The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
Then Samuel took a vial of oil, and poured it upon his head, and kissed him, and said, Is it not because the LORD hath anointed thee to be captain over his inheritance?Saul's Kingdom
WE have previously remarked upon the lowly-mindedness of Saul. The proposition which was made to him showed to his own consciousness, as he had never seen it before, how poor and even contemptible was his claim to social supremacy. "Am not I a Benjamite, of the smallest of the tribes of Israel? and my family the least of all the families of the tribe of Benjamin? wherefore then speakest thou so to me? "It is well when great demands show us our own insufficiency. Sometimes they do but touch our vanity, and then they show that they are not morally great, but great only in high-sounding words,—infinite pretensions without substance or value. In solemn crises men show their quality. Loss takes a man's character to pieces fibre by fibre, and shows him what he is made of. Prosperity takes a man to the edge of a great cliff", and proves whether he be a giddy adventurer or a wise and understanding pilgrim. Sometimes we are revealed to ourselves by a tremendous shock. In an unexpected moment a kingdom is offered to us, and then we see into the hidden places of our hearts; ambition maddens us into presumption, or modesty drives us to the Strong for strength. In the case of Saul we see proof upon proof, direct and incidental, that he was self-distrustful and diffident. When his uncle asked him what Samuel had said, "Saul said unto his uncle, He told us plainly that the asses were found: but of the matter of the kingdom of which Samuel spake he told him not." When the time came to show him forth to Israel, Saul could not be found, and the Lord himself had to tell the people that their prospective king was hidden amongst the stuff. We are now to witness the setting up of the kingdom of Israel. It is a royal day. A new epoch opens. Israel loses the distinctiveness of the theocracy, and becomes like the other nations of the earth.
Let us first of all hear the inaugural speech of Samuel.
"And Samuel called the people together unto the Lord to Mizpeh, and said unto the children of Israel, Thus saith the Lord God of Israel, I brought up Israel out of Egypt, and delivered you out of the hand of the Egyptians, and out of the hand of all kingdoms, and of them that oppressed you: "And ye have this day rejected your God, who himself saved you out of all your adversities and your tribulations; and ye have said unto him, Nay, but set a king over us. Now, therefore, present yourselves before the Lord by your tribes and by your thousands" (
"And ye have this day rejected your God, who himself saved you out of all your adversities and your tribulations; and ye have said unto him, Nay, but set a king over us. Now, therefore, present yourselves before the Lord by your tribes and by your thousands" (1Samuel 10:17-19).
Here is the destruction of a great religious memory! What is our life when we have taken out of it all the recollections which redeem it from irreligiousness and vanity? Some of us would be poor indeed, were it not for the hidden treasures of secret memory. In our depression we remember the day of God's deliverance. When we look onward, and see the distant horizon filled with angry clouds, we look back, and see the way of light along which God has conducted us; and the pious memories of a life which has been a succession of wonders, revive and establish our confidence in the Holy One. The history before us is fraught with mournful instruction to men who trifle with their best memories. We condemn those who treat lightly what we have done for them in their hours of darkness and sore distress. What if we have forgotten the Egypts out of which God has brought us, and have clamoured for some lower gift than himself?
It is to be observed that in this instance it was not a theoretical but a practical, casting off of God. This is one of the great difficulties of Christian life, and the sign which the Church makes to the world. It is full of mystery and heart-breaking sadness. Men retain God in their written creed, but depose him from the throne of their life. Men who would be startled to find themselves described as atheists, yet they daily live atheistically. Israel would have been shocked had the charge of theoretical atheism been made against the nation; at the same time that very nation, so tenacious of a theoretical creed, resolutely thrust God off the throne. We say we believe in God, yet in our daily life we never mention his name. We are excited to indignation by the blasphemies of atheism, yet we legislate God's Book out of our educational institutions! We have God, but no godliness. We have a creed, but no life. We worship with the lips, but our heart is dumb.
Look at the terrible possibility of God allowing men to have their own way! Israel insisted upon having a king. God said, In so insisting, you are rejecting and grieving me; yet take him and see the end! We may clamour until God's patience yields to our importunity, and he inflicts upon us the intolerable punishment of allowing us to have our own way. By this means only can some be taught the sinfulness and weakness of their own aims. Our self-sufficiency can be destroyed only through our self-gratification. Did not God allow us to carry out our will in many directions, there would linger in our hearts misgivings respecting the equity and perfectness of his government. We fix our eyes upon glittering objects in the distance; we regard those objects as of priceless value; we believe that their possession will elevate and satisfy our best capacities and desires. God plainly tells us that what we desire will prove to be a mockery and a torment; yet, in spite of this revelation, we renew our entreaties, and urge our demands. At length God says, "Take that you desire." We take it, and, lo, it poisons our life, and turns our future into an intolerable terror.
We should notice solemnly the worthlessness of the success which is founded upon spiritual apostasy: Israel got a king, but Israel had first rejected God! There is a success which is but so much gilt. We get what we want, but the basis is rotten. We give up the spiritual and invisible, and imagine that we are rich because we take in exchange mountains of dust and clouds of mist. Your house is noble, commodious, and extremely inviting; a ruddy light is shining through its windows; sounds of music and delight are filling its every chamber; but what of all this, if your splendid mansion be founded on a bog?
"God save the king" (1Samuel 10:24).
In this act we see the tyrannic and fatal influence which one bad idea may exercise in a man's life. The case had been stated in a manner which ought to have caused a change of mind on the part of Israel; yet, in the face of Samuel's distinct charge of practical atheism, Israel persisted in realising a special wish. The desire for a king became a monomania. Everything was looked at through the medium of that idea. It impaired the natural power of human judgment, it silenced every suggestion of conscience and obligation, and drove Israel headlong to the consummation of a dominant purpose. Men should be careful how they allow any single idea to rule them. It is but seldom that an isolated notion can be profoundly true. Ideas are to be compared one with another; they are to be viewed in their mutual relations, and to be modified by the deepest moral consideration. It is often only by throwing an idea into perspective that we get a true conception of its value and importance. To have a king, summed up the whole desire of Israel. This idea, instead of being a light to them, actually dazzled and blinded them by being brought too closely to their vision.
Israel was guilty of a most aggravated violation of decency in this matter. Though the people had, in the language of Samuel, rejected God, yet, in hailing their king, they appealed to the very God they had, with infinite ingratitude and recklessness, cast off! They shouted, "God save the king;" that is, they committed their king to the God whom they had denied; they first deposed God from the government of Israel, and then asked him to bless the king whom they had set up in his stead! Such is the contradictoriness, and such the insanity of selfish and undisciplined life. We fill up impious acts by pious ejaculations: we despise God, and then use his name in wishing blessings for others. Truly we are witnesses against ourselves!
"And Saul also went home to Gibeah; and there went with him a band of men, whose hearts God had touched. "But the children of Belial said, How shall this man save us? And they despised him, and brought him no presents. But he held his peace" (
"But the children of Belial said, How shall this man save us? And they despised him, and brought him no presents. But he held his peace" (1Samuel 10:26-27).
All men are made stronger by the fellowship of the good. When we are put into exceptional circumstances, either of elation or depression, we are the better for the sympathy and loving trust of "a band of men, whose hearts God has touched." The king cannot do without his subjects. Every man must have around him those in whom he has special confidence. There must be favouritism in human association. The selection of friends does not involve the development of enmity or even distrust, in relation to others. The king has his favourite counsellors; the minister has his special advisers; the general, the captain, the leader, whatsoever be his name, must have next to him a man in whose judgment he has entire confidence. It is in this way that society is consolidated. Yet even in the instance of Saul we have not only light, but shadow. The children of Belial looked upon him with an evil eye, and said, "How shall this man save us?" Is not every one of us enclosed by concentric circles? If we are God's children, there is nearest to us a circle of heavenly guardianship, of Christian defence and sympathy, and such honour as is given by God to faithful men; then farther off there is a circle of evil ones who despise us and constantly seek to upset and destroy us. Saul's conduct under such circumstances was most instructive: we read, "But he held his peace." Silence is wisdom; silence is strength. It might gratify a momentary feeling to speak angrily to the men who thus set themselves against us, but it is infinitely better to look as if we saw not, and to ponder many things in our hearts. Who are we, that we should expect to escape the criticism of the children of Belial? Such children are the contemporaries of all ages, and it is impossible for them to change the malignity of their dispositions.
Now danger came. The Ammonite laid his hand upon the sword. The people of Jabesh-Gilead were sore afraid; for Nahash encamped against them. They prayed that he would make a covenant with them; and his answer was: "On this condition will I make a covenant with you, that I may thrust out all your right eyes, and lay it for a reproach on all Israel." The leaders of Jabesh prayed for seven days' respite, that they might find if in all the coasts of Israel there was a man who had strength and skill to save them. When the condition of the people became known to Saul, the Spirit of God came upon him, and his anger was kindled greatly. The day of battle came, and the men of Jabesh "slew the Ammonites until the heat of the day: and it came to pass that they which remained were scattered, so that two of them were not left together." So much for the earnestness of one inspired man! We are but ciphers until God finds the unit to set at our head; then we who were nothing in ourselves stand up a living and mighty host. Saul could not have done this work alone, the men of Jabesh could not have done it alone; this is a lesson to the Church; the general and the army are mutually necessary; the teacher and the taught in divine things must honour one another as both being needed to take captive the world in the name of Christ.
We admire Saul's deliverance of Jabesh-Gilead: we are touched by every element of heroism that we find in the men of history: it is right that we should respond to the efforts and sacrifices made by the splendid leaders who have conducted the battles of truth and justice to a successful issue; but our homage to heroism should be carried into still higher regions. We praise Saul; shall we forget the Son of God? "When there was no eye to pity, and when there was no arm to save, his own eye pitied, and his own arm brought salvation." What instance is there in all human history to be compared with this for all that is sublime in courage and pathetic in sacrifice?
"And Saul also went home to Gibeah" (1Samuel 10:26).—During the time of the Judges, when the country was almost in a state of anarchy (Judges 19:1), Gibeah became the scene of one of the most abominable crimes, and one of the most awful tragedies, recorded in Jewish history. The story of the unfortunate Levite, the siege and destruction of Gibeah, and the almost total annihilation of the tribe of Benjamin are well known (Judges 19-21). The city soon rose again from its ashes, and had the honour of giving Israel its first king. It was the native place of Saul (1Samuel 10:26; 1Samuel 11:4), and the seat of his government during the greater part of his reign (1Samuel 14:2; 1Samuel 22:6; 1Samuel 23:19); hence its appellation "Gibeah of Saul" (1Samuel 15:34). It was in Gibeah the Amorites of Gideon hanged the seven descendants of Saul in revenge for the massacre of their brethren. The city was then the scene of that touching exhibition of maternal love and devotion, when Rizpah, the mother of two of the victims, "took sackcloth and spread it for her upon the rock, from the beginning of harvest, until water dropped upon them out of heaven, and suffered neither the birds of the air to rest upon them by day, nor the beasts of the field by night" (2 Samuel 21). The last reference to Gibeah in the Bible is by Isaiah in his vision of the approach of the Assyrian army to Jerusalem (Isaiah 10:29). The city appears to have lost its place and power at a very early period. Josephus mentions it as "a village named Gabath-Saul, which signifies 'Saul's hill,' distant from Jerusalem about thirty furlongs" (Bell. Jud. v. 2, 1). Jerome speaks of it as "usque ad solum diruta" (Opp., ed. Migne, i. 883). From that period, until discovered by Dr. Robinson, its very site remained unnoticed, if not unknown.
And the Spirit of the LORD will come upon thee, and thou shalt prophesy with them, and shalt be turned into another man."Thou... shalt be turned into another man."—1Samuel 10:6.
Thus God creates man after man, even in the same individual.—We cannot tell how many natures there are within us, and how many capacities, how many slumbering faculties, how many high and noble possibilities.—Man is as a riddle to himself, and only God has the solution.—Infinite comfort arises from the thought of possible newness of personality; if any man be in Christ Jesus, he is a new creature; old things have passed away, and all things have become new: we know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren.—Surely here is an instance of the operation of the great law of development; the man is the same, yet not the same; he has an identity which can be recognised, and a responsibility which can be called upon to answer all challenges that are addressed to it, and yet the man himself may be totally new, quite another man from what he was but yesterday.—A man is turned into another personality when his convictions are changed, when the object of his worship is elevated, when his view of the universe is enlarged, when his recognition of duty is purified and refined, and when his whole sympathy creates for itself new channels.—The new ness is therefore a moral re-creation.—There is no physical transformation; there is no disguise of the outer man; there is no veiling that is of the nature of hypocrisy: the newness is real and vital, because it is a newness of heart, of feeling, of aspiration, of desire: when the things which satisfied a man once satisfy him no longer, when the earth is too small to give him all the gratification which he needs, when time is too shallow to enable him to develop the whole of his being, when he feels his need of larger space, longer time, added light, and multiplied facilities of education and growth, he is in very deed "another man."—It is thus that the power of Christianity is socially displayed.—When a man who was known as a thief becomes honest; when the ferocious man becomes gentle; when the avaricious disposition becomes liberal; when the narrow and bigoted nature expands into breadth and sympathy, then also a miracle has been wrought, the old man has been cast off with his deeds, and the new man has been established in righteousness.—"Ye must be born again."—Observe that a man becomes another man, in the sense of this text, not by his own effort, but by an exercise of divine energy:—"And the Spirit of the Lord will come upon thee, and thou shalt prophesy with them, and shalt be turned into another man:" man can debase himself, can turn himself into another man in the sense of degrading his nature, so that his own parents may be ashamed of him, and his most familiar friends may cease to pronounce his name: that is not the transformation which is here spoken of; this is an elevation, an expansion of the whole nature, such an enlargement of faculty and sensibility as to bring God nearer the soul in endearing and comforting consciousness.—No man can be in Christ Jesus, and yet remain as he was before; his whole house will know that he has given his loyalty to a new sceptre, and pledged his consecration to a higher altar: his enemies will know it, for he will treat them with surprising grace, and make it his business to open the way towards forgiveness and reconciliation: his workmen, his children, his companions, his associates in every grade and relation of life will know that he has cast off the former things and connected himself with a deeper philosophy and a broader, more generous philanthropy.—Because Christianity can do these things its propagation should be the supreme business and highest delight of men.