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The Pulpit Commentaries The Pulpit Commentaries
1 Samuel 15
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 15". The Pulpit Commentary. https://studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ tpc/ 1-samuel-15.html. 1897.
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 15". The Pulpit Commentary. https://studylight.org/
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FINAL REJECTION OF SAUL (1 Samuel 15:1-35.)
DIVINE COMMAND TO PUNISH THE AMALEKITES, AND ITS EXECUTION BY SAUL (1 Samuel 15:1-9).
1 Samuel 15:1
Samuel also said. Better literally, "And Samuel said." There is no note of time, but probably a considerable interval elapsed before this second trial of Saul was made. God does not finally reject a man until, after repeated opportunities for repentance, he finally proves obdurate. David committed worse crimes than Saul, but he had a tender conscience, and each fall was followed by deep and earnest sorrow. Saul sinned and repented not. Just, then, as Eli had a first warning, which, though apparently unconditional in its terms (1 Samuel 2:27-36), was really a call to repentance, and was only made irrevocable by his persistence for many years in the same sins (1 Samuel 3:11-14), so was it with Saul. The prophet's words in 1 Samuel 13:13, 1 Samuel 13:14 were a stern warning, and had Saul taken them to heart, God would have forgiven him his sin. He repented not, but repeated the offence, and so the sentence was confirmed. When, then, critics say that we have two accounts of Saul's rejection, and that he is represented as having been set aside first for one reason and then for another, their objection arises entirely from a false view of God's dealings with mankind. Alike promises and threatenings, blessings and punishments are conditional; for there is no heathen fatalism in Holy Scripture, but mercy waiting to triumph over justice. God, then, was not willing lightly to cast away so noble an instrument as Saul. His first sin too had been committed when he was new in the kingdom, and in a position of danger and difficulty. He waits, therefore, till Saul has had some years of success and power, and his character has developed itself, and is taking its permanent form; and then again gives him a trial in order to test his fitness to be a theocratic king. The interest, then, of this chapter lies in the unfolding of Saul's character, and so it follows immediately upon 1 Samuel 14:1-52; which was occupied with the same subject, without any note of chronology, because the historical narrative is subservient to the personal. Hence, too, Samuel's solemn address, reminding Saul that he was Jehovah's anointed one, and therefore had special duties towards him; that he had also been anointed by Samuel's instrumentality, and after earnest instruction as to his duties; and, finally, that Israel was Jehovah's people, and their king, therefore, bound to obey Jehovah's commands.
1 Samuel 15:2
Amalek. The Amalekites were a fierce race of nomads who inhabited the desert to the south of Judaea towards Egypt. They were, and still continue to be in their descendants, the Bedouins, an untamable race of savages, whose delight is in robbery and plunder. Between them and Israel there was bitter hostility occasioned by their having attacked the people immediately after the Exodus (Exodus 17:8-16), and the command there given to exterminate them is repeated now, probably in consequence of their raids having become more numerous and sanguinary under their present king, as we gather from 1 Samuel 15:33. The reference to a war with the Amalektes in 1 Samuel 14:48 no doubt refers to this expedition, as we have there a mere summary of Saul's military enterprises. I remember. Literally, "I have visited;" but the sense of remembering seems confirmed by such passages as Genesis 21:1; Genesis 1:24; Isaiah 23:17; Isaiah 26:16. The Septuagint, however, and Aquila, give a very good sense: "I have considered, "thought over." How he laid wait for him in the way. There is no idea in the Hebrew of ambuscade or treachery. It is simply, "How he set himself in the way against him," i.e. opposed, withstood him, tried to bar his progress.
1 Samuel 15:3
Utterly destroy. Hebrew, "put under the ban." The word herem, ban, properly signifies a thing set apart, especially one devoted to God; and whatever was so devoted could not be redeemed, but must be slain. When a country was put under the ban, all living things, men and cattle, were to be killed; no spoil might be taken, but it was to be burnt, and things indestructible by fire, as silver and gold, were to be brought into the treasury. Everything, in short, belonging to such a nation was looked upon as accursed (see Numbers 21:2, Numbers 21:3).
1 Samuel 15:4
Telaim. Kimchi identifies this with Telem (Joshua 15:24), a place on the southern border of Judah near the country of the Amalekites. But as telaim means "lambs," more probably beth, "house," is to be understood; and so it was no town, but the "place of lambs," i.e. some open spot where at the proper season the lambs were collected from the pastures in the wilderness. Ten thousand men of Judah. A very small number compared with the hosts of Israel, especially as Judah was most exposed to the Amalekite, raids
, but, for some reason or other, broke up into small tribes, some, as those here spoken of, choosing the wilderness of Judah for their home (Judges 1:16), others living far to the north in Naphtali (Judges 4:11, Judges 4:17), others among the rocks of Arabia Petraea. Of these last we know but little, but the rest continued to be on friendly terms with David (1 Samuel 30:29).
1 Samuel 15:7
From Havilah until thou comest to Shur. Hebrew, "from Havilah as thou goest towards Shur." It seems impossible that this Havilah can be the northwestern portion of Yemen, called Chawlan, and identified with the Havilah of Genesis 10:7, Genesis 10:29, as this would make Saul smite them from southeast to northwest. Shur, which means wall, is, as Wellhausen (Text Samuel 97) observes, originally the name of the wall which ran from Pelusium past Migdol to Hero, and which gave to Egypt, as Ebers thinks, its name Mizraim, the enclosed or fortified. Shur is again mentioned in 1 Samuel 27:8 as indicating the direction towards Egypt of the region occupied by the Amalekites. Havilah, which means circle, must have been some spot on the route to the isthmus of Suez, lying on the edge of the wilderness to the south of Judah, where Saul commenced his foray. Beginning thus upon the borders of Judaea, Saul continued his devastations up to the limits of Egypt.
1 Samuel 15:8
He took Agag. This was the official name of the Amalekite kings (see Numbers 24:7), as Pharaoh was that of the kings of Egypt. For its meaning we must wait till we know more about the language of this race. Agag, however, from 1 Samuel 15:32, seems to have been able to speak Hebrew. He utterly destroyed—i.e. put under the ban—all the people. They appear, however, again in 1 Samuel 27:8, and with so vast a wilderness in which to take refuge, it would be impossible really to exterminate a people used to lead a wandering life. Moreover, as soon as Israel began to lay hands on the spoil the pursuit would flag, as the cattle would be killed by over driving.
1 Samuel 15:9
The fatlings. So the Syriac and Chaldee render the word, but the Hebrew literally means "the second best." Kimchi and Tanchum give perhaps a preferable rendering, "the second born," such animals being considered superior to the first born, as the dams had by that time arrived at their full strength.
REJECTION OF SAUL AND HIS DYNASTY (1 Samuel 15:10-23).
1 Samuel 15:11
It repenteth me. By the law of man's free will his concurrence is necessary in carrying out the Divine purpose, and consequently every man called to the execution of any such purpose undergoes a probation. God's purpose will be finally carried out, but each special instrument, if it prove unworthy, will be laid aside. This change of administration is always described in Scriptural language as God's repentance, possibly because the phrase contains also the idea of the Divine grief over the rebellious sinner. But though Saul and his dynasty were thus put aside, and no longer represented Jehovah, still Saul remained the actual king, because God works slowly by the natural sequence of cause and effect. Saul's ill-governed temper, and his hatred and malice towards David, were the means of bringing about his ruin. It grieved Samuel. Hebrew, "it burned to Samuel," i.e. he was angry and displeased. The same phrase occurs in Jonah 4:1, where it is rendered "he was very angry." But with whom was Samuel vexed? Generally at the whole course of events, but especially with Saul. In choosing him he had hoped that, in addition to high military qualities, he would possess a religious and obedient heart. He had now obtained for him a second trial, and if, warned by his earlier failure, he had proved trustworthy all might have been well. Saul had too many noble gifts for Samuel to feel indifferent at the perversion of so great an intellect and so heroic a heart. But he was of a despotic temperament, and would bend to no will but his own; and so he had saved the best of the plunder to enrich the people, and Agag possibly as a proof of his personal triumph. And he cried unto Jehovah all night. I.e. he offered an earnest prayer for forgiveness for Saul, and for a change in his heart. As Abravanel says, Samuel no doubt loved Saul for his beauty and heroism, and therefore prayed for him; but no change came in answer to his prayer, and as forgiveness is conditional upon man's repentance, Saul was not forgiven. It is remarkable how often Samuel is represented as "crying" unto God (see 1 Samuel 7:8, 1 Samuel 7:9; 1 Samuel 12:18).
1 Samuel 15:12
Samuel rose early. If Samuel was at home at Ramah, he would have a journey of several days before reaching Carmel, the city mentioned in Joshua 15:55, on the road from Arad, on the borders of the wilderness of Judah, about ten miles southeast of Hebron. The words in the morning should be joined with rose early. Before setting out, however, Samuel learned that Saul had already marched northward towards Gilgal, having first set him up a place—Hebrew, "a hand," i.e. a monument, something to call attention to his victory. In 2 Samuel 18:18 Absalom's pillar is styled "Absalom's hand." A Hebrew trophy in honour of a victory possibly had a hand carved upon it. Gilgal was the city in the Jordan valley near Jericho, whither Samuel now followed Saul.
1 Samuel 15:13
Blessed be thou of Jehovah. Saul meets Samuel with all external respect, and seems even to expect his approval, saying, I have performed the commandment of Jehovah. And so he had in the half way in which men generally keep God's commandments, doing that part which is agreeable to themselves, and leaving that part undone which gives them neither pleasure nor profit. Saul probably had thought very little about the exact terms of the command given him, and having successfully accomplished the main point of carrying out a vast foray against the Amalekites, regarded the captive king and the plundered cattle as proofs of his victory. The trophy at Carmel is a token of his own self satisfaction.
1 Samuel 15:14
What meaneth then this bleating? etc. Literally, "What is this voice of sheep in my ears, and the voice of oxen?" While Saul's own conscience was silent they were proclaiming his disobedience.
1 Samuel 15:15
They have brought them. No doubt this was verbally true, and very probably the excuse of holding a great sacrifice to Jehovah had been put prominently forward. But reasons are never wanting when men have made up their minds, and the people who so readily obeyed Saul before (1 Samuel 14:24, 1 Samuel 14:34, 1 Samuel 14:40) would have obeyed him now, had he really wished it. For a king so wilful and imperious as Saul thus to seek for excuses, and try to throw the blame on others, marks, as has been well observed, a thorough break down of his moral character.
1 Samuel 15:16
Stay. Samuel will hear no more. Long as he had striven for him in prayer (1 Samuel 15:11), he now feels that Saul has fallen too low for recovery to be possible. This night. It is plain from this that Samuel had not gone to meet Saul at Carmel, but on receiving information of his movements had proceeded straight to Gilgal, distant from Ramah about fifteen miles.
1 Samuel 15:17
When—rather, Though—thou wast little in thine own sight. Before his elevation to the royal dignity Saul had deemed himself altogether unequal to so heavy a task (1 Samuel 9:21); now, after great military successes, he is filled with arrogance, and will rule in open defiance of the conditions upon which Jehovah had appointed him to the office
1 Samuel 15:18
The sinners. The Amalekites were a race of robbers, and the command "to devote them" was the consequence of the robbery and murder practised by them on the Israelite borders.
1 Samuel 15:20, 1 Samuel 15:21
Saul's justifcation of himself is remarkable, as he seems entirely unconscious of having done anything wrong. His education had no doubt been defective (1 Samuel 10:12), and his knowledge of the law was probably very small; but he must have listened to Samuel's injunctions in a very off hand way, and have troubled himself about very little more than that he was to make war upon the Amalekites. There may even have been the wish in his mind to let Samuel know that he was now king, and would carry on affairs after his own fashion. The very form of his answer requires notice; for the word rendered yea is literally in that, or because, and may be paraphrased as follows: Do you reproach me thus because I have obeyed you? See, there is Agag in proof of our victory; and if the people have spared the cattle, it was with the best of intentions. The next clause, the chief of the things which should have been utterly destroyed, reads in the A.V. like an ironical parenthesis. It is not so, but an important part of Saul's defence. These sheep and oxen were "the best of the devoted things," selected as the first fruits for sacrifice. Saul may not have known that such a sacrifice was forbidden (Deuteronomy 13:15-17). The words, to sacrifice unto Jehovah thy God, imply that Samuel ought to be pleased at the victorious army doing this public homage to the Deity whose prophet he was. It was virtually a compliment to himself, and is very much in accordance with the notions of the generality of people now, who consider that attendance at a place of worship, or sending their children to school, is a favour to the clergyman.
1 Samuel 15:22, 1 Samuel 15:23
The rebuke of Samuel contains one of those pregnant sayings which mark the high moral tone of the teaching of the prophets, and soon became a fundamental principle with them. To obey is better than sacrifice is a dictum reproduced by Hosea (Hosea 6:6), the most ancient of those prophets of Israel whose lessons have been preserved in writing; it is referred to in still earlier psalms (see Psalms 1:1-8-14; Psalms 51:16, Psalms 51:17); by other prophets (Isaiah 1:11; Jeremiah 6:20; Micah 6:6, Micah 6:8); and finally received our Lord's special approbation (Matthew 9:13; Matthew 12:7). It asserts in the clearest terms the superiority of moral to ritual worship, and that God can only be really served with the heart. Witchcraft is in the Hebrew divination, a sin always strongly condemned in the Old Testament. Iniquity literally means nothingness, and so is constantly used for "an idol;" and this must be its signification here, as the word coupled with it, and rendered idolatry, is really teraphim. These were the Hebrew household gods, answering to the Roman Lares, and were supposed to bring good luck. Their worship, we see from this place, was strictly forbidden. The verse, therefore, means, "For rebellion is the sin of divination (i.e. is equal to it in wickedness), and obstinacy (i.e. intractableness) is an idol and teraphim." Samuel thus accuses Saul of resistance to Jehovah's will, and of the determination at all hazards to be his own master. With this temper of mind he could be no fit representative of Jehovah, and therefore Samuel dethrones him. Henceforward he reigns only as a temporal, and no longer as the theocratic, king.
SAUL'S PROFESSION OF REPENTANCE AND FINAL REJECTION (verses 24-35).
1 Samuel 15:24
The words of Samuel struck Saul with terror. The same authority which had first given him the kingdom now withdraws it from him, and pronounces his offence as equal in God's sight to crimes which Saul himself held in great abhorrence. He humbles himself, therefore, before Samuel, acknowledges his sin, and frankly confesses that the cause of it had been his unwillingness to act in a manner contrary to the wishes of the people; and we must fairly conclude that the sparing of the spoil had been the people's doing. But was it not the king's duty to make the people obedient to Jehovah's voice? As the theocratic king, he was Jehovah's minister, and in preferring popularity to duty he showed himself unworthy of his position. Nor can we suppose that his confession of sin arose from penitence. It was the result simply of vexation at having his victory crossed by reproaches and disapproval from the only power capable of holding him in check. It seems, too, as if it were Samuel whom he feared more than Jehovah; for he speaks of thy words, and asks Samuel to pardon his sin, and to grant him the favour of his public presence with him at the sacrifice which was about to be celebrated in honour of their triumph.
1 Samuel 15:26, 1 Samuel 15:27, 1 Samuel 15:28
At first the prophet refuses the king's request. Saul had dishonoured God, and, therefore, had no claim to public homage from God's minister. He turns, therefore, to go away, and Saul in his eagerness seizes hold of Samuel's mantle. The A.V. is very careless about the exact rendering of words of this description, and seems guided in its choice of terms simply by the ear. Now the mantle, addereth, though used of the Shinar shawl stolen by Achan (Joshua 7:21, Joshua 7:24), was the distinctive dress of the prophets, but naturally was never worn by Samuel himself. Special dresses come into use only gradually, and Elijah is the first person described as being thus clad. Long before his time the schools of the prophets had grown into a national institution, and a loose wrapper of coarse cloth made of camel's hair, fastened round the body at the waist by a leathern girdle, had become the usual prophetic dress, and continued so to be until the arrival of Israel's last prophet, John the Baptist (Matthew 3:4). The garment here spoken of is the meil, on which see 1 Samuel 2:19, where it was shown to be the ordinary dress of people of various classes in easy circumstances. Now the meil was not a loosely flowing garment, but fitted rather closely to the body, and, therefore, the tearing of it implies a considerable amount of violence on Saul's part. Skirt, moreover, gives a wrong idea. What Saul took hold of was the hem, the outer border of the garment, probably at Samuel's neck or shoulder, as he turned to go away. He seized him, as we should say, by the collar, and endeavoured by main force to retain him, and in the struggle the hem rent. And Samuel, using it as an omen, said, Jehovah hath rent the kingdom of Israel from thee this day, and hath given it to a neighbour of thine, that is better than thou. Neighbour is used in Hebrew in a very indefinite manner, and here means generally "some one, whoever it may be," but one who will discharge the duties of thy office better than thou hast done (comp. Luke 10:36).
1 Samuel 15:29
The Strength—better, as in the margin, the Victory or Triumph—of Israel. He who is Israel's Victory, or He in whom Israel has victory, will not repent. In 1 Samuel 15:11 God was said to repent, because there was what appeared to be a change in the Divine counsels. "God gave Israel a king in his anger, and took him away in his wrath" (Hosea 13:11). But such modes of speaking are in condescension to human weakness. Absolutely with God there is no change. He is the Eternal Present, with whom all things that were, and are, and shall be are one. But even looked at from below, as this finite creature man looks at his Maker's acts, there is no change in the Divine counsels, because, amidst all the vicissitudes of human events, God's will moves calmly forward without let or hindrance. No lower or secondary motives influence him, no rival power thwarts him. One instrument may be laid aside, and another chosen, because God ordains that the instruments by which he works shall be beings endowed with free will. Saul was the very counterpart of the Jewish people—highly endowed with noble qualities, but headstrong, self-willed, disobedient. Nevertheless, he laid the foundation for the throne of David, who in so many points was the ideal of the theocratic king; and Israel in like manner prepared the way for the coming of the true Messianic King, and gave mankind the one Catholic, i.e. universal, religion. "He who is Israel's Victory does not repent."
1 Samuel 15:30, 1 Samuel 15:31
Then he said, I have sinned. We have here no real confession of guilt. Even in 1 Samuel 15:24 the words were rather an expression of vexation at the strictness with which he was held to the letter of the command, than an acknowledgment that he really had done wrong. Here Saul's meaning seems to be, Well, granting that I have sinned, and that this sentence of exclusion kern the kingdom is passed upon me, yet at least pay me the honor due to the rank which I still continue to hold. And to this request Samuel accedes. Saul was de facto king, and would continue to be so during his lifetime. The anointing, once bestowed, was a consecration for life, and so generally it was in the days of the son that the consequences of the father's sin came fully to pass (1Ki 11:1-43 :84, 1 Kings 11:35; 1 Kings 14:13, etc.). Had Samuel refused the public honour due to Saul's rank, it would have given an occasion for intrigue and resistance to all who were disaffected with Saul's government, and been a step towards bringing back the old anarchy. Jehovah thy God. See on 1 Samuel 15:13.
1 Samuel 15:32
Delicately. The Septuagint and Vulgate translate this word trembling, and the Syriac omits, probably from inability to give its meaning. Most commentators render cheerfully, joyfully, forming it from the same root as Eden, the garden of joy (comp. Psalms 36:8, where Eden is translated pleasure). The very word, however, occurs in Job 38:31, where the A.V. renders it bands, and this seems the right sense: "Agag came unto him in fetters." The idea that Agag came cheerfully is contradicted by the next clause—Surely the bitterness of death is passed. Though put affirmatively, there is underlying doubt. It is no expression of heroic contempt for death, nor of real confidence that, as Saul had spared him hitherto, his life was in no danger. He had been brought to the national sanctuary, and a great festival in honour of the success of the army was to be held. It was entirely in accordance with the customs of ancient times that his execution should be the central feature of the spectacle. Agag's words show that this fear was present in his mind, though they are put in such a form as to be a protest against his life being taken after so long delay. Samuel's reply treats Agag's assertion as being thus at once a question and a protest. The bitterness of death has still to be borne, and the cruelty of Agag's past life makes the shedding of his own blood just. The Syriac translates, "Surely death is bitter;" the Septuagint, "If death be so bitter," with which the Vulgate agrees. Thus they all understood that Agag came trembling for his life.
1 Samuel 15:33
As thy sword hath made women childless. Agag's life had been spent in freebooting expeditions, in which he had shed blood ruthlessly, and so justice required his execution in requital of his deeds to others. Samuel hewed Agag in pieces. The verb occurs only here, and probably refers to some particular method of execution, like the quartering of the middle ages. Being in the Piel conjugation, it would mean not so much that Samuel put Agag to death himself as that he commanded it to be done.
1 Samuel 15:35
Samuel came no more to see Saul. The friendly intercourse which had previously existed was now broken off, and though they met again (1 Samuel 19:24), it was neither in an amicable manner, nor was their interview of Samuel's seeking. But the words have a higher meaning than the mere seeing or meeting one with the other. They involve the cessation of that relation in which Samuel and Saul had previously stood to one another as respectively the prophet and king of the same Jehovah Saul was no longer the representative of Jehovah, and consequently Samuel no more came to him, bearing messages and commands, and giving him counsel and guidance from God. Nevertheless Samuel mourned for Saul. There was so much in him that was good and admirable, and he had wrought such brave services in delivering Israel from its many enemies, that Samuel loved him. Now he saw all his high qualities perverted, the man fallen, his powers of usefulness destroyed. Already, too, there was probably the beginning of that darkening of Saul's intellect which filled so many of his future years with melancholy, bursting out from time to time into fits of madness. All this would end in the expulsion of himself and his dynasty from the throne, for Jehovah repented that he had made Saul king over Israel. See on 1 Samuel 15:11
1 Samuel 15:1-7
God's terrible acts.
The facts are—
1. Saul is reminded that though a king he is but the servant of God, and bound to carry out his declared will.
2. Saul is commanded to utterly destroy Amalek in retribution for former sins.
3. In prosecuting his duty Saul discriminates in favour of the Kenites, then resident among the Amalekites, in consequence of their former kindness to Israel. It appears from 1 Samuel 14:48 that, although the sin of Amalek in bygone times (Exodus 17:8-16) was the primary ground of the judgment about to be inflicted, the recent annoyance and injury caused to Saul's subjects was the occasion for the execution of the ancient sentence at this juncture. Those living under the mild and beneficent influences of the Christian dispensation are conscious of a shock to their sensibilities in reading the account of wholesale destruction brought by human instrumentality on an entire people; and the emotional disturbance is supplemented by intellectual perplexity on observing that the transaction was in obedience to a most explicit command of God. It is sometimes the practice, very easy for all who will not take pains to enter carefully into the subject, to get rid of the emotion and the perplexity by rejecting the inspiration of the entire record, or else by saying that Samuel and Saul sincerely but ignorantly mistook their own views of policy and dispositions of heart for the voice of God. The question at issue is a large one, but as it embraces in principle the whole of what in the Psalms are called his "terrible acts," which, whenever occurring or read, tax our feelings and perplex our intellects, we may notice a few points applicable more or less to all God's righteous judgments.
I. THE SPIRIT WITH WHICH WE SHOULD APPROACH THE CONSIDERATION OF GOD'S "TERRIBLE ACTS." It is not improbable that an unteachable, self-assertive spirit—a spirit that will not repose in a higher wisdom and goodness than its own, or that chafes under its inability to square human views of sin and its relations with God's—is the moral cause of man's quarrel with some of the records of Old Testament history. Our present contention is not with atheists, who to get rid of one difficulty create many others, but with those who believe in an almighty, all-wise, and merciful God, who is the Author of the moral and physical laws, by the action of which the world finds bliss or woe. We cannot help finding ourselves face to face with events bringing sorrow add shame, material and moral desolation to multitudes, because God so willed one creature's condition to be affected by the conduct of another. Apart from all human conduct, there are awful events in which, so to speak, the reputation of God for goodness and tenderness seems to be at stake. This circumstance should make the rejecter of Old Testament records pause ere he yields to the spirit of unbelief. There are "clouds and darkness" round about the throne; and he who would flee from mystery may well seek to flee from the universe. The judgment that condemns everything of which it does not see the reason is not qualified to exercise itself on the acts of an infinite Being. The cherubim and seraphim cover their faces, not presuming to attempt to pierce even with their clear and strong vision the ineffable glory; and so when a great burden of fear rests on our heart because of the terrible things of God, it is for us to bow in lowliness and trustfulness, saying for our comfort, because of what we know him to be, and not because we can solve the awful problems of existence, "Just and true are thy ways, thou King of saints. Who shall not fear thee, O Lord, and glorify thy name?" (Revelation 15:3, Revelation 15:4; cf. Psalms 36:6).
II. FACTS AND PRINCIPLES THAT SHOULD WEIGH WITH US IN OUR THOUGHTS UPON GOD'S "TERRIBLE ACTS." It is not possible to find a perfect solution of all the acts ascribed to God, or even those known, without question, to result from his appointments. But some light shines around the "clouds and darkness," and here and there a rift in the awful covering appears.
1. There is an awful as well as a mild aspect of the Divine nature. Christianity is no doubt mildness, tenderness, peace, love—all that is precious to the sorrowing, perplexed spirit. The tendency of some, however, is to overlook the significant fact that all this becomes real to us in virtue of the awful sufferings and death of the Son of God. The fact, and the evident necessity of the fact, for otherwise it would not occur, of his unutterable woes is perhaps the most stupendous of all terrible acts known by man. There was the love that gave him for man; yes, and the awful righteousness which had so originally constituted the moral relations of men to a holy God that love could only effect its work through a catastrophe, on which angels must have gazed with perplexity, and possibly pain, greater than any we know when contemplating a ruined Amalek or a world swept by deluge. It is an imperfect Christianity which eliminates the majesty of righteousness in Law. He who said, "Come unto me, all ye that labour, and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest," is the same who one day will say, "Depart." "These shall go away into everlasting punishment." The "wrath of the Lamb" is as real as his love.
2. The events which confound our thought are not confined to the Scripture record. Who shall estimate the pains of death experienced during the succession of catastrophes incident to the history of our globe? It is probable that the number of Amalekites who fell under the judgment of God was less than the sum of young and old who in one day experience the "pains of death" by the ordination of God. The destruction caused by the deluge, the fire on Sodom, the waters on the Egyptians, is not greater in the number of lives cut off than what befell the thousands cut off by events not mentioned in the Bible. What though the events—the sweeping calamities of famine, plague, earthquake, and flood, and the daily sufferings and death of thousands of young and old—be the outcome of law! God is the Author of that law, and, therefore, the events are in a significant sense his, as truly as were the ruin of Sodom and the doom of the Amalekites. No doubt the sum of enjoyment in the lives of creatures cut off by catastrophes was far in excess of the sum of misery experienced in the cutting of them off, and so a philosopher can still rest in the benevolence of God. Sudden destruction is not identical with a whole existence given up only to anguish.
3. So far as we can see, the great woes that come by ordinary law and by special command are alike subordinate to an ulterior issue. Although we speak of some events occurring by the action of natural law,—e.g. earthquakes, floods, famines, and plagues,—yet those in which the specific command appears are also according to law. The difference lies in the fact of the Divine origin of the arrangement which issues in destruction being brought out and emphasised. The laws that work ruin in fire and tempest and flood are subordinate to the higher laws involved in the perfect economy of the world. Laws involving incidental disasters subserve the conservation of the whole system of which they are a part. The laws which bring destruction to men who have sinned, and because they have sinned, are subordinate to the moral laws that govern man's relation to God. They are so interrelated, in these instances, as to be parts of one great system, and to subserve the final supremacy of the law of righteousness on which the health and well being of the world depend. It is a Divine ordination, and is incorporated with the physical and mental constitution of man, that the sin of the fathers shall be visited, not to the exclusion from woe of the parent, but intensifying it, on the third and fourth generation. We see this law at work every day. Awful as it is, we can even now see its value as subservient to the righteousness which alone makes men blessed; for it is a most potent check to vice. Irrespective of their own immoral condition, the cutting off of the Amalekites for the sin of their ancestors is analogous to the shortened lives, the wretched health, the filthy poverty, and other miseries which are the inevitable lot of the offspring of the desperately vicious; and this for ulterior issues.
4. Nations have no posthumous existence. For individuals judgment is often reserved till another life. Nations, if visited with judgment at all, must suffer here. In the instruction of the individual, the fact of the coming punishment of the individual sinner bears an important part as a deterrent. In the instruction of nations as such, the signal and conspicuous punishment of a people also plays an important part. This use of national judgments is constantly recognised in the language of Scripture. "The Lord hath made bare his holy arm in the eyes of all the nations" (Isaiah 52:10): "Put them in fear, O Lord, that the nations may know themselves to be but men" (Psalms 9:20). At the same time the judgments which on earth come on nations as such do not necessarily foreclose hope to the young and innocent among them of a personal salvation from the woe due to the personally guilty in another life.
5. God is the only true Judge of the actual demerits of a guilty nation. We cannot rightly estimate the intrinsic evil even of our own personal sins. "The Judge of all the earth" must decide what is appropriate punishment for national crime; for he only knows the degree of enmity in the minds of Sodomites and Amalekites. None but he can see the intricate bearings of their sin and of their continued existence as a people. He also knows best what blessed deterrent influence will arise to mankind from the conspicuous character of the judgment executed.
6. The means by which judgment is executed appear to be determined by conditions known to God. Judgment works inwardly through the conscience and the mental faculties in general. They bear the curse of the sin committed. It also works externally by the pressure against the sinner of the order of nature, which is in league with righteousness, and ultimately makes "the way of transgressors hard." Nations have not a very lively conscience. The force of Divine judgments usually comes from without. The instrumentality used is evidently connected with the actual presence of forces which, acting in a natural way under the preordained direction of the Omniscient, become "his arm." Doubtless there were physical conditions of earth and atmosphere which rendered destruction by a deluge both natural and yet conspicuously of God. The Sodomites were destroyed not by water, nor slow plague, nor famine, but by the natural combustible materials close at hand. The Amalekites were not left to die out by internal anarchy, or famine, or pestilence, but were given up to the action of that international hostility which was as real an element of destruction close at hand as was the volcanic force at Sodom. He who in his vast prevision, seeing the coexistence of the vices of antediluvians with certain fluvial conditions of a portion of the earth, and the coexistence of the sin of Sodom with certain volcanic conditions, used them for this purpose, may have also given full freedom to the play of national sentiment in the minds of Israel coexisting at that juncture with the fit time for the execution of a purpose to obliterate a guilty nation. Had pestilence or earthquake carried them off, it would have been God's act as truly as when the soldiers of Saul were the executioners of a decree. The employment of an executioner gives no right, but the reverse, to others to go and do the same.
7. The form of punishment on communities under the Old Testament dispensation is evidently suggestive of the danger of antagonism to Christ. The sin of Amalek was that of deliberate attempt to destroy the people of God (Exodus 17:8-16; Deuteronomy 25:17-19). That means to prevent the realisation of salvation in the "seed of Abraham." If Amalek knew, as is certainly possible, the lofty claims of Israel, the crime was most fearful. That in the mind of God and of Israel such was the nature of the sin is seen in the discrimination made in favour of the Kenites because they showed kindness to Israel (verse 6). It is at all events clear that God would have men learn that it was the sin of obstructing his purposes of mercy for mankind that was so obnoxious in his sight. The terrible national destruction which this sin brought on is a clear intimation of the "destruction from the presence of the Lord" which must come on the individuals who set themselves in antagonism to Christ and his purposes of mercy to the world. A more terrible sin than that cannot be conceived; a more terrible act of judgment cannot be imagined than that which will come when Christ shall say, "Depart from me, ye cursed" (Matthew 25:41). "It is a fearful thing," even under the gospel dispensation, "to fall into the hands of the living God" after a life of deliberate antagonism to the very Saviour he has sent to redeem us. Although, therefore, there may be much in the recorded "terrible acts" of God which weighs on our spirit and demands of us reverence and humility, still we are not without some gleams of light to sustain our faith both in the sacred records and the righteousness which never fails.
1. We see how judgment does surely come, though for generations it seems to linger.
2. It becomes us to inquire whether we by any conduct of ours are impeding the march of God's people.
3. We see how God remembers, and causes his servants to remember, acts of kindness rendered to the weary on their way to the promised rest.
4. It is a painful duty to have to be executors of God's judgments; yet when men in national and domestic affairs are really called to it, let them subordinate personal sentiment to solemn duty.
5. In all our painful thoughts over the woes that come on the universe, involving the young and old, let us seek grace to "be still," and to wait for the passing away of the night and the coming of the light that shall turn weeping into joy; for it will come.
1 Samuel 15:8-11
The limits of patience.
The facts are—
1. Saul, in disobedience to the command of God, spares Agag and the best of the spoil.
2. God declares to Samuel that he can endure with Saul as king no longer.
3. Samuel, in his grief, cries unto God all night. It is never said that God changes his purpose absolutely. Where promises are given conditional on conduct they are revoked when conduct fails. We cannot ascribe human feelings to God; yet it is only by the analogy of human feelings that we can know anything of the mind of God. The setting aside from kingly office of Saul was an act of the Divine mind conformable with the original purpose of making him king, since the condition of permanence had not been fulfilled. Saul had been borne with so long; now he is to be borne with no longer. Patience yields to judgment.
I. THERE IS A LIMIT TO DIVINE PATIENCE. Patience bears relation to wrongdoing, or the sufferance of ill. In God it relates to the restraint he puts on himself in the presence of that which merits his displeasure. That there is such a limit to Divine patience is clear.
1. The language of Scripture indicates it. The heart of God is represented as being under pressure of a moral force which can scarcely be resisted. "How shall I give thee up, Ephraim?" (Hosea 11:8). The retrospect of the past brings into view the overpowering considerations which withheld good and allowed calamity to come. "He should have fed them with the finest of the wheat" (Psalms 81:16). "O that my people had hearkened unto me!" (ibid. 1 Samuel 15:13). The persistence of men in sin, despite all counsel and mercy, raises the question of the length of time during which the hand of justice can be stayed. "How long shall I bear with this evil congregation?" (Numbers 14:27). A reference to love, tenderness, and care is set in sad contrast with the doom which the ingratitude so long endured is about to bring (Matthew 23:37, Matthew 23:38).
2. Recorded facts illustrate it. The vices of the antediluvians were long endured, and it was after the Spirit had striven long with men, and they had refused the warnings of Noah, that patience yielded to the execution of judgment (1 Peter 3:20). The repeated warnings given to Pharaoh reveal a patience which terminated in the overthrow in the Red Sea. Patience was "grieved" with the perverse generation in the wilderness, but grief gave place to a "wrath" which barred their entrance into rest (Hebrews 3:9-12). God endured long with some of the seven Churches in Asia, but at last judgment came, and the candlesticks were removed from their place.
3. The close of the Christian dispensation in a day of judgment is the most awful illustration of the limit to God's patience. The plain teaching of that great event is that here men have time to repent and obtain through Christ all that will qualify for a perfect life—that for the term of our earthly life God bears with our sins and provocations, and proves by thousands of favours that he "is slow to anger;" but that the end of all this must come, and judgment on the whole life ensue. His long suffering is great. But "it is appointed to men once to die, and after this the judgment" (Hebrews 9:27).
II. THE GROUND OF THE LIMIT OF GOD'S PATIENCE. The yielding of patience to judgment in the case of Saul was on the occasion of his clear and deliberate breach of the command (1 Samuel 15:1-3, 1 Samuel 15:8, 1 Samuel 15:9), and this too after other opportunities of obedience had been abused. But the question arises how it is that a certain degree or persistence in wrong is the occasion of the cessation of patience. There is a vague impression in some minds that because God is perfectly tender and loving his patience need and ought never to fail. This kind of thinking springs from very defective views of the character of God and of his relation to a moral order. It may not be possible for us to give a perfect rationale of Divine procedure; but there is perhaps light enough to indicate the wisdom and goodness of even a limit to God's patience.
1. The privileges of responsible beings imply a probation for their use. The primary notion of a responsible being is one blessed with privilege, and able to use or abuse it at will But men are constituted so as to derive much wisdom from experience, and hence failure in the use of privilege, in a few instances, may possibly create an experience that will constrain to a more careful observance of duty when newly imposed. Life is full of helps to obedience as well as of hindrances. But as time is required for the development of responsibility, so it is obvious that the possession of privilege involves a limit to the period for use or abuse. Government without a reckoning would be no government. Everlasting patience is inconsistent with responsibility attendant on privilege.
2. In a moral order, where beings are closely interrelated, breach of duty affects others. Saul's conduct could not end in himself. He, as fount of authority and influence, would damage his people by every act of disobedience to the Divine command. The repeated sins of men are so many attacks on the common welfare of the universe. God "desireth not the death of a sinner," but that he should "turn and live;" but he is the Guardian of right, of good, of peace, and of all that enters into the true welfare of the entire universe, and hence there is a love most deep and a wisdom unsearchable in not allowing the wilful sinner any longer to be exempt from the restraints which judgment imposes.
3. Repeated acts of disobedience reveal to God a state of mind which will not benefit by further favours. Every act of sin brings man lower in the moral scale. But while mercy and gentleness afford the sinner every possible chance to recover what is lost, it is possible for the habit of sin to gain such power over the entire man that to the eye of the Eternal his last chance of improving additional opportunities is clean gone. Samuel's distress at the abandonment of Saul (1 Samuel 15:11) was natural, and if his cry all night Was intercession, it was only what might be expected of a good man who knows only in part. The intercession of Moses (Numbers 14:15-23) was for pardon, and was partially successful. Samuel's would appear to have been for pardon in the form of Saul's continuance in the kingly office with the usual Divine sanctions. It is, however, obvious that the judgment of God was based on his perfect knowledge that the heart of Saul was too far gone to be trusted any further. It is an awful fact that a man may, by transgression, work himself into such a condition that all is lost on him, and will be lost. God, knowing this, may cease to be long suffering, and reject him as "nigh unto cursing" (Hebrews 6:6-8).
4. The holiness of God requires vindication. Every pang which followed Saul s earlier sins and every rebuke from Samuel was some vindication of the holiness of God. The private and subjective recognition by the sinner of an insulted holiness is not all that the government of God requires. He is a jealous God; he will be honoured in the eyes of all people. Continued long suffering followed by judgment renders holiness more conspicuous than when judgment forestalls long suffering.
1. We should never forget that every day affords us new opportunities of keeping God's commands.
2. It will repay the effort if we endeavour to form an estimate of the privileges conferred on us in the past, and the extent to which we have drawn on the patience of God.
3. If we are deliberately disobedient in any office of trust, we may some day look for a grave judgment.
4. We are not always competent to see the wisdom of God's severity, and may possibly pray for what is not to be granted.
1 Samuel 15:12-23
The sin of rebellion.
The facts are—
1. Saul, having raised a monument in honour of his victory, meets Samuel with a pious salutation, as though all were well.
2. On being reminded of the presence of spoil, Saul explains by saying that it was spared for the worship of God in sacrifice.
3. Samuel, referring to the instructions received from God, presses home upon him the fact of his guilt in disobeying the Lord.
4. Saul, in response, maintains that substantially he has obeyed the voice of the Lord, but that the people spared the spoil for a religious purpose.
5. Samuel, therefore, urges the great truth that rigid obedience to God is the primary and essential duty, without which all else is sinful, and that rebellion is a sin as heinous as those which men admit to be most vile.
6. Samuel declares to Saul his rejection of God. The important interview between the disobedient king and the prophet of God brings out several great truths.
I. MAN'S PREFERENCE OF HIS OWN WILL TO THE CLEARLY DECLARED WILL OF GOD IS POSITIVE REBELLION AGAINST THE SUPREME AUTHORITY. Saul's sin was known to himself as a preference of his own course in dealing with the Amalekites. He thought it best to modify the command in its detailed execution. No doubt there were reasons which seemed to render such a course useful. It is clear that he did not realise all that it involved, though that was his own fault. To him as a king, whose word was supposed to be law to his subjects, there is something very appropriate in the prophet assuring him that this preference of his own will, however plausible the reasons for it, was not a simple weakness or fault, but nothing less than rebellion—a term of fearful significance under a properly constituted government. The preference was virtually a setting up a counter authority, impeaching the wisdom of God. Saul is not the only one to whom God has plainly declared his will. More or less he has spoken to all men (Romans 1:20). To those blessed with the revealed will as contained in the Scriptures he has given commandments as precise and emphatic as that to Saul to destroy the Amalekites. Every believer in Christianity knows as well as he knows anything that God commands him to repent of sin (Acts 17:30); to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation from the curse of sin (John 20:31; Acts 16:30, Acts 16:31; 1 John 5:10-13); to exterminate all evil—all Amalekites—from the soul (Romans 8:13; 1 Thessalonians 4:3; 1 Peter 1:16); and to submit heart, will, and intellect to the authority of Christ (Matthew 11:29; John 5:23; Acts 10:36; Philippians 2:10, Philippians 2:11). Now is it not a fact that men often prefer not to do this? They do not dispute in formal terms the authority of God, any more than did Saul; yet for reasons known to themselves they prefer not to repent of sin, not to commit themselves to Christ, not to cast out sinful desires, not to bow in all things to the yoke of the Saviour. It is possible that reasons may be forthcoming to, at least, show that there is no violent antagonism. But when carefully looked at it is nothing but the positive setting up of man's will as a better, more to be desired will than God's; it is positive rebellion of a subject against a king—a setting at nought of the supreme authority of the universe.
II. MAN'S ESTIMATE OF THE SIN OF REBELLION IS IN STRIKING CONTRAST WITH GOD'S. Whether Saul was self-persuaded that he had not committed any sin (1 Samuel 15:13) is, as we shall yet see, doubtful. The probability is that he was conscious of uneasiness, but had no true conception of the enormity of his sin. His feeling was that he had no wish to disown the authority of God, that it was a mere matter of detail, that his general conduct was exemplary, and that he followed the inner light which seemed just then to indicate another way of ultimately and substantially carrying out the command. So do men tone down their sins and regard them as venial. The prophet's words reveal God's estimate of the sin of disobedience. It is the cardinal sin (1 Samuel 15:22, 1 Samuel 15:23). It cuts at the root of all authority. It is the assertion of a power and a wisdom over against the power and wisdom of the Eternal. It makes man a worshipper of himself rather than of God. It ignores the solemn truth that we "cannot serve two masters." It does dishonour to him whose commandments are holy, just, and good. It sows in the moral sphere seeds of evil, which, taking root, must widen the aberration of man from God. It claims for the desires and dim light of a sinful creature a higher value in the determination of actions than is to be attached to the purposes of the All-Perfect. To render its heinous character more clear, the prophet asserts that it renders useless and even wicked the most solemn acts of worship (1 Samuel 15:22; cf. Isaiah 1:11-15). No profession of religion; no self-denial in surrender of choice property; no conformity with venerable customs, or obedience in other particulars, will for a moment be accepted in lieu of full and implicit obedience to the clear commands which God lays on man both in relation to himself and mankind. God will have no reserve of our will. Again, to make it more impressive, the prophet assures Saul that this rebellion is in its evil nature equal to the sins which men are led by education and custom to regard as the most abominable and indefensible. "As the sin of witchcraft, as iniquity and idolatry." There are men still who shrink in horror at heathenism and vile arts. Are they prepared to believe that not to obey the clear command to repent, to believe on Christ, to become pure, and to submit in all things to the yoke of Christ, is as dreadful in the sight of God as being an idolater or a vile deceiver? It is this Divine estimate of sin which alone explains the." many stripes" with which they will be punished who, knowing the Lord's will with respect to these matters, nevertheless prefer their own. It will be more tolerable in the day of judgment for Sodom than for some of our day (Matthew 11:20-24).
III. MAN'S CONDITION AND CONDUCT AFTER DELIBERATE REBELLION IS A REVELATION OF ITS EVIL NATURE. All sin degrades and debases; it prevents clear vision of one's own condition and a true estimate of conduct. Sin is always self-apologetic. It enslaves its victims. The opinion of a morally fallen being on matters of high spiritual import must always be discounted. Men in internal opposition to God are not safe guides in dealing with the loftiest problems of human existence. This general effect of sin is more manifest when a man has, after enjoying great advantages, deliberately preferred his own will to the clear will of God. He then enters into darkness most dense, and the fountain of moral thought and feeling becomes more corrupt. We see this in Saul's subsequent conduct and perverse reasoning with Samuel (1 Samuel 15:20, 1 Samuel 15:21). Even when conscience began to he aroused by the impressive language of the prophet, he found a subtle evasion in that, as a king, he had done his part in placing Agag at the disposal of Samuel, but that the people were to blame in the matter of the spoil. Thus it is ever. Sin does not end in itself. It by its evil power induces self-complacency, creates ingenious excuses, prompts to observance of outward religious acts, throws blame on circumstances over which there is no control, and even emboldens the soul to argue with the messengers of God.
IV. ONE SERIOUS CONSEQUENCE OF REBELLION IS TO DISQUALIFY FOR SERVICE IN THE KINGDOM OF GOD. Apart from the personal effects of Saul's sin, the relative effect was to unfit him for performing the part to which he had been called in the service of God. He was rejected from being king (1 Samuel 15:23). God's sanction and blessing were henceforth to be withheld. He was to be king in name only. The life once promising good to Israel was to be unblest and fruitful in sorrows. This result follows from every preference of our own will. We cease to hold the position and exercise the influence of God-made kings (Revelation 1:4, Revelation 1:5) in so far as we fail in perfect execution of the will of the King of kings. It is possible for a man to proceed from step to step in deliberate rebellion till, both on account of his inward moral decay and his pernicious influence, God'sets him aside altogether. A pastor, a parent, a professed Christian may thus be practically disowned by Providence. However he may continue to labour in some lower departments, the higher spiritual service of God will cease to be his.
1. It is very dangerous to begin to compare our wishes and plans, with. the clear will of God; every thought should at once be brought into subjection.
2. Sudden and unusual outbursts of pious zeal may be a sign of an uneasy conscience; steady growth is the proof of reality.
3. The folly of excuses for sin is seen by all except the sinner himself.
4. Sin, when we are exalted to privileges, is doubly base (1 Samuel 15:17).
5. We must never subordinate what we may call genera/ obedience for actual literal obedience to God's will (1 Samuel 15:20).
6. Participation of others in our sin is no palliation of ours (1 Samuel 15:21).
7. Property obtained by unholy means is not acceptable to God when laid on his altar for professedly religious purposes (1 Samuel 15:22).
8. Obedience in matters outside acts of worship is a condition of acceptable worship, but not the ground of our salvation.
9. Deceitfulness, depravity, and idolatry are the true and ruinous characteristics of every act of doing our own pleasure when professedly engaged in doing only the will of God (1 Samuel 15:23).
1 Samuel 15:24-31
Conviction of sin not repentance.
The facts are—
1. Saul, alleging fear of the people, admits his sin, and seeks Samuel's presence while he worships the Lord.
2. On Samuel refusing and turning away, Saul seizes and rends his garment, which circumstance is used as a sign that so the Lord had rent the kingdom from Saul and given it to another.
3. On being assured that God's purpose was irrevocable. Saul entreats, for the sake of his credit among the people that Samuel would join him in an act of worship, to which Samuel complies. The decisive language of the prophet, given in a tone which admitted of no mistake, aroused the slumbering conscience of Saul, and brought about his remarkable pleading for pity and help. We have here the case of a man guilty of a great sin, concerned for its forgiveness, but sternly assured that he shall not have it. The apparent severity of the prophet is not based on any arbitrary decree of God, nor on an unchangeableness in the "Strength of Israel" irrespective of human character and conduct, but upon God's knowledge of Saul's actual condition. The repentance which Saul thinks to be adequate, and which many men would recognise, is known by the Searcher of hearts not to be true repentance, but only a bare conviction of sin, attended with a consequent dread of the outward temporal consequences attached to it, as just indicated by Samuel. Bare conviction of sin is not true repentance. Consider -
I. ITS REAL NATURE. Conviction of sin is a matter only of an aroused conscience, brought about by the evidence of facts being set before the understanding and the presence of penalties consequent on the evidence. There was no resisting Samuel's argument. The common understanding saw that a human will in opposition to a Divine was necessarily sin, and the uneasiness of conscience thus naturally aroused was aggravated by the emphatic announcement of a great penalty—loss of the kingdom. The mental operation was that of a pure logical progression from admitted premises to an irresistible conclusion. Conscience does not disturb a man in working out a syllogism in formal logic or a demonstration in mathematics; but it does when the question reasoned on is the man's own conduct. This is the general nature of the conviction of sin which many experience. Here, observe, is an absence of all that fine spiritual discernment which sees in sin essential unholiness, and that corresponding feeling which loathes it because of what it is in the sight of God. There is no change in the spirit towards sin itself, no detestation of the self-preference which rose against the supreme will.
II. ITS MANIFESTATIONS. The manifestation of Saul's conviction of sin is a remarkable illustration of the enormous difference between bare conviction and true repentance. The force of evidence and pressure of penalty extorted the admission, "I have sinned:" yet, owing to the lack of the spirit of repentance, the mere generality of that admission was revealed by the immediate palliation, "I feared the people." Pardon, consisting in the removal of penalty, was the only pardon cared for, and even this was sought by a superstitious trust in the prayers of another. A zealous and prompt observance of some outward act of worship was thought to be a sure means of recovering lost favour. The slightest movement of Samuel indicative of the non-reversal of the penalty only excited a spasmodic dread, without the slightest trace of any changed sentiment towards sin itself. And when no hope of avoiding the penalty remains, the only thought is to break his fall before his elders, and so save some civil advantage. This analysis, expressed in terms suitable to our times, will be found to hold good of multitudes whose conviction of sin is unattended with the spirit of a true repentance. How different the conviction that accompanies true repentance! Then, "I have sinned" has a deep, unutterable meaning. Forgiveness is then not the mere release of life from suffering and loss, but a restoration of the soul to the joy of personal reconciliation with a holy Father. No thought of excuse is ever entertained, but "against thee, and thee only, have I sinned and done this evil," is the sincere confession of a broken and contrite heart. The soul is so filled with self-loathing, and so agonised in being far from God, that it thinks not of punishment and position among men, and can only go direct to God and plead, "Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me." Contrast Simon Magus (Acts 8:24) and Felix (Acts 24:25; Psalms 51:1-19.; Luke 15:1-32.).
III. ITS CONSEQUENCES. Saul, though convinced of sin, was practically an unchanged man. He was, after his pleading with Samuel, and after Samuel's kindly act of consoling his poor blind heart by joining in worship, as fond of his own self-will as before. No spiritual change being wrought, no remission of penalty was ever possible. On his knowledge of what was Saul's radical evil—a heart out of all sympathy with God's holiness—and of its continuance, did God resolve to provide for Israel another king. The Strength of Israel is not dependent on existing arrangements or human beings for the maintenance of his authority and accomplishment of his purposes. Saul as a king was ruined. His defective conviction was of no avail. It should be urged on all that a mere admission of sin and effort to be free from its punishment are of no avail. Loss of all that is deemed precious must ensue. Only repentance of the heart will serve. This is sure to lead away from all false means of deliverance to him who is exalted to give remission of sins.
1. A spirit of blended firmness and kindness should influence us in the discharge of unwelcome duties.
2. We should be careful not to encourage men in their self-delusions.
3. Respect for an office and consideration for social relations should enter into our treatment of offenders.
1 Samuel 15:32-35
The facts are—
1. Samuel summons Agag into his presence and hews him in pieces.
2. Samuel departs from Saul, and though mourning for him, no longer holds any official connection with him. The effect of Saul's disobedience on the people would have been disastrous were the original command to be in any way evaded; and, therefore, though it was no part of the prophet's ordinary functions to act as executioner, Samuel so far deviated from his usual course, and put his feelings under restraint, as to slay the captive king. There could be no mistake of the imperativeness of the Divine command when the people saw Samuel perform on the body of the king an act symbolical of the utter destruction of the enemies of God. The act itself, as also the occasion of it, must have given pain to the prophet's mind. The subsequent suspension of relations with Saul was the natural result and formal expression of God's rejection of him. Any other line of conduct would be open to serious misinterpretation. Samuel naturally was grieved in thus setting his ban on one for whom he had taken such pains, and in whose successful career he himself was deeply interested. But duty is above personal feeling.
I. HUMAN IMPERFECTION GIVES OCCASION FOR THE DISCHARGE OF PAINFUL DUTIES. Samuel is not the only one who has had to discharge solemn duties with a sorrowful heart.
1. There are instances recorded in Scripture.
(1) Of men. It was not without pain that Moses broke away from the associations of the home of Pharaoh's daughter, where he had from childhood been treated with consideration and kindness. Nathan could not but put constraint on his feelings when he exposed the sin of one for whom he had cherished the profoundest respect (2 Samuel 12:7-14). See the case of the apostles (Acts 5:1-10; Acts 9:23-29; Romans 9:1-3; Philippians 3:5-8).
(2) Of Christ. It was as much beside his usual course as for Samuel to slay Agag when the gentle Saviour made a scourge and drove the money changers from the temple (John 2:15). There was evident sorrow of heart running through the terrible denunciations and forebodings which duty required him to utter over Capernaum, Jerusalem, and the scribes and Pharisees. His leaving Nazareth and never returning, after the cruel rejection of his word, must have been, considering his associations with the place, a duty as painful almost as the revelation to his disciples that one of their number would betray him (Luke 4:28-30; Luke 22:21-23). And may we not say that it will not be without a tone of sadness, more marked than any that entered into Samuel's demand for Agag, that Christ, the great Judge, will on the day of judgment say to those who once heard his call of mercy and scorned it, "Depart from me."
2. There are instances recurring, in modern life. On some is imposed the sorrowful duty of rebuking friends for disgraceful deeds, or of administering chastisements which cause more pain to the chastiser than to the chastised, or of enforcing with bleeding heart the rigorous rules of Church discipline upon persons once honoured and beloved. Samuel is but one of a host who have to assert Divine authority, moral order, and the interests of the community at the cost of much personal suffering.
II. SUCH DISCHARGE OF PAINFUL DUTIES IS AN ILLUSTRATION OF THE SUPREMACY OF RIGHTEOUSNESS. The emotional element is strong in life. Personal considerations have, wisely and usefully, great weight in regulating actions. But it was profound regard for right that enabled Samuel to rule every feeling of his nature and subordinate it to the ends of justice, and therefore of benevolence. The same is seen in every kindred instance. It is indicative of a healthful moral condition where regard for right is dominant. Love, tenderness, pity are useful, powerful elements in a moral character; but they cease to be strictly moral when they operate as mere feelings apart from the guidance and control of righteousness. This looking high above personal relations to the requirements of a universal equity is the sublimest form of conduct.
HOMILIES BY B. DALE
1 Samuel 15:1-9. (GIBEAH.)
A probationary commission.
1. The fidelity of Saul to the principle of his appointment, viz. obedience to the will of Jehovah, was once and again put to the test. He had been tried by inaction, delay, and distress, which became the occasion of his being tempted to distrust, and the use of his power for his own safety, in opposition to the word of God (1 Samuel 13:11). He had been tried by enterprise, encouragement, and the expectation of brilliant success, which became the occasion of his being tempted to presumption in entering rashly upon his own ways, and adopting "foolish and hurtful devices" for conquest and glory, independently of the counsel of God (1 Samuel 14:19, 1 Samuel 14:24). He must now be tried by victory, power, and prosperity. Having chastised his enemies on every side (1 Samuel 14:47), his assured success becomes the final test of his character and fitness to rule over Israel.
2. The temptations of Saul may he compared with those of others, and especially with the three temptations of Christ (Matthew 4:1-10; Luke 4:1-12), which are "an epitome of all the temptations, moral and spiritual, which the devil has contrived for man from the day of his first sin unto this very hour." The antecedents in both cases, the circumstances under which the temptations occurred, the principles to which they appealed, the inducements which they presented, the means afforded for their resistance, and their result, are all suggestive. Where the first king of Israel failed the last King of Israel prevailed, and whilst Saul was rejected, Jesus was perfected, and "crowned with glory and honour" (Luke 22:28, Luke 22:29; Hebrews 2:10, Hebrews 2:18).
3. The commission of Saul to execute judgment upon the Amalekites was brought to him by Samuel, whose authority as the prophet of the Lord he never called in question, however much he may have acted contrary to his directions. After Saul exhibited a determination to have his own way, Samuel seems to have exerted little influence over him. At the battle of Michmash the high priest Ahiah was his only spiritual counsellor. It became more and more evident that he wished to establish a "kingdom of this world," like the surrounding heathen kingdoms, in opposition to the design of God concerning Israel, which the prophet represented and sought to carry into effect; and it was inevitable that, with such contrary aims, a conflict should arise between them. "The great prophet's voice brings him a new commission from his God, and preludes it by a note of very special warning: 'The Lord sent me,' etc. This tone of adjuration surely tells all. It speaks the prophet's judgment of his character, of prayers and intercessions, of days of watching and nights of grief for one he loved so well, as he saw growing on that darkening countenance the deepening lines of willfulness. The prophet sees that it will be a crisis in that life history with which by God's own hand his own had been so strangely entwined? The commission was—
I. DIVINELY APPOINTED (1 Samuel 15:1).
1. When a communication enjoining the performance of any action comes unquestionably from God. it should be unhesitatingly obeyed. His authority is supreme, his power is infinite, and his commands are right and good. It does not follow that everything he directs men to do in one age is obligatory on all others in every age. But some things he has undoubtedly enjoined upon us all.
2. When such a communication is made with peculiar directness and solemnity, it should be obeyed with peculiar attention and circumspection, for important issues are involved in its faithful or faithless observance. "if thou hast failed in other things, take heed that thou fail not in this."
3. When special privilege and honour have been bestowed upon men by God they are placed under special obligations of obedience to him. "Though thou wast little in thine own sight," etc. (1 Samuel 15:17).
II. JUSTLY DESERVED by those against whom it was directed (1 Samuel 15:2)—"the sinners the Amalekites" (1 Samuel 15:18).
1. Some sins are marked by an unusual degree of criminality and guilt. Like the people of Israel, the Amalekites were descendants of Abraham (Amalek being the grandson of Esau—Genesis 36:12, Genesis 36:16); but they attacked them at Rephidim on their way through the desert, and strove to annihilate them (Exodus 17:8-16); they lay in wait for them secretly and subtly, and smote the hindermost, the feeble, the faint and weary, and "feared not God" (Deuteronomy 25:17-19). Their conduct was ungenerous, unprovoked, cruel, and utterly godless.
2. Special sins are perpetuated in families and nations and increase in intensity. The Amalekites were hereditary, open, and deadly foes of Israel (Numbers 14:45; Judges 3:13; Judges 6:3). They lived by plunder, and were guilty of unsparing bloodshed (1 Samuel 15:33). Some fresh act of cruelty may have shown that they were "ripe for the judgment of extermination."
3. Sinners long spared and persisting in flagrant transgression bring upon themselves sudden, signal, and overwhelming destruction. If judgment is pervaded and limited by mercy, mercy has also limits beyond which it does not pass, and they who despise it must perish. Men may forget what God has spoken (Exodus 17:14); but he remembers it, and fulfils his word at the proper time. "Injuries done to the people of God will sooner or later be reckoned for." Impenitent sinners "treasure up unto themselves wrath against the day of wrath" (Romans 2:5). It accumulates like a gathering thundercloud or an Alpine avalanche (Luke 11:50, Luke 11:51), and it frequently comes upon them by ways and means such as they themselves have chosen. The Amalekites put others to the sword and spared not; they must themselves be put to the sword and not be spared. The moral improvement of inveterate sinners by their continuance on earth is sometimes hopeless, and their removal by Divine judgment is necessary for the moral improvement and general welfare of other people with whom they are connected, and teaches valuable lessons to succeeding ages.
III. FULLY EXPRESSED (1 Samuel 15:3, 1 Samuel 15:18). The will of God is made known in different forms and with various degrees of clearness, and some men, whilst acknowledging their obligation to obey it, have sought to justify themselves in the neglect of particular duties on the ground of their not having been fully directed. But this could not be the case with Saul, whose commission was—
1. Imperative; so that there could be no excuse for evasion. "Go and smite Amalek."
2. Plain; so that its meaning could not be mistaken, except by the most inattentive and negligent of men. "Utterly destroy (devote to destruction). Fight against them until they be consumed."
3. Minute; so that no room was left for the exercise of discretion as to the manner or extent of its fulfilment. It required simple, literal obedience, such as is now required in many things. "Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it."
IV. ZEALOUSLY COMMENCED (1 Samuel 15:4, 1 Samuel 15:5, 1 Samuel 15:7). The "journey on which he was sent" (1 Samuel 15:18) was entered upon by Saul with something of the same energy and zeal which he had formerly displayed against the Ammonites, but the deterioration which had since taken place in his character by the possession of power soon appeared.
1. The work to which men are called in the way of duty sometimes bears a close affinity to their natural temperament and disposition.
2. Men may appear to others, and even to themselves, to be very zealous for the Lord whilst they are only doing what is naturally agreeable to themselves. "Come with me," said Jehu, "and see my zeal for the Lord" (2 Kings 10:16, 2 Kings 10:31). "But Jehu took no heed to walk in the law of the Lord God of Israel." Saul of Tarsus, like Saul of Gibeah, appeared to be fighting for God when he was really fighting against him.
3. The real nature of their zeal is manifested when the requirements of God come into collision with their convenience, pleasure, ambition, or self-interest. Then the hidden spring is laid bare.
V. UNFAITHFULLY EXECUTED (1 Samuel 15:8, 1 Samuel 15:9). "Spared Agag, and the best of the sheep," etc; "and would not destroy them." "He hath turned back from following me, and hath not performed my commandments" (1 Samuel 15:11).
1. There may be the performance of many things along with the neglect or refusal to perform others of equal or of greater importance. Saul was "a type of those who are willing to do something as against the world and on behalf of Christ, but by no means willing to do all that they ought to do." Herod "did many things, and heard John gladly" (Mark 6:20), but he would not give up his ruling passion.
2. Disobedience in one thing often manifests the spirit of disobedience in all things. It shows that the heart and will are not surrendered to the Lord, and without such a surrender all else is worthless. In Saul's sparing Agag and the best of the sheep, etc, we have "a melancholy example of sparing sins and evils that should be slain, and sheltering and harbouring them under false pretences by unworthy pleas and excuses."
3. The love of self is the supreme motive of those who refuse to obey God. Saul was actuated by covetousness (verse 19), worldly mindedness (Matthew 4:9; 1 John 2:15, 1 John 2:16), and vainglorious pride, which are only different forms of the love of self. "Behold, he set him up a monument, and is gone about (as in a triumphal procession), and passed on, and gone down to Gilgal" (verse 12), intending probably to make a display of the royal captive for his own glory; perhaps to make him a tributary prince and a source of profit. "Pride arising from the consciousness of his own strength led him astray to break the command of God. His sin was open rebellion against the sovereignty of the God of Israel; for he no longer desired to be the medium of the sovereignty of Jehovah, or the executor of the commands of the God king, but simply wanted to reign according to his own arbitrary will" (Keil).—D.
1 Samuel 15:5, 1 Samuel 15:6. (THE WILDERNESS OF JUDAS.)
Come out from among them.
The Kenites were descendants of Abraham (Genesis 25:2; Numbers 10:29; Judges 1:16) like the Amalekites, but they were unlike the latter in character and conduct. Many of them were incorporated with Israel; others, whilst standing in friendly relationship to them, lived in close contact with "the sinners the Amalekites." They may be regarded as representing those who are "not far from the kingdom of God," but imperil their salvation by evil companionship. In this message (sent by Saul, perhaps, according to the direction of Samuel) we notice—
I. THE PERIL OF UNGODLY ASSOCIATION. It is not every association with irreligious persons indeed that is to be deprecated (1 Corinthians 5:10), but only such as is unnecessary, voluntary, very intimate, and formed with a view to personal convenience, profit, or pleasure rather than to their improvement (Genesis 13:12). This—
1. Destroys the good which is possessed.
2. Conforms to the evil which prevails (Psalms 1:1; Revelation 18:4).
3. Involves in the doom which is predicted—certain, terrible, and imminent. The ban has been pronounced (1 Corinthians 16:22; 2 Thessalonians 1:9), and it will ere long be executed. "A companion of fools shall be destroyed" (Proverbs 13:20).
II. THE OPPORTUNITY OF EFFECTUAL ESCAPE, which—
1. Is afforded by the mercy of God, of which the message spoken by man is the expression.
2. Shows the value which he sets upon even the least measure of kindness and piety. "Ye showed kindness," etc. (1 Samuel 15:6). Moral goodness, like moral evil (1 Samuel 15:2), tends to perpetuate itself. God honours it by the blessing which he causes to follow in its track, he desires its preservation and perfection, and hence he says, "Destroy it not" (Isaiah 65:8).
3. Offers a certain, great, and immediate benefit. "Come out from among them and be separate, saith the Lord, and I will receive you" (2 Corinthians 6:14-18).
III. THE NECESSITY OF IMMEDIATE SEPARATION.
1. This requires decision, self-denial, sacrifice, and effort.
2. Nothing else can avail (Ephesians 5:11).
3. And every moment's delay increases danger.
"Escape for thy life; look not behind thee, neither stay thou in all the plain" (Genesis 19:17). "Be wise today, 'tis madness to defer."—D.
1 Samuel 15:10, 1 Samuel 15:11. (RAMAH.)
Samuel's intercession for Saul.
The recorded instances of Samuel's praying are of an intercessory character (1 Samuel 7:9; 1 Samuel 8:6, 1 Samuel 8:21; 1 Samuel 12:18, 1 Samuel 12:23). The last of them is his intercession for Saul. He appears to have been told by God in a dream of the result of the probationary commission which had been given to the king. Agitated and distressed, and not yet clearly perceiving it to be the fixed purpose of God (1 Samuel 15:29) that Saul should no longer reign over Israel as his recognised servant and vicegerent, Samuel gave himself unto prayer, if thereby he might avert the calamity. Respecting his intercession, consider—
I. ON WHOSE BEHALF IT WAS MADE. Chiefly, doubtless, on behalf of Saul, though not without regard to the nation, on which his rejection seemed likely to produce a disastrous effect. Intercession should be made for individuals as well as communities. "Satan hath desired to have you," said he who is the perfect example of intercessory prayer, "but I have prayed for thee" (Luke 22:32). There were many things in Saul calculated to call it forth.
1. His good qualities, exalted position, and intimate relationship to the prophet.
2. His grievous sin (1Sa 15:11, 1 Samuel 15:19, 1 Samuel 15:23), exceeding his previous transgressions.
3. His great danger—falling from his high dignity, failing to accomplish the purpose of his appointment, losing the favour and help of Jehovah, and sinking into confirmed rebellion and complete ruin. "It repenteth me that I have made Saul king; for he is turned back from following me" (1 Samuel 15:11, 1 Samuel 15:35). When a change takes place in the conduct of man toward God, as from obedience to disobedience, it necessitates a change of God's dealings toward him (otherwise he would not be unchangeably holy), and this "change of his dispensation" or economy (Theodoret) is called his repentance. It is not, however, the same in all respects as repentance in men. No change in him can arise, as in them, from unforeseen events or more perfect knowledge, seeing that "his understanding is infinite;" yet, on the other hand, as in their repentance there is sorrow, so also in his—sorrow over those who turn from him, oppose his gracious purposes, and bring misery upon themselves (Genesis 6:6; Judges 10:16); and of this Divine sorrow the tears and agonies of Christ are the most affecting revelation.
II. IN WHAT SPIRIT IT WAS MADE.
1. Holy anger against sin, and against the sinner in so far as he has yielded himself to its power, arising from sympathy with God and zeal for his honour (Psalms 119:126, Psalms 119:136, Psalms 119:158).
2. Deep sorrow over the sinner, in his essential personality, his loss and ruin; not unmingled with disappointment at the failure of the hopes entertained concerning him. Sorrow over sinners is a proof of love to them.
3. Intense desire for the sinner's repentance, forgiveness, and salvation. "And he cried unto the Lord all night" with a loud and piercing cry, and in prolonged entreaty. The old home at Ramah, which had been sanctified by parental prayers and his own incessant supplications, never witnessed greater fervour. Wonderful was the spirit of intercession which he possessed. Well might the Psalmist, in calling upon men to worship the Lord, single him out as pre-eminent among them that "call upon his name" (Psalms 99:6). But still more wonderful was the spirit which was displayed by the great Intercessor, who often spent the night in prayer, and whose whole life was a continued act of intercession, closing with the cry, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." Would that more of the same spirit were possessed by all his disciples!
"We are told
How much the prayers of righteous men avail;
And yet 'tis strange how very few believe
These blessed words, or act as were they true."
III. TO WHAT EXTENT IT AVAILED.
1. Not to the full extent he desired. Saul did not repent, neither was he exempted from the sentence of rejection. The relation of the sovereignty of God to the will of men is inexplicable. How far the Almighty may, by special and extraordinary grace, subdue its opposition we cannot tell. But he has conditioned the general exercise of his power by the gift of freedom and responsibility, he does not destroy or recall the gift; and the power of human resistance to the Divine will is a fearful endowment. There are stages of human guilt which would be followed by the wrath of God "though Moses and Samuel stood before him" (Jeremiah 15:1). "There is a sin unto death; I do not say that he shall pray for it" (1 John 5:16). "The sin, namely, of a wilful, obstinate, Heaven daring opposition to the ways of God and the demands of righteousness, and which, under a dispensation of grace, can usually belong only to such as have grieved the Spirit of God till he has finally left them—a sin, therefore, which lies beyond the province of forgiveness" (Fairbairn, 'Typology,' 2:341).
2. Yet, doubtless, to obtain many benefits for the transgressor, in affording him space for repentance and motives to it. Who shall say how many blessings came upon Saul in answer to Samuel's intercession for him?
3. And to calm the soul of him who prays, to make known the will of God to him more clearly, to bring him into more perfect acquiescence with it, and to strengthen him for the duty that lies before him. "And he arose early to meet Saul in the morning" (1 Samuel 15:12).
1. How great is the privilege and honour of intercessory prayer.
2. Since we know not who are beyond the reach of Divine grace, we should never cease to intercede for any.
3. If intercession does not avail to obtain all that it seeks, it does not fail to obtain invaluable blessings.—D.
1 Samuel 15:12-21. (GILGAL.)
Excuses for disobedience.
1. Samuel met Saul at Gilgal. It was a sacred spot, and a well known scene of important events in former time and in more recent years. There the kingdom had been established (1 Samuel 11:15), and Saul "had solemnly pledged him and the people to unconditional obedience." There also he had been previously rebuked and warned (1 Samuel 13:13). And thither he repaired ostensibly to offer the sacrifices of thanksgiving for victory, really to make a boastful display and confirm his worldly power. How strangely and intimately are particular places associated with the moral life of individuals and nations!
2. The interview (like the former) appears to have been held in private. The sentence of rejection was heard by Saul alone, and long kept by him as a dreadful secret. Yet it was probably surmised by many from his breach with Samuel, and was gradually revealed by the course of events. The sacred history was written from a theocratic point of view, and indicates the principles of which those events were the outcome.
3. The appearance of Samuel was an arraignment of the disobedient king before the tribunal of Divine justice. Blinded in part and self-deceived, he made an ostentatious profession of regard for the prophet (1 Samuel 15:13), and with the assumption of perfect innocence and praiseworthy obedience uttered "the Pharisee's boast"—"I have performed the commandment of Jehovah." His subsequent confession proved the insincerity of his declaration. His disobedience was crowned with falsehood and hypocrisy. When formally called to account (1 Samuel 15:14), he forthwith began to justify himself and make excuses for his conduct, such as transgressors are commonly accustomed to make. They were—
I. EXCEEDINGLY VARIED. He—
1. Attributes to other persons what cannot be denied to have occurred, and seeks to transfer to them the blame which is due to himself. "They have brought them from the Amalekites: for the people spared the best of the sheep and of the oxen" (1 Samuel 15:15). So spoke Adam and Eve at the commencement of human transgression and human excuses (Genesis 3:13). On a former occasion, when desirous of having his own way, he had not been so considerate of their wishes or so compliant (1 Samuel 14:24, 1 Samuel 14:39, 1 Samuel 14:45). "If this excuse were false, where was the integrity and honour of the monarch? If it were true, where was his devotion and obedience? And whether true or false, how utterly unworthy did it prove him of continuing the servant and viceroy of the King of Israel" (Le Bas).
2. Protests good intentions, and even religious and commendable motives. "The people spared the best to sacrifice unto the Lord thy God;" whereby he seeks to gain the approval of the prophet, but betrays his own inward alienation from the Lord, for he cannot truly say "my God" (Matthew 23:14); and whilst he has regard to the outward ceremonies of the law, he knows not (or wilfully disregards it) that by the law the sacrifices of "devoted" things were altogether prohibited (Deuteronomy 13:15; Numbers 31:48).
3. Professes his faithful obedience. "And the rest we have utterly destroyed." Agam and again he declares his innocence (1 Samuel 15:20, 1 Samuel 15:21), and insinuates, that instead of being reproved by the prophet, he ought to be commended by him for his zeal.
4. Asserts complete readiness to meet whatever charge may be preferred against him. "Say on" (1 Samuel 15:16). "See how sin is multiplied by sin. The transgressor of God's command stands forth as the accuser of the people, the speaker of gross falsehood. The spirit of disobedience evoked as with the rod of an enchanter those other agents of iniquity from their lurking place; and lo! they sprang forth to do his bidding. Verily their name was legion, for they were many" (Anderson, 'Cloud of Witnesses,' 2:350).
II. FAITHFULLY EXPOSED. Samuel's fidelity, moral courage, and dignity, mingled with something of bitter disappointment and sorrowful resentment, are specially noteworthy. He—
1. Points to incontestable fact. "What is this bleating of sheep in mine ears, and the lowing of oxen which I hear?" (1 Samuel 15:14). It flatly contradicts thy statement, reveals thy sin, and exposes thy excuses. Between it and thy duty there is a contradiction which no explanation can remove. Sin cannot be wholly concealed. "God knows how to bring it to light, however great the care with which it may be cloaked." He was convicted of it by the voices of the animals which he had spared. And "it is no new thing for the plausible pretensions and protestations of hypocrites to be contradicted and disproved by the most plain and undeniable evidences.
2. Checks the multiplication of vain excuses. Stay (1 Samuel 15:16); proceed no further in thy endeavour to justify thyself. "And I will tell thee," etc. When the voice of truth, of conscience, and of God speaks, it must perforce silence all other voices.
3. Recalls the requirements of the Divine commission (1 Samuel 15:18), which had been kept out of sight and evaded in the attempts made in self-defence. "Go and utterly destroy the sinners the Amalekites" (see 1 Samuel 15:3).
4. Reveals the motives of outward conduct (1 Samuel 15:19), viz. self-will, pride (1 Samuel 9:21), avarice, rapacity, "love of the world" (Colossians 3:5; 2 Timothy 4:10), rebellious opposition to the will of Jehovah, and daring ambition to reign independently of him. In all this Samuel sought to rouse the slumbering conscience of the king, and lead him to see his sin and repent. If even yet he had fallen upon his face and given glory to God, there might have been hope. But the reiteration of his previous assertions, his repudiation of what was laid to his charge, and his blindly pointing to his main offence ("and have brought Agag the king of Amalek") as an evidence of his fidelity and zeal, showed that he was insensible to reproof. What should have humbled him served only to harden him in rebellion and obstinacy. And nothing was left but his rejection. His excuses were -
III. UTTERLY FUTILE, sinful, and injurious. They—
1. Failed of their intended effect.
2. Increased his delusion, and prevented the light of truth from shining into his mind.
3. Deepened his guilt in the sight of Heaven.
4. Brought upon him heavier condemnation. "As he returned with his victorious troops the prophet met him. That sorrow stricken countenance, round which hung the long Nazarite locks, now whitened by the snows of ninety years, pale and worn with the long night's unbroken but ungranted intercession, might have told all. Now the thundercloud, which began to gather fourteen years before, breaks and peals over the sinner's head. 'Stay,' is the sad and terrible voice as it breaks through the cobweb limits of self-deception and excuse, 'and I will tell thee what the Lord said to me this night,' etc 'The people took of the spoil,' etc.—the very utterance of dark superstition and mean equivocation. Then the lightning came. The prophet's voice, gathering itself up into one of those magnificent utterances which, belonging to another and a later dispensation, antedate the coming revelation, and are evidently launched forth from the open ark of the testimony of the Highest, said, 'Hath the Lord,'" etc. ('Heroes of Hebrews Hist.').—D.
1 Samuel 15:22, 1 Samuel 15:23. (GILGAL.)
The sentence of rejection.
"Hath Jehovah (as much) delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices,
As in obeying the voice of Jehovah?
Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice,
And to give heed than the fat of rams.
For (like) the sin of divination is rebellion,
And (like) an idol and teraphim is obstinacy.
Because thou hast rejected the word of Jehovah,
He hath rejected thee from being king."
The crisis has now fully arrived. The aged prophet confronts the self-deceived king, whom he looks upon as no longer reigning as servant of Jehovah, in consequence of his endeavour to rule according to his own will and pleasure, though in connection with the outward forms of the religion of Israel. He has striven in vain to turn him from his way, and can henceforth only regard him as a rebel against the supreme Ruler. Inasmuch as Saul, in seeking to justify himself, showed that he estimated moral obedience lightly in comparison with ritual worship, Samuel first of all asserts the incomparable superiority of the former to the latter. He then declares that disobedience is equivalent to heathenism and idolatry, against which Saul, in offering sacrifices to Jehovah and other ways, exhibited such zeal. And, finally, he pronounces, as a judge upon a criminal, the sentence of his rejection. "There is a poetical rhythm in the original which gives it the tone of a Divine oracle uttered by the Spirit of God, imparting to it an awful solemnity, and making it sink deep into the memory of the hearers in all generations" (Wordsworth). Notice—
I. THE PARAMOUNT WORTH OF OBEDIENCE, considered in relation to offerings and sacrifices and other external forms of worship (1 Samuel 15:22).
1. It is often less regarded by men than such forms. They mistake the proper meaning and purpose of them, entertain false and superstitious notions concerning them, and find it easier and more according to their sinful dispositions to serve God (since they must serve him somehow) by them than in self-denial and submission to his will. It is indeed by no means an uncommon thing for those who are consciously leading a sinful life to be diligent and zealous in outward religious worship, and make use of the fruit of their disobedience "to sacrifice unto the Lord," imagining that it will be pleasing to him, and make compensation for their defects in other things.
2. It is absolutely necessary in order that they may be acceptable to God. The spirit of obedience and love is the soul of external services of every kind, and without it they are worthless. "To love him with all the heart is more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices" (Mark 12:33). The one ought never to be disjoined from the other, but it is often done; and they are set in contrast to each other. "If we were to say charity is better than church going, we should be understood to mean that it is better than such church going as is severed from charity. For if they were united they would not be contrasted. The soul is of more value than the body. But it is not contrasted unless they come into competition with one another, and their interests (although they cannot in truth be so) seem to be separated" (Pusey, 'Minor Prophets,' Hosea 6:6). "The sacrifice of the wicked is abomination" (Proverbs 21:27).
3. It is incomparably superior to them, considered as needful and appointed modes of serving God (apart from the "wicked mind" with which they are sometimes observed). Because—
(1) The one is universal; the other is partial, and really included in it.
(2) The one is moral, the other ceremonial. It is a "weightier matter of the law."
(3) The one is of a man himself, the willing sacrifice of his own will; the other of only a portion of his powers or possessions. And "how much better is a man than a sheep!"
(4) The one is essential, being founded upon the natural relation of man to God; the other is circumstantial, arising from man's earthly and sinful condition. "Angels obey, but do not sacrifice."
(5) The one is the reality, the other the symbol.
(6) The one is the end, the other the means. Sacrifice is the way of the sinner back to obedience, and the means of his preservation therein. Even the one perfect sacrifice of Christ would not have been needed if man had been obedient. Its design is not merely to afford a sufficient reason for the remission of punishment in a system of moral government, but also to restore to obedience (Titus 2:14).
(7) The one is temporary, the other is eternal. The sacrifices of the former dispensation have now been abolished; and how much of the present form of Divine service will vanish away when we behold the face of God! But love and obedience will "never fail." Since obedience is thus the one thing, the essential, more important than anything else, it should hold the supreme place in our hearts and lives.
II. THE IDOLATROUS CHARACTER OF DISOBEDIENCE (1 Samuel 15:22). In proportion to the excellence of obedience is the wickedness of disobedience.
1. It is a common thing for men to make light of it, especially in actions to which they are disposed, or which they have committed, being blinded by their evil desires and passions.
2. In the sight of God every act of disobedience is exceedingly hateful. "Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil" (Habakkuk 1:13) without punishing it.
3. In the light of truth it is seen to be the same in principle as those transgressions on which the severest condemnation is pronounced, and which are acknowledged to be deserving of the strongest reprobation. It is probable that Saul had already taken measures to put down the "sin of divination" (1 Samuel 28:9), and prided himself upon his zeal against idolatry; but he was acting in the spirit of that which he condemned, and was an idolater at heart. For he was turning away from God, resisting and rejecting him, and making an idol of self, which is done by all who (in selfish and superstitious fear or desire) seek divination (witchcraft) and trust in an idol ("which is nothing in the world") and teraphim (household gods—ch, 1 Samuel 19:13). "The declinations from religion, besides the privative, which is atheism, and the branches thereof, are three—heresies, idolatry, and witchcraft. Heresies when we serve the true God with a false worship; idolatry when we worship false gods, supposing them to be true; and witchcraft when we adore false gods, knowing them to be wicked and false—the height of idolatry. And yet we see, though these be true degrees, Samuel teacheth us that they are all of a nature, when there is once a receding from the word of God" (Bacon, 'Advancement of Learning'). "All conscious disobedience is actual idolatry, because it makes self-will, the human I, into a god" (Keil). "Little children, keep yourselves from idols" (1 John 5:21).
III. THE JUST CONDEMNATION OF THE DISOBEDIENT (1 Samuel 28:18).
1. The punishment of the disobedient is the appropriate fruit of his disobedience. "Because thou hast rejected me," etc. Saul wished to reign without God, and have his own way; what he sought as a blessing he obtains as a curse. Sinners say, "Depart from us," etc. (Job 21:14); and the most terrible sentence that can be pronounced upon them is, "Depart from me, ye that work iniquity" (Psalms 6:8; Matthew 7:23). "God rejects no one unless he is before rejected by him."
2. It involves grievous loss and misery—the loss of power, honour, blessedness; the experience of weakness, reproach, unhappiness, which cannot be wholly avoided, even though mercy be afterwards found.
3. Judgment is mingled with mercy. Although Saul was discrowned as theocratic king, he did not cease to live or to reign as "legal king." He was not personally and entirely abandoned. God sought his salvation to the last. "His rejection involved only this—
(1) That God would henceforth leave him, and withdraw from him the (special) gifts of his Spirit, his counsel through the Urim and Thummim and by his servant Samuel; and
(2) that in a short time the real deposition would be followed by tangible consequences—the kingly ruins would be destroyed, and the kingdom would not pass to his descendants (Hengstenberg, 'Kingdom of God,' 2:89).—D.
1 Samuel 15:24-31. (GILGAL.)
Insincere confession of sin.
"I have sinned" (1 Samuel 15:24, 1 Samuel 15:30). On hearing the sentence of his rejection, Saul at length confesses his sin. The words of Samuel have some effect upon him, but not the full effect they should have had. For his confession does not proceed from a truly penitent heart (see 1 Samuel 7:6), and it is not followed either by the reversal of his sentence or the forgiveness of his sin. It was like that of Pharaoh (Exodus 9:27), of Balaam (Numbers 22:34), and of Judas (Matthew 27:4)—springing from "the sorrow of the world, which worketh death" (2 Corinthians 7:10). Notice—
I. ITS CHARACTERISTICS. It was made—
1. Under the pressure of circumstances, rather than as the free expression of conviction. Confession comes too late when it is extorted by the demonstration of sin which can no longer be denied. Some men, like Saul, conceal their sin so long as they can, and confess it only when they are compelled.
2. From the fear of consequences (1 Samuel 15:23, 1 Samuel 15:26), and not from a sense of the essential evil of sin. This is the most common characteristic of insincerity. As Saul confessed his sin from the fear of losing his kingdom, so do multitudes from fear of death, and live to prove their insincerity by their return to disobedience. "There are two views of sin: in one it is looked upon as a wrong; in the other as producing loss—loss, for example, of character. In such cases, if character could be preserved before the world, grief would not come; but the paroxysms of misery fall upon our proud spirit when our guilt is made public. The most distinct instance we have of this is in the life of Saul. In the midst of his apparent grief, the thing still uppermost was that he had forfeited his kingly character; almost the only longing was that Samuel should honour him before the people. And hence it comes to pass that often remorse and anguish only begin with exposure" (Robertson).
3. To the servant of God, and to gain his approval, and not to God, and to obtain his favour. "Thy words" (1 Samuel 15:24). "Now therefore" (as if on the ground of his confession he could justly claim pardon), "I pray thee, pardon my sin" (1 Samuel 15:25). Many confess their sin to men without confessing it to God, and attach to their confession a worth that does not belong to it.
4. With an extenuation of guilt, rather than with a full acknowledgment of its enormity. "I feared the people, and obeyed their voice" (1 Samuel 15:24, 1 Samuel 15:15). He returns to his first excuse, which he puts in a different form. If what he said was true, what he had done was wrong (Exodus 23:2). There is a higher law than the clamour of a multitude. True penitents do not seek to palliate their sin, but make mention of its greatness as a plea for Divine mercy (Psalms 25:11).
5. With an entreaty for public honour, rather than in deep humiliation before God and man. "Honour me now, I pray thee, before the elders of the people, and before Israel" (1 Samuel 15:30) "If Saul had been really penitent, he would have prayed to be humbled rather than to be honoured" (Gregory).
6. With repeated promises of rendering worship before the Lord, rather than a serious purpose to obey his voice (1 Samuel 15:25, 1 Samuel 15:30). He does not seem even yet to have laid to heart the truth which had been declared by the prophet; and he probably looked upon public worship by sacrifice as something peculiarly praiseworthy, and sought, by urging Samuel to remain and offer it, to promote his own honour in the sight of the people, and not as the expression of penitence and the means of forgiveness "The most prominent feature in the character of Saul was his insincerity." And yet, in his repeated promises to worship the Lord, and his urgent entreaties of Samuel, there was doubtless an element of good that might not be despised (1 Kings 21:29).
"The blackest night that veils the sky,
Of beauty hath a share;
The darkest heart hath signs to tell
That God still lingers there."
II. ITS CONSEQUENCES. In the language and conduct of Samuel there was—
1. A reiteration of the sentence of rejection. Thrice it was declared that Jehovah had determined that Saul should no longer reign under his sanction and by his aid (1 Samuel 15:26, 1 Samuel 15:28). Although he may not have known all that the sentence involved, he felt that its import was alarming. An insincere confession of sin darkens the gathering cloud instead of dispersing it.
2. A confirmation of it by an impressive sign, the occasion of which is afforded by the sinner himself (1 Samuel 15:27). Thereby it comes home to him with greater force.
3. An intimation of the transfer to a better man of the dignity which has been forfeited by sin. This was the second time that an announcement of a truly theocratic king was given (1 Samuel 12:14); and whilst it showed that the Divine purpose could not be defeated, however it might be striven against, it must have been peculiarly painful to Saul. The dreadful secret was a constant burden to him, and when he recognised the man in whom the prediction was about to be fulfilled, it excited his envy and hatred toward him. When any one is not right with God, every favour shown to another fills him with grief and wrath (Genesis 4:5).
4. A declaration of the unchangeable purpose of God. "The Strength" (Prerpetuity, Confidence, Refuge, Victory) "of Israel will not lie nor repent," etc. (1 Samuel 15:29). Saul evidently thought of him as capable of acting in an arbitrary, capricious, and inconstant manner, like himself; but, inasmuch as he formed his purposes with .perfect knowledge, and acted on immutable principles, and there was no real change In the heart of the transgressor, there could be no reversal of his sentence. "He cannot deny himself" (2 Timothy 2:12). If in some things his purposes toward men appear to change because men alter their relative position toward him (as the sun appears to change by the rotation of the earth, causing day and night), in others they abide the same forever, and he who sets himself against them must be overthrown. It is now certain that he cannot again be a theocratic king; but his renewed importunity, in which, perchance, notwithstanding its apparent selfishness, the prophet sees a gleam of hope, is followed by—
5. An indication of pity toward the foolish and fallen king. "And Samuel returned after Saul; and Saul worshipped Jehovah" (1 Samuel 15:31). May he not even yet be led to true repentance? Although the birthright is given to another, there is a blessing for him who weeps and prays (Genesis 27:38-40). His request is granted. He has what he desires and is prepared to receive. He is still the king after the people's heart. He shall continue such. The sentence shall not be published, nor any special effort be put forth for his dethronement. It would result in general confusion. The just and merciful purposes of God toward the people in giving him for their king are not yet fulfilled, and they will slowly ripen to their accomplishment.
6. An exhibition of judgment upon an obstinate offender (1 Samuel 15:32). One of the reasons, doubtless, why Samuel "turned again after Saul" was that he might execute on Agag the Divine sentence which he had faithlessly remitted. "The terrible vengeanca executed on the fallen monarch by Samuel is a measure of Saul's delinquency." It is also a solemn warning to him of the doom which sooner or later comes upon every impenitent and persistent transgressor.
1. It is not confession of sin, but the spirit in which it is made, that renders it acceptable to God.
2. Sincerity is the foundation of a truly religious character.
3. Though mercy long lingers over the sinner, yet if it be despised doom comes at last.—D.
1 Samuel 15:29. (GILGAL.)
The unchangeable One of Israel.
"And also the Strength of Israel will not lie nor repent:
For he is not a man, that he should repent"
The word rendered Strength in the A.V. (netsach, here used for the first time) has a varied signification (splendour, victory, truth, confidence, perpetuity, etc.), but is used in this place in the sense of steadfastness, constancy, and unchangeableness. Jehovah, the prophet says, is the Immutability, or unchangeable One, of Israel. He is not like man, inconstant, unreliable, changeable. He is not such an one as Saul imagined him to be; does not vacillate in his thoughts, feelings, or purposes; but acts on immutable principles, and performs the word which he has spoken; and hence the sentence of rejection cannot be reversed. His unchangeableness is often declared in the Scriptures. It is implied in the name of Jehovah. It was dwelt upon by Moses (Deuteronomy 32:4, Deuteronomy 32:18, Deuteronomy 32:31), perceived by Balsam (Numbers 23:19), and asserted by Hannah in her song of praise (1 Samuel 2:2). And although it is often disbelieved or misinterpreted, it is a source of strength and consolation to all by whom it is properly understood and realised. Observe that it—
I. ACCORDS WITH APPARENT CHANGEABLENESS in—
1. The creation of the world and the varied operations of his hand. It is not stoical indifference (without affection) nor absolute quiescence (without activity). He is the living God, and freely exercises his boundless power in producing infinite changes. "Over all things, animate and inanimate, flows the silent and resistless tide of change." But whilst he is "in all, above all, and through all," he is separate and distinct from all; and the creation of the world and all the mutations of matter and force are only expressions of his eternal and unchangeable thought. The physical universe is the garment in which the Invisible clothes himself and manifests himself to our apprehension (Psalms 102:25-27; Psalms 104:2).
2. The revelations of his character and the successive dispensations of his grace. These are not contrary to one another. They are simply the clearer and more perfect manifestations of him who is always "the same;" adapted to the need and capacity of men. God deals with them as a parent with his children, affording them instruction as they are able to bear it.
3. The relations in which he stands to men, and his diversified dealings with them. They sometimes appear the opposite of each other. At one time he approves of individuals and nations, and promises them manifold blessings, whereas at another he condemns and punishes them. Hence he is said to repent. But the change arises from a change in men themselves. The Glory of Israel always shines with undimmed lustre; but they shut their eyes and turn their backs upon the light, so that to them it becomes darkness. And it is his unchangeable holiness that necessitates this result; for if he were "altogether such an one as themselves," they might expect (like Saul) to enjoy his favour whilst they continued in sin. "With the pure thou wilt show thyself pure; and with the froward thou wilt show thyself froward" (Psalms 18:26).
II. DENOTES REAL UNCHANGEABLENESS in—
1. The perfections of his character. Change is an element of imperfection, and no such element can exist in the absolutely perfect One. With him "there is no variableness, neither shadow caused by turning" (James 1:17). "In him there is no darkness at all" (1 John 1:5). And it is "impossible for God to lie" (Hebrews 6:18).
2. The principles of his government: wisdom, truth, equity, goodness, etc. In these things he delights, and from them he never departs. They stand like rocks amidst a sea of perpetual change. They are more immutable than the laws of nature, being the foundation on which those laws rest, and inseparable from the Divine character. "The word of our God" (in which they are expressed) "shall stand forever" (Isaiah 40:8; Isaiah 51:6). "Till heaven and earth pass," etc. (Matthew 5:18).
3. The purposes of his heart, formed in perfect knowledge of all that will take place, and effected in harmony with the principles before mentioned. Some of these purposes are hidden (Deuteronomy 29:29). Others are revealed, and include the general conditions of peace and happiness, and the results of their observance or neglect (promises and threatenings), also particular events, occurring either independently of the free action of men, or in connection with it, whether in the way of opposition or cooperation, as, e.g; the setting up of a theocratic kingdom, the advent and death of the Messiah (Acts 4:27, Acts 4:28), and his universal reign. "The counsel of the Lord standeth forever" (Psalms 33:10, Psalms 33:11; Proverbs 19:21; Isaiah 46:10; Jeremiah 4:28). "I am Jehovah, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed" (Malachi 3:6). "When we find predictions in Scripture not executed, we must consider them not as absolute, but conditional, or, as the civil law calls it, an interlocutory sentence. God declared what would follow by natural causes, or by the demerit of man, not what he would absolutely do himself. And though in many of these predictions the condition is not expressed, it is understood" (see Jeremiah 18:7, Jeremiah 18:8; Ezekiel 33:13, Ezekiel 33:14; Jonah 3:4; Jonah 4:2).
III. INCITES TO HUMAN CONSTANCY in—
1. Faith. He never disappoints the trust that is reposed in him. His covenant with his people is firm and sure; "for the mountains shall depart, and the hills be removed," etc. (Isaiah 54:10). "All the promises of God in him are yea, and in him Amen" (2 Corinthians 1:20). What an incentive is thus afforded to each believer, and the whole Church, to "abide in him"! "Whose faith follow, etc. Jesus Christ (is) the same yesterday, and today, and forever; (therefore) be not carried about (like a ship driven by varying winds) with divers and strange doctrines; for it is a good thing that the heart be established with grace" (Hebrews 13:7-9).
2. Love. Only the unchangeable One can be a true, satisfying, and enduring rest of the affections; for all earthly objects change and pass away, and must leave the immortal spirit desolate. His unchanging love should keep our love to him and to each other burning with a steady flame (John 13:1, John 13:34; Jud John 1:21).
(1) Which consists in conformity to the constant obedience of Christ to the righteous and unalterable will of the Father.
(2) Which is faithfully assured of enduring blessedness (Revelation 22:14). "He that doeth the will of God abideth forever" (1 John 2:17).
(3) But without which there will be an irrevocable loss of the most glorious crown and kingdom. The persistently rebellious dash themselves to pieces against the unchangeable holiness and justice of God.—D.
1 Samuel 15:32, 1 Samuel 15:33. (GILGAL.)
The execution of Agag.
Agag was put to death, perhaps, by the hand of Samuel: more probably by other hands under his order, for it is common to speak of official persons doing what they simply command to be done (John 19:1). "In ancient time persons of the highest rank were employed to execute the sentence of the law (Jether, the eldest son of Gideon, Doeg, Benaiah). Sometimes the chief magistrate executed the sentence of the law with his own bands" (Paxton's 'Illustrations,' 4:171). The act was one of great severity. It should, however, be remembered that—
1. The Amalekite king had committed great atrocities (1 Samuel 15:33), and was the chief representative of cruel and irreconcilable enemies of Israel.
2. Amalek lay under a ban of extermination which had been pronounced by Jehovah (Exodus 17:14; Numbers 24:20), and was now required to be fully carried into effect. Samuel acted in obedience to a higher will than his own; not from personal revenge, but in his public capacity, doing what Saul (from no feelings of humanity) had failed to do, and giving honour to Jehovah before his altar. "There must indeed have been inadequate ideas of the individuality of man and of the rights of human life before a dispensation could have been received which enforced wars of extermination—wars which would now be contrary to morality; for the reason that our ideas on the subject of human individuality and the rights of life are completely changed, and that we have been enlightened on these subjects, upon which the early ages of mankind were in the dark".
3. The peculiar circumstances of the case necessitated some such exhibition of the authority and justice of Jehovah for the maintenance of the theocracy, and the reproof and warning of the people who had shared in the sin of their king. "Such a sinking age could be saved from imminent dissolution only by extreme severity. He who, however kindly disposed in other respects, was most direct and inexorable in carrying out what seemed urgently needed, he alone could now become the true physician of the times, and the successful founder of a better age" (Ewald). We have here -
I. A NOTORIOUS OFFENDER MEETING HIS JUST DOOM.
1. Although sentence upon an evil work is not speedily executed, it is not reversed. The long suffering of God waits, "as in the days of Noah" (2Pe 3:1-18 :20), when judgment was suspended for 120 years; but "he spared not the old world" (2 Peter 2:5).
2. Justice requires that incorrigible sinners should be punished with significant severity. "As" (in the same manner as) "thy sword," etc.
3. Death is naturally bitter to men, and especially to those who have heavy guilt upon their consciences. The last words of Agag were, "Surely the bitterness of death is past."
4. When sinners deem themselves most secure, then "sudden destruction cometh upon them." Having been spared so long, he imagined that the danger was over, and little thought that the venerable prophet was the messenger of wrath. "The feet of the avenging deities are shod with wool, but they strike with iron hands."
II. AN AMIABLE PROPHET CLOTHED WITH HOLY SEVERITY.
1. The more a man loves righteousness, the more intensely does he hate sin. "Ye that love the Lord, hate evil." What woes were ever so terrible as those that fell from the lips of Christ?
2. A good man may inflict punishment on the wicked without feelings of personal revenge against them "Our Lord declared the inferiority of the legal position of the Old Testament not because the desire of retribution ought to be excluded from the religion of reconciliation, but because it ought not to predominate in it" (Thohlck).
3. When some fail to carry out the purposes of God, others are bound to make up for their defect, and sometimes to do things for which they do not seem well adapted, and which do not harmonise with their general character Kings 18:40). "When kings abandoned their duty God often executed his law by the prophets" (Grotius).
4. That which is severity to one must often be done, provided it be not contrary to justice, for the good of all.
III. AN OBSTINATE PEOPLE TAUGHT A SALUTARY LESSON.
1. No excuse can justify disobedience to the commands of God. Doubtless the people, if called to account, would have been as ready as Saul to offer excuses for the part they took in sparing Agag and the best of the sheep, etc.
2. They who fail to obey these commands deprive themselves of invaluable blessings. The sunshine of heaven is beclouded, and the sentence of rejection on their king, although at present little known, will ere long produce disastrous effects in them.
3. God's work must be done, and if one refuses to do it, another is raised up for the purpose. As with individuals, so with nations (Numbers 14:21; Romans 11:22).
4. Those who, although the professed people of God, contend against his purposes must share the fate of his open enemies. "If ye shall still do wickedly ye shall be consumed, both you and your king" (1 Samuel 12:25).—D.
1 Samuel 15:34, 1 Samuel 15:35. (GILGAL.)
A melancholy parting.
The interview between Samuel and Saul was now ended. "It was a fearful meeting; it was followed by a lifelong parting." The earlier course of Saul (from the time the prophet met him in the gate at Ramah) was marked by modesty, prudence, generosity, and lofty spiritual impulses, and was one of brilliant promise. His subsequent course (from his first wrong step before the war of Michmash), although distinguished by external prosperity, was marked, by self-will, presumption, disobedience, and selfishness, and was one of rapid degeneracy. How must the prophet have lamented as he saw the wreck of that early brightened life!" On his part, more especially, the separation was—
I. NEEDFUL. A good man is compelled to separate from those to whom he has given his counsel and aid
1. When from lack of sympathy and opposition of aim he can no longer effectively cooperate with them.
2. When he cannot hope to exert a beneficial influence upon them.
3. When his continuance with them affords a sanction to a course which he cannot approve. His parting' is a condemnation of it, and is rendered necessary by truth and righteousness. "God's ambassador was recalled from him; the intercourse of the God of Israel came to an end because Saul, sinking step by step away from God, had by continued disobedience and increasing impenitence given up communion with God" (Erdmann). "Had he spared this spiritual child, when to spare him would have been contrary to the fundamental law of the theocracy, the worst possible precedent would have been afforded for future ages by this first king" (Ewald).
II. RESPECTFUL. Samuel acceded to the request of Saul to honour him before the people; and although it is not stated how far he participated with him in worship, yet he evidently avoided an open and violent rupture with him, and gave him honour, as civil ruler, to the last. Respect is due "not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward," on account of—
1. The authority and power that may be intrusted to them in the providence of God (Romans 13:1).
2. The natural dignity of man—great in ruin, capable of restoration, and susceptible to the influence of kindness or contempt. Jesus did not resent the kiss with which Judas betrayed him, but said, "Friend, wherefore comest thou hither?"
3. The requirements of social order and peace. Saul was even yet the best king the people were fit to receive, and the conduct of Samuel indicated the duty of submission, which, in the spirit of their king, they were not always disposed to render (1 Samuel 15:24; 1 Samuel 14:45).
III. SORROWFUL. "Nevertheless Samuel mourned for Saul." With heavy heart and weary feet the old prophet took his way up from Gilgal to Ramah, and mourned for Saul, who, on the opposite hill of Gibeah, pursued his wilful way, bringing upon himself and Israel inevitable and overwhelming woe; alive, yet dead; so near, yet so completely lost.
1. What object is more mournful than a soul "going astray" from God?
2. What sorrow is too great at such a sight?
3. How vast is that Divine sorrow of which the human is the product and reflection! "And the Lord repented," etc. The prophetic spirit is one of wide and deep sympathy at once with God and man, and it was perfectly possessed by "the Man of sorrows." "Samuel mourned for Saul, but we do not hear that Saul mourned for himself."
IV. FINAL. He "came no more to see Saul"—gave him counsel no more as aforetime, which indeed was not desired; and he only saw him once again, when he forced himself into his presence (1 Samuel 19:24). When good men are compelled by the conduct of the wicked to separate from them, the parting—
1. Deprives the latter of incalculable benefits, however lightly they may be estimated at the time.
2. Tends to increase the moral distance between them, and render the restoration of their intercourse more and more impossible.
3. Is certain to be hereafter bitterly but vainly regretted (1 Samuel 28:15, 1 Samuel 28:18). Oh, the sad and perpetual separations that are caused by sin! The paths of Samuel and Saul (like those of Moses and Pharaoh, Paul and Demas) may be compared to the courses of two ships that meet on the ocean, and sail near each other for a season, not without danger of collision, and then part asunder, the one to reach a "desired haven," the other to make shipwreck and become a castaway.—D.
1 Samuel 15:25; 1 Samuel 16:1-4. (RAMAH.)-Recalled to the path of duty.
"Go, I will send thee to Jesse the Bethlehemite."
1. The greatest and best of men experience seasons of sorrow, depression, and doubt, and sometimes fail in the fulfilment of duty. It was thus with Abraham, Moses, and Elijah, and with others in later ages. It was the same with Samuel, though to a less extent than almost any other. His grief for Saul was excessive. He surrendered himself to it without seeking the consolation and help by which it might be mitigated, and suffered it to interfere with the work which he might yet accomplish on behalf of Israel; and hence he was reproved by God. "The excellent prophet here displays something of human weakness. Samuel here looked on the vessel, made by the invisible hand of God himself, utterly broken and minished, and his emotion thereat shows his pious and holy affection; yet he is not without sin" (Calvin).
2. The failure of good men often appears in those things in which they are pre-eminently excellent. Samuel exhibited extraordinary sympathy with the purposes of God concerning his people, unquestioning obedience to every indication of his will, and strong faith, and hope, and dauntless courage in its fulfilment. Yet here we find him a prey to "the grief that saps the mind," apparently hopeless and desponding, and smitten with fear like Elijah when "he arose and went for his life" on hearing the threat of Jezebel. "Such things would seem designed by God to stain the pride of all flesh, and to check all dependence upon the most eminent or confirmed habits of godliness" (A. Fuller). The strongest are as dependent on God as the feeblest.
3. A higher voice than that of their own troubled and fearful hearts speaks to men of sincerity, and in communing with it they are led into a clearer perception of duty and to gird themselves afresh for its performance. The "spirit of faith" regains its ascendancy over them. And in going forth to active service they find new strength and hope at every step. The night gives place to the morning dawn, and
"They feel, although no tongue can prove,
That every cloud that spreads above
And velleth love, itself is love
(Tennyson, 'The Two Voices').
Consider the way of duty, trodden by the good man, as—
I. PRESCRIBED BY GOD, whose will is the rule of human life, and is—
1. Indicated in many ways—the word of truth, providential circumstances, reason, and conscience, and "that awful interior light which the dying Saviour promised, and which the ascending Saviour bestowed—the Spirit of God."
2. Sometimes obscured by frustrated effort, grievous disappointment, immoderate grief, desponding and doubtful thoughts (Matthew 11:2, Matthew 11:3; Acts 18:9; Acts 23:11).
3. Never long hidden from those who are sincerely desirous of doing it, and seek for the knowledge of it with a view to that end (1 Samuel 16:2, 1 Samuel 16:3; 1 Kings 19:15).
II. BESET BY DANGER. "How can I go? If Saul hear of it, he will kill me." The question was not simply an inquiry for direction, but also an expression of fear; and it may possibly have arisen from indications of Saul's wilfulness such as afterwards appeared (1 Samuel 19:22).
1. Danger is sometimes formidable, even to the bravest of men.
2. It is exaggerated by despondency, doubt, and fear.
"Thy soul is by vile fear assailed, which oft
So overcasts a man, that he recoils
From noblest resolution, like a beast
At some false semblance in the twilight gloom" (Dante).
3. No danger in the way of duty is equal to that which will be certainly found in departing from it. "In the way of righteousness there is life, and in the pathway thereof there is no death."
III. PURSUED WITH FIDELITY. "And Samuel did that which the Lord spake" (1 Samuel 16:4). His hesitation was only for a moment, and with further light his faith revived and was displayed in fearless devotion. Fidelity to duty—
1. Demands the renunciation of self and many cherished plans and purposes.
2. Appears in trustful, practical, and unreserved obedience. Samuel went in dependence upon the promise, "I will show thee what thou shalt do," etc.
3. Sometimes necessitates a prudent reserve. There was no deception in withholding a reason for the action directed, beyond that which lay on the surface of the action itself. To reveal it would be to defeat the end designed. And fidelity is sometimes best shown by silence.
IV. TERMINATING IN SAFETY AND HOPE.
1. Threatened danger is averted.
2. Promised guidance is obtained.
3. A brighter day dawns, and
"God's purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding every hour."
Samuel returns to Ramah in peace, and with renewed zeal devotes his remaining days to the work of training a body of younger prophets (1 Samuel 19:20), whose influence, together with a change of dynasty, will save the nation and promote the establishment of the kingdom of God. "Let us ask ourselves whether the Jewish nation would have played any part as a 'main propelling agency of modern cultivation,' if its monarchy had been allowed to take the form which Saul would have given it, if he had made religion a creature of the kingly power, and war an instrument of rapine, and not of justice, and we shall see that Samuel's view of the matter was the true one, and in accordance with the proper vocation of a prophet" (Strachey, 'Jewish Hist. and Politics').—D.
1 Samuel 15:35. (RAMAH.)
Samuel a man of sorrows.
"Nevertheless Samuel mourned for Saul." There are many kinds of sorrow in the world. One is natural, such as is felt by men in temporal affliction. Another is spiritual, such as is felt by a penitent for his sin. A third is sympathetic, benevolent, Divine, such as is felt by a godly man over the ungodly. "I beheld the transgressors, and was grieved." Of this last Samuel had experience throughout his life (1 Samuel 3:15;. 1 Samuel 4:11; 1Sa 7:2; 1 Samuel 8:3, 1 Samuel 8:6), and more especially at the persistent transgression and irrevocable rejection of Saul. Observe of such sorrow, that—
I. IT IS OCCASIONED BY A DEPLORABLE SIGHT. Look at it. A soul—
1. Failing to fulfil the purpose for which it was made, and "coming short of the glory of God."
2. Falling into degradation, misery, and woe. A ruined temple! A wandering star! (Jud 1 Samuel 1:13). A discrowned monarch! A despairing spirit! Oh, what a contrast between what it might have been and what it is here and will be hereafter!
3. Inciting others to pursue the same path.
II. IT IS AN EVIDENCE OF EXALTED PIETY, inasmuch as it shows—
1. Genuine zeal for the honour of God, whose law is "made void," whose goodness is despised, and whose claims are trampled in the dust.
2. Tender compassion toward men. "Charity to the soul is the soul of charity."
3. Intense sympathy with the noblest of men, with the Son of God, and with the eternal Father himself. "I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart," etc. (Romans 9:1-3). "O that thou hadst known," etc. (Luke 19:42). "O that thou hadst hearkened to my commandments!" (Isaiah 48:18).
III. IT IS SOMETIMES IMPROPERLY INDULGED (1 Samuel 16:1), as—
1. When it is mingled with feelings of personal disappointment and mortification, and of dissatisfaction with the ways of God.
2. When it is allowed to become a prolonged and all-absorbing emotion, to the exclusion of those considerations and feelings by which it ought to be modified and regulated.
3. When it produces despondency and fear (1 Samuel 16:2), weakens faith, and hinders exertion.
IV. ITS IMPROPER INDULGENCE IS DIVINELY CORRECTED. By means of—
1. Gentle rebuke, indicating that it is useless, unreasonable, and reprehensible.
2. Clear and deep conviction of the over-ruling purpose of God, and unreserved submission to it. "At that time Jesus answered and said, I thank thee, O Father," etc. (Matthew 11:25).
3. Renewed, benevolent, and hopeful activity.—D.
HOMILIES BY D. FRASER
1 Samuel 15:31
Tried again and rejected.
God proves his servants, and does not show them the fulness of his favour and confidence till they have been tested. Abraham was tried and found faithful; so was Moses; so was David; so was Daniel. Abraham, indeed, was not without fault, nor Moses either. David once sinned grievously. But all of these were proved true at heart and trustworthy. Saul is the conspicuous instance in the Old Testament of one who, when called to a high post in Jehovah's service, and tested therein again and again, offended the Lord again and again, and was therefore rejected and disowned.
1. The question on which the king was tested was the same as before. Would he obey the voice of the Lord, and rule as his lieutenant, or would he be as the kings of the neighbouring nations and tribes, and use the power with which he was invested according to his own will and pleasure? On this critical question the prophet Samuel had exhorted both Saul and the people when the monarchy was instituted. If the king erred, he could not plead that he had not been forewarned. The accepted principle of modern constitutional government is that the ruler exists and is bound to act for the public good, and not for his own aggrandisement or pleasure. At root this is the very principle which Samuel inculcated 3000 years ago. The Old Testament required a king to reign in the fear of the Lord, and loyally execute his will. The New Testament describes the ruler as a "minister of God for good." Now the Divine will and the public weal are really the same, and the most advanced political principle of modern intelligence is no other than the old doctrine of the Bible. There is no Divine right of kings to rule as they think proper. That doctrine of base political subservience is opposed to both the spirit and the letter of the sacred writings. The king is for God, not God for the king. The king is for the people, not the people for the king. The voice of the people may not always be the voice of God, but the good of the people is always the will of God.
2. The test to which the king was new subjected was, like the former one, specific, and publicly applied. Would he obey the Lord in the extermination of Amalek or no? And he disobeyed. If there was one of all the Amalekite race who deserved to forfeit his life, it was the king, Agag, a ruthless chief, whose sword, as Samuel expressed it, had "made women childless;" yet him Saul spared when he showed no mercy to others. It was not at all from a feeling of humanity or pity. To have scrupled about shedding the blood of a hereditary foe would not have occurred to any Oriental warrior of the period. But Saul would reserve the royal captive to grace his triumph, and be a household slave of the king of Israel. It was the pride of the chiefs and kings of that age to reduce the princes whom they had conquered to slavery in their courts. Adonibezek is said to have kept seventy such captives, whose hands and feet he had mutilated to unfit them for war, and who, as slaves, gathered from his table. Besides Agag, the best of the sheep and cattle belonging to Amalek were spared by Saul and his army. They used their success to enrich themselves, and forgot that the sentence of God against that nation was the only justification of the war.
3. The Divine censure on the disobedient king was pronounced by Samuel. The prophet was deeply grieved. He had loved the young man on whose lofty head he had poured the sacred oil, and whose failure to fulfil the early promise of his reign had already caused him, if not much surprise, distress unfeigned. And Samuel was concerned for the nation. If the new government was so soon discredited, and Saul forfeited his kingly seat, what but anarchy could come upon Israel, and with anarchy, subjection, as before, to the Philistines or some other warlike nation of the heathen? The prophet fulfilled his commission, however painful; gravely reproved the king, brushed aside his excuses and evasions, and refused, not without a touch of scorn, his offered bribe of animals for sacrifice.
4. Samuel took occasion to declare that "to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams." These words contain the very quintessence of the testimony of the prophets; not Samuel only, but Hoses, Micah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and in fact all the great teachers whom Jehovah sent to his ancient people. Sacrificial oblations could never be accepted in lieu of practical obedience, and a rebellious, wilful temper was as offensive to the Lord as any kind of idolatry. Priests and Levites were appointed for religious ceremonial, but the great function of the prophets was to maintain the supremacy of what is moral over what is ceremonial, and to lift up fearless voices for mercy and truth, judgment and righteousness, integrity and probity, reverence for Jehovah, and obedience to his revealed will. Such was the testimony of the Lord Jesus himself, as the greatest of prophets. He recognised and respected the sacrifices appointed in the law, but did not in his conversations or discourses dwell on them. His aim was to cause men to hear the word of God, and do it. And such is the message or burden of all New Testament prophets, and of those who know how to guide and teach Christians. To be lax and indulgent on questions of moral conduct, while strict about services and offerings to God and the Church, is the part of a false prophet. The true prophet, while witnessing to free forgiveness in the blood of Christ, will enjoin all who seek that forgiveness to cease to do evil and learn to do well, will faithfully declare to them that they cannot be kept in the love of God if they are not obedient to his word.
5. The behaviour of Saul under reproof betrayed a shifty, superficial character. He showed no real sense of sin, or desire of Divine forgiveness. David, during his reign, committed a more heinous offence against domestic and social morality than anything that Saul as yet had done; but he was pardoned and restored because when charged with the sin—"Thou art the man"—he confessed it, and excused not himself. And then he cried to God, "Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean." But Saul, when charged with disobedience, showed no shame or sorrow on its account. He at once put himself in a defensive attitude, stooped to subterfuge, laid the blame on others, had no feeling but a desire to escape consequences. He would propitiate the Lord and his prophet by sacrifices; but his former religious sensibility was now almost quite gone from him, and he was becoming, like Esau, a "profane person," hard and godless. It is pitiful to see that the king looked no higher than to Samuel, and asked no more than that the prophet would pardon him, and favour him so far as to join with him while he publicly worshipped the Lord. Evidently his object was to have his credit upheld by the venerated presence of Samuel; and, on his repeating the request, the prophet thought fit to yield to his wish, probably to avoid the weakening of the royal influence, and the premature fall of the monarchy.
6. The rejection of Saul took no sudden effect. Gravely and sadly it was pronounced by Samuel; but it brought about no immediate catastrophe. None the less was it a sure and fatal sentence. We know that Saul was not dethroned. He had a long reign, and died on the battle field. But the process was already begun which led him to dark Gilboa, which led one better than him to Hebron and to Jerusalem; and the remainder of this book is occupied in showing how the Divine rejection of Saul took effect, and how the Lord brought forward and trained the son of Jesse for the kingdom. It is a thought full of solemnity, that a man may long keep his place and hold his own in Christian society who yet is rejected by the Lord, and is growing at heart more and more profane, till at last the evil spirit rules him instead of the good, and he dies as one troubled and God forsaken. The process may be long, but it is none the less tragical. May God keep us from the beginnings of declension, and from all excusing of our sins, or laying of the fault upon others I Lord, take not thy Holy Spirit from us!—F.