THE RESPECTIVE CHARACTERS OF THE FIRST TWO KINGS.
"God's thoughts are not man's thoughts." We have one proof of this in the setting up of the king whom Israel asked. And the intimations we obtain upon this subject of the mind of God, shew us how different are His thoughts from the thoughts even of His own elect. Their hope is, when priest and prophet fail, to find in some new or added gift the remedy for Israel's state. A king, they think, will bring the needed help. Rule, the character of which they determine for themselves, is therefore asked of God. In answer to this request, God first returns a solemn warning, pointing out the consequences which such a request involves. "O Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself, but in Me is thy help. I will be thy king. Where is any other that may save thee in all thy cities?" (Hos. 13:9, 10). But Israel persists in the petition;—"Nay, but we will have a king" (1 Sam. 8:19). He therefore gives them their own desire. "Thou saidst, Give me a king. I gave thee a king in mine anger, and took him away in my wrath" (Hos. 13:10, 11). As with flesh in the wilderness, so was it with the desired king:—"He gave them their request, but withal sent leanness into their soul" (Ps. 106:15).
In all this, Israel's thoughts were not God's thoughts. The next step shews that God's thoughts are not man's thoughts. The desired king fails to deliver. God then comes in again in grace. He meets their need Himself, giving a king after His own heart. But Israel cannot yet think with God. Spite of His gift in grace, a gift to which they owe their safety, Saul, their own choice, though he fails to deliver, is yet preferred; David, God's choice, though he delivers, is rejected. My wish is to point out the different characters of Rule in the Church which these kings represent. For the Church is yet of Israel's mind. The Rule asked for and chosen by themselves, though confessedly powerless against evil, is yet preferred to that given of God, and which can really aid.
1. The character and consequences of the Rule asked by Israel are seen respectively in their request, and in God's reply.
(i) First, its character is seen in Israel's request, which is to the very letter granted. Israel did not only ask a king. They stated very precisely what sort of king they would have:—"a king to judge us like the nations; that we also may be like the nations, and that our king may judge us, and go out before us and fight our battles" (1 Sam. 8:6, 20). Their wish was, under the sense of their need, to have something strong in their midst and before their eyes, to do those things for them which God had done for their fathers. Such an one was asked who could fight their battles and go before them, and do for them what God had covenanted to do: who could, in fact, take His place, as though He were absent from them, and needed one to act instead of Him for and towards His people. In a word, a gift of God was wanted rather than God. And God, in giving them Saul, gave them exactly what they asked. (Note: It is to be remembered that Saul means "demanded," according to the usual etymology from שאל.) Israel had desired something strong in their midst "to go before them." God gave them the strongest man in Israel. "Behold,"—says Samuel, as he sets Saul before them,—"behold the king whom ye have chosen and whom ye have desired" (1 Sam. 12:13). "A choice young man and a goodly: there was not among the children of Israel a goodlier person than he: from his shoulders and upwards he was higher than any of the people" (1 Sam. 9:2). "And Samuel said unto the people, Behold, there is none like him among all the people. And the people shouted and said, Let the king live" (1 Sam. 10:23, 24).
And his ways agreed with his person, and with Israel's desire in asking such a king. As their eyes rested on him with joy because "there was none like him;" so his eye rested, not on God, but on the strong in Israel. "When Saul saw any strong man or any valiant man, he took him to him" (1 Sam. 14:52). The same spirit leads him ever in war to meet strength with strength. Thus against the Ammonites he gathers all Israel (1 Sam. 11:7, 8). So too against Amalek (1 Sam. 15:4). So again in the valley of Elah, he meets the Philistines with an host (1 Sam. 17:21). What is strong in Israel, that he looks for and uses. But a present God, One who in Himself can be everything to Israel, such an One he never once seems to reckon on. In one word, Saul and his ways throughout were an example of using the gifts of God, for Israel's good indeed, but as though God were absent. As though He who had dwelt with them in a tent when they dwelt in tents, who had walked with them forty years when they walked in a wilderness, would be content, now that He had brought them over Jordan, to dwell apart from them, or let gifts take His place, or allow His work, in still saving and caring for them, to be done by others. Little did they know God who thought thus; little did they think how by such thoughts they were making His best gifts real curses.
(ii) For what were the consequences of such a king? God, in reply to their request, tells them that their desired king involves two things: first, a practical rejection of Himself from being king in Israel; and, secondly, a bringing of all Israel into bondage. As far as God is concerned, a king like Saul is a rejection of God. A king, "to judge Israel, and fight their battles," to do what God had covenanted ever to do, what was this but practically saying that He either could not or would not help, and that something else must therefore take His place? So God regards it. "They have not rejected thee," says God to Samuel, "but they have rejected Me" (1 Sam. 8:7). As far as Israel is concerned, a word sums it all up,—"Ye shall be his servants." "This shall be the manner of your king: he will take your sons, and appoint them for himself, and he will take your daughters to be cooks and bakers; and he will take your fields, and your vineyards, and your oliveyards, even the best of them; and he will take the tenth of your seed and of your vineyards; and he will take your men-servants, and your maid-servants, and your goodliest young men, and put them to his work; and he will take the tenth of your sheep, and ye shall be his servants" (1 Sam. 8:11-17). This is remarkable. As their king would take God's place, so, says God, he will take my portion. He will take "the tenth," which is my share; and he will take you, who are now my servants, to be "his servants," and to do "his work" instead of mine. It came to this,—the relation Israel had formerly held to God they should now hold to Saul. God's rule is changed for man's rule. And as God is put out of His place, so are Israel out of theirs: "Ye shall be his servants."
2. What a contrast to all this is David, God's gift in grace, the king "after God's own heart" (1 Sam. 13:14). In him we have one ever occupied with the Giver, rather than with His gift, expecting and finding all in Him. Such a king, as he does not take God's place, so neither does he take God's portion. Under him Israel are not his, but the Lord's servants. Unlike Saul, one of majestic mien, David is "but a youth and ruddy" (1 Sam. 17:42); the youngest son, keeping his father's sheep (1 Sam. 16:11). By his own family not thought of sufficient importance to be called to the sacrifice (1 Sam. 16:5, 11), calling himself "a dead dog, a flea, a partridge" (1 Sam. 24:14; 26:20), from first to last he lives to declare that Israel's strength is nought, but that God ever goes before, and judges, and fights for Israel. Friends and foes all see this. Their witness is not to David's strength, but they see and they testify, that "the Lord is with him" (1 Sam. 16:18; 18:12, 14, 28, &c.).
But an example may better illustrate the contrast between the two. In the valley of Elah, Saul and David meet. Saul comes before us at the head of Israel, meeting army with army, strength arrayed against strength (1 Sam. 17:21). To such an one, who saw not a present God, it was but natural to say, as he looked upon the stripling, the shepherd lad, "Thou art not able to go against this Philistine." To such an one it seemed only right, if the stripling would go, in preparation for the battle, to put upon him, and in his hands, all the strength the flesh could grasp. Accordingly Saul takes David, and puts on him "his armour, and his helmet, and his sword, and his coat of mail." He had said, indeed, "Go, and the Lord be with thee,"—many preach grace who cannot trust it,—but the armour shewed his real estimate of the sufficiency of a present God. And this ever marks Saul. If his lips, as they often do, speak grace, his acts deny it by a practical appeal to other strength. What a contrast in David; his words and ways agree; his thought is not that he, a youth and ruddy, but that God, present in the midst, is Israel's strength. "The Lord," says he, "who delivered me from the bear and lion, He will deliver me." So with the armour; "David said, I cannot go with these, for I have not proved them; and he put them off him." And so, in all he does. A staff, a sling, and but five smooth stones—this was poor armour. But David saw a present God. In his eyes it is not David and the Philistine, but God and the Philistine, who meet;—"The battle is the Lord's." "Thou comest with sword and spear; I come to thee in the name of the Lord of Hosts, whom thou hast defied. This day will the Lord deliver thee into mine hand, and all this assembly shall know that the Lord saveth." "Thus did David prevail, with a sling and a stone; but there was no sword in the hand of David" (1 Sam. 17:47, 50).
Such was David; and hence his "doings, begun, continued, and ended in God," as they witnessed His presence, brought Him glory. And so it is ever. Does David doubt, he inquires of the Lord (1 Sam. 23:2). Do his followers doubt, he inquires yet again (1 Sam. 23:4). Does he know that Saul secretly plots against him, he says at once to the priest, "Bring hither the ephod." And the character of his inquiries, the child-like confidence in God which they express, all testify how he witnessed a present God. "Then said David, O Lord 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 into his hand? will Saul come down as Thy servant hath heard? O Lord God of Israel, I beseech Thee tell Thy servant. And the Lord said, He will come down. Then said David, Will the men of Keilah deliver me and my men into the hands of Saul? And the Lord said, They will deliver thee up" (1 Sam. 23:10-12). And David's course is the same even when he fails. (The history is in 1 Sam. 27-30.) He goes down to Gath, and gets entangled: the consequence is chastening from God. Ziklag, the city where he dwelt, is burnt with fire, and his wives and all he has are carried away. "And David was greatly distressed, for the people spake of stoning him; but David encouraged himself in the Lord his God. And David said to the priest, Bring hither the ephod. And David inquired of the Lord, saying, Shall I pursue after this troop? shall I overtake them? And He answered him, Pursue, for thou shalt surely overtake them, and recover all." Well might David be "the man after God's own heart." God looked upon His chosen people Israel, and found none believing His presence, or trusting His love. But there is one, a failing man, deeply conscious of what he is, but who has learnt also to believe what God is. With no opinion of himself, he has ever a good opinion of God: his witness ever is, that God is near; that He is good, that He is the remedy—Himself the present remedy—for all Israel's wants.
If we want a foil to all this, we have but to remember Saul. Commanded by God's prophet to wait [sic] a message from God, he cannot trust God sufficiently to wait the appointed time; he must himself act for Israel (1 Sam. 13:8-13). So again, when God is manifestly working for Israel's good, Saul says to the priest, "Bring hither the Ark." Here we are reminded of his words to David, "Go, and the Lord be with thee." But what are his acts? Instead of waiting for God's answer, he says to the priest, "Withdraw thine hand" (1 Sam. 14:18, 19). Again he acts for himself. The end is, that when he would inquire of God, he gets no answer. "Then said Saul to his servants, Seek me a woman that hath a familiar spirit" (1 Sam. 28:7). To him, practically at least, there was no God in Israel.
3. Such were Saul and David; and the spiritual realities which they foreshadowed are now around us in the Church. Saul, the king after man's heart, put by Israel into God's place, stands the type of one form of Antichristian rule. In him we have rule in the place of the Word, that is, in the place of the manifestation of God; not, in the first instance, wilfully against Christ—though practically indeed it amounts to this—but acting in His place, and standing as His vicar for Him. (Note: I am satisfied that, according to the derivation of the word, Antichrist means, primarily, "in the place of Christ," rather than, "against Christ." Ἀντί—in Latin, vice, whence we get the word Vicar, the very title claimed in reference to Christ by the Pope of Rome—is, literally, "in the place of." For examples of this sense of ἀντί in composition, I add the following, for which I am indebted to Elliott's Horae Apocalypticae, p. 839, Ἀνθύπατος, (Acts 13:7,) the deputy, or pro-consul: not "against the consul," but "in the place of the consul." Ἀντίθεος, (Iliad φ. 594,) equivalent to ἰσόθεος. Ἀντιλέων, (Aristophenes,) "quasi leo." Ἀντιβασιλεύς, (Dionys. Halicarn.,) a viceroy. Ἀντάδελφος, (Aeschines,) one in the place of a brother. Ἀντίδουλος, (Strabo,) one in the place of a slave. Ἀντιδιάκονος, (Strabo,) one in the place of a servant. Ἀντεπίσκοπος, (Gregor. Naz.,) a vice-bishop; one acting for the bishop.) Of such rule we have the most perfect expression in the Church of Rome. Romanism openly confesses and declares that ministry and rule are vicarial; that is, they are to do for Christ the work which He did when present. They are to do it instead of Him; thus involving the idea of an absent and forgetful Lord. Such a notion, as in Romanism, where it has had full play, may, and probably will, end in openly making some creature Christ's vicar; but, in principle, it exists wherever ministerial rule is claimed or recognised as vicarial. It may exist as much in the sect of yesterday as in the system which boasts a lineage of a thousand years: nay, perhaps its virus may be more active in the former than in the latter; inasmuch as the sect of yesterday, being yet in its youth, and free from those prescriptive bonds which are some restraint to the workings of older systems, may have greater powers, and give wider room for the vigorous expression of that spirit, which is after all only one form of the natural actings of the old man. Such rule may be known by its acts and fruits, not by its words. Like Saul, standing in the strength of gift, rather than in the strength of God the Giver, it will ever choose seen things and strong things to serve Israel. It can see and own God's gifts; it cannot own Himself. It forgets that He who can use weak things to confound the strong, and things which are not to bring to nought the things that are, is yet "the living God," and will yet be "the Saviour," and do His own work in His Church, to His own glory. And vicarial rule, in forgetting this, practically excommunicates Christ and rejects God; zealous for gift, it denies grace; it denies God that which He most asks for, a place among men, as Himself, beyond and above all His gifts, their one sufficient portion.
And vicarial rule, as it puts God out of, so it puts man into, His place. Under it the Church, as Israel in Saul's case, is brought into bondage. Indeed it is become a proverb, that spiritual dominion, or what is commonly recognised as such, is generally a spirit of domination; that it has a disposition to enslave, and imposes a heavy yoke, not only on men's bodies but upon their minds. The Church of Rome, in which the fullest manifestation of vicarial rule has as yet been seen, is proof enough of this. Like Saul, it makes rules far beyond the Word of God; and then, like Saul, judges those whose faith leads them, beyond or without rules, to deliver Israel. Such, if they dare to act independently of that rule which claims to be acting for God,—in a word, if they walk before a present God rather than before men who take His place,—will, though their faith deliver Israel, yet hear Saul's word,—"Thou shalt surely die, Jonathan" (1 Sam. 14:44). Vain is it to answer, "I did but taste a little honey with the rod that is in mine hand." The answer is yet, "Thou shalt surely die." But faith is not to be so tied. A Jonathan can see, if Israel cannot, that by such rules "Saul troubles Israel" (1 Sam. 14:29). Yet the mass of Israel do not see this: they are tied and troubled by such acts, and yet in bondage to them.
One word more respecting vicarial rule. Saul did not assume his place. It was given him according to Israel's wish. So has it been with Antichristian rule in the place of Christ. Ministers do not seize this place; it is ever yielded by the people. Pastors have not so much arrogated it, as the flock have sought it. It is but the old story over again of Moses in the mount. The mediator is out of sight, in God's presence for Israel. Then the cry is, "Give us gods to go before us" (Exod. 32:1). Out of communion man wants and will have something seen and tangible, to put in the place of an unseen and distrusted God.
But enough of Saul, the king after man's own heart, and of the rule he represents. Let us now turn to that rule which is after God's heart. David also is a king. Here again we have rule; but rule according to Christ. We must not therefore suppose that rule in itself is opposed to God: for Christ Himself is King as well as Priest. But in David, as indeed in Him whom David represents, rule ever glorifies God. Even in that day when "every knee shall bow to Christ, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; when every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord," it shall be "to the glory of God the Father" (Phil. 2:10, 11). And David's rule is to the same end, ever witnessing for God, that His joy is to dwell among and care for men. His rule, therefore, so far from being vicarial, in the sense I have used the word, that is, to do instead of God, or for Him, what He would do if there, proceeds on a principle the very reverse, and only exists to be the witness for His abiding presence. In a word, David embodies the truth which St Paul affirms, that "the gifts which Christ gave" to guide the Church, "when He ascended up on high," so far from being in the place of an absent Lord, are "that the Lord God might dwell among them" (compare Ps. 68:18, and Eph. 4:8); that rulers in the Church are nothing, save as they witness for a present God; that they do nothing to any purpose, save as they lead to Him. And surely this is the secret of the power of apostolic ministry:—"They went forth and preached, the Lord working" (Mark 16:20). They preached, the Lord worked. They confessed that they were powerless, but that in all the diversities of work, there was one sufficient Workman:—"There are diversities of operation, but it is the same God who worketh all in all" (1 Cor. 12:6).
And, indeed, if Christ be in the Church, if His gifts are a proof, not that He is absent and needs vicars, but "that He yet dwells amongst us," what can be more dishonouring to Him than ministerial rule as in His place or stead; what more to His glory and our blessing than a recognition of His presence? Under the one, the height of the man, the power of the gift or creature, will be everything in Israel's eyes. In the other, the gift is nothing save to witness that the Giver lives. God does indeed use men as instruments towards and in the Church; but where they are truly His gifts in grace, instead of usurping His place or getting between Him and His saints, they live but to bring the Church into His presence. When most used of God they most testify, "Thine is the kingdom," not ours. And instead of claiming for themselves the homage due to God, instead of bringing the Church into bondage by perverting His gifts, they, if in their place, as much as any others, nay more than any others, must say with David, "the kingdom is the Lord's, and He is the governor among the people" (Ps. 22:28).
Such rule gendereth not to bondage; for as it practically witnesses how God serves, how He waits to meet and minister to His people's need, so it stamps on those who apprehend it the impress of that word, "He that is great, let him be servant of all" (Mark 10:44). It delivers from bondage too, inasmuch as it brings men personally to deal with Him who can alone set them free. For, as one has said, "True government in the Church is not a setting of points right, but of souls right: nothing therefore is done unless the conscience of the Church is brought in the act to deal with God. It is pure unmasked Popery, the clergy dictating to the conscience of the Church. Is the conscience of the Church to be disposed of by others, be they never so wise?" God's answer is seen in St Paul's words:—"Let everyone be fully persuaded in his own mind" (Rom. 14:5). He cares not to set the point right. He would set the soul right. False rule in the Church ever reverses this. And it may thus be known. It usurps God's place in dealing with conscience. It is quite content to set points right. It cares little about setting souls right.
I might enlarge upon this subject, but what I have said may give the clue to the other details in the characters of Saul and David. I therefore only add one word on the treatment which God's prophet, God's priest, and God's king, receive from Saul. God's prophet he neglects and disobeys (1 Sam. 13, 15); God's priest he slays (1 Sam. 22); God's king he casts out and persecutes (1 Sam. 24, 26). True teaching, true worship and communion, true rule in the Church, fare but badly when vicarial rule is strong. The first is neglected, the second destroyed, the third openly cast out. Yet Saul, in due season, comes to his end:—"The mighty fall, the weapons of war perish!" (2 Sam. 1:27).
I need not trace how all this is applicable to "the kingdom within." There the same tendency exists as in the Church without, to substitute gift for God. It is a solemn thought, but it is most true, that God's gifts may be made only a means of rejecting Him. Nor will any religious profession or outward connexion exempt us from the temptation. Not only is it true that no church or sect will keep us from it; but churches and sects, the better they are, may the more lead us to it. I know not what good thing of God there is, doctrine, ordinance, or gift, which may not be used practically to make us deny Him from whom they come. Yea, the better the gift, the greater may be the temptation to put it into the place of God. The remedy, the only remedy, is in personal communion with God, in the knowledge that He is Himself better to us than all else beside.
May the Lord bestow upon His Church the spirit of wisdom in the knowledge of Him, to discern what is according, and what opposed, to His mind. And may we know His presence. Jerusalem can well afford to be without walls when God is there (Zech. 2:4, 5).
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