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171

CHAPTER XI.

I SAMUEL.

THE REIGN OF SAUL.

THAT KINGDOM WHICH IS AFTER THE COMMANDMENTS AND TRADITIONS OF MEN.

Keynote: Mark vii. 9.

THE six books of Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles may all be considered as only different chapters of one book, for they all give us the story of Israel during the period of its being a kingdom. They are, I think, typical of that "kingdom of heaven" which exists now upon the earth, outwardly in the Church in all its branches, and inwardly in the heart of every child of God.

The keynote to these books is to be found in the New Testament passages concerning the "kingdom of God" or the "kingdom of Heaven;" which occur over one hundred times there. And the title I would suggest would be, "The kingdom of God both inward and outward." In these books we have given to us, as it seems to me, types or pictures of different forms under which His kingdom is set up in the Church outwardly, and inwardly 172 in the hearts of believers. We are shown here the sorts of rule which are acceptable to Him, and those which displease Him. We are shown the privileges and glory of the kingdom, when rightly governed by the Prince of Peace, and the dangers and disgrace that result from a divided rule.

There are four of these pictures. The first gives us the kingdom under Saul, with the causes that led to it; the second the kingdom under David; the third the kingdom under Solomon; and the fourth the failure and division of the kingdom, and its gradual declension down to the Babylonish captivity.

The story of Saul is to be found in the first book of Samuel, and the character of rule which he seems to represent, is that rule which is according to the commandments and traditions of men. The Divine comment on his character was simply this, "He inquired not of the Lord: therefore He slew him, and turned the kingdom unto David the son of Jesse," 1 Chron. x. 14. During all his reign the Ark of God, which was the only Divine dwelling-place in all the land of Israel, remained in obscurity at Kirjath-jearim, and David declares in 1 Chron. xiii. 3 that they "inquired not at it in the days of Saul." Saul preferred his own thoughts and his own ways, to the thoughts and ways of the Lord; and therefore we read in 1 Chron. x. 13: "So Saul died for his transgression which he committed against the Lord, even against the word of the Lord, which he kept not, and also for asking counsel of one that had a familiar spirit, 173 to inquire of it." In all this he was a striking type of that rule which obtains in so many Christian churches and Christian lives, where man, rather than God, is consulted and obeyed.

The causes which led Israel to desire a king are given to us in the first eight chapters of 1 Samuel. The first cause was the failure of the priests; see ii. 22-36. I have stated previously that the priests seem to me to be a type of a soul in communion; and the failure of the priesthood, therefore, would represent the failure of the soul's communion with the Lord. The result of this failure was the loss of the Ark of God, which was taken by the Philistines and carried away to their own country, and set up in the house of their god Dagon, iv. 17, v. 1, 2. The Ark was the Lord's dwelling-place in the midst of His people, where He continually manifested His presence and revealed His will. "For there," He had said in Ex. xxv. 22, "I will meet with thee, and I will commune with thee from above the mercy-seat, between the two cherubim which are upon the ark of the testimony, of all things which I will give thee in commandment unto the children of Israel." Nowhere else in Israel was this communion possible; and when the Ark was gone from their midst, Israel was shut out from their Lord. The loss of the Ark therefore was a striking type of the soul's loss of communion.

The conscious indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and His blessed teaching and guiding are no longer realized by the soul that, through unfaithfulness, has suffered this 174 saddest of all losses; and Ichabod, or "there is no glory," is the grievous realization of such now, as truly as it was of Israel then, as we read in chap. iv. 22: "And she said, The glory is departed from Israel; for the Ark of God is taken."

The priesthood having failed, and the Ark being thus carried captive, the Lord raised up a prophet to supply their place. "And the word of the Lord was precious in those days; there was no open vision." "And all Israel, from Dan to Beersheba, knew that Samuel was established to be a prophet of the Lord. And the Lord appeared again in Shiloh: for the Lord revealed Himself to Samuel in Shiloh, by the word of the Lord," 1 Sam. iii. 1, 20, 21.

For a while this was partially effectual. The Ark was restored, not indeed to its rightful place in Shiloh, but to Kirjath-jearim, a place within the borders of Israel, 1 Sam. vi.,vii.; and the Philistines, who had oppressed the Israelites, were subdued, and "came no more into the coast of Israel; and the hand of the Lord was against the Philistines all the days of Samuel. And the cities which the Philistines had taken from Israel were restored to Israel, from Ekron even unto Gath; and the coasts thereof did Israel deliver out of the hands of the Philistines. And there was peace between Israel and the Amorites," 1 Sam. vii. 13, 14. But in Samuel's old age the prophets also failed, for we read that "His sons walked not in his ways, but turned aside after lucre and perverted judgment." And this was the second cause 175 of Israel's desire for a king. Immediately they gathered themselves to Samuel and said, "Behold, thou art old, and thy sons walk not in thy ways: now make us a king to judge us like all the nations," viii. 5.

When communion fails, teaching comes in to supply its place. Doctrines are looked to as the remedy for spiritual coldness and wandering; and lost or forgotten truths are revived. The effect at first seems blessed, communion seems partially restored, and the soul's enemies are for a time subdued. But this communion is only after all on the surface or borders of our natures, for truth alone, without the Spirit, can not reach the central home of the soul; and sooner or later, therefore, teaching also fails.

I remember a time in my own experience when just this thing happened to me. It was before I knew the secret of the life hid with Christ in God, and when my soul was crying out continually, "Oh my leanness, my leanness!" I found, experimentally, that the learning of new truth helped me for a time into greater warmth and earnestness of Christian life, and I sought eagerly for every opportunity of being taught. But continually I was disappointed by finding that, in a little while, the freshness of the new discovery in truth would wear off, and with its freshness, its power would seem to go, and my soul would be left drier than ever; and yet the only remedy of which I then knew, was to go on learning more new truth, hoping that at last I should discover something whose effects would be permanent, and from which 176 there would be no reaction. But this can never be. It takes an experience far deeper than the learning of new truth alone to keep the soul alive; and the result of repeated disappointments, unless a more vital experience is known, is to drive the soul into seeking by some outward rule to supply the empty place from which the Lord is lost. The "commandments and traditions of men" take the place of the "commandment of God;" and the soul endeavors by the "law of a carnal commandment" to remedy the state, into which it has been brought by the loss of inward communion, and by the consequent lack of spiritual power to restore, in even the clearest teaching of truth.

This desire of Israel for a king was displeasing to the Lord, because it was a token that they had rejected Him, that He "should not reign over them." And He warned them faithfully of the results that would certainly follow any rule but his own: "This will be the manner of the king that shall reign over you: he will take your sons, and appoint them for himself, for his chariots, and to be his horsemen; and some shall run before his chariots. And he will appoint him captains over thousands, and captains over fifties; and will set them to ear his ground, and to reap his harvest, and to make his instruments of war, and instruments of his chariots. And he will take your daughters to be confectionaries, and to be cooks, and to be bakers. And he will take your fields, and your vineyards, and your olive-yards, even the best of them, and give them to his servants. 177 And he will take the tenth of your seed, and of your vineyards, and give to his officers, and to his servants. And he will take your men-servants, and your maid-servants, and your goodliest young men, and your asses, and put them to his work. He will take the tenth of your sheep: and ye shall be his servants," 1 Sam. viii . 11-17; see also xii. 17-19.

This whole passage seems to me a striking picture of that which happens to every soul that yields itself up to be governed by the "commandments and traditions of men." The best of its strength is taken in this service, and all its powers are in bondage to its control. Time, and talents, and money, and influence are all used to establish and support some system of doctrine, or some form of worship, and the "goodliest" of our powers are put to their work. And all the while the Lord is saying to such a soul, as He did to the Pharisees of old, "In vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men," Matt. xv. 2-9.

The Israelites were not influenced by Samuel's warning, for we read: "Nevertheless, the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel; and they said, Nay; but we will have a king over us; that we also may be like all the nations; and that our king may judge us, and go out before us, and fight our battles," 1 Sam. viii. 19, 20.

"Like all the nations;" these words contain the secret of the power of the "commandments and traditions of men." The soul shrinks from the thought of a walk alone with an unseen God, guided only by His 178 Spirit, and prefers to follow in the footsteps of the forefathers, and to walk "according to the tradition of the elders." And I would that, just here, the solemn question should come home to each one of us, as to whether in our own experience there is anything similar to this failure of the children of Israel. Are there any of my readers who are seeking, by an outward rule of the commandments and traditions of men, to remedy a state into which they have been brought by the loss of their inward communion, and the failure of outward teaching to supply its place? Are there any whose first and ruling thought is not, What has the Lord commanded? but, What does my church say? or, What do my friends believe? or, What has been the custom of my forefathers? For if this is a faithful description of any, the Lord's rebuke to such is like His rebuke to Israel, "Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition," Mark. vii. 9.

The Lord's warning having failed, He consents that they shall have a king according to their request, but His comment upon it all is to be found in Hos. xiii. 10, 11, "Thou saidst, Give me a king and princes. I gave thee a king in mine anger, and took him away in my wrath;" see xii. 16-22. As it was in the wilderness, so it was now, "He gave them their request, but sent leanness into their souls," Ps. cvi. 15.

The first king, Saul, was chosen because of his strength. To the eye of flesh he looked like a king upon whom they could lean with confidence; "from his 179 shoulders and upwards he was higher than any of the people," x. 2. But he had one sad weakness, which yet however looked like strength. He depended upon his own resources and his own understanding, rather than upon a present though unseen God. "When Saul saw any strong man, or any valiant man, lie took him unto him," xiv. 52. And he "gathered an host" whenever he went out to battle. Moreover, he "inquired not of the Lord" concerning his course of action, nor did he even obey the Lord's voice when it had been made known to him. When the coming of the prophet was delayed, for whom he had been commanded to wait, he "forced himself” and offered sacrifices, which he had no right to offer, from motives of expediency, lest, as he said, "the Philistines should come down upon me to Gilgal, and I have not made supplication unto the Lord," xiii. 8-12. His own apprehensions of what was expedient were always his guide. The command of the Lord concerning the Amalekites was, "Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass," xv. 1-3. Nothing could have been plainer. But it seemed best to Saul that some of them should be spared, and we read in verse 9, "But Saul and the people spared Agag, and the best of the sheep, and of the oxen, and of the fatlings, and the lambs, and all that was good, and would not utterly destroy them: but everything that was vile and refuse, that they destroyed utterly." It also 180 seemed best to him to destroy the Gibeonites, although Israel had given them a pledge for their preservation, for "the children of Israel had sworn unto them, and Saul sought to slay them in his zeal." Comp. Joshua ix. and 2 Sam. xxi. 1-14. His "zeal" seemed ever to lead him in opposition to the will of the Lord, as we too often see among Christians now, who, from motives of expediency, spare what the Lord has condemned to destruction, or destroy what He would keep alive. Or they outrun their Guide, as Saul did at Gilgal; and often from the same motive, because they "fear the people and obey their voice" rather than the voice of the Lord, xv. 3-22. And yet, though Saul could so disregard the commandments of the Lord, whenever it seemed best for him to do so, he was very rigorous in insisting upon obedience to his own commands. As we see in chap. xiv., when he "troubled the land" by an unreasonable requirement that they should not taste food on the day when they were pursuing their enemies; and thus caused them to sin in eating meat with the blood, at the day's end, when "very faint with hunger." Moreover, he was ready to kill Jonathan, his son, for having in utter ignorance disobeyed his unreasonable command, xiv. 24, 45.

Such was Saul, the king after man's own heart, whom Israel had put in God's place. And he stands, I believe, as a type of all rule which is purely vicarial; that is, a rule which does not act for the Lord, but instead of Him. Such a rule involves the idea of an absent and forgetful Lord.

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Andrew Jukes, in his book called the "Mystery of the Kingdom," says concerning this: "Of such rule we have the most perfect expression in the Church of Rome.  . . . But in principle it exists wherever ministerial rule of any kind is claimed or recognized as vicarial.  . . . Such rule may be known by its acts and fruits, not by its words. Like Saul, standing in the strength of gift, rather than in the strength of God the Giver, it will ever choose seen things and strong things to serve Israel. It can see and own God's gifts; it cannot own Himself.  . . . Zealous for gift, it denies grace; it denies God, that which He most asks for, a place among men, as Himself, beyond and above all His gifts, their one sufficient portion. And vicarial rule, as it puts God out of, so it puts man into His place. Under it the Church, as Israel in Saul's case, is brought into bondage. Indeed, it has become a proverb that spiritual dominion, or what is commonly recognized as such, is generally a spirit of domination; that it has a disposition to enslave, and imposes a heavy yoke, not only on men's bodies, but on their minds. The Church of Rome, in which the fullest manifestation of vicarial rule has as yet been seen, is proof enough of this. Like Saul, it makes rules far beyond the word of God; and then, as Saul, judges those like Jonathan, whose faith leads them, beyond or without rule, to deliver Israel.  . . . One word more respecting vicarial rule. Saul did not assume his place. It was given him according to Israel's wish. So has it been with Antichristian rule in the place of Christ. 182 Ministers do not seize this place; it is ever yielded them by the people. Pastors have not so much arrogated it, as the flock have sought it. It is but the old story over again of Moses in the mount. The mediator is out of sight, in God's presence for Israel. Then the cry is, 'Give us gods to go before us.' Out of communion, man wants and will have something seen and tangible, to put in the place of an unseen and distrusted God."

The result of all this in Saul's case was, that God's sentence was pronounced against him, first in chap. xiii. 13, 14. "But now thy kingdom shall not continue: the Lord hath sought a man after His own heart, and the Lord hath commanded him to be captain over His people, because thou hast not kept that which the Lord commanded thee," 1 Sam. xiii. 14. And again, in chap. xv. 21, 23, 28, "And Samuel said, Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt-offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better then sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because thou hast rejected the word of the Lord, He hath also rejected thee from being king." "The Lord hath rent the kingdom of Israel from thee this day, and hath given it to a neighbor of thine who is better than thou."

And similarly will the Lord deal with the Church, or the individual soul now, when the rule to which they have submitted themselves leads them contrary to His will. The government must be rent from all such, and 183 be laid upon the shoulders of the true David, who is indeed a king "after God's own heart." And that rule, which is after the commandments and traditions of men must, sooner or later, by an immediate surrender, or by slow degrees, and through many conflicts, pass out of our lives, or Christ alone can never reign the victorious Lord of all.


Texts illustrating the kingdom of man's traditions:--  Matt. xv. 1-9Mark vii. 1-13Col. ii. 20-23Is. xxix. 13Gal. i. 13, 14Acts xxii. 3, 4Acts xv. 1-29Gal. ii. 11-16Matt. xxiii. 2-4Luke xi. 46Acts v. 28, 29Acts iv. 18, 19Phil. iii. 4-9.

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