1 Samuel 16:1
And the LORD said to Samuel, How long will you mourn for Saul, seeing I have rejected him from reigning over Israel?…
The character of Saul would be by itself sufficient to arrest the attention of the most heedless reader of the annals of human nature; but seen by the side of David, it is more remarkable still. The contrast between the two is strong and lucid at every point. Saul is the man of the world in every respect. He is the Roman hero, shot with the colours of the despotic East; the kind of man who ever has been the hero and demi-god of the world's idolatry and worship, and ever will be; while David in but few particulars would obtain the admiration of mankind. There is just the difference between the two that there is between the natural and spiritual man; between him who is governed by natural religion, and him who is governed by the grace of God. But while this is the case with Saul as an individual, he resembles in a striking manner the character of nations. While he embodies the spirit of Rome, and the philosophic Greek, and bears the strong impress of the Asiatic despot he gathers up into himself the leading features of our own nation. He is very Saxon. The errors which we as a nation are constantly making, are, in all their leading features, those of the King of Israel. We are inclined nationally to embody the elements which form Saul's character, and to worship the result. We are inclined as a nation, in each circle of our society, educated and uneducated, to despise those elements which form David's.
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."
Parallel VersesKJV: And the LORD said unto Samuel, How long wilt thou mourn for Saul, seeing I have rejected him from reigning over Israel? fill thine horn with oil, and go, I will send thee to Jesse the Bethlehemite: for I have provided me a king among his sons.
WEB: Yahweh said to Samuel, "How long will you mourn for Saul, since I have rejected him from being king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil, and go. I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite; for I have provided a king for myself among his sons."