A Fool Returns to His Folly
1 Samuel 26:21
Then said Saul, I have sinned: return, my son David: for I will no more do you harm, because my soul was precious in your eyes this day…

I. THE BIBLE IS FULL OF REDUPLICATION. It teaches by line upon line, precept upon precept, and narrative upon narrative. There are repetitions of the same story or song. There are also separate and independent narratives which go over similar ground, and teach the same lessons, the second confirming the first. Joseph is described as having had duplicate dreams with one and the same meaning. So also Pharaoh. Nebuchadnezzar's dream of empires is followed by Daniel's dream of the same. And there are duplicate parables of Jesus Christ. Then actual events described are followed by other events so closely resembling them that they might almost be taken for the same - e.g. Abraham's weakness, Sarah's danger, and Pharaoh's respect for the sanctity of marriage (Genesis 12.) seem to be all repeated (Genesis 20.), with the Abimelech of Gerar substituted for the Pharaoh of Egypt. And then all the incidents are told again of Isaac and Rebekah, and the Abimelech of their time (Genesis 26.). We have Moses fetching water from the rock in Horeb, and the same prophet fetching water from a rock at Kadesh Barnea; Jesus Christ anointed by a woman in the house of Simon the Pharisee, and the same Divine Master anointed by a woman in the house of Simon the leper. Again, we have Jesus feeding 5000 men, besides women and children, from a small stock of bread and fish, and then the same Lord feeding 4000, besides women and children, from a similar inadequate supply. The similarity of the story in this chapter to that which we have read in the twenty-fourth chapter of this book need not surprise us, or raise a suspicion that they are independent reports of the same adventure admitted into the pages of the history by a clumsy compiler. The reduplication is in harmony with Biblical usage; nay, more, it is in harmony with historical truth.

II. HISTORY IS FULL OF REPETITION. In private life the same conditions recur with startling precision; and in public affairs the same emergencies occur again and again, and lead to the same line of action, the same remedies, and even the same blunders. Why should it be thought incredible, or even improbable, that Saul fell back into his former mood of hostility to David? Alas, what is more common than that fools forget admonition, and return to their folly; sinners, after promises of amendment, relapse into their old sins? The amendment goes against secret inclination, whereas the sin indulges some constitutional propensity or passion. So it is that a man who has grown too fond of strong drink, after abstaining from it for a time, goes back to his bottle. A libertine, after a short attempt to live purely, goes back to his intrigues. And in like manner Saul, being passionately jealous, forbore from the pursuit of David only for a season, and then, at the first offer of help from the Ziphites, went back to his cruel pursuit of the son of Jesse. There are cases in which history repeats itself on the favourable side, in a return to goodness; but such is man, that the more frequent experience is of a return to evil courses, obliterating the very traces of a short-lived, superficial repentance.

III. SUPERFICIAL REPENTANCE MAY BE EXPECTED TO END IN RELAPSE. We mean by superficial repentance a mere emotional effect, while the root of sin lies undisturbed in the unrenewed will. A man of impulsive constitution can repent in this fashion again and again, with no conscious insincerity, and yet remain at heart the same; nay, grow worse in the very habit of lamenting without abandoning his besetting sin. There is some indication of such a falling off in Saul. On the first occasion, when his life was spared at Engedi, he shed tears over David's magnanimity and his own folly, and he openly confessed that the man whom he had sought to kill was more righteous than himself, and was destined to fill the throne. On the second occasion, at Hachilah, he was ready again to confess his fault and to promise abandonment of his unnatural and unjust pursuit of David, but we hear nothing of tears. There is a ring of vexation rather than of contrition about his confession: "I have sinned. I have played the fool." Cases of superficial repentance leading to relapse and deterioration are not rare. Emotion fades away; and some temptation is sure to come, as the Ziphites came to Saul and induced him to resume what he had renounced. So it happens that converts from among the heathen, who are changed only on the surface, and not in heart, but are baptized and endure well for a while, relapse under temptation into their old customs. Criminals in our own country, who have to all appearance sincerely repented, and have, after undergoing punishment, begun a new course of life, relapse after a while into the old roguery, tired of honest industry. In fact, it is not so difficult to induce men to turn over a new leaf as to keep them, after turning it, from turning back again.

IV. ONE MAY MUCH ADMIRE NOBLE CONDUCT AND YET NEVER IMITATE IT. Saul retained enough of his early magnanimity to feel the moral superiority of David's behaviour - his grand forbearance and chivalrous loyalty. He acknowledged the contrast between David's conduct and his own, and yet he never imitated what he admired. He turned back from the pursuit, as he had done before, but he did not reinstate his son-in-law in the honour to which he was entitled, or relieve him of the harassing sense of insecurity. So we often see that it is one thing to recognise and applaud what is good, another thing to do it. How many admire great and generous characters in history, poetry, and romance, and yet themselves remain small minded and ungenerous! How many applaud good men and kind actions, and yet continue in their own bad habits and selfish lines of conduct, without any vigorous effort to follow what they praise! After all, a man is himself, and not another, and as his heart is, so will his action be. Unless the tree be made good from the root, it is vain to expect good fruit on its branches.

V. A SELF-ACCUSER MAY BE PROUDER THAN ONE WHO PROTESTS HIS INNOCENCE, A careless reader might think better of Saul confessing his folly so frankly than of David appealing to God for his integrity. But he who appeared so humble was still proud and obstinate, and he who maintained his rectitude was of a lowly and tender heart. A certain amount of self-reproach is quite easy to a pliant nature, which takes emotion quickly on its surface, and yet is quite unchanged beneath. Such was Saul's confession, which did not for a moment change his character or delay his fate. On the other hand, self-vindication against misrepresentation and unjust treatment may issue from a man who entirely abhors self-righteousness and self-praise. It is this which we trace in David and the prophets; in the Apostle Paul, and in the greatest and lowliest, the man Christ Jesus. A servant of God breaks no rule of humility when he repels calumny, and asserts his innocence or his integrity. In this view read the seventeenth and eighteenth Psalms, the latter of which has a significant title - "Of David, the servant of God." All the Psalms are for the servants of the Lord. Sometimes, alas, they can chant none but those which are penitential, because sin has prevailed against them and defiled them. But in their experience of the mercies and deliverances of the Lord they can sing praises; and in the consciousness of the cleanness of their hands, their innocence and integrity of purpose and action towards their fellow men, they may even venture to go through the hundred and nineteenth Psalm in all that wonderful strain of devout feeling which combines with cries for Divine pardon and direction, assertions of loyal obedience and entire sincerity. - F.

Parallel Verses
KJV: Then said Saul, I have sinned: return, my son David: for I will no more do thee harm, because my soul was precious in thine eyes this day: behold, I have played the fool, and have erred exceedingly.

WEB: Then Saul said, "I have sinned. Return, my son David; for I will no more do you harm, because my life was precious in your eyes this day. Behold, I have played the fool, and have erred exceedingly."

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