Now the LORD said to Samuel, "How long are you going to mourn for Saul, since I have rejected him as king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil and go. I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem, for I have selected from his sons a king for Myself."
1. The greatest and best of men experience seasons of sorrow, depression, and doubt, and sometimes fail in the fulfilment of duty. It was thus with Abraham, Moses, and Elijah, and with others in later ages. It was the same with Samuel, though to a less extent than almost any other. His grief for Saul was excessive. He surrendered himself to it without seeking the consolation and help by which it might be mitigated, and suffered it to interfere with the work which he might yet accomplish on behalf of Israel; and hence he was reproved by God. "The excellent prophet here displays something of human weakness. Samuel here looked on the vessel, made by the invisible hand of God himself, utterly broken and minished, and his emotion thereat shows his pious and holy affection; yet he is not without sin" (Calvin).
2. The failure of good men often appears in those things in which they are pre-eminently excellent. Samuel exhibited extraordinary sympathy with the purposes of God concerning his people, unquestioning obedience to every indication of his will, and strong faith, and hope, and dauntless courage in its fulfilment. Yet here we find him a prey to "the grief that saps the mind," apparently hopeless and desponding, and smitten with fear like Elijah when "he arose and went for his life" on hearing the threat of Jezebel. "Such things would seem designed by God to stain the pride of all flesh, and to check all dependence upon the most eminent or confirmed habits of godliness" (A. Fuller). The strongest are as dependent on God as the feeblest.
3. A higher voice than that of their own troubled and fearful hearts speaks to men of sincerity, and in communing with it they are led into a clearer perception of duty and to gird themselves afresh for its performance. The "spirit of faith" regains its ascendancy over them. And in going forth to active service they find new strength and hope at every step. The night gives place to the morning dawn, and
"They feel, although no tongue can prove,
I. PRESCRIBED BY GOD, whose will is the rule of human life, and is -
1. Indicated in many ways - the word of truth, providential circumstances, reason, and conscience, and "that awful interior light which the dying Saviour promised, and which the ascending Saviour bestowed - the Spirit of God."
3. Never long hidden from those who are sincerely desirous of doing it, and seek for the knowledge of it with a view to that end (vers. 2, 3; 1 Kings 19:15).
II. BESET BY DANGER. "How can I go? If Saul hear of it, he will kill me." The question was not simply an inquiry for direction, but also an expression of fear; and it may possibly have arisen from indications of Saul's wilfulness such as afterwards appeared (ch. 19:22).
1. Danger is sometimes formidable, even to the bravest of men.
2. It is exaggerated by despondency, doubt, and fear.
"Thy soul is by vile fear assailed, which oft
3. No danger in the way of duty is equal to that which will be certainly found in departing from it. "In the way of righteousness there is life, and in the pathway thereof there is no death."
III. PURSUED WITH FIDELITY. "And Samuel did that which the Lord spake" (ver. 4). His hesitation was only for a moment, and with further light his faith revived and was displayed in fearless devotion. Fidelity to duty -
1. Demands the renunciation of self and many cherished plans and purposes.
2. Appears in trustful, practical, and unreserved obedience. Samuel went in dependence upon the promise, "I will show thee what thou shalt do," etc.
3. Sometimes necessitates a prudent reserve. There was no deception in withholding a reason for the action directed, beyond that which lay on the surface of the action itself. To reveal it would be to defeat the end designed. And fidelity is sometimes best shown by silence.
IV. TERMINATING IN SAFETY AND HOPE.
1. Threatened danger is averted.
2. Promised guidance is obtained.
3. A brighter day dawns, and
"God's purposes will ripen fast,
How long wilt thou mourn for Saul.
1. There is a duty to the Lord. Like Samuel, you are in His service, and have vowed to do His will and to acquiesce in His ways. David lay upon the earth, fasted, and prayed, while affliction was upon his child; but when he learned the issue — that the child was dead — he "arose from the earth." God does yet forbid tears, but He expects obedience in resignation and the discharge of duty.
2. There is a duty to your own soul. "Why go I mourning? Why art thou east down, O my soul? And why art thou disquieted within me? Hope thou in God; for I shall yet praise Him, Who is the health of my countenance, and my God." The greatest cause for mourning in this world is conviction of personal guilt in the sight of God. The effect of God's truth upon the conscience is to calf forth bitter sorrow. The convicted sinner repents and wrings his soul in sorrow, and often in tears. In the Puritan revivals of the seventeenth century this was no less characteristic of the awakening appeals of Baxter and of Flavel, of Owen and of Howe, of Rogers and of Bunyan, of Welch and of Dickson, of Rutherford and of Blair. Deep sorrow for sin marked all awakened souls in that extensive reformation of religion. At such a time many do not know what to do to obtain peace. They cry with the Jews of old, "Men and brethren, what shall we do?" and with the jailer, "What must I do to be saved?" There is oil of joy for such mourning. Relief must come from without. It is not to be got by brooding over your guilt and sorrow, but by arising and going to the Saviour.
3. There is a duty to others. Samuel had something more to live for than his own interest. He was an important member of the Hebrew commonwealth. His grief was a public calamity. The sorrow into which he was plunged might do injury. When there are others to care for, sorrow must not be immoderate. Our friends make demands upon our anxieties, and prayers, and labours. No partial affection for those who are lost can excuse neglect of those who are spared. No regret for the dead can apologise for inattention to the living. How strong an appeal is this to moderate and sanctify sorrow! Labourers for Christ! you may have to mourn over disappointed hopes and lost opportunities, and you may be ready to give way to melancholy at the retrospect of your want of success. But this mourning is ill-judged, sinful, and disastrous. Arise, fill your horn with oil and go to work again.
I. THAT A MAN MAY BE DEAD WHILE YET ALIVE. All around us we see men dumb to Divine questionings, deaf to human pleadings, blind to the uplifting vision, men whose Bible is the ledger, whose only church is the shop, whose one god is gold. Such men are dead while yet alive. Samuel of old mourned for the living, and the living still causes hearts to mourn. A mother's tears for her prodigal son may be more bitter than those which fall upon his coffin. A father's anguish for his daughter's sin may be more intense than the anguish born of her passing into the Unseen. The presence of the dead is physically harmful to the living, but the spiritually dead are more harmful. Physical death is inevitable, but it is not the worst thing that can befall a man. The death of the soul causes the very angels to weep.
II. THAT TO LIVE TRULY IS TO LIVE TRIUMPHANTLY. And to be victorious in all things is one of the natural and inherent desires of the human heart. Men desire to be mighty, but the might of man must be based upon the eternal right of God. Triumph cannot be divorced from truth, for God has joined them in an indissoluble bond. There was no hope for Saul as a king, but there was hope for him as a man. The old adage, "While there's life there's hope," is profoundly true. If we will but, stand still, we shall see the salvation of God. The very atmosphere in which we live and move and have our being is charged with resurrection power. "Awake thou that sleepest, and Christ shall give thee light."
I have rejected. him.
1. THE CHARACTER OF SAUL: — Saul's appearance was in his favour: men always are favourably impressed by personal advantages. Height, power, and beauty are ever weights thrown into the descending scale in the hand of the world. Facility is half the man.
2. He was reserved; and every man who has the power of reserve gains two steps to the one gained by him who speaks his feelings; simply because the tongue is the first instrument of hurried conviction, and the rapid speaker makes many slips. To have perception, feeling, and discernment, but to be able to hold them all in check, is one of our greatest powers. But the same force which Saul could use over his private feelings of this kind, he was also able to use over his affections. The world has ever admired this kind of trait, from Brutus downwards; but after all it may be an over-rated virtue. Saul valued religion. With no religious faith, he knew the value of religion.
5. Saul, too, was proud, intensely proud. Saul bad no vanity; but he had genuine pride.
6. Then he was generous; and generosity is ever valued by the world.
7. But the determination to recognise the externals of religion led him often into something very like dissimulation. But dissimulation in certain things is a virtue in the world; it is so with matters to do with religion.
8. But there is a second stage in Saul's Career which is highly significant. God gave up Saul, and the difference was manifest; the evil spirit occupied him at once.
9. Then came the third stage, — strikingly consistent, however paradoxical, with the others — the stage of superstition. The large-minded infidel becomes narrowed to the small compass of the superstitious, and he for whom God and His Church were not wide enough, satisfies himself with the Witch of Endor. He who found the priesthood too confined a means to attain his end, and the sacrifices too formal, bowed before an incantation, and shivered before a ghost. The only truly wide-minded man is he whose thought and soul are limited by the Word and Will of Gad. His death was worthy of him. The Roman philosopher fell upon his sword; and Saul strove to perish by suicide.
II. BUT SAUL IS BEST SEEN IN CONTRAST. The key to Saul's character is self-seeking: that unlocks each portion of his being. David's soul was fixed on seeing God. He was absorbed in the Being in Whom he lived, died, and had his being. The world cannot appreciate this; and if the world cannot, still less the infidel.
1. Saul, I said, delighted in reserve: David expressed everything. His heart was full, and "out of the abundance of his heart his mouth spake." Saul delighted to show independence of everyone, and contempt of those on whose aid he might be supposed to rely. Far otherwise with the son of Jesse. He was ever bewailing the conduct "of the sons of Zeruiah," courting Abner, or pacifying Joab. He seemed to delight in showing his real dependence on all who surrounded his throne.
3. Saul calmly swore that Jonathan should die, and the entreaty of a people and a devoted army could hardly rescue him from his hands; and yet what son deserved more at a father's hands than Jonathan? David wept for Absalom, a rebel and a hardened libertine.
4. With Saul, sacrifices, priests, and prophets were but useful unrealities, figures of a clever fiction, dramatis personae of the stage on which he happened to be acting: with David they were powerful realities.
5. Saul reserved the prey and spoil for himself, and made his own compromise with God. David's obedience was entire; his own wail was that it was not more perfect than it was. Saul never committed himself before the people; David often did. He never strove to conceal the feeling which worked within him.
6. One feature in Saul's character I have not mentioned — his regard for aristocracy and wealth. Agag and the flocks were saved, and that at the expense of God's Will and word. The son of Jesse found delight equally with the poor and lowly, as with the sons of kings and the hereditary princes of foreign lands.
7. Saul became the slave of Satan, and his heart the dismal scene of the operations of evil spirits; David became "the man after God's own heart."
8. Saul's soul narrowed as he advanced: the temple in which it at last worshipped was the Witch's Cave at Endor. David's daily widened. The Temple of Jerusalem was the design of his old age; and the expansive knowledge of God and His Law is recognised in many a Psalm. Saul lived to establish and elevate self. Proud, independent, and ironical, he moved over a plane of his own. But he left no crown to his son His very descendants were extirpated. David had no such aim; he never thought of aggrandisement or of self; but his son sat on his throne, and that to many generations. And the Son of David occupies the throne of eternity. "He shall reign forever and ever Lord of lords and King of kings." The two are placed in such singular juxtaposition and contrast, that they must be intended to be viewed together.
III. THE STRIKING APPLICATION OF THE CHARACTER OF SAUL TO OUR OWN NATION AND RACE. Is there not among us an inclination to view the Church as a means rather of keeping the people in subjection, and a great and efficient instrument for education, than as having a real and intrinsic power of its own — a sacramental energy, which is there, whether we use it or no? Is there no tendency, too, besides that very superstition, when we are religious, which marks the impression of unreality as clinging to all the great external observances of Christianity?
1. We have national traits of pride, independence and reserve, which remind us of the clever king. When his election was in hand, "he hid himself among the stuff, and he could not be found." It was the affectation of reserve. His contemptuous silence at the neglect of the men of Belial, and those other occasions referred to above, show the same tendency. Our reserve as a nation goes far, and shows itself in many ways. There is a lurking disposition to suppress the expression of distinctive Christianity, and to use the parlance of natural religion in preference to that of the Christian. Is it not true that that very suppression of natural impulses which society is inclined to admire and almost to deify, is after all often a cloak for a more subtle form of self-seeking and proud independence? We see the inclination to suppress natural affections from an early age. The schoolboy scarcely likes to own his mother, and is not sure whether he ought not to be ashamed of his sister. This state of things belongs especially to my own country. It is not found in the same way on the continent. The natural emotions of the heart are more recognised and honoured among other people than among ourselves. We may rate the subjugation of natural affections too highly; we may be passing by some other tendency, in whose discipline we shall gain a higher standing.
2. But there is a still more striking parallel in the case of Saul. His tendency was aristocratic and avaricious. He obeyed God's order in invading the territory of Amalek. But he preserved the king and the sheep. The soft yet imperious call of kindred sovereignty were too much for the lowly-born monarch. For this he sacrificed his obedience to God. The tinkle of the ornaments which sounded on the camel's neck of the Amalekite prince, were more attractive than the approval of the Prophet. May we here, too, find no parallel with ourselves? Though we are proud of the free access to high position offered to the lowliest born of those whose circumstances are most humble; and while a popular government guarded by the restraints of a monarchical and aristocratical influence is our often-repeated boast among the nations of the earth; still, is there not a singular inclination to covet the smile and favour of the nobly-born, and a constant recognition of the fact that we would sacrifice distinctive Christianity rather than the approval and countenance of a court? We worship respectability. Its forms peer in the background of all our professions.
3. But more, Saul saved the sheep. Money is sometimes the cry of a nation, and the amassing wealth, or standing high in a commercial reputation, frequently transcends the homage paid to God Himself.
4. But a graver evil still is suggested by Saul's character. His religious belief was broken. It rung to the touch of the world outside; but it had no substance. It was not faith. Religion and the Church were machines with him available for important State purposes, but here they stopped. The ministry of the Church may be represented as, and treated like, a foible, with no commission beyond the civil appointment. The Church herself is looked upon as a State machine, to be curtailed or amplified at no higher bidding than that of the earthly sovereign. And yet with all this the respect paid to those who occupy ecclesiastical position and office reminds us at every turn of Saul's homage to Samuel, while he laughed at the effort made by the Prophet to establish anything more than a conventional position. The day may come, and that soon, when this momentous question may sever man from man with a wrench, for which Church history in this country has scarcely a parallel. The day when men must say whether there be anything or nothing in the Holy Eucharist; whether the ministry be an order which holds its charter from heaven; and whether the Church herself, be descended by Divine appointment through successive ages, the Bride of Christ and the instrument of salvation to man; or whether she be merely the best arrangement existing to carry out the ends of the politician and the legislator. These things are either anything or nothing.
5. But the end of Saul was singular. From the dreams of unrealities and shams he betook himself to the pursuit of the figures of superstition. He forsook the boundless expanse of scepticism to pen himself up in the dark and confined cell of superstition. In pursuing the parallel we must see whether, as a nation, we may not be yielding to superstition, while we reject religion. The attendance at church on Sunday morning performed as an act of expiation for the sins of the week past, and palliation of the intended laxity of the week to come; the subscription offered to the swelling list of benefactions for this public charity or the other; the mite offered from the ample fortune to the Church to justify the alienation of the remainder of fortune to self; are really acts of superstition. Saul perished on the field of battle. It may be that by a fall from the pride of military glory nations of similar characters to the Israelitish king may have yet to learn that it is not in the bow, or in the horse, or in princes is the safe trust, but only in the Lord our God. Men tell us we must have a fall. The world at large have detected British pride. It may be magnificent, it may be successful, it may draw down admiration, or fear, or awe; it may compel homage; it may dazzle the eye of the observer, lest he detect flaws which really exist; but it must be offensive to God, it must "have a fall." It is "the meek who will inherit the earth."
I. THE SAD STORY OF SAUL'S LIFE. I think we shall be led to observe the dramatic effect produced in the arrangement of the First Book of Samuel. As in the earliest chapters the pious childhood of Samuel is contrasted with the profligate career of the sons of Eli, so, as we dwell upon the later chapters, our minds are continually divided between admiration of David's fortitude, charity, and holy faith; and pity for the sinful course and evident misery of the once noble king of Israel.
1. There is certainly much about Saul's early conduct which is very captivating. He was a very fine young man; taller by a head and shoulders than any of the people, and there seems to have been, at first, a very pleasing humility in him; he said nothing to his uncle of his prospects. Then he was a man of warm affections. Again, he was a man who had evidently received some religious impressions. Still I think we are warranted in saying that there was no work of grace in his soul. It is said indeed of Saul, that "God gave him another heart," and that "the Spirit of God came upon him;" but as God never calls to a work without giving the power to perform it, this only refers to his qualifications for government.
2. Notice, next, the steps in his decline. While he was in humble life he had a humble spirit, but prosperity was too much for him: with wraith and power came spiritual decline. Oh, beware of ambition: beware how you "seek great things for yourselves." You are thinking of advancement, perhaps, desiring promotion, or laying up a fortune. Look at Saul; look at Solomon; and I think you will pray, in the words of our Litany, "In all time of our wealth, Good Lord, deliver us." Saul's prosperity was his ruin. David says, "It is good for me that I have been afflicted:" nay, I am inclined to think that even in his ease there is a beautiful simplicity of character, and steadfastness of faith, a singleness of eye, during the times of his affliction, which we often look for in vain when things went well with him. Next, we observe in Saul what is sure to come with pride and ambition, a want of faith, and an impatience, which led him to offer the sacrifice, instead of waiting for Samuel. Prosperity had been too much for him: he had begun to depart from God. When faith in the unseen is weak, and heavenly things do not occupy the soul, it almost always falls a prey to covetousness: and hence his sin on this occasion; the spoil was too tempting, and he seizes upon it like Achan.
II. YOUR DUTY TOWARDS MERE PROFESSORS — towards those who, while in many respects they resemble Christ's disciples, are not really the people of God. It is said that one use that is being made of the metal called aluminium, is the manufacture of sovereigns so nearly resembling the current coin that it is extremely difficult, to distinguish between them. The stamp is in all respects perfect, the colour is the same, they are even of the same weight, and the application of some acids produces no results. Still there is a difference in value, and of course they will be able to discover it at the banks. Satan is very clever; he has been able to produce, in all ages of the Church, splendid hypocrites, such as have deceived some even of the elect. Still, there is a difference at heart between every child of God and every child of the devil. How shall I know a Judas from a Peter, a Demas from a Luke, a Saul from a David? Contemplate Jesus: let His perfect term continually fill your eye: walk yourself habitually with Him; and then you will not long be deceived.
1. There is a duty of separation. It became Samuel's duty to separate from his friend; and we read that "Samuel came no more to see Saul until the day of his death. Are you as particular about this as you should be? You must not be too lax in your judgments. Those first six verses of Matthew 7, show you that while it is not your duty to condemn, it is your duty to discriminate.
2. Yet there is one more duty which we learn from Samuel's conduct towards Saul. Samuel mourned for Saul And so we have the picture of the one man going on from bad to worse, adding sin to sin; and his friend, who, from duty to God, felt constrained to keep aloof from him, still mourning over and praying for him: even as Jesus wept over Jerusalem.
(C. Bosanquet, M. A.)
1. He was a man. Is this a great thing? Yes, very. There are so many of us that we think lightly of our kind. But what lofty dignity there is in manhood! What marvellous responsibilities cluster about it! Crowned with a kingly immortality how sublimely important is each individual! God's claims are on that heart. Each instance of withdrawal or suspension of its homage, nay, even the independent action of its powers without reference to heavenly supremacy, is an act of disloyalty. If this earth contained but one rebel how would his loyal fellows stare at the prodigy! But no familiarity with sin can, in God's estimate, take away its first offensiveness. How preposterously foolish to quarrel with the Great King when, in any instance, He makes the line of judicial infliction in temporal things approach the line of the sinner's deservings!
2. Saul was an Israelite. As such, the claims of God, and his own responsibilities were largely increased. The will of God pressed with peculiar force on the conscience of every member of that nation. The Jew who neglected, or interfered to modify the Divine will was doubly culpable. Still further aggravated would be the offence if that will were plainly laid before the mind and emphatically pressed upon the conscience. Precisely such was the case of that offender whose conduct we are reviewing.
3. Saul was king of Israel. As such, he was vicegerent of God. God's lieutenant and the asserter of Israel's rights ought to have set himself promptly to the completion of the case against Amalek by avenging upon them the dishonour of God, and the damage done to His people. See we not here that insubmissiveness of will, that independence of aim and action which form the germ of all the evil that has intruded upon God's holy universe. Nor is it a valid plea, palliating deviation from the strict and full performance of his commission, that it involved a dreadful sacrifice of human life. And if his heart recoiled more violently from the execution of the king than from the carnage of the whole nation, this only adds another touch to the outline of his vanity. It would be a rare triumph for him to lead about the captured king of their oldest and bitterest enemies.
4. Saul was the first king of Israel. The nation had just passed through an important crisis. The change of government was the permitted consequence of national unfaithfulness to God. His holy presence, as their immediate Ruler, was irksome to their criminal independence, and alarming to their conscience. When their king fully develops his character, he is found to be animated by the same views and feelings. Here, then, are most critical circumstances. The people have drifted far into the region of disloyalty to God and indifference to Divine things, and the change of Government which this ungodliness introduced has added new force to the current of growing degeneracy. The king has connived at disobedience. Most perilous precedent! Doubly so at the commencement of a new regime which it must help to mould. If knighthood, in its early days, be permitted with impunity to tamper thus with the behests of God, and vaunt itself in the spoils of authority reft from the majesty of heaven, what shall the end be? The case is urgent. A preventive, however terrible, must be applied.
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