VARIOUS ESTIMATES OF DAVID, DURING THE REIGN OF SAUL.
Ability to discern God's work and workmen in the Church and in the world is one unfailing mark of communion with Him. Many are His, who fail here. Nothing more certainly marks the teaching of God, than capacity to recognise His true servants here, while the veil of humiliation and the cross is on them, and while they are "a gazing stock to the world" (1 Cor. 4:9; Heb. 10:33). The Father's teaching alone will suffice for this: and, indeed, it needs as much the Father's teaching now to recognise His servants, as of old to recognise in the poor despised and humbled Nazarene "the Christ, the Son of the living God." "Flesh and blood cannot reveal it; but the Father which is in heaven" (Matt. 16:16, 17).
This capacity may be possessed in different measures, as well as not possessed at all, even by saints, for the measure of their communion with God's thoughts will vary according to the different measures of their personal communion with Him. Some may be found His children, who as yet, like little babes, though of His family, are not only ignorant of His mind, but unable, through infancy or weakness in the spiritual life, to "discern between the things that differ" (Phil. 1:10; Gr. δοκιμάζειν τὰ διαφέροντα). Others there are, who, through unfaithfulness, and want of a single eye, cause the light that is in them to become darkness. Others there are, again, faithful in different measures to the light bestowed, whose ability to discern the things of God will be found varying exactly according to their individual faithfulness. Very humbling is it to flesh and blood, to find continually that those who have made the greatest progress in communion with the mind of God are those, who, in themselves, are the least worthy of such blessing. But it is of a piece with God's ways. The needy are readier to know their need. If they have not God's strength, they are helpless. If they have not God's wisdom, they are utter fools. Their very necessity casts them on God, and in that which meets their ruin they discern His work. Thus, often do fools discern where God is, when the wise see Him not. Their capacity, through the Spirit, for finding and using Him, is their need.
The various estimates which were formed by Israel respecting God's witness, David, during the reign of Saul, are full of instruction upon this subject. Nabal, Jonathan, and the Adullamites, were all Israelites, the called of God. But how vast the difference of their estimates of God's beloved! It is so still. Not only the capacity to discern beauty in that character of rule which David represents, but, when discovered, the different measures in which it may be sympathized with or esteemed by saints, all these may still be seen in the Church, varying as of old. The various estimates recorded of David during the reign of Saul, may lead us, perhaps, to inquire how far we enter into God's thoughts respecting that which is His witness, or how far we are of Israel's mind in the matter.
1. Nabal's estimate of David may be expressed in his own words. "Nabal said, Who is David? and who is the son of Jesse? There be many servants now-a-days that break away every one from his master." David had, by the confession of Nabal's own servants, "been a wall to Nabal night and day" (1 Sam. 25:16). All that Nabal possessed had David kept for him in the wilderness; so "that nothing was missed of all that pertained to him" (1 Sam. 25:21); yet Nabal's answer is—"Who is David? ... there be many servants now-a-days that break away every man from his master. Shall I then take my bread, and my water, and my flesh that I have killed for my shearers, and give it unto men, whom I know not from whence they be?" (1 Sam. 25:10, 11).
Who and what was this Nabal? He was an Israelite, "of Caleb's house" (1 Sam. 25:3); as such, closely related to David (1 Chron. 2:9-15). We are told that "his possessions were very great in Carmel," in the tribe of Judah, closely adjoining to Hebron, the city which was given to Caleb for his inheritance. But though of Caleb's house, and from him inheriting large possessions, the reward of his father's faith, "Nabal was churlish and evil in his ways." The riches God had given him to possess he regards as his own: he says, "My bread, my water, my flesh, and my shearers." And not content with refusing to share these with David and his men, though of the same family with David, and doubtless knowing of his former acts, he rails against him as "a servant broken loose from his master," as "a man whom he knows not whence he is."
Now these riches of Nabal, "three thousand sheep and a thousand goats," with "a good land of fountains and brooks of water," as being the blessing of that dispensation, answer not to the same earthly (Deut. 7:13, 14; 8:7, &c.) possessions now,—for such things are not our riches now,—but to those "spiritual blessings in heavenly places" (Eph. 1:3), of which the riches of Canaan were the types, and which God gives to His Church, as "risen with Christ." A rich Israelite now is not a Christian rich in this world's goods; but one rich in gifts, for the edifying and feeding of many souls. And such gifts, humbling as it is to say it, are often found far from David and his place: nay, they have (such is the flesh even in the regenerate) a tendency to keep us apart from David and his position. It is indeed humiliating, but it is too true, that riches of gift or spiritual power, a good inheritance in the truth, transmitted to us by some faithful spiritual father, name and authority in the Church, these things, God's gifts to His saints, may be, and often are, a hindrance to rightly estimating David. There are rich ones in Israel yet, possessed of many gifts, who can only speak evil of David, or at least speak lightly of him. It needs but little acquaintance with our own hearts or the Church, to know that the very gifts of God may be coveted simply to make us something, to build up our name, or our house in Israel; and that when His gifts have set us on high, it becomes harder to be nothing in the eyes of men,—nothing in the estimation of the wise in Israel. But so it is. It is not only earthly riches which may be a snare: spiritual riches may be an equal one, tempting us practically to judge that position, and despise that spirit which needs God Himself every hour. Spiritual riches, or spiritual gifts, are no defence from carnality of heart: witness the Church of Corinth, which was "enriched by the Lord in all utterance, and in all knowledge, so that they came behind in no gift" (1 Cor. 1:5; and compare 1 Cor. 3:1, 3). And yet their conduct to, and estimate of Paul, whose ministry and spiritual rule in principle resembled David's, while they were ready to receive "false apostles, who would take from them and smite them on the face" (2 Cor. 11:20), are very closely analogous to Nabal's conduct here. And from Paul's day to the present this has ever been so, more or less; at least there has been a tendency to it, in "those who come behind in no gift." For such it is often hard to recognise in what is poor and weak in itself, in what is forced to be from hour to hour dependent, in what has nothing to shew but a present God, God's elect vessel fitted to His own glory. Rule which appears to possess strength in itself, or which stands in some gift, will be received, when God's witness is treated at least with suspicion.
But to return to Nabal. His estimate of David is, that he is nothing better than "a servant broken loose from his master." Like Eliab (1 Sam. 17:28), Nabal judges David's course as the fruit of self-will, and is ready to say, "I know thy pride and the naughtiness of thine heart." Many think the same of that which is now in David's place. Faith's ways and words are still judged by the flesh as "naughtiness and pride of heart." The flesh always considers it "pride" to reckon on a living God. And even saints, if they walk carnally, will echo the judgment of the flesh. If David cross them in his path of faith, they neither have sympathy with, nor pity for, him. They think nothing of what it must have cost him to break so many ties; they think not of the struggles and anxieties which he must have passed through alone; they think not of the comfort or defence which they themselves have personally received through him; or of the spoils of enemies shared by this fugitive with his people. It is enough that David's place is a trying one, a disreputable one in Israel's eyes. He must therefore be judged as a runaway; they "know not whence he is."
2. Jonathan's estimate of David differs much from this. So far from calling him "a servant broken loose;" so far from disclaiming all knowledge of him, or leaving him unpitied to his fate; Jonathan ever sees in David God's chosen and anointed king. Though the son of Saul, he loves David faithfully to the end (1 Sam. 18:3). He speaks for him, ever vindicating him to his father (1 Sam. 19:4, 5); and when David is forced to flee, in the faith that he shall yet be king, Jonathan enters into covenant with him, not for himself only, but for his seed (1 Sam. 20:12-17). It is through him that David learns Saul's purpose against him, and flees to Ahimelech, to Nob (1 Sam. 20:35; 21:1). Even after David is a fugitive from place to place, while Saul is pursuing him, Jonathan finds means to meet David "in the wood," and there "strengthens his hand in God. And Jonathan said unto him, Fear not; for the hand of Saul my father shall not find thee; and thou shalt be king over Israel, and I shall be next unto thee; and that also Saul my father knoweth. And they two made a covenant there before the Lord. And David abode in the wood, but Jonathan went to his house" (1 Sam. 23:15-18).
Here, then, was one who estimated David according to God; who, though closely related to that power which hated David, yet loved him as his own soul, and ever sought his good. Even when David is persecuted by the hand of Saul, it is Saul's son who comforts him, and reminds him of the promise of the Lord, and "strengthens his hand in God." Yet he casts not in his lot with David. "David abode in the wood, but Jonathan went to his house."
And is there nothing like this now? Is there no faithful seed, who, like Jonathan, through faith in God, have done exploits, who have themselves been threatened with death by Saul for these very exploits, because they were performed independent of man's rule simply by faith in God, who yet are so connected with Antichristian rule that it seems impossible for them to leave it, or to share the portion of him who they know is the called of God? They may go to David in the wood; they may acknowledge, when out of the power or presence of Saul's rule, that David shall one day prevail: yea, they may "strengthen David's hand in God;" but to abide with him is too great a cross; they sorrowfully return back to dwell with that which hates David.
Yet they hope to see the glory which David shall one day reach to, though they shrink from enduring what fellowship with David costs. But the hope is vain. Jonathan falls, as he lives, with Saul. So far from being, as he hoped, next to David on his throne, he never even sees his glory. Is it not so yet? Surely, if it is true that to reign in the kingdom when it is revealed, we must now suffer in the place of Christ rejected (2 Tim. 2:12), it is equally true, yea, it is a part of the selfsame truth, that to see Christ's rule in power in "the mystery of the kingdom," we must in it share His place. Even yet He says, "Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me?" (Acts 9:4) for He is present in and with His members. And if we would ever apprehend that form of the kingdom, which is shewn us in David's throne, it must be through rejection by, not in communion with, Saul. Such as shrink from this, with their eyes really open to know David, may hope, like Jonathan, to see his reign: but they never see it. That aspect of the kingdom which is seen in David's throne is never apprehended by them. There is a measure of spiritual power in the kingdom to be realised, which their souls never realise. Poor Adullamites in due season see Saul fallen and David's throne. But Jonathan sees it not; he falls with Saul. Oh, may saints, if they wish to see the glory of Christ in the Church, if their eyes have been opened to know what rule is according to God, faithfully abide by it, cost what it may. To own it, to go down to it in the wood, to strengthen it there, shews a will according to God: but of what avail is this, if, overborne by the love of present ease, we go down again to dwell with Saul?
3. I pass on to the Adullamites' estimate of David. Of all Israel, these few poor "debtors" alone give David, in their hearts and lives, the place which God gives him. "He became a captain over them" (1 Sam. 22:2). This was precisely God's thought:—"The Lord hath sought a man after His own heart, and commanded him to be captain over His people" (1 Sam. 13:14). A few wretched "debtors," from whom more is claimed in Israel—rightly claimed too—than they can pay: a few "discontented ones," a few "in distress," finding their real state and that Saul's rule cannot meet it, cast in their lot with David. Little entering into his thoughts (1 Sam. 24:4-6; 26:7-9); at times questioning his will (1 Sam. 23:3); again, through trials, almost rising in rebellion against him (1 Sam. 30:6); they have yet been brought to share his place with him. God's prophet is with them (1 Sam. 22:5): God's priest also (1 Sam. 23:6): and they go out and come in under the rule of God's beloved king. Little credit can they take to themselves for this. To their need they owe their place. This only they have discovered, that Saul's rule cannot help them, and that David can. Therefore are they found with him. They come to him "debtors and distressed ones;" he is "a captain to them:" and under him they become "mighty men" (1 Chron. 11:15-17; 12:1). Doubtless, in the days of Saul, they were often the jest of those, who, like Nabal, were "at ease in Zion." But "though Abraham were ignorant of them, and Israel acknowledged them not, they are God's remnant: He bears rule over them; they are called by His name" (Isa. 63:16, 17).
David, then, is discerned by some even in the reign of Saul: if not by the wise and prudent, yet by babes. And surely there are some Adullamites still, who in their lives are nearer to David than his kinsman Nabal, or his friend Jonathan. Some of the weakest and vilest in the Church, because they are weakest and vilest, are the first to discover where strength lies which can meet their need. Just as in the reception of the Gospel, publicans and harlots find the truth, when wise Scribes and religious Pharisees miss it; because the first, by their very misery, are made to feel the utter helplessness of everything, save the grace of a present and living God; so is it in the apprehension of all that is of Christ, and, among other things, of His rule in the Church. Such as have much to lose, whether a name for wisdom, or place in the Church, will yet stumble at the old stumbling-stone. But thus does God "destroy the wisdom of the wise, and bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent: that no flesh may glory in his presence" (1 Cor. 1:19, 29); for "by strength shall no man prevail" (1 Sam. 2:9).
Gift, then, is not what we want. Place in the Church is not what we want. We want an eye opened by the blessed Lord, perhaps in a way very little to our credit, or to our exaltation, either in our own eyes or the eyes of others, to see our need of God Himself. Then may we, perhaps, find where He is working in His Church. I believe that those who see this will have to pay for it. But the end will make amends for all.
I conclude these Notes on the history of Saul's reign, with Hannah's song, which, standing as a preface to the First Book of Kings, embodies its great principles, and contains, in the words of the Holy Ghost, a summary of the chief lesson which the whole is meant to teach. If we have even in measure learnt to sing this song, even as Hannah learnt it, by the experience of the Lord's sufficiency, spite of all our weakness, it is well. "And Hannah said, My heart rejoiceth in the Lord; mine horn is exalted in the Lord; my mouth is enlarged over mine enemies; because I rejoice in thy salvation. The bows of the mighty men are broken, and they that stumbled are girded with strength. They that were full have hired out themselves for bread; and they that were hungry ceased; so that the barren hath borne seven, and she that hath many children is waxed feeble. The Lord killeth, and maketh alive; He bringeth down to the grave, and bringeth up. The Lord maketh poor and maketh rich; He bringeth low and lifteth up. He raiseth up the poor out of the dust, and lifteth the beggar from the dunghill, to set them among princes, and to make them inherit the throne of glory. He will keep the feet of His saints, and the wicked shall be silent in darkness; for by strength shall no man prevail. The Lord shall judge the ends of the earth, and He shall give strength unto His king, and exalt the horn of His anointed" (1 Sam. 2:1-10).
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