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We have already seen that the desire and deliberate decision of the people for a king was a direct blow at the government of God in Israel; but the time was come to permit the will of the people to have its way. On the one hand God, though not without the prophet's expostulation, would let them learn what the king of their choice must come to. On the other hand I have already shown fully that, even before the desire of the people for a king was expressed, God had manifested His purpose to bless by an Anointed One before whom the priest should walk. He meant to give them a king. His love is always before the hatred of the enemy. Man shows out no doubt what he is in his desire to get rid of God; but Jehovah has His own plans, and gives us the great comfort of knowing that, although the execution of them may be contingent on man's sinful failure and ruin, His purpose and end of blessing man is ever before His own mind. These counsels of God are of course altogether independent of man. They may take into account fully the means of the creature's blessing, and they must; for He is the only wise God, who needs no after thoughts to correct or supplement His first design; and it is in man that God glorifies Himself most. But at the same time, for that very reason, God blesses man most when He lifts man out of his thoughts into His own counsels.
Now, in looking at this chapter, nothing can be more striking than the manner in which God causes everything to further His own end. Man had expressed his guilty will. A trial is about to be made. God after due warning does not put difficulties in the way, but helps in every conceivable manner, that the trial of man's chosen king should have every advantage. Can anything of this sort be a more wholesome lesson for us, my brethren, let me observe, than this very principle on God's part? How often, when disapproving of a measure, are we not apt to try and counteract it in every possible way? We are unwise thus to press our wishes or judgments; and we show further how little faith we have in God's own will about it; for, if simply confident in His will, we may rest assured that He knows best how to reduce others to subjection, and carry out all to His glory. I am not supposing it to be a question of our own duty, but where others are in question. Possibly too we may ourselves be mistaken through one cause or another. But even granting that we have the certainty that we are not, we may but provoke the more where it belongs to others to act, and too keen an opposition might precipitate what we most desire to see averted. But it is best in any case to cultivate calm confidence in God. And if others will push a wrong measure, let it be allowed all opportunity, and its true character will only the sooner and the more plainly be shown out. On every ground therefore, as those having faith in God, and desiring not our own will, our wisdom is that we should commit things much more simply to God than we are apt to do.
This seems to me beautifully manifested in the Lord's guidance of Israel during the circumstances which led to Saul's coming to the throne of Israel. No one could have anticipated that the search after his father's lost asses would put him in connection, not merely with the prophet Samuel, but with the throne of Israel. Yet so it was. In the journeyings of Saul and his servant they come to the land of Zuph, in which was the city where Samuel dwelt. Consulting him, Saul's anxiety as to his errand is set at rest, and he is himself informed that all the desire of Israel is on him. The details of the servant's counsel, the young maidens' direction, the seer, the secret chamber, etc., are wonderfully graphic. Suffice it to say that the company were invited to dine, and the reserved shoulder set before the chief guest of the day. Before their return home, Samuel gets Saul alone, and finally anoints him captain of Jehovah's inheritance. Beforehand God communicates His mind to His servant. On the one side He orders circumstances that Saul should come forward; on the other, He singles out the very person that men of that day most of all delighted in. He was precisely such a man as nature would desire for a king. If the whole people had been, in modern language, polled, was not Saul the man that would have commanded at any rate the great majority? On His part, then, there was no opposition or hindrance from the time that the prophetic remonstrance was refused. Israel was allowed in every possible way to have his own will. On the other hand too, what can be more affecting than Samuel's part? He had protested against it. Now there is precisely where, if we are not very watchful, we may throw obstructions. Samuel might have thrown obstructions in the way. Not so, the Lord had spoken in his ear. This was quite enough. And here was the person come. It was unquestionably a supplanting of Samuel's own place in Israel as well as of Jehovah's; but all now is left quietly with God, who will have the people's choice fairly tested. The trial is to proceed. God has settled that they are to have a king like others; and when He does, you will notice, not only here but everywhere else, that everything is put favourably, so that there should be a complete experiment of man's king before Him, without the smallest pretence, for example, for Israel to say that there were disadvantages which hindered the due trial of their king. Quite the contrary; the mouth of Israel was stopped. Saul therefore is brought before the prophet, and anointed without delay.
To another thing it may be well to call attention. At first Saul appears to shine. Wherever was a better sample of man's king at the beginning? He speaks modestly; he seems to have no ambition whatsoever, as far as people could discern. We have every proper feeling on his part for his father; we see further that there was no lack of affection or desire on the part of his father towards him. Thus all looked favourable; for when a man is called to public office, it may be of interest and importance that we should know what he is at home; and this accordingly was fairly given. We see clearly that on both sides there was family affection and interest: whether from Saul or from his father Kish, the people need not suffer from ill report on such a score. All this augured well for the future prospects of Israel to the eyes of men.
Again, not only was there this working in providence, but God was pleased to give tokens for the purpose of helping Saul. If there had been an ear to hear, if there had been any measure of spiritual perception, there were special signs put in his way. These are brought before us in the beginning of1 Samuel 10:1-27; 1 Samuel 10:1-27. Thus, before these, two men announce the recovery of the object of their search; and this by Rachel's sepulchre, a spot of singular interest to Saul: at least it ought certainly to have been so. (Ver. 2.) It was the place, as is well known, where the foundation of his family had been laid. His father was sorrowing for Saul, not for his property, which indeed was found. But Saul had no eyes to see, nor had he ears to hear according to God.
Again three men, as we are told in verses 3, 4, were to meet him as he went to the oak of Tabor, and they were on their way up to God at Bethel. That is, they were brought before the place, not of Rachel's sepulchre only, but of God at Bethel. One man was carrying three kids, and so on; and these saluted him, and gave him loaves of bread. Did he not thence gather a proof that God was at work in Israel? that the famous scene where God had pledged the accomplishment of His purpose to their father Jacob was not forgotten? A remnant was there; a sufficient, yea, ample testimony; not merely two but three men. There was a more than adequate testimony to the reality of faith in Israel still.
Along with this, no doubt, the state of Israel, terrified by Philistine masters, was truly deplorable; but what of that if faith wrought? Circumstances should never frighten the believer. The question then was whether God was the God of Israel? and as far as His people were concerned whether they had faith in Him? Now this we may see here the three men going up to God to Bethel before the token of the condition, the practical condition, of Israel at this time; for this was a fresh point. "After that thou shalt come to the hill of God, where is the garrison of the Philistines: and it shall come to pass, when thou art come thither to the city, that thou shalt meet a company of prophets coming down from the high place with a psaltery, and a tabret, and a pipe, and a harp, before them; and they shall prophesy." (Ver. 5.) What an encouragement to one who could hear according to God! The worst of times to faith only the more calls us to make melody to Him. There was no lack of the testimony of joy and praise in these prophets, and yet God would have His people fairly to confess the circumstances. There is no good to be had by blinding ourselves to the actual condition whether it be of the church now or of Israel then. It is always right, wise, and lowly to own the truth.
So it is with our souls, and in all our Christian experiences. There is many a man that tries not to think of all that he has been. Many a person when first converted to. God essays to look only at what is bright, joyous, and encouraging. His eye quickly finds out all the comforting passages of the word of God. He slips over what tries and searches the heart. It is all quite intelligible, but is it really wise? It is not the mode in which the Spirit of God works to form the saint. Not that there is not abundant comfort in all the ways and word of God from first to last; but be assured, my brethren, that the best wisdom is when grace strengthens us to look at the truth, and the whole truth, whether about God or man, at the church, or our own souls; and hence it is that many a person who, if I may so say, staves off the full view of what he himself is when brought to God, has to repeat the lesson another day under more painful circumstances. Far better to face at the very starting-point what we are, as well as what God is in His nature, counsels, relationships, and will; else perhaps, when we have been following the Lord for five or ten years, we may need to be broken on the wheel for some grievous unfaithfulness, and this mainly owing to the folly of refusing to look at the full reality of what we were from the very beginning.
Now, it is evident that God's character as represented by us is far more affected by our having to go through a perhaps painful and humiliating process some years after starting on our course, than by our learning what we are when the full flow of divine grace confirms our souls as we learn of the Lord Jesus. Thus only can we well afford to judge all that we are naturally.
This too was expressly a sign to Saul. The first sign was personal, connected as it was with Rachel's sepulchre, a place of death to the mother, but where Benjamin was born, the head of Saul's own tribe, and the type of Messiah in His mighty victories for His people on the earth. He was not that son of Jacob who was separate from his brethren and exalted in another sphere, but the son of his father's right hand, who represents the Lord Jesus when He rises up to put down all adversaries in His kingdom by and by; for such is the particular blessing that was vouchsafed when the Spirit of God by Jacob pronounced the blessing of Benjamin. The second sign should have intimated the reality to faith of a more than sufficient witness that as surely as three men were going up to Bethel, God could not fail, be the state of Israel what it might. Then followed the sign of that present state. The promises attached to Bethel were far from being as yet fulfilled. If he hears of "the hill of God," there "is the garrison of the Philistines." Undoubtedly, then, the actual condition of Israel and their land when man desired a king was as low as could well be. Had there only been faith to enter into these signs, taking them from God, there would surely have been the more blessed an opportunity for the working and triumph of God, who never fails to answer to living faith; but this was exactly what Saul had not. There was no lack of a fair show in the flesh. Saul looked at first most amiable to father, to servants, to everybody in short, as we find. In all this there was the brightest natural promise for man's king; but was this all? There was another and higher privilege too, one may notice in passing: God was even pleased to invest him with the power of the Spirit of God externally, of course. "And the Spirit of Jehovah will come upon thee, and thou shalt prophesy with them, and shalt be turned into another man." Does it not all show us that God was giving every possible succour and every conceivable advantage to man's king entering on this new phase in the history of His people? This I conceive to be the unquestionable lesson of these two chapters: a wiser and more needed one under the circumstances who could devise?
Then we have the accomplishment of these words; but there is more than that. Saul comes to his home, where they are anxiously seeking to learn all that had passed with the prophet. "And Saul's uncle said, Tell me, I pray thee, what Samuel said unto you. And Saul said unto his uncle, He told us plainly that the asses were found. But of the matter of the kingdom, whereof Samuel spake, he told him not." Thus all as yet looks lowly and promising, as far as Saul is concerned. Flesh may go very far in the imitation of what is of God, but very soon circumstances occur which show that it is wholly on the surface.
"Samuel called the people together unto Jehovah, to Mizpeh;" and then he sets before them the case. They had asked for a king. "Now therefore present yourselves before the Lord by your tribes, and by your thousands. And when Samuel had caused all the tribes of Israel to come near, the tribe of Benjamin was taken. When he had caused the tribe of Benjamin to come near by their families, the family of Matri was taken, and Saul the son of Kish was taken." This also was a very notable circumstance. For here God puts the choice of Saul to another test, in every possible way therefore stopping men's complaints; for it might have been said, "Ah! the people were not allowed to choose after all; neither was there a fair leaving the thing to the Lord. It was all arranged between Samuel and Saul." Not so. The prophet arranged nothing: it was God undoubtedly that acted; but this does not in the smallest degree set aside the fact that He was simply meeting the wish of man. Thus here the lot was in opposition to and setting aside of His own government of Israel the well-known plan according to the law put in force, as we know, about the division of the land, and to be used again when the land is again redistributed. This was meanwhile now employed for the king, and with the very same result. It was impossible thus to impeach the conduct of Samuel; and if on one side there could be no doubt that man was allowed the freest possible choice, it is remarkable on the other that God was helping man in every way so that his choice should be fairly carried out.
Accordingly then "Samuel said to all the people, See ye him whom Jehovah hath chosen, that there is none like him among all the people? And all the people shouted, and said, God save the king." "But the children of Belial," it is added, "said, How shall this man save us? And they despised him, and brought him no presents. But he held his peace." This is another remarkable feature in the case; for it might have been supposed now, inasmuch as the choice of the king was, as far as the people was concerned, a sin against God, that this relieved the godly from allegiance. Not in the smallest degree! It might have been men of Belial first of all who joined with the rest in wishing for a king; but when the king was chosen, anointed, and solemnly invested, it was the men of Belial who refused to show him respect. We shall find, not only that Samuel paid Saul allegiance in the fullest way, but even David, the true anointed of Jehovah, though he was not chosen for the people and from the people according to their choice, as God could do and did with a perfect knowledge of all their thoughts and motives; yet he, the king that God chose according to His own heart, as long as Saul lived, cheerfully abode his subject and servant.
1 Samuel 11:1-15. Again, not only does Saul show singular moderation at the beginning of his reign, holding his peace in presence of these men of Belial that opposed him, but, further, when the Ammonite comes up and encamps against Jabesh-gilead, Saul was not wanting to the occasion. "And all the men of Jabesh said unto Nahash, Make a covenant with us, and we will serve thee." And so there is very soon a blow struck at Israel. But then you must remember the dealing with the Ammonite was not the object that was before God, either by man's king or God's king. The Philistine was not the Ammonite. Indeed under the law the Ammonite was expressly to be exempted from destruction, and spared. This did not mean that if the Ammonites attacked the people of God, they were to be left unpunished; but it did not come into the direct plan of God to subject the Ammonites to the yoke of Israel.
And the Ammonite here strikes Israel. "Give us seven days' respite," say the elders of Jabesh, "that we may send messengers unto all the coasts of Israel: and then, if there be no man to save us, we will come out to thee. Then came the messengers to Gibeah of Saul, and told the tidings in the ears of the people: and all the people lifted up their voices, and wept." Saul is moved, and the Spirit of God comes upon him. "His anger was kindled greatly. And he took a yoke of oxen, and hewed them in pieces, and sent them throughout all the coasts of Israel by the hands of messengers, saying, Whosoever cometh not forth after Saul and after Samuel, so shall it be done unto his oxen. And the fear of Jehovah fell on the people, and they came put with one consent." The result was a mighty victory, and indeed a rout so complete that, as we are told, no two of the Ammonites were left together; and the people in consequence were now filled with indignation at the disrespect that had been before shown to the king. "And the people said unto Samuel, Who is he that said, Shall Saul reign over us? bring the men, that we may put them to death." Saul again shines remarkably. "And Saul said, There shall not a man be put to death this day: for to day the Lord hath wrought salvation in Israel." All therefore was in favour of the king. It might have seemed now that Samuel's fears were vain that the choice of the king was most happy. Here was one that knew how to use victory over the enemy with moderation, just as much as he had shown patience before it with the unruly in Israel.
But 1 Samuel 12:1-25 may prepare us for something very different.
First come Samuel's words to Israel. "And Samuel said unto all Israel, Behold, I have hearkened unto your voice in all that ye said unto me, and have made a king over you. And now, behold, the king walketh before you: and I am old and grey-headed; and, behold, my sons are with you: and I have walked before you from my childhood unto this day." He challenges them as to his own integrity, and the people confess it without hesitation. "And he said unto them, Jehovah is witness against you, and his anointed is witness this day, that ye have not found ought in my hand. And they answered, He is witness. And Samuel said unto the people, It is Jehovah that advanced Moses and Aaron, and that brought your fathers up out of the land of Egypt. Now therefore stand still that I may reason with you."
Thus having stood completely and formally acquitted of everything that could trouble the conscience of a single upright soul in Israel, he appeals to them in the name of Jehovah. He reminds them how deliverers had been raised up; but he adds, "Now therefore behold the king whom ye have chosen, and whom ye have desired' and, behold, Jehovah hath set a king over you. If ye will fear Jehovah, and serve him, and obey his voice, and not rebel against the commandment of Jehovah, then shall both ye and also the king that reigneth over you continue following Jehovah your God: but if ye will not obey the voice of Jehovah, but rebel against the commandment of Jehovah, then shall the hand of Jehovah be against you, as it was against your fathers. Now therefore stand and see this great thing, which Jehovah will do before your eyes. Is it not wheat harvest today? I will call unto Jehovah, and he shall send thunder and rain."
It need scarcely be explained, that if at Samuel's call Jehovah sent at once what was entirely out of season, proof would thereby be given of the manifest answer of God in their midst. His ears are open to the righteous. "So Samuel called unto Jehovah, and Jehovah sent thunder and rain." But what was all this to attest? "That ye may perceive and see that your wickedness is great, which ye have done in the sight of Jehovah, in asking you a king." The prophet's judgment (and this formed according to God) was the same as ever. He nevertheless might have seemed to help on, and in a certain sense had really helped on, the appointment of the king as no man in Israel beside himself had done. For who among those who listened to his words in general could have gathered from Samuel's conduct, and from his spirit, that his heart did not go thoroughly along with it? If some would misjudge the man of God in this, my conviction is that his conduct was lowly, and guided by God so that he should not slip where it was hard to avoid it. For one may have to act in a state of things which sin has brought about; and in such a complication one may easily mistake the mind of God if not content with simply doing one's own duty. The judgment may be clear as to what belongs to God, which others have compromised. On the other hand suppose a duty to be incumbent on ourselves of another kind. In such a case we should have it so settled in our own souls as to be able to go forward calm and unmoved, discharging our duty whatever it be even in spite of the strongest conviction of what the actual state of things will all come to. This was the case with Samuel.
There was in Israel a total want of the confidence which a good conscience enjoys; for at this point we find that all the people now cry to Samuel, and say, "Pray for thy servants." But though they may be in a measure convinced of their folly, the choice had been made, and the trial must proceed. "Pray for thy servants unto Jehovah thy God, that we die not: for we have added unto all our sins this evil, to ask us a king. And Samuel said unto the people, Fear not: ye have done all this wickedness: yet turn not aside from following Jehovah, but serve Jehovah with all your heart; and turn ye not aside: for then should ye go after vain things, which cannot profit nor deliver; for they are vain. For Jehovah will not forsake his people for his great name's sake." The same principle holds good under all circumstances. When people have put themselves wrong, and come to see they have done so, it is not always possible to reverse it. But God is an invariable resource, and will not fail those who truly humble themselves. It becomes a question of doing His will where we are. The consequences of what was evil to have done may continue even when the person is brought to judge the evil thing; and God may hold one to its humiliating effects when one has confessed and renounced the evil itself. It is not only possible, but absolutely needful, to have done with the evil, though there may abide as a fresh trial certain outward results that flow from it. And then the true resource is not the seeking to get back to the position in which we were before the evil was done, but acknowledging the evil thoroughly, humbling ourselves in the sight of God, and looking to Him to see what His will is now concerning us. Evidently this supposes faith, which was precisely the want, and this not merely of Saul but also of the children of Israel. So says the prophet: "Only fear Jehovah, and serve him in truth with all your heart: for consider how great things he hath done for you. But if ye shall still do wickedly, ye shall be consumed, both ye and your king." How true these words proved in the result is known to every reader of the Bible.
Then comes the first distinct crisis in Saul's history. (1 Samuel 13:1-23) "Saul reigned one year." It was not long. "and when he had reigned two years over Israel, Saul chose him three thousand men of Israel; whereof two thousand were with Saul in Michmash and in mount Beth-el, and a thousand were with Jonathan in Gibeah of Benjamin: and the rest of the people he sent every man to his tent. And Jonathan smote the garrison of the Philistines that was in Geba." In Jonathan was faith. It was not merely a chastisement inflicted on the offending Ammonite which the Lord would surely execute for His own name's sake; but the Philistines were a more formidable enemy, though God meant to purge them in due time out of the land. What business had they there? The garrison of the Philistines then was smitten in Geba; "and the Philistines heard of it. And Saul blew a trumpet throughout all the land, saying, Let the Hebrews hear." What a summons from the king! Why call them Hebrews? Was this all that Saul had to say? Where was God in it? Entirely forgotten! It is exactly such language, as a Gentile would use. Was Saul sunk to this? Had he never heard of Jehovah, the God of Israel? Had he never weighed His promises to the fathers, His counsels for their children, the chosen people, poor as they might be? They were Hebrews, no doubt; but what had God made and called them? They were descended from Abraham the Hebrew, the one that had crossed over; but when he had crossed over at the call of God, were they only Hebrews still? In the eye of the world this might be all; but was Saul reduced to the feelings of one who looked upon God's people according to the unbelief and scorn or indifference of the heathen? Did Saul regard them merely as his people?
This is what unbelief always did, and does now. "Our people" "Our church!" Such phraseology betrays the fatal vice of connecting things with ourselves instead of with God; and I do not know a more misleading thought, nor one that shows how thoroughly the heart is gone from the living God. Most perhaps never had the real sense of what is meant by being born of God, still less of being bought with a price; so that one is not one's own, but His. Not to feel this when pointed out would prove how the poison insinuates itself and vitiates all judgment. It is not possible to treat a Christian rightly unless we bear in mind that he is a child of God; nor can one feet speak, or act toward the church aright unless it is believed to be the church of God. I may act freely with what is my own, and may naturally resent an infringement of its rights; but I must take care what I do to that which is not mine nor yours, but God's. This has been forgotten where men speak of their church. So with the people of Israel here. If they were merely regarded as Saul's people, the Hebrews, or something of this nature, it is evident that all must go wrong, for the starting-point was false: God was left out, and Israel's relationship to Him.
This then was the first proclamation of king Saul: "Let the Hebrews hear." "And all Israel" for not as the king proclaimed does the Spirit of God speak, but according to their distinctive name from God "And all Israel heard say that Saul had smitten a garrison of the Philistines." Thus Saul got all the credit; yet it was entirely through Jonathan's faith; but the Lord would detract nothing from the king, unworthy as he might be. "And that Israel also was had in abomination with the Philistines." It was all right. God does not intend that His people should be other than this in the eye of those who hate them. They may respect or dread a people, which is natural enough; but the thing that the world cannot endure is the claim of God. If you are only hoping to find for yourselves a portion from God, the world would little mind it, because they are not without fears, yet at any rate hope that He may have mercy; but the thing that offends the world is when you calmly and humbly and you cannot be too humble about it but withal firmly, hold to it that God Himself has called and blessed you; not only that you hope to have Him, but that God has you now, and you belong to Him now, and live here for His will and purposes and glory, even while you are going through the world. Now Saul had not the sense of this in his soul; and this was the unbelief which no doubt unconsciously expressed itself in his calling the Hebrews to hear.
"And the Philistines gathered themselves together to fight with Israel, thirty thousand chariots, and six thousand horsemen, and people as the sand which is on the sea shore in multitude: and they came up, and pitched in Michmash, eastward from Beth-aven. When the men of Israel saw that they were in a strait, (for the people were distressed,) then the people did hide themselves in caves, and in thickets, and in rocks, and in high places, and in pits. And some of the Hebrews went over Jordan to the land of Gad and Gilead." I can conceive some worldly scholar at once saying, "Now, there you are wrong, as the later verse makes it quite evident that the two words, Hebrew and Israel, are interchanged, and substantially all the same, and only a difference of phraseology." It is true that first, no doubt, he says "Hebrews;" then we hear of Israel; but now we come back to "Hebrews" again. I am not sorry to caution you against all reasoning of the sort. Why is it then that, while the Spirit of God is so careful to call them not Hebrews but Israel, these men are not called Israel but Hebrews in verse 7?
The reason is not hard to explain, nor without its importance. "And some of the Hebrews went over Jordan to the land of Gad and Gilead." They had left the ground of God; they had forfeited that precious name. They might possess it really; but they had abandoned the ground of faith; and the consequence is that the Holy Spirit shows His own sense of the wrong that was done to Jehovah. At critical time when the enemy was intruding in force into the land, and got into a place that menaced all there, some of the Israelites left God's land, and got into an utterly false position. Thus on both sides a great dishonour was done to the Lord. There were Philistines that had possessed themselves of God's land, more or less, and there were Israelites who had left it. Which was the more sorrowful it might be hard to say. "As for Saul, he was yet in Gilgal, and all the people followed him trembling. And he tarried seven days, according to the set time that Samuel had appointed: but Samuel came not to Gilgal." This is another remarkable lesson for our souls. Always must patience have its perfect work; but this was what Saul could not afford. He had hoped, no doubt, that Samuel would come in good time. He waited and waited, and it seemed as if it was all but complete; but there was precisely the point of trial where he broke down. The time was not yet run out, and the flesh can never wait it out. It seemed all but expired, and the king would wait no more; for the first man never does become perfect. He may make a fair show, but perfection there is not thus. Not only does the law make nothing perfect, but the flesh never attains it either. Thus "he tarried seven days, according to the set time that Samuel had appointed: but Samuel came not to Gilgal; and the people were scattered from him."
No doubt therefore it seemed to the king necessary that there should be no more scattering for the people. Necessary? There is nothing necessary except the will of God. The people might have been scattered ever so fast but God was able to gather them back again. God's word was plain. Saul knew it perfectly well, but he had no faith in Him. At last then, fairly tired out and frightened at the people leaving him, says Saul, "Bring hither a burnt-offering to me, and peace-offerings. And he offered the burnt-offering. And it came to pass, that as soon as he had made an end of offering the burnt-offering, behold, Samuel came; and Saul went out to meet him, that he might salute him. And Samuel said, What hast thou done? And Saul said, Because I saw that the people were scattered from me, and that thou camest not within the days appointed, and that the Philistines gathered themselves together at Michmash; therefore said I, The Philistines will come down now upon me to Gilgal, and I have not made supplication unto Jehovah: I forced myself therefore, and offered a burnt-offering." It is no uncommon thing to hear good reasons for a bad thing. The course he took sounded fair. The grand fault of it was that God was not in the matter. It was Saul's policy and this because of Saul's fears. Faith always looks to God, and does His will. Little did Saul know the fatal consequence of his unbelief. The prophet lets him hear "Samuel said to Saul" and this was a severe word for the prophet to say to the king of Israel "Thou hast done foolishly: thou hast not kept the commandment of Jehovah thy God, which he commanded thee: for now would Jehovah have established thy kingdom upon Israel for ever. But now thy kingdom shall not continue: Jehovah hath sought him a man after his own heart, and Jehovah hath commanded him to be captain over his people, because thou hast not kept that which Jehovah commanded thee." But mark this. The same Jehovah that showed His own sovereignty, as if independent of circumstances in choosing Saul before the lot was cast, and anointing him, even that same Jehovah would not express His choice of another man until Saul had fairly exposed his unfitness for the kingdom over His people. So "Samuel arose, and get him up from Gilgal unto Gibeah of Benjamin. And Saul numbered the people that were present with him, about six hundred men. And Saul, and Jonathan his son, and the people that were present with them, abode in Gibeah of Benjamin."
Then the end of the chapter shows the interior condition of the people. It was wretched now after the king had been reigning for some time, but quite sufficient for faith to have proved its efficiency. It is said that they had not even an instrument for self-defence. If they wanted to sharpen a mattock, they had to go down to the Philistines for the purpose. Saul had wrought no deliverance. "So it came to pass in the day of battle, that there was neither sword nor spear found in the hand of any of the people that were with Saul and Jonathan: but with Saul and with Jonathan his son was there found. And the garrison of the Philistines went out to the passage of Michmash."
And this brings in another scene. We have the failure of flesh, not yet perhaps complete, but sentenced, and the end shown. The Lord will make still more manifest the unfitness of the king, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word shall be established. The first witness has spoken clearly enough, but we shall have more witnesses still. Meanwhile it is a most comforting thing that the Lord does not heap together His testimonies to evil without giving us some little of joy and comfort for faith to refresh itself upon. Thus between the twofold witness of the failure of king Saul we have the beautiful activity of faith in his son Jonathan. Man might not have looked for such an exhibition then or there; but God neither sees things nor acts according to our thoughts.
"Now it came to pass upon a day, that Jonathan the son of Saul said unto the young man that bare his armour, Come, and let us go over to the Philistines' garrison, that is on the other side." (1 Samuel 14:1) This was certainly bold; "but he told not his father." No, if Saul had his own nature which led him to keep silence, Jonathan had faith. There was One to whom he did tell; but it was not to his father. All the history shows his dutifulness even to the close of his life; but this only the more enhances his silence on such an occasion as this. Jonathan was as estranged in spirit from his father as he crave to him in nature. Probably without staying to account to himself for his silence, he was not led to say a word to him of that which lay on his heart for Israel. "And Saul tarried in the uttermost part of Gibeah under a pomegranate tree which is in Migron: and the people that were with him were about six hundred men." The secret of God is not with the king nor with the priest. The people knew not that Jonathan was gone any more than either.
"And between the passages, by which Jonathan sought to go over unto the Philistines' garrison, there was a sharp rock on the one side, and a sharp rock on the other side." The Spirit of God notices for our instruction the immense difficulties in the way. "And Jonathan said to the young man that bare his armour, Come, and let us go over unto the garrison of these uncircumcised." It was only so that he looked upon them. He did not call them even Philistines, but "these uncircumcised." This was right. His eyes saw them as God saw them; for him it was no question of their strength or weakness, but they had not the sign of the good-for-nothingness of the flesh. There was no circumcision, no form even outward of relationship with God. Hence he says, "Let us go over unto the garrison of these uncircumcised: it may be that Jehovah will work for us: for there is no restraint to Jehovah to save by many or by few." Genuine faith speaks with simplicity, and God uses it to. act on the souls of others as here on the armourbearer. "And his armourbearer said unto him, Do all that is in thine heart: turn thee; behold, I am with thee according to thy heart. Then said Jonathan, Behold, we will pass over unto these men, and we will discover ourselves unto them." There is thus not only the courage of faith, but there is also the counting on God. "If they say thus unto us, Tarry until we come to you; then we will stand still in our place, and will not go Up unto them. But if they say thus, Come up unto us; then we will go up: for Jehovah hath delivered them into our hand: and this shall be a sign unto us. And both of them discovered themselves" the very last thing that nature would have led them to do.
"And both of them discovered themselves unto the garrison of the Philistines: and the Philistines said, Behold, the Hebrews come forth out of the holes where they had hid themselves." The language in which the Philistines spoke of Israel was the same as that which Saul had employed before, and as God used for those who basely left their true ground through fear. "And the men of the garrison answered Jonathan and his armourbearer, and said, Come up to us, and we will show you a thing.. And Jonathan said unto his armourbearer, Come up after me: for Jehovah hath delivered them into the hand of Israel?' not of Jonathan, but "into the hand of Israel." Here we see not only faith, but the largeness and unselfishness of faith. It is a man whose heart was set on God's blessing His people; and this was the right thing. "And Jonathan climbed up upon his hands and upon his feet, and his armourbearer after him: and they fell before Jonathan; and his armourbearer slew after him. And that first slaughter, which Jonathan and his armourbearer made, was about twenty men, within as it were an half acre of land, which a yoke of oxen might plow. And there was trembling in the host, in the field, and among all the people."
Thus it was not merely that strength was given by God to these two faithful men, but there was a mighty work of God independently of them or of any which goes along with it, and this is a thing that we can count on. Do you think such faith in men or power of God in answer to it is done with, beloved brethren? Not in the least. The God who then employed Jonathan and his armourbearer to mow down the Philistines in their garrison has quite as grave a task to accomplish now. Accordingly He is at work in the hearts of the people; He prepares in one way or another. He either gives the conviction that strikes terror into the heart of the adversary, even when he looks ever so bold, or He works savingly according to the circumstances of the case. So here there was trembling in the host over the field. It was not merely a question of man's fear. This certainly would not have made the field itself tremble. "And the earth quaked," as we are told; "so it was a very great trembling."
"And the watchmen of Saul in Gibeah of Benjamin looked; and, behold, the multitude melted away, and they went on beating down one another. Then said Saul unto the people that were with him, Number now, and see who is gone from us. And when they had numbered, behold, Jonathan and his armourbearer were not there. And Saul said unto Ahiah, Bring hither the ark of God. For the ark of God was at that time with the children of Israel. And it came to pass, while Saul talked unto the priest, that the noise that was in the host of the Philistines went on and increased: and Saul said unto the priest, Withdraw thine hand. And Saul and all the people that were with him assembled themselves, and they came to the battle." After all, the priest and the ark gave the king no sufficient light. He could not get satisfaction as to the cause of the mysterious trembling. It was very evident that the light of God did not shine there; so he betook himself to another resource. As we find afterwards, lots were cast.
But first of all observe that it is said, "Moreover the Hebrews that were with the Philistines before that time." Here again how wonderfully accurate is the scripture? The secret of it is quite plain. These men were with the Philistines. What business had Israelites there? We could understand the Philistines coming in among them, but it was an act of treachery or guilty weakness when the Israelites went with the Philistines. Their enemies might be sent as an infliction, and allowed to come into their midst to their sore trouble; but what could possibly justify Israelites going in among the Philistines? And if they did so, did they not deserve a better name than that of Hebrews? Thus the Spirit of God calls them. And what makes it more striking is, that in verse 28 it is said, "Even they also turned to be with the Israelites." The Spirit of God evidently treats them as most unworthy, yet "even they also turned to be with the Israelites." It is not now with "the Hebrews," but with "the Israelites that were with Saul and Jonathan." "Likewise all the men of Israel," which similarly is most striking. "Likewise all the men of Israel which had hid themselves in mount Ephraim, when they heard that the Philistines fled, even they also followed hard after them in the battle." Mark the difference. God is so righteously measured in all His ways that the men that had gone thoroughly wrong were called the "Hebrews." As long as they played a false part, they had forfeited the name at least if not the relationship of Israel. But if these had no longer the recognition of that blessed name, the people who had merely yielded to terror regained it when they resumed the ways which became the sons of Israel. No doubt they had been unworthy in the past; nevertheless now they are called by the name of divine honour.
Again we read (ver. 24) that "the men of Israel were distressed that day: for Saul had adjured the people, saying, Cursed be the man." How sorrowful in such a day of blessing and victory to see the king thus spoiling it! Here we see what the king did. The only part he contributed was to afflict and vex and hinder the people of Israel, and most of all him who deserved best of all. Such is the effect where unbelief meddles in the day that faith reaps good things from God. "Saul had adjured the people, saying, Cursed be the man that eateth any food until evening, that I may be avenged on mine enemies." There is not a word about the Lord's grace. His feeling is, "That I may be avenged on mine enemies." This was what Saul's heart was set upon. Where was his old modesty now? Thus acted the man that seemed of old the humblest person in all Israel. Now that he had been but a little while in power an thought of God was gone. The people were no longer even in outward name connected by him with God; and when grace had wrought outside him to work this great deliverance, it was merely Saul being avenged on Saul's enemies. Where was God then in his thoughts? He was in none of them, we may boldly say.
And this very thing gave occasion to a most instructive incident recorded in the rest of the chapter. Jonathan was in the secret of the Lord, but he was not privy to the oath with which Saul had bound the people. As Saul knew not what was between God and his own son, so Jonathan was a stranger outside to his father's adjuration, and hence unwillingly transgressed. "Jonathan heard not," as it is said, "when his father charged the people with the oath: wherefore he put forth the end of the rod that was in his hand, and dipped it in an honeycomb, and put his hand to his mouth; and his eyes were enlightened. Then answered one of the people, and said, Thy father straitly charged the people with an oath, saying, Cursed be the man that eateth any food this day. And the people were faint." With all his love and respect to his father, Jonathan could not but feel the deep injury that was done. "Then said Jonathan, My father hath troubled the land: see, I pray you, how mine eyes have been enlightened, because I tasted a little of this honey. How much more, if haply the people had eaten freely today of the spoil of their enemies which they found?"
The true reason for the introduction of this remarkable incident seems to have been to show how Jonathan was found thus completely at issue with his father. Now Jonathan is the object of the Spirit of God in the passage. He was indeed a man filled with the Spirit of Christ, acting in the power of faith, delivering Israel as the great instrument of God, the vessel of faith at that moment in Israel. Yet here we have a solemn fact. In the chapter before, Saul stood convicted and abashed before the prophet. Here he receives a holy rebuke of his own son, who alone was in the secret of the Lord rebuked therefore as himself the wrongdoer who put a saviour of Israel under sentence of death on the very day that he had saved them. I am not speaking, of course, of any actual expostulation at that time directed to his father: this would not have been becoming; but the circumstances of the case wrung it out of the reluctant heart of the son. Clearly therefore the people's choice of a king was only a distress to the choicest among the people, to the faithful son of Saul himself.
In what follows we find the heart of Saul, and what it was even to his own son. We know what it cost the people. The people flew upon the spoil, and in consequence of the restriction he had made were guilty of a real sin; namely, eating the blood contrary to the law of Jehovah. "They told Saul, saying, Behold, the people sin against Jehovah." It was the natural consequence of his own misguided oath. It began with a curse on Jonathan, and it ended with dragging the people into a sin against Jehovah. "And he said, Ye have transgressed: roll a great stone unto me this day. And Saul said, Disperse yourselves among the people, and say unto them, Bring me hither every man his ox, and every man his sheep, and slay them here, and eat; and sin not against Jehovah in eating with the blood." When this was done he "built an altar unto Jehovah." The same the Holy Ghost significantly adds "the same was the first altar that he built unto Jehovah." Was it not a long time before he set about it? Was it not a very sorrowful thing too, that the king should have built an altar on the day when he was the occasion not merely of bringing his own son, the most blessed of Jehovah, under the sentence of death, but of the people sinning against one of the most fundamental principles of God's law? There was nothing more sacred in all its system than that man was not to eat of blood.
Another day was coming when, in consequence of the Lord Jesus changing everything by His grace that went down into death, to this very thing should men be called, as life to their souls. "Except ye eat the flesh and drink the blood of the Son of man, ye have no life in you;" but this was when He came to save. When it was a question of the law and the first man, blood must not be touched on peril of death. When grace gives the Son, and God's righteousness is established by His death, it is ruin and the proof of no life if we drink not of His blood.
Saul then, after he had done this mischief, busies himself to find out how the sin had been committed. "Then said the priest, Let us draw near hither unto God. And Saul asked counsel of God, Shall I go down after the Philistines? wilt thou deliver them into the hand of Israel?" But there was no answer from God. Saul therefore, knowing thence that a positive hindrance stood in the way, only thinks of himself and seeks to ascertain who was the guilty soul. And God, being righteous, even though it was a wrong thing so to have brought in an oath which obstructed the effects of the victory, did not refuse to make manifest the person that had sinned against the oath "And Saul said, Draw ye near hither, all the chief of the people: and know and see wherein this sin hath been this day. For, as Jehovah liveth, which saveth Israel, though it be in Jonathan my son, he shall surely die." Little knew he what his rash vow had brought on his son.
The consequence was that the lot fell on Jonathan. "Then Saul said to Jonathan, Tell me what thou hast done. And Jonathan told him, and said, I did but taste a little honey with the end of the rod that was in mine hand, and, lo, I must die. And Saul answered, God do so and more also: for thou shalt surely die, Jonathan. And the people said unto Saul, Shall Jonathan die, who hath wrought this great salvation in Israel? God forbid; as Jehovah liveth, there shall not one hair of his head fall to the ground; for he hath wrought with God this day." This witness was true. But clearly the authority of the king was broken, and God's name was not to be profaned, even unwittingly. Though he wist it not, yet was Jonathan guilty. Saul had in the most solemn manner pledged his word for the death, even if it had been of Jonathan his son on the one hand, and it was perfectly certain on the other that the lot fell on Jonathan his son. But it was only the more manifest on that day that the king of their choice was not only a useless incubus, but a distress to Israel and a dishonour to Jehovah. He had openly disgraced the law and Jehovah's champion, his own son, not to speak of the people.
Lastly his ruin comes out in the plainest manner in the next chapter. (1 Samuel 15:1-35) "Samuel also said unto Saul, Jehovah sent me to anoint thee to be king over his people, over Israel: now therefore hearken thou unto the voice of the words of Jehovah. Thus saith Jehovah of hosts, I remember that which Amalek did to Israel." He would have a fresh trial There was a new opportunity. If peradventure he might remove the stain and the sentence, the Lord would give him another trial. So says Samuel, "Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass. And Saul gathered the people together, and numbered them in Telaim, two hundred thousand footmen, and ten thousand men of Judah. And Saul came to a city of Amalek, and laid wait in the valley." And so the Amalekites came down; the people were defeated; the king Agag was taken; the mass of them were utterly destroyed by the edge of the sword. "But Saul and the people!" how strikingly the Holy Spirit here associates them "Saul and the people spared Agag and the best of the sheep, and of the oxen, and of the fatlings, and the lambs, and all that was good, and would not utterly destroy them: but every thing that was vile and refuse, that they destroyed utterly." The flesh profiteth nothing However tried by God, it fails. God's word was plain, His will decided; but the king and the people were alike disobedient.
"Then came the word of Jehovah unto Samuel, saying, It repenteth me that I have set up Saul to be king: for he is turned back from following me, and hath not performed my commandments." How could he lead the people? How could he that was thus rebellious at every fresh trial how could he that had compromised the victory of Israel when another had not failed to win it how could such a man be a shepherd of God's people? "And it grieved Samuel; and he cried unto Jehovah all night" a beautiful feature in the prophet. He felt it all, knew it all, but still it grieved his heart. "And when Samuel rose early to meet Saul in the morning, it was told Samuel, saying, Saul came to Carmel, and, behold, he set him up a place, and is gone about, and passed on, and gone down to Gilgal. And Samuel came to Saul: and Saul said unto him, Blessed be thou of Jehovah: I have performed the commandment of Jehovah." And what did the grieved heart of Samuel reply? "And Samuel said, What meaneth then this bleating of the sheep in mine ears, and the lowing of the oxen which I hear? And Saul said, They have brought them from the Amalekites: for the people spared the best of the sheep and of the oxen, to sacrifice unto Jehovah thy God; and the rest we have utterly destroyed. Then Samuel said unto Saul, Stay, and I will tell thee what Jehovah hath said to me this night. And he said unto him, Say on. And Samuel said, When thou wast little in thine own sight, wast thou not made the head of the tribes of Israel, and Jehovah anointed thee king over Israel? And Jehovah sent thee on a journey, and said, Go and utterly destroy the sinners the Amalekites, and fight against them until they be consumed. Wherefore then didst thou not obey the voice of Jehovah, but didst fly upon the spoil, and didst evil in the sight of Jehovah?"
All the excuses of Saul were vain, or worse. As Adam did with Eve, so the king put forward the people to shelter himself. For what was he raised up if it was not to lead the people? Was it not for the king to repress lawlessness, and not they to entangle him in disobedience? On his own showing, what was he for if it were not to command them in the name of Jehovah? Was it come to this, that the people commanded him? There could be only one effect of such a confession. His kingship was gone. The truth however was, "Like people, like king."
"And Saul said unto Samuel, Yea, I have obeyed." For Saul keeps up his hypocritical pretence. "And Saul said unto Samuel, Yea, I have obeyed the voice of Jehovah, and have gone the way which Jehovah sent me, and have brought Agag the king of Amalek, and have utterly destroyed the Amalekites. But the people took of the spoil, sheep and oxen, the chief of the things which should have been utterly destroyed, to sacrifice unto Jehovah thy God in Gilgal. And Samuel said, Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of Jehovah? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft." Let us weigh it well, my brethren: "Rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft," and we know what that was even in Saul's eyes. "And stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because thou . . . . ." No indefiniteness is found now, no mixing him up with the people. The guilty king is convicted and singled out for the fresh sentence from the Lord. "Because thou hast rejected the word of Jehovah, he hath also "ejected thee from being king."
Mark what follows: "And Saul said unto Samuel, I have sinned." It is not always a good sign when a man is quick to confess his sin. Have you not seen it in your children? It is matter of common observation that the child who is always ready to confess his wrong never feels much about it. It is not that the opposite of this is not a fault, or that it is a happy thing to find a child stubborn; but one likes to see a little exercise of conscience; to know that a child weighs the fact and considers his conduct and motives, bowing to what his parent says: then it may be after a sorrow that does not come out to us very articulately. The heart gains confidence, and the conscience too casts off its burden, and tells out its wrong. But the quick and hasty owning, "I have sinned," is always suspicious; and is what may be found in even worse than Saul. Judas said just the same thing. The readiness to own wrong, in general terms at least, may be even where there is a seared conscience, the state being utterly bad. Even of old a principle was taught which made its worthlessness manifest.
This appears to me to have been a great point in that remarkable institution of the law the ordinance for dealing with defilement. The water of separation was never sprinkled on an Israelite at the beginning of the term. The man must abide under the sense of his defilement until the third day. When he had fairly and fully felt his case before God, when there was an ample witness on. the third day, then and not before was he sprinkled. It was repeated on the seventh day, and the whole process was complete according to the law. The seventh day's sprinkling would have been of no use without that of the third. But there was no such thing as sprinkling on the first day.
The reverse of what is taught by this we find in Saul. He thought to do the whole, if one may so say, on the first day. He sought to disencumber himself of all the burden of his failure by the most rapid confession. But no: such a confession is good for nothing. "I have sinned; for I have transgressed the commandment of Jehovah." What' a man who had been just boasting about his doing some great thing? and that the beasts were kept to sacrifice to Jehovah? Clearly there was no good conscience there. "I have sinned," said he when he was convicted, and not before. "For I have transgressed the commandment of Jehovah, and thy words: because I feared the people, and obeyed their voice." What a king! "Because I feared the people." He did not fear Jehovah. Without this there is nothing right. "Because I feared the people, and obeyed their voice. Now therefore, I pray thee, pardon my sin, and turn again with me, that I may worship Jehovah. And Samuel said unto Saul, I will not return with thee: for thou hast rejected the word of Jehovah, and Jehovah hath rejected thee from being king over Israel. And as Samuel turned about to go away, he laid hold upon the skirt of his mantle, and it rent." Alas! Saul's sorrow was no more godly than Esau's. Both felt for themselves, as both afterwards hated the man of God's choice. What could the importunity of either bring out but the sentence of their loss? So we see that here the act of the king only furnishes another opportunity for Samuel to warn the guilty king: "And Samuel said unto him, Jehovah hath rent the kingdom of Israel from thee this day, and hath given it to a neighbour of thine, that is better than thou. And also the Strength of Israel will not lie nor repent: for he is not a man, that he should repent. Then he said, I have sinned: yet honour me now, I pray thee, before the elders of my people, and before Israel, and turn again with me, that I may worship Jehovah thy God." It was too late. But what a thought at such a time! "Honour me now, I pray thee, before the people." To have felt and confessed his dishonour of the Lord and misleading of the people would have been a far different attitude. Of this he did not think. Samuel turned again after Saul; Saul worshipped the Lord; but it was to no purpose. At any rate Agag was brought forward, from the delay thinking, from what we can gather from the account, that mercy was in store for him. Surely the prophet would have no less compassion than the king for a forlorn captive! "And Agag came unto him delicately. And Agag said, Surely the bitterness of death is past. And Samuel said, As thy sword hath made women childless, so shall thy mother be childless among women. And Samuel hewed Agag in pieces before Jehovah in Gilgal. Then Samuel went to Ramah; and Saul went up to his house to Gibeah of Saul. And Samuel came no more to see Saul until the day of his death: nevertheless Samuel mourned for Saul: and Jehovah repented that he had made Saul king over Israel."
But this is the moral close of Saul's history; and we have had sufficient for the present as to man's king. We shall next have the opening of the history of a better man, his "neighbour." It may be profitable to compare the two in their mutual relations, when we are shown God's king reigning over Israel after that man's king had passed away. But there is another and an extremely solemn truth which runs side by side: the awful truth that the exhibition of righteousness and grace in one who serves God in faith always provokes and exasperates to the last degree of wickedness and hatred him who, while professing to serve the true God, is really serving his own belly. No amiability, no nearness of natural relationship, no struggles of conscience can ever deliver from this downward career to ruin into which Satan precipitates him who, not being born of God, finds himself in such circumstances in collision with a man of faith who walks with the manifest power and favour of God resting on him. There is but one way of escape that repentance unto life which is the portion of the soul that rests only on Christ before God, and can afford therefore to renounce self, judging it as only and always evil, so that the life one henceforth lives may be Christ and not self, though it be there to be ever treated as vile. "For I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live unto God. I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me." Saul knew nothing of the principle of this, as David did. Whatever righteousness he aimed at was exclusively by the law, which, as it frustrates the grace of God, so it ends in disappointment and death. All such have this of the Lord's hand they lie down in sorrow, as we shall soon see to have been the actual close of king Saul.
Samuel here shows us out the mind of God both in the slaying of Agag, and in mourning for Saul. It was according to His law to spare not the deadly enemies of Israel. Had He not sworn to war with Amalek from generation to generation? Samuel had not forgotten this, if Saul had. On the other hand, the tenderness that mourned after the king, guilty as he was, is a fine trait of that affection which is only strengthened by the faith of God's solemn judgment.
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Kelly, William. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 12". Kelly Commentary on Books of the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Fourth Week after Epiphany