Sunday, March 26th, 2023
the Fifth Sunday of Lent
the Fifth Sunday of Lent
There are 14 days til Easter!
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We enter now on a portion of David's history sensibly different from what we have already had, which closed with the efforts of Jonathan to restore matters and to attach Saul to him at least openly. Jonathan himself was convinced that this was vain; and as he went unto the city, David more and more is found in the desert, in the place of the pilgrim and the stranger, yea, of the outcast increasingly the object of the jealousy and hatred of king Saul. This it is that leads him into a path where his history becomes more definitely typical. Here above all the Spirit of Christ has the work of foreshadowing the life of our Lord Jesus as rejected of men; and now were occasions given too for those wonderful compositions, the Psalms, or for very many of them at least, in which that Spirit anticipates the feelings, ways, and earthly glory of Christ.
The present occasion, however, calls for an observation often applicable to circumstances which called out those outpourings of the heart in trial. Who can rightly glory in man? None who understands but what can see the vast gap between David and Christ; and this we may the more remark (though it may be quite as particularly on more than one occasion), as this is the opening scene. We shall find it almost to the last. If God was going to put forth His power, and to establish David at the head of Israel, He would make it most evident both to David and every one else who has an ear to hear that it was of His pure grace. Man deserved it not in any sort. The time was not yet come for one whose ways were the expression of God Himself whose ways brought glory to the Father at every step. David was beloved, and great were the things in store for him; yet he was but a man, and a sinful man. Grace might make him a type, but he was only a type.
So on this striking occasion, where grace asserts itself in a decisive manner (and the Lord Jesus Himself refers to it, and draws out the analogy between the position of David and Himself when growingly rejected in Israel), it is impossible to overlook that David is introduced to us with a story in his mouth which was far from true. But the priest was struck by the circumstances with a great anxiety; for he too had little understanding of the mind of God. He was troubled about David. He suspected that something was wrong. But God moves above all clouds; and this is the only just ground of confidence.
Thus, whether we look at David or consider the priest, there was no ground for boasting. Nevertheless, in these very circumstances there was that which Christ turns to everlasting profit. Very likely we might have passed by this story without edification; we might have seen in it nothing to guide our souls in a dark day. But Jesus is the light, and in His light alone can we see light; and so He for us draws out of the precious word of God this astonishing fact (for truly it is so), that the rejection of the beloved of God in the midst of God's own people profanes what was most hallowed. How could anything needed by David be viewed any longer as holy in the eyes of God where I)avid was rejected, the anointed of Jehovah?
Therefore had priests' bread become for his wants nothing more than common bread. Did he want? From that store must he be supplied as much as from any other. Ceremonial restrictions of the law are all well enough where things go truly according to the law; but what of Him who is the central object to which all its ordinances turn, if He be cast out for God's sake, and He and His be thus in want? Would God sustain those forms against the man of his own heart? Impossible! And therefore the priest gives him the hallowed bread; for there was no bread there except the show-bread taken from before Jehovah to be the food of the priests.
But here, as everywhere, how ineffably superior is the Lord Jesus, holy, harmless, and undefiled! We do find in His history that the restrictions of the law and its regulations lose their force as He passes on rejected to the cross. It is beautifully brought out in the case of the Samaritan leper; not that strictly speaking he could be supposed to be under the law as a Jew was, but that his case made plain the supremacy of the person of the Lord ,Jesus and of the power of God that wrought by Him. It was proved then as against all such demands, whereas a Jew must wait till the cross proved it for him. The Samaritan, ignorant as he was, was the more open to learn the glory of the Lord Jesus; and he learnt it first of all, as we all must if we learn it aright, by his abject need supplied in divine grace. We ought to begin there. We are mere theorists if we do not, and it is dangerous for the soul where the conscience awakened to its wants before God is not the hinge of first approach to God. But then ought we to remain always there, always at the door? Certainly not. A door is to enter in by, and it is both impossible and wrong to limit the God of all grace to the supply of our first wants as sinners even though essential for the soul. Let those supplies too be ever so rich and blessed there is God Himself to know in Christ and to enjoy. This was what, substantially at least, the Lord Jesus was showing, the faith that came back to Him instead of going on to the priests. Thus, while He left those that were under the law in their place for the moment, He did assert in principle, where it could be and in answer to faith, that very grace which was afterwards to shine perfectly when the cross had made it a righteous thing for all.
After this another scene opens; for David, having now received the bread once hallowed for himself and his company, asks for more for all that he wanted. He could be bold in this; for all that he wanted was for God's glory. The sword of Goliath was not so much in view of any personal consideration. He had brought neither weapons nor munitions of war. The priest's answer was, "The sword of Goliath the Philistine, whom thou slewest in the valley of Elah, behold, it is here." A strange place, perhaps we might think, to find it; but not so in truth. As David said, "There is none like that: give it me." It was the emblem of a great day for Israel, a great defeat for the Philistine; but it was the sword which death supplied in order to victory. Was it the power or skill of David that was in the truest sense the means of victory? Was it not his faith that overcame, as it alone overcomes the world now? To conquer thus, the weapon taken out of death must be wielded by the Spirit in the power of life in Christ. It is useless otherwise, as Goliath proved.
But a day of honour may be followed at once by one of shame, and none is exempt from the need of dependence on God or His guidance. How humiliating to see David fleeing "that day" for fear of Saul to Achish the king of Gath! Even the memorial of God's early use of him, here recalled by the lips of the Philistines, awakens not trust in Him, but the more terror of Achish. "And he changed his behaviour before them, and feigned himself mad in their hands, and scrabbled on the doors of the gate, and let his spittle fall down upon his beard. Then said Achish unto his servants, Lo, ye see the man is mad: wherefore then have ye brought him to me? Have I need of mad men, that ye have brought this fellow to play the mad man in my presence? shall this fellow come into my house?" But grace knows how to turn to its own account the low estate of the believer; as we may learn in what follows.
For in the next chapter (1 Samuel 22:1-23) we see David become the attractive centre to all that could value what was of God and discern what grace was doing in Israel. Was it merely this? Was he not also for those that were in debt and wretchedness, who could find no comfort, nor even eye to pity elsewhere? The same Christ our Lord gathers both to Himself, and let us bless Him for it. We are often apt to have narrower thoughts of the Lord than suit Him, my brethren; but Christ is none the less high and glorious because He can afford to look on the least and call the lowest, and thus form them after Himself. It was so even in its measure here; and in truth there is scarce anything that more brings out the infinite value of the Lord Jesus than that He is not crowning what is good apart from Him, nor looking to discover its germs. All that is excellent, all that is of God, will surely range itself round the Lord Jesus; but then He Himself creates, He forms, not finds merely. It is He who gives, and can give out of His own fulness. And in its little measure we see that this was true of David; for out of this group, so despicable in man's eyes, what did not that man of God fashion? and this too more truly because it was in the path of rejection and scorn.
Here then we find David, as we are told, in the cave of Adullam; "and when his brethren and all his father's house heard it, they went down thither to him." But not they only. These might be supposed to have a claim; they certainly had a relationship already; but there were others there who gathered to him because as yet they had none, having lost all. "And every one that was in distress, and every one that was in debt, and every one that was discontented, gathered themselves unto him." It is a poor thing to be a contented optimist where the things we are sanctioning are contrary to God. And those are not to be envied who, being in evil case condemned by the word of God, boast because they are not given to change. Happier, far happier, they who prove all things, and hold fast that which is good. There were souls who groaned in Israel. But were they discontented when they surrounded David? I grant you most entirely it was a paltry-looking set to gather, and in the obscurest of places; but what was David to them? and what did he make them? All the world felt and bore witness in the day of his and their glory, after they had been fashioned in the day of trial and sorrow and reproach by the mighty action of the same grace that shone in David.
But even now, as we are afterwards told, it was not merely this: the prophet Gad is there, and again, as we know, the priest. More particularly was it marked when the hand of Saul was lifted up to destroy through an evident instrument of Satan. For the king condescended nay, was blinded by the power of Satan, to employ his herdsman Doeg, an Edomite, against the priests of Jehovah! A sad story is his declension. Hear the taunts of the king, his affected contempt for the son of Jesse. If he who had the power feared David in earlier days, his deadly persecution attested the importance attached to him now. Words of wrath and scorn do not tell out save to the intelligent how he really regarded him in his heart. Where was self-judgment for the sin which had forfeited the kingdom? Where was the sense of the honour God had put upon him, and of his own misuse of it? Only the rankling of deadly enmity burns within, which now breaks out, not against the man whom most of all he desired to destroy, but against those that had shown him kindness, priests of Jehovah though they were. But it has for its effect, that this holy point of connection and means of sustaining relationship with Jehovah is now found with David. "And one of the sons of Ahimelech, the son of Ahitub, named Abiathar, escaped, and fled after David." Doeg at Saul's command had smitten Nob, the city of the priests, with the edge of the sword, men and women, children and sucklings. The man who spared the Amalekites thus mercilessly destroyed the priests of the Lord. The priest and the prophet were now with God's destined king.
The next chapter (1 Samuel 23:1-29) lets us see some fresh features of David's distressed and dangerous condition, and what and how God was acting there. "Then they told David, saying, Behold, the Philistines fight against Keilah, and they rob the threshing-floors." Surely it had been more natural that they had told king Saul. It was what one might call his business; it was due to him who was raised up and responsible to be the protector of Israel as well as their leader in the battles of Jehovah against the Philistines. But no! heart and conscience told Israel that there was no hope in the king. The outcast man he pursued was the one to whom all hearts turned and thoughts tended. It was to David, himself hunted for the very life, that they looked for whatever protection God might give them against the enemy. And another feature here remark. It is not only that God was morally preparing the people for David, but further David himself is being trained in a deepening dependence on God. "David enquired of Jehovah, Shall I go and smite these Philistines? And Jehovah said unto David, Go, and smite the Philistines, and save Keilah." David then clearly is not the mere favourite, as he had been the champion, of the people, but the one that God hears, answers, and uses to His own praise. Saul is ignored in what ought specially to have been his work. "And David's men said unto him, Behold, we be afraid here in Judah: how much more then if we come to Keilah against the armies of the Philistines?" David enquires again, "And Jehovah answered him and said, Arise, go down to Keilah; for I will deliver the Philistines into thine hand." Obediently he went, fought the Philistines, "brought away their cattle, and smote them with a great slaughter." "So," as the Spirit of God sums it up, "David saved the inhabitants of Keilah." Next we find it recorded that, when Abiathar the son of Abimelech fled to David to Keilah, he came down with (not "an," but the) ephod in his hand: on the death of his fellows he succeeded to the highest place.
Saul, utterly infatuated and without divine guidance, regards David's position at Keilah, shut up among those he could influence, as God's intervention to deliver his enemy into 09 hand. So often is malice thus thoroughly blinded; and God permits when will thus works that circumstances should appear to favour it, only to give another and a fuller proof how far opposed to His will is all such vindictive rancour. "And Saul said, God hath delivered him into mine hand; for he is shut in, by entering into a town that hath gates and bars. And Saul called all the people together to war, to go down to Keilah to besiege David and his men. And David knew that Saul secretly practised mischief against him." Again therefore he has recourse to Jehovah. "Bring hither the ephod," says he to the priest. "Then said David, O Jehovah God of Israel, thy servant hath certainly heard that Saul seeketh to come to Keilah, to destroy the city for my sake. Will the men of Keilah deliver me up into his hand? will Saul come down, as thy servant hath heard? O Jehovah God of Israel, I beseech thee, tell thy servant. And Jehovah said, He will come down. Then said David, Will the men of Keilah deliver me and my men into the hand of Saul? And Jehovah said, They will deliver thee up." God prompts the question He only can answer. David might naturally distrust the men of Keilah. Whatever led him so to enquire, it was of God to preserve him from the imminent snare then surrounding him. For the meek will He guide in judgment, and to the meek will He teach His way. But we may remark that the intercourse, the familiarity (if one may so venture to call it), of Jehovah with David, and of David with Jehovah, is extremely striking in this incident. He was long a man of faith; but he pleads his suit in a way beyond anything we have had before. He is the evident type of one that walked in perfect dependence on God. "Then David and his men, which were about six hundred, arose and departed out of Keilah, and went whithersoever they could go. And it was told Saul that David was escaped from Keilah; and he forbare to go forth." Subsequently he is found in the wilderness of Ziph "And Saul sought him every day, but God delivered him not into his hand."
And here we read of a deeply touching account of love to David in Saul's own house at this crisis. Alas! it was the last meeting between David and Jonathan; for there follows the sorrowful disclosure that Jonathan's faith proves unequal to the trial, the bitter consequences of which he reaps in due time. Nevertheless, as there was a real affection, so one is far from insinuating that there was not real faith; but things were come now to a pass so critical that even for safety, not to speak of the honour of God or the love of man, there must be a clean and an effectual breach of the outward order that stands up, the no longer secret but open and determined enemy of God's purposes. And so it constantly is. God at first deals tenderly and pitifully with men who are ignorantly wrong. He gives many an opportunity to exercise faith before sin is risen to such a pitch as this; but, that point reached, we must either turn the corner or go back, if not perish. Whether this was not solemnly shown in the future of Jonathan, I must leave to yourselves to consider. Nevertheless, whatever be our judgment as to this, the tender love of Jonathan to David on this last occasion is most affecting, and the mingling too of what was truly of God with what showed the weakness of the earthen vessel. "And Jonathan Saul's son arose, and went to David into the wood, and strengthened his hand in God." "Fear not," said he: "for the hand of Saul my father shall not find thee." In this certainly he was right; he spoke almost as a prophet of Jehovah. "Thou shalt be king over Israel." Right again. "And I shall be next unto thee." Not so, Jonathan! He was wrong there. Jonathan never lived to be anything to David. This was to be their last interview. But he adds, "And that also Saul my father knoweth." Thus, I think, the mixture of what was true and what was mistaken precisely marks the mingled condition of Jonathan's soul at this very point. It was not faith in its purity with singleness of object and character. Faith there was; but there was wrong anticipation, as there was unbelief. And so he soon proved. Nevertheless, "they two made a covenant before Jehovah: and David abode in the wood, and Jonathan went to his house."
Now we may turn briefly to a sorrowful piece of treachery, pleasant to the king then, whatever he might have felt once. "Then came up the Ziphites to Saul to Gibeah, saying, Doth not David hide himself with us in strong holds in the wood, in the hill of Hachilah, which is on the south of Jeshimon? Now therefore, O king, come down according to all the desire of thy soul to come down; and our part shall be to deliver him into the king's hand. And Saul said, Blessed be ye of Jehovah; for ye have compassion on me. Go, I pray you, prepare yet, and know and see his place where his haunt is, and who hath seen him there: for it is told me that he dealeth very subtilly. See therefore, and take knowledge of all the lurking places where he hideth himself, and come ye again to me with the certainty, and I will go with you: and it shall come to pass, if he be in the land, that I will search him out throughout all the thousands of Judah." The unhappy king blesses these men for their readiness to betray David; but it was all in vain. They took their measures with skill. "They arose, and went to Ziph before Saul: but David and his men were in the wilderness of Maon, in the plain on the south of Jeshimon. Saul also and his men went to seek him." It seemed as if it was impossible to escape, especially when David came down and abode in the wilderness of Maon. When Saul heard the exact position, he pursued after David in the wilderness of Maon. "And Saul went on this side of the mountain, and David and his men on that side of the mountain: and David made haste to get away for fear of Saul; for Saul and his men compassed David and his men round about to take them." At the very crisis, when it seemed all over with David, a messenger comes to Saul saying, "Haste thee, and come; for the Philistines have invaded the land." God is always superior to the difficulty. Saul is obliged to return, and David was delivered.
But the unhappy king, in no way ashamed of himself, or heeding the lesson of the Lord, as soon as possible returns to the pursuit of his dutiful son-in-law and faithful subject, David. This one object characterizes his life henceforth. The more evident indeed that God had interposed to deliver, the greater his desire to seize and slay him whom his evil mind conjures into an enemy; and so he takes three thousand chosen men out of all Israel, when he hears of David being in the wilderness of Engedi, and goes in quest of him there. (1 Samuel 24:1-22)
But a very different issue soon appears. The tables are turned in God's providence, and Saul falls manifestly into the power of David; but, oh, how different was his feeling and use of the opportunity! so plain was it that even Saul himself has the springs of his natural affection touched, and owns how much more true David was to the king than the king to himself. "And David said to Saul, Wherefore hearest thou men's words, saying, Behold, David seeketh thy hurt? Behold, this day thine eyes have seen how that Jehovah had delivered thee today into mine hand in the cave: and some bade me kill thee: but mine eyes spared thee; and I said, I will not put forth mine hand against my lord; for he is Jehovah's anointed. Moreover, my father, see, yea, see the skirt of thy robe in my hand: for in that I cut off the skirt of thy robe, and killed thee not, know thou and see that there is neither evil nor transgression in mine hand, and I have not sinned against thee; yet thou huntest my soul to take it. Jehovah judge between me and thee, and Jehovah avenge me of thee: but mine hand shall not be upon thee. As saith the proverb of the ancients, Wickedness proceedeth from the wicked: but mine hand shall not be upon thee." The consequence was that "Saul lifted up his voice, and wept. And he said to David, Thou art more righteous than I: for thou hast rewarded me good, whereas I have rewarded thee evil. And thou hast showed this day how that thou hast dealt well with me: forasmuch as when Jehovah had delivered me into thine hand, thou killedst me not." And then he calls on David to swear; for it was no question now of David begging an oath from Saul to spare him, but of Saul manifestly wrong, and yet afraid of his vengeance whom he sought to slay. "Swear now therefore unto me by Jehovah, that thou wilt not cut off my seed after me, and that thou wilt not destroy my name out of my father's house. And David sware unto Saul." What a sight of king and subject, and what a victory, my brethren, for faith and grace! The flesh which fights against God owns its defeat virtually, and this in the very hour in which it had sought destruction for the object of its dislike. It dreads the judgment, but that judgment comes not from the grace it ignores and hates, but from the retributive government of God. "And Saul went home; but David and his men get them up unto the hold."
1 Samuel 25:1-44. But here again we have in brief words another change. It is not now a question of Jonathan; but Samuel dies; and this surely was an event of no small consequence, little as he may have been named for a long time. We are approaching the end when it is no question of prophecy, but still we are not yet arrived at it. The power of God does not interfere; but the end approaches, when the witness of it is gone.
Before that, however, a new character of faith is found or formed in a new witness, and this too where it could have been least expected not in a man who was to pass :away, but in a woman not in Jonathan, but in Abigail, who abides and is blessed indeed. A very striking difference too in the character of her faith will be apparent to any one who reads the chapter with simplicity, and before the Lord.
David goes to a man of estate called Nabal, seeking there in his distress some refreshment for his young men, and David sent ten young men with a respectful message to these Israelites. "And thus shall ye say to him that liveth in prosperity, Peace be both to thee, and peace be to thine house, and peace be unto all that thou hast. And now I have heard that thou hast shearers: now thy shepherds which were with us, we hurt them not, neither was there ought missing unto them,. all the while they were in Carmel. Ask thy young men, and they will show thee. Wherefore let the young men find favour in thine eyes: for we come in a good day: give, I pray thee, whatsoever cometh to thine hand unto thy servants, and to thy son David. And when David's young men came, they spake to Nabal according to all those words in the name of David, and ceased." This no doubt was a great trial to David. It requires, I need not say, much grace to ask a favour, especially of such a man as Nabal; but, even little known as he might be and David well knew what some men were in Israel it was no small humiliation for the anointed of Jehovah. But Nabal appreciated nothing of God, and hated every thought of grace, as the natural man does; and hence answers with the utmost rudeness, "Who is David? and who is the son of Jesse? there be many servants now a days that break away every man from his master. Shall I then take my bread, and my water, and my flesh that I have killed for my shearers, and give it unto men, whom I know not whence they be? So David's young men turned their way, and went again, and came and told him all those sayings." David was deeply irritated, and "said unto his men, Gird ye on every man his sword. And they girded on every man his sword; and David also girded on his sword: and there went up after David about four hundred men; and two hundred abode by the stuff."
But the Lord had a better path and counsels for His servant. For "one of the young men told Abigail, Nabal's wife, saying, Behold, David sent messengers out of the wilderness to salute our master; and he railed on them. But the men were very good unto us, and we were not hurt, neither missed we any thing, as long as we were conversant with them, when we were in the fields: they were a wall unto us both by night and day, all the while we were with them keeping the sheep. Now therefore know and consider what thou wilt do; for evil is determined against our master, and against all his household: for he is such a son of Belial, that a man cannot speak to him." The pathway of faith sometimes looks suspicious, and what Abigail did might have seemed to one who looked from outside to be a matter censurable enough whether one thinks of David or of her husband; but Abigail saw the will and glory of God, and where faith sees what He is doing, all questions are settled. Whatever it might seem, whatever it might cost, her mind was made up: and God vindicated her, and judged Nabal. "Then Abigail made haste, and took two hundred loaves, and two bottles of wine, and five sheep ready dressed, and five measures of parched corn, and an hundred clusters of raisins, and two hundred cakes of figs, and laid them on asses. And she said unto her servants, Go on before me; behold, I come after you. But she told not her husband Nabal."
"And it was so, as she rode on the ass, that she came down by the covert of the hill, and, behold, David and his men came down against her; and she met them." Condign punishment was hanging in the balance, for all were ready to rush on Nabal and his household. "Now David had said, Surely in vain have I kept all that this fellow hath in the wilderness." "So," he says, "and more also do God unto the enemies of David," if he left any male of them alive by the morning light. "And when Abigail saw David, she hasted, and lighted off the ass, and fell before David on her face, and bowed herself to the ground, and fell at his feet, and said, Upon me, my lord, upon me let this iniquity be: and let thine handmaid, I pray thee, speak in thine audience, and hear the words of thine handmaid. Let not my lord, I pray thee, regard this man of Belial, even Nabal: for as his name is, so is he; Nabal is his name, and folly is with him: but I thine handmaid saw not the young men of my lord, whom thou didst send. Now therefore, my lord, as Jehovah liveth, and as thy soul liveth, seeing Jehovah hath withholder thee from coming to shed blood." What a fine witness to the power of the Spirit of grace, where the execution of judgment was so richly deserved! She had the instinctive spiritual conviction that it was best in the hands of Him who would deal solemnly with her guilty husband.
It is good not to avenge ourselves. "Seeing Jehovah hath withholden thee from coming to shed blood, and from avenging thyself with thine own hand, now let thine enemies, and they that seek evil to my lord, be as Nabal." There is no indecision here, and without claiming for her a prophetic spirit, we can see and she is not the only one too that God not only hearkens and hears, but suggests too, when He sees fit, and verifies perhaps far beyond anything that she herself anticipated. And it is as true now as ever it was, my brethren; for the path of faith is not wholly deserted yet, and the living God has those that He guides and forms still, and yet more manifestly according to His no longer promised but revealed Son, the Lord Jesus. "And now this blessing which thine handmaid hath brought unto my lord, let it even be given unto the young men that follow my lord. I pray thee, forgive the trespass of thine handmaid: for Jehovah will certainly make my lord a sure house; because my lord fighteth the battles of Jehovah, and evil hath not been found in thee all thy days. Yet a man is risen to pursue thee, and to seek thy soul."
All is judged to faith; and nothing can be more striking than this. Do you suppose that Abigail in her ordinary life had lacked love for her husband? I am far from conceiving so injurious a thought of one whose moral judgment in word and deed expresses itself with such delicacy and truth. Do you suppose that Abigail had hitherto lacked respect for king Saul? Far from it; but now, whether it was husband or king, if they set themselves in direct antagonism to God, what were they? One was but "a man," the other "a son of Belial." Yet I am sure that in her own sphere she had still been dutiful to them both in their just claims. But it was a question now that had arrived at the point where one must be thoroughly decided either for or against the Lord. Here she could not hesitate for a moment. She was right; "and it shall come to pass," says she in the power of the Spirit, "the soul of my lord shall be bound in the bundle of life with Jehovah thy God." She sees him taken up by God intimately and for ever: this alone explains and justifies her conduct. "And the souls of thine enemies, them shall he sling out, as out of the middle of a sling. And it shall come to pass, when Jehovah shall have done to my lord according to all the good that he hath spoken concerning thee, and shall have appointed thee ruler over Israel, that this shall be no grief unto thee."
How sweet to see in the dark and cloudy day a matron of Israel whom faith gives to discern clearly and to feel such jealousy, not merely for the unstained honour of the future king of Israel, but also for his soul to be kept simply and to the end of the trial from that which was contrary to the grace of the Lord. "That this shall be no grief unto thee, nor offence of heart unto my lord, either that thou hast shed blood causeless, or that my lord hath avenged himself: but when Jehovah shall have dealt well with my lord, then remember thine handmaid." Faith even here, while tried, is not without a present answer from God where we can bear it. "And David said to Abigail, Blessed be Jehovah God of Israel, which sent thee this day to meet me." It was a singular thing for David to find a faith that surpassed his own; and yet who can doubt that in this at least there was no such faith seen in Israel as Abigail's that day? "And blessed be thy advice, and blessed be thou, which hast kept me this day from coming to shed blood, and from avenging myself with mine own hand. For in very deed, as Jehovah God of Israel liveth, which hath kept me back from hurting thee, except thou hadst hasted and come to meet me, surely there had not been left unto Nabal by the morning light a single soul. So David received of her hand that which she had brought him, and said unto her, Go up in peace to thine house; see, I have hearkened to thy voice, and have accepted thy person."
The rest of the chapter sets out the judgment that immediately befell Nabal; and there is no judgment so solemn as when a man falls into the hand of the living God. David thereon takes Abigail to be his wife.
In the next chapter (1 Samuel 26:1-25) we have Saul again, still unrepentant, still bent on his bloody mission. He seems once more to be on the point of catching David; but in truth "David sends out spies, and understood that Saul was come in very deed "before Saul knew aught for certain as to David; "and David arose, and came to the place where Saul had pitched." How striking the quiet confidence of faith the sense of security from God which gave the hunted man courage to draw near his pursuer. "And David beheld the place where Saul lay, and Abner the son of Ner, the captain of his host: and Saul lay in the trench, and the people pitched round about him." That very night, as we are told, David and Abishai came while Saul was sleeping within the trench. Then his companion says to David, "God hath delivered thine enemy into thine hand this day." No one knew better that David was always indisposed to deal with Saul. Who did not know the grace that filled his heart just recently? "Now therefore let me smite him," says he, "I pray thee, with the spear even to the earth at once, and I will not smite him the second time. And David said to Abishai, Destroy him not: for who can stretch forth his hand against Jehovah's anointed, and be guiltless?" It is clear therefore that David has grown in the sense of the grace of God. Not only he will not do the deed himself, but he will not allow it in another of his company.
"But David took the spear and the cruse of water from Saul's bolster; and they get them away, and no man saw it, nor knew it, neither awaked: for they were all asleep; because a deep sleep from Jehovah was fallen upon them. Then David went over to the other side, and stood on the top of an hill afar off; a great space being between them: and David cried to the people, and to Abner the son of Ner, saying, Answerest thou not, Abner? Then Abner answered and said, Who art thou that criest to the king?" He taunts them with the wretched watch they had set that night. "And David said to Abner, Art not thou a valiant man? and who is like to thee in Israel? wherefore then hast thou not kept thy lord the king? for there came one of the people in to destroy the king thy lord. This thing is not good that thou hast done. As Jehovah liveth, ye are worthy to die, because ye have not kept your master, Jehovah's anointed. And now see where the king's spear is, and the cruse of water that was at his bolster." Saul was once more touched, and says, "Is this thy voice, my son David?"
But David does not merely acknowledge now; he remonstrates. "Wherefore doth my lord thus pursue after his servant? for what have I done? or what evil is in mine hand? Now therefore, I pray thee, let my lord the king hear the words of his servant. If Jehovah have stirred thee up against me, let him accept an offering: but if they be the children of men, cursed be they before Jehovah; for they have driven me out this day from abiding in the inheritance of Jehovah, saying, Go, serve other gods. Now therefore, let not my blood fall to the earth before the face of Jehovah: for the king of Israel is come out to seek a flea, as when one doth hunt a partridge in the mountains." Saul confessed his sin, but there was no conscience towards God. And David answered and said, "Behold the king's spear! and let one of the young men come over and fetch it. Jehovah render to every man his righteousness and his faithfulness: for Jehovah delivered thee into my hand today, but I would not stretch forth mine hand against Jehovah's anointed. And, behold, as thy life was much set by this day in mine eyes, so let my life be much set by in the eyes of Jehovah, and let him deliver me out of all tribulation." He has no confidence in Saul, though he may say as his present feeling, "Blessed be thou, my son David: thou shalt both do great things, and also shalt still prevail"
Nevertheless what is man to be accounted of? what David? All flesh is grass, and its glory as the flower of grass. For this triumph over self, this victory of grace, is followed by one of the most painful passages in David's life. Wearied at last of his continual exposure to the king's malice, he says in his heart, "I shall now perish one day by the hand of Saul," and this exactly when, as it would appear, the danger was over. Alas! what are we? Christ is for us the wisdom and the power of God. "There is nothing better for me than that I should speedily escape into the land of the Philistines." Can it be David who thus feels and speaks? The man of faith deserts the ground of God, and deliberately seeks a shelter in the country of the enemy. David arises, passing over to the enemy he had so often conquered. "And David dwelt with Achish at Gath, he and his men, every man with his household, even David with his two wives, Ahinoam the Jezreelitess, and Abigail the Carmelitess, Nabal's wife. And it was told Saul that David was feed to Gath: and he sought no more again for him." Can one wonder that so evil a step led to others? that David carries on a course of deception of the most painful and pitiable kind, especially in a servant of Jehovah once so true and simple and transparent as he? (1 Samuel 27:1-12)
But soon the Philistines gather their armies to fight with Israel, and then is shown the tender mercy of God in repairing or at least overruling at this stage the mischief of His servant. "And Achish said unto David, Know thou assuredly, that thou shalt go out with me to battle, thou and thy men. And David said to Achish, Surely thou shalt know what thy servant can do;" and so it remained for the present. As far as arrangement was concerned, David was to fight with the Philistines against Israel! (1 Samuel 28:1-25) God only is faithful. And hence another phase opens to us; for truly things were at the lowest ebb of the tide in Israel morally: David arming himself against God's people among the Philistines; and Saul, not only forsaken of God as he had forsaken Him, but himself now abandoning the one point of an Israelite's integrity which he had hitherto maintained, whatever else broke down; for he really had up to this, as far as the history makes known, been unswerving in his hatred of all seeking divination or allowance of witchcraft in Israel. But there is no good thing in the flesh, and the one thing that seemed good in the king as completely fails now, as he had failed already on every other ground on which he had been tried by God.
"Now Samuel was dead," as we are here reminded (in verse 3), "and Saul had put away those that had familiar spirits, and the wizards, out of the land." He now saw the host of the Philistines mustering, and his heart trembles. Where was the champion of Israel? and why? Had he himself nothing to do with enfeebling the kingdom? Unable to learn of Jehovah, Saul says to his servants, "Seek me a woman that hath a familiar spirit, that I may go to her, and enquire of her." Accordingly the servants tell him of one at Endor. "And Saul disguised himself, and put on other raiment." Every shred of honesty and truth was manifestly gone. "And he went, and two men with him, and they came to the woman by night: and he said, I pray thee, divine unto me by the familiar spirit, and bring me him up, whom I shall name unto thee. And the woman said unto him, Behold, thou knowest what Saul hath done, how he hath cut off those that have familiar spirits, and the wizards, out of the land: wherefore then layest thou a snare for my life, to cause me to die?" She was afraid that he might be an informer on her to the king!
"And Saul sware to her by Jehovah, saying, As Jehovah liveth, there shall no punishment happen to thee for this thing. Then said the woman, Whom shall I bring up unto thee? And he said, Bring me up Samuel. And when the woman saw Samuel, she cried with a loud voice: and the woman spake to Saul, saying, Why hast thou deceived me? for thou art Saul." What is the connection? Why should she augur from the sight of Samuel that this must be Saul? We have no reason to believe that Samuel said it was Saul, but she drew unhesitatingly the inference that Saul it must be. And why? Because it was not the familiar spirit she expected, but Samuel whom God alone could send. Why so if not for the king? She only looked for the spirit that she was used to the demon in New Testament language which personated whosoever was named. When she saw that it was the true Samuel who came, she could not but feel the reality of the case, and gathered, as I suppose from this, that the present was altogether out of her own and Satan's line of falsehood to delude man. It was God Himself who took all up. Hence it was that Saul, in his desperation, wishing to consult a witch and her familiar spirit, was caught in his own trap, and heard his doom from the departed prophet.
Thus I have little doubt that it was the keen inference of a woman who was accustomed, it is true, to the power of Satan, but who on the failure of that power at once felt in her way, as Balaam similarly once before in his, the truth of things before God. And suppose you, my brethren, that there is no such reality as the power of evil working in unseen ways, and by demons with and in man? You are mistaken. Only there is no reason for a believer who walks with God, and far from all tampering or meddling or curiosity, to be in the smallest degree alarmed as to such a transaction as we find here. The fact that it was not a mere evil spirit that appeared, but the real spirit of Samuel, she owns by this very circumstance to be altogether unusual. This it was that occasioned the greatest possible surprise to her soul. It is not in the power of the devil to bring up the spirits either of the lost or of the blest. Only God can do it; and He, I need scarcely say, never does so except under circumstances known to be adequate before Him for stepping entirely out of His ordinary ways. Such an occasion was the present; but we must not lightly imagine conjunctures of the kind.
And how then? Can there be no such thing as the appearance of this or that person after death? Not so infrequently as men think in these wise lands. Only it may be well to add what they are in my judgment. The real spirits of the departed just or unjust? Neither one nor other, but demons or evil spirits which pretend to be either, if God permit, and it suits the enemy's purpose in deceiving. This seems to me a matter of; simple faith in what God has written for us to learn. I hold that it is as clearly revealed as possible that evil spirits may so work if it please God to allow it, and may deceive many. I cannot doubt that this has never been absent from the earth, that all the alleged oracles of old were connected with and flowed from the power of evil spirits, that the same thing disguised under other names has wrought more particularly in dark lands, and that even now it may be at work from time to time, of course disguised so as the better to deceive even in the very centre of light.
But there is all the difference possible between this and what was seen here. Here, I repeat, it was not an evil spirit, it was the spirit of Samuel; and only God has the control of the dead. Those that are lost are kept, as we know, in safe custody. They are not allowed to leave. They are what are called "the spirits in prison," as we know from1 Peter 3:1-22; 1 Peter 3:1-22. This shows us the condition in which the lost are. There they are kept waiting for the day of judgment. No power of Satan can bring them now out of that prison. They are under the power of God.
Still less can Satan govern the movements of the blest. These are never said to be in prison, or anything of the sort. There is no ground at all to suppose that the righteous are or can be in prison in any sense since their justification by the grace of God. A part of their blessedness even in this world where Satan reigns consists of their being brought out of bondage of one kind or another; and certainly those that are with Christ are in Paradise, which is in no sense a prison or place of custody. If Satan cannot rule the wicked dead, if he has no power beyond this life, if death closes all, still less can he touch the saints, or cause them to appear at his will, or convey any such power to man.
I allow myself to make these general remarks because they may tend to suggest, as I trust, the simple truth as to this subject, and may hinder the young more particularly, and indeed others who may not have fully considered the matter, from being a prey to the thoughts of men. Our wisdom here, as everywhere, is to be wise unto that which is good, and simple concerning evil; to believe, not to imagine.
In this case then God was intervening contrary to the witch's thoughts. She had only to do with an evil personage called a "familiar spirit" the one that attached itself to her iniquitous life as a witch. She expected this evil spirit to pretend to be Samuel; but when she found it was not her familiar but the real person the spirit of him that was gone, she judged at once, and rightly, that it must be God who was interfering for the king. Therefore her great alarm, and her conviction that he who consulted her could be no other than Saul. She right well knew that for good or ill the king was the great person in Israel. Thenceforward, as we said, not the priest, but the king was the new and principal link with God. Once indeed it had been in grace, typically at least while the law subsisted; now it was in government. And he who took the "mad prophet" by surprise, and compelled him to foretell good and glorious things of Israel, now surprised both the king and the witch by sending Samuel to announce the speedy and shameful end of the king of man's choice. Nor need we wonder at the one more than the other; least of all at God sending Samuel now to Saul in his exceptional position and relationship, and under circumstances so critical both to the people and to the king of Israel.
"And the king said unto her, Be not afraid: for what sawest thou? And the woman said unto Saul, I saw gods ascending out of the earth. And he said unto her, What form is he of? And she said, An old man cometh up; and he is covered with a mantle. And Saul perceived that it was Samuel, and he stooped with his face to the ground and bowed himself." Samuel, now recognised, speaks to Saul. "Why hast thou disquieted me, to bring me up? And Saul answered, I am sore distressed; for the Philistines make war against me, and God is departed from me, and answereth me no more, neither by prophets, nor by dreams." Terrible but true confession! "Therefore I have called thee, that thou mayest make known unto me what I shall do." He was at his wit's end, powerless before man, and forsaken by Jehovah. Oh, what an end of the first and favoured king of Israel! "Then said Samuel Wherefore then dost thou ask of me, seeing Jehovah is departed from thee, and is become thine enemy? And Jehovah hath done to him, as he spake by me: for Jehovah hath rent the kingdom out of thine hand, and given it to thy neighbour, even to David: because thou obeyedst not the voice of Jehovah, nor executedst his fierce wrath upon Amalek, therefore hath Jehovah done this thing unto thee this day. Moreover Jehovah will also deliver Israel with thee into the hand of the Philistines: and tomorrow shalt thou and thy sons be with me." That is, they should have departed this life. "And Jehovah also shall deliver the host of Israel into the hand of the Philistines. Then Saul fell straightway all along on the earth, and was sore afraid, because of the words of Samuel: and there was no strength in him." The very witch has to comfort him as best she can.
The next chapter (1 Samuel 29:1-11) follows up the more public course of things which had been interrupted by the melancholy episode of the forlorn, and one may say apostate, king Saul. Here the Philistines are seen mustering in thousands, while the Israelites pitch by a fountain in Jezreel. Now it becomes a question of David. What was he about? "And the lords of the Philistines passed on by hundreds, and by thousands: but David and his men passed on in the rereward with Achish. Then said the princes of the Philistines, What do these Hebrews here? And Achish said unto the princes of the Philistines, Is not this David, the servant of Saul the king of Israel, which hath been with me these days, or these years, and I have found no fault in him since he fell unto me unto this day?" But God overruled the matter, and solved the difficulty into which David's unbelief had plunged him. Nor was it a dilemma only, but indeed a horrible sin. What must have been the result to his own spirit, had it not been completely cut short by that grace which held him in by bit and bridle, and, one might almost say, expelled him by the spears of the Philistines. In deep distrust and jealousy they say to Achish, "Make this fellow return, that he may go again to his place which thou hast appointed him, and let him not go down with us to battle, lest in the battle. he be an adversary to us: for wherewith should he reconcile himself unto his master? should it not be with the heads of these men? Is not this David, of whom they sang one to another in dances, saying, Saul slew his thousands, and David his ten thousands?" Powerless before his princes, Achish could only beg David to go in peace, that he might not to his own peril displease the Philistine lords past all power of healing. David sinks to the degradation of entreaty, indeed with somewhat of upbraiding in his tone addressed to Achish, because they did not allow him to go forth against Israel and the king he had so often spared. But Achish stands firm. "So David and his men rose up early to depart in the morning, to return into the land of the Philistines. And the Philistines went up to Jezreel."
Deeply interesting as1 Samuel 30:1-31; 1 Samuel 30:1-31 is, at present I must content myself with but few words of comment. It is a scene happily familiar to most Christian readers, a turning-point in the dealings of God with the soul of David, who had slipped far from him. How could it suffice His heart to overrule and keep David back? He loved him too well to leave him as he was. The Amalekites become the instruments of discipline by making a raid on Ziklag, carrying off the wives of David and his men, their sons and their daughters, and everything belonging to them. "So David and his men came to the city, and, behold, it was burned with fire; and their wives, and their sons, and their daughters, were taken captives. Then David and the people that were with him lifted up their voice and wept, until they had no more power to weep. And David's two wives were taken captives, Ahinoam the Jezreelitess, and Abigail the wife of Nabal the Carmelite. And David was greatly distressed; for the people spake of stoning him, because the soul of all the people was grieved, every man for his sons and for his daughters: but David encouraged himself in Jehovah his God."
The man of faith turns to Him whom he had so deeply dishonoured. It was the point of recovery, when deserted and on the point of destruction by his own men, after all else was lost and in Amalek's hands. The last lesson of needed chastening had fallen on his heart. The blow of the Amalekites did not effect it; but that David's men who loved him and whom he so loved should be on the point of stoning him, broke up the great deep, and the mighty pent-up waters flowed, not in judgment, but in grace. His soul was restored. He encouraged himself in Jehovah his God. What would have been despair to a man of the world wrought repentance not to be repented of in David, and turned him simply and completely to the Lord. It was the leper white all over now pronounced clean.
"And David said to Abiathar the priest, Ahimelech's son, I pray thee, bring me hither the ephod." Can he not now enquire of Jehovah? It was long since he had done so. He had been far from God. "And David enquired at Jehovah, saying, shall I pursue after this troop? shall I overtake them?" And if David encourages himself in Jehovah, Jehovah surely encourages David. "Pursue," says he; "for thou shalt surely overtake them, and without fail recover all." This he does by the help of an Egyptian servant who had been left behind sick. The Amalekites were discovered; David and his men pounced on them; and every one of those that they loved, as well as all they possessed, were recovered safe and sound, with a great deal more.
But further, the exceeding grace of God gave occasion to two things it is well to note here: the breaking out of hateful selfishness on the part of those who had no appreciation of the Lord (for the presence and activity of grace always bring out the evil of the heart where there is no faith); on the other hand, the single-eyed devotedness of one that no longer sought his own things shone once more with undiminished brightness. David was truly and fully restored. Grace had thus achieved not merely a great victory for David, but a greater victory in him.
In the spirit of love the chapter closes with the loving remembrances of David to the elders of Judah and his friends.
But the last chapter (1 Samuel 31:1-13) unveils a far different sight: the lamentable signs of the Philistines' victory over Saul and his sons, who fell down smitten on mount Gilboa. "And the Philistines followed hard upon Saul and upon his sons; and the Philistines slew Jonathan, and Abinadab, and Melchishua, Saul's sons. And the battle went sore against Saul, and the archers hit him; and he was sore wounded of the archers. Then said Saul unto his armour-bearer, Draw thy sword, and thrust me through therewith; lest these uncircumcised come and thrust me through, and abuse me. But his armourbearer would not; for he was sore afraid. Therefore Saul took a sword, and fell upon it. And when his armourbearer saw that Saul was dead, he fell likewise upon his sword, and died with him. So Saul died, and his three sons, and his armourbearer, and all his men, that same day together." How truly had the prophet warned, how punctually was every word verified! Thus fell Saul and his house. The circumstances of the enemy's triumph need not he dwelt on, nor the comely act of the men of Jabesh who recovered the bodies of Saul and his sons exposed on the walls of Beth-shan, burnt them, buried their bones, and gave themselves to a fast for seven days. All this is doubtless familiar to most.
We shall see in the next book the commencement of an entirely new line of things for David, who reigns gradually rising to full and undisputed sway over all Israel, and there passing according to the ways of God through another kind of trial. In all this the wisdom of the Lord is apparent the failure of man unquestionably, but the grace of God triumphant everywhere.