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Wednesday, November 29th, 2023
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34
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Whyte's Dictionary of Bible Characters

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DR. NEWMAN, after attempting three times to preach on Saul, is compelled to confess that Saul's character continues to be obscure to him, and he warns us that we must be exceedingly cautious while considering Saul's so obscure character. Now, if Saul's character was still so obscure to the subtlest and the acutest of all our preachers, I cannot expect to be able to say much to purpose upon it. At the same time, with so much told us about Saul; and told us in such a plain, open, and straightforward style; and told us, as it must have been, for our instruction, we may surely hope to be able, amid all his acknowledged obscurity, to gather sufficient instruction out of Saul to justify us in taking him up for our subject this evening.

But, unhappily, the obscurity begins further back than Saul. The obscurity begins with Saul's father and mother. We never hear of Saul's mother; but what kind of a father can Kish have been? We know all about Samuel. There is no obscurity about Samuel. All Israel, from Dan even to Beersheba, knew that Samuel was established to be a prophet of the Lord; all Israel but Kish and his son Saul. Hannah, and Samuel, and Eli, and Hophni and Phinehas, and Ichabod were all household words, as we say, in every household in Israel. Only, there was a man of Benjamin whose name was Kish, and he had a son whose name was Saul, a choice young man, and a goodly, but neither father nor son, neither Kish nor Saul, had ever heard of Samuel. Kish the father, and Saul the son, were so busy breeding asses that they made light of Samuel, and would not come. Samuel was an old man by this time. Samuel had grown grey in a service that made all Israel acknowledge and know God from the one end of the land to the other; but Saul, all the time, did not know Samuel when he saw him. 'Tell me, I pray thee,' said Saul to a stranger he met on his way when he was in despair about his father's lost asses, 'where is the Seer's house.' 'I am the Seer myself,' said Samuel. 'Come with me, and I will tell thee all that is in thine heart.' Yes, there is some quite inexplicable obscurity about Kish as well as about Saul; an obscurity that perplexes us, and throws us out at the very opening of his son's sad history. And yet, when we turn back and begin to read Saul's whole history over again with our eye on the object; when we stop and look round about us as we read, the ancient obscurity begins to pass off, but only to let alarm and apprehension for ourselves and for our own sons take its place. The prophet Samuel had been a public man, as we say, long before Saul was born. And, but for Saul, we would have said that there could not possibly be a child, or a youth, or a grown-up man in all Israel who had not often sat at Samuel's feet and drunk in his divine words. But the most public men, after all, have only their own public. Saul staggers us and throws us out till we look at ourselves and at the men round about us, and then we soon see, what had before been obscure to us, that our inborn and indulged tastes, likings, dispositions, inclinations, and pursuits rule us also, shape us, occupy us, and decide for us the men we know and the life we lead. Josephus says that Samuel had an inborn love of justice. But Saul had inherited from Kish an inborn and an absorbing love of cattle and sheep; and, till they were lost, Saul had no errand to Samuel's city. Why hold up our hands at Saul's obscurity, and at Saul's ignorance of Samuel? We have it in ourselves. We also see what we bring eyes to see, and ears to hear, and hearts to love. To go no further; take just yesterday's journals. They were full of good books. They were full of public meetings, lectures, classes, sermons, speeches, till reading men, and thinking men, and men set on their own self-improvement and their own salvation from sin, do not know where to turn or what to do next, the doors of life are so many and so wide open. Let him who passed all that before him yesterday, and then laid out all this week, redeeming all the time, that he might read the best and hear the best-let that man, and let no other man, cast the first stone at stupid Saul and his stupid father. For Saul was not more stupid among the pastures of Benjamin than we are among the churches, and the classes, and the libraries, and the reading-rooms, and the booksellers' shops of Edinburgh. 'Behold now,' said Saul's servant when the asses were hopelessly lost, 'there is in this city a man of God, and he is an honourable man: all that he saith cometh surely to pass; now, let us go thither.' If you have no more sense of religion and life than Saul and his father had, at least, like them, see that you have a religious servant. Saul's servant knew Samuel. Saul's servant had sat at Samuel's feet as often as he had a holiday. He had bargained with Kish for a day now and then to see Samuel when he was on circuit, and to hear the prophet when he preached. And your servant who stipulates to get out to church, and takes less wages in order to do so, he will be able to tell you where the Seer lives when you have lost all, and yourself to the bargain. Insignificant people-the sacred writer does not even know that servant's name-have sometimes most important information. Saul was led up to the door of his earthly kingdom by the piety of his father's servant; and you may be led up some day to the door of the heavenly kingdom by one of your servants who has interests and acquaintances and experiences that up to tonight you know nothing about.

After Samuel had anointed Saul to the kingdom, we come upon this very obscure Scripture: 'And it was so that when Saul had turned his back to go from Samuel, God gave Saul another heart, and the Spirit of God came upon Saul, and he prophesied,' Saul, you exclaim, a prophet! Saul with 'another heart'! Saul with the Spirit of God upon him! You cannot understand. No. But words must be read in the light of facts; and Bible words in the light of Bible facts. Profession must be judged by practice, and faith shown by works. And 'another heart' judged what it is by what comes out of it. Nay, prophecy itself is only a sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal if the prophet has not charity. 'Another heart' has more meanings than one in Holy Scripture; and so has the Spirit of God; and so has prophecy. Isaiah prophesied of the atoning death of Christ, but so did Caiaphas. The Spirit of God came upon Jesus at the Jordan, but He came also upon Samson at the camp of Dan, and upon Balaam beside the altar of Baal. Matthew Henry in two or three words makes clear to us all the obscurity of Saul's 'other heart.' 'Saul,' says the most sensible of commentators, 'has no longer the heart of a husbandman, concerned only with corn and cattle; he has now the heart of a statesman, a general, a prince. When God calls to service He will make fit for it. If He advances to another station, He will give another heart; and will preserve that heart to those who sincerely desire to serve Him.' so He will. But that is just what Saul, another heart and all, did not sincerely desire to do. And here hangs the true key to the whole of Saul's sad history. He was elected and crowned king over Israel, but he was as ignorant all the time of the God of Israel as he was of Samuel, the great prophet of the God of Israel. The Spirit of God came upon Saul for outward and earthly acts, but never for an inward change of heart. Saul prophesied, whatever that may mean; what he said has not been thought worthy of preservation; but after he had so prophesied he relapsed and remained the same man he had been before. Saul was like ninety-nine out of a hundred of us preachers. The truth is, another heart, prophetical spirit and all, Saul all along was little better than a heathen at heart. And hence it is that what has often been called the profanity of Saul's character scarcely rises to the dignity of profanity. Saul's most presumptuous sins scarcely attain to profaneness. You must have some sense of what is sacred before you can be really profane. But Saul has no such sense. In his youth he had not one spark of insight or interest in the religious life and worship of lsrael. He had never heard of Samuel. What he could not but hear he immediately forgot. When his sin found him out, and when salvation was at his very door, the poor graceless castaway had no higher request to make of Samuel than this: 'Honour me, I pray thee, before the people.' All sure marks of a man who has not learned the very first principles of the divine life. No. Saul the anointed king of Israel had all the time neither part not lot in the true kingdom of God. At the same time, in giving Saul another heart, the God of Israel gave Saul the greatest opportunity of his life to make himself a new heart. God suddenly made a break in the ungodly and heathenish life of the son of Kish. So much so that Saul for the moment was almost persuaded to become an Israelite indeed. Saul all his days was never so near the kingdom of heaven as when he said to Samuel, 'Am not I a Benjamite, of the smallest of the tribes of Israel, and my family the least of all the families of Benjamin? Wherefore, then, speakest thou so to me?' That is the language of a man whose heart is really touched for the time with divine grace. That is real humility; and humility is the root of all the graces, both natural and supernatural. And had Saul only dwelt on that thought; had he returned all his days to that thought; that thought dwelt upon and added to at every new occasion and fresh proof of God's goodness and his own ill deserts-that would soon have made Saul's heart a new heart; that would soon have made Saul another man. But it was not so to be with Saul. As time went on, and as trials and temptations beset Saul, a hard and stony heart, a spirit of rebellion, and pride, and envy, and jealousy, and despair took possession of Saul, and held possession of Saul to his terrible end.

No; there is no such obscurity about Saul getting another heart and yet that heart coming to nothing. We have all had the same thing in ourselves. We ourselves have gone out on an errand of duty or of pleasure, and have come back with another heart. We were for the time like new creatures. Very little more at that time would have made us new creatures altogether. Such surprises of providence, such opportunities of making ourselves a new heart, are occurring continually. Sometimes it has been at a time of sorrow, and sometimes at a time of joy and gladness. At the death of a father or a mother; at the time of leaving home to take our place in a lonely world; or, again, at that happy time when our loneliness was so graciously dealt with by God. God, I feel sure, lets no man become a married man, for instance, without giving him the great opportunity and the new start in religion He gave to Saul when He made him king of Israel. In the kingly heart that God gives to every bridegroom we are not far for the time from the kingdom of heaven. No man, the most heathen of men, ever became a bridegroom and a married man without having opportunities and intentions and commencements of a new heart and a better life. We have all had times when our hearts were too big for our bosoms. And at such times we were almost persuaded to become Christian men. Yes; at one time or other, and more than once, you have all had Saul's great opportunity. did you or did you not embrace it? The bare remembrance of those times of another heart all but brings them back again. Bring them back. You can. You still can, if you choose. And though their first impression must be somewhat faded and spent, let your resolution in God be all the greater that even yet you are determined to make yourself a new heart out of them. Determine to do it, and God will see it done. Say it, and see if He will not.

Had Saul's change of heart only held, had his conversion only become complete, Saul would have been one of the greatest of all the Old Testament men. Saul was not a common man. He was a choice young man, and a goodly; there was not among the children of Israel a goodlier person than he; from his shoulders upward he was higher than any of the people. He had a splendid body and a stately gait, and the very sins of his soul had a certain lurid grandeur about them also. After God gave Saul another heart his life was full for a time of the finest promise. What could have promised better than his strict silence to his inquiring uncle about his anointing by Samuel? Where a weaker man would have had his head turned and his tongue loosed, Saul told his uncle that the stray asses were at last found; but of the matter of the kingdom he was strictly silent. We are bound to put a good construction on Saul's silence in that matter. It is but fair and just to set Saul's silence that day down to humility and modesty. As also when he hid himself among the stuff on the day of his election. As also when he held his peace at the men of Belial mocking at his election. As also after his first great victory. Bring the men who say, Shall Saul rule over us, said the people, and put them to death this day. But Saul said, There shall not a man be put to death this day, for today the Lord hath wrought salvation in Israel. If all that is not to be set down to Saul's humility, self-command, and magnanimity, not to say piety, then Saul's character is obscure indeed. We would have had no hesitation in setting all that down to the best motives had it not been that all his future so terribly belied all such modesty, humility, self-command, magnanimity, and piety. The great preacher did not say it till he had felt it to be quite impossible to draw out Saul's obscure life into a consistent and open piece. And the more we work on Saul under that great preacher and after him, the more we feel the obscurity and the mystery of Saul's dark character. It would take a Shakespeare to put himself into Saul's place and let us see the obscure working of Saul's heart under all his temptations. But he has gone away and left us to deal with such characters as Esau, and Balaam, and Saul, and Judas for ourselves. Only, there is one dark passage toward the end of Saul's insane life that we need neither Shakespeare nor Newman to open up to us. Saul's mad and murderous envy of David is as clear as day to every man who puts its proper name on what goes on every day in his own evil heart.

Who is your Saul, my brethren? Who is the man that stands in the way of your promotion? Who sits in the seat that should by this time have been yours? Who is the man that casts the javelin of slander and detraction at your good name? Who has cost you home and friends by his spite, and malice, and jealousy? Mark that man. Never let your eye off that man. God will bring that man to your feet one day. He will lie under your sword some day soon. But touch not a hair of his head. Touch not the skirt of his robe, neither the spear at his bolster, nor the cruse at his side. Remember who and what you are. Remember what Name you bear, and walk worthy that day of that Name. Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them that despitefully use you and persecute you. Therefore, if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink, Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.

Oh! exclaims Thomas Shepard, the grievous shipwrecks of some great ships! We see some boards and planks lying in the mud at low water, but that is all!

Bibliography Information
Whyte, Alexander. Entry for 'Saul'. Alexander Whyte's Dictionary of Bible Characters. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​wbc/​s/saul.html. 1901.
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