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SAUL CHOSEN KING.
1 Samuel x. 17–27.
When first the desire to have a king came to a height with the people, they had the grace to go to Samuel, and endeavour to arrange the matter through him. They did not, indeed, show much regard to his feelings; rather they showed a sort of childlike helplessness, not appearing to consider how much he would be hurt both by their virtual rejection of his government, and by their blunt reference to the unworthy behaviour of his sons. But it was a good thing that they came to Samuel at all. They were not prepared to carry out their wishes by lawless violence; they were not desirous to make use of the usual Oriental methods of revolution—massacre and riot. It was so far well that they desired to avail themselves of the peaceful instrumentality of Samuel. We have seen how Samuel carried the matter to the Lord, and how the Lord yielded so far to the wish of the nation as to permit them to have a king. And Samuel having determined not to take offence, but to continue in friendly relations to the people and do his utmost to turn the change to the best possible account, now proceeds to superintend the business of election. He summons the people to the Lord to Mizpeh; that is, 158 he convenes the heads of the various tribes to a meeting, which was not to be counted a rough political convention, but a solemn religious gathering in the very presence of the Lord. Either before the meeting, or at the meeting, the principle must have been settled on which the election was to be made. It was, however, not so much the people that were to choose as God. The selection was to take place by lot. This method was resorted to as the best fitted to show who was the object of God’s choice. There seems to have been no trace of difference of opinion as to its being the right method of procedure.
But before the lot was actually cast, Samuel addressed to the assembly one of those stern, terrible exposures of the spirit that had led to the transaction which would surely have turned a less self-willed and stiff-necked people from their purpose, and constrained them to revert to their original economy. “Thus saith the Lord God of Israel: I brought up Israel out of Egypt, and delivered you out of the hand of the Egyptians, and out of the hand of all kingdoms, and of them that oppressed you; and ye have this day rejected your God, who Himself saved you out of all your adversities and your tribulations; and ye have said unto Him, Nay, but set a king over us.” How could the people, we may well ask, get over this? How could they prefer an earthly king to a heavenly? What possible benefit worth naming could accrue to them from a transaction dishonouring to the Lord of heaven, which, if it did not make Him their enemy, could not but chill His interest in them?
Perhaps, however, we may wonder less at the behaviour of the Israelites on this occasion if we bear in mind how often the same offence is committed, and 159 with how little thought and consideration, at the present day. To begin with, take the case—and it is a very common one—of those who have been dedicated to God in baptism, but who cast their baptismal covenant to the winds. The time comes when the provisional dedication to the Lord should be followed up by an actual and hearty consecration of themselves. Failing that, what can be said of them but that they reject God as their King? And with what want of concern is this often done, and sometimes in the face of remonstrances, as, for instance, by the many young men in our congregations who allow the time for decision to pass without ever presenting themselves to the Church as desirous to take on them the yoke of Christ! A moment’s thought might show them that if they do not actively join themselves to Christ, they virtually sever themselves from Him. If I make a provisional bargain with any one to last for a short time, and at the end of that time take no steps to renew it, I actually renounce it. Not to renew the covenant of baptism, when years of discretion have been reached, is virtually to break it off. Much consideration must be had for the consciousness of unworthiness, but even that is not a sufficient reason, because our worthiness can never come from what we are in ourselves, but from our faith in Him who alone can supply us with the wedding garment.
Then there are those who reject God in a more outrageous form. There are those who plunge boldly into the stream of sin, or into the stream of worldly enjoyment, determined to lead a life of pleasure, let the consequences be what they may. As to religion, it is nothing to them, except a subject of ridicule on the part of those who affect it. Morality—well, if it fall 160 within the fashion of the world, it must be respected; otherwise let it go to the winds. God, heaven, hell,—they are mere bugbears to frighten the timid and superstitious. Not only is God rejected, but He is defied. Not only are His blessing, His protection, His gracious guidance scorned, but the devil, or the world, or the flesh is openly elevated to His throne. Yet men and women too can go on through years of life utterly unconcerned at the slight they offer to God, and unmoved by any warning that may come to them “Who is the Almighty that we should serve Him? And what profit shall we have if we bow down before Him?” Their attitude reminds us of the answer of the persecutor, when the widow of his murdered victim protested that he would have to answer both to man and to God for the deed of that day. “To man,” he said, “I can easily answer; and as for God, I will take Him in my own hands.”
But there is still another class against whom the charge of rejecting God may be made. Not, indeed, in the same sense or to the same degree, but with one element of guilt which does not attach to the others, inasmuch as they have known what it is to have God for their King. I advert to certain Christian men and women who in their early days were marked by much earnestness of spirit, but having risen in the world, have fallen back from their first attainments, and have more or less accepted the world’s law. Perhaps it was of their poorer days that God had cause to remember “the kindness of their youth and the love of their espousals.” Then they were earnest in their devotions, full of interest in Christian work, eager to grow in grace and in all the qualities of a Christlike character. But as they grew in wealth, and rose in 161 the world, a change came o’er the spirit of their dream. They must have fine houses and equipages, and give grand entertainments, and cultivate the acquaintance of this great family and that, and get a recognized position among their fellows. Gradually their life comes to be swayed by considerations they never would have thought of in early days. Gradually the strict rules by which they used to live are relaxed, and an easier and more accommodating attitude towards the world is taken up. And as surely the glow of their spiritual feelings cools down; the charm of their spiritual enjoyments goes off; the blessed hope, even the glorious appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, fades away; and one scheme after another of worldly advancement and enjoyment occupies their minds. What glamour has passed over their souls to obliterate the surpassing glory of Jesus Christ, the image of the invisible God? What evil spell has robbed the Cross of its holy influence, and made them so indifferent to the Son of God, who loved them and gave Himself for them? Is the gate of heaven changed, that they no longer care to linger at it, as in better times they used so fondly to do? No. But they have left their first love; they have gone away after idols; they have been caught in the snares of the god of this world. In so far, they have rejected their God that saved them out of all their adversities and tribulations; and if they go on to do so after solemn warning, their guilt will be like the guilt of Israel, and the day must come when “their own wickedness shall correct them, and their backslidings shall reprove them.”
But let us come back to the election. The first lot was cast between the twelve tribes, and it fell on Benjamin. The next lot was cast between the families 162 of Benjamin, and it fell on the family of Matri; and when they came to closer quarters, as it were, the lot fell on Saul, the son of Kish. Again we see how the most casual events are all under government, and conspire to accomplish the purpose of Him who worketh all things after the counsel of His own will. “The lot is cast into the lap; but the whole disposing thereof is of the Lord.”
No doubt Saul had anticipated this consummation. He had had too many supernatural evidences to the same effect to have any lingering doubt what would be the result of the lot. But it was too much for him. He hid himself, and could not be found. And we do not think the worse of him for this, but rather the better. It is one of the many favourable traits that we find at the outset of his kingly career. However pleasant it might be to ruminate on the privileges and honours of royalty, it was a serious thing to undertake the leadership of a great nation. In this respect, Saul shared the feeling that constrained Moses to shrink back when he was appointed to deliver Israel from Egypt, and that constrained Jeremiah to remonstrate when he was appointed a prophet unto the nations. Many of the best ministers of Christ have had this feeling when they were called to the Christian ministry. Gregory Nazianzen actually fled to the wilderness after his ordination, and Ambrose, Bishop of Milan, in the civil office which he held, tried to turn the people from their choice even by acts of cruelty and severity, after they had called on him to become their bishop.
But, besides the natural shrinking of Saul from so responsible an office, we may believe that he was not unmoved by the solemn representation of Samuel that in their determination to have a human king the people 163 had been guilty of rejecting God. This may have been the first time that that view of the matter seriously impressed itself on his mind. Even though it was accompanied by the qualification that God in a sense sanctioned the new arrangement, and though the use of the lot would indicate God’s choice, Saul might well have been staggered by the thought that in electing a king the people had rejected God. Even though his mind was not a spiritual mind, there was something frightful in the very idea of a man stepping, so to speak, into God’s place. No wonder then though he hid himself! Perhaps he thought that when he could not be found the choice would fall on some one else. But no. An appeal was again made to God, and God directly indicated Saul, and indicated his place of concealment. The stuff or baggage among which Saul was hid was the collection of packages which the people would naturally bring with them, and which it was the custom to pile up, often as a rampart or defence, while the assembly lasted. We can fancy the scene when, the pile of baggage being indicated as the hiding-place, the people rushed to search among it, knocking the contents asunder very unceremoniously, until Saul was at length discovered. From his inglorious place of retreat the king was now brought out, looking no doubt awkward and foolish, yet with that commanding figure which seemed so suitable for his new dignity. And his first encouragement was the shout of the people—“God save the king!” How strange and quick the transition! A minute ago he was safe in his hiding-place, wondering whether some one else might not get the office. Now the shouts of the people indicate that all is settled. King of Israel he is henceforward to be.
Three incidents are recorded towards the end of the 164 chapter as throwing light on the great event of the day. In the first place, “Samuel told the people the manner of the kingdom, and wrote it in a book, and laid it up before the Lord.” This was another means taken by the faithful prophet to secure that this new step should if possible be for good, and not for evil. It was a new protest against assimilating the kingdom of Israel to the other kingdoms around. No! although Jehovah was no longer King in the sense in which He had been, His covenant and His law were still binding, and must be observed in Israel to their remotest generation. No change could repeal the law of the ten words given amid the thunders of Sinai. No change could annul the promise to Abraham, “In thee and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.” No change could reverse that mode of approach to a holy God which had been ordained for the sinner—through the shedding of atoning blood. The destiny of Israel was not changed, as the medium of God’s communications to the world on the most vital of all subjects in which sinners could be interested. And king though he was, Saul would find that there was no way of securing the true prosperity of his kingdom but by ruling it in the fear of God, and with the highest regard to His will and pleasure; while nothing was so sure to drive it to ruin, as to depart from the Divine prescription, and plunge into the ways that were common among the heathen.
The next circumstance mentioned in the history is, that when the people dispersed, and when Saul returned to his home at Gibeah, “there went with him a band of men, whose hearts God had touched.” They were induced to form a bodyguard for the new king, and they did so under no physical constraint from him or 165 any one else, but because they were moved to do it from sympathy, from the desire to help him and be of service to him in the new position to which he had been raised. Here was a remarkable encouragement. A friend in need is a friend indeed. Could there have been any time when Saul was more in need of friends? How happy a thing it was that he did not need to go and search for them; they came to him with their willing service. And what a happy start it was for him in his new office that these helpers were at hand to serve him! A band of willing helpers around one takes off more than half the difficulty of a difficult enterprise. Men that enter into one’s plans, that sympathize with one’s aims, that are ready to share one’s burdens, that anticipate one’s wishes, are of priceless value in any business. But they are of especial value in the Church of Christ. One of the first things our Lord did after entering on His public ministry was to call to Himself the twelve, who were to be His staff, His ready helpers wherever they were able to give help. Is it not the joy of the Christian minister, as he takes up his charge, if there go with him a band of men whose hearts God has touched? How lonely and how hard is the ministry if there be no such men to help! How different when efficient volunteers are there, in readiness for the Sunday-school, and the Band of hope, and the missionary society, and the congregational choir, and for visiting the sick, and every other service of Christian love! Congregations ought to feel that it cannot be right to leave all the work to their minister. What kind of battle would it be if all the fighting were left to the officer in command? Let the members of congregations ever bear in mind that it is their duty and their privilege to help in the work. If we wish to see the 166 picture of a prosperous Apostolic Church, let us study the last chapter of the Epistle to the Romans. The glory of the primitive Church of Rome was that it abounded in men and women whose hearts God had touched, and who “laboured much in the Lord.”
Do any of us shrink from such work? Are any willing to pray for God’s work, but unwilling to take part in it personally? Such a state of mind cannot but suggest the question, Has the Lord touched your hearts? The expression is a very significant one. It implies that one touch of God’s hand, one breathing of His Spirit, can effect such a change that what was formerly ungenial becomes agreeable; a vital principle is imparted to the heart. Life can come only from the fountain of life. Hearts can be quickened only by the living Spirit of God. In vain shall we try to serve Him until our hearts are touched by His Spirit. Would that that Spirit were poured forth so abundantly that “one should say, I am the Lord’s, and another should call himself by the name of Jacob, and another should subscribe with his hand to the Lord, and surname himself with the name of Israel”!
The last thing to be noticed is the difference of feeling toward Saul among the people. While he was received cordially by most, there was a section that despised him, that scorned the idea of his delivering the nation, and, in token of their contempt, brought him no presents. They are called the children of Belial. It was not that they regarded his election as an invasion of the ancient constitution of the country, as an interference with the sovereign rights of Jehovah, but that, in their pride, they refused to submit to him; they would not have him for their king. The tokens 167 of Divine authority—the sanction of Samuel, the use of the lot, and the other proofs that what was done at Mizpeh had been ratified in heaven—made no impression upon them. We are told of Saul that he held his peace; he would rather refute them by deeds than by words; he would let it be seen, when the opportunity offered, whether he could render any service to the nation or not. But does not this ominous fact, recorded at the very threshold of Saul’s reign, at the very time when it became so apparent that he was the Lord’s anointed, suggest to our minds a corresponding fact, in reference to One who is the Lord’s Anointed in a higher sense? Is there not in many a disposition to say even of the Lord Jesus Christ, “How shall this man save us”? Do not many rob the Lord Jesus Christ of His saving power, reducing Him to the level of a mere teacher, denying that He shed His blood to take away sin? And are there not others who refuse their homage to the Lord from sheer self-dependence and pride? They have never been convinced of their sins, never shared the publican’s feeling, but rather been disposed to boast, like the Pharisee, that they were not like other men. And is not Christ still to many as a root out of a dry ground, without form or comeliness wherefore they should desire Him? Oh for the spirit of wisdom and illumination in the knowledge of Him! Oh that, the eyes of our understandings being enlightened, we might all see Jesus fairer than the children of men, the chief among ten thousand, yea altogether lovely; and that, instead of our manifesting any unwillingness to acknowledge Him and follow Him, the language of our hearts might be, “Whom have we in heaven but Thee? and there is none on the earth that we desire besides 168 Thee.” “Entreat us not to leave Thee, nor to return from following after Thee; for where Thou goest we will go, and where Thou lodgest we will lodge; Thy people shall be our people,” and Thou Thyself our Lord and our God.
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