THE FIRST BOOK OF KINGS.
THE GENERAL CHARACTER OF THE BOOKS OF KINGS.
Blindness of heart, a blindness brought out into stronger relief by an accompanying bright witness of God's mind and will, has ever been the characteristic of the end of bygone dispensations. It is, we know from prophecy, to characterise the end of this. The last of the seven Churches, prophetically destined to represent the last age of this dispensation, is addressed in the words, "Thou sayest that I am rich and increased with goods; thou knowest not that thou art blind" (Rev. 3:17),—words but too applicable to this present age of the Church, which by so many marks seems destined to be the last. The Church is now such as Jerusalem was when our Lord appeared, full of religion, but not knowing God. The "holy city" (Matt. 27:53) was then filled with religious sects, some of them the most "accomplished religionists" of any age. Compared with earlier ages of the Jewish state, the Jews of our Lord's day had apparently, and thought they had, much to boast of. The temple had never been so large. Philistines no longer invaded the land. Doctors of the law were without number. An Edomite was indeed ruling, and ten tribes were lost, still captives whither they had been led beyond Babylon. But this seemed more than compensated for by the great and good works on every side within Jerusalem. They built the tombs of the prophets whom their fathers slew; they compassed sea and land to make one proselyte: they tithed mint and anise and cummin and made long prayers, taking refuge in these things from the dreary sense of blindness which yet they would not confess. More than this, the Word of God was more than ever in their hands: men gave up their whole time and powers to study it. Yea, they had the Lord, the Word Himself, speaking among them. Yet with all this, and in it there was much true "zeal for God" (Rom. 10:1), and while they were yet Abraham's seed and in the place of promise, there was in general no power to discern or at least to confess their state, or to recognise and unveil the Word when He came among them.
The present is such a day. Zeal for God there is on every hand. The Word is among us more than ever. Often do I hear, "We are rich and increased with goods. Never was more done for God than now." But in secret another voice comes to my ears; "Thou knowest not that thou art blind."
Among the proofs of this blindness the Word of God itself is one. The Bible is now in every hand. But how is it understood? It is a fact known to most, boasted in perhaps by some, that almost any teaching beyond the truth, that we are sinners by nature and God's sons by faith, is by many entitled "non-essential." "Oh, good men differ about this. Some say one thing, some say another. It is better to hold what all agree in. We all agree that we are sinners by nature and saved by grace. Let us be content to rest in this which is essential." Now while this is true in a sense, and while I am most assured that what all Christians agree in is what all Christians should most firmly hold, I am equally assured that what is meant by such language as this, is that we need not be very earnest for anything save what is received by all. This is surely wrong. God's special message to any age of the Church, by prophets from time to time, is just what all Christians do not agree in. Such a message will never be to declare who are and who are not Abraham's seed, (and this is what now is called essential,) but how those who are Abraham's seed should walk with God, and what is His present will for His people as a people. If this is to be despised because it goes beyond the truth which all agree in, that we are lost by nature and saved by grace, then without doubt every prophetic message from God to the Church must as a consequence be rejected also. "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them that are sent unto thee,"—these words may speak too truly of others besides Jews—may be too applicable to the present generation.
I had not thought to speak of this, but let it pass. I wished to say that though the Bible is in every hand, though we have scribes enough, and boastings enough of our spiritual light, the mind of the Spirit seems but little known. The proof is that it is thought dangerous to apply or explain the Word on principles accordant with the mode in which Christ and His Apostles use it. For the same reason the expositions of the early writers of the Church are condemned as mystical and absurd, because they found, or at least sought, in the Word much more than Christians now expect or find there. As an example of this, I might refer to the well-known fact of the early Church's application of the figures of the Cherubim to the four Gospels, or rather, more correctly to express their thought, to "those manifestations of Christ Himself which the four Gospels respectively present to us; Christ Himself being one and the same in each, yet represented by each in a different aspect." (Note: St Ambrose, Prolog. in Expos. Lucae, § 8.) Now, although there were different opinions as to the respective application of the faces of the Cherubim to the distinct manifestation of Christ contained in each of the four Gospels, yet there was an almost universal consent, not only that the figures of the Cherubim were rightly so applied, but also as to the import of each distinct figure. All agreed that the lion symbolized kingly rule; the man, Christ's relation as Son of man; the ox, His giving up Himself in service and sacrifice; the eagle, His person as divine and above this world. Where they differed was as to the question in which of the Gospels these relations or qualities were most revealed. And though in speaking upon this subject the early Church may have said not only a few but many foolish things, yet this statement of theirs contains much and precious truth, and truth which in these days is, I fear, not only not seen, but even scoffed at. Their exposition goes to shew how deeply they must have considered, and how correctly they understood the import of the vision of the "living creatures;" and also how familiar they were with, what few now care to observe, the distinct character of, and reason for, four distinct Gospels. They saw that the Cherubim in Ezekiel were the car to bear the glory: they saw that the flesh of Christ was the same; as it is written, "The Word was made flesh, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the Only Begotten of the Father" (John 1:14). And seeing this they could not but perceive how the various aspects of the manifestations of Christ corresponded with the fourfold form of the ancient manifestation.
Now I feel assured that what the early Church had noticed respecting the four Gospels, neglected or ridiculed as it now may be, as to its principle is true of all the books of Scripture, and indeed is one reason for its being divided into books. For surely there is a reason not only for the revelation which God has made, but also for the form in which He has been pleased to make it. The reason, I cannot doubt, is that same truth already referred to, the incapacity of the vessels through which God of old revealed His Word. But it may be found also in the incapacity and feebleness of the creature for whose use and blessing the revelation was intended. God's great object from the first was to manifest Himself. This manifestation has ever been by the Word. But such is our weakness, such the Word's fulness, that, were He to shine out as He is, these eyes could not at once bear the glory. In pity therefore our God has given such a revelation as we could receive, dividing as by a prism the rays of His wondrous glory; bringing it before us in various parts, that thus we may be enabled the better to conceive of all its fulness.
But God, though thus graciously condescending as to the mode, never departed from His purpose of self-manifestation. Step by step He revealed Himself, making each succeeding need of man a fresh opportunity for shewing His own resources. The Scriptures are the record of this manifestation. They give us the history of a chosen seed, among whom God had been pleased to set His name, to the end that in and by them He might be glorified. "This people have I formed for myself; they shall shew forth my praise" (Isa. 43:21), and they lived and existed but to manifest Him. And whether in faithfulness or in sin, they have served as a beacon for ever to make known His wrath against sin, and His boundless pity to humbled sinners.
It is this which gives to the Old Testament its wondrous value; for each book, in itself but a part of one united whole, brings out the mind of God distinctly in connexion with some place, or in reference to some relation, of His chosen people. One book represents the world as an iron furnace, a house of bondage to the elect. Another looks at it as a wilderness, their place of trial and pilgrimage toward their rest. The one tells us what God is to His people viewed as yet bound by this evil world. The other what He is to them as freed, and journeying from it. A third shews the same people in "heavenly places." Each succeeding book giving some further relation or need of the same elect. And just as the four Gospels give us, not four different Christs, but the varied aspects of one and the same; as the various offerings foreshadow not many offerings of Him, but different relations of His one offering; so the various books represent but the various aspects in which the one elect may be seen. For the elect body, even as their Head, as they stand in so many relations both to God and man, require, if all those relations are to be represented, more than one representation. As pilgrim, as worshipper, as conqueror, as suffering from evil rule, as exercising true rule, in each he fills a distinct relation, the representation of which necessarily requires a distinct picture. The different books give these relations. Each book taking up some one aspect of the place of the elect, revealing God's mind respecting it, and His sufficiency to more than meet all its wants.
The Books to which I would now call attention, are the revelation of the Word, in reference to Rule and Government over Israel. Other relations of the elect are sooner apprehended. Indeed, the succession of the different books seems very closely to accord with the order in which for the most part God's mind is apprehended. First we have Genesis. Here, beginning with the work of God, we are shewn what man is, and all that comes forth from him. In Adam we see human nature as it is in itself, ready to trust the tempter and to distrust God; yet pitied and visited with a promise and a gift. In his sons we see all that by grace or nature grows out of human nature. As the story proceeds we see in Noah how man reaches to regeneration, and passes from the old world to a new one through the waters. Noah's seed shew us the varied forms of life which follow regeneration. In Abraham the elect comes before us as the believer: in Isaac, as the son: in Jacob, as the pilgrim or servant; in Joseph, as the sufferer at last glorified: each revealing some fresh aspect of the grace of Him who, by corresponding manifestations of Himself, had formed their respective characters. Exodus advances a step. Here from the character, we pass to the redemption, of the elect. God is seen delivering His people from the house of bondage; the sprinkled blood upon the lintel marking those that are His, and causing the destroyer to pass over. Then comes Leviticus, opening out the truth of the way of access to God, by means of the offering, the priest, and the appointed washings; teaching, when it can be borne by His people, the uncleanness of the redeemed, and the sensitive holiness of the Redeemer. Numbers follows. The lesson here taught is not redemption by grace, nor is it the way of access to the Redeemer; Numbers shews what God is to His people throughout their pilgrimage to their rest; that, while they walk, He walks and dwells with them, in a tent and tabernacle (2 Sam. 7:6). Then comes Deuteronomy, teaching a higher lesson still, and shewing the ways wherein He would have His elect walk, if they would attain to enter the promised land. Joshua gives us their experience there, a figure of our experience as "risen with Christ" (Col. 3:1), and with Him brought through death, into "conflict in heavenly places" (Eph. 6:11). Judges follows, shewing how this conflict is given up, and the consequent failure of the elect in heavenly places, together with God's continually recurring aid to meet their need. Then in Ruth we get a glimpse of the Church; a stranger is made the bride, by one who has a right to redeem. Observe,—redemption,—access to God,—pilgrimage toward the land,—God's will for the elect when there,—conflict and failure in heavenly places,—all these relations of the elect may in measure be apprehended by saints, while yet the Church as the bride is unseen: all these are passed through by the elect before they come to Kings, that is before Rule in Israel is apprehended. But after Ruth follow at once The Kings, four books, (Note: The four Books of Kings are commonly entitled the First and Second Books of Samuel, and the First and Second Books of Kings. But the correct title, "Books of Kings," is still preserved in the Authorized Version in reference to the First and Second Books of Samuel, as well as of the others.) which under varied aspects give us the different forms of rule or government in Israel. We have nothing like this before. A Deliverer saving us from Egypt; a Priest cleansing us, and opening a way to God; a Prophet teaching us His will touching the land; a Captain guiding us into the rest; a Judge delivering us there from our enemies; these are ever relations in which the Word is more or less revealed to and apprehended by us, before our souls are exercised about Kings or rule. But this last relation, though not so soon apprehended, is as valuable as the rest. The Church's sorrow and weakness springs not a little from its being disregarded.
Now this manifestation of the Word in reference to Rule is the subject of the Books of Kings. Four distinct stages or characters of Rule are here brought before us, respecting each of which the mind of God is shewn. The first book gives us the kingdom as in the hands of Saul; the second, the kingdom under David; the third, the kingdom under Solomon, and its failure and division under his sons; the fourth, the gradual declension of the kingdom, down to its final ruin; from the first rebellion of the petty state of Moab against Israel, to the captivity of all Israel in Babylon. The broad distinction between the different characters of rule in the Church, as well as the vicissitudes connected with the course of each,—what rule is according to God, what is contrary to His mind,—the errors of true rule as well as of false,—the different measures in which that rule which is of God may be faithfully administered,—the circumstances and ways wherein it fails,—all these and other intimately connected subjects, are brought before us here in detail, shewing how large a place the truths respecting the government of His people occupy in the mind of God.
And these Books of Kings, like the other books of Scripture, as they each give one aspect of the elect, may yet, though one aspect will probably be apprehended before the rest, be all apprehended together. We may at the same time apprehend both Saul's rule and David's; yea and even, to go much further, captivity under the rule of Babylon. For it is with these books just as with Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Joshua, the application of which, though more generally apprehended, proceeds upon the same principle. Each of these books only brings out one relation or aspect of the elect. He may be seen as in Egypt, waiting for deliverance thence; or he may be seen in the sanctuary; or he may be seen in the wilderness; or he may be seen going up over Jordan. So, to turn to The Kings, he may be seen suffering under evil rule as administered by Saul; or he may be seen like David exercising true rule; or he may be seen failing in his exercise of it, and for his sin be driven out again; or, to take the last scene in Kings, he may be led captive by some external power. Each of these is but one relation in which the elect may stand. He may know himself as in Egypt, that is in the world; and there be waiting, while eating the passover, with girded loins to depart at a moment's warning from the house of bondage; or he may know himself as in the wilderness, on his way to Canaan; that is, he may not only recognise the world as a house of bondage, but he may have this further aspect of it opened to him, that it is also a place of pilgrimage, through which the elect have to journey to the promised land. The fact that the world may be regarded in these two different aspects, does not hinder their being both true to the saint at one and the selfsame time. Nay more; while in one aspect he may see himself as yet in Egypt, and in another as in the wilderness, in yet another he may know himself as having access within the tabernacle, in still another as already over Jordan in the promised land. All these different aspects of the elect, much as they differ from each other, may yet be apprehended together, and are so apprehended, by many souls. They are, or have been, all true of Christ; and just as we apprehend what we are apprehended for (Phil. 3:12), one relation of His after another is made known to us. And indeed Christian experience is just this, the apprehension in our own souls of that which is already apprehended for us by Christ our Head. Nor does the apprehension of one of these relations contradict or supersede another: all are perfect in their place. It is just so with the Books of Kings. One saint only apprehends Saul's rule. Another, while seeing this, sees in David's rule another aspect of the elect, which no more contradicts or supersedes the former than the apprehension of the world according to Numbers opposes or contradicts the aspect of it which is given us in the Book of Exodus.
The Books of Kings then treat of Rule in Israel in its various forms. It may be said perhaps that such a subject, referring as it does to the Church as a whole, will not be so personally practical as many others. Such an objection is characteristic of an age when Christ's body is well nigh forgot, in individual attempts at personal holiness without the Church. It will be satisfactory just so long as people can believe that one member can exist separate from the rest, or that its health is independent of that of the whole body. It will be uttered just so long as Christians are content to be taken up with themselves, esteeming their own personal salvation the end of God's dispensations. But the moment a man is awakened to the fact that God has a kingdom among men, that Christ has a certain body in which He dwells, then the question will no longer be a secondary one whether our true place is not in union with that body, rather than in independence or separation from it. I believe that the real objection to the question of ecclesiastical rule is, not that it is not practical enough, but that it is too practical. It makes men act: this is its offence. It leads them to examine the merits and claims of the many opposing forms of ecclesiastical rule. And those who are already supporting or supported by these opposing forms, are generally those who would quash the whole inquiry, by the charge that it is not practical.
But I may meet this objection on other ground. Let us suppose that we have no interest in Rule in the Church; still the truth of the "kingdom" has another bearing. There is a "kingdom of God within us" (Luke 17:21), in which the same principles act and have their course as in that kingdom which is without us or external. And it will be found throughout that there is no one principle which applies to the outward kingdom or to the body, which does not equally apply to the individual Christian and the kingdom of God within. The reason for this we have already noticed, arising from the fact, that whether it be Israel, Christ, the Church, or the believer; each is or should be a vessel for the manifestation of Him, whose course in all is ever one. The words, therefore, which describe any one of these manifestations, will in principle be true of all, equally describing the course of certain principles acting in the Church, or in ourselves,—in the kingdom of God without or within us.
Such is the general character of the Books of Kings. It only remains for me here to add a word on the difference between these books and the Chronicles, which by so many are regarded as little more than a supplement to, or repetition of, the same history. But the distinct character of the books is strongly marked: their object too is very different. The Kings give us, as I have said, the different forms of Rule in Israel. The Chronicles, on the other hand,—tracing the line of the elect from Adam downwards, enumerating the families in which the Word was revealed through the Antediluvian and Patriarchal dispensations, then more fully tracing the genealogies of the tribes and of the house of David, bringing out, what The Kings are not concerned with, the families and courses of Levites and priests, of the singers, the porters, the captains, and the builders of the house of the Lord,—give us the line of grace in special reference to the need of the Remnants who should return from Babylon, to enable them to discriminate the elect from "the mixed multitude" (Neh. 13:3) which joined them on their return. The use of this Book, as of the others, will not be understood till we are in a position to need it; till by grace brought out of captivity in Babylon, we wish, like Ezra and Nehemiah, to know with whom to worship (Ezra 2:59-63; 4:1-3), and whose help to receive to build the wall (Neh. 1:20). But enough on the distinction between these Books. He who is walking with the Lord will find their use. Others by their knowledge will be only Scribes.
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