Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
1 Samuel 31:1-6. (GILBOA.)2 Samuel 1:1-16; 1 Chronicles 10.). While the events mentioned in the preceding chapter were taking place in the south, and even before their occurrence, "the great drama so closely connected with them was being played out" in the north. On the morrow of Saul's consultation of "the witch of Endor" the Philistines marched across the plain, with their archers, chariots, and horsemen (2 Samuel 1:6), and attacked the army of Israel. The issue appears to have been soon decided. "The men of Israel fled from before the Philistines, and fell down slain in Gilboa," up the slopes of which they had been pursued. "And the Philistines followed hard upon Saul and his sons," who fell fighting around him. Hard pressed and found by the archers, he trembled ("was sore wounded," A.V.) before them, seeing no way to escape falling into their hands; and (as the night set in), with the reckless courage of despair with which he had fought, his armour bearer having refused to slay him, he "took the sword and fell upon it." His armour bearer followed his example. "At that moment a wild Amalekite, lured probably to the field by the hope of spoil, came up and finished the work which the arrows of the Philistines and the sword of Saul him self had all but accomplished" (Stanley). "A remarkable dispensation. As the curse on Amalek was accomplished by Saul, so that on Saul was accomplished by Amalek" (Hengstenberg). Or, perhaps, the story of the Amalekite was false, and told to ingratiate himself with David and obtain a reward for the diadem and bracelet of which he had stripped the fallen king. In either case, self-willed to the last, scorning "these uncircumcised," and more concerned about his own honour than the honour of God, he rushed upon his own destruction.
I. RETRIBUTION SURELY OVERTAKES THE IMPENITENT TRANSGRESSOR.
1. The full desert Of sin might be justly inflicted immediately on its commission. But in a state of probation space is allowed for repentance and motives afforded to induce it. Yet, if sin be persisted in, guilt increases and judgment becomes more inevitable and severe. "He, that being often reproved hardeneth his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy" (Proverbs 29:1). "The wages of sin is death" (Romans 6:23). "The wages may be deferred or may not be consciously received, but they are paid without stint sooner or later; the fatal consequences may not always equally appear, but they never fail in some form or other."
2. Although inflicted by the free act of man, it is not less the result of the operation of retributive justice. "Saul took the sword and fell upon it;" but he "died for his transgression which he committed against the Lord; therefore the Lord slew him, and turned the kingdom unto David, the son of Jesse" (1 Chronicles 10:14).
3. The operation of the law of retribution, so manifest in history and to observation, shows the evil of sin in the sight of God, and is a solemn warning against its indulgence. Even repentance may come too late to avert its consequences in this life.
"Look to thyself then, deal with sin no more,
II. SELF-WILL NATURALLY CULMINATES IN SELF-DESTRUCTION. All self-will, in opposition to the will of God, is a self-injury (Proverbs 8:36); and not less so because the sinner seeks what he falsely imagines to be for his good. Its tendency is ever towards destruction, and, unless checked in its course, it infallibly conducts to that end. It is a special and aggravated form of it when, in order to escape the misery and shame which are experienced or expected, he directly and voluntarily takes away his own life. Suicide is -
1. Contrary to the natural instinct of self-preservation and a properly enlightened and regulated self-love.
2. An act of unfaithfulness to the trust that is committed to man by God in the bestowment of life, and of refusal to fulfil the duties that he has ordained in life, which cannot be rightly surrendered or left without his consent nor until the time he has appointed. "Pythagoras forbids us to abandon the station or post of life without the orders of our commander, that is, of God" (Cicero). "'Why do I tarry on earth, and not hasten hence to come to you?' 'Not so, my son,' he replied; 'unless that God, whose temple is all this which you behold, shall liberate you from the imprisonment of the body, you can have no admission to this place'" ('Scipio's Dream').
3. An act of cowardice in the presence of real or imaginary evils, whatever reckless bravery it may exhibit with respect to death and that which lies beyond. "To die and thus avoid poverty, or love, or anything painful is not the part of a brave man, but rather of a coward; for it is cowardice to avoid trouble; and the suicide does not undergo death because it is honourable, but in order to avoid evil" (Aristotle, 'Ethics,' book 7. ch. 7). In Saul it was "the act of completed despair."
4. Expressly prohibited by the Divine command: "Thou shalt not kill. In accordance with this Paul said to the Philippian gaoler, when "he would have killed himself," "Do thyself no harm" (Acts 16:28).
5. Virtually forbidden by all the exhortations of the New Testament to endure affliction with patience and submission to the will of God. "Suicide is the result of impatience" (see Paley, 'Mor. Philippians,' book 4. ch. 3).
6. Injurious to others in many ways: inflicting much distress, teaching pernicious lessons, setting a bad example. It is "as unfavourable to human talents and resources as it is to human virtues. We should never have dreamt of the latent power and energy of our nature but for the struggle of great minds with great afflictions, nor known the limits of ourselves nor man's dominion over fortune. What would the world now have been if it had always been said, Because the archers smite me sore, and the battle goeth against me, I will die?" (Sydney Smith).
7. Condemned by the example of good men, who have borne the heaviest calamities with holy courage, and sanctioned only by evil men, like Ahithophel and Judas. How far, indeed, Saul was in full possession of his faculties and responsible for his act, or what was his final destiny, is not stated. "It is evident that more arguments may be gathered of his condemnation than of his salvation; yet because nothing is expressly set down touching his state before God, it is better to leave it" (Willet).
"O mortal men! be wary how ye judge:
"Nor love thy life, nor bate; but what thou liv'st
III. THE EVIL EXAMPLE OF MEN IN HIGH STATION IS ONLY TOO FAITHFULLY IMITATED. "And when his armour bearer," etc. (ver. 5). He had faithfully fought by his side to the last, and feared to take away his life (of which he was appointed guardian); perhaps out of reverence for his sacred person; doubtless, also, he dreaded to fall alive into the hands of the Philistines and to be put to a shameful death by them; and now, incited by his example, "dares to do that to himself which to his king he durst not." Example is proverbially powerful. No one, especially if he occupy a position of power and influence, can do wrong without thereby inducing others to follow, who thus share his guilt and may not have equal excuse for their transgression. According to Jewish tradition the armour bearer was Doeg the Edomite (1 Samuel 22:18, 19), "a partner before of his master's crimes, and now of his punishment." "That Saul and his armour bearer died by the same sword is, I think, sufficiently evident. 'Draw thy sword,' says he to him, 'and thrust me through;' which when he refused, 'Saul took the sword and fell upon it.' What sword? (Not his own, for then the text would have said so.) Why, in the plain, natural, grammatical construction, the sword before mentioned must be the sword now referred to, that is, the armour bearer's. Saul and his executioner both fell by that very weapon with which they had before massacred the priests of God" (Delany).
IV. THE INNOCENT OFTEN SUFFER ALONG WITH THE GUILTY. "And the Philistines slew Jonathan," etc. (vers. 2-6). It is impossible not to lament the untimely fate of the friend of David and of God. The sins of the father were visited upon the son. But let it be considered that -
1. God is the supreme Proprietor of every human life, and has a right to dispose of it as it pleases him. Moreover, "death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned" (Romans 5:12).
2. He has united men to each other in relations more or less intimate, whereby they necessarily affect each other for good as well as for evil.
3. The sufferings of the godly, in consequence of their connection with the wicked, serve many beneficent purposes. The death of Jonathan would deepen the impression of the severity of the Divine judgment on the house of Saul for disobedience, and be a perpetual warning. It also made David's accession to the throne clearer and more indisputable.
4. The godly cannot experi ence the Worst sufferings of the wicked - remorse, fearfulness, despair; and if some are called to an early death in the path of duty, they are only called a little earlier than others to their inheritance in "a better country, that is, a heavenly," an eternal kingdom.
"Joy past compare.; gladness unutterable;
1 Samuel 31Acts 13:9). But if we look at them attentively, "and examine the several parts of their lives distinctly, as we do a poem or a picture" (Plutarch), we shall find in these two illustrious Hebrews, the one under the Old Covenant, the other under the New -
I. RESEMBLANCE in their -
1. Ancestral relation, religious privileges, and outward circumstances. Both belonged to "the tribe of Benjamin" (Acts 13:21; Philippians 3:5), received the name of Saul when "circumcised the eighth day," were brought up "under the law," after early years of obscure diligence held important public posi tions, - the one as first king of Israel, the other as a "chosen vessel" unto the Lord, to bear his name "before the Gentiles, and kings, and the people of Israel" (Acts 9:15), - lived a long life (over sixty years), and died a sudden and violent death.
2. Natural qualities: passionate, impulsive, warlike, zealous, daring even to rash ness, resolute, persistent; inherited from their common ancestor, of whom it was said, "Benjamin as a wolf shall ravin," etc. (Genesis 49:27); and characteristic of their tribe, as appears in Ehud (Judges 3:15). The Apostle of the Gentiles, "in the prompt audacities of his apostolic career, does not allow us to forget of what tribe he was."
3. Sudden conversion: the one on the way to Gibeah, on beholding "a company of the prophets" (ch. 10.); the other on the way to Damascus, overcome by the glorious revelation of the Lord (Acts 9.), whose followers he was persecuting; a startling surprise to all, and the commencement of a different course of life. "Is Saul also among the prophets? They were all afraid of him, and believed not that he was a disciple."
4. Energetic enterprises, to which they were called by the Divine Spirit, on behalf of the kingdom of God against its adversaries; in the one case with the sword, in the other with the word (ch. 11.; Acts 12:25; Acts 13:1-3).
II. CONTRAST in still more numerous particulars. They were the opposite of each other; as in physical appearance and mental culture, so also in their -
1. Extraordinary change, which in the one was partial, superficial, and temporary; in the other complete, deep, and enduring.
2. Real character. The one lived unto himself, and did not freely and fully surrender himself to the Divine will; the other lived unto the Lord, not being disobedient to the heavenly vision (Acts 26:19; Galatians 1:16; Philippians 1:21).
3. Gradual progress: in the one case, after brilliant promise, downward, in "pride, caprice, jealousy, cruelty, excusive avenging of himself, and at last open contempt and defiance of God;" in the other upward, in heavenly mindedness, spiritual power, and higher usefulness.
4. Fierce persecution. "The second Saul for a while followed only too faithfully in the footsteps of the first. If the one persecuted David, the other, with an energy of hate that did not fall short of his, David's greater Son. Presently, however, their lives divide, and one is the Saul of reprobation, the other of election" (Trench). The latter began where the former ended (Galatians 1:23), and became himself an object of the persecution in which he once shared.
5. Representative relation. The one represented, embodied, and pro moted what was worst in his tribe and nation, the other what was best.
6. Tragical end: the one in despair by his own hand, the other in glorious hope as a martyr of Christ (2 Timothy 4:6-8).
7. Lasting memorial: the one is a warning, the other is a pattern (1 Timothy 1:16; Philippians 3:17). The second Saul was "the likeness in the Christian Church" not so much of what the first was as of "what he might have been - the true David, restorer and enlarger of the true kingdom of God upon earth" (Stanley).
1. Religious advantages and eminent positions are of no real benefit unless they be rightly used.
2. The natural qualities which make one man a power for evil, make another, when sanctified, a power for good.
3. The heart must be right with God in order to a proper use of his gifts and a worthy course of life. "If the heart be not upright, whatever favourable beginnings there may be, there cannot be a uniform perseverance in goodness or any happy conclusion" (Robinson).
4. Divine grace when persistently resisted is withdrawn, leaving the soul a prey to the "evil spirit;" when humbly and faithfully received, is followed by more grace.
5. In proportion as a man lives to himself or to God he becomes weak, sinful, and miserable, or strong, holy, and happy.
6. There is no standing still in moral life; if men do not become better they infallibly become worse.
7. As a man lives so he dies. "Think of the end of Saul of Gibeah, and learn in time to be wise." Think of the end of Saul of Tarsus, and "be faithful unto death." - D.
I. SAUL'S DEATH.
1. His despair. When the battle went against him, and the Philistines, keeping beyond reach of his long arm and terrible sword, hit him from a distance with their arrows, the king's spirit suddenly failed and died within him. "He trembled sore because of the archers." Always fitful in his moods, liable to sudden elation and sudden depression, he gave up all for lost. He would not flee, but he would fight no more. Probably the horrible recollection of the words spoken to him by the spectre at Endor increased his despair, and he thought only how to die.
2. His pride. Saul had never shown much regard for the sacredness of human life, but he cherished a most exalted sense of the sacredness of his own person as the Lord's anointed. No descendant of a long line of so styled Christian or Catholic sovereigns has held a loftier claim of personal inviolability. So he resolved that no heathen should cut him down in battle. Anything rather than this. If his armour bearer would not kill him, he would kill himself.
3. His suicide. With all his horror of being slain by a heathen, Saul died like a heathen - dismissed himself from life after the manner of the pagan heroes; not with any sanction from the word of God or the history of his servants. (Illustrate from the stories of Brutus and Cassius and the younger Cato.) The only instance of what can be called self-destruction among the men of Israel prior to the days of Saul was that of Samson, and his was a self-devotion for the destruction of his country's enemies which ranks with the heroism of one dying in battle rather than with cases of despairing suicide. There is a case after the days of Saul, viz., that of Ahithophel, who, in a fit of deep chagrin, deliberately hanged himself. To the servants of God suicide must always appear as a form of murder, and one that implies more cowardice than courage. English law regards it as a very grave crime, and to mark this our old statutes, unable to punish the self-murderer, assigned to his body ignominious burial It is, however, the charitable custom of our times to assume that one who kills himself must be bereft of reason, and so to hold him morally irresponsible. Apology of this kind may be pleaded for King Saul, and pity for his disordered brain takes away the sharpness from our censure. Still we must not overlook -
4. The admonition which his death conveys. Saul had really prepared for himself this wretched death. He had disregarded the prophet, and so was without consolation. He had killed the priests, and so was without sacrifice or intercession. He had driven away David, and so was without the help of the best soldier in the nation, a leader of 600 men inured to service and familiar with danger. He had lived, in his later years at least, like a madman; and, like a madman, he threw himself on his sword and died. Here lies admonition for us. As a man sows he reaps. As a life is shaped, so is the death determined. We speak of the penalty on evil doers, but it is no mere arbitrary infliction; it is the natural fruit and necessary result of the misconduct. One leads a sensual life, and the penalty on him is that of exhaustion, disease, and premature decay. One leads a selfish life, hardening his heart against appeal or reproach, and his doom is to lose all power and experience of sympathy, to pass through the world winning no love, and pass out of the world drawing after him no regret.
II. JONATHAN'S DEATH.
1. Its innocence. Look at the pious, generous prince, as well as the proud and wilful king, slain on that woeful day. A man who loves God and whom God loves may be innocently involved in a cause which is bound to fail. It may be by ties of family, or by official position which he cannot renounce; and, unable to check the fatal course of his comrades, he is dragged down in the common catastrophe. Jonathan died in the same battle with his father, but not as his father died. Let us remember that men are so involved with one another in the world, in ways quite defensible, sometimes unavoidable, that as one may share the success of another without deserving any part of the praise, so also may one share the downfall of others without being at all to blame for the courses or transactions which brought about the disastrous issue.
2. Its timeliness. The death of Jonathan: occurring when it did, brought more advantage to the nation than his continued life could possibly have rendered. It opened the way for David's succession to the throne. Had Jonathan survived his father, be might have been willing to cede the succession to David, but it is not at all probable that the people would have allowed his obvious claim to be set aside, and any conflict between the partisans of two such devoted friends would have been most painful to both. So it was well ordered and well timed that Jonathan died as a brave soldier in the field. He missed an earthly throne indeed, but he gained all the sooner a heavenly home. So is it with many a death which seems to be sad and untimely. A man of God cannot lose by dying. To die is gain. But he may by dying advance the cause of God more than he could by living. His departure may clear the ground for other arrangements under Divine providence, for which the time is ripe, or open the way for some one who is chosen and called to do a work for God and man that must no longer be delayed. - F.
1 Samuel 31:7-10. (GILBOA.)1 Samuel 12:18, 25) had now burst upon the people of Israel. Since the capture of the ark they had not experienced so great a calamity, and in it the fatal results of their demand for a king were made manifest. Although the demand was evil, it contained an element of good, and was complied with by God in judgment mingled with mercy. "As no people can show a visible theocracy, so no monarchy can be accused, simply as such, of usurping the Divine prerogative. But still the transaction does involve a moral lesson, which lies at the foundation of all sound policy, condemning the abandonment of principle on the plea of expediency, and pointing by the example of Israel the doom of every nation that seeks safety and power in a course known to be wrong" (P. Smith, 'Ancient History'). They had their own way, yet the purpose of God was not defeated, but accomplished less directly, and in such a manner as to convince them of the folly of their devices, and exhibit his overruling wisdom and power. Whilst they pursued their course under a king "according to the will of man," their Divine King was preparing "a man after his own heart to be captain over his people" (1 Samuel 13:14, Acts 12:22). When the end came David stood ready to occupy the throne, and, after a brief period of conflict and confusion, the whole nation, taught by experience, gladly received him as its ruler. This is the theocratic "argument" of the greater portion of the Book. In the terrible defeat of Israel we see -
I. THEIR IDOL BROKEN IN PIECES. "So Saul died," etc. "The men of Israel fled, and Saul and his sons were dead," etc. (vers. 6, 7). Men are apt to imagine that something else beyond what God has ordained is necessary to their welfare, to be impatient of his time, to attach an undue value to the expedients which in their imperfect knowledge and sinful desires they devise, to set their hearts upon earthly and visible objects, and depend upon them rather than upon "him who is invisible." This tendency finds expression in many ways, and embodies itself in many forms. And although God may permit such idols to continue for a time, he always overthrows them. When Israel made an idol of the ark it was given into the hands of the Philistines, and when they made an idol of "a king" (1 Samuel 8:5) he was slain. Their hope in him was bitterly disappointed, and inasmuch as he yeas (according to Divine prescience, though not by absolute necessity nor without personal guilt) a representation and reflection of their sin (worldliness, formalism, self-will), they were severely punished in him and by his instrumentality. How little did they gain, how much did they lose, by having their own way! "I gave thee a king in mine anger, and took him away in my wrath" (Hosea 13:11). "Cease ye from man," etc.
II. THEIR CITIES FORSAKEN. "And when the men of Israel that were by the side of the plain" (west of the central branch of the valley of Jezreel, "opposite to the place of conflict, which the writer assumed as his standpoint" - Keil), "and by the side of the Jordan" (east of the plain, between Gilboa and the Jordan), "saw that the men of Israel" (who were engaged in the battle) "fled," etc. "they forsook the cities; and the Philistines came" (from that time onward) "and dwelt in them" (so that the whole of the northern part of the land fell into their hands). Instead of overcoming their enemies, they were overcome by them, driven from their homes, reduced to the most abject condition, and without any prospect of regaining by their own strength their lost possessions. "Your country is desolate," etc. (Isaiah 1:7). The peaceful government of Samuel gave them prosperity (1 Samuel 7:13, 14); but the warlike rule of Saul, which they preferred, ended in their overthrow. "Sore distressed," like him (1 Samuel 28:15), whither should they turn for help? Men are deprived of all hope in themselves that they may "set their hope in God."
III. THEIR ENEMIES TRIUMPHANT. "And it came to pass on the morrow" (after the battle, which ended at nightfall) "when the Philistines came," etc. "And they cut off his head (as in the case of Goliath of Gath, and afterwards deposited it in the temple of Dagon, in Ashdod, 1 Chronicles 10:10; 1 Samuel 5:1), and sent (messengers bearing his head and armour) into the land of the Philistines round about, to proclaim the good tidings in their idol temples (to their idols) and among the people (2 Samuel 1:20). And they put his armour in the house of Ashtaroth (in Askelon), and they fastened his body to the wall of Bethshan" (Judges 1:27). It has been remarked of the Philistines that "so implacable was their enmity to the Israelites, that one would be almost tempted to think that they bad been created on purpose to be a thorn in their sides" (Russell, 'Connection,' History of the Philistines). Their victory was the victory of their gods; the defeat of Israel the dishonour of Jehovah. Rather than sanction sin in his people, God not only suffers them to be overthrown by their enemies, but even his own name to be for a while despised and "blasphemed among the heathen." But the triumph of the wicked is short (2 Samuel 5:17-25).
IV. THEIR TRUE STRENGTH UNDESTROYED. It consisted in the presence and power of their Divine and invisible King; his benevolent and unchangeable purpose concerning them (1 Samuel 12:22); his faithful, praying, obedient subjects in their midst, who had been long looking to David as his chosen "servant," and were now rallying round him daily until his following became "a great host like the host of God" (1 Chronicles 12:22). There was an "Israel after the flesh" (constituting the State), and there was an Israel "after the spirit" (constituting the Church); and in the latter lay "the power of an endless life." Judgment might sweep over the nation like a destroying hailstorm, and leave it like a tree bereft of all its leaves, and even "cut it down" to the ground. But its true life would be spared, would be tried and purified by affliction, and become a source of renewed power and greater glory. "As a teil tree, and as an oak, whose substance is in them, when they cast their leaves: so the holy seed shall be the substance thereof "(Isaiah 6:13; Isaiah 1:9; Isaiah 65:8). Observations: -
1. That which is wrongly desired as an instrument of good becomes when obtained an instrument of evil.
2. Men may have their own Way apparently in opposition to the way of God, but his purpose does not change, and he knows how to carry it into effect.
3. The people who sanction the sins of their rulers justly share their punishment.
4. When the people of God expect to prevail against their enemies by adopting their sinful policy (1 Samuel 8:20), they are certain to be ultimately defeated.
5. The suffering and humiliation that follow sin are the most effectual means of its correction.
6. The hope of a nation in the day of trouble lies in its praying, believing, godly men.
7. God overrules all things, including the sins and sorrows of his people, for the establishment of his kingdom upon earth (1 Samuel 2:10). - D.
1 Samuel 31:11-13. (BETHSHAN, JABESH-GILEAD.)
1. Unexpected. Who would have thought that the city which was so faithless and cowardly as to say to Nahash, "Make a covenant with us, and we will serve thee," could have furnished such an instance of devotion? The noblest qualities sometimes appear in association with the meanest, and where men expect to find no good thing. Let us not despise our nature, nor think that at its worst it is wholly incapable of generous acts.
2. Long cherished. It was many years previously that Jabesh had been saved by Saul; but its grateful feeling had not (as is sometimes the case) grown cold with the lapse of time. When a philosopher was asked, "what doth soonest grow cold?" he replied, "Thanks."
3. Spontaneous. No special appeal was made to them; but perceiving that they could do something to testify their gratitude to their benefactor by rescuing his remains from the indignity to which they were subjected, "all the valiant men arose" of their own accord, "and went all night" (a distance of ten miles, across the Jordan) and accomplished it. Gratitude loses its proper character and ceases to be gratitude when it requires to be solicited and urged.
4. Disinterested. Saul and his sons were dead, and no reward for their daring effort might be expected. It was performed in somewhat of the same spirit as that with which Saul himself formerly acted; what was best in his life was remembered and admired by them (as it was by David, 2 Samuel 1:23), and it served to stir them to similar excellence. Disinterested conduct begets its like.
"Good deeds immortal are - they cannot die;
5. Heroic and self-sacrificing; exhibited practically and at the risk of life, and displaying great energy and valour. "The pillars of fire of genuine human heroism are the noble lights of history, which make us feel at ease while sojourning among spectres, and horrors, and graves" (Lange).
6. Complete. It did not stop short of doing its best. "They took their bones, and buried them under the tamarisk at Jabesh, and fasted seven days" (ver. 13; 2 Samuel 21:14). They could do no more; and what they did was done tenderly, mournfully, reverently, and in fulfilment of a sacred custom and religious duty. Exhortation: -
1. Endeavour so to live that when you are gone you may be remembered with gratitude, and leave behind the recollection of good deeds which may incite others to the like.
2. Fail not to render gratitude to every one who has conferred a benefit upon you in the best way you can; be thankful, especially to God, for all his benefits towards you. "Nothing more detestable, does the earth produce than an ungrateful man" (Ausonius).
3. Seek above all things to obtain in life and death the honour that comes from God. "This Book began with Samuel's birth, and now ends with Saul's burial, the comparing of which together will teach us to prefer the honour which comes from God before any honours of which this world pretends to dispose" (M. Henry). - D.