the example of saul
“Exhort one another.”—Paul.
WE have met together again, dear brethren and sisters, according to the commandment of Christ, to remember him—not merely to remember him as a person, but to remember him that we may “remember his commandments to do them.” “Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and enter in through the gates into the city.” And in thus remembering Christ, our thoughts are always guided by the Word of God, which, in whatever part we may be reading, always focalises in Christ, either by prophecy or history; by comparison, or contrast.
It is so this morning: we remember Christ at once by precepts and examples, and the examples that come before us this morning afford a comparison and a contrast, for we are reading of the first king of Israel, and of the last; of a failure, and of a victory; the first affords us a dreadful example, and the last affords us a blessed example; and no one can earnestly and intelligently and affectionately devote his mind to these things without realising in some degree the object of our coming together around this bread and wine.
“Change is our portion now,” most truly, as we have been singing. Change was once the portion of our Lord Jesus Christ, but the word of Jehovah,—“I will be with thee,” has found an everlasting fulfilment in him; so that from beyond the grave he speaks, saying “I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hades, and of death.” Though change be our portion now, in remembering Christ we have hope; but let us never forget that the conditions of hope are faith and obedience, patiently maintained unto the end. Under no other conditions can men truly comfort themselves with the beautiful words of that hymn, “I will be with thee, saith the Lord.” God is not with the wicked, He is with the righteous. He was with Saul, but forsook him. He was, and is, with Jesus, and will never forsake him.
We turn our attention, then, to the example of Saul first. He is called, as we are reading in this first Book of Samuel, at the request of the nation, who desired a king, that they might be “like all the nations.” They rejected God in this, as Samuel afterwards told them, but God nevertheless told his prophet Samuel to hearken to their voice, and give them a king. And so this Saul, the son of Kish, of the tribe of Benjamin, is called to the kingdom, under singular circumstances. The asses of his father were lost, and he was seeking them, and in a way that we can never fail to observe, he, seeking for asses, found a kingdom. Going to the Book of Samuel, we read in chap. 10. how he was anointed to be king over God’s people Israel, and how goodly a person he was to look at,—head and shoulders above any in Israel,—a “desirable young man,” according to the flesh; but, as it was afterwards said concerning David and his elder brethren, “The Lord looketh not on the outward appearance, the Lord looketh on the heart. Hath the Lord any delight in the stature of a man, or the strength of the legs of a man?” No; there are many bigger animals than man—stronger animals than man. In what, then, does the Lord delight? “In them that fear him, that hope in his mercy.”
But Saul being called, and from a very obscure position, to this great office, required encouragement. God is not unreasonable: no man is ever asked to do a great work for God unless he is sufficiently equipped for it; and therefore, as we should naturally suppose, when this obscure young man is called to the throne of Israel, God gives him some proof of his calling, some encouragement to face the problems before him. And so the prophet Samuel in anointing him, gave him signs, and these signs were faithfully fulfilled. As we ponder them, what conviction is wrought, that “known unto God are all his works,” that the smallest details of our lives are perfectly known to God, through his spirit. As the Lord Jesus said, “Even the very hairs of your head are all numbered.”
Samuel said to Saul, “When you are going down from me this day, you will come to Rachel’s sepulchre, and there meet some who will tell you that the asses of your father are found. Further you will go on to the plain of Tabor; there you will meet three men going up to the house of God; one will have three kids, another will have two loaves of bread, and the third will have a bottle of wine. And these men will salute you, and one will give you two loaves of bread which you shall receive at his hands. Going on from there to Gibeah, you will meet a company of prophets, who will prophesy, and then the spirit of God will come upon you, and you will also prophesy. And when these things come to pass, then know that God is with you, and rise to the occasion, and work.”
Imagine that obscure young man departing from the prophet; as he neared Rachel’s sepulchre, would not his heart be attent? Yes, there were the messengers,—“The asses are found, you need not trouble.” Ah, that has come to pass! And then onward he goes,—miles onward, to the plain of Tabor,—will the next sign so come to pass? By-and-bye, three men, and lo,—there they are; the one man has the three kids, the other the two loaves, the other the bottle of wine. Will they speak to him? They draw near; they salute him. They present him with the offering—that has come to pass. So onward to Gibeah, and the prophets come and prophesy; and lo, the spirit of God falls on him, and he is carried away, unwittingly, unwillingly, in words, and prophesies, for he understands not, for so it is testified, you know, of the prophets, that they often spoke things that were quite beyond them,—the Bible is full of it, you have only got to read it. And that has come to pass: so then God is with him, there is no mistake about it.
And now, what? When he is called to the kingdom, he is lacking, he cannot be found. They make enquiries, “Where is Saul?” No one seems to know, but God answers—precisely how, we are not told—“Behold, he has hidden himself among the stuff.” A dreadful example, dear brethren and sisters, one that we ponder, not for self-glorification, but examination. We are called to God’s kingdom and glory; we have not been directly called, as Saul was, nor anointed actually, as Saul was, nor directly guided, as by those wonderful signs, but we have had enough evidence that God is with us. No brother or sister having received the truth, by whatever means, can question it.
Now, Saul did what the apostle exhorted his son in the faith, Timothy, not to do,—“Neglect not the gift that is in thee, by the laying on of my hands;” “Quench not the spirit.” Saul, hiding himself among the stuff, illustrates neglect of the gift. As to ourselves, what shall we say? If, having received this call to God’s kingdom and glory, we refrain from letting the light shine, we hide our light under a bushel, and talk as though we know nothing of the kingdom, then we are in the same case as Saul was. It was said of him that when he was enquired of, he answered that the asses were found, “but of the matter of the kingdom he spake not.” What if that illustrate our case? if we talk of any mundane trifles, but of the matter of the kingdom we speak not? Then we shall be as Saul was. May it not be so, dear brethren and sisters. Having received the truth, let us speak the truth, and live the truth. No doubt we shall come into many disagreeable experiences, many difficulties, but what of that? God’s salvation will redeem from all that; the difficulties will be quite forgotten then. What does the Lord Jesus think of his difficulties now, even that most dreadful climax of all, the crucifixion. What is it now to him but a pleasant memory of faithfulness unto death? So it will be hereafter with every brother or sister who has been faithful, in whatever degree.
Then we pass on in the history of Saul, and read first of his campaign against the Ammonites and Nahash, in which he overcame by the power of God, and had a great victory, and great encouragement, and was confirmed in the kingdom. Now will he do better? Sometimes you know, it is so in the history of the truth, even in these prosaic days. A brother or a sister will perhaps make a poor start, and something comes along in the providence of God that gives them encouragement, and they rise to their opportunities, and become intelligent and effective members of the community. I know of one or two cases in my own experience, quite marvellous to think of. Was it so here? Alas, it was not so; although there were these evidences that God was with Saul, we find him lacking in faith.
The next thing we read of him is in connection with this matter of the invasion of the Philistines, when, having waited for Samuel until his patience was exhausted, he offered sacrifice, apparently thinking that God would not interfere in time to save Israel, and in that we have the expressed displeasure of God by Samuel. He rebuked that presumption, it did not appertain to him, any more than at a later date it appertained to Uzziah to enter the temple and burn incense. It was transgression, presumption, and not for the king’s honour.
Then we read again of Jonathan’s overcoming the garrison of the Philistines in that graphic account of how he and his armour-bearer scaled the heights, and slew the garrison by their own exertions; and then of the jealousy by which Jonathan was like to be put to death, but was rescued by Israel.
Then in to-day’s reading we read of the crowning test, in which Saul failed,—the commandment of God to go and slay Amalek utterly, and spare nothing at all. Nevertheless, Saul did spare Agag and the best of the Amalekites’ cattle and sheep, and came back again, having wrought a great victory, and evidently was self-deceived enough to imagine that Samuel would be quite satisfied. He came to him with a salutation: “Hail, thou blessed of the Lord, I have accomplished the work.” But the prophet was of a different spirit; he said, “What means this lowing of oxen in mine ears?” What was the excuse? “The people spared the best of the oxen to sacrifice unto God.” You remember that never-to-be-forgotten reply: “Hath the Lord as great delight in sacrifice as in hearkening to the voice of the Lord? To obey is better than sacrifice.”
And Samuel, we read, called for Agag, who “came unto him delicately,” supposing the bitterness of death was past, and he “hewed him in pieces before the Lord,” and nearly all humanity raises its hands in horror — “What a blood-thirsty performance!” They cannot take God’s view concerning Saul. Because of this disobedience, Samuel told him that because he had rejected the word of the Lord, the Lord had rejected him. “They that honour me I will honour, and they that despise me shall be lightly esteemed.” That is God’s rule of action, elsewhere expressed, and so it was even in Saul’s case.
What was the motive in this disobedience of Saul? It comes out at last in Saul’s open confession to Samuel: “I feared the people.” Brethren and sisters, here is another point for us. We have not got to slay Amalekites, but the warfare in which we are engaged is in a measure very unpleasant, you know. The same spirit of antagonism is there still, and for “fear of the people,” many fail. But why should we fear the people? “Who art thou, that thou shouldest be afraid of a man that shall die?” So it is said in the prophet Isaiah, you know, “Who art thou, that thou shouldest be afraid of a man that shall die, and forgettest the Lord thy maker?
Do not let us forget God, and let us remember that men will die. We are dying ourselves; we shall not have long to endure it all. We look at Christ: did he fear the people? Nay, verily. Were the people potent against him? Very; they crucified him at last. Where are the people that did it? Dead. Where is Christ who suffered it? “Alive for evermore.” We see it, as we gather together around this bread and wine, do we not? We are liable to lose sight of it when we are face to face with the people. Let us try to remember it. Here is our strength, the victory that overcometh the world,—our faith, which comes by hearing this word of God, and our endeavours to remember it continually.
Then, after the episode with Amalek, David is called,—an unhappy time for Samuel. God says to him, “Go and anoint a king of the tribe of Judah, of the family of Jesse.” “How can I do that?” asks Samuel; “if Saul hear it, he will kill me.” We can easily understand it. Nevertheless, he obeyed, and we read of that interesting episode where one son after another was brought forward. David was not there at all; he was shepherding in the field. Samuel was somewhat nonplussed at first. He said to Jesse, “Are here all thy sons?” “No, there is yet another one—the youngest.” “Bring him,” says Samuel, “we will wait until he comes.” And then David came, a young man, ruddy, beautiful, and the Lord spake to Samuel, “Arise, anoint him, for this is he.” And Samuel did so.
The next thing we read of that young man is almost the antithesis of the spirit of Saul in the matter of Amalek,—the challenge of Goliath of Gath, the champion of the Philistines. David is sent to the camp with provisions; he goes down, and here is this tremendous man, bigger than Saul, defying Israel. This raises burning indignation in this youth’s heart,—“Who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the host of the Lord?” It is Goliath, and his prowess is recalled, and there is a great promise of the king concerning this man. David says, “Let me go down to him.” And Saul says, “You are not able to overcome this man.” And we read of the encounter, of David’s discarding of armour and weapons, and taking the sling, and stones of the brook,—“Thou comest to me in the name of the gods of the Philistines, with a sword and spear; I come to thee in the name of the Lord God of Israel, whose armies thou hast defied. He will deliver thee into my hand.” And it was so; we read of the victory, and how God delivered the Philistine giant into David’s hand, and wrought a great victory for Israel.
But upon Saul, what is the effect? It is soon brought home when he hears the rejoicings, the virgins of Israel in their songs of triumph,—“Saul hath slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands.” “Ah, what can he have more but the kingdom?” and there is jealousy from that time forth, and it grows, until we read that upon one occasion David flees to Samuel, to Naioth. Saul sends after him once or twice, and at last comes himself to take David, to kill him, probably, and when he comes there, what happens? The same spirit of the Lord that had come upon him when he prophesied at Gibeah aforetime, now came upon him in a very different way, and he fell down naked all day and night, and prophesied.
The Lord Jesus said in one of his epistles, concerning his faithful ones, and their adversaries,—his Davids, and their Sauls,—“I will make them of the synagogue of Satan to come and worship before thy feet, and to know that I have loved thee.” Dear brethren and sisters, if we try to avenge ourselves we make a mistake, we shall spoil the business. God will do it beautifully in time, if we are faithful. On the other hand, if, unhappily, we should let go, if we should neglect the gift,—become Satans,—God will make us apologise, make no mistake; we shall be brought flat on our faces before the brethren and sisters we have injured.
What reflections are these, as we thus gather around this bread and wine. We are exhorted, are we not, to remember the “terror of the Lord,” as well as his mercy; and here in Saul’s case, the first king of Israel, failure is before us, the terror of the Lord is before us, as a warning. Yet Saul recovers his position in the kingdom after that; David is persecuted as a fugitive, and the case deepens. The contrast between Saul and David is more and more manifested, — the righteousness of the one, and the wickedness of the other. David, fleeing into the wilderness of Judea, spares Saul’s life more than once. We see it in the cave, where David and his men were hiding, and Saul came into the cave. His men said, “Now is your chance, God has delivered him into your hand.” What is his reply? “Nay, who can stretch forth his hand against the Lord’s anointed, and be guiltless? Wickedness proceedeth from the wicked, but mine hand shall not be upon him. His day shall come; he shall descend into battle and die, or the Lord shall smite him, but mine hand shall not be upon him.” Nevertheless, David seized the opportunity to reveal the situation, and so he cut off a portion of the royal skirt, unknown, and when Saul went forth, he followed him, and cried, “My father!” And Saul said, “Is that thy voice, my son David?” And he replied, “It is my voice, my lord, O king; why pursuest thou after me like a dead dog, like a flea?” What a position for the king of Israel. “See, the Lord hath delivered thee into mine hand, and there were some that did bid me kill thee.” Saul is quite broken down, and confesses David’s righteousness, and they went their ways.
Yet again there was another time, when Saul was sleeping in the camp, you remember, with his spear and cruse at his bolster, and Abner was likewise sleeping; and David came upon the camp by night, and sent and fetched away the spear and the cruse, and the messenger went and stood on a hill, and cried aloud, “Abner, a valiant man you; one came to slay the king, where is his spear and his cruse? You are worthy of death.” Again Saul said, “Is that thy voice, my son David?” And he answered, “It is my voice, my lord, O king; I have spared you.” He would not avenge himself, but left it to God. And while we are speaking of that, what a beautiful episode that was in which Abigail was providentially stirred up to prevent David wiping Nabal out, and all his house, illustrative of the fact that if a man sets himself to do right in the sight of God, God will deliver him from falling when he is likely to fall.
Things got too difficult for David, and he must flee the country. He was providentially taken south when the crisis came, among the Philistines. In the war between the Philistines and Israel, David finds himself in this terrible predicament, like to have to fight against Saul on the side of the Philistines. We know how beautifully it was over-ruled, how God caused the Philistine lords to object, and how the raid was made and David taken right away south from the scene of battle at the crisis and the battle was put in array.
Last of all Saul enquires of the Lord, who does not answer him, and he betakes himself in the last extremity to the witch at Endor, and gets a vision of Samuel. No need to import much of the supernatural into that, the natural facts of mesmerism and hypnotism explain most of it, not all; the part not explained is the inspired address of the witch personifying Samuel, saying to Saul, “To-morrow thou and thy sons shall be with me.” That is, in hades, not heaven; popular theology is of course confused here.
Saul trembling with the foreboding of death goes back, and we know the crisis,—slain in the mountains of Gilboa, and the first King of Israel perishes in battle with the Philistines,—Saul and all his house destroyed, and David laments for them.
So it will be hereafter. Many kings rejected will perish miserably in Armageddon among the hosts of the enemy driven away from the Lord’s presence, unworthy of that great salvation because they have neglected the gift, covered the light under a bushel, become at last active Satans, and so righteously brought upon themselves the judgment of God.
But the Lord Jesus is God’s King accepted. We remember how he was called, anointed, faithful unto death, the very antithesis of Saul, and how therefore he is exalted unto life eternal, which is his gift in trust to bestow upon all those who overcome. “He that overcometh shall inherit all things.”—Ed.
CC Walker, The Christadelphian 1910 Pages 354–358.