons recognize a terrible miscarriage of life when men live, it may be, in ease and wealth and respectability, but alien in heart to Christ, and then die in the same condition. They have not laid up treasure for the future. Nations and communities are also charged with their respective life work, and it is a fearful thing when, through unfaithfulness, their mission is abortive. Jeremiah's wail over Judah (Jeremiah 9:1-26.), our Saviour's lamentation over Jerusalem, and his prospective sorrow over the Church at Laodicea (Revelation 3:14-20), were based on the same view of miscarriage of life's purpose as was David's lament over Saul.
II. The sorrow felt for a miscarriage of life's purpose is DEEPENED BY THE APPREHENSION OF ITS EFFECT ON THE REPUTATION AND PROGRESS OF THIS KINGDOM OF GOD. Saul was not simply a monarch maintaining his own special interests as one among the many kings of the earth; he was regarded by David as, and in fact was, the official representative of the theocracy—the kingdom of God in its early stage of development.
It was the pride and joy of devout men that Israel's king governed a people chosen of God for the assertion and exposition of principles superior to those which obtained in the heathen nations. The pledge of prosperity had been given to the chosen people, and their history had demonstrated to the heathen again and again that the God of Israel was indeed supreme. The uncircumcised Philistines could not know, or if they knew could not appreciate, the spiritual conditions on which national prosperity was guaranteed; but they would be quick to boast over Israel's adversity, and to magnify their idols to the detriment of Jehovah's fame. "Tell it not in Gath" was David's spontaneous expression of the increased anguish of his spirit on account of the failure of Saul's life and work. The possibility of the holy kingdom of God among men being a subject of ridicule and blasphemy—the thought of God's honour being for a moment treated with scorn by the ignorant heathen—this was trouble upon trouble. A kindred sorrow falls on all true hearts when, by the wrecked character and abortive lives of professors of religion, or workers in connection with God's holy kingdom, there arises the possibility of the scoffing world bringing the name and interests of Christianity into reproach; forevery blasphemous word and triumph of joy against Christ is regarded by the loving soul as another thrust into his side. Irreligious men can little know the anguish of true Christians whenever occasion is given, by the inconsistencies and apostasies of life, to dishonour the sacred Name.
III. THE DUE RECOGNITION OF THE MAGNITUDE OF THIS DISASTER DEPENDS ON A SPIRITUAL PERCEPTION OF THE GRAVITY OF OUR EARTHLY LIFE. No doubt many astute men regarded David's great sorrow as a sheer extravagance. Nothing in the event, from their point of view, could justify such a wail over a bitter foe and ostensible rival. The answer to that reflection on the reasonableness of David's sorrow lies in this—that he looked on Saul's life upon its Godward side, and saw beneath the political and merely terrene aspect a spiritual issue, which issue, affecting as it did all that is most great and momentous in man, threw all else into the background. It is only a spiritual perception—a penetration beneath the temporal and material interests to the invisible and eternal relations and possibilities of human existence—that can enable one thus to judge, feel, and act (1 Corinthians 2:15). Habitual contact with the visible and perishable unfits men for recognizing the true solemnity of life, and the subtle elements that enter into the determination of human destiny. Nominally many may adopt our Lord's view of the bearing of man's present spiritual state upon his future condition (Matthew 20:1-16; Matthew 25:1-13, Matthew 25:31-46), and yet practically place a successful issue of life in the acquisition of knowledge and wealth, and the development of humanly related virtues. Such persons are disposed to think Christ rather hard and unreasonable in pronouncing the man to be a "fool" (Luke 12:20) who congratulated himself on the fact of his social and material prosperity. For the same reason they deem Christians narrow and uncharitable when they indicate great anxiety for the future condition of those who, while outwardly prosperous and, on the man-ward side, virtuous, pass away without affording evidence of that renewal of nature by which alone they can come into absorbing sympathy with Christ, and cause the whole tenor of their life to flow in the line of Christ's mission to the world. Saul's failure on the spiritual side was seen by David to lie at the root of his general failure; and those only who estimate modern issues of life by the supreme test of the spiritual, can see in many lives, otherwise excellent, a woeful miscarriage of life's main purpose and consequent irretrievable disaster (1 Corinthians 1:18, 1Co 1:19; 1 Corinthians 2:6-10; 2 Corinthians 5:17, 2Co 5:20, 2 Corinthians 5:21; Philippians 3:8, Philippians 3:9, Philippians 3:18, Philippians 3:19).
The incidental teachings of a great disaster.
All events have a teaching function in the Divine economy, and we are exhorted to extract good out of evil. It is possible that in the general evolution of human interests the immediate, if not remote, effects of disastrous events are counterbalanced by the contribution they make to the sum total of instruction, by means of which God ultimately elevates the world in purity and peace. The sad issue of Saul's life was doubtless a blessing to David, in that its solemn lessons gave a tone to his subsequent course, which enabled him to withstand many of the perils of position; and we, studying the words of David when the sorrow was fresh upon him, may, in addition to what has already been noticed, gain instruction on several matters which, in its helpfulness to our life, shall illustrate the truth that under the all-controlling hand of God "all things work together for good."
I. As there is a disposition on the part of irreligious men to find delight in the sins and frailties of Christians, and also to find therein excuse for their own impiety, it BEHOVES ALL WHO HAVE THE NAME AND CAUSE OF CHRIST AT HEART TO BE VERY GUARDED IN THEIR REFERENCES TO THE SINS AND MISERIES OF BACKSLIDERS AND THE ERRING. The sins of professors are to be the subject of silent sorrow, and, when possible, of Church discipline; not to be paraded before the world, as though such free publicity were a due chastisement for their unfaithfulness. The spirit that can readily go and "tell it in Gath" is not the spirit of Christ. The evident pleasure which some feel in making known the shortcomings of professedly religious men, can only spring from a desire to excuse their own indifference, or from a wicked Phariseeism, or from a defective sense of the sacredness of the Name of Christ. Where there is sincere sorrow there will be tenderness, and the family instinct will avoid the publicity of family misfortunes. Christians! weep and pray, but "tell it not in Gath" (Jeremiah 9:1-3, Jeremiah 9:17-19).
II. THE HISTORY OF THE CHURCH REVEALS WHAT SERIOUS INJURY HAS BEEN CAUSED TO RELIGION BY THE IMPERFECT LIVES OF ITS PROFESSED FRIENDS, The "uncircumcised" did know of Saul's disaster, and it made them strong in hostility to the chosen race, and at the same time weakened the hearts of the men of Israel. Saul damaged the cause of righteousness and mercy as well as his own personal reputation. Too often has Christ been wounded in the house of his friends (Zechariah 13:6). Considering the many miscarriages of those who were professedly engaged in the furtherance of the kingdom of God on earth, it is a marvel that the progress of Christianity has been what it has. They little think how much they retard the final supremacy of Christ who, by a Saul-like unfaithfulness and degeneracy, encourage antagonism among his foes, and produce paralysis among his friends.
III. MOMENTOUS EVENTS BRING OUT THE FACT THAT CULTURE IS OF SECONDARY IMPORTANCE TO RELIGION. David, as is seen from his varied compositions in the Psalms, and also from this elegy, was a man of fine aesthetic taste. He rejoiced in the exquisite beauties of nature. The dewy slopes of Gilboa, and the fat pastures of its valleys, teemed with objects of delight to his cultured taste; but now that his spiritual yearnings were unsatisfied, now that the holy Name of God was being dishonoured, all considerations of beauty in nature, and joy in the higher culture of life, must be utterly set aside. Let Gilbea become a waste, let the joy of local associations perish, since the religious side of life is languishing! The scenes amidst which our loved ones die are often cherished in the memory with mournful pleasure, and we seem to invest them with a more tender loneliness because there the joy of our life fell asleep. But when the smitten heart bleeds over a shipwrecked character—a life failing in its noblest purpose—then the local associations have no charm; blight and desolation are felt to be the most appropriate accompaniments of an unrelieved sorrow. So truly do great tragic events in life bring out the fact that our religious nature will assert itself as above all mere culture and aesthetic refinement.
IV. A WISE AND TENDER HEART CAN, while overwhelmed with sorrow because of spiritual disaster, APPRECIATE THE VALUE OF HUMANLY RELATED VIRTUES, We have made a distinction between virtues that have simply a human aspect, and those qualities which enter into the essence of religion and are Godward in aspect. David's great grief was that, so far as his religious life and work were concerned, Saul was degenerate and practically ruined. But, as a relief to his anguish on this account, he turns toward the manly virtues of the deceased king, and with exquisite tenderness dwells on them. His courage, his love for Jonathan, and his benefactions to his subjects (verses 22-24), afford some solace for a heart that can find none in contemplating the spiritual mission of the king. Nil mortuis nisi bonum. He could not, from very sorrow and reverence for the most sacred things, speak of the sad miscarriage of his life's work; and this reference to the good of his life was really an expression of deep affection, and at the same time an indication of a sorrow secret and unutterable. Christians who, with the light that Christ gives, see spiritual ruin where others see only, and rejoice in, humanly related virtues, are not blind to the manifest virtues of men; and often, in their silent sorrow for the absence of spiritual saving qualities, they can speak with subdued emotion of the charms and attractions of personal character.
V. THERE IS A WONDERFUL CHARM IN FILIAL PIETY MAINTAINED UNDER MOST ADVERSE CIRCUMSTANCES. "Saul and Jonathan were lovely and pleasant in their lives, and in their death they were not divided" (verse 23). Yes; every heart says "yes." We feel the charm of Jonathan's fidelity to his poor erring father even to the bitter end. David's appreciation of this is, under the circumstances (1 Samuel 20:1-42 :l 4), most beautiful. Jonathan knew that David was a holy man, vilely treated by his own father, and destined to ascend the throne; he loved him with a tenderness passing the love of women, and was under provocation again and again to revolt from his father's rule; but with patience, tenderness, and faithfulness, he stood by him to the end, lamenting his sins, restraining his evil propensities, and variously striving to lessen the evils of his government. The filial instinct prevailed. Piety purified and strengthened it. A lesson here for sons—the more valuable in proportion as parents may be irreligious or imperfect. It is a noble thing for a son to watch over, care for, and tenderly restrain the tendencies of an erring father. To some it is given to have that for their special work. Remember Jonathan.
VI. IT IS POSSIBLE TO CHERISH VERY TENDER AND HELPFUL FRIENDSHIPS EVEN AMIDST THE PRESSURE OF LIFE. The friendship of David and Jonathan, begun in days of peace, ceased not during all the subsequent seasons of toil and separation. Doubtless David had often been comforted in his solitude and wanderings by the remembrance of that true heart which beat in sympathy with his own, and Jonathan would be upheld in his delicate and painful task of helping and restraining an errant parent by the assurance that David was not unmindful of him before the mercy seat. The tendency of the hurry and pressure of daily business is to crush out the finer and more tender susceptibilities of the heart, and rob men of the consolations and elevating influence of wise and holy personal friendships. For self-culture, for solace, for spiritual fellowship, and for the acquisition of moral strength, it is well for all men to cherish a few well-selected friendships.
VII. THERE IS A BLESSED INFLUENCE ATTENDING THE CHERISHING OF HALLOWED MEMORIES. David's hallowed memories of Jonathan were to him for years to come a means of blessing. His life was more sober and tender and spiritual for the sweet memory of one so lovable and dear. The language of verses 25, 26 was the indication of a permanent element in David's subsequent life. We suffer loss when beautiful characters are taken away, and we find a gain. For though visible communion is no more, the tender memories are more constant, and touch more closely the deeper springs of life.
HOMILIES BY B. DALE
The Hebrew monarchy.
(Introductory.) The Hebrew monarchy holds a prominent place in the development of the purpose of God to establish his kingdom upon earth. In accordance with this purpose Abraham became the father of a family, distinguished beyond others by the knowledge of the true God and the hope of his promised salvation; the family grew into a nation, and its government was constituted, by the agency of Moses, a theocracy (a word first used by Josephus, 'Contra Apion' 2 Samuel 2:17); and the theocracy (impaired in its practical influence during the period of the judges) was united with a monarchy, which commenced with Saul, acquired strength and splendour under David, culminated in the glory of Solomon, and soon afterwards declined to its fall; leaving behind it, when it fell, the undying hope of its restoration under "the King Messiah" (1 Samuel 2:10). Consider—
I. ITS THEOCRATIC FOUNDATION. Although a king was sought in a wrong spirit, his appointment was not incompatible with the principles of the theocracy. What were these principles?
1. Its supreme Head, Lawgiver, and Judge was JEHOVAH; its subjects were his chosen people Israel. Having revealed himself to them as the one living and true God, and redeemed them out of bondage, he made a covenant with them, and became to them all, and more than all, that a human king was to other nations (Exodus 15:18; 1 Samuel 12:12; Zephaniah 3:15). "He raised and consolidated his universal rule into one of a special nature" (Kurtz, 'Hist. of the Old Covenant,' 3:107). The personal relation thus formed between him and his people was designed to maintain among them his exclusive worship, to keep them separate from the idolatrous and corrupt nations around them, and to make them "a kingdom of priests and a holy nation."
2. Its laws were his revealed will, pertaining to the entire circle of civil and religious life. "The commonwealth of the Jews, different in that from all others, was an absolute theocracy; nor was there, nor could there be, any difference between the commonwealth and the Church" (Locke).
3. Its sanctions were his favour and displeasure, blessing and curse; reward or punishment of a temporal nature following obedience or disobedience, and administered by properly constituted authorities or a special and extraordinary providence.
4. Its officers were his appointed servants, whose part it was to declare his will and administer his laws, and who (whether priests, prophets, judges, elders, or princes) were themselves subject to them (Michaelis, 'Laws of Moses,' 1:190; Warburton, 'Div. Leg.,' 2 Samuel 5:3; Fairbairn, 'Typology,' 2:443). In harmony with these principles a human king was appointed (as already provided for, Deuteronomy 17:15-20); not, indeed, to reign independently of the Divine King, or according to his own will and pleasure, but as his viceroy and minister. "To the theocracy was added the monarchy, not to subvert or gradually supersede it, but to fulfil the wants of the age by its side. The pure theocracy became a Basileo-theocracy" (Ewald). "The Hebrews under the reign of David clearly recognized the theocratic nature of their constitution" (Jahn).
II. ITS PRACTICAL EFFICIENCY. The condition of the people rendered the regal office necessary; and it served (especially during the reign of David) to:
1. Gather them into closer union, and so consolidate and increase their strength. Nothing was more urgently needed. Their common faith (or rather unbelief) and the previously existing officers of the theocracy were insufficient to maintain the practical union and cooperation of the tribes.
2. Defend them against their adversaries, by whose attacks their very existence was imperilled. It secured their safety and independence, and it extended their dominion "from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates," as it had been promised of old (Genesis 15:18).
3. Establish order and the more regular and impartial administration of justice. In the days of the judges "every man did that which was right in his own eyes," being subject to no proper restraint by a king, as responsible "minister of God and avenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil" (Romans 13:4).
4. Promote the main purpose of their national calling, viz. to receive and conserve "the oracles of God" (Romans 3:2) for the ultimate benefit of mankind. "By the constitution of the Hebrew government the civil and municipal statutes of the nation were not only founded upon their religious belief, but they were also so framed as to have the support of that belief for their main object" (Russell, 'Connection,' bk. 18.). And this object was more effectually accomplished under the circumstances by means of the monarchy than it would otherwise have been.
III. ITS MANIFEST IMPERFECTION. Like other institutions dependent for their worth upon the conduct of weak and sinful men, it was marked, in its actual working, by numerous defects; being:
1. Administered in a manner that did not fully accord with its nature and design. "Whate'er is best administered is best." The authority and power entrusted to the king were frequently used in self-will and for self-exaltation. Hence the misery in which the reign of Saul (really an autocracy) terminated. And even the administration of David, although distinguished by surpassing ability and fidelity, was by no means faultless.
2. Weakened and marred by the personal crimes of the monarch. David's transgressions exerted an injurious influence, not only upon himself and his family, but also upon his government. They sowed the seeds of insubordination and rebellion.
3. Often employed for the oppression and corruption of the people. "Its tendency was to absolutism." The magnificence of Solomon was largely based upon oppressive taxation and forced labour; and, instead of opposing and excluding, he suffered and indulged idolatrous practices—most fatal of all things to the throne and nation.
4. Liable to frequent changes and gradual deterioration. Even a good monarch could not hold his office long "by reason of death;" and the hereditary principle did not insure a successor of like character. With the secession of the ten tribes the early splendour of the monarchy became dim; and its course, with intervals of glorious revival, was downward. It virtually terminated with the Captivity (Hosea 3:4, Hosea 3:5); after which the civil government was subject to a foreign heathen power, and the theocracy survived chiefly as a political hierarchy; at length "the Romans came and took away their place and nation."
IV. ITS TYPICAL SIGNIFICANCE. It was not only a stage of preparation for the kingdom of the Messiah, but also a type or divinely ordained foreshadowing of it.
1. It rendered the conception thereof more definite and vivid. "With the establishment of the kingly power, a new class of ideas was brought into view and developed, which for want of the requisite material groundwork could not be previously illustrated; and it now became possible to descry from a distance and to announce in appropriate and intelligible terms the coming kingdom of the Messiah."
2. It was associated with express promises and predictions (2 Samuel 7:12-16; 2 Samuel 23:3-5). "When mankind was limited to a single family, the Hope of the future had lain in the seed of the woman; the patriarchal age had looked forward to a descendant of Abraham; the Mosaic to a Prophet and a Legislator. In like manner the age of the Jewish monarchy in its bloom of youth and prowess was bidden to fix its eye upon an ideal David, who was to be the King of the future of the world". "The establishment of the kingdom was in the truest sense a defection from God, and yet, humanly speaking, it was a necessary defection. An earthly king fell infinitely short of the type of Divine government represented by Moses, or Joshua, or Samuel; but he was at once a definite centre, and a clear sign of something greater than himself. If he presented the spiritual idea in a fixed and limited form, he also gave distinctness to the conception of the present moral sovereignty of God, and furnished imagery under which the prophets could construct a more glorious picture of the future".
3. Even its defeats and failure intensified and exalted the expectation. With every disappointment hope sprang up afresh, and found its purest expression in the utterances of the prophets (Isaiah 9:6, Isaiah 9:7; Isaiah 53:1-12.; Micah 5:2). "What was earthly and carnal in the theocracy was made to fall into comparative abeyance, that the glory of its spiritual excellence might be brought more prominently into view" (Fairbairn). Whilst the general expectation immediately before the advent of Christ was of a temporal kingdom, many "waited" with lofty, spiritual hope "for the Consolation of Israel."
4. It was (as a type)fulfilled in a higher and more spiritual manner in the kingdom of Christ. In this kingdom the principles of the theocracy are preserved and exhibited in perfection. It is the real theocracy. Its supreme Head (Ephesians 1:22) is at once Divine and human. Its subjects consist of those who are inwardly renewed, and serve him from the heart. It is spiritual, righteous, peaceful, and blessed. Although in the world, it is not of the world. It can coexist in time and place (as the ancient theocracy could not) with every form of civil government; and, without any formal connection or concordat therewith, it can exert a sovereign influence over it. It claims the submission of every individual and every nation, and it is destined to fill the earth and endure forever.
1. The purpose of God to set up on earth a kingdom of heaven is the key of history. "The grand idea of a kingdom of God is the connecting thread that runs through the entire course of Divine revelation."
2. The methods which God adopts in his dealings with men are adapted to their actual condition, and the accomplishment of immediate and beneficent ends; his revelations of himself are accommodated to their capacity for apprehending and profiting by them.
3. He allows men a large liberty of choice; and, when they Use it wrongly, patiently bears with their imperfections and sins, and overrules them for their correction and improvement.
4. His procedure is marked by a progressive development; and the facts and truths involved therein contain the promise and prefigurement of later and greater realities. "The Old Testament, when rightly understood, is one great prophecy of the New". "Christianity lay in Judaism, as leaves and fruit do in the seed; although it certainly required the Divine sun to bring them forth" (De Wette).
5. What is expedient in one age may not be so in another, which has received a higher revelation of the Divine will. The relative worth of institutions and men must be judged of according to their circumstances and the measure of light possessed, their absolute worth according to the highest conceptions of truth and righteousness.
6. God selects and exalts one nation, not for its own good merely, but for the good of others and the fulfilment of his benevolent purposes toward mankind.
7. As the people of God in ancient time were taught to look forward to the coming of the Messiah, so we are now taught to look forward to his coming again, and the complete establishment of his kingdom.—D.
B.C. 1051-1011. (References: 1 Chronicles 10-29.; 1Ki 1:1-53; 1 Kings 2:1-46.; Psalms. For his earlier life, as shepherd at Bethlehem, servant of Saul at Gibeah, outlaw in the wilderness of Judah and elsewhere, see 1 Samuel 16:1-23 -34.) When Saul fell on Gilboa, David was about thirty years old; the age at which Joseph stood before Pharaoh, the Levites entered on their official duties, and Jesus began his public ministry. The Second Book of Samuel describes the steps by which he became king ever Judah, and (after seven years and a half) king over all Israel, the consolidation and victorious expansion of his kingdom (ch. 1-10.); his deplorable fall (when about fifty years of age), his repentance, the consequences of his transgression, and the restoration of his impaired authority (ch. 11-20.); and (in an appendix, ch. 21-24.) among other things some events and utterances of his last days (his life ending at three score years and ten). "He most happily combined all the qualifications for becoming the true support of the extraordinary efforts of this period; and he thus succeeded in winning, not only a name unequalled in glory by any other king of Israel, but also a halo of kingly fame as ruler of the community of the true God, unattainable by a king of any other nation of antiquity" (Ewald). "The reign of David is the great critical era in the history of the Hebrews." In it we see—
I. THE PURPOSE OF THE DIVINE KING OF ISRAEL FULFILLED. That purpose (subordinate to the larger purpose mentioned in the preceding homily), to make David ruler instead of Saul, was:
1. Previously indicated. It was first announced by Samuel, in indefinite terms (1 Samuel 13:14; 1 Samuel 15:28), symbolized in the anointing of David (when about sixteen years old), afterwards doubtless plainly declared to him by the prophet, and clearly manifested by the course of events. It was also more and more generally recognized (1 Samuel 24:20; 1 Samuel 25:30; 2 Samuel 3:17, 2 Samuel 3:18).
2. Vainly opposed, at first by Saul, and, after he had been made King of Judah, by Abner and "the house of Saul." It was impossible for them to succeed. "There is no wisdom nor understanding nor counsel against the Lord" (Proverbs 21:30).
3. Gradually, surely, and fully wrought out. There were times in which it seemed to fail, but only to become more apparent and effectual; like a stream disappearing beneath the surface of the earth, and after a short distance bursting forth with renewed strength.
4. Its fulfilment shows the power and faithfulness of God, and should confirm our faith in the fulfilment of all his promises. "Wait on the Lord." "There hath not failed one word of all his good promise," etc. (1 Kings 8:56). "The Davidic age, with those that lie immediately around it, towers by its special glory like a giant mountain above a wide tract of more level periods. It was, moreover, soon afterwards recognized by the nation itself as a period of unique glory in the fortunes of the monarchy; and its memory has therefore been preserved in the historical narrative with the most exuberant fulness of detail" (Ewald).
II. THE CHARACTER OF THE HUMAN KING OF HIS CHOICE PORTRAYED. The interest of David's reign centres in David himself; his activities, achievements, experiences, utterances, so fully recorded, not only in the history, but also in his psalms. His character (more completely revealed than that of any other man) was the growth of a noble and gifted nature under the influence of Divine grace.
1. It was matured by long and varied discipline. While keeping his father's flock, in the court and camp of Saul, as an exile at the head of his heroic band, by persecution, calumny, hardship, meditation, temptation, prayer, and during his "apprenticeship to monarchy" in Hebron, his natural endowments and moral qualities were strengthened, developed, and perfected.
2. It was marked by a many-sided excellence. His insight, skill, prescient sagacity, tender sensibility, sympathy, imagination, fervour, versatility, courage, magnanimity, power of leadership, and of winning the passionate attachment of others, were never surpassed. He was "one of the greatest men in the world" (Bayle). "The most daring courage was combined in him with tender susceptibility; even after he had ascended the throne he continued to retain the charm of a pre-eminent and at the same time childlike personality" (Wellhausen).
"Great, valiant, pious, good, and clean,
Sublime, contemplative, serene,
Strong, constant, pleasant, wise!
Bright effluence of exceeding grace;
Best man I the swiftness and the race:
The peril and the prize!"
"There never was a specimen of manhood so rich and ennobled as David, the son of Jesse, whom other saints haply may have equalled in single features of his character; but such a combination of manly, heroic qualities, such a flush of generous, godlike excellences, hath never yet been seen embodied in a single man" (Edward Irving). "The most thoroughly human figure, as it seems to me, which had appeared upon the earth before the coming of that perfect Son of man, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen" (Charles Kingsley).
(1) In relation to God he was eminent in faith, hope, and love; loyal obedience, fervid zeal, holy aspiration, enthusiastic devotion, lowly submission, and thankfulness (Nehemiah 12:36).
(2) In relation to men he was tenderly affectionate toward his family; considerate and grateful toward his friends; generous and forgiving toward his enemies; faithful and just, self-denying and self-sacrificing toward his people.
(3) Beyond any other monarch of Israel he was a truly theocratic king. His heart was perfect with the Lord his God (1 Kings 11:4). "David did that which was right in the eyes of the Lord, and turned not aside from anything that he commanded him all the days of his life, save only in the matter of Uriah the Hittite" (1 Kings 15:5).
3. It was marred by grave defects and aggravated transgressions. Although these were in great measure due to the spirit of his age, the effect of temptation incident to his position, contrary to the general course of his life, and deeply repented of, yet they incurred heavy guilt, and were followed by severe chastisements.
4. It thus affords a warning as well as an example. "In this history we have the pattern of a pious and prudent prince. Its utility and profit for example of life appears in the prudence, piety, zeal, humility, equity, and good government of David, and all other his heroic and godly virtues worthy of imitation. As also are set down David's infirmities and falls, as examples of the weakness of the best when they watch not over themselves, or are left to themselves, proponed to be eschewed, ut majorum ruina sit minorum cautela, as likewise his repentance to be imitated, and the sharp corrections notwithstanding, as medicinal corrasives wherewith he was chastised; as we see in the Lord's dealing with his dearest sons and servants (Hebrews 12:6, Hebrews 12:7)".
III. THE MAJESTY OF THE DIVINE-HUMAN KING MESSIAH FORESHADOWED. David is to be regarded, not simply as an individual, but as a noble, though imperfect, representation of the idea of a theocratic king, and therefore also as an adumbration of One in whom that idea would be perfectly realized (Luke 1:32). "His relation to the history of redemption is most peculiar and remarkable. The aim and import of the Old Testament history to prefigure, prophesy, and testify of Christ concentrated in him as in a focus" (Kurtz). "As we have a great increase of the prophetic light breaking forth, and encompassing the family and kingdom of David so subsequent prophecy reverts often to the same subjects, insomuch that there is no individual, king or other person, one only excepted, of whom more is said by the prophets than of this king and his throne" (Davison, 'On Prophecy'). "It is David who, without intending it, supplies the personal foundation of all the Messianic hopes, which from this time contribute with increasing power to determine Israel's career; and so he stands at the turning-point in the history of two thousand years and separates it into two great halves" (Ewald). High above him, in the dim and distant future, rose the majestic form of "the King of kings, and Lord of lords." "A person, as such, can never be a symbol. It was not David, or Manasseh, or Ahab, that was the type of Christ as King of Zion; it was the royal office with which these were invested, symbolical as that was of the theocracy, which was typical of the kingly dignity of the Redeemer". The kingly dignity of the Messiah appears in:
1. His Divine appointment (Psalms 2:6,.Psalms 2:7) founded on the Incarnation. "In Jesus the Christ, Jehovah and the Son of David become one. Heaven and earth interpenetrate, that they may unite in him and be united by him" (Delitzsch).
2. His glorious exaltation after deep humiliation and patient endurance.
3. His righteous administration (Psalms 72:1, Psalms 72:2).
4. His advancing triumph over the enemies of his kingdom and our salvation—"the devil with all his retinue, the world, the flesh, sin, death, and hell; whatever doth oppose his glory, his truth, his service; whatever consequently by open violence or fraudulent practice doth hinder our salvation" (Barrow).
5. His munificent gifts and the blessings of his reign; refuge, refreshment, repose (Isaiah 32:1, Isaiah 32:2); "righteousness, peaces and joy in the Holy Ghost." As a King he gathers, governs, protects, and perfects his people.
6. His wide dominion.
7. His endless continuance. "His Name shall endure forever."
1. Submit to his rule. "Kiss the Son," etc. (Psalms 2:12).
2. Rejoice in his salvation.
3. Cooperate with his purposes.
4. Look forward to his final triumph.—D.
2 Samuel 1:1, 2 Samuel 1:2
A change of dynasty.
"When he came to David he fell to the earth, and did obeisance" (2 Samuel 1:2). The title of David to the throne was primarily conferred upon him by the will of God, as declared by Samuel. But it remained in abeyance while Saul lived, and began to take effect only at his decease. On returning to Ziklag from his pursuit of the Amalekites, David occupied himself in repairing its ruins, and awaited tidings from the field of battle. On the morning of the third day there came a young man, "the son of a stranger, an Amalekite," bringing news of the defeat of Israel and the death of Saul and Jonathan. In proof of his statement he brought the king's diadem, "a small metallic cap or wreath which encircled the temples, serving the purpose of a helmet, with a very small horn projecting in front, as an emblem of power" (Jamieson), and bracelet (or armlet worn above the elbow), and laid them at the feet of David, as the future king (2 Samuel 1:10). His conduct reminds us of a well-known custom, according to which, whenever a French monarch departed this life, an official of the royal household appeared at the window, broke his staff, and cried, Le roi est mort! ("The king is dead!"); then took a new staff and shouted, Vive le roi! ("Long live the king!"). The change that occurred was—
I. OCCASIONED BY THE FALL OF AN UNFAITHFUL RULER. "After the death of Saul" (2 Samuel 1:1).
1. Men are entrusted with power by God that they may employ it, not according to their own will and for their own honour, but according to his will and for his glory. This Saul failed to recognize.
2. Whenever a man misuses his trust he is sooner or later deprived thereof, and suffers the penalty of his sin (1 Samuel 15:23).
3. No man can fall into sin and destruction without involving others in his ruin. How often has a monarch's unfaithfulness caused the downfall of his dynasty!
4. The place from which he falls is thereby prepared for a more faithful man, and such a man is seldom wanting for the place. "Take therefore the talent," etc. (Matthew 25:28). "Saul's elevation was a first experiment in monarchy doomed to failure from the beginning; it was only when the people had been trampled down by his tyranny and involved in his fatal defeat that a lasting monarch was set according to the Divine will in the person and family of David, who was in this sense the man after God's own heart" (P. Smith, ' Ancient History,' 1:168).
II. AWAITED WITH PATIENCE BY A RIGHTFUL SUCCESSOR. "David abode in Ziklag." He was long ago assured of his royal destination. But:
1. The purpose of God is often slow in its accomplishment; which requires to be waited for in faith and patience.
2. Its slow accomplishment presents a strong temptation to impatience, and the. adoption of rash and unworthy expedients that hinder rather than promote the desired end. David was subject to such a temptation, and for the most part overcame it. In so far as he yielded to it he suffered the consequences of his imprudence (1 Samuel 27:1).
3. By patient continuance in well-doing men are best prepared for what God has prepared for them. David did not deem the crown "a thing to be grasped at." "What God has destined for him, he would not have until God gave it to him (Hengstenberg). "Endurance is the crowning quality." Qui dura vince ("He conquers who endures').
4. To those who await the accomplishment of the Divine purpose in a right spirit, it comes surely and at the right time, often suddenly and by unexpected means. "By degrees doth the Lord perform, his works to exercise the faith, the hope, the patience, and constancy of his chosen, but at last to the full he accomplisheth whatsoever he promiseth" (Guild).
III. RECOGNIZED AS INEVITABLE BY A SELF-SEEKING OBSERVER. It is remarkable that one of an alien and hostile race should be the first to perceive and acknowledge the speedy and certain transfer of the crown. He was a watchful observer of the course of events; acquainted, probably, with the general opinion concerning David, and with his present position; and, although possessing little love for his character and expecting little good to the Amalekites from his accession, he was desirous of using the occasion for the furtherance of his personal ends.
1. The tendency of human affairs is often so apparent that its result may be easily anticipated by a]l hut the most obtuse.
2. A stranger or an enemy frequently perceives the destination of a man of ability more clearly than those who are intimately connected with him.
3. One who is supremely concerned about his own interest is quick to see anything that may be made conducive to it, however blind and unfeeling he may be in other respects.
4. His attempt to turn it to his own advantage sometimes turns only to the advantage of another, and to his own disappointment and ruin. "David had been long waiting for the crown, and now it is brought to him by an Amalekite. See how God can serve his own purpose of kindness to his people, even by designing men who aim at nothing but to set up themselves" (Matthew Henry).
IV. EFFECTED BY THE OPERATION OF DIVINE PROVIDENCE. "The Lord slew him, and turned the kingdom unto David the son of Jesse' (1 Chronicles 10:14). "God is the Judge; he putteth down one and setteth up another" (Psalms 75:7; 1 Samuel 2:1-10). By his providential working:
1. His purposes are fulfilled and the truth of his Word is confirmed. "By a series of events following in the ordinary course of Providence, without any miracle interposed, this prediction (given by Samuel and exhibited in the act of anointing) was brought to pass. David was raised to his divinely appointed station, when his shepherd's staff became a sceptre, and his flock a great people; none contributing more to the preparation of this event than Saul himself …. The complicated narrative is the exposition of the prophetic prescience' (Davison).
2. Those who oppose his purposes are overthrown.
3. He who humbly waits their fulfilment in the way of obedience is promoted.
4. Individuals and nations are constrained to turn from their own way, and submit to his plans as the wisest and best (2 Samuel 2:4; 2 Samuel 3:9; 2 Samuel 5:2). "The secret springs of revolutions are unaccountable, and must be resolved into that Providence which turns all hearts as the rivers of water" (Matthew Henry). "Notwithstanding those appearances which obscure the providence of God, it often makes itself conspicuous in the midst of them all. When we have allowed to human agency, to human wisdom and human power, a large circle of events imputed to nothing else, we see the Divine wisdom frequently disencumber itself from all communication with second causes, and stretch itself out in the face of all men, in defeating and confounding the plans of human wisdom, in the failure of the deepest schemes" (R. Hall).—D.
2 Samuel 1:2-10
Beyond the assertion of the Amalekite that Israel was defeated and Saul and Jonathan were dead, of which the diadem and bracelet afforded proof, it is uncertain how far his story was true. His statement concerning his own conduct cannot be satisfactorily reconciled with that of 1 Samuel 31:1-13.; and, although credited by David, it was probably a fabrication, his motive therein being the desire of reward, as David himself clearly perceived (2 Samuel 4:1-12:16). In him we have a picture of what sometimes appears in others under higher moral influences, viz.:
1. Dominant selfishness. He is supremely concerned about his own interest. Self-love is an original principle of our nature, and, when properly regulated, points in the direction of virtue and happiness. But it easily degenerates into selfishness, "the source of all the sins of omission and commission which are found in the world." And when a man comes under the dominion of the latter, he may sink into any depth of meanness.
2. Subtle scheming. Amidst the dying and the dead, after the battle, his only thought is of gain; and, having plundered the fallen king of the regalia, he coolly calculates how he may dispose thereof to the greatest advantage; and then hastens a long distance across the country to one whom he expects to find ready to welcome the prospect of his own elevation by an enemy's death, and to pay him "the wages of unrighteousness."
3. Feigned sympathy. He comes into the presence of David "with the marks of distress and dismay—dust and clay smeared over his face, and his clothes torn"—on account of the disaster which has befallen Israel (1 Samuel 4:12). But how little does his appearance correspond with the feelings of his heart! "Self-love sometimes borrows the face of honest zeal" (Hall).
4. Obsequious homage. "He fell to the earth, and did obeisance;" prostrating himself before the rising sun of the new era with abject, insincere, and wicked mind. "To those who are distinguished in the kingdom of God as specially called and favoured instruments of grace, falsehood and hypocrisy draw near most pressingly and corruptingly in the guise of humility and self-abasement" (Erdmann).
5. Plausible lying. (1 Samuel 31:6-9.) He artfully mingles falsehood with the truth he utters, for the sake of enhancing the value of his good offices. If he had been satisfied with simply telling the tidings of the death of Saul, all would have been well with him; but by his gratuitous inventions he entangles himself in a dangerous snare.
6. Unconscious self-accusation. "I stood upon him, and slew him, because I was sure that he could not live after that he was fallen" (1 Samuel 31:10). He accuses himself in the excuses he makes for his conduct. Qui s'excuse s'accuse. Even the request of Saul would not have justified his act or absolved him from responsibility. And how could he be sure that the wounded king could not live? Even the most hardened villain deems it needful to endeavour to palliate his offence. And he who is solely intent upon his own interest often makes admissions that clearly reveal his guilt.
7. Fatal miscalculation. He judges of the character of another by his own, meets with a generosity, loyalty, and justice which he cannot understand, fails of his purpose, and receives a reward which he did not anticipate. "The incident gives us the opportunity of marking the immense difference in the order of mind and character which may subsist between two individuals brought together by one event, and having their attention occupied by one and the same object" (J.A. Miller, 'Saul'). "He taketh the wise in their own craftiness" (Job 5:13). "The wicked is snared in the work of his own hands" (Psalms 9:16; Proverbs 6:15; Proverbs 18:7).—D.
2 Samuel 1:11, 2 Samuel 1:12
"They mourned, and wept" (2 Samuel 1:12). Few things are more remarkable in the character of David than the generosity which he displayed with respect to Saul. He once and again spared his life; and, instead of rejoicing, he was overwhelmed with grief at his death. He entirely lost sight of any advantage which it promised to himself, in his sorrow over the disaster which befell the king, his sons, and the people of Israel. We have here—
I. THE NEWS OF A GREAT CALAMITY, now only too fully confirmed (2 Samuel 1:5-11). A calamity is deeply affecting when, as in this case, it:
1. Consists of a combination of mournful events (2 Samuel 1:12).
2. Falls on those who are intimately connected with us.
3. Occurs suddenly and unexpectedly.
4. Involves irreparable loss, and affords little prospect of alleviation.
And the cloud of affliction is peculiarly dark when it is pervaded by Divine wrath (Hosea 13:11). "Lover and friend hast thou put far from me, and my acquaintance into darkness" (Psalms 88:18).
II. THE SCENE OF A GRIEVOUS MOURNING. The sincerity and intensity Of David's grief, in which his six hundred men shared, were shown by
(1) rending the garments;
(2) wailing aloud;
(4) until the evening;
common signs of sorrow in the East, as genuine as any other, and relieving as well as indicating a burdened heart. What a "day of trouble" was that on which David and his heroes sat there watching the sinking sun! (For other days of a like nature, see 2 Samuel 2:24; 2 Samuel 3:32; 2Sa 6:9; 2 Samuel 12:1, 2 Samuel 12:16; 2Sa 13:21, 2 Samuel 13:30; 2 Samuel 15:13; 2 Samuel 18:33; 2Sa 20:4; 2 Samuel 21:1; 2 Samuel 24:13, 2 Samuel 24:17.)
III. THE PROOF OF AN EXCELLENT DISPOSITION. Sorrow is an evidence of love. David's disposition was:
1. Forgiving toward an enemy. "For Saul."
2. Faithful toward a friend. "For Jonathan his son."
3. Patriotic. "For the house of Israel."
4. Devout. "For the people of the Lord."
"The uprightness of his heart and the sincerity of his feelings cannot for a moment be doubted by those who read his lament over Saul and Jonathan with an unprejudiced mind. Pretended sorrow never could speak thus" (Hengstenberg). "The only deep mourning for Saul, with the exception of the Jabeshites, proceeded from the man whom he had hated and persecuted for so many years, even to the time of his death; just as David's Successor wept over the fate of Jerusalem even when it was about to destroy himself (O. von Gerlach).
1. That the most generous grief requires to be restrained within due bounds. Its excessive indulgence is injurious and wrong.
2. That the beneficial effect of trouble is not usually experienced at "the present," but "afterward" by means of reflection and submission (Hebrews 12:11).
3. That to the eye of faith the darkest cloud is illumined by Divine goodness and mercy. "At eventide weeping cometh in to tarry for a night; but with the morning cometh a shout of joy" (Psalms 30:5).—D.
2 Samuel 1:13-16
"Thy blood be upon thy head" (2 Samuel 1:16). The grief of David at the death of Saul was associated with indignation at the conduct of the Amalekite, who, according to his own confession, had taken part in its infliction. At sunset he recalled the unhappy messenger, and having further questioned him, testified his abhorrence of his deed, and ordered his execution. Notice—
I. THE CRIME which was laid to his charge, viz. the intentional and unjustifiable taking away of the life of another:
1. Proceeding, like every act of murder, from indifference to the sacredness of human life and the dignity of human nature, created in the image of God.
2. Aggravated in guilt by irreverence toward the person of the king, "the Lord's anointed," who ought, on account of his high position, to have been held in special honour (1 Samuel 24:6; 1 Samuel 26:11; 1 Samuel 31:5). "When the Israelites were under royal authority, it would appear to have been a maxim of their law that the person of the king was inviolable, even though he might be tyrannical and unjust; and, in fact, this maxim is necessary, not only to the security of the king, but also to the welfare of the subject; for it is the dread of assassination and treacheries that usually makes kings tyrants, and novices in tyranny absolute despots" (Michaelis).
3. Exhibiting disobedience to the command of God. "Thou shalt not kill" (Exodus 20:13), i.e. do no murder (Exodus 21:12). With this law the Amalekite was probably acquainted. He knew, at least, that it was wrong to take away life without adequate reason. Hence he sought to justify the act by pleading the request of Saul (2 Samuel 1:9), and his suffering condition, which it was mercy to terminate. But how could Saul authorize another to do to him what he had no right to do to himself? Genuine loyalty and mercy would have prompted a different course of conduct; and malice and selfishness were clearly the motives of the deed. There was in it nothing praiseworthy, but everything to be abhorred and condemned (2 Samuel 1:14).
II. THE EVIDENCE on which he was convicted. "Thy mouth hath testified against thee," etc. (2 Samuel 1:16). His confession was:
1. Voluntarily made; not extorted from him by the infliction or threatening of suffering, or the promise of reward.
2. Confirmed by the signs of his connection with the death of the king (2 Samuel 1:10).
3. A sufficient ground, under the circumstances, for judgment, without further inquiry. Even if, as is probable, he did not actually commit the deed, he took upon himself the responsibility, and justly incurred the consequences thereof. But why did he not retract and repudiate his confession? Perhaps he thought that it would be of no avail; and he would thereby have acknowledged his falsehood and mercenariness. Possibly he did retract, and was not believed. For "a liar is not believed though he speak the truth." Considered in relation to his times, the evidence on which David acted was sufficient; but the incident affords an illustration of the uncertainty which often pertains to the crime of murder and the fallibility of human judgment.
III. THE AUTHORITY by which he was condemned. Although David was not yet publicly recognized as civil ruler, to whom the right of judging properly belonged, yet he was fully justified in assuming the office, inasmuch as:
1. It had been virtually conferred upon him by the appointment of the Divine King of Israel.
2. The chief hindrance to its exercise was removed by the death of Saul. There was no higher authority than his in the land, and it had been acknowledged by the Amalekite himself (2 Samuel 1:10).
3. Its assumption was necessary to the fulfilment of the purpose of his appointment, the manifestation of the justice of God, and the promotion of the welfare of the people. He may have wished to clear himself from the suspicion of complicity in the king's death, to show that he entertained no feeling of revenge against him, and to gain the esteem of the people of Israel; but his main motive was of a higher nature. He acted on theocratic principles, as on a subsequent occasion (2 Samuel 4:9-12).
IV. THE PUNISHMENT which he suffered (2 Samuel 1:15). "When the sentence of death was pronounced by the king, it was executed by his body guard" (2 Samuel 15:18; 2 Samuel 20:23). Capital punishment may be upheld on the ground of:
1. The claims of justice. It has been generally felt, even from the most ancient period (Genesis 4:10, Genesis 4:14), that the murderer deserves to die.
2. The teaching of Scripture. "Whoso sheddeth man's blood," etc. (Genesis 9:6). "This was the first command having reference to the temporal sword. By these words temporal government was established, and the sword placed in its hand by God" (Luther). It gave the right and imposed the duty of inflicting death; and it is of permanent obligation (Le 2 Samuel 24:17; John 19:11; Acts 25:11; Romans 13:4).
3. The welfare of society. It exalts the principle of justice; declares the dignity of man in the most impressive manner; effectually prevents the offender from repeating his offence; powerfully deters others from following his example; and thus conduces to the security of human life. Severity to one is mercy to many.
On the other hand, it may be said that:
1. The claims of justice are adequately satisfied by a lifelong penal servitude.
2. Scripture, rightly interpreted, does not justify the infliction of death. The Noachic precept (if it be such) was adapted only to an early stage of society, its literal fulfilment is no longer required, and the principle on which it rests (the dignity of man) is preserved and more fully maintained by the revelations and influences of Christianity. The whole spirit of the New Testament is in favour of seeking the reformation rather than effecting the destruction of the offender. "Mercy glorieth against judgment." Even the fratricide Cain was spared (Genesis 4:5), as if to show the possibility and propriety of sparing the life of the criminal.
3. The welfare of society is more fully promoted by sparing his life than by taking it away. Hardened criminals and persons under the influence of strong passion are not deterred by the fear of death; other persons are more powerfully affected by other motives. The possibility of the innocent suffering a penalty which is irreversible causes hesitation in its infliction where there is the least doubt, and so the guilty often escape, punishment becomes uncertain, and men are tempted to commit crime in the hope of impunity. As a matter of fact, crime does not increase in those countries where capital punishment is abolished. "After the Divine permission to inflict capital punishment which had been given for a considerable period of time, had displayed itself as the most extreme madness in the execution of Christ, the question of its abolition has become only a question of time. The question is whether Christ may not have done enough for this".—D.
2 Samuel 1:17, 2 Samuel 1:18
The song of the bow.
I. THE OCCASION of this lament, threnody, elegy, or funeral dirge, was the arrival of fatal tidings from Gilboa. "There were only two in that great slaughter concerning whose fate David was eager to know the truth—his enemy and his friend. 'How knowest thou that Saul and Jonathan his son be dead?' (2 Samuel 1:5). When the news was fully established, he immediately went through all the signs of Eastern grief. He and his six hundred heroes sat with their clothes rent, uttering the loud Oriental wail, observing the rigid Eastern fast until the sunset of the fatal day released them. Then David roused himself to action. The first vent to his grief was in the stern exaction of the life of the unhappy messenger, according to the hard temper of those fierce times. The second vent was in the touching dirge, which, according to the tender spirit of the sweet psalmist of Israel, he poured forth over the two departed chiefs". It was probably accompanied by his harp, that had long been silent, but was now taken up afresh and struck to a song of sorrow which for tenderness and intensity has never been surpassed. "The genius and origin of the elegy among the Hebrews may be clearly traced to their manner of celebrating their funeral rites" (Lowth). "If you attend to David's harp, you shall hear as many hearse-like airs as carols" (Bacon).
II. THE TITLE of "The Bow" (Kesheth), which it appears to have received, may have been derived from the mention of the bow in 2 Samuel 1:22, as the favourite weapon of Jonathan (1 Samuel 18:4; 1 Samuel 20:20), as it was of his tribesmen (1 Chronicles 12:2); or "because it was a martial ode" (Keil). It is improbable that David introduced "the use of the bow" (Authorized Version) into the tribe of Judah, either as a tribute to the memory of his friend, or as a means of repairing the recent disaster; for that had been long familiar. But he "bade them teach the children of Judah" the song of "the bow" (possibly that his youthful warriors might sing it in their military practice with the bow)—a title given to it in the Book of Jashar (Joshua 10:13), or collection of national songs, in which it was preserved. "When the writer of 2 Samuel transferred the dirge to his own pages, he transferred it, as we might do any of the psalms, with its title, which was as follows: 'For the children of Israel to learn by heart. Kasheth from the Book of Jasher'" ('Speaker's Commentary').
III. ITS FORM is that of a lyrical composition, the oldest as well as the most common species of Hebrew poetry; and (like the rest) it is distinguished by parallelism or rhythm, "the measured rise and fall of feeling and utterance, in which the poet's effort to become fully master of his poetic inspiration finds harmonious expression, and the external rhythm of sound is properly subordinated to the rhythmic pulsation of thought". It contains a refrain or chorus, twice repeated; and falls into three strophic divisions marked by its recurrence, either at their commencement (Keil)or their close (Kitto, 'Cyclopaedia of Biblical Literature'); or, according to more common arrangement, into five or six stanzas. "The putting of lamentations into poems made them the more moving and affecting, and the more lasting" (Matthew Henry).
IV. IN SUBSTANCE and general character it is an outburst of natural grief (as the song of Hannah was of spiritual gladness) over the fallen heroes, and a celebration of their worth. "We can hardly call it religious poetry. It is not a psalm or hymn. The name of God never occurs in it. It is a war song which sums up the national feelings of every age over the graves of its departed heroes" (Stanley). Yet it is instinct with most generous and devout feeling. "As in view of the remains of a friend all the pain which he caused us while living is forgotten in the remembrance of his excellences and the kindness which he showed us, so David no longer has a memory for the period of persecution now past. He is a man, and not the judge of the dead. Therefore Saul stands before him only in his virtues, and he celebrates not only Jonathan, but also Saul, as loved ones who can never be forgotten. We see in this case that anger belongs only to the accidental utterances of noble souls, whose constant motive is love" (Delitzsch, 'Old Test. Hist. of Redemption'). "Though God often reproved his ancient people for paying religious homage to the idols of the heathen, yet we never find that he reproved them for paying funeral honours to departed men of superior merit among their own nation. Their example in this respect, therefore, seems to have a Divine sanction, and plainly teaches us the propriety of lamenting the death and commemorating the virtues of those who have been eminently useful in life" (N. Emmons).—D.
2 Samuel 1:19-27
David's lamentation over Saul and Jonathan.
In this lamentation there is—
I. A DECLARATION OF THE CAUSE OF MOURNING.
"O pride of Israel, on thy high places slain!
Alas! fallen are the heroes."
(2 Samuel 1:19.)
This is the keynote. It contains "the theme of the entire ode."
1. Men of rich endowments are the ornament, beauty, and glory of a people.
2. Such men are sometimes stricken down suddenly and under unexpected circumstances. "Not on the level plains where defeat from the chariots and horses of the enemy might have been expected and had been before encountered, but on the high places where victory seemed the rightful prize of the mountain chiefs and the indomitable infantry of the Israelitish hosts"—there the towering form of Saul was "hit by the archers" (1 Samuel 31:3), the heroic heart of Jonathan thrust through, the splendour of Israel eclipsed. "All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field," etc. (Isaiah 40:6, Isaiah 40:7; Jeremiah 9:23, Jeremiah 9:24).
3. Their loss is a great calamity, and a source of bitter grief to those who form a proper estimate of their worth, and possess a genuine concern for the public good (2 Samuel 1:12).
II. A DEPRECATION OF THE TRIUMPH OF THE ENEMY.
"Tell it not in Garth,
Publish not the tidings in the streets of Askelon;
Lest the daughters of the Philistines rejoice,
Lest the daughters of the uncircumcised exult."
(2 Samuel 1:20.)
In imagination the poet sees the swift-footed messengers bearing the tidings to the nearest cities of the Philistines—to Gath and Askelon; hears their songs of victory; and, in sympathy with his people, he utters the wish, "Oh that it might not have been!"
1. The fall of men of eminence among the people of God causes exultation among their adversaries.
2. The triumph of the wicked (the "uncircumcised") increases the suffering and shame of the godly in their misfortunes (Psalms 44:9-26; Psalms 123:4).
3. Whatever contributes to this result should be earnestly deprecated by all who have a sincere regard for the reputation of the great, the welfare of the good, and the honour of God. That which makes the ungodly rejoice should often make the faithful weep.
III. AN IMPRECATION ON THE SCENE OF DISASTER.
"O mountains in Gilboa, nor dew nor rain (be) upon you,
Nor fields of sacred offerings!
For there lies rusting the shield of heroes,
The shield of Saul unanointed with oil."
(2 Samuel 1:21.)
"Over against the exultant joy of victory of Israel's enemies, which he would be gladly spared, David sets the attitude of mourning, in which he would behold the mountains of Gilboa, the scene of the heroes' death struggle" (Erdmann). As that scene presents itself to his imagination, its beauty and fertility appear incongruous with the degradation of the slain, the misery of Israel, and his own absorbing grief. Has it no sympathy with them in their woe? He impatiently resents its indifference to his sorrow, and says in effect, "Oh that it might no more enjoy the favour of Heaven, nor produce the oblations by which its wrath is propitiated, but be a perpetual memorial of the mournful event!" (Ezekiel 31:15).
1. It is the tendency of grief to dwell upon the objects that are associated with its cause, and by the contemplation of them it becomes intensified.
2. Under the influence of strong emotion the mind seeks sympathy with itself even in material and inanimate objects, and is apt to indulge in wishes that are incapable of literal fulfilment.
3. The aspects of nature correspond in greater or less degree with the mental mood in which they are regarded. Sorrow projects its shadow over the external world, and clothes the fairest scenes with gloom.
4. The language of poetic inspiration must not be interpreted in its literal, prosaic sense, but in the light of the feeling and imagination of the poet. David's imprecation was no more intended to have an actual effect on the fields of Gilboa than Job's (Job 3:1) on the day of his birth.
IV. A CELEBRATION OF THE VIRTUES OF THE FALLEN.
"From blood of slain,
From fat of heroes
The bow of Jonathan turned not backward,
And the sword of Saul returned not unsatisfied.
Saul and Jonathan! the beloved and lovely!
In their lives and in their death they were not parted;
Than eagles fleeter, Than lions stronger."
(Verses 22, 23.)
The poet turns away from the melancholy scene to contemplate the heroes as he had known them, and describes their warlike prowess, their amiable dispositions, their mutual affection and faithful companionship, their agility and strength. Sincere sorrow over the dead:
1. Imposes a becoming silence concerning their imperfections, is forgetful of personal injuries, and puts out of sight everything that is contrary to itself (verses 11, 12). De mortuis nil nisi bonum.
2. Delights to dwell upon the special aspects of their character which are worthy of admiration.
3. Sees in their extraordinary virtues a measure of the loss that has been experienced. "The nobility of Jonathan's character cannot easily be overestimated. The rival claims of friendship and of nature, of David and Saul, were adjusted with admirable delicacy. He strengthened his friend's hands (1 Samuel 22:16) and saved his life; but he clung to his father. The shadows were falling on Saul, yet he did not join David's party, though he knew that he would succeed to the throne. With a gallant loyalty and a true-hearted despair, he followed his doomed sire to Gilboa" (B. Kent).
V. AN ENUMERATION OF THE GIFTS OF A BENEFACTOR.
"O daughters of Israel, wail for Saul!
He clothed you in scarlet with loveliness;
He put jewels of gold upon your apparel.
Alas! fallen are the heroes
In the midst of the battle."
(Verses 24, 25.)
"The stream of sorrow, which down to this point has been united, here divides." David calls upon the daughters of Israel to wail, while the daughters of the Philistines triumph; and reminds them of the beneficence of Saul in distributing among them the spoils of war gained in his former victories.
1. The benefits conferred by an able and successful ruler upon his people are great, and deserve a grateful recognition.
2. The value of those benefits is seldom fully appreciated until they can be no longer bestowed.
3. Public mourning is as appropriate in its season as public rejoicing (1 Samuel 13:7). It expresses and deepens the general sorrow, and is a testimony to departed worth. The chorus is here repeated. "This recurrence of the same idea is perfectly congenial to the nature of elegy, since grief is fond of dwelling upon the particular objects of the passion, and frequently repeating them" (Lowth).
VI. A COMMEMORATION OF THE LOVE OF A FRIEND.
"O Jonathan, on thy high places slain!
Woe is me for thee, my brother Jonathan!
Lovely wast thou to me exceedingly,
Marvellous (was) thy love to me beyond the love of woman.
Alas! fallen are the heroes,
And perished the instruments of battle."
(Verses 26, 27.)
"At this culmination of grief the lament again sounds the keynote of the whole, and returns in conclusion to its chief object, the sorrow for the hero glory of Israel destroyed in Saul and Jonathan." David's expression of sorrow manifests his deep love to his friend; still more, commemorates the "wonderful" love of his friend to him. "And in that love which he had borne towards him, there was something 'separate from all beside,' 'miraculous,' like a special work of God (this is the force of the word), more singular, undivided, and devoted than the love of women—even of Michal, of Ahinoam, of Abigail" (Stanley).
1. Pure, fervent, self-denying love is the chief excellence of human character. It is the greatest of all great things (1 Corinthians 13:13; Colossians 3:14; James 2:8; 1 Peter 1:22).
2. It is exalted and glorified in our view by means of death.
3. The memory of those in whom it dwells in an eminent degree is worthy of being perpetuated to all ages.—D.
2 Samuel 1:19
How are the mighty fallen!
This expression suggests numerous refleclions on—
I. THE VANITY OF MAN in the glory of his might. He is proud of his exalted state, his wisdom, strength, or riches; and he is admired and envied by others. But:
1. How precarious his position! He stands on "slippery places." All his grandeur rests on life, than which nothing is more unsubstantial or uncertain.
2. How futile his purposes! Formed in ignorance, weakness, and presumption, they are defeated and" broken off." "There is no king saved by the multitude of a host;" etc. (Psalms 33:16).
3. How unsatisfying his possessions! They afford no solid peace in life or death. "Vanity of vanities," etc. (Ecclesiastes 1:1).
4. How transient his duration! "Man is like to vanity; his days are as a shadow that passeth away" (Psalms 144:4).
5. How signal his downfall! "How are they brought into desolation as in a moment!" (Psalms 73:19).
6. Hew evanescent his fame!
Is as the herb, whose hue doth come and go;
And his might withers it, by whom it sprang
Crude from the lap of earth."
(Dante, 'Purg.,' 11.)
7. How complete his humiliation! The sword of Saul is cast away, his shield covered with blood and rust, his sceptre broken, his diadem and bracelet pilfered, his head placed in the temple of Dagon, his body fastened on the wall of Bethshan, his sons slain, and his dynasty destroyed. "Man that is in honour, and understandeth not, is like the beasts that perish" (Psalms 49:20; Psalms 39:5; Daniel 4:31; Acts 12:23). "The last act is sanguinary, beautiful as is all the rest of the play. Dust is cast upon the head, and there is an end and forever" (Pascal).
"Farewell, a long farewell, to all my greatness!
This is the state of man: Today he putteth forth
The tender leaves of hope; tomorrow blossoms,
And bears his blushing honours thick upon him:
The third day comes a frost, a killing frost;
And,—when he thinks, good easy man, full surely
His greatness is a-ripening,—nips his root,
And then he falls, as I do."
(Shakespeare, 'Henry VIII.')
II. THE PROVIDENCE OF GOD in the fall of the mighty. "If there be a God, the world must be governed by Providence" (1 Samuel 2:1-10; 1 Samuel 9:1-25).
1. How evident its existence! "The Lord reigneth." It is not only declared in the Scriptures, but also plainly shown by the facts of history and daily observation. Of Saul it is said, "The Lord slew him" (1 Chronicles 10:14).
2. How great its power! "He bringeth the princes to nothing; he maketh the judges of the earth as vanity" (Isaiah 40:23; Daniel 4:25).
3. How vast its domain! All space, all time, all orders of being and all events, the least as well as the greatest (Matthew 10:29). Even the actions of free and responsible creatures, of individuals and nations, the Philistines as well as the Israelites, the evil as well as the good, are encircled and pervaded by it; foreseen, permitted, directed, controlled, restrained, or overruled. The course of Saul was foreseen at his appointment; yet he was not thereby placed under the necessity of acting as he did
"Contingency, whose verge extendeth not
Beyond the tablet of your mortal mold,
Is all depictured in the eternal sight;
But hence deriveth not necessity,
More than the tall ship, hurried down the flood,
Is driven by the eye that looks on it."
4. How manifold its operations! What skilful adaptations it makes! What endless instrumentalities it employs! What varied issues it evolves!
5. How mysterious its methods! The fact is certain, the mode unknown. Its ways are obscure, perplexing, completely hidden for a while, and then made apparent and fully justified. "We know in part."
6. How righteous its administration! (Psalms 31:23; Psalms 37:1-11; Psalms 97:2). "Saul died for his transgression," and Israel (whose self-will he reflected) was chastised through the man of their own choice.
7. How beneficent its aims! The repression of sin, the salvation of men, the glory of God. The fall of Israel's first king was overruled for the good of the nation; the fall of Israel, in subsequent ages, was "the riches of the world." "Oh the depth," etc.! (Romans 11:33-36).
1. Glory not in any earthly good, but only in the Lord.
2. Be ambitious to serve rather than to rule.
3. "Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for him."
4. Strive for the crown and kingdom that will endure forever.—D.
2 Samuel 1:26
Human love is, in proportion to its purity and strength, a gift of Divine love. It also illustrates the love from which it proceeds, by reflecting its image as in a mirror. It is of a twofold nature—viz, benevolence or charity towards all, even the unworthy; and complacency towards those in whom it perceives the signs of excellence, or resemblance to itself. Of the latter kind was the love of Jonathan to David; and it was wonderful, considered in the light of
(1) the selfishness that prevails among men,
(2) the hindrances that stood in the way of its exercise,
(3) the Divine grace by which it was produced and maintained,
(4) the admirable qualities that distinguished it, and
(5) the services and sacrifices in which it was evinced.
It may be regarded as a representation of the unspeakable love of Christ towards his friends (John 15:15) and brethren (John 20:10; which is:
1. Appreciative of their worth (see 1 Samuel 18:1-4). It sets a special value upon them, however they may be despised by others; looks at them in relation not merely to what they actually are, but to what they may become; and singles them out as objects of its individual concern. "Thy love to me was wonderful." "He calleth his own sheep by name" (John 10:3).
2. Sincere and thoroughly disinterested (1 Samuel 19:1-7). It seeks their welfare rather than its own; is trustful, unsuspecting, and watchful over their interests; freely communicates its thoughts and feelings; counsels and reproves; faithfully performs its promises; and affords protection and aid according to their need.
3. Sympathetic. (1 Samuel 20:1-9.) It finds delight in their society; holds familiar intercourse with them; desires a return of its affection; makes their joys and sorrows its own; and is considerate, gentle, tender, and kind. "Behold, how he loved him!" (John 11:36).
4. Intense. (1 Samuel 20:10-42.) "More wonderful than woman's love." "No less ardent, sincere, and sweet than the highest conjugal affection; which ought to be (as Strigelius here glosses) ardent without simulation, sincere without any suspicions, and sweet without morosity or disdain" (Patrick). Its intensity is shown in its utterances, efforts, tears; courage, forbearance, forgiveness, and unwearied patience.
5. Self-denying and self-sacrificing. Jonathan identified himself with his friend, whose life was in imminent peril; renounced a crown and suffered shame for his sake; but who shall tell what Christ renounced and suffered for us (Philippians 2:7, Philippians 2:8)?
6. Enduring. "Having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end" (John 13:1); and gave them, on the eve of his departure, a proof of his condescending, pure, undying affection. His love is still the same; and it "passeth knowledge" (Ephesians 3:19).
7. Influential (1 Samuel 23:16-18) in attracting love and constraining devotion; strengthening, preserving, comforting, purifying those in whom it dwells; perfecting its image in them and preparing them to enter into its eternal joy. "Unto him that loved us," etc. (Revelation 1:5).—D.
HOMILIES BY G. WOOD
2 Samuel 1:6-10
A sad end of a perverse life.
We have here an Amalekite's account of the death of Saul. Whether it presents the truth, and can therefore be harmonized with the account in 1 Samuel 31:1-13; is doubtful. Possibly Saul did not die at once when he fell upon his sword, and being in anguish, and fearing to fall into the hands of the Philistines, begged the Amalekite to despatch him. But it is more probable that the account was false. In either case Saul committed suicide. It was a tragic end of a tragic life—a life full of the interest which arises from remarkable events, contrasted characters, the working of powerful passions, etc. But we have to view it in the aspects which tend to our moral and spiritual profit.
I. IT WAS THE END OF A LIFE WHOSE BEGINNING WAS FULL OF PROMISE. Arising from:
1. His personal qualities. Those of body—tall and commanding, fitting him in such times to be a leader of men. Those of moral nature. Character is the most powerful factor in a life; and if we see a youth of good character we hope well of him. Saul comes before us as a modest, humble, unassuming youth, diligently discharging his duty as a son, and affectionately concerned not to give pain to his father (1 Samuel 9:5, where "take thought" means "fear," "be anxious"). Still even then, judging from the silence of the narrative he was without decided piety.
2. Divine calls and gifts. Chosen of God to be king, he was anointed by Samuel, and received unmistakable signs that the prophet was the representative of God in the matter. Chosen also by lot, although some were disaffected, he was soon able to secure general acceptance by his prowess and able leadership in war; and was solemnly set apart as sovereign. Moreover, a change passed over himself which fitted him for his post. "God gave him another heart" (1 Samuel 10:9). He became also a partaker of the spirit of prophecy. (1 Samuel 10:10.)
3. Great opportunities. The career opened to Saul was one of peculiar dignity and honour. Called to be the first king of God's nation, he might have been also the father of a race of such kings, and have thus occupied no mean place in the development of God's plans for the redemption of mankind. And his immediate work, that of leading the people to victory over their heathen oppressors and clearing the land of them, and then of drawing the tribes of Israel more closely into unity and framing them into a "kingdom of God," was worthy of the highest powers and the strenuous labours of a long life.
4. Early achievements. Those, for instance, recorded in 1 Samuel 11:1-15; in which he manifested both courage and capacity, and which obtained for him the general consent of the people to his appointment.
II. IT WAS THE END OF A LIFE WHICH HAD BEEN A CONSPICUOUS FAILURE. He lost his opportunity, forfeited his throne, and deprived his family of the honour of succeeding him. He was tried, found wanting, and rejected. He had shown that he possessed some kingly qualities. Did he possess the most essential quality for the king of such a people—a king under God as supreme Monarch—that of faith in God, showing itself by ready and hearty obedience even under difficulties? It was peculiarly important that the first king should not fail in such qualities. Twice especially he was put to the proof and failed; in the first instance (1 Samuel 13:1-23.) by doing what he ought not to have done, and in the second (1 Samuel 15:1-35.) by leaving undone what he ought to have done. Twice his doom was pronounced by Samuel, who then sorrowfully retired, and left him to his own self-will and certain fate. But though he thus failed in securing the great prize set before him, he had space and opportunity for repentance and its fruits. He became after a time aware who was to secure the honour which he had forfeited, and had he been humbled in spirit and penitent, he might have shown by his conduct to David that he acquiesced in the Divine will, and was prepared to be a coworker with God in its accomplishment. He might have cherished the spirit of John the Baptist, and said with resignation, if not joy, "He must increase, but I must decrease." Instead of this he cherished envy, which ripened into hatred, and would have culminated in murder but for the special providence which guarded David's life. Baffled in his repeated attempts on his life, he sought to kill his own son, because he pleaded for David; and actually slew eighty-five priests, their wives, children, and cattle, because one of them had shown kindness to David, in ignorance of the real state of affairs. Meanwhile David acted towards him with the utmost forbearance, sparing him when once and again he could easily have taken his life; the subsequent knowledge of which softened the king, but only for a little while. Yet he was not without some zeal for the Law of God, and, besides his sacrificial offerings, "had put away those that had familiar spirits, and the wizards, out of the land" (1 Samuel 28:3). In the extremity, however, of his distress and perplexity, he sought the help of a woman that had a familiar spirit, but only to have his doom once more pronounced.
III. IT WAS THE END OF A LIFE IN WHICH THE DISPLEASURE OF GOD HAD BEEN MADE SIGNALLY MANIFEST.
1. By the sentences of rejection pronounced upon Saul by Samuel. (1 Samuel 13:14; 1 Samuel 15:23.)
2. By the sorrowful abandonment of him by Samuel. (1 Samuel 15:35.)
3. By the departure of the Spirit of the Lord from him, and the entrance into him of "an evil spirit from the Lord." The Spirit which had fitted him for the discharge of his duties forsook him, and an evil spirit troubled him—an habitual melancholy, most likely, and depression. He felt he was not the same man. He was continually haunted with the sense of his being condemned and rejected, of the inevitableness of his fate, the certainty that, however long he might continue sovereign, he could not transmit the dignity to his son. And this gloom sometimes passed over into frenzy. He was, as we should say, subject to fits of insanity. This, doubtless, furnishes some excuse for the madness of his conduct.
4. By the refusal of God to answer his prayers in the depth of his distress. (1 Samuel 28:6.) That had come upon him which is described in Proverbs 1:24-31.
5. By his miserable end. Nothing, surely, can be more affecting than the circumstances of his death, as recorded in 1 Samuel 31:3-6, supplemented by our text.
1. Every man has a Divine mission. Not only kings and great men. God has assigned us our pest, and expects us to fill it as under him. In doing so he gives the opportunity of great distinction and honour, even the attainment of an everlasting crown of glory.
2. Habitual regard to the Divine will is essential to the fulfilment of our mission. And how shall we ascertain it? We have no inspired Samuel by our side. But we have a greater than he, even the Lord Jesus Christ—the Word he has given us, the Spirit he bestows, the principles of godliness, holiness, and love which he implants. We need not seriously err.
3. Disobedience will be surely followed by punishment.
4. One serious failure in obedience to God may blight and ruin the whole life.
5. Persistent rebellion issues in utter rejection of God. And the final doom may be foreshadowed by the withdrawment of God's Spirit, and entire abandonment to the spirit of evil.
6. Let not the young trust to their good moral qualities. Let them seek at once through Christ that change of heart which will turn their virtues into holiness, render them loving and loyal to God, and ensure for them his favour now and evermore.—G.W.
2 Samuel 1:14
A weighty question.
David could consistently ask this question, for he had throughout acted with devout regard to the Divine anointing which Saul. had received. When the opportunity was afforded him of slaying Saul, and he was urged to do so, he again and again steadily refused, notwithstanding all the provocation he received, and although he knew that Saul would have no scruple in putting him to death. Yet the person to whom this question was addressed could, perhaps, hardly appreciate its significance. Supposing his narrative truthful, he may have been actuated by compassion in what he did; and he hoped for reward from David, in whom he saw the coming king of Israel. But, however this may be, the question may be used as applicable to those who assail with deadly intention him who is pre-eminently the anointed (the Christ) of God. First, to those who actually slew him, or took part in his death; and then to all who become sharers in their guilt by endeavouring to destroy his authority and sway amongst men.
I. WHO MAY BE THUS ADDRESSED.
1. Those who assail the gospel of Christ.
2. Those who endeavour to destroy his work in the souls of men.. Such as resolutely resist and suppress the thoughts and emotions he produces in themselves, resisting his Spirit. Such also as set themselves to prevent or destroy his influence over others; endeavouring to undermine their faith, to corrupt their morals, to entice them from the paths of piety and goodness (see Matthew 18:6, Matthew 18:7).
3. Those who persecute his people. "Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?"
II. WHY THEY ARE NOT AFRAID.
1. Ignorance, in some, of what they are doing. As seems to have been the case with this Amalekite. This palliation of guilt is admitted in the case of those who put our Lord to death (Acts 3:17; 1 Corinthians 2:8). And he told his disciples that their persecutors even unto death would think they were "doing God service" (John 16:2). But ignorance itself may be guiltiness, though not so great as sinning against the light, knowing it to be light and hating it on that account.
2. Disbelief as to the truth of Christianity, as to God himself, or even as to the reality and worth of godliness and goodness.
3. Moral insensibility. Which may spring from disbelief, or from habits of godlessness and wickedness, or of mere worldliness.
4. Expectation of impunity. Because of the seeming weakness of him whom they assail (Matthew 27:42, Matthew 27:43), or his delay in punishing (Ecclesiastes 8:11), or from false notions of the goodness of God. All these reasons cannot exist in the same person; but some in one, some in another.
III. WHY THEY OUGHT TO BE AFRAID.
1. Because Jesus is the Lord's Anointed—the Christ of God. He comes to men with Divine authority, appointed to be their King and Saviour. There is sufficient proof of this. "This is my beloved Son" was not only uttered from heaven; it appears in the whole character, teaching, miracles, in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ; in the correspondence of prophecy and history; in the testimony of the apostles and the miracles which attested their mission; in the birth, growth, and perpetuation of the Church; in the mighty beneficial influence of Christianity in the world; in its effects on individual character and happiness, on family life and national life. It is echoed in the hearts and consciences of men; in the happy consciousness of every Christian. It is fashionable now to apologize for unbelief, and treat sceptics very tenderly, as if their love of truth made them sceptics. But compare the sayings of our Lord, "He that is of the truth heareth my voice," and "If any man willeth to do his will, he shall know of the teaching, whether it be of God." If, then, Jesus be God's Anointed, to fight against him is to fight against God, which is both impious and perilous.
2. Because of the penalties incurred by opposition to Christ. The injury they do to themselves now, the judgment which will come upon them hereafter. Him whom they assail they will one day see coming in the clouds of heaven, to take vengeance on his foes. "Those mine enemies … bring hither and slay them before me."
3. Because of the injury they do to others. Men with any regard to the welfare of others may well be asked to pause before they endeavour to rob them of their faith, and all that springs out of it, in sound moral principles, right character, happiness, comfort under the troubles and burdens of life, and hope in death; especially as avowedly they have no adequate substitute to offer. They ought to be afraid of taking a course which, if successful, would deprive the lowly and the poor of their chief consolation, leave unrestrained by any sufficient check the passions of men, and so demoralize and disorganize society.
IV. THE EXPOSTULATIONS. WHICH SHOULD BE ADDRESSED TO THEM. "How is it that thou art not afraid," etc.? Christian speakers and writers sometimes oppose those who are opposing Christ in a style suitable to the discussion of some abstract question. The conflict is conducted as if it were one of mere opinion. But surely those to whom Christ is dear ought to make it felt that they regard the question of his position and claims as one of life and death—one in which all that is most valued by them for the sake of themselves, their families, and society at large is involved. And it is due to the foes of Christ themselves that this should be done. Their consciences should be addressed as well as their reasoning faculty. Remonstrance should be employed, and warning, as well as argument. Only let the warmth shown be that of love and intense desire for the salvation of men.
Finally, let the Christian rejoice that all opposition to "the Lord's Anointed" is, and must be, vain. It cannot injure him; it cannot seriously or permanently injure his cause. It can only recoil on those who engage in it (see Psalms 2:1-12.; Luke 20:17, Luke 20:18).—G.W.
2 Samuel 1:20
Joy amongst the enemies of the Church.
"Tell it not in Gath," etc. A poetical deprecation; for already had it been told among the Philistines, and triumphed over; and yet would be. The language expresses David's sorrow at the joy of the Philistines, and its cause. The words have often been used to express the concern of good men when Christians give occasion to the enemies of Christ's kingdom to rejoice.
I. THE OCCASIONS OF SUCH JOY.
1. In general, the misfortunes of the Church, whatever hinders its advancement or causes reversal.
2. In particular, the inconsistencies of professing Christians. It is amazing how men will gloat over the occasional lapses of Christians into sins which they are themselves habitually committing. Still it is a serious enhancement of the guilt of such lapses that they cause "the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme" (2 Samuel 12:14).
3. Contentions and divisions among Christians. When these are rife, the world is apt to exclaim in scorn, "See how these Christians love one another!"
4. Failures in their work.
II. THE CAUSES OF SUCH JOY.
1. Hatred of God and goodness. To "rejoice in iniquity" is a sure sign of this; and to rejoice in the enfeebling of the power which most of all tends to its subjugation—the power of Christian life and teaching—is scarcely less so. It is a diabolical joy.
2. The encouragement in sin which is derived from the faults of good men. Sinners feel as if justified in their own sins when Christians fall into them; their guilty consciences are relieved. As if sin in themselves were less sinful because practised by those who profess to have renounced it; or as if the Law of God, Which condemns the Christian's occasional sins, did not at least equally condemn the habitual sins of others. Rather should they remember that the knowledge of the evil of sin by which they condemn others is to their own condemnation (Romans 2:1, Romans 2:3). They ought, therefore, to take warning instead of indulging satisfaction.
III. HOW CHRISTIANS SHOULD BE AFFECTED BY IT.
1. They should be careful not needlessly to publish that which will produce it. "Tell it not," etc. Not needlessly; for ofttimes secrecy is impossible, sometimes it would be injurious. We must not deny facts, nor palliate sin, to prevent the triumph of enemies. But we ought not to eagerly announce to the world the occurrences which tend to our humiliation and their exultation.
(1) For the sake of those who would exult. That they may not add to their sins by their unholy joy, nor become more hardened in them.
(2) Lest we should put stumbling blocks in the way of feeble Christians; or
(3) discourage our brethren in their conflicts with evil; or
(4) lessen the power of the testimony of the Church on the side of Christ and holiness.
2. They should be still more careful so to live as to give no occasion for such exultation. "That by well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men" (1 Peter 2:15).
3. They should in no degree imitate it. Which they do when they rejoice at any scandal which arises in another Church that they regard as a rival, or at failure on its part in efforts to do good. Christian love "rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth," and will be grieved at sin wherever it may be found, and at the failure of Christian work by whomsoever it may be done.—G.W.
2 Samuel 1:26
A beloved friend's death lamented.
David's lamentation over Saul was genuine. He saw now the good in him, and passed over the evil. He remembered his early kindnesses to himself, and thought not of his later enmity. He associated him with Jonathan, and was softened towards him on that account. He mourned sincerely that his death should have been caused, though not directly inflicted, by the enemies of his nation, the Philistines. He sympathized with the people in their loss, and in the troubles which would surely spring from his death. But his lament over Jonathan was of another order. It was the outburst of a passionate grief at the tragical death of an affectionate and faithful friend, whom he tenderly loved, whose life had been lovely, and to David most kind and helpful.
I. JONATHAN'S FRIENDSHIP WITH DAVID.
1. It seems to have originated in admiration. The qualities of David, as they were displayed in the conflict with Goliath, found an echo in Jonathan's own soul, which became "knit with the soul of David," so that "Jonathan loved him as his own soul" (1 Samuel 18:1, 1 Samuel 18:3). There were natural affinities—youth, courage, faith in God. But there was, doubtless, also that subtile something, undiscoverable by analysis, which specially adapts one soul for closest union with another.
2. It was very warm and passionate. See the above quotation, and David's words in the text, "Thy love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women."
3. It was cemented and confirmed by pledges and compacts. (1 Samuel 18:3, 1Sa 18:4.; 1 Samuel 20:16, 1 Samuel 20:17, 1Sa 20:41, 1 Samuel 20:42; 1 Samuel 23:18.) Note especially 1 Samuel 20:17, "Jonathan caused David to swear again," etc. His love was so strong and passionate that it was never weary of pouring itself out in vows and protests and covenants.
4. It was more than disinterested. For Jonathan soon saw that David would succeed his father on the throne, and the prospect was strongly represented to him by Saul (1 Samuel 20:31). But no jealousy sprang up in his heart; he was content to be second where David was first (1 Samuel 23:17).
5. It was shown by practical service. He interceded with his father repeatedly for David, and exposed himself thereby to death from his father's rage. He warned David of his father's deadly purpose, and repeated the warning when, contrary to his hope, he found how implacable that purpose was. He visited his friend when banished from court and pursued by his relentless enemy. He "strengthened his hands in God." In all ways he proved himself a "brother;" yea, "a friend that sticketh closer than a brother "(Proverbs 18:24).
6. It was associated with strict loyalty to his father. He had a difficult part to play, but he played it well. He was loving and devoted to Saul, while maintaining so warm a friendship with him whose life the father sought. David would only the more admire and love him on this account, for he was equally loyal to the unhappy king, and would have served him as devotedly if he had been permitted; and so, when both were slain on one battlefield, he united their memories in his elegy. "Saul and Jonathan were lovely and pleasant in their lives, and in death they were not divided."
II. HIS DEATH. The dearest friends must be parted by death; and the pleasure they have enjoyed in each other's love and society will make the pain the more severe.
"There is no union here of hearts
Which finds not here an end."
Yet this is not strictly true. Christian friendships are immortal.
III. DAVID'S LAMENTATION. A worthy tribute of friendship—tender, sublime, and sincere. David would feel his loss irreparable. No friendship equal to this was it possible to form. Happily, while lamenting his loss, his sorrow was not embittered by the memory of any unkindness or unfaithfulness on his part. It is, however, singular that even in such a composition no reference to future life and reunion should find place. The consolations so natural to a Christian are unnoticed. They were not ordinarily known with sufficient distinctness to be of much service. "Our Saviour Jesus Christ … brought life and immortality to light through the gospel" (2 Timothy 1:10).
We may regard the friendship of Jonathan for David as a picture of—
I. THE FRIENDSHIP OF JESUS FOR US. This is "wonderful" indeed, in its condescension, its spontaneousness, its disinterestedness, its sacrifices, its services and bestowments. And it never ends. This Friend never dies, never changes in love or power.
II. WHAT OUR FRIENDSHIP TO HIM SHOULD BE. It cannot be purely disinterested; we owe so much to him, and expect so much from him. Yet may our love be far more than gratitude; we may love him for his own sake, and shall do so if we are his. Nor let us restrain our affection, but lavish it upon him—ardent, tender, even passionate. He requires and deserves to be loved more than our dearest earthly relatives and friends. But ever let us remember that he values most our obedient and self-denying service, and our practical love for his sake of those whom he loves and for whom he gave his life.
III. WHAT OUR FRIENDSHIP WITH EACH OTHER SHOULD BE. Our Lord came to found in the world a sacred friendship, a brotherhood, based on faith in him and love to him, and kept alive by regard for his love to us all. In Jonathan, and still more in Jesus, we see what this friendship ought to be.—G.W.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 1". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29