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COMMENCEMENT OF DAVID'S LIFE AS AN OUTLAW.
1 Samuel 22:1
The cave Adullam. According to Josephus this was situated near a city of the same name ('Ant.,' 1 Samuel 6:12, 1 Samuel 6:3), which formed one of a group of fifteen in the Shephelah (see on 1 Samuel 17:1), and its site has now been recovered by Mr. Conder (see 'Tent Work,' 2:156-160). "The great valley," he says, "of Elah, which forms the highway from Philistia to Hebron, runs down northwards past Keilah and Hareth, dividing the low hills of the Shephelah from the rocky mountains of Judah. Eight miles from the valley head stands Shochoh,… and two and a half miles south of this is a very large and ancient terebinth." This stands on "the west side of the vale, just where a small tributary ravine joins the main valley; and on the south of this ravine is a high rounded hill, almost isolated by valleys, and covered with ruins, a natural fortress," the site of the city Adullam. David's cave, he considers, would not be one of the larger caverns, as these are seldom used for habitations; but "the sides of the tributary valley are lined with rows of caves, and these we found inhabited, and full of flocks and herds; but still more interesting was the discovery of a separate cave on the hill itself, a low, smoke-blackened burrow, which was the home of a single family. We could not but suppose, as we entered this gloomy abode, that our feet were standing in the very footprints of the shepherd king, who here, encamped between the Philistines and the Jews, covered the line of advance on the cornfields of Keilah, and was but three miles distant from the thickets of Hareth." After describing the fine view from this hill, which is about 500 feet high, he adds, "There is ample room to have accommodated David's 400 men in the caves, and they are, as we have seen, still inhabited." Thus then David's cave was one of many in the Terebinth valley and the ravine opening into it, and was not far from Gath, though over the border. Here his brethren and all his father's house joined him through fear of Saul. Among these would be Joab, Abishai, and Asahel, his cousins; and we learn how great was the love and enthusiasm which David was able to inspire among them from the feat of the three heroes, of whom Abishai was one, who, while he was in the cave of Adullam, and a garrison of the Philistines at Bethlehem, broke through them to bring David water from the well there (2 Samuel 23:13-17). As Bethlehem was thus held by the Philistines, there was double reason for the flight of Jesse's family; and it is a proof how thoroughly Saul's government had broken down that, while Samuel could maintain a son at Beersheba as judge (1Sa 8:1-22 :24 Saul was unable to defend places so much more distant from the Philistine border.
1 Samuel 22:2
Everyone that was in distress,… in debt, or discontented (Hebrew, bitter of soul), gathered themselves unto him. Had Saul's government been just and upright David would have had no followers; but he never rose above the level of a soldier, had developed all that arbitrariness which military command fosters in self-willed minds, and seems entirely unaware of its being his duty to attend to the righteous administration of the law. The Israelites had in him the very king they had desired, but they found that a brave general might at home be a ruthless tyrant. Debt was one of the worst evils of ancient times. The rate of usury was so exorbitant that a loan was sure to end in utter ruin, and not only the debtor, but his children might be made slaves to repay the debt (2 Kings 4:1). It was one of the first duties of an upright governor to enforce the Mosaic law against usury (Le 1 Samuel 25:36); but all such cares Saul despised, and there were probably many in the land impoverished by Saul's own exactions and favouritism (1 Samuel 22:7), and made bitter of soul by his cruelty and injustice. All such were glad to join in what seemed to them the banner of revolt. Afterwards at Ziklag David was joined by nobler followers (see on 1 Samuel 27:6). With David we may compare Jephthah's case in the old days of anarchy (Judges 11:3-6), and note that bad government leads to lawlessness just as surely as no government.
1 Samuel 22:3, 1 Samuel 22:4
David went thence to Mizpeh of Moab. The position of this place is unknown, but as the word means a watch tower, it was no doubt some beacon hill in the highlands of Moab on the east of the Dead Sea, and probably in the mountains of Abarim or Pisgah. Here David placed his father and mother under the care of the king of Moab. They had fled from Bethlehem under the combined fear of Saul and the Philistines, but were too old to bear the fatigues of David's life. He therefore asks for a refuge for them with the king of Moab, probably on the ground that Jesse's grandmother, Ruth, was a Moabitess. But as Saul had waged war on Moab (1 Samuel 14:47), the king was probably glad to help one who would keep Saul employed at home. The language of David is remarkable, and is literally, "Let, I pray, my father and my mother come forth with you" (pl.); but no better interpretation has been suggested than that in the A.V.: "Let them come forth, i.e. from the hold in Mizpeh, to be or dwell with you." While David was in the hold. Not merely that in the land of Moab, but up to the time when David was settled in Hebron. During all this period David was wandering from one natural fortress to another. Till I know what God will do for (or to) me. These words show that David had recovered his composure, and was willing calmly to leave everything to the wise disposal of God.
1 Samuel 22:5
The prophet Gad. This sudden appearance of the prophet suggests Stahelin's question, How came he among such people? But, in the first place, David's followers were not all of the sort described in 1 Samuel 22:2; and, next, this must be regarded as a declaration of the prophetic order in his favour. As we have a summary of David's proceedings in 1 Samuel 22:4, extending over some time, during which the massacre of the priests at Nob took place, we may well suppose that Saul had alienated from him the minds of all religious people, and that Gad, probably by Samuel's command, came to be David's counsellor. The advice he gives is most important—Abide not in the hold. I.e. do not remain in the land of Moab. Had David done so he probably would never have become king. By remaining in Judah, and protecting the people from the Philistines, which Saul could no longer do, David grew in reputation and power, and from the list of those who joined him at Ziklag (1 Chronicles 12:1-22) it is evident not only that such was the case, but that there was a strong enthusiasm for him throughout not merely Judah, but all Israel. In the happier times which followed Gad became David's seer (2 Samuel 24:11), was God's messenger to punish David for numbering the people (ibid. 1 Samuel 22:13), and finally wrote a history of his life (1 Chronicles 29:29). As he thus survived David, he must have been a young man when he joined him, and possibly had been a companion of David in the prophetic schools at Naioth in Ramah. The forest of Hareth. Or, rather, Hereth. "This lay on the edge of the mountain chain (of Hebron), where Kharas now stands, surrounded by the thickets which properly represent the Hebrew yar, a word wrongly supposed to mean a woodland of timber trees" (Conder, 'Tent Work,' 2:88). Yar is translated forest here. Hereth was about three miles from Adullam (see on 1 Samuel 22:1).
MASSACRE OF THE PRIESTS AT NOB (1 Samuel 22:6-19).
1 Samuel 22:6
When Saul heard that David was discovered. Hebrew, "was known." The meaning is easy enough, though rendered obscure by the involved translation of the A.V; and is as follows: When Saul heard that there was information concerning David and his men, he held a solemn council, in which we see how simple was the dignity of his court, but how great the ferocity to which he was now a prey. There is no parenthesis, but the account of Saul taking his seat, surrounded by his officers, follows directly upon the narration of the fact that news of David had reached him, and should be translated thus: "And Saul takes his seat in Gibeah under the tamarisk tree on the height, holding his javelin (as a sceptre) in his hand, and all his officers stand in order by him." For Saul's fondness for trees see 1 Samuel 14:2; but at a time when there were no large buildings a branching tree formed a fit place for a numerous meeting. A tree. Really a tamarisk tree, which "sometimes reaches such a size as to afford dense shade .... It is a very graceful tree, with long feathery branches and tufts, closely clad with the minutest of leaves, and surmounted in spring with spikes of beautiful pink blossom". It grows abundantly on the seashore of England, but requires a warmer climate to develope into a tree. In Spain beautiful specimens may be seen, as for instance at Pampeluna. In Ramah. Conder (Handbook) thinks that Gibeah was the name of a district, which included Ramah; others take the word in its original signification, and render "on the height." Standing. The word means that they took each their proper posts around him (See on 1Sa 10:23; 1 Samuel 12:7, 1 Samuel 12:16; 1 Samuel 17:16). Saul was holding a formal court, to decide what steps should be taken now that David had openly revolted from him.
1 Samuel 22:7, 1 Samuel 22:8
Ye Benjamites. Saul had evidently failed in blending the twelve tribes into one nation. He had begun well, and his great feat of delivering Jabesh Gilead by summoning the militia of all Israel together must have given them something of a corporate feeling, and taught them their power when united. Yet now we find him isolated, and this address to his officers seems to show that he had aggrandised his own tribe at the expense of the rest. Moreover, he appeals to the worst passions of these men, and asks whether they can expect David to continue this favouritism, which had given them riches and all posts of power. And then he turns upon them, and fiercely accuses them of banding together in a conspiracy against him, to conceal from him the private understanding which existed between his own son and his enemy. Hath made a league. Hebrew, "hath cut." This use of the formal phrase forsaking a covenant seems to show that Saul was at length aware of the solemn bond of friendship entered into by Jonathan with David. To lie in wait. To Saul's mind, diseased with that suspicion which is the scourge of tyrants, David is secretly plotting his murder. As at this day. I.e. as today is manifest (see 1 Samuel 22:13).
1 Samuel 22:9, 1 Samuel 22:10
Doeg the Edomite, which was set over the servants of Saul. This translation is entirely wrong, nor would Saul's Benjamites have endured to have an Edomite set over them. The verb is that used in 1 Samuel 22:6, and refers simply to Doeg's place in the circle of attendants standing round Saul. The words mean, "Doeg the Edomite, who stood there with the servants of Saul." As chief herdsman he was present as a person of some importance, but far below "the captains of thousands and the captains of hundreds." I saw the son of Jesse, etc. As Saul was in a dangerous state of excite. sent, bordering on insanity, Doeg's statement was probably made with the evil intent of turning the king's suspicions from the courtiers to the priests. His assertion that the high priest enquired of Jehovah for David was possibly true (see on 1 Samuel 22:15).
1 Samuel 22:11-13
All his father's house. Doeg's suggestion that the priests were David's allies at once arouses all Saul's worst passions. As if he had determined from the first upon the massacre of the whole body, he sends not merely for Ahimelech, but forevery priest at Nob. Shortly afterwards they arrived, for Nob was close to Gibeah, and Saul himself arraigns them before the court for treason, and recapitulates the three points mentioned by Doeg as conclusive proofs of their guilt.
1 Samuel 22:14-16
Ahimelech's answers are those of an innocent man who had supposed that what he did was a matter of course. But his enumeration of David's privileges of rank and station probably only embittered the king. In his eyes David was of all Saul s officers the most faithful, both trusty and trusted (see on 1 Samuel 2:35). He was, moreover, the king's son-in-law; but the next words, he goeth at thy bidding, more probably mean, "has admission to thy audience," i.e. is thy privy councillor, with the right of entering unbidden the royal presence. Did I then begin to enquire of God for him? Though the meaning of these words is disputed, yet there seems no sufficient reason for taking them in any other than their natural sense. It was probably usual to consult God by the Urim and Thummim on all matters of importance, and David, as a high officer of Saul's court, must often have done so before starting on such expeditions as are referred to in 1 Samuel 18:13. But the Bible is singularly reticent in such matters, and it is only incidentally that we learn how fully the Mosaic law entered into the daily life of the people. But for this frightful crime we should not even have known that Saul had brought the ark into his own neighbourhood, and restored the services of the sanctuary. But just as he took care to have Ahiah in attendance upon him in war, so we cannot doubt but that his main object in placing the priests at Nob was to have the benefit of the Divine counsel in his wars. It would be quite unreasonable to suppose that such consultations required the king's personal attendance. Thy servant knew nothing of all this, less or more. Whatever Ahimelech had done had been in perfect good faith, and though David's conduct must have seemed to him suspicious, yet there was nothing that would have justified him in acting differently. Nevertheless, in spite of his transparent innocence, Saul orders the slaughter not only of God's high priest, but of the whole body of the priesthood whom he had placed at Nob, and now had summoned for this ferocious purpose into his presence.
1 Samuel 22:17-19
Footmen. Hebrew, "runners." They were the men who ran by the side of the king's horse or chariot as his escort (see on 1 Samuel 8:11). In constant training, they were capable of maintaining a great speed for a very long time. Here they were present at the king's council as his bodyguard, but when commanded to commit this horrid deed not one of them stirred from his place. Saul might have seen by this that he was alienating the hearts of all right minded men from him; but, unabashed, he next orders Doeg to slay the priests, and he, aided probably by his servants, slew in that day fourscore and five persons that did wear a linen ephod. The fact that they were thus clad in their official dress added not to the wickedness, but to the impiety of this revolting act. And, not satisfied with thus wreaking his rage on innocent men, he next destroyed the city of the priests, barbarously massacring their whole families, both men and women, children and sucklings, and even their oxen, asses, and sheep, as if Nob was a city placed under the ban. It is a deed in strange contrast with the pretended mercy that spared Agag and the best of the Amaleklte spoil on the pretext of religion. Only once before had so terrible a calamity befallen the descendants of Aaron, and that was when the Philistines destroyed Shiloh. But they were enemies, and provoked by the people bringing the ark to the battle, and even then women and children escaped. It was left to the anointed king, who had himself settled the priests at Nob and restored Jehovah's worship there, to perpetrate an act unparalleled in Jewish history for its barbarity. Nor was it an act of barbarity only, but also of insane and wanton stupidity. The heart of every thoughtful person must now have turned away in horror from the king whom they had desired; and no wonder that when, two or three years afterwards, war came Saul found himself a king without an army, and fell into that deep, despondent melancholy which drove him, in need of some human sympathy, to seek it from a reputed witch.
ESCAPE OF ABIATHAR TO DAVID (1 Samuel 22:20-23).
1 Samuel 22:20-23
Abiathar escaped. Probably he was left in charge of the sanctuary when Ahimelech and the rest were summoned into the king's presence, and on news being brought of Saul's violence, at once made his escape, Naturally, as representing a family who, though originally Saul's friends, had suffered so much for David, he was kindly received, and a friendship commenced which lasted all David's life; but, taking at last Adonijah's side, he was deprived by Solomon of the high priesthood, and sent into honourable banishment at Anathoth (1 Kings 2:26). On hearing of the terrible tragedy from which Abiathar had escaped, David, with characteristic tenderness of conscience, accuses himself of being the cause of all this bloodshed. Perhaps he felt that when he saw Doeg at Nob he ought at once to have gone away, without implicating Ahimelech in his cause; but he could never have imagined that Saul would have treated innocent men so barbarously, and may have supposed that their sacred character as well as their guiltlessness would have secured them from more than temporary displeasure. David now warmly promises Abiathar safety and friendship, and possibly the inversion of the natural order, he that seeketh my life seeketh thy life, is meant to express this entire oneness and close union henceforward of the two friends. As to the question when and where Abiathar joined David, see on 1 Samuel 23:6.
1 Samuel 22:1-5
The facts are—
1. David, escaping from Garb, takes refuge in the cave of Adullam.
2. Here he is joined by his kindred and a miscellaneous band of men, over whom he exercises authority as captain.
3. Anxious for the comfort of his father and mother, he desires and obtains of the king of Moab permission for them to dwell at Mizpeh.
4. On being advised by the prophet Gad, he returns to Judah. This section covers the conduct of David up to the point when the "walking in darkness" terminated in a merciful Divine intervention. Four leading characters are here set before us: David, his adherents, his parents, and the seer; and the teaching of the passage may be arranged by making each of these in succession the prominent figure.
I. PRUDENCE IN DIFFICULTY. The line of action taken by David after his escape from the dangers of Gath is a remarkable instance of prudence, when regard is had to the utterly hopeless condition to which he was apparently reduced, and that no light was afforded him from any prophetic source. Lonely and bunted, he sought an impregnable cave for shelter, abstaining from any publicity to attract men into revolt against Saul. Being, apart from his choice, surrounded by men who for various private reasons were in sympathy with him, he simply organised them for defence in case of need. Knowing the peril of parents advancing in years, he sought out a place of safety where they would be free from possibility of annoyance. To secure this, and also to betake himself as far as possible from collision with Saul, he availed himself of the advantage of a kinship through Ruth, and yet, after having made the best disposition of affairs his judgment could suggest, he at once yielded to the superior wisdom of the prophet of God. In all this we get traces of the qualities which subsequently made David a wise king. Herein are lines of conduct worthy of our imitation amidst the perplexities which sometimes fall to our lot in private, domestic, and public life. Amidst the fears and gloom of our position let us cherish that faith in God's purpose concerning us which, in spite of fears and sorrows, underlies all David's procedure (Psalms 7:1-17; Psalms 24:1-10.), and then exercise our best judgment on the avoidance of evil, the discharge of daily duty, and the measures most conducive to the end in view. To avoid all occasions of annoyance, to avail ourselves of such aid as Providence may bring to us, to lay hold of and control any unsatisfactory surroundings so as to divest them of possible mischief and convert them into useful agents, to see to it that others shall not if possible come to grief by being associated with our movements, to go on steadily awaiting God's time for action, and to welcome any clear intimations of his will, however contrary to our own arrangements—this will prove our wisdom.
II. UNSATISFACTORY ADHERENTS. The men who flocked to David were of miscellaneous characters, and were swayed by diverse motives; not such perhaps as David would have chosen. The manifestly unjust treatment of the young deliverer of Israel, and the increasingly irritable and impulsive temper of the king, accompanied with misgovernment in matters of detail, could not but make brave and chivalrous men "discontented;" and it was no wonder if at such a time many were brought to poverty. It is certain, however, that many of them did not enter into the lofty spiritual aims of David, and, in so far as their principles were not identical with his, they were a questionable support. Yet the fact is instructive.. Persons of high character and lofty aims exercise an attractive influence over many who cannot enter fully into their conceptions. The assertors of great principles do sometimes find adherents very inferior to themselves. The adherents of a just cause are not always to be credited with an intelligent appreciation of its nature. It is therefore wrong to judge leaders of important movements by the crude notions and imperfect character of their followers. In the case of our Saviour it was the force of his personal character that drew disciples of diverse tastes and degrees of intelligence around him. But just as David disciplined and educated his followers till they became valiant, loyal men in the kingdom (1 Chronicles 11:1-47.), so Christ in due time endowed his disciples with power to enter into the spirit of his mission. Neither in the Church nor in social and political affairs can we dispense with men who, though drawn to leaders, are not yet in perfect harmony of intelligence and character.
III. FILIAL PIETY. Amidst the gravest anxieties of his life David manifested concern for the welfare of his parents. Indeed all his private and public movements for a time seem to have been subordinated to securing their freedom from danger and distress. If ever a man could plead inability he could just then. This tenderness of character is very prominent in his entire life. Filial piety is strongly enjoined in the Bible. The "commandment with promise" relates to duty to parents. Our Saviour's example is conspicuous (Luke 2:50-52; John 19:26, John 19:27). It is impossible to lay claim to religion without this love, care, tender interest, self-denial, and reverence for parents (Ephesians 6:1-3). There are manifold ways in which it may be displayed: by sympathy in sorrow and sickness, by reverence and affection in health, by deference to their wishes whenever consistent with holiness and right, by forecasting their needs and providing for them, by insuring support and comfort in old age, and by the cherished love which ever causes them to thank God for the gift of children.
IV. OPPORTUNE COUNSEL. During the long season of darkness David had groped his way from place to place, exercising his judgment, and doubtless lifting up his heart for more light. He stumbled at Nob; he fell into a net at Gath; he showed prudence at Adullam; and now in the land of Moab, where perhaps he mourned in being so far from the sanctuary of God, he is remembered on high, and the prophet Gad brings to him the first Divine and official communication he, as far as we can learn, ever received. This circumstance was full of meaning. The prophetic order was recognising him. The dayspring had come. Henceforth he was to be instructed more openly in the way in which he should go (verses 20-23; 1 Samuel 23:2). There is, also, a limit to our seasons of darkness. We have not a prophet Gad; but when patience has had her "perfect work," and discipline has brought us nearer to God, a "more sure word of prophecy," which "shineth as a light in a dark place," will make clear to us the perfect will of God. Like as Christ found an end to the "hour of darkness," so all who share in his sorrows will find darkness made light before them. The resurrection morn was an end to the gloom and uncertainty of the apostles. Many an anxious soul, troubled with dark doubts and on the borders of despair, has found at last a light which has turned doubt into confidence and made the path of submission to Christ the path of joy. "I will not leave you comfortless, but will come unto you."
1. We should not despise or discourage persons seeking to be identified with a good cause on account of their inferiority to those who lead.
2. There may be many waiting for action if men of energy and attractiveness would afford them facility.
3. The experience of the Church in all ages justifies faith in the guidance of God when we have work to do for him.
1 Samuel 22:6-16
Resistance to God's purposes.
The facts are—
1. Saul, hearing at Gibeah of David's movements, makes an appeal to his Benjamite attendants.
2. He insinuates the existence of secret designs against himself, connivance at David's supposed purpose, and lack of pity for his condition.
3. Thereupon Doeg the Edomite relates what he saw at Nob, and makes the statement that the high priest inquired of the Lord for David.
4. Saul sends for Ahimelech and charges him with conspiracy.
5. Notwithstanding the high priest's denial of the charge, and his conviction of David's innocence, Saul condemns him and his house to death. The conduct of Saul is increasingly devoid of reason, and this gradual failure of intelligence has its root in moral decay. The key to his infatuation is to be found in the obstinate impenitence of his heart in relation to the sins of his probationary career, and the consequent fight of his entire nature against the settled purposes of God (1 Samuel 11:1-24, 25; 1 Samuel 12:24, 1 Samuel 12:25; 1 Samuel 13:11-14; 1 Samuel 15:26-29). The events recorded in the section before us reveal a more fatal advance in this course of mental and moral degeneration.
I. RESISTANCE TO GOD'S PURPOSES FORCES ON INCREASED DANGERS. Had Saul with penitent spirit bowed to the will of God, as expressed in 1 Samuel 15:26-29, and at once retired into private life, the rest of his days might have been at least devout and quiet. But, persisting in rebellion, he soon saw in the innocent son of Jesse a personal enemy. And the resistance to God's purposes which induced personal envy and ill will prompted also to open deeds of violence, and these deeds, designed by the perverted judgment to negative the Divine decree (1 Samuel 15:26-29), had the triple effect of cementing the bond between David and Jonathan, of developing the sympathy of the prophets and of all just men with the persecuted one, and of making David the leader of a band of 400 men. Thus the very devices of a guilty, hardened heart to prevent the fulfilment of the purposes of God were conducive to a reverse issue. Saul's dangers multiplied just as he sought their removal. The only safe course for guilty men, guilty Churches and nations, is to bow at once before God, and place themselves unreservedly at his mercy. The laws of providence are in incessant movement toward the realisation of God's purpose against sin. Every effort to set them aside, or to avoid their inevitable issue, only tends to multiply the agencies by which they at last shall be vindicated. The man who, having committed secret sin, seeks, in the exercise of an impenitent spirit, to cover it up, or brave it out, creates by every thought of his mind a new cord by which he is bound fast to his fate. Nations that seek to ward off the judgments due to past sins by guilty acts for strengthening their position in the world, rather than by sincere repentance and newness of life, are only heaping up wrath for the day of wrath. Penitence, submission, righteousness, these are the "way everlasting." Practical godliness is the soundest philosophy for individuals and communities.
II. IT INDUCES A STATE OF MIND WHICH CREATES GREAT FEARS OUT OF SLIGHT CIRCUMSTANCES. Three circumstances were the occasion of much fear to Saul—the existence of David, his friendship with Jonathan, and his holding a cave with 400 men. External events are to us what the medium through which we view them makes them appear to be, and this medium is often the creation of our moral nature. With all his daring resistance to the purposes of God, Saul could not lose the consciousness that he was a guilty man, that the judgment pronounced was just, and that, in spite of all wishes, hopes, and efforts to the contrary, the dreaded doom would come. In such a state of mind he saw messengers of justice and supplanters of his position where others saw only blessings to Israel. A prudent act for purposes of self-defence against cruel persecution became to him a formidable attack on his throne. The secrets of a holy friendship were the plottings of unfaithful men, and the want of sympathy on the part of upright men with his malicious designs against an honourable man and public benefactor, he construed into conspiracy against himself. This tendency of the mind to clothe all things with its own moral coloring is universal. As the holy and the wise see occasions for joy and confidence in everything except the sins of men and their natural effects, so the guilty and foolish see occasions for trouble and fear in what to others is the expression of goodness and of righteousness. It is a slight circumstance for a policeman to walk the street, but there are men who quail at the sight. The bare mention of a name or incidental reference to a transaction will cause agitation in the minds of evil doers. The appearance among men of the holy Saviour caused trembling in the heart of the guilty Herod (Matthew 2:3; Matthew 14:1-3). A man like Saul carries within him all the elements of a hell. Small things become instruments of self-inflicted torture. In such a moral mood a man becomes an Ishmaelite indeed by reason of the quickness of his fears and the strength of his suspicions. If, beyond this life, this state of mind is intensified in the wicked by the complete dominion of sin and absence of present mitigations, it is not difficult to conceive the imperfection of language to indicate the future of the lost.
III. IT PROMPTS TO NEW EXPEDIENTS FOR RELIEF FROM SELF-CREATED DIFFICULTIES. The circumstances which caused fear to Saul were the product of his transgression; for had he not disobeyed there would have been no need for a David to be brought out from the sheepfold as a conqueror of Goliath and chosen supplanter of his line, and hence no suspicious friendship and no cave of Adullam; but now that the fears bred of these circumstances were heavily upon him, the old resistance to God manifests itself in fresh contrivances to extricate himself from trouble. He addresses the leading men of Benjamin, seeking for loyal support. He works on the feeling of clanship. He appeals to their lust for promotion and wealth. He claims their pity in his sorrows, and suggests that they, as loyal men, should avoid the suspicion of conniving at a conspiracy between his son and the son of Jesse. There is here a strange blending of hardihood and cowardice, defiance of God's will and sense of weakness, distrust of his friends and hope of assistance from them—a fair index of the mental confusion out of which spring all devices for warding off the certain doom which the guilty conscience sees to be approaching. Generally very much energy and skill are spent by men in seeking to avert the necessary consequences of their past lives. No mental operation is more universal than that which associates evil consequences, remote or near, with wrong doing. But a guilty man's repugnance to suffering, combined with a determined spirit of rebellion against the moral order, induces an incessant strain of energy and skill to evade the inevitable. It is possible for men to look on Saul's appeals to Benjamites, and his stratagems for nullifying the words of Samuel (1 Samuel 15:28, 1 Samuel 15:29), as vain and foolish as would be an attempt to prevent the action of the law of gravity, while in their own sphere they may be pursuing a similar course. All who live in hopes of a future blessedness while not laying a foundation for it in purity of nature and personal fellowship with Christ are practically like Saul; for no law is more unchangeable than that the pure in heart alone can see God. History relates how men of abandoned lives have, in later years, under a dread of future consequences, become precise in formal acts of worship, and bountiful in use of wealth, without the slightest perception of the need of a radical love of holiness, hoping by such external means to break open the door that bars the entrance into the kingdom of God of whatever defileth. A salvation from uneasiness and pain men are eager for, not a salvation which consists in holiness of nature and joy in God.
IV. IT IS SURE TO FIND SOME ABETTORS OF ITS STRIFE WITH GOD. It is probable that the more sober of the Benjamites had begun to distrust their king, and although they may not have known all his dread secret (1 Samuel 15:28, 1 Samuel 15:29), they could not but see that he had lost the moral support of Samuel, and was bent on a reckless course in hunting the life of David. But one man was ready to strengthen his hate and urge him on in the fatal conflict. Doeg the Edomite, a man of low spiritual tastes, an alien to Israel, maliciously added fuel to the raging evils of the unhappy king. There are several suggestive items in this brief account of the dark deed of Doeg.
1. He was not a true Israelite. By education, habit, and taste he could not have sympathy with the lofty, Messianic aims of o David or a Samuel. He is the type of a formal professor, who bears the name, but has none of the spirit, of the true religion.
2. He had material interests at stake in the continued reign of Saul (1 Samuel 21:7; 1 Samuel 22:9). The psalm supposed to refer to him represents him as bent on the acquisition of wealth (Psalms 52:1-9). He is the ideal of a man whose main thought is business, and who therefore forms a judgment of religious, social, and political claims according to their presumed bearing on worldly advancement.
3. He was cruelly cool in his plans and conduct. The simulated tone of ingenuousness in his reference to what he had seen at Nob, his abstention from personal invective, and the matter of fact way in which he welded his lie about the priest inquiring of the Lord for David with the other part of the story, reveal a cruelly cool scheme for destroying one whose pure life and lofty aspirations must have mirrored too painfully his own vileness. The readiness with which he could subsequently shed the blood of God's priests fully bears out all the severe language of Psalms 52:1-9. He reminds us of the many vile men who, under cloak of attachment to a religion too pure for them, pursue this cruel course, seeking to heap up treasure by any means, and ready by word or deed to blight fair reputations and pander to the passions of the powerful. It only requires a little knowledge of the facts of David's life to enable every just and pure mind to sympathise with his strong denunciation of such men (Psalms 35:4-9; Psalms 52:2-5; Psalms 57:4; Psalms 58:4-11). There are affinities of evil. Sauls yearn for Doegs, and Doegs are ever ready to blend interest with the Sauls. Satan is not the only one lying in wait to destroy the poor and needy. Hand joins hand in wickedness, and base heart encourages base heart in the mad endeavour to destroy a greater than David.
V. IT WILL PROCEED TILL IT SETS AT NOUGHT THE MOST SACRED THINGS. Bad men are often checked in their antagonism to God's purposes by the wholesome influence on their remaining religious instincts of spiritual institutions and characters. The priesthood was revered by Saul at one time. The spiritual power had been prominent in his installation to the kingdom. All the influence of early Hebrew training conspired to make him look up with reverence to the high priest as in some sense the representative of all that is holy and Divine. Common prudence, religious prepossessions, every sentiment of tenderness and awe ought to have discounted the assertion of Doeg in the presence of the high priest's emphatic demal of having inquired of the Lord for David. It was therefore an evidence of the utter suppression of all that hitherto had acted as a beneficial restraint when. in the desperate violence of his strife with God, Saul dared to sentence the innocent high priest to death. He now sank to a deeper deep. The spiritual powers became the object of his deadly hate. The warfare must now be urged against the most sacred things of God. Facilis descensus Averni. Spiritual deterioration is nearly complete when men set themselves in antagonism to the institutions of religion. It argues a terrible power of evil when a soul can accept the suggestions of bad characters and cast aside all the reverence fostered by years of education and discipline. Yet there is a reason in the madness; for, no doubt, as the spiritual in Israel was at this time the most formidable, though not conspicuously active, force against Saul's permanence in the kingdom, so it is the spiritual, as embodied in a pure Christianity, which bars the way most surely to the permanent prosperity of the man who persistently lives in impenitence, and, therefore, from his mistaken point of view, it is essential if possible to doom it to destruction. It is the old tragedy again when men, for love of their own sinful will, trample underfoot the Son of God, and count the "blood of the covenant an unholy thing" (Hebrews 10:29). The bold defiance of religion is too often simply an effort to cast away the cords of a holy restraint (Psalms 2:3).
1. It is well to consider the force of habit in its bearing on unwillingness to submit to God's judgments.
2. Whenever slight circumstances create great fears it should be regarded as instant proof of the existence of a perilous spiritual condition, and a demand for great searching of heart.
3. Remembering how much all our judgments are coloured by our imperfect moral state, we should pray much that God would open our eyes to see things in his light and lead us in the "way everlasting."
4. History and personal experience should teach us that the shortest and indeed only way to extricate ourselves from difficulties induced by our sins is to shun every evil way and submit ourselves entirely to God.
5. Reputations are to be held sacred, and all gain at the cost of others' ruin brings a curse with it.
6. One of the best safeguards against the dangerous allurements of wealth and the love of worldly power is a lofty spiritual aspiration—sympathy with the Lord's Anointed.
7. It is in vain to spend arguments on men who in self-abandonment to their sinful will seek to destroy the institutions of religion; for it is not a question of reason, but of perverted, degraded nature.
8. We should avoid the slightest approach to evil, seeing that when indulged in the impetus downwards is so fearful.
1 Samuel 22:17-23
The tragedy at Nob.
The facts are—
1. Saul commands his guards to slay the priests of Nob, but they refuse.
2. Thereupon he commands Doeg to effect their death, who slays eighty-five priests, and procures the destruction of the entire city.
3. Abiathar, escaping to David, makes known to him what has happened.
4. David perceives that his presence at Nob was the occasion of this sad calamity, and admits that he feared the course Doeg would take.
5. He encourages Abiathar to remain with him, and assures him of safety. This section sets forth Saul's conduct in the darkest characters, and brings out a turn in the course of events of great consequence to David, while at the same time illustrating several important truths.
I. SINFUL MEN ARE SOMETIMES THE INSTRUMENTS OF FULFILLING DIVINE PREDICTIONS OF JUDGMENT. It had been declared as a judgment on the house of Eli that terrible things should befall his descendants (1 Samuel 2:31-36; 1 Samuel 3:11-14). In the fearful destruction at Nob this prediction was partly fulfilled. The sins of Saul brought on retribution for the sins of Eli and his sons. In this we have an instance of frequent occurrence in human history, both of nations and individuals. The savage ambition of Rome realised the truth of our Saviour's words concerning the judgment due to impenitent Jerusalem (Matthew 23:34-38; Luke 21:20-24). The untruthful conduct of Jacob was most severely chastised by the lying tongues of his sons who conspired against his favourite Joseph; just as now the judgment due to a parent for irreligious example in the home is often realised in the open vices of his children, which perhaps ruin his health and fortune. In all these cases we have to distinguish between the just purpose of God to visit sin by future retribution, and the free action of the men who are the means of bringing it to pass. Had pestilence, or plagues, or earthquakes bean more in the line of natural order just then, these would have conserved the Divine purpose. But man's sinful action, free, responsible, was the agency used, thus illustrating the statement which sometimes perplexes superficial students of the Bible—"the wicked, which is thy sword" (Psalms 17:13). The metaphysical question, involved in this conjunction of a righteous retribution with the free agency of man in the perpetration of crimes for which alone they are responsible, may be beyond present solution, but the fact is plain. Philosophical difficulties are inherent in common facts, and are not peculiar to theological truth.
II. IN ORDINARY MEN RELIGIOUS INSTINCTS ARE STRONGER THAN POLITICAL AND SOCIAL CONSIDERATIONS. We need not be surprised that Saul's Hebrew guards declined to obey his command to slay the "priests of the Lord." No doubt strong reasons were present to prove their loyalty to their king. Not only is loyalty a first principle of action with good subjects, but the fact that he was of their own tribe, and had been their choice out of all Israel (1 Samuel 10:19-24), must have made them anxious to sustain his authority against all comers. Even the very weaknesses of a monarch will induce some men to put down with strong hand all charged with conspiracy against him, whether or not the charge he fully established. Yet these men had been wont to recognise a higher authority than Saul's. They belonged to a race whose vocation in the world was of God. All the sanctities of religious worship and ritual, all the rich instruction of their marvellous history, strengthened and purified the instinct that leads man to fear God. To them the high priest and his subordinates were representatives of a sacred order, the exponents of a spiritual power, and it would therefore be violence to all that was sacred, inexpressible, and most influential in their nature were they, out of loyalty to the king or from tribal considerations, to touch the "priests of the Lord." The religious instincts of men are a great power. They not only prompt to actions more or less good according to the degree of enlightenment, but we cannot calculate the vast benefits resulting to mankind by their restraining power. The fact is worthy of much study, and the wide world furnishes ample illustrations of its importance. On the nation, the family, and the individual it acts as a conservator of good and a represser of much that would destroy. It is often the only barrier against the tide of passion and ignorance. The wise know how to appeal to it and turn it to their own uses. It is this in men, among other things, which renders null and void all efforts to exterminate Christianity. Men may call reverence for sacred persons and offices superstition, and in extravagant forms the term is fitly applied, yet it is the indication of a governing influence in human affairs superior to all the advances of civilisation. Man must be remade if his life is permanently to be regulated by any principles or opinions at variance with the natural religiousness of his spirit.
III. ACTIONS INNOCENT IN INTENTION MAY BE FRAUGHT WITH SERIOUS CONSEQUENCES TO OTHERS. It can scarcely be charged on David that he was guilty of sin in visiting the tabernacle at Nob, seeking there food and shelter, though it may have been an indiscretion. The false representation by reason of which Ahimelech was induced to give him bread and a sword was the real wrong. On a wider survey of facts, and with a juster estimate of the risks of compromising the officials of the sanctuary, he would probably have sought food in some other quarter, or have cried out to God for special deliverance. As it was, his device of being on Saul's business was evidently intended to save the high priest from the political sin of aiding one outlawed by the king. But his good motives were entirely useless because the overt act was witnessed by an enemy, who, David felt sure, would put on it a construction inconsistent with his own wishes and the knowledge of the high priest. His conduct, therefore, pure in intentions and fenced with precaution, did compromise a band of innocent men, and was, owing to the wickedness of the parties he had to contend with, and not to the natural justice of the case, the occasion of the fearful slaughter of the priests and entire population of the city. The guilt of the slaughter rested on Saul; the occasion for the exercise of the murderous malice was unwittingly created by David. With a sorrowful heart he admits the great woe to have had its origin incidentally in his own action. It is a truism that every action carries with it consequences into the future, in which we ourselves and others are concerned. One of the effects of our action is to prompt the action of other men, or to modify the course which otherwise they would have taken. And as the interests of many may depend not on what we do directly, but on the conduct of others whom we directly affect, it is obvious that it is often possible for us to perform deeds or pursue courses which shall give occasion for other men to perpetrate great wrongs on those we would gladly shield. In that case we are not responsible for their crimes or follies, but we are responsible for any indiscretions which may have given plausible ground for their procedure, or have rendered it possible. But it is only where indiscretions are possible that blame really rests. The wise men from the East, inquiring with all simplicity of purpose for the newborn king, were the occasion of the slaughter of the children of Bethlehem; but though they no doubt were pained, if ever they knew the fact, they were not guilty of any wrong. We cannot always refuse to act because evil men exist. Indiscretion is chargeable where a knowledge of facts and of the probable uses men will make of our deeds is presumably possible. The practical bearing of the risks attendant on our actions is to induce extreme caution, to awaken watchfulness, lest by our well intentioned deeds we should compromise others, or give an appearance of reason for wicked men to manifest their wickedness. In the memory of many a man there are records of deeds unwise and out of season, which have left a fatal mark on the world in spite of subsequent efforts of wisdom and goodness. Like David men can say, "I have occasioned" all this.
IV. THE DESIGNS OF THE WICKED DEFEAT THEMSELVES. The conflict waged by Saul was, as we have seen, really against the decree of God, but its ostensible object was a plot on the part of David against the throne. Whatever fears Saul may have had concerning Samuel's sympathy with David, there was no public ground for them in any positive action taken by the prophet in concert with David. What he dreaded most of all was the open espousal of David's cause by the spiritual power; for the priesthood had immense influence with the people. It was to crush out by one terrible blow any supposed concert that he caused the slaughter at Nob; and it is instructive to observe how this very attempt to deprive David of the official support of the spiritual power really put it on his side. The deeds of bad men are never complete enough for insuring a final triumph; some oversight, some weakness, some so called accident gives occasion for the ultimate frustration of their purpose. By some chance, as men say, Abiathar escaped and went over to David. Saul fell into the pit he had prepared for David (Psalms 52:6). There is now a Christian spiritual power, and the truth thus exemplified is especially seen in the great conflict of men against it. The same interests in higher form are still in conflict with opposing forces. Every effort to subvert or crush out the kingdom of God, though it should be a great "slaughter" either of bodies or of characters, develops more life, leads to closer union, throws the Church more on the power and guidance of God, and so prepares the way for a new movement of a higher spiritual character before which the powers of evil must yield. Give time, and the spiritual will triumph.
1. In matters of doubt, where evil consequences may possibly ensue from our conduct it is best to abstain from action; for it is a good rule to bar the way to evil by every possible contrivance.
2. Where the reputation of others is affected by our conduct we should either seek their consent or avoid a possible compromise of their character.
3. Any false step in life is greatly embittered in review if it has been attended with untruthfulness.
4. We may confidently appeal to the religious feelings of men in our defence of Christian truth even when by bare argument we cannot touch them.
5. In the frequent historical illustrations of the impossibility of men crushing out the spiritual power, whether in Jewish or Christian form, we see a prophecy of the time when Christ shall have "put down all rule and all authority and power" (1 Corinthians 15:24).
HOMILIES BY B. DALE
1 Samuel 22:1, 1 Samuel 22:2. (THE CAVE OF ADULLAM.)
David's refuge and following.
David's escape from Gath to the cave of Adullam marks a fresh starting point in his career. Henceforth he led the life of an independent outlaw at the head of a band of armed men. He was openly and continually persecuted by Saul, under the illusion that he was aiming at the crown, although he neither rebelled nor encouraged rebellion against his authority. He was thereby kept prominently before the minds of the people, and must have fixed the attention of the most observant and devout upon him, as, in contrast to Saul (whose government became more and more arbitrary, inefficient, and ungodly), the man who alone was worthy to be "captain over the Lord's inheritance;" and the experience through which he passed served to prepare him for his destination. "This very period of his deepest sufferings becomes the decisive turning point of his whole history, at which it enters upon a true upward course, thence to rise ever higher and higher; while his real destiny, viz; to rule, is now for the first time not only foreshadowed, but already begun, though only on the smallest scale; and the clearest proof that this actually is his destiny is found in the fact that he begins to work it out without consciously exerting himself to do so" (Ewald). He may be considered as representing, in some respects, the good man under persecution, and as—
I. PROTECTED FROM THE VIOLENCE OF PERSECUTORS, with which the servants of God have been threatened in every age.
1. Underneath the personal and ostensible grounds of such violence lie the opposition of "the kingdom of darkness" to the kingdom of God, and the enmity of the evil heart against righteousness and goodness. David was "the representative of the theocratic principle for which he suffers and endures; Saul of the antitheocratic principle." Like Moses, David bore "the reproach of Christ," who was in him and suffered with him (Acts 9:4; Colossians 1:24; Hebrews 11:26, Hebrews 11:32-38).
2. It is limited in its power, and is always ultimately defeated. "Be not afraid of them that kill the body," etc. (Luke 12:4).
3. God himself is the Refuge of the persecuted, and provides varied, wonderful, and effectual means for their deliverance. "Thou art my refuge" (Psalms 142:5). "Thou hast delivered my soul from death," etc. (Psalms 56:13). The operation of Divine providence was displayed in a remarkable manner in the preservation of David throughout the whole course of his persecution by Saul.
II. SYMPATHISING WITH THE MISERY OF THE OPPRESSED. "His brethren and all his father's house," endangered by Saul's jealousy as well as by the Philistine garrison at Bethlehem (2 Samuel 23:13, 2 Samuel 23:14), "and every one that was in distress" (outwardly impoverished and harassed), "and in debt" (to avaricious usurers, and not necessarily through any fault of his own), "and discontented" (inwardly embittered and dissatisfied with the existing state of things), owing to bad government. "Surely oppression maketh a wise man mad" (Ecclesiastes 7:7), and incites and justifies the adoption of a course which, under other circumstances, would be highly culpable. They did not gather to David in vain.
1. Sympathy with suffering is usually felt in an eminent degree by those who have themselves suffered (Hebrews 2:18).
2. It is always shown, when it is genuine, in practical effort for its alleviation (2 Corinthians 1:4).
3. It generally produces in those toward whom it is shown a peculiarly strong and enduring attachment. "Pain is the deepest thing we have in our nature, and union through pain has always seemed more real and more holy than any other" (A.H. Hallam). "I do not know where a better home could have been provided for David than among those men in distress, in debt, in discontent. If it behoved a ruler to know the heart of his subjects, their sorrows, their wrongs, their crimes,—to know them and to sympathise with them,—this was surely as precious a part of his schooling as the solitude of his boyhood, or as any intercourse he had with men who had never faced the misery of the world, and never had any motive to quarrel with its laws. Through oppression, confusion, lawlessness he was learning the eternal, essential righteousness of God" (Maurice).
III. ASSUMING THE LEADERSHIP OF THE FAITHFUL. "He became captain over them: and there were with him about four hundred men"—afterwards six hundred (1 Samuel 23:13); including his nephews, Abishai (1 Samuel 26:6), Joab, Asahel, and Amasa, Ahimelech the Hittite, the "three mighty men" who "broke through the host of the Philistines and drew water out of the well of Bethlehem" (2 Samuel 23:16), many of those whose names are recorded in the list of David's heroes (1 Chronicles 11:10 1 Chronicles 11:47), Gadites "whose faces were like the faces of lions, and were as swift as the roes upon the mountains," Benjamites and men of Judah, under Amasai, on whom "the Spirit came, and he said, Thine are we," etc.; "for thy God helpeth thee" (1 Chronicles 12:8-18). Some of them possessed, perhaps, little religious principle, and were ready for any adventurous enterprise; but most of them were young, free, noble spirits, resenting the tyranny of Saul, and sympathising with all that was best in the nation—"the unconscious materials out of which a new world was to be formed." David's leadership was—
1. Exercised by virtue of his peculiar position, eminent godliness, and surpassing ability.
2. Accepted by them voluntarily, and followed with fidelity and enthusiasm.
3. Contributed to their discipline, improvement (Psalms 34:11), and future service against the common enemy, as well as his own moral force and power of organisation and rule. "The effect of such a life on his spiritual nature was to deepen his unconditional dependence on God; by the alternations of heat and cold, fear and hope, danger and safety, to temper his soul and make it flexible, tough, and bright as steel. It evolved the qualities of a leader of men, teaching him command and forbearance, promptitude and patience, valour and gentleness. It won for him a name as a founder of a nation, and it gathered around him a force of men devoted to him by an enthusiastic attachment, bred by long years of common dangers and the hearty friendships of many a march by day and nightly encampment round the glimmering watchfires beneath the lucid stars" (Maclaren).
IV. DEVOTED TO THE SERVICE OF GOD. The effect of persecution on a good man is to cause him to draw nigh to God in—
1. Renewed confidence and hope.
2. Intense desire for the manifestation of his glory in "bringing the wickedness of the wicked to an end and establishing the just" (Psalms 7:9). He wishes above all things and strives for the setting up of the kingdom of God upon earth.
3. Earnest prayers and thanksgivings, such as are expressed in the "cave songs" of David. Psalms 142:1-7; 'A cry of the persecuted to God' (see inscription):—
"With my voice to Jehovah do I cry,
With my voice to Jehovah do I make supplication.
Deliver me from my persecutors,
For they are stronger than I."
Psalms 57:1-11, 'Trusting in the protection of God' (see inscription):—
"Be gracious unto me, O God, be gracious unto me,
For in thee hath my soul found refuge;
And in the shadow of thy wings will I find refuge
Until the destruction passeth by.
Be thou exalted above the heavens, O God,
Thy glory above all the earth."
"When his companions in arms were carousing or asleep, he sat by his lamp in some still retreat, or 'considered the heavens' as they spread above him, or meditated on the law, or engaged in prayer, or held intimate communion with God, and composed and wrote (though he thought not so) what shall sound in the Church and echo through the world to all time" (Binney).—D.
1 Samuel 22:3, 1 Samuel 22:4. (MOAB.)
To honour parents is the earliest obligation of life, the foundation of human duties and a stepping stone to Divine. It applies to children not only when they dwell at home and depend on their parents, but also when they leave home and become independent of them. The manner in which it should be shown in the latter case differs in some respects from that in the former; but such kindness as David exhibited towards his aged father and mother ought never to be neglected. It was—
I. NEEDFUL. In early life we need the care of parents, in old age that of children.
1. Bodily weakness and failing health often render parents dependent for physical comforts and even necessaries (Genesis 47:12).
2. Increasing loneliness makes them desirous of the cheering presence and intercourse of their children; and much pain is naturally given by lack of respect, affection, confidence, and gentle ministrations.
3. Special emergencies, like those here alluded to, sometimes demand unusual efforts for their safety and happiness. Their condition appeals to the tenderest and best feelings of the heart, though, alas, it sometimes appeals in vain.
1. Arising out of natural relationship, the duties of which on the part of children, however imperfectly they may have been fulfilled on the part of parents, cannot be cancelled.
2. Required by the claims of gratitude for innumerable benefits received.
3. Enjoined by the Divine word in many precepts to which great promises are annexed. "The fifth commandment is the centre of all the others; for upwards it is the point of departure for Divine, and downwards for human duties" (Ephesians 6:1). "Despise not thy mother when she is old" (Proverbs 23:22). "God commanded, saying, Honour thy father," etc. (Matthew 15:4-9). "Let them learn first to show (filial) reverence to their own household, and to requite their parents," etc. (1 Timothy 5:4).
4. Commended by the example of the good. "Because ye have obeyed the commandment of Jonadab your father, etc. (Jeremiah 35:18, Jeremiah 35:19). Jesus Christ himself (John 19:26).
III. EXEMPLARY an the way in which it was displayed.
1. Thoughtful, affectionate, and tender.
2. Self-denying and self-sacrificing, with much effort and risk, and as was best suited to the circumstances of the case.
3. Religious: "Till I know what God will do to me;" where there is a recognition of his will as supreme, faith in his wise and gracious disposal (Psalms 27:10), and hope of his enabling him to see again his parents, from whom he parted with regret, and provide for their permanent welfare.
1. To children. Be kind to your parents, though you no longer need their care, if you would not have your children be unkind to you.
2. To parents. Seek to gain the respect and affection of your children, and teach them to honour God, if you would have them to honour you.
3. To all. Be not like those of whom the heavenly Father said of old, "I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against me" (Isaiah 1:2).—D.
1 Samuel 22:4. (MOAB.)
Awaiting the future.
"Till I know what God will do to me." There are times when our thoughts naturally turn toward the future: the commencement of a fresh enterprise or a new season, suspense in sickness, the approach of critical events, especially when they lie beyond our control or even our probable conjecture. At such times this is the appropriate language of a good man. He awaits it in—
I. UNCERTAINTY about the events of the future—new positions, opportunities, advantages, trials, duties. "We know not with what we must serve the Lord until we come thither" (Exodus 10:26). "Ye have not passed this way heretofore" (Joshua 3:4), and cannot tell what may befall you therein. "Shadows, clouds, and darkness rest upon it." But the good man is not distracted by curiosity or anxiety, inasmuch as—
1. Neither is of any avail.
2. The Father has reserved the times and the seasons "in his own power" (Acts 1:7).
3. And he has done so wisely and for our good. "The veil that hides the future is woven by the hand of mercy."
II. CONFIDENCE in the care of God. "My times are in thy hand" (Psalms 31:15). "I will cry unto God that performeth all things for me" (Psalms 57:2). Such confidence respects—
1. His perfect knowledge, almighty power, and supreme control of all things, including the thoughts and purposes of men (1 Samuel 19:23).
2. His individual observation.
3. His beneficent operation. "Being well assured of the justice of his cause as contrasted with the insane persecutions of Saul, David confidently hoped that God would bring his flight to an end" (Keil).
"O Lord, how happy should we be,
If we could cast our care on thee,
If we from self could rest,
And feel at heart that One above,
In perfect wisdom, perfect love,
Is working for the best" (Keble).
III. READINESS for whatever may take place.
1. By watchful attention to every indication of the will of God, looking out for it as a watchman for the dawn of the morning. "I will stand upon my watch," etc. (Habakkuk 2:1).
2. By cherishing a spirit of humble submissiveness to what he may think fit to do and fixed determination to do what he may require.
3. By faithful fulfilment of the plain and immediate duty of the present time. "Let my father and mother come forth" (from the hold in Mizpeh) "and be with you, till," etc. Its performance is the best preparation for the events and duties of the future.—D.
1 Samuel 22:5. (MIZPEH OF MOAB.)
A summons to duty.
The prophet Gad was probably sent at the instance of Samuel to David, who was now "in the hold" in Moab, and with whom he may have become acquainted at Ramah. His message was important in relation to the future course of David (1 Samuel 22:3). "According to the counsels of God he was not to seek for refuge outside the land; not only that he might not be estranged from his fatherland and the people of Israel, which would have been opposed to his calling to be king of Israel, but also that he might learn to trust entirely in the Lord as his only refuge and fortress" (Keil). There was also a special reason why he should be recalled in the incursions of the Philistines, which Saul failed to repel (1 Samuel 23:1). And the message furnished a test of his obedience to the will of God as declared by the prophets. "Immediately he conferred not with flesh and blood," but did as he was directed, and thereby afforded an instructive example to others. Consider the message as—
I. COMMUNICATED BY THE PROPHETIC WORD. This word is, for us, contained in the Scriptures of truth."
1. It speaks with authority.
2. It speaks plainly, "in divers manners," according to our need, and "for our good always."
3. It speaks in the reading of the Scriptures, in the voice of preachers and teachers, parents and friends, in the recollections of the memory, and often comes to the heart and conscience with peculiar force. "Believe his prophets, so shall ye prosper" (2 Chronicles 20:20).
II. CALLING TO UNEXPECTED DUTY; unexpected, inasmuch as, not unfrequently—
1. It is such as we should not naturally have supposed.
2. It differs from the course which we have chosen for ourselves. "Abide not in the hold."
3. It requires us to meet unusual difficulties and dangers. "Depart, and get thee into the land of Judah" (into the very presence of a deadly foe). "Master, the Jews of late sought to stone thee; and goest thou thither again?" (John 11:8-10; Luke 9:51).
"Do thy duty; that is best;
Leave unto thy Lord the rest."
III. COMPLIED WITH IN A RIGHT MANNER. "And David departed," etc.
1. Without question, like a good soldier at the word of command.
2. Without hesitation or delay.
3. Without fear. How different was it with Saul! (1 Samuel 13:11; 1 Samuel 15:11). "Whosoever will save his life," etc. (Matthew 16:25).
IV. CONDUCTING TO SAFETY, USEFULNESS, AND HONOUR.
1. Safety; for he was "kept by the power of God."
2. Usefulness; for he "saved the inhabitants of Keilah" (1 Samuel 23:5).
3. Honour; for he was more fully recognised as the true defender of Israel against their enemies, and his heroic band was largely increased (1 Samuel 23:13).
"Stern Lawgiver! yet thou dos, wear
The Godhead's most benignant grace;
Nor know we anything so fair
As is the smile upon thy face:
Flowers laugh before thee on their beds,
And fragrance in thy footing treads;
Thou dost preserve the stars from wrong;
And the most ancient heavens through thee are fresh and strong.
Give unto me, made lowly wise,
The spirit of self-sacrifice;
The confidence of reason give,
And in the light of truth thy bondman let me live."
(Wordsworth, 'Ode to Duty.')—D.
1 Samuel 22:6-19. (GIBEAH.)
The tyranny of Saul.
With his spear-sceptre in his hand, Saul, now considerably past the meridian of life, sat in the midst of his council of officers and magnates, under the tamarisk tree on the height, in Gibeah. The description of what took place in this assembly—"a kind of parliament in the open air"—casts a lurid light upon his character and rule. In it we see—
1. The fulfilment of the prediction of Samuel concerning the course which would be pursued by a king such as the people desired (1 Samuel 8:11-18).
2. The moral deterioration of Saul since the day when they shouted "God save the king" in Mizpeh (1 Samuel 10:24), and "made him king before the Lord in Gilgal" (1 Samuel 11:15); and even since his rejection (1 Samuel 15:26).
3. The working out of the law of retribution in their chastisement through the king chosen by themselves and reflecting their own sin. The early brilliance of his reign had been long overcast, and the thunderstorm was approaching. Saul had ceased to be a servant of Jehovah. His government was the reverse of what it ought to have been. Although it had respect to the outward forms of religion, and displayed much zeal against irreligious practices, yet it did not really recognise the invisible King of Israel, obey his will, or observe "the manner of the kingdom" which had been ordained of old (Deuteronomy 17:14-20), and formally recorded as a permanent law and testimony (1 Samuel 10:25). It was essentially antitheocratic. The true theocracy was represented by Samuel and the prophets at Ramah, and David and his band at Adullam; and through them (in the wonderful working of Divine providence) the nation would be raised to power and glory, and the purposes of God concerning it accomplished. His character and rule were marked by—
I. MORBID SELFISHNESS. By constantly directing his thoughts toward himself, instead of toward God and his people, Saul had come to think of nothing else but his own safety, power, and honour. Selfishness appears in—
1. Pride and vainglory. Of this he had previously exhibited unmistakable signs (1 Samuel 15:12). Yet it was expressly required that his heart should not be "lifted up above his brethren" (Deuteronomy 17:20).
2. The use of power for personal ends. In contrast to charity, it seeketh its own. The king exists for the good of the people, not the people for the glory of the king. "Behold, I am against thee, Pharaoh king of Egypt, the great dragon that lieth in the midst of his rivers, which hath said, My river is my own, and I have made it for myself" (Ezekiel 29:3).
3. The neglect of the performance of duty to others. Unlike Samuel, when he was judge, Saul had evidently, in his concern for himself, omitted to maintain law and order (1 Samuel 22:2), and even to resist the encroachments of the Philistines; against whom he had formerly rendered signal service.
II. AVOWED MISGOVERNMENT (1 Samuel 22:7-9).
1. Partisanship. He placed men of his own tribe in the chief offices of state, and this would not be conducive to the unity of the nation. "Hear now, ye Benjamites."
2. Mercenariness. He sought to attach them to his interest by the lowest motives. "He boasts that he has given fields and vineyards to all his Benjamite servants and accomplices; and what he gave to them he must have taken away from others" (Hengstenberg). His reign was oppressive, as it had been predicted.
3. Suspicion of disloyalty, and reproach for want of gratitude and sympathy. "All of you have conspired against me," etc. A man is apt to suspect in others the evil which exists in his own heart.
4. Falsehood. Having heard that a number of men had gathered around David, he said, "My son hath stirred up my servant against me," etc. "There is herein a twofold false accusation: as to David, that he was lying in wait to take his throne and his life; and as to Jonathan, that he was the cause of this insurrectionary and insidious conduct of David."
III. FLAGRANT INJUSTICE (1 Samuel 22:9-16). The people desired a king that he might judge them (1 Samuel 8:20). But Saul abused his judicial office by—
1. Receiving and relying upon insufficient testimony. The law required the evidence of at least two witnesses; but he was satisfied with the information of one of his creatures—Doeg the Edomite.
2. A prejudiced prejudgment of the guilt of the accused. He sent for Ahimelech "and all his father's house," having already resolved, apparently, upon their destruction.
3. Utter disregard of the plainest proofs of innocence. The priest gave his evidence in a dignified, simple, and straightforward manner. In what he had done he was fully justified. And he had not done all that was attributed to him. "The force of the word begin lies in this, that it would have been his first act of allegiance to David and defection from Saul. This he strenuously repudiates" (Speaker's 'Com.') He was ignorant of any treason in others, guiltless of it himself, and had done no wrong.
4. A rash, precipitate, revengeful, and disproportionate sentence. "Thou shalt surely die, Ahimelech, thou, and all thy father's house" (1 Samuel 22:16).
IV. PERSISTENT WILFULNESS (1 Samuel 22:17). "Never was the command of a prince more barbarously given, never was the command of a prince more honourably disobeyed" (M. Henry). "We ought to obey God rather than man." The besetting sin of Saul received another cheek; and another merciful warning was given him, which should have made him pause and desist from his evil purpose. But, blinded by passion, and probably thinking that his course was justifiable, he heeded it not, outraged the public conscience, as expressed in the refusal of his own bodyguard, and gave the order for immediate execution to one of his vilest servants and accomplices. Wicked men generally find appropriate instruments for the accomplishment of their wickedness.
V. ATROCIOUS CRUELTY (1 Samuel 22:18, 1 Samuel 22:19). Impelled by the same self-will as formerly led him to spare Agag, he not only destroyed eighty-five "priests of the Lord," but also gave to the sword "the city of priests, both men and women, children and sucklings, and oxen, and asses, and sheep;" nor was he, as in his attack upon the prophets, restrained by the hand of God.
1. In fulfilling their own purposes evil men often unconsciously execute the predicted and righteous judgments of Heaven (1 Samuel 2:31-36; 1 Samuel 3:11-14).
2. Those judgments, though startling in their immediate occasion, are connected with their main cause. If the house of Eli had not been reduced to a dependent and despised condition by notorious transgression, Saul would hardly have dared to commit this act.
3. The evil which men do lives after them in its effects, and one generation suffers for the preceding (Exodus 20:5).
4. Although men in doing wrong may execute the will of God, they are responsible for their own acts, and must sooner or later suffer the penalty due to them. Saul's reckless cruelty alienated the best of his subjects and hastened his doom. This was not the only instance in which it was displayed (see 2 Samuel 21:1-6).
VI. IMPIOUS REBELLION. In destroying the servants of God for imaginary rebellion against himself Saul was guilty of real rebellion against the Divine King of Israel. More fully than ever he renewed a conflict which could end only in his defeat. "Woe to him that striveth with his Maker."
1. How vast is the mischief which self-will works in the world!
2. How base do men sometimes become under its dominion!
3. How fearfully is the possession of power frequently misused!
4. "How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!"—D.
1 Samuel 22:18, 1 Samuel 22:19. (GIBEAH.)
Doeg the Edomite.
Wicked men, especially when they occupy positions of authority and possess wealth and influence, attract to themselves others of like character, and become more wicked by association with them. Of the latter Doeg the Edomite was one. He belonged to a people between whom and Israel the bitterest enmity existed. But he had apparently become a proselyte, and, being a man of some ability, was made overseer of the herdsmen of Saul and one of his council. His real character seems to have been perceived by David before he fled from court (1 Samuel 22:22); and it is very probable that he gave secret information to the king of what took place at the tabernacle at Nob previous to bearing open testimony in the council. He was—
I. A HEARTLESS WORSHIPPER; "detained before Jehovah" (1 Samuel 21:7). Whatever may have been the reason of his detention, there can be no doubt that he was present in the sacred place either unwillingly and by constraint, or offering a formal and hypocritical worship. "He concealed his heathen heart under Israelitish forms." He was more observant of the conduct of others in the house of God than careful to correct his own. He cherished "a wicked mind," and perhaps revolved therein how he could turn what he saw to his own advantage, or employ it for the gratification of his hatred and enmity. All who join in the outward forms of worship do not "lift up holy hands without wrath and disputation."
II. A MALICIOUS INFORMER (1 Samuel 22:9, 1 Samuel 22:10). His immediate purpose in giving information may have been to avert the reproaches of the king from his courtiers; but he must have known what its effect would be with respect to the high priest, and doubtless deliberately aimed at producing it. He also appears to have gone beyond the truth; perchance supposing that when he saw the priest take "the sword of Goliath" from behind the ephod, he used the latter for the purpose of "inquiring of the Lord." "Thou lovest evil more than good; and lying rather than to speak righteousness. Thou lovest all devouring words, O thou deceitful tongue" (Psalms 52:3, Psalms 52:4).
III. A RUTHLESS EXECUTIONER (1 Samuel 22:18, 1 Samuel 22:19). What others, whose consciences were not hardened, refused to do he willingly and readily accomplished, and probably found therein a gratification of the enmity of his race against Israel. The command of the king could not relieve him of his responsibility for his deed of blood. "Louis XIV; who had sanctioned the Dragonades, died declaring to the cardinals Rohan and Bissy, and to his confessor, that, being himself altogether ignorant of ecclesiastical questions, he had acted under their guidance and as their agent in all that he had done against the Jansenists or the Protestant heretics, and on those his spiritual advisers he devolved the responsibility to the supreme Judge" (Stephen, 'Lect;. on the Hist. of France').
IV. A RETRIBUTORY INSTRUMENT (see last homily). When the great wickedness of men like Doeg is considered, it is not surprising that David (living under the former dispensation) should predict and desire their due punishment as public enemies; "not in a spirit of revenge, but rather in a spirit of zeal for the glory of God, desire for the vindication of right, and regard for the peace and purity of society" ('Expositor,' 4:56), as he does in Psalms 52:1-9, "The punishment of an evil tongue" (see inscription):—
"Why boastest thou thyself in wickedness, O mighty man?
The mercy of God endureth continually.
Destruction doth thy tongue devise,
Like a sharp razor, working guile.
Thus then God will smite thee down forever.
He will seize thee and pluck thee out of thy tent,
And root thee out of the land of the living."
Other psalms have been supposed by some to refer to Doeg and the massacre of the priests, viz; 17; 35; 64; 109; 140.—D.
1 Samuel 22:20-22. (THE FOREST OF HARETH.)
Conscience is the consciousness a man has of himself in relation to the standard of right which he recognises. It is at once a judgment of his conformity or otherwise to that standard, and a corresponding feeling of approbation or disapprobation. It is the crowning faculty of the soul. "The whole world is under a solemn economy of government and judgment. A mighty spirit of judgment is in sovereign exercise over all; discerning, estimating, approving or condemning. And it is the office of conscience to recognise this authority and to represent it in the soul. It communicates with something mysteriously great without the soul, and above it, and everywhere. It is the sense (more explicit or obscure) of standing in judgment before the Almighty" (J. Foster). Its operation appears in what is here said of David as—
1. Uttering a warning against sin. "I knew it that day," etc. Conscience is not only reflective, but prospective in its operations. The sight of Doeg led him to see and feel that the course which he was about to take in deceiving Ahimelech was wrong, and would be productive of evil consequences. But under the pressure of urgent need he neglected the premonition.
2. Inflicting remorse on account of sin. "I am guilty as to every soul (life) of the house of thy father." The information he received called his conscience into the highest activity. He judged himself strictly. He felt his sin deeply. And most gladly would he recall the evil he had done if he could. But that was impossible. "The lie had gone forth from him; and having done so, it was no longer under his control, but would go on producing its diabolical fruits" (W.M. Taylor).
3. Constraining to the confession of sin. He did not (as Saul had done) seek to conceal or palliate his transgression, hut freely and fully acknowledged it, renounced it, and sought its forgiveness (Psalms 32:5).
4. Inciting to reparation for sin. "Abide thou with me," etc. It was little that he could do for this purpose: but what was in his power he did. It is evident that, notwithstanding he had yielded to temptation, he possessed a tender conscience (Acts 24:16). "And wouldst thou be faithful to that work which God hath appointed thee to do in this world for his name? Then make much of a trembling heart and conscience; for although the word be the line and rule whereby we must govern and order all our actions, yet a breaking heart and tender conscience is of absolute necessity for so doing. A hard heart can do nothing with the word of Jesus Christ. Keep then thy conscience awake with wrath and grace, with heaven and hell. But let .grace and heaven bear sway" (Bunyan).
"O clear conscience and upright!
How doth a little failing wound thee sore."—D.
1 Samuel 22:23. (HARETH.)
The defender of the persecuted.
As David afforded protection to Abiathar, so Christ affords protection to those who betake themselves to him. This is not a mere resemblance, but is directly involved in that (his royal office) wherein David was a type or Divine foreshadowing of "the King of kings." They—
I. ENDURE PERSECUTION FOR HIS SAKE. "He that seeketh my life seeketh thy life." They do so—
1. Because of their union with him, and partaking of his life and righteousness, to which "this present evil world" is opposed.
2. Because of their love to him, which will not suffer them to leave him, or be unfaithful to him for the sake of gaining the favour of the world.
3. Because it has been thus ordained. "Unto you it is given," etc. (Philippians 1:29). "With persecutions" (Mark 10:30), which are an occasion of spiritual blessing (Matthew 5:10).
II. MUST ABIDE IN HIS FELLOWSHIP. "Abide thou with me."
1. By unwavering reliance upon him (John 15:4-7; 1 John 2:28).
2. By intimate intercourse with him.
3. By constant obedience to him.
III. FIND SAFETY UNDER HIS PROTECTION. "Fear not; with me thou art in safe guard." "David spoke thus in the firm belief that the Lord would deliver him from his foe and give him the kingdom" (Keil). Christ has "all power in heaven and in earth," and he will assuredly be "a hiding place from the wind and a covert from the tempest."
1. Because of his love to them.
2. Because of his regard for his kingdom, to which they belong, and which they represent.
3. Because of his express and faithful promise. "Fear not." If the worst that can befall them should happen, even then
"Thou, Saviour, art their charmed Bower,
Their magic Ring, their Rock, their Tower.—D.
HOMILIES BY D. FRASER
1 Samuel 22:1, 1 Samuel 22:2
The cave of Adullam.
David knew well that he could nevermore live in safety at the court of Saul. He would not raise a hand against his king and father-in-law, but he would not place himself again within his reach. Better a free life even in deserts and caves of the earth than a life in constant peril in ceiled houses. Behold him then in the cave of Adullam.
I. THE CAPTAIN OF THE REFUGEES. No question arises here respecting the right of revolt against a perverse, tyrannical king. We entirely believe in such a right, because the king exists for the good of the people, not the people for the service of the king. We have no misgiving as to the right of the British nation to rid itself of King James II, or that of the people in the kingdom of the Two Sicilies to drive away King Francis II. But the case of Saul's royalty over Israel was unique. The people had chosen him by acclamation, and there was no proof as yet that the mass of the people wished to dethrone him. Even if they had so wished, David was not the man to lead their revolt; for it was one of the tests of his fitness for the succession that he should not snatch at the honour to which he was destined, but wait the evolution of the Divine purpose, recognising God only as the true and absolute King of Israel. Therefore, what he did at this period was simply for preservation of himself and his relatives. The times were "out of joint," and he had no protection of law or civil order against the mad suspicions of the king. So he took refuge in a cavern, waiting for God and hoping in his word. The hero raised no standard of revolt, and drew no followers by prospect of plunder or revenge. Yet he did draw hundreds of the men of Israel to his place of refuge. These must not be likened to the riotous and desperate followers of Catiline, or even to the "empty persons" who attached themselves to Jephthah. Doubtless there may have been among the young men some who were more adventurous than devout, and cared for their leader's sword and spear more than for his psalms; but they were in general young men of patriotic temper who had suffered damage through the misrule of the time, and found the public disorder and tyranny intolerable. They turned their wistful eyes towards one who had borne himself wisely in the station he had occupied, and from whom they hoped for a just and prudent administration of public affairs. There are parallels to this position in the history of other nations; but most worthy of our thought is the parallel of the great Son of David, our Lord Jesus Christ. When he was a young man in Galilee the people were distressed under their rulers. The civil government was oppressive; the religious surveillance by the chief priests and elders was worse. Heavy burdens were imposed without pity, and grievous abuses of power and office were committed. The eyes of many had failed them, looking long for a deliverer who should be the Consolation of Israel. Then appeared Jesus of Nazareth, raising no standard of revolt, indeed refusing to be made a king by the voice of the multitude, while himself under the evident displeasure of the authorities, and exposed to frequent risks of arrest and death. But to him followers repaired, and they were welcome. Jesus called to him the labouring and heavy laden. He had powerful attraction for all who were distressed. And from the day when he took up a position apart from the rulers of the Jews, though he headed no movement of resistance, it became more and more obvious that those rulers had lost the favour of Jehovah, and had nothing before them but thickening disaster and a final collapse of their power like that of Saul on Mount Gilboa. The only hope of Israel thenceforth was with and in the despised and rejected One who had been born in David's city and of David's line. So it is still. It is Jesus Christ, as rejected of men, humbled, crucified, who appeals to human hearts. Who will go out to him, "without the camp, bearing his reproach"? Who will repair to him at the cave of Adullam? Not the proud, nor the thoughtless, nor the self-satisfied; but the distressed, the ruined, and the bereaved will go; and over such he is willing to be Captain. Let them come to him, and his life is thenceforward bound up with theirs, and theirs with his. With him they are "in safeguard" till the end of the tribulation; and when the King appears in his great power these will appear with him in glory; the trials of Adullam more than recompensed by the joys of New Jerusalem.
II. THE POSITION OF SEPARATION. When is it justified? David and his followers went apart from the common life of their countrymen, and renounced all idea of rendering service or occupying any post of honour under Saul. Jesus Christ and his disciples broke with the course of the Jewish and Galilean world in which they lived, and took up a position quite aloof from the priests, elders, and scribes. What is the duty of modern Christians towards the society around them? Are they to come out and be separate? Some persons have almost a craze for separation, and support it on this story of Adullam. They hold it to be the duty of Christians to stand aloof from all the existing order of things, and all the plans and occupations of society; to accept no office in the State, and be subject to the powers that be only in the sense in which David continued subject to Saul; and to come out from all organised historical Churches, on the ground that they contain worldly elements and principles, and are therefore impure and ready to perish. All this seems to us extravagant in theory and uncharitable in spirit. Separation from evil does not mean alienation from every place and every institution in which a fault can be found. For good men to hold aloof from public affairs is simply to play into the hands of evil doers; and to separate from every Church that has a faulty element in it is to disintegrate Christian society, and miserably embitter it in the process. But we must hold the balance true. It may be one's duty to separate himself from institutions of both Church and State under which he was born. As to civil institutions, this is plain enough. As to ecclesiastical relations, there are critical times when, as it was right for Israelites to separate from Saul and go over to David, so it has been and is right for Christians to withdraw from positions which they could not correct or amend, and go over to some simpler and purer expression of their faith and hope. On this ground we justify without hesitation the erection of reformed Churches in the sixteenth century apart from the unreformed. The Papal system had a long trial, and was found wanting. Such men as Wickliffe, Savonarola, and Huss tried to correct its errors and rouse a new spirit within its pale, just as David played on his harp to cure the mania of King Saul. It was labour lost. That which was evil grew worse. The tyranny which hung over Western Christendom became intolerable. Then they did wisely and well who threw off the yoke and began afresh, with the word of God for their directory, and the Son of God, who became Son of David, for their Captain. On the same ground we justify those who now a days break away from the same Papal infallible, and therefore incurable, system to join or to organise a reformed Church. And we add that those who do so in a Roman Catholic country, like Spain or Italy, to worship with some small evangelical congregation in a hall, mocked and despised, show a courage not at all inferior to that of the four hundred who defied the power of Saul, and flocked around David in the cave of Adullam. Those men did not lift their swords against Saul. David did not desire them to do so. He saw something still to honour in that king, and knew that the throne would be vacated without any assistance from him. So, in that system of infatuation and spiritual tyranny which centres at Rome, there is something of that common Christianity which we must reverence, and against which we may not fight.
While we expose its errors, let us always acknowledge whatever of the truth of God it contains, and be patient. Ultimately that system must perish. As the Philistines, and not the followers of David, made an end of Saul, so the democratic infidelity, not the reformed Church, is likely to make an end of the Papacy, and all the religious delusion and oppression of the Latin Church. Happy they who are in a fellowship which gives them direct access to the Lord Jesus, and has in him the living centre and the joy of all. O Saviour, draw us to thyself, and be thou a Captain over us!—F.
1 Samuel 22:18-23
Massacre and safeguard.
The tragic interest of this passage groups itself about four men:
(1) the furious king;
(2) the cruel officer;
(3) the innocent priest;
(4) the self-reproaching hero.
I. SAUL AND HIS MAD TYRANNY. How much allowance may be made for actual insanity in the king God only knows. But it must not be forgotten that the disorder of his mind was largely due to his own indulgence of fierce and arrogant passions, and his wilful refusal to obey the commands of the Lord and the guidance of his prophet. He had now become quite furious in his jealousy of David and in his suspicion of all around him as plotting his downfall. Unable to capture David, he turned fiercely on those whom he supposed to be aiding and abetting him in rebellion; and the homicidal mania which he had already betrayed in hurling his javelin at David, and even at Jonathan, now broke out against the innocent priests. When one begins to indulge a bad passion, how little he can tell the length to which it may carry him! We remember how Saul at the outset of his reign would not have a man in Israel put to death on his account. But now he had no pity on the innocent. Nothing can be more shocking than the hardness of heart which disregarded the noble defence of the priests against unjust accusation, and condemned them and their families to immediate death. By this Saul forfeits all claim to our sympathy. He is a bloodstained tyrant. Nero on his accession to the imperial dignity at Rome showed a similar reluctance to sign a legal sentence of death on a criminal, and yet broke forth into horrid cruelty at the age of seventeen. Saul was not so precocious in cruelty, and seems to have been free from other vices that made Nero infamous. But it should be considered, on the other hand, that Saul had knowledge of Jehovah, while Nero knew only the gods of Rome; and that though Nero had a great teacher in Seneca, Saul had a still greater in Samuel. There is no palliation of his conduct admissible unless on the plea of disease of the brain—an excuse which may also be advanced in behalf of such wretches as Antiochus Epiphanes and the Emperor Caligula. The lesson of admonition is that wickedness has horrible abysses unseen at first. Stop short at the beginnings of evil. Check your peril, calm your anger, correct your suspicions, hold back your hasty javelin; for if you lose self-control and a good conscience there is hardly any depth of injustice and infatuation to which you may not fall.
II. DOEG AND HIS RUTHLESS SWORD. Cruel masters make cruel servants. Tyrants never lack convenient instruments. Caligula, Nero, and Domitian had favourites and freedmen ready to stimulate their jealous passions and carry out their merciless commands. At Saul's elbow stood such a wretch, Doeg the Edomite. The repeated mention of this officer's extraction seems to imply that he was actuated by the hereditary jealousy of Israel which filled the descendants of Esau, and took a malicious pleasure in widening the gulf between Saul and David and slaying the priests of Israel's God. With his own hand he cut them down, when the Israelite officers shrank from the bloody deed; and no doubt it was he who executed the inhuman sentence against the women and children at Nob, and smote the very "oxen, asses, and sheep with the edge of the sword." Doeg has had many followers in those who have with fiendish relish tortured and slain the servants of our Lord and of his Christ. And indeed all who, without raising the hand of violence, take part with malicious purpose against servants of God, who misrepresent them and stab their reputations,, are of one spirit with this Edomite whose memory is cursed.
III. AHIMELECH IN HIS INTEGRITY. How fine the contrast between the calm bearing of the chief priest on the one hand, and the unreasoning fury of Saul and truculent temper of Doeg on the other! How straightforward was the vindication of Ahimelech! If Saul had not been blind with passion he must have seen its transparent truth and noble candour. When it became known through the land that Ahimelech and the priests had been killed by the king's order on a mere suspicion of disaffection which was false, a thrill of horror must; have run through many bosoms, and those who feared the Lord must have had sore misgiving that he had forsaken his people and his land. Under such mishaps in later times similar fears have been awakened. Indeed men have been tempted to question whether there be any God of righteousness and truth actually governing the world; for the virtuous suffer, the innocent are crushed, might overrules right, victory seems to he to the proud and not the lowly. It is useless to deny that there are strange defeats of goodness and truth, and that blows fall on heads that seem least to deserve them. All that we can do is to cleave to our belief, firm on its own grounds, that God is, and to say that the calamities complained of have his permission for some good ends in his far reaching purpose. At all events we can go no further into the mystery on a survey of this present life. But there is another, and in it lies the abundant recompense for present wrongs. It seems strange that a life so precious as that of Paul should have been assailed, bruised, and finally taken by violence for no crime, but for the name of Jesus. But Paul himself has given us some clue to the compensation: "our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory." Ahimelech and the priests, we may be sure, though they suffered not directly for Christ, but on account of his human ancestor, lost nothing, but gained much, by forfeiting their lives in innocence.
IV. DAVID AND HIS SELF-REPROACH. News of this massacre must have shocked all thoughtful men in Israel, and deepened the distrust with which Saul was now regarded. David, when he heard of it, felt, besides horror and indignation, a bitter pang of self-reproach. It was he who had played on the simplicity of the priests at Nob, and so had given occasion to Doeg to accuse them. Would that he had gone without bread, whatever the consequence to himself, rather than have exposed so many innocent persons to such a cruel fate! And now the horrid deed was done, and quite past remedy. What a lesson against crafty strokes and plausible pretexts! One may gain his point at the time by such devices, but after consequences little expected may fall on some innocent head; and surely there is no sting so sharp in the conscience of an honourable man as the feeling that, for his own safety or interest, he has misled his own friends, and unwittingly brought disaster on them. We can believe that David, on hearing what Abiathar told him, was bowed down with shame such as he never yet had needed to feel. In this respect he failed to typify Christ. Our Lord had no self-reproach to bear. He never had recourse to subterfuge, and no guile was found in his mouth. Those who have suffered for his sake have not been led into the risk of death unwittingly. It was of some comfort to David that he could give protection to Abiathar. "He that seeketh my life seeketh thy life." We have a common enemy. Thy life is in peril on my account; therefore stay with me; "thou shalt be in safeguard." Here we do seem to hear the voice of Christ in a figure. "If the world hate you, ye know," etc. (John 15:18-20). Our Lord gives his people safeguard with himself. "Abide in me." "Continue in my love." Such words are dear to mourners. As David gave to Abiathar immediate and sympathetic attention, so the Son of David hearkens at once to those who repair to him with the tale of their mishap and grief. He will take them all under the guarantee of his faithful safeguard. Whatever solace it is possible to have in this world they have who abide with him. And no one can pluck them out of his hand.—F.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 22". The Pulpit Commentary. https://studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany