The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
Now there was a man of Benjamin, whose name was Kish, the son of Abiel, the son of Zeror, the son of Bechorath, the son of Aphiah, a Benjamite, a mighty man of power.Saul
THE threads of daily life often appear to be either loose and unrelated or hopelessly entangled. At times we seem to have nothing to do with each other. We go on our separate ways. It is only now and then that we find lines touch each other, and form figures, and see that under the apparent simplicity of daily affairs there are being wrought out strange plots, romances which no human dreamer had ever conceived, and combinations which give life new interest and enhanced importance. A man climbs a hill that he may in solitude revel in the delights of the landscape, and, lo, a little child meets him there, and the supposed accident is the turning point in his life. A traveller turns aside that he may drink of the well by the way, and, behold, the stranger who was there before him, and who would have been gone in one moment more, becomes the chief joy of his life, the ruler of his fortunes, the sovereign of his destiny. So it ever is. We know not what we do. We go, and know not how we shall return. We lie down, not knowing that the morning shall bring us a new life. We speak, and our word lifts some listening soul almost to heaven. Thus our life is a mystery; we are strangers, yet friends. We live for many years apart, and by-and-by there comes a moment which unites us in holy confidence, giving all mysteries a meaning, and showing all difficulties to be but steps up to heaven.
The circumstances in connection with which the text is found naturally lead us into this strain of animating, yet tranquillising, reflection. The Lord had determined to grant the request of Israel for a king. Instructions to that end were given to Samuel. A certain man had lost his asses. Saul went to seek them, and in the course of his errand it was made known to him that he was to be the king of Israel. Let us study portions of the narrative, and gather some of the practical lessons with which the story is so richly charged.
"And the asses of Kish, Saul's father, were lost" (1Samuel 9:3).
This is one of what may be termed the vexatious and stupid affairs of daily life. It is apparently a most paltry statement to be found in a book which is a revelation from heaven. The asses were lost, what then? Who cares? Yet out of this simple circumstance there may arise events which shall startle the most indifferent reader. The asses being lost, Kish commanded his son Saul to take with him a servant, and go in pursuit. To this command Saul instantly responded; yet this is the more remarkable, seeing that Saul is described as "a choice young man, and a goodly: and there was not among the children of Israel a goodlier person than he: from his shoulders and upward he was higher than any of the people." Smart young men ought not to be sent upon menial errands. Might not Saul have regarded the request of his father as imposing upon him a most vexatious and humiliating duty? Contrast the majesty of his person with the contemptibleness of his errand, and say whether there be not an immeasurable disproportion. Yet Saul, so imperial in bearing, so choice and goodly in all the attributes of physical manhood, appears instantly to have obeyed the behest of his father. The filial spirit never sees anything contemptible in the paternal desire. Men should rule their lives not by the insignificance of the service, but by the sublimity of the one Ruler in whose hands are the laws and destinies of life. Saul might have looked at the object alone; instead of that he looked at his father, in that look we find the secret of his obedience and alacrity. When the disciples went to seek the ass for Jesus Christ, they thought not of the meanness of the duty, but of the dignity of the Master.
"And he passed through Mount Ephraim, and passed through the land of Shalisha, but they found them not: then they passed through the land of Shalim, and there they were not: and he passed through the land of the Benjamites, but they found them not" (1Samuel 9:4).
In this verse there is nothing but the hollow sound of repeated disappointment. It emphatically describes the negative side of life. There are men today who are repeating this experience with most painful faithfulness. Go whither they may they find not the object of their pursuit. They climb the hill of difficulty, and, behold, their errand is lost. They speed along deep and dangerous valleys, and, lo, the object of their pursuit eludes and mocks them. They arise with the sun, they tarry until the return of the stars, their nerve is constantly on the stretch, their whole life becomes a tormenting anxiety, yet the desire of their heart is withheld from them. Their days are but repetitions of a disappointment, which is fast deepening into despair. Of how many may it be said that their experience is within the limits of this dreary verse! Life is to us hollow, empty, and mocking. The lifting up of our hand doth but bring us weariness, and the putting forth of our strength only adds to the vexation of our spirit. Of what use is history, if an event of this kind does not renew our hope and vivify our past experience? We are not the only men who have shivered on the dark side of life. Look at Saul, wearily wandering from place to place, inquiring, looking, hoping, yet finding all his efforts ending in disappointment! Is there not a meaning in all this? Is it possible that God can be taking any man along so painful and barren a road to an end which shall bring elevation and gladness? The road to honour is often long and hard. Men have to endure the discipline of disappointment before they can bear the reward of success.
"And he said unto him, Behold now, there is in this city a man of God, and he is an honourable man; all that he saith cometh surely to pass: now let us go thither; peradventure he can shew us our way that we should go" (1Samuel 9:6).
The great advantage of having a man of God in every city: the man of God makes his influence felt for good, and becomes honoured and trusted in matters which are not strictly religious. Two travellers have lost their way, and, behold, they inquire of a man of God! The great principle which underlies all incidents of this kind is that in all perplexities and embarrassments the man of God shoud be the chief of earthly counsellors. There are crises in life when a man's moral influence goes for something. The man of God is sought out in trouble rather than in joy, and it is the brightest of his glories that he is willing to help those who never would have gone to him but for the stress of their difficulties. Is it not repetition to say that Samuel was an honourable man as well as a man of God? Might not the latter title have included the former? It undoubtedly includes all elements and attributes that are virtuous, honourable, true, and beautiful; yet there is a horrible possibility that a man may avow the name of God, and yet know nothing of the restriction and dignity of social honour. There are men in the Church whose signature stands for nothing, whose words are full of deceit, and whose covenants are but so much waste paper. A very beautiful image is this of the position of Samuel. What is the vocation of the man of God? It is to tell other men their way! All men are morally lost; the man of God points out the way of recovery: all men are in intellectual confusion by reason of their moral depravity; the man of God shows the way to the light! Ministers of the Gospel are appointed to tell men the way. This, too, is the appointment of heads of houses, conductors of educational institutions, and those who mould and lead the sentiment of the times. It should be observed that this word was spoken, not by Saul, but by his servant. The man of God was known by repute to the servant of the king, who knew and trusted the servant of the living God. Not only did he himself trust Samuel, but he commended him to the confidence of Saul. Despise no man. God's signature may be found in unexpected places. The little maid told the household the name of Elisha,—the servant told Saul of Samuel.
"Then said Saul to his servant, But, behold, if we go, what shall we bring the man? for the bread is spent in our vessels, and there is not a present to bring to the man of God: what have we? "And the servant answered Saul again, and said, Behold, I have here at hand the fourth part of a shekel of silver: that will I give to the man of God, to tell us our way" (
"And the servant answered Saul again, and said, Behold, I have here at hand the fourth part of a shekel of silver: that will I give to the man of God, to tell us our way" (1Samuel 9:7-8).
Saul was a gentleman, every whit! Eastern customs aside altogether, there was a vein of gentlemanliness in the nature of Saul. He was about to ask a favour, but a preliminary question arose in his mind. Absurd indeed is the idea of giving anything to the man of God for his services! Ask him what questions you please; exhaust his intellectual resources; drain every current of his sympathy: and when you can get no more out of him, turn your back upon him, or starve him out! The last thing you can kill in a man is true gentlemanliness. George Whitefield, when he had but a cow-heel for dinner, would have the frugal meal set out with as much care as if it had been a banquet. There are two ways of doing everything. It was but little that Saul had to give, yet he gave it of his own free will, and with all the grace of a natural king. We are not to pay mere prices for knowledge and direction in life; we are to give gifts of the heart,—such donations as are inspired by our love, though they may be limited by our poverty. It should be noted that this little arrangement was made before the lost travellers went into the presence of Samuel. It came of the spontaneous motion of their own hearts. The question was not, What dost thou charge? What shall we give thee? But a plan was laid beforehand, and Samuel was not subjected to the indignity of a commercial inquiry. Christian Churches might learn a great lesson from this example. We should then no longer see compensation given with the hand of patronage, which ought to have been bestowed with the hand of thankfulness and justice. A minister is invited to preach in a distant town; at considerable personal inconvenience he accepts the invitation; the greater part of two days may be consumed in discharging the service which has been requested at his hands; and as he is about to return to his home, he is asked to name the amount of his expenses! There is no free gift; there is no offering of love; there is no working out of a plan of reward; there is rather a desire to keep him down to the lowest possible line, and a disposition to increase public charities at the expense of personal justice. This whole thing is an abomination to Christian society. No man who works for the Churches ought ever to be asked what his expenses are; his services should be requited on principles of the highest justice, without himself being subjected to interrogations respecting his railway and cab fares. Modern gentlemen may learn something from the ancient aristocracy.
When Saul had found his way to Samuel by the direction of the young maidens who were going out to draw water, and who, to their credit, knew the movements of the prophet, and the order of the religious engagements of the day, Samuel said to Saul, "As for thine asses that were lost three days ago, set not thy mind on them; for they are found." A wonderful kingdom is the kingdom of God! Though Samuel had before him the future king of Israel, and he himself was about to be deposed from his own supremacy, yet he communicated to Saul intelligence of the lost asses! Doth anything escape the care of God? Doth not God care for oxen? Doth a sparrow fall to the ground without our Father's notice? If we give the great concerns of our life into the hands of God, nothing that belongs to us shall be accounted unworthy of his notice. Mark the consideration and forethought of the prophet. Though about to dazzle the eyes of Saul with unaccustomed brilliance, yet he paid attention to the family concerns in which Saul was interested. The lesson is great to those who have hearts to understand.
"And Saul answered and said, 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?" (1Samuel 9:21).
A man should inquire what background he has when a voice like Samuel's sounds in his ear. Saul was informed that on him was set all the desire of Israel: under such an announcement it was natural and proper that he should look to his antecedents, that, so to speak, he should gather himself up, and take correct measure of his manhood. A word of caution is needed here. Inquiry into our antecedents and resources should never be made with a fear of evading duty and difficulty. A very subtle temptation assails us from this side. Spurious modesty may reduce to the uttermost poverty and insufficiency, in order that by so doing it may lure us from paths of difficulty and hard service. We may speak of our loaves and fishes as if they were nothing simply that we may save them for our own consumption. There is a self-reduction which is actually a self-preservation. There is a way of saying that we are unworthy which really means that we are afraid. The inquiry should show us the disproportion between our strength and God's call. Such a revelation will do us good. When humility is saved from degenerating into fear, it becomes a source of strength. Moses complained that he was a man of slow speech; he desired that God would send his word by some other messenger, because of his incapacity and unworthiness. Jeremiah urged in response to the call of God, that he was but a little child. Saul declared that he was of the smallest of the tribes of Israel, and sought to escape the duty of the hour through a sense of personal inadequacy to fulfil its demands. There is a medium between spurious self-depreciation and presumptuous boastfulness. That medium is reliance upon the sufficiency of God. Whom God calls he also qualifies. He can batter down great fortresses with any weapon which he may choose. The web of the spider shall become as an impregnable wall, if God so will. A little one shall utterly destroy countless thousands, if that little one strike in the name of God.
Having had this interview with Samuel, Saul started on his way; and we read "that when he turned his back to go from Samuel, God gave him another heart." Observe, not increased intelligence, not additional personal stature, not any outward sign and proof that he was elected to be king of Israel; God gave him another heart. The question of life is often a question of feeling. There are many who know theologically the way of salvation; they could answer satisfactorily many questions in theology; they know the difference between falsehood and truth; yet their feet are set in the broad way, and their faces are towards the City of Destruction. What they want is another heart. Your life requires to be set on fire with the love of God. "With the heart man believeth unto righteousness." "My son, give me thine heart!" We shall not be saved by the number and excellence of our intellectual ideas, but because we have cast our whole heart at the feet of the Saviour of the world, who came to teach men the love of God.
The cry arose amongst the people, "Is Saul also amongst the prophets?" If we have to excite surprise in society, let us see to it that the surprise is awakened, not by our moral degeneracy, but by our religious elevation. If we go to the gaming-table, we shall excite surprise; if we be found on the race-course, we shall excite surprise; if we assume the leadership of bad men in bad courses, we shall excite surprise; but what of such surprise? We may, by increasing our devotion, by multiplying our beneficent labours, by courageous service in the kingdom of God, excite a surprise which shall indicate that we are no longer amongst those who live only for this world, "whose god is their belly, and who glory in their shame."
We have spoken of a king. Jesus Christ is the true King of men! Will we have him to reign over us? Are we willing to be the subjects of his immortal crown? "Choose you this day whom ye will serve!" Blessed is the man who shall run away from the camp of the alien, and set himself beside the standard of Calvary!
"Go, seek the asses" (1Samuel 9:3).—The search appears to have been conducted without any settled plan, and among the Tartars such journeys appear to be frequent. Every one has a private mark upon his beasts, and when they stray their ownership is easily ascertained. A Tartar with a large extent of plain before him will set out at sunrise, not knowing which way to go, but choosing the direction from any chance that inclines him, this way or that. He rides on till sunset, and then dismounts, fastens his horse, and gets his supper. He carries with him in a bag six pounds of the flour of roasted millet, which is sufficient to last him thirty days. Day after day he goes on, observing the marks of all the herds he meets, and receiving information from any who, like himself, are in search of stray cattle. Very likely the search of Saul was somewhat similar.
O thou who art merciful and gracious, full of compassion and longsuffering and tenderness, thou art kind to the unthankful and to the evil! We hasten to thee with our offering of praise, inasmuch as thou hast crowned our life with lovingkindness and tender mercy and made it beautiful with continual love. We praise thee; we magnify thee; we offer thee the whole strength of our heart. We hasten to thee as men who have been mocked by the promises of the world, and who long to find satisfaction in thine infinite and unspeakable peace. We have been disappointed. The staff has been broken in our hand and pierced us. We mistook the scorpion for an egg. We have hewn out for ourselves cisterns; but they are broken cisterns, which can hold no water. Foiled, smitten, wounded, humiliated, and disgraced, we come into thy presence, knowing that in God, as revealed in the person and doctrine of Jesus Christ and made known unto us by the ministry of the Holy Ghost, we can find rest which our souls could not find elsewhere. All our springs are in thee. Thou givest us what we need. They who are in thy presence, who live in thy light, and thy love, hunger no more, neither thirst any more, neither are subjected to weariness or decay. We would live in God. We would have our being in the Eternal. We would know nothing among men but Jesus, and him crucified; and by the mystery of pain and the mystery of love, symbolised by Christ's cross, we would endure the trials of the world, and discharge the whole service of life. Meet us as sinners and pardon us! The blood of Jesus Christ, thy Son, cleanseth from all sin. May we know its cleansing, healing power! We have done the things we ought not to have done; we have withheld the testimony which it became us to deliver; we have often been timid and unfaithful; we have hesitated when we ought to have gone forward; we have compromised where we ought to have died; we have become self-seekers where we ought to have sought the crown of martyrdom; we have kept an unjust balance and an untrue weight; our measure has been false; our word has been untrue; our spirit has been worldly; our very prayers have been selfish. All this we say when we truly know ourselves, as we are revealed to ourselves by the indwelling, all-disclosing Spirit. God be merciful unto us, sinners, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness! Give us the hearing ear, and the understanding heart, the obedient will, the ever industrious hand in the service of Jesus Christ. When we have done our best to serve our day and generation, and the time of reckoning has come, may we find ail our worth in the worthiness of the Lamb, and be accounted fit to sit with him on his throne, because in our degree we have shared the pain and shame of his crucifixion! Amen.