1 Samuel 11:12, 13
And the people said to Samuel, Who is he that said, Shall Saul reign over us? bring the men, that we may put them to death.…
Some men are subject to noble impulses, under which they rise to a higher level of thought and feeling than that which they ordinarily occupy. The difference is sometimes so great that they do not seem to be the same persons. But the change is transient, and they speedily relapse into their former state. Their character is one of varying, wayward, and uncertain moods rather than high, steadfast, and consistent principle. Such a man was Saul. The impulse under which he spared his enemies after his victory over the Ammonites (probably due, as other impulses were, to the influence of Samuel, who may have accompanied him to the battle - vers. 7, 12) displayed extraordinary magnanimity. The act is the noblest recorded of him, and stands out in strong relief against the dark background of his subsequent career. "Saul herein showeth his piety, humanity, wisdom. Hitherto he declareth himself an innocent man and a good prince; but afterward he forgot his own rule, when he would have killed Jonathan (1 Samuel 14:45). This mutability in Saul and changeable nature, in falling from clemency to cruelty, from piety to profanity, from a good governor to become a tyrant, doth show that these virtues were not thoroughly grounded in him, but only superficially infused" (Wallet). Let us regard him as a pattern of a principle which ought always to be exhibited. His generosity toward his enemies was shown -
I. UNDER STRONG PROVOCATION, arising from -
1. The recollection of their past conduct towards himself (1 Samuel 10:27). He could not altogether forget it, and when he was disposed to put it away from his thoughts, he was reminded of it by others. Nothing is more provocative of wrath than brooding over the wrongs that have been received. On the other hand, the surest way to forgive is to forget.
2. The feeling of natural resentment toward them. "Revenge is sweet," say men who are not restrained by Divine wisdom and grace; and they are especially apt to say it when they have the power to avenge themselves, and when they persuade themselves that justice and prudence require that the wrong should not go unpunished. They do require it, doubtless, in some eases; but how large a place does the desire of gratifying personal animosity hold in most instances in which men seek to inflict punishment on others. "Say not, I will do so to him as he hath done to me: I will render to the man according to his work" (Proverbs 24:29; Proverbs 20:22).
3. The urgency of others. Men are only too prone to indulge wrath without such an incitement, but they are often led by it to go beyond their own judgment and feeling, and he who, like Saul, overcomes it gains a double victory. "Thereby he gained another victory -
(1) over himself - he restrains himself in the exercise of a right;
(2) over the anger of those who demanded that justice be executed;
(3) over his former opponents, who now clearly see that which, under the influence of haughty contempt, they had doubted; and
(4) over the whole people, who must have been carried along by him in the path of noble moral conduct, and lifted above themselves to the height on which he stood" (Erdmann).
II. IN A ROYAL MANNER. "There shall not a man be put to death this day."
1. Promptly. If he had waited till the morrow his purpose might have changed. When a generous emotion fills the heart it should be at once translated into word and deed. First thoughts in things moral, unlike first thoughts in things intellectual, are always best. Hesitation and delay dim their brightness and weaken their power.
2. Decisively. Saul spoke like a king. He refused to stain his laurels with blood. And whilst he resolved not to punish his enemies, he declared his determination that none other should punish them. "Where the word of a king is there is power."
3. Completely. "Not a man." Not a single example was to be made, but his clemency was to extend to all. In the same royal manner we may and ought to show mercy. "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy."
III. FROM A PROPER MOTIVE. "For today the Lord hath wrought salvation in Israel." "Not only signifying that the public rejoicing should not be interrupted, but reminding them of the clemency of God, and urging that since Jehovah had shown such clemency upon that day, that he had overlooked their sins and given them a glorious victory, it was only right that they should follow his example and forgive their neighbours' sins without bloodshed" (Seb. Schmid). Saul showed -
1. Regard for the transcendent excellence of mercy. Nothing is more beautiful or more pleasing to God, and its exercise is necessary that we may obtain mercy (Matthew 6:15). He is "merciful and gracious." "Mercy rejoiceth against judgment." (Proverbs 25:21; Romans 12:19, 20; James 2:13.)
The throned monarch better than his crown;
His sceptre shows the force of temporal power
The attribute to awe and majesty,
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings;
But mercy is above this sceptred sway;
It is enthroned in the heart of kings,
It is an attribute to God himself,
And earthly power doth then show likest God's
When mercy seasons justice"
(Merchant of Venice') To return good for good and evil for evil is natural, to return evil for good is devilish, but to return good for evil is Divine.
2. Gratitude for the abounding goodness of God. His hand was fully recognised in recent victory and deliverance. His kindness to us should constrain us to be kind to others, and his forgiveness is shown to have been experienced only when it leads us to forgive (Matthew 18:35).
3. Desire for the welfare of men. "The Lord hath wrought salvation in Israel," to whom these "worthless men" belonged. Even such men are objects of his forbearance and benevolence. "He maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good" (Matthew 5:45). He does them good, and thereby seeks to subdue their hostility toward himself (Ezekiel 33:11). We ought to exhibit the same spirit, and by doing so we shall promote the general peace and happiness. "Be ye therefore merciful, even as your Father also is merciful" (Luke 6:36). - D.
Parallel VersesKJV: And the people said unto Samuel, Who is he that said, Shall Saul reign over us? bring the men, that we may put them to death.