SAUL'S PROBATION AND FAILURE (CHS. 13-15.).
WAR AGAINST THE PHILISTINES (verse 1-14:46).
1 Samuel 13:1
Saul's age and length of reign. Saul reigned one year. This verse literally translated is, "Saul was one year old when he began to reign, and he reigned two years over Israel." In its form it exactly follows the usual statement prefixed to each king's reign, of his age at his accession, and the years of his kingdom (2 Samuel 2:10; 2 Samuel 5:4; 1 Kings 14:21; 1 Kings 22:42, etc.). The rendering of the A.V. is too forced and untenable to be worth discussing. As we have seen before, the numerals in the Books of Samuel are not trustworthy; but the difficulty here is an old one. The Vulgate translates the Hebrew literally, as we have given it; the Septuagint omits the verse, and the Syriac paraphrases as boldly as the A.V.: "When Saul had reigned one or two years." The Chaldee renders, "Saul was as innocent as a one-year-old child when he began to reign." In the Hexaplar version some anonymous writer has inserted the word thirty, rashly enough; for as Jonathan was old enough to have an important command (1 Samuel 13:2), and was capable of the acts of a strong man (1 Samuel 14:14), his father's age must have been at least thirty-five, and perhaps was even more. As regards the length of Saul's reign, St. Paul makes it forty years (Acts 13:21), exactly the same as that of David (1 Kings 2:11) and of Solomon (1 Kings 11:42); and Josephus testifies that such was the traditional belief of the Jews ('Antiq.,' 1 Samuel 6:14, 1 Samuel 6:9). On the other hand, it is remarkable that the word here for years is that used where the whole number is less than ten. The events, however, recorded in the rest of the book seem to require a longer period than ten years for the duration of Saul's reign; thirty-two would be a more probable number, and, added to the seven and a half years' reign of Ishbosheth (see 2 Samuel 5:5), they would make up the whole sum of forty years ascribed by St. Paul to Saul's dynasty. It is quite possible, however, that these forty years may even include the fifteen or sixteen years of Samuel's judgeship. But the two facts, that all the three sons of Saul mentioned in 1 Samuel 14:49 were old enough to go with him to the battle of Mount Gilboa, where they were slain; and that Ishbosheth, his successor, was forty years of age when his father died, effectually dispose of the idea that Saul's was a very short reign.
OCCASION OF THE FIRST WAR AGAINST THE PHILISTINES (1 Samuel 14:2-7).
1 Samuel 13:2
Saul chose him. Literally, "And Saul chose him," the usual way of commencing the narrative of a king's reign. He probably selected these 3000 men at the end of the war with the Ammonites, to strengthen the small bodyguard which he had gathered round him at Gibeah (1 Samuel 10:26). As being always in arms, they would become highly disciplined, and form the nucleus and centre of all future military operations (see on 1 Samuel 14:52). He stationed these on either side of the defile in the mountain range of Bethel, so exactly described in Isaiah 10:28, Isaiah 10:29, where Sennacherib, as we read, leaves his carriage, i.e. his baggage, at Michmash, and after defiling through the pass, arrives at Geba. Gibeah, where Jonathan was posted with 1000 of these picked warriors, was Saul's home, and his son would have the benefit there of the aid of Kish and Abner, while Michmash was the more exposed place, situate about seven miles northeast of Jerusalem. Conder ('Tent Work,' 2:110) describes this defile as "a narrow gorge with vertical precipices some 800 feet high—a great crack or fissure in the country, which is peculiar in this respect, that you only become aware of its existence when close to the brink; for on the north the narrow spur of hills hides it, and on the south a flat plateau extends to the top of the crags. On the south side of this great chasm stands Geba of Benjamin, on a rocky knoll, with caverns beneath the houses, and arable land to the east; and on the opposite side, considerably lower than Geba, is the little village of Michmash, on a sort of saddle, backed by an open and fertile corn valley. This valley was famous for producing excellent barley. Every man to his tent. This with us would be a warlike phrase; but as the mass of the Israelites then dwelt in tents, it means simply their dispersion homewards; and so the Syriac translates, "He dismissed them each to his house" (see Psalms 69:25).
1 Samuel 13:3
In Geba. By this garrison the Philistines commanded the further end of the defile, and they had also another outpost beyond it near Gibeah itself (1 Samuel 10:5). Probably neither of these garrisons was very strong, and Saul may have intended that Jonathan should attack them while he held the northern end of the pass, which would be the first place assailed by the Philistines in force. As regards the word translated garrison, attempts have been made to render it pillar, and to represent it as a token of Philistine supremacy which Jonathan threw down, while others, with the Septuagint, take it as a proper name; but the word smote is strongly in favour of the rendering of the A.V. Let the Hebrews hear. Saul must have intended war when he thus posted himself and Jonathan in such commanding spots, and probably all this had been sketched out by Samuel (see on 1 Samuel 10:8). He now summons all Israel to the war. It is strange that he should call the people "Hebrews," the Philistine title of contempt; but it is used again in verse 7, and of course in verse 19. The Septuagint reads, "Let the slaves revolt," but though followed by Josephus, the change of text is not probable.
1 Samuel 13:4
That Saul had smitten. Though the achievement was actually Jonathan's, yet it belonged to Saul as the commander-in-chief, and probably had been done under his instructions. Israel was had in abomination with the Philistines. They must have viewed with grave displeasure Israel's gathering together to choose a king, and Saul's subsequent defeat of the Ammonites, and retention with him of a large body of men, and so probably they had been for some time making preparations for war. Saul, therefore, knowing that they were collecting their forces, does the same, and the people were called together after Saul. Literally, "were cried after him," i.e. were summoned by proclamation. For Gilgal see 1 Samuel 7:16; 1 Samuel 11:14. This place had been selected because, as the valley opens there into the plain of Jordan it was a fit spot for the assembling of a large host. For its identification see Conder, 'Tent Work,' 1 Samuel 2:7-12.
1 Samuel 13:5
Long before Saul could gather Israel the Philistines had completed their preparations, and invaded the country in overwhelming numbers; but thirty thousand chariots compared with six thousand horsemen is out of all proportion. Possibly the final l in Israel has been taken by some copyists for a numeral, and as it signifies thirty, it his changed 1000 into 30,000. Or, simpler still, shin, the numeral for 300, has been read with two dots, and so changed into 30,000. They came up, and pitched in Michmash. Saul had withdrawn eastward to Gilgal, and the Philistines had thus placed themselves between him and Jonathan. There is a difficulty, however, in the words eastward from Beth-aven; for as this, again, was east of Bethel, it puts the Philistines' camp too much to the east. As it is not, however, the regular phrase for eastward, some commentators render, "in front of Beth-avon." "It means 'the house of naught,' and was the name originally given to the desert east of Bethel, because of its barren character" (Conder, 'Tent Work,' 2:108). The Philistines, however, had come in such numbers that their camp must have occupied a large extent of ground.
1 Samuel 13:6
The people were distressed. Literally, were squeezed, pressed together, were in difficulties. The Philistines had so promptly answered Saul's challenge, that the Israelites, forgetting their victory over Nahash, whose men, however, had probably very inferior arms to those worn by the Philistines, lost courage; and even the picked band of 2000 men dwindled to 600. As for the mass of the people, they acted with the most abject cowardice, hiding themselves in caves, of which there are very many in the limestone ranges of Palestine. David subsequently found safety in them when hunted by Saul. Also in thickets. The word as spelt here occurs nowhere else, nor do the versions agree as to its meaning. Most probably it signifies clefts, rifts or fissures in the rocks. The next word, rocks, certainly means precipitous cliffs; and thickets or thorn bushes would scarcely be placed between caverns and cliffs, both of which belong to mountains. In high places. This word occurs elsewhere only in 9:46, 9:49, where it is rendered hold. But this meaning is not supported by the ancient versions, and it more probably signifies a vault or crypt, which better suits the hiding place next mentioned, pits, i.e. tanks, artificial reservoirs for water, with which most districts were well supplied in Palestine, even before its conquest by Israel. They were absolutely necessary, as the rains fall only at stated periods, and the chalky soil will not hold water; when dry they would form fit places for concealment.
1 Samuel 13:7
Some of the Hebrews. A contemptuous name for Israel (see 1 Samuel 13:3). If the reading is correct, it must be used here of a cowardly portion of the people (as in 1 Samuel 14:21), for the insertion of some of in the A.V. is unjustifiable. But by a very slight change, simply lengthening the stalk of one letter, we get a very good sense: "And they went over the fords of the Jordan to the land of Gad and Gilead," i.e. to the mountainous district in which the Jordan rises.
SAUL'S RASH SACRIFICE (1 Samuel 13:8-14).
1 Samuel 13:8
Seven days, according, to the set time. See on 1 Samuel 10:8. The lapse of time between Samuel's appointment of the seven days during which Saul was to wait for him to inaugurate the war of independence, and the present occasion, was probably not so great as many commentators suppose; for 1 Samuel 13:1 is, as we have seen, wrongly translated, and everything else leads to the conclusion that the defeat of the Ammonites, the choice of the 3000, and Jonathan's attack on the garrison at Geba followed rapidly upon one another. As the Philistines would rightly regard Israel's choice of a king as an act of rebellion, we cannot suppose them to have been so supine and negligent as not at once to have prepared for war. Had appointed. The Hebrew word for this has been omitted by some accident. It is given in the Septuagint and Chaldee and some MSS. The whole importance of the occurence arose out of its having been appointed by Samuel on his selection of Saul as king.
1 Samuel 13:9
A burnt offering, etc. The Hebrew has the definite article, the burnt offering and the peace offerings, which were there ready for Samuel to offer. He offered. Not with his own hand, but by the hand of the attendant priest, Ahiah, who was, we know, with him. Possibly, nevertheless, the Levitical law was not at this period strictly observed.
1 Samuel 13:10
That he might salute him. Literally, "bless him," but the word is often used of a solemn salutation (2 Kings 4:29). It is evident that Samuel came on the seventh day, and that Saul in his impetuosity could not stay the whole day out.
1 Samuel 13:11
What hast thou done? The question implies rebuke, which Saul answers by pleading his danger. Each day's delay made his small force dwindle rapidly away, and the Philistines might at any hour move down from Michmash upon him at Gilgal and destroy him. But it was the reality of the danger which put his faith and obedience to the trial.
1 Samuel 13:12
I have not made supplication unto Jehovah. Literally, "I have not stroked the face of Jehovah," but used of making him propitious by prayer (Exodus 32:11; Jeremiah 26:19). I forced myself. Saul pleads in his justification the imminence of the danger, and perhaps there are few who have faith enough to "stand still and see the salvation of Jehovah" (Exodus 14:13).
1 Samuel 13:13
Thou hast done foolishly. Saul had not only received an express command to wait seven days, but it had been given him under special circumstances, and confirmed by the fulfilment of the appointed signs. He knew, moreover, how much depended upon his waiting, and that obedience to the prophet's command was an essential condition of his appointment. Nevertheless, in his impatience and distrust of Jehovah, he cannot bide the set time; not really because of any wish to propitiate God, but because of the effect to be produced upon the mind of the people. It was tedious to remain inactive; his position in the plains was. untenable; at any moment his retreat to the mountains might be cut off; and so he prefers the part of a prudent general to that of an obedient and trustful servant of God. And we may notice that there is no confession of wrong on his part. His mind rather seems entirely occupied with his duty as a king, without having regard to the higher King, whom it ought to have been his first duty to obey.
1 Samuel 13:14
Jehovah hath sought him a man after his own heart. The language of prophecy constantly describes that as already done which is but just determined upon. As David was but twenty-three years of age at Saul's death, he must now have been a mere child, even if he was born, (see 1 Samuel 13:1). But the Divine choice of Saul, which upon his obedience would that day have been confirmed, was now annulled, and the succession transferred elsewhere. Years might elapse before the first earthly step was taken to appoint his successor (1 Samuel 16:13); nay, had Saul repented, we gather from 1 Samuel 15:26 that he might have been forgiven: for God's threatenings, like his promises, are conditional. There is no fatalism in the Bible, but a loving discipline for man's recovery. But behind it stands the Divine foreknowledge and omnipotence; and so to the prophetic view Saul's refusal to repent, his repeated disobedience, and the succession of David were all revealed as accomplished facts.
CONTINUANCE OF THE WAR (1 Samuel 15:15-18).
1 Samuel 13:15
Samuel … gat him up from Gilgal to Gibeah of Benjamin. Samuel would pass by Gibeah on his way to his own home at Ramah; but he seems to have tarried there to encourage the people; and probably he carried instructions from Saul to Jonathan to unite his forces with him, as we next find the father and son there in company. Even if this be not so, yet friendly relations must have continued between Saul and Samuel, as the latter would otherwise certainly not have chosen Saul's home for his halting place; nor would he go thither without seeing Jonathan, and giving him aid and counsel. Saul numbered. See on 1 Samuel 11:8. After summoning the whole nation there did not remain with him even as many as a third of his selected band.
1 Samuel 13:16
In Gibeah of Benjamin. This is an arbitrary change of the A.V. for Geba, which is the word in the Hebrew text. Our translators no doubt considered that as Gibeah of Benjamin occurs in the previous verse, this must be the same place. But our greater knowledge of the geography of the Holy Land enables us to say that Geba is right; for, as we have seen, it was at one end of the defile, at the other end of which was Michmash; and here alone could the small army of Saul have any chance of defending itself against the vast host of the Philistines. However much we may blame Saul's disobedience, he was a skilful soldier and a brave man, and his going with his little band to the end of the pass to make a last desperate stand was an act worthy of a king.
1 Samuel 13:17, 1 Samuel 13:18
The spoilers. The conduct of the Philistines is that of men over confident in their strength. They ought to have pounced at once upon Saul in the plain of Jordan, where their cavalry would have secured for them the victory, and then, following Samuel's and Saul's route, have seized the other end of the defile, and overpowered Jonathan. But they despised them both, and regarding the country as conquered, proceed to punish it, as probably they had cone on previous occasions, when no one had dared to make resistance. Leaving then the main army to guard the camp at Michmash, they sent out light armed troops to plunder the whole land. One company turned unto the way … to Ophrah, unto the land of Shual. This company went northward, towards Ophrah, a place five miles east of Bethel. The land of Shual, i.e. fox land, was probably the same as the land of Shalim in 1 Samuel 9:4. Another company, etc. This went eastward, towards Beth-heron, for which see Joshua 10:11. The third went to the south east, towards the wilderness of Judaea. Zeboim, and all the places mentioned, are in the tribe of Benjamin, which had committed the offence of making for itself a king. To the south Saul held the mountain fastnesses towards Jerusalem.
DESCRIPTION OF ISRAEL'S EXTREME STATE OF OPPRESSION (Joshua 10:19-23).
1 Samuel 13:19
There was no smith. This accounts for the contemptuous disregard of Saul by the Philistines. The people were disarmed, and resistance impossible. Apparently this policy had been long followed; but we need fuller information of what had happened between Samuel's victory at Mizpah and Saul's appointment as king, to enable us to understand the evident weakness of Israel at this time. But probably this description applies fully only to the districts of Benjamin, near the Philistines, The people further away had arms with which they defeated the Ammonites, and Saul and his men would have secured all the weapons which the enemy then threw away. But evidently no manufacture of weapons was allowed, and no one as far as possible permitted either to wear or possess arms.
1 Samuel 13:20
The Israelites went down to the Philistines. I.e. to their land. This could only have applied to the districts near the Philistines, unless we suppose that they set up forges also at their garrisons. To sharpen. The verb chiefly refers to such work as required an anvil and hammer. As regards the implements, not only do the versions disagree in their renderings, but the Septuagint has a very curious different reading, to the effect that at harvest time the Israelites had to pay the Philistines three shekels for repairing and whetting their tools. The share is more probably a sickle. The coulter is certainly a ploughshare, as rendered in Isaiah 2:4; Joel 3:10. Of the ax there is no doubt; and the mattock is a heavy hoe for turning up the ground, as spades for that purpose are scarcely anywhere used, except in our own country.
1 Samuel 13:21
A file. Margin, a file with mouths. The word only occurs here, and is translated a file on the authority of Rashi. Almost all modern commentators agree that it means bluntness, and that this verse should be joined on to the preceding, and the two be translated, "But all the Israelites went down to the Philistines to sharpen his sickle, and his ploughshare, and his axe, and his mattock, whenever the edges of the mattocks, and the ploughshares, and the forks, and the axes were blunt, and also to set the goads." The Israelites were thus in a state of complete dependence upon the Philistines, even for carrying on their agriculture, and probably retained only the hill country, while their enemies were masters of the plains.
1 Samuel 13:22
There was neither sword, etc. Armed only with clubs and their farming implements, it is no wonder that the people were afraid of fighting the Philistines, who, as we gather from the description of Goliath's armour, were clad in mail; nor is it surprising that they despised and neglected Saul and his few men, whom probably they regarded as an unarmed mob of rustics. The Ammonites probably were far less efficiently armed than the Philistines, who, as commanding the sea coast, could import weapons from Greece.
1 Samuel 13:23
And the garrison, etc. When the Philistines heard that Saul with his six hundred men had joined the small force already at Geba with Jonathan, they sent a body of men to occupy an eminence higher up in the defile which lay between Geba and Michmash (see on 1 Samuel 13:2). The purpose of this was to keep the route open, that so, when they pleased, they might send a larger body of troops up the defile in order to attack Saul. It would also keep a watch upon his movements, though they could have had no expectation that he would venture to attack them. It was this garrison which Jonathan so bravely attacked, and by his success prepared the way for the utter defeat of the enemy.
1 Samuel 13:1-7
The great antagonism.
The facts are—
1. Saul, entering on the military organisation of his kingdom, forms a select force under the command of himself and Jonathan.
2. The defeat of the Philistine garrison by Jonathan is announced to all Israel.
3. This first success arouses the hostility of the Philistines, who threaten Israel with overwhelming numbers.
4. The effect of this display of force is to dishearten the followers of Saul who waited at Gilgah The presence of the Philistines within the borders of Israel was inconsistent with the privileges originally granted, and was a perpetual source of danger and annoyance. One of the ends contemplated in seeking a king was to clear the promised land of foes. The normal state of the people of God was only realised when the land was the exclusive home of the descendants of Abraham. The reformation, in slow yet steady progress, created the ambition and effort to cast out the enemy. Saul's movements, therefore, were a correct expression of national feeling, and in harmony with the high purpose of Israel's existence. In this attempt to subdue the great enemy of the kingdom we have an historic representation of the great conflict which is ever being waged between the spiritual kingdom and the evils which largely hold possession of the world; and in the varying experience of Israel we see shadows of truths that find expression in Christian times.
I. The EXISTENCE OF THE KINGDOM OF CHRIST INVOLVES A CONFLICT WITH A WATCHFUL, POWERFUL FOE FOR THE POSSESSION OF THE EARTH. The separate existence of Israel, combined with the promise made to Abraham (Genesis 15:7), and the spiritual purpose to be wrought out for the glory of God, rendered war with the Philistines at this time inevitable. The existence of Christ's kingdom in the actual separation to himself of those who form his Church, combined with his right to be King of every land and heart, and the prediction that he shall have the uttermost parts of the earth for his possession, involves ceaseless strife with men, spirits, customs, laws, principles, purposes, and all else, visible and invisible, that is incompatible with his full and blessed sway. Light is not more opposed to darkness, life to death, purity to corruption, than Christ and his holy rule are opposed to much that now governs human society.
II. The EARLY EFFORTS OF THE FAITHFUL ARE ENSAMPLES FOR FUTURE CONDUCT, AND THE TRIUMPHS WON ARE AN EARNEST OF WHAT MAY BE ON A LARGER SCALE. The early efforts of Saul and his followers were characterised by faith in their mission as people of God, loyalty to the Divine cause they represented, courage and self-denial for the good of the land, unity of aim and concentration of strength. They had-a right to believe in success, because the promised land was for Israel, and not for the idolatrous Philistine. The victory at Geba was a pledge of coming events. The war against sin has been carried on ever since the first promise cheered the heart of our fallen ancestor. But we may regard the exertions of the early Christian Church as the first organised effort, under the laws of the kingdom of Christ, for the extirpation of all sin and evil. The early Christians were fine examples of clear and deep conviction that they were the servants of Christ, and had a Divine mission to work out in an antagonistic world. And the splendid triumphs won, though, compared with the area of sin, as small as.was the capture of Geba relatively to the whole possessions of the Philistines, are an indication of what awaits the Church if only, laying aside internal strifes, worldly policies, self-indulgence, she will but brace her energies to the perfecting of the conquests already made. Novelties we need not; the old weapons, the old spirit, the old consecration, the old singleness of aim, will pull down strongholds still.
III. The ANTAGONISM MAY GROW IN INTENSITY AS A CONSEQUENCE OF SUCCESS. Up to a given point success in war arouses more thoroughly the energies of the defeated. The acquisition of Geba made Israel more than ever detestable to the Philistines, and developed their resources. The same effect was produced by the triumphs of Pentecost (Acts 4:1-37.). Subsequently rulers took counsel, being afraid "whereunto this would grow" (Acts 5:24), unless more severe measures were taken to suppress it. It was the necessarily aggressive spirit of Christianity, combined with its growing influence, that aroused the fierce, persecuting spirit of ancient Rome. The more a pure Christianity is urged on men, the more do evil passions arise in resistance. It is probable that there are seasons when the "principalities and powers" of the unseen world combine in all fierceness to arouse human antagonism to the gospel. The bitter hostility and outspoken defiance of the present day are in instructive coexistence with Christian efforts and triumphs surpassing in range any recorded in history.
IV. HOPE OF FINAL VICTORY DEPENDS MORE ON OUR FAITH IN GOD THAN ON THE WEAKNESS OF THE FOE. The followers of Saul became disheartened when they heard of the tremendous efforts of the Philistines. As Peter on the sea looked away from Christ at the waves, and began to sink, so these men lost hope when, forgetting the "mighty God of Jacob," they fixed attention on the forces of the enemy. It was not a question of few or many Philistines, but of faith in their God. The faintheartedness of Israel finds its counterpart in modern times. The vast area over which evil reigns, the desperate vices that enchain thousands, the extent to which society is impregnated with principles alien to the gospel, the utter absorption of millions in matters purely material, the fierce assaults made on the supernatural character of Christianity, and the growing positiveness and intellectual licence of many who fight under the stolen banner of "science"—these signs of power are brooded over, and the heart sinks for fear. This faintheartedness is as irrational as it is sinful. Is Christ a living Saviour? Is he the Lord of all? It is a simple question of fact. If not, then our Christianity is a delusion; we are without hope in the world, and life is an insoluble, awful, heart piercing enigma. But if he is, then who are men, or what are their resources? They are but creatures of a day, and their strength perishes. He must reign. On his own head his crown shall flourish.
1. Every Christian should inquire how far he, in loyalty to Christ and full conviction of his triumph, is doing his part in the common work of the Church.
2. It is a matter of inquiry how far we may be impeding the progress of Christianity by compromising with the world in hope of lessening antagonism.
3. It should guide our conduct to remember that the severest holiness of life, blended with the tenderest love, has ever accomplished the most enduring spiritual work.
4. It will tend to nourish faith in the sufficiency of God if we, by thought and prayerfulness, habituate ourselves to actual fellowship with him.
1 Samuel 13:8-16
The facts are—
1. Saul, waiting at Gilgal for Samuel, gives orders for the observance of sacrificial worship.
2. Towards the close of the ceremony, and before the full time was expired, Samuel makes his appearance.
3. In reply to Samuel's remonstrance, Saul assigns the reasons for his conduct—the discouragement of the people, the non-arrival of Samuel, and the threatening attitude of the foe.
4. Samuel charges Saul with having failed to keep the commandment of God, and declares that his family shall not succeed to the throne.
5. Samuel retires to Gibeah, whither Saul and his son also go with their followers. Whether the appointment to meet at Gilgal was that mentioned in 1 Samuel 10:8, or a subsequent arrangement, does not affect the fact that, in view of measures to be taken conjointly, Saul had been distinctly commanded by God, through the prophet, to wait seven days till Samuel came. Evidently it was a distinct understanding that in the coming effort to rid the land of the Philistines the spiritual power, represented by the, prophet of God, was to be prominent. Thus would the "manner of the kingdom" (1 Samuel 10:25) be recognised, and Israel's ruler, though a king, would still be the agent for working out a spiritual destiny. It was of immense importance that, having a king like unto other nations, Israel and the monarch should still be made to feel that, not the form of government, but the blessing of God granted in answer to prayer, and on due recognition of the spiritual institutions, was the most important thing. And the command to wait for the spiritual guide and ruler was eminently fitted to impress Saul and the people with the undiminished authority and value of the spiritual head. There is no evidence that the end of the seven days had come, only that it was nigh. Even had it come, the Author of the command was responsible for consequences, not Saul. The first duty of a subject is to obey law. Saul had no right to break the commandment of his King. The assumption of the control of spiritual functions violated a great principle in the eyes of the people. It would mean, the prophet of God can be dispensed with; the king can invent ways other than God's of meeting pressing dangers; rigid obedience to God's command is not expedient at all times; the religious arrangements in the recent settlement of the kingdom, impeding as they do the military movements, are defective; all must, by pressure of events, come into the monarch's hands. Thus the very essence of the constitution, as approved by God and explained in act and word by Samuel (1 Samuel 9:26, 1 Samuel 9:27; 1 Samuel 10:1, 1 Samuel 10:8, 1 Samuel 10:25; 1 Samuel 12:13, 1 Samuel 12:14), was set aside.
I. LIFE INEVITABLY BRINGS WITH IT TEMPTATIONS TO SACRIFICE CLEAR DUTY TO SINFUL EXPEDIENCY. The difficulties surrounding Saul seemed to rise from the natural course of events. The defection of many of his followers was as readily accounted for, by the overwhelming force of the enemy and the inactivity enforced by the absence of Samuel, as it was, from a heathen point of view, pregnant with disaster. The military power of the nation, in being thus subject to spiritual arrangements, was less an arm of strength than a monarch might desire. The first operation of the subordination of man's skill and force to the religious element of the national life was by no means promising. Was it not expedient to act without the spiritual authority as at present constituted? Now this temptation was no "strange thing." It was just an early and sharply defined form of what Saul would be liable to all his days; for events and his own imperfect nature would constantly conspire to raise the question as to whether he would not better hold his own in war if he were not troubled by non-military considerations. The spiritual character of the kingdom would continually test his loyalty to God. His case was not singular.
1. Moral life on earth involves trial. Created moral existence is not possible apart from liability to the rival claims of duty to God and regard for self, in some form supposed to be more or less expedient. Temptation grows out of the conditions under which we live.
2. Every special course of life is attended with temptations peculiar to its nature. Saul as king would feel the pressure of what, as a man living in obscurity, he would not have known. Israel chosen of God to traverse the desert and attain to freedom and rest in Canaan were open to trials of faith which, as bondmen in Egypt, would not have come to them. Our Saviour himself endured temptations in virtue of his unique position as Founder of a spiritual kingdom.
II. It is A MERCIFUL PROVIDENCE WHEN REPRESENTATIVE TEMPTATIONS COMING EARLY IN LIFE'S CAREER ARE UNDER CIRCUMSTANCES MOST FAVOURABLE TO RESISTANCE. The circumstances of a temptation tell wonderfully in the act of resisting. Should it find the mind predisposed by dallying with evil, or should it come in the absence of clear and recent indications of duty, with a sudden impulse, or insinuating itself into intricate considerations and engagements, the chances of its success would be increased as compared with opposite conditions. This temptation to sin came on Saul when he was free from the entanglements of a court and domestic politics; it was in sharp contrast with a most explicit command; it was counter to the recent instance of God's help in presence of a great danger (1 Samuel 11:4-14); and it came when his moral sense was at its best. Inasmuch as during coming years Saul would inevitably feel the force of temptations to assert his own methods and will as being apparently better than those indicated by the spiritual requirements of the kingdom, it was really a mercy that this representative temptation came when it did, and in a form most easy to resist. If resisted, a principle would assume an incipient form of habit. The moral strength of the man would be developed by exercise. Success over the foe, consequent on the first triumph of faith in God and submission to his spiritual order, would be a memorial for future inspiration. We have here a clue to the solution of other trials. It is too often imagined that the trial of Adam, of the Israelites at the Red Sea, of Christ in the desert, and of the apostles during the dark days of the crucifixion and death, were arbitrary, severe, and, at least, without a clear trace of kindness. But consider—
1. Life in each case was liable to many temptations. It was inseparable from Adam's existence as a man on earth, from Israel's march to and occupation of Canaan, from our Saviour's position among men and the evil spirits who would act upon his soul, and from the apostolic career in face of Jewish and Gentile antagonism, that temptation again and again, in forms peculiar to each, would arise. So, also, with every man's life.
2. In each case the conditions for resisting representative temptation of what was coming were most favourable at the entrance on the career. Man in Eden was pure, free from bad impulse, independent of entanglements and want, familiar with the emphatic and recent command. Israel at the Red Sea had just seen marvellous and repeated tokens of the sufficiency of God to shelter them and ward off danger, and the command to go forward to the sea was explicit. Our Saviour when tempted of the devil was fresh from the baptism of the Holy Spirit, as yet not worn down by ingratitude and scorn, filled With the call to enter on his work in founding a spiritual kingdom. So, likewise, when a monarch, or pastor, or Church, or any individual first enters on an office or work, there is a freedom from the entanglements which spring from mixed relationships, an eclat which inspires hope, a sense of responsibility which makes the spirit sober and watchful, and a fame to win which appeals to the noblest sentiments of duty and honour.
3. Resistance in each case would impart a moral force which would be of great advantage in all subsequent conflicts. Had Adam said a final "nay" to the tempter, his moral conquest over all other temptations would have been comparatively insured. Imperfect as Israel were in the desert, their moral power was greatly strengthened both by the act of faith at the Red Sea and the consequent victory over Pharaoh. As One who had conquered in the desert, our Lord would doubtless confront the later temptations to exchange poverty and want and spiritual rulership for the pomp and outward splendour of an earthly kingdom with a more equable spirit. And the endurance of the apostles during those dark and harrowing hours prior to the resurrection would only render their faith a mightier power wherewith to face the persecution of men and the seeming tardiness of the world's subjugation to Christ. So, likewise, those who are brought by Providence to bear temptation under favourable conditions when entering on a career actually receive a great mercy. They are enabled thereby, if they will, to gain power for life and to qualify for higher service. This will find illustration also with the young. Their early trials, under good conditions, make them more competent to cope with all that is sure to follow.
III. SIN COMMITTED UNDER CONDITIONS FAVOURABLE TO THE RESISTANCE OF TEMPTATION BECOMES THEREBY AGGRAVATED IN CHARACTER. Saul's sin was great. It was marked by deliberation and yet by extreme folly. He "forced himself." The command was so clear, the risks of disobedience so palpable, that only a perverse ingenuity could persuade him to disobey. The effort to silence the conscience always aggravates a crime. Prompt, unquestioning obedience is due to clear commands. Man is not responsible for anything but duty. The folly was conspicuous. To break a clear command in order to offer an act of worship is the perfection of foolishness. Only a "lying spirit" could induce a man to honour God by dishonouring him. The blind reasoning of the heart when once clear duty is trifled with is extraordinary. It would be a wonderful revelation of perverted intellect if we could read the processes of thought by which men are led to force themselves to deliberate acts of sin.
IV. THE PUNISHMENT FOLLOWING ON SIN INCLUDES THE LOSS OF THAT FOR WHICH THE SIN WAS COMMITTED. Two consequences ensued on Samuel's exposure of Saul's sin—the forfeiture of his family's permanent possession of the throne of Israel, and the withholding of immediate interposition on behalf of the nation. Now it is obvious that Saul had yielded to the temptation in hope thereby of inspiring his followers to action, and of insuring the stability of his throne for himself and family in the subjugation of his foes. There was an eminent propriety in Saul's sin being visited by a loss of the kingdom to his family. He was the people's king—chosen because they desired a monarch. Therefore it was in harmony with the usual course of Providence that, though he sinned, he should be allowed to rule, and thus by his infirmities be the rod for their chastisement. Although representing in his virtues and failings the people who demanded a king, he was afforded by the recent trial a good opportunity of conforming to the higher spiritual order, and of thus becoming by degrees educated into the loftier spiritual aims of the national life. Therefore, failing to rise to the level essential to the Messianic conception of the kingdom, he proved the moral unfitness of his principles and methods for transmittal to successors. Have we not here a truth of constant recurrence? Sin is committed to realise a purpose, and the purpose is not realised, but is missed by the very act of sin. Our first parents sought the rest of satisfaction in taking the forbidden fruit; but whatever rest they had before was lost in the act of disobedience, as also the kind of rest sought by the deed. The unhappy man who, under pressure of circumstances as trying to him as the hosts of Philistia were to Saul, forces himself to commit a fraud in order to insure relief and final success in his enterprise, learns to his cost, when once the act is committed, that mental relief is further off than ever, and a remorseless course of events ultimately brings on ruin to the enterprise. "He that seeketh his life shall lose it."
1. When pursuing a path of duty, impatience with God's ways should be strictly suppressed, or it will lay us open to the pressure of strong temptations.
2. In the high service of God we may be placed in circumstances of extreme peril, but these should never shake confidence in his all-sufficiency.
3. Sometimes the loftiest path of duty is "to be still," and pray for grace "to enter not into temptation.''
4. The Christian is warranted, by the fact of the existence of "the kingdom," as also by the experiences of the past, to believe that above all the forces that threaten the Church there is a Power that sometimes restrains its manifestation for purposes of discipline.
5. It is a profitable study for the Church to consider how far prayer is not effectual in consequence of the constant breach of plain commands.
6. It is the sign of a guilty conscience, and of the hardening effect of even one sin, that plausible reasons are ready at hand to justify conduct.
7. If we prove ourselves unfit for service by our lack of spirituality, Providence will sooner or later remove us for others more spiritual.
1 Samuel 13:17-23
The ramifications of evil.
The facts are—
1. In the absence of Divine interposition, and consequent on Saul's inability to resist advance, the Philistines develop their forces and plunder certain districts of country.
2. As a matter of policy on their part, and as one result of Saul's transgression, the Philistines deprive the people of the ordinary means of conducting warfare.
3. This state of things necessitates Saul's protracted inactivity, and inflicts considerable inconvenience on the people with respect to their daily pursuits in agriculture. Although we cannot say precisely what course events would have taken had Saul, in loyalty to God, awaited the arrival of Samuel (1 Samuel 13:8-10), yet the whole history of Israel and the recent promises made through Samuel (1 Samuel 12:20-25) lead to the belief that, as when Jabesh-Gilead was in danger help came from God (1 Samuel 11:6), so now the Philistines would have been scattered by a Power more than human. The facts given in this paragraph appear to be designed to prepare the way for the narrative of Jonathan's heroism in the following chapter; at the same time they illustrate, in themselves, some truths of wider range than Israel's political and social condition. We have here an instance of—
I. THE DEPRESSING INFLUENCE OF A SENSE OF GUILT ON THE CONDUCT OF AFFAIRS. The military inactivity and general helplessness of Saul after Samuel's interview with him (1 Samuel 13:11-14) are in striking contrast with his energy at other times, and are not altogether to be ascribed to the absence of special Divine interposition. The explanation is to be sought in his personal conviction of sin. There was no joy, no hope, no spring in his soul, no eagerness for a close conflict with the foe; and that, too, because a sense of sin brought moral paralysis upon his entire nature. The sense of guilt is not always present in men, but when it is brought home to a man it exercises a depressing influence on his entire life, and seriously affects the transaction of affairs. Conscience, when guilty, not only "makes cowards of us all," but it robs life of brightness, drains the springs of hope, fetters the operation of the faculties, and impairs the sum total of energy. No man's life is made the most of as long as some unrepented and unforgiven sin haunts his spirit. This is the reverse side of another fact, namely, that the soul possessed of the peace and joy of the reconciled is in a condition to render its best service to the world, and to attain to the most perfect development of its powers. The wisdom of every one oppressed with a sense of guilt is to humble himself before God, and seek in Christ forgiveness and power for a truer life in future.
II. THE MANIFOLD RAMIFICATIONS OF EVIL. The sin of Saul did not begin and end with himself. His failure in duty affected the general interests of his kingdom. Even the brief narrative before us enables us to see how directly and indirectly the following circumstances were connected with his disobedience—namely, the inability of Israel to assail the threatening host; the depredations of the three divisions of the Philistine army; the private and social misery over a considerable area inseparable from the raids of the invader; the cutting off of the ordinary means for waging successful war; the impediments to the pursuits of trade and agriculture; the general humiliation and dread brought on the non-combatants of the land; and the withdrawal for a while of the counsels and encouragements of the prophet of God. The truth thus exemplified in the instance of a monarch's sin finds expression also in every sin, and especially in sins of persons in responsible positions. No sin can end in the act or in the person of the sinner. It impairs the tone and force of the entire man; it adds another item to the germs of future sorrow and shame; it further disqualifies for conferring on the world spiritual good; it gives a stronger taint of evil to the current of thought and feeling which flows out from the inner man to the world. Sin in us is as a wave of influence that spreads out, by laws of association and impulse, over the whole area of the spirit, and modifies all conduct for the worse. Especially is this true of persons in office and of parents. A monarch's official acts reach all classes. A parent's sin ramifies through the home—inducing, it may be, loss of peace, certainly loss of hallowed influence over children, and possibly ruin to health in offspring.
III. UNFAITHFULNESS IN THE SERVICE OF GOD DEPRIVES US OF A MOST IMPORTANT MEANS OF ACCOMPLISHING OUR MISSION AS CHRISTIANS IN THE WORLD. The scarcity of smiths and weapons of war is evidently associated by the historian with the disobedience of Saul. It is possible for Christian men engaged in the endeavour to maintain and extend the kingdom of Christ to be brought into an analogous condition as a consequence of their manifest unfaithfulness. In our conflict with the world it is of supreme importance that we make use of the ever available and potent instrument—influence of character. With this as a weapon we can accomplish much, by the blessing of God. If this be lost, if by our manifest inconsistencies before the world we virtually place this instrument of war at the feet of the men whom we seek to bring to Christ, then we shall be as powerless with them as was Saul and his people when the Philistines had control of their smiths and weapons of war.
1. The general spiritual power of our life will be in proportion as we keep pure, or, in case of falling into sin, at once humble ourselves before God and seek for pardon and a right spirit (Psalms 51