THE STEPS WHICH LED TO A KING
I have said that the First Book of Kings gives us the kingdom under Saul. In speaking of that character of Rule which he represents, I shall follow the order of the Scripture, which gives us the causes which led Israel to desire a king, before it details the character and history of the object of their desire. We shall find that the setting up of the kingdom in the hand of Saul was only the direct consequence of certain prior acts of Israel. Those acts were the root and branch of which Saul's kingdom in due time was the fruit. First, the failure of the priests led to a prophet taking their place. And then the failure of the prophet led to the setting up of the desired king.
In thus tracing the setting up of Saul to man's failure, I may perhaps to some seem to be interfering with God's purpose and prerogative; and I may be asked how the Kingdom, which was clearly a part of His purpose, can be spoken of as the result of man's failure. But such an objection will not come from those who have considered God's ways; for the answer to it, though it can only be heard in the sanctuary, is on every side. Redemption was no after-thought of God. Before He laid the measures of the earth; before the foundations thereof were fastened; before the morning stars sang together because the work was good; before that work was marred by sin; even then had He "predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ unto Himself" (Eph. 1:4-7); "not according to works, but according to His own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began" (2 Tim. 1:9). But does this alter the fact that man's disobedience led to the fall? By no means. Man is left to choose his way, to listen to the tempter's lure, "Ye shall be as Gods" (Gen. 3:5), to seek to be this in independence. God permits this; and yet out of it all fulfils His own gracious will, even to make man by dependence what he sought to be by himself in independence, "conformed to the image of Him" (Rom. 8:29) who is "the image of God" (Col. 1:15; Heb. 1:3), "these vile bodies fashioned like unto His glorious body" (Phil. 3:21). And it is thus touching the kingdom. The kingdom in the hand of the Beloved was no after-thought of God. Nor does the fact that He had purposed to give Israel a king after His own heart, interfere with the fact that their failure led first to a king after their heart. The failure of Israel in seeking such a king, and the failure of their king, is, as ever, the door for God to come in in grace, to give a better king and a better rule to the praise of His grace, even as the first is throughout the witness of man's ruin.
Let us return then to the causes which gradually led to the kingdom in the hand of Saul. The steps are few and simple. The first step is the failure of the priests. This leads to a prophet taking their place. And then the failure of the prophet leads to the setting up of the desired king. Deeply significant all this to the soul taught of God. Too true a picture of what we see around and within us.
1. The first step is the failure of the priests.
Now these priests were those in Israel whose place was to stand before God. They represent the elect in this aspect; that of communion. The priests, Levites, and common Israelites, do not, strictly speaking, represent different portions of the Church. Like the various offerings, which typify, not many offerings, but different aspects of the same, these different offices represent the different relations, into the participation of all which the elect is called. God of old spake "in divers manners and at sundry times." His revelations then were, as I have said, piecemeal. In these last days He has spoken by a Son, who revealed not one aspect of God's mind, but all; who is Himself, Priest, Levite, Israelite. As priest He communes with God. As Levite He serves. As Israelite He is one of Abraham's seed. And His members are called, as He is, into the same relations. Whether we apprehend or do not apprehend them, our calling, if in Him, is to be "as He is" (1 John 4:17), and to "follow on to apprehend that for which we are apprehended" (Phil. 3:12). Just in proportion as through faith we apprehend the place of communion, we stand as priests. Just as we apprehend the place of service, we are Levites. We are Israelites when we only apprehend redemption, and see no more than that we are members of "the holy nation," the elect people. Such as apprehend the first practically do many things which the last cannot. It is not that all are not called with the same calling. All are so called. But all do not apprehend that for which in Christ they are apprehended. "Are all prophets" to open the mind of God? No. For all do not apprehend their union with Christ in this relation by the Holy Ghost. And yet of all it may be said, "Ye have an unction from the Holy One, and ye know all things" (1 John 2:20). The last gives us our calling for which we are apprehended—the first our apprehension of that calling. The priest then shews the elect as apprehending the place of communion with God: the Levite as in service for Him: the common Israelite shews him as one of the peculiar people, the seed of Abraham, the friend of God. The failure of the priests therefore represents the failure of the Church in communion with God. (Note: I add here the words of another, the value of which will be found by those who care and are able to go further in this field—"Men, in the types, are the actings of the elect, faithful or not; women, the principles they are connected with.") Three several forms of this failure are given here.
(i) The first is misuse of God's sacrifice. The sons of Eli seem to have regarded it as solely for their own convenience. God's part and God's glory in it were quite forgotten; for "the priest's custom with the people was, that, when any man offered sacrifice, the priest's servant came while the flesh was in seething, with a flesh-hook of three teeth in his hand; and he struck it into the pan, or cauldron, or pot. All that the flesh-hook brought up the priest took for himself. Also, before they burnt the fat, the priest's servant came, and said to the men that sacrificed, Give flesh to roast for the priest; for he will not have sodden flesh of thee, but raw. And if any man (remembering that the fat of the sacrifice was the Lord's appointed portion, Lev. 3:3-5, 9, 10, 14-16; 7:30-33) said unto him, Let them not fail to burn the fat presently, and then take as much as thy soul desireth; then he would answer him, Nay, but thou shalt give it me now, and if not, I will take it by force. Wherefore the sin of the young men was very great before the Lord; for men abhorred the offering of the Lord" (1 Sam. 2:12-17).
Such was the sin of the priests, misusing the holy things, regarding the sacrifice as solely for their own convenience; forgetting that, though by God's ordinance the priests were to be fed of the offering of the Lord, He also was to be satisfied and honoured in it.
And this form of evil is as common now perhaps as in Eli's days, and its punishment and end are yet the same. There is a way of regarding God's sacrifice as solely to satisfy us, forgetting God's part in it and that it is also to satisfy Him. The atonement may be so regarded, merely in reference to our wants, to the exclusion of that portion of the truth connected with it respecting God's glory. The consequence inevitably will be a misuse of Christ's body and blood, leading men to turn God's grace into lasciviousness. How many are there who profess to make their boast in grace, and to know their place as members of Christ, who yet would be astonished to be told that this union with Him involves practical conformity to Him in His ways. Such look on the sacrifice of Christ as a reprieve to their flesh, rather than as the witness that their flesh must die. They seem to think Christ died in the flesh that they might live in it: they would ever dwell on that part of the truth, which speaks of our satisfaction in His death, to the exclusion of that which witnesses, that, if we are satisfied with His death, we must also die with Him. The consequence is first a godless walk on the part of priests, and then "men abhor the offering of the Lord," as though it were chargeable with this ungodliness. Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure (2 Tim. 2:19)! And though many professing to know God, shall in works deny Him (Tit. 1:16); turning His grace into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ (Jude 4); the truth of His grace shall stand, and be life and meat to His saints (John 6:53-58), while others in it eat and drink their own judgment (1 Cor. 11:29).
Here then is the first sin of the priests, and the first step to Saul. Evils in worship and communion, permitted without restraint, make Israel cry out for something else, at last for rule like the nations. And Saul in due time is the result.
(ii) But the sin of the priests did not stop here with misuse of the holy things. Their next step is fornication. "They lay with the women that assembled by troops at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation" (1 Sam. 2:22). The New Testament repeatedly teaches the spiritual application of this. So we read in the Epistle of James, "Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God?" (James 4:4). But what is said of Babylon, the mother of harlots (Rev. 17:1, 2; and compare 2 Cor. 11:2), not to refer to other scriptures, makes the spiritual application of the sin of the priests intelligible enough. The sin was a mingling and defiling of the holy seed, an incontinency with what was allowed by God, a seeking in forbidden relations through spiritual lust what God for our profit has denied. Such a failure of the priests is but too common now. Who is not witness to the mixing of the holy seed in unhallowed unions, to the dishonour of the Church's holy calling? To two Churches, both commended by their Lord for charity, service, faith, and patience, and for last works more than the first, this word is sent,—"Thou hast those there who teach my servants to commit fornication" (Rev. 2:14, 20). Here is fornication, not only permitted, but taught in the Church. Solemn and humbling thought! And we have but to look around us to see such fornication yet taught; friendships with the world, a mingling of the holy seed, commended, if not commanded, in the very house of God.
(iii) One other fact is mentioned here, which further illustrates the state of the priests. I refer to the particulars connected with God's call to Samuel. This call was indeed itself the seal and witness of the failure of the priests; but the way in which it was received witnessed the same. God calls one of His elect, to make known to him the Church's sin. This young saint, though "ministering to the Lord" (1 Sam. 3:1), is as yet doing so "before Eli," "not knowing the Lord" (1 Sam. 3:1, 7). And how many are yet ministering to the Lord in the same way, personally ignorant of learning from the Lord, and walking before His saints rather than before Him. Such an one is wakened of the Lord to see the evil in His house; and little thinking that God is speaking to him, he goes at once to the aged priest. But Eli sends him back again to sleep;—"Go lie down, I called thee not" (1 Sam. 3:5, 6). God calls His child to see and hear the evil in the Church. The aged priest sends him to sleep again, because he had not called him. And those who should be walking in living communion with God, on whom lies the responsibility of witnessing against the Church's sin, instead of "keeping knowledge as the Lord's messengers" (Mal. 2:7), are yet often employed in sending to sleep those whom God wakes up, as though God could not speak unless by them. It is true that if God wakes up a soul to speak with it, He will make it hear. But how often are such lulled to sleep again for awhile by aged priests. And yet, as in the case before us, an aged priest, with all his present unfaithfulness, and though God passes him by, not deigning to make him the vehicle for revealing His mind, can often discern what a younger saint, even though more faithful, cannot. Such discernment, however, proves nothing as to faithfulness. Bygone communion, though it may give ability to discern whether God is speaking to others, will not procure for us present messages from Himself.
2. Such was the failure of the Priests. God's judgment speedily follows. The family of Eli are cut off in a day (1 Sam. 4:17, 18). God then raises up a Prophet, that is, teaching comes in, in the place of communion. For awhile the Prophet's word seems to restore Israel. He bids them return to the Lord; and blessing attends his words (1 Sam. 7:3). His word comes to all Israel. He delivers them from the Philistines; he judges Israel; he builds an altar. And then the Prophet fails. And this is the second step to the setting up of the kingdom in the hand of Saul. The Prophet, who had taken the place of the Priest, fails to direct Israel; and a King according to their desire is the result.
This failure of the Prophet is seen as follows:
(i) First, one called of God appoints his sons to office, irrespective of the call of God. "It came to pass that when Samuel was old, he made his sons judges over Israel" (1 Sam. 8:1). Now here at once was failure. God raises up a man, fits him for His work, makes him a prophet, and by his mouth guides Israel. God, having raised up such an one, is with him. But in process of time this man, appointed of God, thinks he can and may appoint others. But man cannot make a prophet or judge, for man cannot enable his brother to apprehend those relations of Christ, the personal apprehension of which by a saint, through the Holy Ghost, makes him a gifted man. This is God's prerogative. Could we qualify men to be prophets or judges, it might indeed be ours to elect and appoint. But spiritual gifts are not ours to give. "Now hath God set the members every one in the body, as it hath pleased Him" (1 Cor. 12:18). And our attempts to do His work are vanity. The Book of Judges, which opens the subject, in a single verse reveals this truth: "When the Lord raised them up judges, then the Lord was with the judge, and delivered them out of the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge" (Judges 2:18). But when a judge made judges, it availed nought. Yet this is what Samuel did. Here was teaching (the prophet) providing for the exercise of discipline, independent of gift from God. Failure this to begin with, and tending to further failure.
I need not apply this. Samuel's course is to be seen still. But too many man-made judges prove it. Now, as then, it is hard to wait and let God guide His own house. We are continually marring His work by doing it for Him. This is the secret of our wretchedness: we will do God's work for Him; we leave nothing for Him to do. And the consequence is, nothing is done; for God will yet do His own work: all who anticipate Him only lose their labour. His will is indeed to save His people, yet not by their actings, but by His own. But, as one has said, "impatience, the fruit of zeal, without corresponding faith in the zeal of the Lord of hosts, has throughout marred the blessing." So Sarah got Ishmael; so Moses failed to deliver; so Samuel appointed his sons; so Israel got Saul; so Saul lost the kingdom. For flesh and blood could not wait for God. In each instance the necessity of the case might have been urged as the plea that something must be done. But faith recognises no such necessity. Faith reckons upon God, that He knows and cares for His people's need. "He that believeth shall not make haste" (Isa. 28:16).
But Samuel forgot this, and others since him have forgotten it, and with precisely the same result. Time was when ministers of the Church were made so by God (Gal. 1:1). He had spoken to them; they could not but speak (Amos 3:8; 2 Cor. 4:13). And He fitted them for their work; and He was their provision in it. Colleges and livings then there were none. A dying daily was then the living; a bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord (1 Cor. 15:31; 2 Cor. 4:10). In such a course He wrought to His own praise. Full well we know it is not thus when judges make judges. If we know not, the history here may perhaps teach us.
(ii) It tells us that the sons of Samuel were unfaithful judges. Set in office by their father, without the call of God, "they walked not in his ways, but turned aside after lucre, and took bribes, and perverted judgment" (1 Sam. 8:3). This at once led to asking for a king. "They said unto Samuel, Thy sons walk not in thy ways; now make us a king to judge us like the nations" (1 Sam. 8:5). And thus has it ever been. If judges lacking God's call are appointed in the Church, there is necessarily inability to meet the claims upon them. Discipline is not justly administered: there is a regarding of men's persons, "having them in admiration because of advantage" (Jude 16). And then Israel, like Samuel, unable to wait for God, choose the remedy for themselves. "Nay, but we will have a king, that we may be like the nations, (that is, like the Gentile world,) and that our king may judge us, and go before us, and fight our battles" (1 Sam. 8:20). Let discipline be unfaithfully exercised; let the Church become a place where, under the pretence of godly judgment, godless injustice and partiality is allowed; then will the people be prepared and call out for some government, even such as is seen in the world, to deliver them from the distressing uncertainty of partial and unfaithful judges.
Such were the steps which led to Saul. The failure of the priests led to a prophet taking their place; and then the failure of the prophet led to Israel's desired king. First, failure in communion leads to teaching being substituted in its place; and then failure in teaching and discipline, to the setting up of man's rule. And this is universally true. No congregation of believers can exist, be it small or great, ancient or modern, in which these phenomena do not appear. For, indeed, "flesh is flesh" (John 3:6); and "the thing that hath been, it is that which shall be" (Ecclesiastes 1:9). Wherever, through failure in communion and discipline, rule is sought to as a remedy by saints, that form of it which Saul represents will probably—as in Israel's case, so now—be that which is first obtained. What this rule is, we shall presently see, in considering the character and course of Saul. Enough for me here to say, that the rule they sought and obtained was a practical rejection of God from their midst; as He said, "They have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me" (1 Sam. 8:7).
A very little knowledge of the kingdom without will shew how true all this is there. And a knowledge of what goes on in "the kingdom within" will but seal the same. Let the Church or individual saints fail in communion; let them droop or err as priests; the next resource will be in prophets, teaching. And this, though for a season staying the onward tide of evil, will in its turn likewise fail. Then the remedy cried out for is something seen—some other fresh gift of God, to rule or go before us. Men think by rule to remedy their state, into which lack of communion, or lack of faithful discipline,—the latter itself a consequence of the former,—has already brought them.
But such remedies will not do. Man's rule, and walking like the world, will never make up for lack of true communion. Such rule, even as the setting up of the kingdom in the hand of Saul, may at first appear a present remedy for the evils which come in through failure in the priest and prophet. But the long run will shew that this also fails, and that first and last the only safety is in God.
Such is the lesson here. If communion be unbroken, but little teaching will suffice. If communion fails, teaching comes in. If faithful teaching and discipline be present, man's rule is not sought. Man's rule sought for is but the proof of previous and deeper failure. Before an Epistle was written, communion led the Apostolic Church above all teaching, in selling their goods, and holding fellowship with all saints. "The multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul; neither said any of them that aught of the things which he possessed was his own" (Acts 4:32). Afterwards when communion failed, neither teaching nor rule could ever raise the Church higher, or indeed so high.
The Lord keep His priests happy in communion, walking according to their calling, with Him. It is the safe and honoured place. Unseen indeed we may be, may we be, of men; but near to Him in whom is fulness of joy. Amen.
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