THE RELATIVE POSITION OF THE FIRST TWO KINGS, FROM THE REJECTION UNTIL THE DEATH OF SAUL.
The position of God's true witnesses has ever been a stumbling-block to the world. It is well if it be not an offence to the Church. It is one of the last lessons really learnt by the saint, and one the soonest forgotten. Hard as it is to learn the true character of God's saints, it is harder to be content with the place that character involves. Many who have, through grace, attained to reach the first, have shrunk from the second, fearing the cost at which it is to be sustained. In vain does the Scripture testify, that, from Abel downwards, God's witnesses have been strangers here. In vain, often, do we read the life of Christ. In vain I say, for we are surprised that, if faithful, we must be cast out. We cannot believe that our portion is to be rejected here.
But it should not surprise us: for what is God's position, I say not in the world, but in His own Church? Is He walked with? Is He received? Are not creatures continually put into His place? God manifest in the flesh is a sufficient answer. His life and death cannot be misunderstood. "He was in the world, and the world was made by Him, and the world knew Him not. He came unto His own, but His own received Him not" (John 1:10, 11). Strange truth, this! but truth, nevertheless, unveiling man's heart. God comes into the world His hands have made. He comes doing good. But the world has no room for Him: they judge Him as an impostor. "By what authority doest Thou these things?" (Matt. 21:23) is His people's answer to His deeds of love. "Not this man, but Barabbas" (John 18:40), their last request. "Now Barabbas was a robber."
To what can we trace this? To what but this, that God's presence and truth must ever judge man. God is light. And the light shews things as they are (Eph. 5:13): and man, proud man, cannot bear this. He is not content to be shewn as he is. He would fain still hide his nakedness from himself and others. The light exposes him. The only alternative then left him is either to humble himself, or to reject the light. And where man will not be humbled, the light must be cast out, be it in God's only begotten Son, or in His witnesses.
The history before us is no exception to this. And the relative position occupied by Saul and David, after the rejection of the former until his death, will shew us what place the witness for God's rule in Israel must yet expect. We shall miss one of the plainest lessons of the First Book of Kings, if this relative position is not apprehended by us.
1. The relative position of Saul and David, as respects Israel, is easily traced. It stands out on every page. The one has all Israel with him; the other, a despicable remnant. The one is at his ease; the other driven from place to place.
(i) The one has all Israel. Saul, though rejected by God, guilty of disobeying His prophet, stained with the blood of His priest, and seeking the life of His anointed king, is followed while he lives by nearly the whole of Israel. Round him, though in vain, they gather against the Philistines (1 Sam. 17:2). At his word, they come up against David (1 Sam. 23:8). Yea, though David delivers the men of Keilah, when the Philistines fight against that city and rob its threshingfloors, yet when Saul seeks him, the men of Keilah will deliver him up (1 Sam. 23:1-5, 10-13). Even the true prophet at first seems afraid to own him (1 Sam. 16:2), lest he too should be slain by Saul. The Philistine said truly, "Ye are servants to Saul" (1 Sam. 17:8). He rules them as he will, and they obey. David, meanwhile, God's elect and God's beloved, is all but alone: the deliverer of Israel is soon forgotten by them. Out of all Israel, only a poor despised band of some four hundred men are with him. "David escaped to the cave of Adullam: and every one that was in distress, and every one that was in debt, and every one that was discontented, gathered themselves unto him. And there were with him about four hundred men" (1 Sam. 22:1, 2). The Book ends with only "six hundred with him" (1 Sam. 30:9). What a picture! Here is the beloved of God, driven out into the wilderness, ofttimes hunted and in straits, his life endangered at the hand of Saul. With him are about four hundred men, debtors, discontented ones, and distressed. The rich and wise are not with him.
We have seen what Saul and David represent. Need I ask how this page in their history agrees with what we see around us? After whom are the great mass of the Church following? At whose bidding do they move? Are they with the king after man's heart; or with that rule which witnesses for God? Is not David even yet a stranger among his own people? I speak not of Christendom at large. There, we are for the most part ready to allow, God's rule has been usurped by man. But how is it with us nearer home? What rule governs the Church? Is God's presence and sufficiency in His house believed? Alas! a thousand indications of Saul's rule appear. Man is yet ruling for God, instead of God by man. If God again appears in His Church to bless, and claims His prerogative of calling whom He will, man in His place will object both to the work and to the workman. But let each weigh this for himself. This only will I say, for such as may, perhaps, through their own necessities, have been brought to feel the impotence against evil of vicarial rule, and who, like "the debtors and distressed ones" with David, are learning the trials as well as the blessings of those, who, rejected even by their brethren, walk with God,—this only will I say, God is still a sufficient portion. And trying and painful as it may be to learn this, even by our own failures, the lesson is only to be so learnt—all experience proves this—and it is well worth learning at any cost. It will not be learnt without deep experience of our own wretchedness—without a despair of ourselves, and of all that is in man. It will not be learnt without letting others know, as well as ourselves, that we are no stronger, perhaps that we are weaker, than the rest. But the lesson is God's sufficiency, not our own: and the emptier we may be made of self, the more room will there be for Him to reveal Himself. Where we are something, God will not be all. May He be "all and in all" to His own praise.
(ii) But there is another point to note here. Not only is David all but alone; but while Saul reigns he is driven from place to place, as he says, "like a partridge" (1 Sam. 26:20). Saul, when not pursuing David, abides in ease and rest. "Saul sat upon his seat to meat as at other times: but David's place is empty" (1 Sam. 20:25, 27). He flees from place to place: first to Samuel, to Ramah (1 Sam. 19:18), then back again to Jonathan, where he "hides himself in the field" (1 Sam. 20:24). Soon his wanderings take a wider range; first to Nob, to Ahimelech the priest (1 Sam. 21:1); then to Achish (1 Sam. 21:10); then to Adullam (1 Sam. 22:1); thence to the land of Judah, to the forest of Hareth (1 Sam. 22:5); thence to Keilah (1 Sam. 23:5); thence "whithersoever he could go" (1 Sam. 23:13); in strongholds in the wilderness (1 Sam. 23:14); in the wood (1 Sam. 23:16); in the hill of Hachilah (1 Sam. 23:19); in the rock in the wilderness of Maon (1 Sam. 23:25); thus he flies from place to place: and so it continues while Saul lives and reigns. From Engedi (1 Sam. 24:1) to the rocks of the wild goats (1 Sam. 24:2); thence to Hachilah (1 Sam. 26:1); thence to Gath, to Achish (1 Sam. 27:2); thence to Ziklag (1 Sam. 27:6); then again to Achish (1 Sam. 28:1); then back again to Ziklag, which he finds smitten and burnt (1 Sam. 30:1); then in pursuit of the band of rovers.
Now all this is full of teaching. We often hear it urged against those who desire to be subject to that spirit and those actings which David represents, that they are changeable; to-day in spirit here, to-morrow there; sometimes with the priest; sometimes with the prophet; sometimes in company, it may even be, with the avowed foes of Israel. It is quite true. And for more reasons than one. Much of this changing about is wholly owing to the enmity and pursuit of Saul. It is to the bitter actings of vicarial rule that these things are due. Those who speak lightly of these wanderings may be themselves the cause. I cannot doubt that much of the unsteadiness of those who are with the spiritual David "without the camp," is the very consequence of the treatment which they receive from those, who, though Israelites indeed, yet obey Saul's rule, even when it calls upon them to pursue and destroy David. But doubtless there is a deeper reason. After all, Saul was but the second cause. If faith is to be seen, if God is to be known, there must be trial. David, therefore, unlike Moab or Saul, cannot "settle upon his lees." He is "emptied from vessel to vessel" (Jer. 48:11). In the course of this discipline, failures appear in David which we never see in Saul. When did Saul "go down to Achish, or feign himself mad"? When did "he scrabble on the gate, or let his spittle run down his beard" (1 Sam. 21:13)? Yet, in the course of this, graces also are brought out in David, such as Saul's rule could never shew. But above all, God is seen; His ability to help; His never-failing presence with His erring children to meet their need. And as for David appearing weak sometimes, David would gladly have confessed, that David was weak at all times. David, it must be remembered, is not the witness that David is anything. His witness is ever the reverse; that David is nothing—nothing better than "a dead dog or flea" (1 Sam. 24:14); but that the living God is there, "a sure refuge." And the failures of David and his trials only prove this more and more. Man, indeed, is abased; but God is glorified.
And surely lessons are yet learnt in this same course of David's, a course which is indeed very contemptible and humbling to us as regards ourselves, which those who know not this painful and sifting discipline must confess that as yet they have not learnt. God's goodness is learnt in a way little dreamt of before; and man's wretched failure becomes something more than a doctrine. I say this plainly, lest I should be thought to affirm, that they, who are witnesses for God's rule, may not and do not, like David before them, fall into a hundred inconsistencies. I am well assured that those who search for such inconsistencies will be amply rewarded for their pains. But I am equally assured, that if they choose they cannot but see, through all these perplexities and contradictions, proof sufficient, that, spite of these failures, those who are guilty of them, still, according to their measure, are seeking simply to walk with God. All this, I doubt not, will appear very absurd to those who think that a walk of faith begins or proceeds from some calculations of the effect to be produced by it on the Church or world, or of the credit which it may bring. Those who walk, or seek to walk with God, are led often where they know not; often scarce understanding themselves, they are little understood by others; with a course open to misrepresentation, nay more, at times guilty of inconsistencies, which those never fall into who do not walk by faith; in and by these very inconsistencies, they often prove their truthfulness of heart, more than if they never fell. And do they not, by those very falls, lay Israel and its rulers under the obligation of asking why the elect and beloved of God should wander thus? Do they not call upon the Church to ask how far her own unfaithfulness and lack of communion with the mind of God may not be the cause or occasion of these very failings?
2. So much for the relative position of Saul and David with respect to Israel. Let us now observe their relative position with respect to Israel's foes. This, too, is remarkable. The natural heart is ready to conclude, that such a course as that of David's must necessarily lack power; that because it so thoroughly exposes the weakness of the flesh, therefore strength must be wholly wanting to it. Far, however, is this from being the case. Saul, indeed, can gather Israel; but the valley of Elah proves what Israel's strength is worth. "There went out a champion out of the camp of the Philistines, and all the men of Israel, when they saw him, fled from him, and were sore afraid" (1 Sam. 17:4, 24). David comes into the camp alone, the witness that God is there; and the champion of the Philistines, from whom all Israel fled, falls before him. And the same remains true after he is cast out by Saul, and hunted like a partridge on the mountains. Even in this despicable condition, David does what Saul cannot. He smites the Philistines again and again (1 Sam. 17:51; 18:25; 19:8; 23:4, 5): he invades the Geshurites, and the Gezrites, and the Amalekites (1 Sam. 27:8); he destroys the band of rovers (1 Sam. 30:17), and "of their spoil he sends to the elders of Judah; and to them which were in Bethel and in South Ramoth; and to them which were in Jatter, and in Aroer, and in Siphmoth; and to them which were in Estimoa; and to them which were in Rachal, and in the cities of the Jerahmeelites; and to them which were in Hormah, and in Chorashan; and in Athack; and to them which were in Hebron; and to all the places where David himself and his men were wont to haunt" (1 Sam. 30:26-31). Israel is a gainer by poor distressed David. Saul, meanwhile, and his host, together with his three sons, though they fight for Israel, flee before the Philistines, and fall down slain in Mount Gilboa (1 Sam. 31:1).
Is there nothing answering to this now? Are not the Church—even those who follow Saul—yet gainers by gifts from those who are "without the camp"? How many precious things, spoils taken from the strong, in lonely conflicts, of which the Church knows little, and perhaps as little cares, how many blessed truths, won from the very jaws of the eater, are yet shared, not only with their fainting followers, but with those who never followed at all, by those who often are despised as light and unstable souls, even though the spoils won by them feed such as remain behind. If such things yet abide, to God be the praise. They shew His abiding care and love to His failing people. They witness that He yet remains among us who first fought the fight alone, and whose arm brought salvation; who then, by His Spirit, made known to the sons of men the lovingkindness of the Lord, and His great goodness toward the house of Israel (Isa. 63:5, 7).
One word more I cannot but add here, respecting Saul's position towards Israel's foes, not only after, but previous to, God's rejection of him. We have seen that after his repeated disobedience, God was with him no more. But in his earlier days, before he was rejected, and when he was victorious in his ways, it is remarkable that his victories almost all lay in one direction. He appears easily to have overcome Moab, and Ammon, and Edom (1 Sam. 14:47; 15:7); all nations on that side of Jordan, which was next [sic] the wilderness; he seems scarcely ever to have prevailed against the Philistines, (Note: The victory, in 1 Sam. 14, seems rather to have been Jonathan's than Saul's. Saul's part in the matter seems to have been simply "troubling the land" by his officious orders.) and others whose place was over Jordan: the Jebusites, who held Jerusalem, he never attempted to meddle with. The flesh and its strength, in its different forms, is discerned and attacked too by the spiritual Saul: but wicked spirits in heavenly places seem beyond him. David's victories, on the other hand, were on both sides of Jordan. Philistines, and Jebusites, in due time, both fall before him.
3. I pass on now to consider the relative position of Saul and David to each other, from the rejection of the former until his death. In the earlier part of the history, when an evil spirit from God troubles Saul (1 Sam. 16:14), he is comforted by David, yea, he loves him (1 Sam. 16:21, 23). This, however, is very brief. God works by David; the Philistine is slain by his hand; and Saul at once becomes jealous of him; first persecuting, and then seeking his life. It would seem from the narrative of David's return from the slaughter of the Philistine, that, though Saul had been in times past comforted by him, he had now forgotten him; for "when Saul saw David go forth against the Philistine, he said unto Abner, Whose son is this? and Abner said, As thy soul liveth, O king, I cannot tell. And the king said, Inquire whose son the stripling is" (1 Sam. 17:55, 56). This, I believe, is perfect in its place. Saul, though comforted by the sound of David's harp, seems never really to have known him. Be this, however, as it may, ere long he is openly seeking his life. David, on the contrary, for awhile still serving Saul, often in peril of his life, then hunted from place to place, even when his enemy's life is in his hand, once and again refuses to take it. "The Lord forbid that I should stretch forth my hand against him, seeing he is the Lord's anointed" (1 Sam. 24:4-6; 26:8-11). The men of David may say, "Behold the day of which the Lord said unto thee, Behold, I will deliver thine enemy into thine hand." But David will yet stay his servants by his words, nor suffer them to destroy Saul. To take Saul's life is not his calling. His place is yet to wait on God.
David's spirit yet remains. Even yet must Saul be debtor to David, both for his own comfort and Israel's good. The very blessings wrought by God through David may cause Saul to hate him, yet will not David here avenge himself. Saul is still "the Lord's anointed." There is now in the Church, as then in Israel, gift from God, far out of its proper place; and which, like Saul, may be taking God's place among His people, which yet is gift from God, and which, however misdirected or misapplied, is not an object for us to fight with. We may see, perhaps, that it is bringing Israel into bondage; we may even see that it is taking God's place. Our place respecting it, if I err not, is still David's place, to pay it honour, and leave it for the Lord's judgment. Doubtless some who are with David will yet say, as Abishai, "God hath delivered thine enemy into thine hand." But David's answer is yet according to God,—"Who can stretch forth his hand against the Lord's anointed, and be guiltless?" This is a point which needs much of the mind of God. If misdirected gift rules the Church—misdirected gift of the character which Saul represents—is that rule, which is set forth in David, to seek to destroy it? I believe never. God will, in His own time, remove it as He will. Of course there are evils in the Church which must be judged. But of that rule which Saul represents, it is, I believe, according to His mind to leave it for His judgment. Indeed, I believe that not only that form of Antichrist which is shewn in Saul, but that all the various forms of Antichrist are left by the Church for the Lord's judgment; the true and elect remnant, meanwhile, being rejected by, and suffering at the hands of, each. "Whom the Lord shall consume and destroy" (2 Thess. 2:8), is, if I mistake not, true of all; whether Sennacherib, Ahitophel, Judas, or that which they represent.
The present day is one which needs to remember this. Even David is at last (indeed as at first) only kept by grace. He would be the servant of Achish the Philistine (1 Sam. 28:2). But God saves him even from this: for God is not at a loss for instruments to do His work. To Israel the word is not, even respecting Babylon, when they have been led captive thither, "Set yourselves in array against her;" but rather "Come out of her, my people" (Jer. 51:6).
Such are the relative positions of David and Saul. Surely the thoughts of God, received into our hearts, can alone prepare us for such a path, or enable us in it to trace witnesses and presages of coming glory.
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