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SAUL ANOINTED BY SAMUEL.
1 Samuel x. 1–16.
There is a remarkable minuteness of detail in this and other narratives in Samuel, suggesting the authenticity of the narrative, and the authorship of one who was personally connected with the transactions. The historical style of Scripture is very characteristic; sometimes great periods of time are passed over with hardly a word, and sometimes events of little apparent importance are recorded with what might be thought needless minuteness. In Genesis, the whole history of the world before the flood is despatched in seven chapters, less than is occupied with the history of Joseph. Enoch’s biography is in one little verse, while a whole chapter is taken up with the funeral of Sarah, and another chapter of unusual length with the marrying of Isaac. Yet we can be at no loss to discover good reasons for this arrangement. It combines two forms of history—annals, and dramatic story. Annals are short, and necessarily somewhat dry; but they have the advantage of embracing much in comparatively short compass. The dramatic story is necessarily diffuse; it occupies a large amount of space; but it has the advantage of presenting a living picture—of bringing past events before the reader as they happened 146 at the time. If the whole history of the Bible had been in the form of annals, it would have been very useful, but it would have wanted human interest. If it had been all in the dramatic form, it would have occupied too much space. By the combination of the two methods, we secure the compact precision of the one, and the living interest of the other. In the verses that are to form the subject of the present lecture, we have a lively dramatic picture of what took place in connection with the anointing of Saul by Samuel as king of Israel. The event was a very important one, as showing the pains that were taken to impress him with the solemnity of the office, and his obligation to undertake it in full accord with God’s sacred purpose in connection with His people Israel. Everything was planned to impress on Saul that his elevation to the royal dignity was not to be viewed by him as a mere piece of good fortune, and to induce him to enter on the office with a solemn sense of responsibility, and in a spirit entirely different from that of the neighbouring kings, who thought only of their royal position as enabling them to gratify the desires of their own hearts. Both Saul and the people must see the hand of God very plainly in Saul’s elevation, and the king must enter on his duties with a profound sense of the supernatural influences through which he has been elevated, and his obligation to rule the people in the fear, and according to the will, of God.
Though the servant that accompanied Saul seems to have been as much a companion and adviser as a servant, and to have been present as yet in all Samuel’s intercourse with Saul, yet the act of anointing which the prophet was now to perform was more suitable to be done in private than in the presence 147 of another; consequently the servant was sent on before (ch. ix. 27). It would seem to have been Samuel’s intention, while paying honour to Saul as one to whom honour was due, and thus hinting at his coming elevation, not to make it public, not to anticipate the public selection which would follow soon in an orderly way. It was right that Saul himself should know what was coming, and that his mind should be prepared for it; but it was not right at this stage that others should know it, for that would have seemed an interference with the choice of the people. It must have been in some quiet corner of the road that Samuel took out his vial of sacred oil, and poured it on Saul to anoint him king of Israel. The kiss which he gave him was the kiss of homage, a very old way of recognizing sovereignty (Ps. ii. 12), and still kept up in the custom of kissing the sovereign’s hand after elevation to office or dignity. To be thus anointed by God’s recognised servant, was to receive the approval of God Himself. Saul now became God’s messiah—the Lord’s anointed. For the term messiah, as applied to Christ, belongs to His kingly office. Though the priests likewise were anointed, the title derived from that act was not appropriated by them, but by the kings. It was counted a high and solemn dignity, making the king’s person sacred, in the eyes of every God-fearing man. Yet this was not an indelible character; it might be forfeited by unfaithfulness and transgression. The only Messiah, the only Anointed One, who was incapable of being set aside, was He whom the kings of Israel typified. Of Him Isaiah foretold: “Of the increase of His government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David and upon his kingdom, to order it and to establish it 148 with judgment and with justice, from henceforth even for ever.” And in announcing the birth of Jesus, the angel foretold: “He shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of His kingdom there shall be no end.”
It is evident that Saul was surprised at the acts of Samuel. We can readily fancy his look of astonishment after the venerable prophet had given him the kiss of homage,—the searching gaze that asked, “What do you mean by that?” Samuel was ready with his answer: “Is it not because the Lord hath anointed thee to be captain over His heritage?” But in so momentous a matter, involving a supernatural communication of the will of God, an assurance even from Samuel was hardly sufficient. It was reasonable that Saul should be supplied with tangible proofs that in anointing him as king Samuel had complied with the will of God. These tangible proofs Samuel proceeded to give. They consisted of predictions of certain events that were about to happen—events that it was not within the range of ordinary sagacity to foresee, and which were therefore fitted to convince Saul that Samuel was in possession of supernatural authority, and that the act of consecration which he had just performed was agreeable to the will of God.
The first of these proofs was, that when he had proceeded on his journey as far as Rachel’s tomb, he would meet with two men who would tell him that the lost asses had been found, and that his father’s anxiety was now about his son. It must be owned that the localities here are very puzzling. If the meeting with Samuel was near Ramah of Benjamin, Saul, in returning to Gibeah, would not have occasion to go near Rachel’s tomb. We can only say he may have had some reason 149 for taking this route unknown to us. Here he would find a confirmation of what Samuel had told him on the day before; and his mind being thus relieved of anxiety, he would have more freedom to ponder the marvellous things of which Samuel had spoken to him.
The next token was to be found in the plain of Tabor, but this Tabor can have no connection with the well-known mountain of that name in the plain of Esdraelon. Some have conjectured that this Tabor is derived from Deborah, Rachel’s nurse, who was buried in the neighbourhood of Bethel (Gen. xxxv. 8), but there is no probability in this conjecture. Here three men, going up to Bethel to a religious festival were to meet Saul; and they were to present him, as an act of homage, with two of their three loaves. This was another evidence that God was filling men’s hearts with a rare feeling towards him.
The third token was to be the most remarkable of any. It was to occur at what is called “the hill of God.” Literally this is “Gibeah of God”—God’s Gibeah. It seems to have been Saul’s own city, but the name Gibeah may have been given to the whole hill where the city lay. The precise spot where the occurrence was to take place was at the garrison of the Philistines. (Thus it appears incidentally that the old enemy were again harassing the country.) Gibeah, which is elsewhere called Gibeah of Saul, is here called God’s Gibeah, because of the sacred services of which it was the seat. Here Saul would meet a company of prophets coming down from the holy place, with psaltery, and tabret, and pipe, and harp, and here his mind would undergo a change, and he would be impelled to join the prophets’ company. This was a strange token, with a strange result.
150 We must try, first, to form some idea of Saul’s state of mind in the midst of these strange events.
The thought of his being king of Israel must have set his whole being vibrating with high emotion. No mind can take in at first all that is involved in such a stroke of fortune. A tumult of feeling surges through the mind. It is intoxicated with the prospect. Glimpses of this pleasure and of that, now brought within reach, flit before the fancy. The whole pulses of Saul’s nature must have been quickened. A susceptibility of impression formerly unknown must have come to him. He was like a cloud surcharged with electricity; he was in that state of nervous excitement which craves a physical outlet, whether in singing, or shouting, or leaping,—anything to relieve the brain and nervous system, which seem to tremble and struggle under the extraordinary pressure.
But mingling with this, there must have been another, and perhaps deeper, emotion at work in Saul’s bosom. He had been brought into near contact with the Supernatural. The thought of the Infinite Power that ordains and governs all had been stirred very vividly within him. The three tokens of Divine ordination met with in succession at Rachel’s tomb, in the plain of Tabor, and in the neighbourhood of Gibeah, must have impressed him very profoundly. Probably he had never had any very distinct impression of the great Supernatural Being before. The worldly turn of mind which was natural to him would not occupy itself with any such thoughts. But now it was made clear to him not only that there was a Supernatural Being, but that He was dealing very closely with him. It is always a solemn thing to feel in the presence of God, and to remember that He is searching us and knowing us, 151 knowing our sitting down and our rising up, and comprehending all our thoughts afar off. At such times the sense of our guilt, feebleness, dependence, usually comes on us, full and strong. Must it not have been so with Saul? If the prospect of kingly power was fitted to puff him up, the sense of God’s nearness to him was fitted to cast him down. What was he before God? An insignificant worm, a guilty sinner, unworthy to be called God’s son.
The whole susceptibilities of Saul were in a state of high excitement; the sense of the Divine presence was on him, and for the moment a desire to render to God some acknowledgment of all the mercy which had come upon him. When the company of prophets met him coming down the hill, “the Spirit of God came upon him, and he prophesied with them.” When in the Old Testament the Spirit of God is said to come on one, the meaning is not always that He comes in regenerating and sanctifying grace. The Spirit of God in Bezaleel, the son of Uri, made him cunning in all manner of workmanship, to work in gold, and in silver, and in brass. The Spirit of God, when He came upon Samson, magnified his physical strength, and fitted him for the most wonderful feats. So the Spirit of God, when He came on Saul, did not necessarily regenerate his being; alas! in Saul’s future life, there is only too much evidence of an unchanged heart! Still it might be said of Saul that he was changed into another man. Elevated by the prospect before him, but awed at the same time by a sense of God’s nearness, he had no heart for the pursuits in which he would have engaged on his return home had no such change occurred. In the mood of mind in which he was now, he could not look at anything 152 frivolous: his mind soared to higher things. When therefore he met the company of prophets coming down the hill, he was impelled by the surge of his feelings to join their company and take part in their song. They were returning from the high place where they had been engaged in worship, and now they seem to have been continuing the service, sounding out the high praises of God, and thankfully remembering His mercies. It was the same God who had so wonderfully drawn near to Saul, and conferred on him privileges which were as exalted as they were undeserved. No wonder the heart of Saul caught the infection, and threw itself for the time into the service of praise! No young man could well have resisted the impulse. Had he not been chosen out of all the ten thousands of Israel for an honour and a function higher than any Israelite had ever yet enjoyed? Ought he not, must he not, in all the enthusiasm of profoundest wonder, extol the name of Him from whom so suddenly, so unexpectedly, yet so assuredly, this marvellous favour had come?
But it was an employment very different from what had hitherto been his custom. That utter worldliness of mind which we have referred to as his natural disposition would have made him scorn any such employment in his ordinary mood as utterly alien to his feelings. Too often we see that worldly-minded men not only have no relish for spiritual exercises, but feel bitterly and scornfully toward those who affect them. The reason is not far to seek. They know that religious men count them guilty of sin, of great sin, in so neglecting the service of God. To be condemned, whether openly or not, galls their pride, and sets them to disparage those who have so low an opinion of them. It is not said that Saul had felt 153 bitterly toward religious men previous to this time. But whether he did so or not, he appears to have kept aloof from them quite as much as if he had. And now in his own city he appears among the prophets, as if sharing their inspiration, and joining with them openly in the praises of God. It is so strange a sight that every one is astonished. “Saul among the prophets!” people exclaim. “Shall wonders ever cease?” And yet Saul was not in his right place among the prophets. Saul was like the stony ground seed in the parable of the sower. He had no depth of root. His enthusiasm on this occasion was the result of forces that did not work at the heart of his nature. It was the result of the new and most remarkable situation in which he found himself, not of any new principle of life, any principle that would involve a radical change. It is a solemn fact that men may be worked on by outer forces so as to do many things that seem to be acts of Divine service, but are not so really. A man suddenly raised to a high and influential position feels the influence of the change,—feels himself sobered and solemnized by it, and for a time appears to live and act under higher considerations than he used to acknowledge before. But when he gets used to his new position, when the surprise has abated, and everything around him has become normal to him, his old principles of action return. A young man called suddenly to take the place of a most worthy and honoured father feels the responsibility of wearing such a mantle, and struggles for a time to fulfil his father’s ideal. But ere long the novelty of his position wears away, the thought of his father recurs less frequently, and his old views and feelings resume their sway. Admission to the fellowship of a Church which 154 sustains a high repute may have at first not only a restraining, but a stimulating and elevating effect, until, the position becoming familiar to one, the emotions it first excited die away. This risk is peculiarly incident to those who bear office in the Church. Ordination to the ministry, or to any other spiritual office, solemnizes one at first, even though one may not be truly converted, and nerves one with strength and resolution to throw off many an evil habit. But the solemn impression wanes with time, and the carnal nature asserts its claims. How earnest and how particular men ought ever to be in examining themselves whether their serious impressions are the effect of a true change of nature, or whether they are not mere temporary experiences, the casual result of external circumstances.
But how is this to be ascertained? Let us recall the test with which our Lord has furnished us. “Not every one that saith unto Me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven, but he that doeth the will of My Father which is in heaven. Many will say unto Me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Thy name, and in Thy name have cast out devils, and in Thy name have done many wonderful works? Then will I say unto them, I never knew you; depart from Me, ye that work iniquity.” The real test is a changed will; a will no longer demanding that self be pleased, but that God be pleased; a will yielding up everything to the will of God; a will continually asking what is right and what is true, not what will please me, or what will be a gain to me; a will overpowered by the sense of what is due in nature to the Lord and Judge of all, and of what is due in grace to Him that loved us and washed us from our sins in His 155 own blood. Have you thus surrendered yourselves to God? At the heart and root of your nature is there the profound desire to do what is well-pleasing in His sight? If so, then, even amid abounding infirmities, you may hold that you are the child of God. But if still the principle—silent, perhaps, and unavowed, but real—that moves you and regulates your life be that of self-pleasing, any change that may have occurred otherwise must have sprung only from outward conditions, and the prayer needs to go out from you on the wings of irrepressible desire, “Create in me a clean heart, O Lord, and renew a right spirit within me.”
Two things in this part of the chapter have yet to be adverted to. The first is that somewhat mysterious question (ver. 12) which some one asked on seeing Saul among the prophets—“But who is their father?” Various explanations have been given of this question; but the most natural seems to be, that it was designed to meet a reason for the surprise felt at Saul being among the prophets—viz. that his father Kish was a godless man. That consideration is irrelevant; for who, asks this person, is the father of the prophets? The prophetic gift does not depend on fatherhood. It is not by connection with their fathers that the prophetic band enjoy their privileges. Why should not Saul be among the prophets as well as any of them? Such men are born not of blood, nor of the will of man, nor of the will of the flesh, but of God.
The other point remaining to be noticed is Saul’s concealment from his uncle of all that Samuel had said about the kingdom. It appears from this both that Saul was yet of a modest, humble spirit, and perhaps that his uncle would have made an unwise use of the information if he had got it. It would be time enough 156 for that to be known when God’s way of bringing it to pass should come. There is a time to speak and a time to keep silence. Saul told enough to the uncle to establish belief in the supernatural power of Samuel, but nothing to gratify mere curiosity. Thus in many ways Saul commends himself to us in this chapter, and in no way does he provoke our blame. He was like the young man in the Gospel in whom our Lord found so much that was favourable. Alas, he was like the young man also in the particular that made all the rest of little effect—“One thing thou lackest.”
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