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Kelly Commentary on Books of the Bible Kelly Commentary
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Kelly, William. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 4". Kelly Commentary on Books of the Bible. https://studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ wkc/ 1-samuel-4.html. 1860-1890.
Kelly, William. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 4". Kelly Commentary on Books of the Bible. https://studylight.org/
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The first Book of Samuel (or of Kings as with some) brings before us that great change for which the Book of Ruth was a preparation, and in order to which the Spirit of God closed it with the generations until they come down to David. It is sufficiently plain to the simplest reader that Saul only came in by the way; for, in fact, the people's wish for such an one was a dishonour to God, although he might be used providentially, as God is wont to do for His own glory. But we find here, as everywhere else, that God, whilst He knows the end from the beginning, goes onward with astonishing patience and consideration of all things and persons; for He who is mighty despises not any, but acts according to His holy nature, and yet is slow to wrath. Nevertheless, as being the only wise God who has His own purposes of glory before Him, He brings in on every great occasion a distinct promotion of it, negatively or positively; but this too by slow degrees, marking the immensity of the change that we may take heed to what He is doing. This seems to be a principle throughout scripture. We must remember that it is not only what God does but the display of Himself, which always contributes yea, insures blessing to the soul. There is the fruit not merely of His power, but of His will, and His will is ever good and holy and acceptable. And if we only heed what He marks for our instruction what our attention is drawn to, not only in the result, but on the road that leads to that result we shall not find ourselves without the blessing of the Lord.
There was a distinct and great change then in progress, and, as we have seen, a suitable and great preparation for it, the Book of Ruth as a whole being the preface to those of Samuel; but the first Book of Samuel itself only slowly opens to us that which was in the mind of God to introduce. Hitherto the people, as such, were the object of divine dealings. Nor is it that His people ever ceased to be an object to Him; but in the unfolding of His ways He was now about to establish a principle which should in due time prove the turning-point of stable blessing. And what is particularly to be remarked is this: it is the turning-point of your blessing just as much as of that which awaits the Jewish people, of all nations, and of the universe. Although it be a principle quite new in its present application, it is really the oldest of all. At first sight it might seem difficult to bring all these truths into a small compass or focus of light, if I may say so; but this is what God does. Need I say where that concentrating point of all blessing is to be found? Is it not in one single name the name of Jesus? And who can adequately count up what varied blessings God has stored up in that one person what infinite fulness of wisdom and of goodness? I shall endeavour to show how this applies to the present subject.
In the past we have seen the people of Israel, and in the midst of them one person more particularly who was the sign of the blessing for the people, and the means of maintaining their relationship with God. This was the priest. We are familiar with the shadow of the great high priest. But the time was now come for God to bring in another and a yet grander principle; but this, as is always the case in this world, is invariably brought in by the failure of man, every successive step of it only manifesting God the more. The Book of Ruth prepared the way for this. The genealogy there had nothing to do with the priest; yet it was not by any man known distinctly (though it might have perhaps been gathered by an eye exercised in the things of God and versed in the prophetic word) that something greater than the priest was at hand. But I doubt much whether this had been actually understood by any until it became a fact. Nevertheless God had it from the very beginning before Him, as He later made it known in His word; and it is important for us to take notice of this. For we must remember that what happened to them is written for us not written for them merely, but for us specially; and we can see from the very beginning that God had something more than priesthood in view for His people. Why otherwise did He particularly mention the tribe of Judah, of which nothing was spoken concerning priesthood? None the less was Judah to have a place of honour, but a singular one. So, if Christ takes up the function of heavenly priest, He for other reasons did not belong to the house of Aaron nor to the tribe of Levi. It pleased God that He should be born of Judah, and of the family of David, as all know, the true Son of David in Solomon's line. Therefore was the genealogy given at the close of the preceding book; but in the beginning of Samuel we have not the direct preparation for the Christ, nor the family noticed of which He was to be born in due time, but rather indirect and moral circumstances that would make it necessary if God was to bring in glory and man to be truly blest.
Thus 1 Samuel presents a scene of transition. Here we have not a man of Judah, but first of all one who clearly belonged to a Levitical family. The interest however is on one of his two wives, childless to her great sorrow. What she was made to taste was that which the people of God should have known; if they felt not, she enters into the distressful condition in which they lay. The wife who had children knew little what it was to have sorrow. But Hannah whose heart was towards the Lord was the especial object not merely of deep affection, but of one too in which there was a divine element; and without this be assured that, as far as concerns the people of God, all else will be found to fail sooner or later. Is it meant that there should not be a genuine affection? God forbid! But there was more here than any bond of natural feeling. It is plain that Hannah looked to the Lord. And her faith was put to the test; and during the trial her way and spirit could not but win respect, as well as sympathy, on her husband's part. But the best of all was that she knew the secret of the Lord before the answer appeared.
Now Jehovah will yet bring down His people to this very state. For the question here is of His ancient people Israel. And we must remember that, although we may apply every principle of truth, and thus as Christians gather profit from this book as from all others in scripture, the great subject of the kingdom as a fact awaits them under the Messiah. This is no reason why we should not understand and enjoy this part of the Bible, using its light for our path. For assuredly it is a truth we can not too much ponder, that, no matter who the subject may be, the church or the Christian is entitled to draw near in communion with Christ, and enter into the depths of God's wisdom as it were more deeply than the very persons who are destined to be the object of these counsels of God. The reason is certain, and simple enough. Christ treats us as friends, and makes us share His plans and mind. It is not the fact of being ourselves those who receive a particular blessing that ensures the deepest understanding. The true means of entering into the revealed counsels of God is, first of all, that Christ fills the heart. Where He is the object, the eye is single, and the whole body full of light. The Holy Ghost takes of His things, and shows them to us. This ought to be the place of the members of His body. To this end among others was the Spirit given.
Hence therefore we ought to know what is reserved for the people of God by and by in the millennium, even better in very important respects than the people themselves. They will behold and enjoy the fruits of that glory which will shine on Zion; they will be in the actual possession of its privileges. But the heavenly sources of it ought to be plain and clear to our souls as between the Lord and us now. It would be better understood if we valued more our relation to Him as the Bride of the Lamb, the confidant of His secrets, no longer hidden but revealed, if I may use such an expression; and indeed we have the mind of Christ, so that it is only unbelief that robs us of its joy and brightness. But if so, the Lord keeps back nothing from us. It is a part of His great love towards us, that He tells us what concerns all the earth as the sphere of His kingdom, and especially Israel, His earthly centre, and not ourselves only. For this is not the best proof of love. It may be and is necessary in the first instance; but it is not so much the communication of what we want that bespeaks intimacy, as the opening of the heart to another about that which does not concern himself. You tell a servant (perhaps a stranger, if you are kind) what concerns his own duty or advantage; but to tell cut to another everything which is nearest to your own heart supposes the utmost possible confidence in and intimacy with that other.
Now this is the place that grace has put the Christian in; and therefore we can readily understand, as it appears to me, why all this becomes of real profit to our souls, though not by what people call spiritualizing, which is often really to lose the definiteness of the truth by the vain and selfish desire of appropriating everything to ourselves. Be assured that this is not the way to receive the best blessing from scripture, but by seeing its connection with Christ. It is only so that we can be sure of the truth, and apart from the truth there can be no real grasp of divine grace. Nor does it really take away anything, but gives everything solidly, though not all about us. At the same time we see that what is special favour to the people, the earthly people, is surely also intended to bring before our souls His grace generally, as well as that which the Lord has specially for us. If I know, for instance, the faithfulness of the Lord's love to Israel, am I not entitled to be very sure of His love to me and you? Does the revelation to us of His name as Father take anything from the grace He is showing to ourselves?
Hannah then, conscious of her desolation as a wife without a child (which we know to a Jewess was an immense loss, and by her justly felt as such), was led by grace to cast her care on the Lord without judging Him hard towards her, and spreads her soul's desire and grief before Him. And so it was that this came out in the presence of God where the high priest saw her. Others went to worship there with their thank-offerings; she drew near with her tears, and there too she felt none the less the provocation of her adversary. But the remarkable feature of the tale is, that God calls our attention to the fact that the high priest himself had not the communion of His mind. He that ought most of all to have entered into the greatest difficulties of the people of God was certainly in this case among the last to appreciate the case. I have no doubt that Peninnah, bad as she was, knew more of the secret of Hannah's grief than Eli; certainly even she did not think her a drunken woman as the high priest did. It was clear therefore that what God lets us see at the starting-point is the failure of him who up to this moment was outwardly the appointed means of communication both from God to the people, and from the people to God. At least such the priest was meant to be, and such he was officially. Here was the fact. Nor was this the only feature to be deplored in the priesthood then, as we shall find afterwards. But here it suffices to draw attention to the first patent fact the sorrow of a righteous one in Israel the absence of that which she might normally have looked for from the Lord, the lack of which He caused her to feel in order to spread it before Himself at the very moment when she was misjudged by him who above all in Israel ought to have pleaded for her, bearing up her cry as her intercessor before Jehovah. At length, convinced by her meek endurance of his reproach, Eli bids her go in peace, with the prayer that the God of Israel might grant her the petition she had asked of Him. In due time the answer came from Jehovah, who remembered her. "And it came to pass, when the time was come about after Hannah had conceived, that she bare a son, and called his name Samuel."
It will soon be apparent that great importance attaches to the birth of Samuel, and to the function he was called to fulfil in Israel as contributing to the great object of the Spirit of God in this book. And Hannah goes up in due time when the child was weaned not till then and told her husband, "I will not go up until the child be weaned; then I will leave him that he may appear before Jehovah, and there abide for ever." Here was a true heart. To such an one blessing from God was only the occasion, as it was the means, of returning that blessing to Him. Jehovah was the object of her soul. Who can suppose that there was any lack of affection for Samuel? Samuel to her was clothed not merely with all the affection her heart could give a child, and a child so born, but with a special sense of what the Lord had proved Himself to her in respect of him. Well she could gather (and she was right; for the secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him) that such a child was not born for nothing that hers was a son given for the purposes of God in Israel. Faith sees clear, and always in the measure of its simplicity; and the only thing that secures this is Christ before us as we rest on His work. Then the power of the Spirit of God delivers us by grace, but in self-judgment. Thus do we see clearly.
"When she had weaned him, she took him up with her, with three bullocks, and one ephah of flour, and a bottle of wine, and brought him into the house of Jehovah in Shiloh: and the child was young. And they slew a bullock." There was openness of heart: did anything seem too good for the Lord? "They slew a bullock, and brought the child to Eli. And she said, Oh my lord, as thy soul liveth, my lord, I am the woman that stood by thee here, praying unto Jehovah. For this child I prayed; and Jehovah hath given me my petition which I asked of him Therefore also I have lent him to Jehovah; as long as he liveth he shall be lent to Jehovah. And he worshipped Jehovah there." His faithful goodness draws out praise.
Next comes a fresh outpouring of her heart, but indeed in that prayer a wonderful stream of confidence and exultation in Jehovah (1 Samuel 2:1-36). And this, I think, we shall find has the closest connection with the great object of the Holy Ghost in the book. "My heart rejoiceth in Jehovah, mine horn is exalted in Jehovah: my mouth is enlarged over mine enemies; because I rejoice in thy salvation. There is none holy as Jehovah: for there is none beside thee: neither is there any rock like our God. Talk no more so exceeding proudly; let not arrogancy come out of your mouth: for Jehovah is a God of knowledge, and by him actions are weighed. The bows of the mighty men are broken, and they that stumbled are girded with strength." No doubt this flowed out of her own experience. She knew what it was out of weakness to be made strong. What the intervention of divine power was she knew in her own soul; but the Spirit of God never stops at experience. It is as truly an error on the one side to suppose that He does not produce experience, as on the other that his own experience can be the just measure for the saint. He who does not know what experience is can scarcely be conceived to have a real knowledge of God; but he that stops short of God's object is in danger of being either clouded or self-satisfied. The fruit of faith becomes, precious as it may be in itself, where it is rested in, a snare to the believer. Yet offered up to God, how sweet in every little service and suffering for Christ's name sake, though one would refuse absolutely any resting-place before God, or any object but Christ! What is it then which keeps the soul firm, and fast, and free? Nothing but Christ, who is also the proper object of the Holy Ghost, and not that measure of reproduction of Him in the soul which we call experience. This principle you will find throughout scripture. There cannot but be a connection with the circumstances and the necessities of our souls, for God takes care that we shall be blessed; but He never stops short there, or with any short of Christ Himself.
Hence the Spirit of God is clearly launching out here into a much greater than Samuel, and into consequences far deeper than the blessing of Hannah's soul, though it need scarcely be said that for this very reason what was immediate was so much the better secured. The bright vision of a Christ and of His kingdom as superseding the failure of man had thus a vital link with what she then had passed through. Hannah was much more rightly guided than Eli. The Holy Spirit deigns, in the wondrous love of God, to incorporate a poor simple woman's experience in Israel about a child that was born to her with His own glorious counsels in Christ as to Israel and all the earth. And does it not give dignity to the believer to know that a little cup of trial we have here may be thus filled with the grace of Christ Himself? "They that were full have hired out themselves for bread; and they that were hungry ceased: so that the barren hath born seven: and she that hath many children is waxed feeble." "The barren hath borne." Hannah has her own circumstances before her; but the language even here goes out beyond her experience. Literally indeed she did not bear seven; but we see how far the Spirit of God can linger over the actual one whose birth awakens all the rest to faith. The "seven" means clearly divine completeness, which we never can have on this side of Christ. "Jehovah killeth, and maketh alive: he bringeth down to the grave, and bringeth up. Jehovah maketh poor, and maketh rich: he bringeth low, and lifteth up. He raiseth up the poor out of the dust, and lifteth up the beggar from the dunghill, to set them among princes, and to make them inherit the throne of glory: for the pillars of the earth are Jehovah's, and he hath set the world upon them. He will keep the feet of his saints, and the wicked shall be silent in darkness; for by strength shall no man prevail. The adversaries of Jehovah shall be broken to pieces; out of heaven shall he thunder upon them: Jehovah shall judge the ends of the earth; and he shall give strength unto his king, and exalt the horn of his anointed."
It is clear to the spiritual mind that the Spirit of God is going a long way beyond the child of Hannah here. Samuel was to be among priests; he was not destined for the throne. But had he been, there is a strength and height of purpose here which far transcends an ordinary sovereign. In fact nothing but Christ can meet what is here in the mind of the Spirit of God. "He will keep the feet of his saints, and the wicked shall be silent in darkness; for by strength shall no man prevail." Hannah had learnt her lesson from God; but the lesson was yet to be taught in a still more impressive and ample manner, never to be forgotten. "The adversaries of Jehovah shall be broken to pieces; out of heaven shall he thunder upon them." It is clear that this looks onward to a greater day, even to the day of Jehovah Himself. "Jehovah shall judge the ends of the earth; and he shall give strength unto his king, and exalt the horn of his anointed." Only Christ can meet what is required by all the words.
Further, we have here the key to the books we are entering on: they are the introduction of the king. It is not the priest now, but the king according to the counsels of God. Just as heretofore the high priest was the great centre of the whole Levitical system, so henceforth must be the king. But we shall find why morally it was that the Holy Spirit brings in the king here. We have only a little preparation for it; but there is much more to be brought out yet. It is comparatively late in the book that we find the true king even in type; but here the Spirit of God shows us that such a personage was before the mind of God, whatever might be the guilt of the people about one after their own eyes and in their self will.
After this another scene opens to view. It is not now Eli in his feebleness; but his sons in their ungodly course and dissolute profanation of Jehovah's name. Eli feared the Lord; but he certainly knew not that calm sense of the presence of God which enables one to judge accordingly. This has been plainly be-fore us in the first chapter. What about his sons? They were sons of Belial; they knew not Jehovah. So was it now in Israel, the chosen people of God. And those who had been set for the very purpose of presenting God to the people, and the people to God, were now the sons of Belial.
I will not dwell on the melancholy picture which the Spirit of God here appends in proof of it; on the intense selfishness of these men, who made the offering of Jehovah to be despised; on their still worse iniquity before Jehovah, which led the people not only to despise but to abhor His offering. But the Holy Ghost, along with this appalling picture of the wickedness of the priesthood in Israel, now shows us Samuel ministering before Jehovah, a child girded with a linen ephod, and the parents blessed too. So Hannah, if she had not what she spoke of prophetically seven sons at any rate has three sons, and two daughters besides. Fulness, perfection, will never be short of Christ.
But "Eli was very old, and heard all that his sons did unto all Israel" in their iniquity with but feeble remonstrance, which was in vain. "But the child Samuel grew on, and was in favour both with Jehovah, and also with men." And now comes a testimony; for God never judges without a warning. "And there came a man of God unto Eli, and said unto him, Thus saith Jehovah, Did I plainly appear unto the house of thy father, when they were in Egypt in Pharaoh's house? And did I choose him out of all the tribes of Israel to be my priest, to offer upon mine altar, to burn incense, to wear an ephod before me? and did I give unto the house of thy father all the offerings made by fire of the children of Israel?" It was so. Eli was the representative as the high priest in Israel. "Wherefore kick ye at my sacrifice and at mine offering, which I have commanded in my habitation; and honourest thy sons above me?" Can it be Eli? It was really so. For God does not judge by appearance. Why was his effort so feeble to maintain the honour of God in his children? Why did his remonstrance fail so decidedly? The occasion was serious, the sin flagrant, and Eli knew it well. Alas I he humoured his sons.
A solemn thing to say this of a saint, as Eli was: "Thou honourest thy sons above me, to make yourselves fat with the chiefest of all the offerings of Israel my people. Wherefore the Lord Jehovah of Israel saith, I said indeed that thy house, and the house of thy father, should walk before me for ever: but now Jehovah saith, Be it far from me; for them that honour me I will honour, and they that despise me shall be lightly esteemed. Behold, the days come, that I will cut off thine arm, and the arm of thy father's house, that there shall not be an old man in thine house. And thou shalt see an enemy in my habitation, in all the wealth which God shall give Israel: and there shall not be an old man in thine house for ever. And the man of thine, whom I shall not cut off from mine altar, shall be to consume thine eyes, and to grieve thine heart: and all the increase of thine house shall die in the flower of their age. And this shall be a sign unto thee, that shall come upon thy two sons, on Hophni and Phinehas; in one day they shall die both of them."
Now mark the words which let us into the plan of God. "And I will raise me up a faithful priest, that shall do according to that which is in mine heart and in my mind;" for Eli did not belong to the branch of the priesthood with which the Lord had made an everlasting covenant. It may be remembered that, of the two surviving sons of Aaron, one of them was singled out for an everlasting priesthood; but, as usual in the ways of God, flesh seemed to prevail against spirit, and the one that had not the promise of the everlasting covenant takes advantage of the other that had it. The line of Phinehas sank into abeyance for a season. His brother came forward with various successors. Now that Eli and his sons made the offering of Jehovah to be offensive, the sentence of Jehovah comes into effect: the branch of Phinehas returns to the place that God had determined and given him hundreds of years before.
There are few things more instructive in scripture, and peculiar to it, than the way in which, on the one hand, moral evil is allowed to work out its way, and on the other a promise is given, as here, because of zeal for His name, before the moral iniquity came in which brings down God's judgment on the guilty. Then He accomplishes His promise at the same time that He judges the iniquity of those that had taken the place of a blessing which did not belong to them. This will be found to be the case often in the revealed dealings of God. If His own word cannot but be verified by His grace, at the same time Satan is not inactive till Christ reigns and judges his efforts and those of every instrument which may arise to oppose His will. Thus the two things are accomplished by the Lord in His own perfect wisdom and goodness.
But there is much more than this which we would do well to note here. "I will raise me up a faithful priest, that shall do according to that which is in mine heart and in my mind." We know that God had counselled it entirely apart from all this sad and humiliating history long before: "I will build him a sure house; and he shall walk before mine anointed for ever." Now this is exceedingly striking. We have seen (verse 10) the anointed brought in for the first time, who was clearly the king. Now we have the further intimation that the faithful priest is to walk before God's anointed. In the early books of the law such language as this would have been perfectly unintelligible. The reason is plain. In the law " the anointed one" always means the high priest. Now, for the first time in God's dealing with Israel, "his anointed," or " the anointed," is not the high priest, but a greater personage before whom the high priest is to walk.
In short the high priest is no longer the immediate link of connection with God, but falls into a secondary place there being another "Anointed" greater than he. Who can that be? It is the King, in full purpose the Messiah the Lord Jesus in relation to Israel. This Anointed One therefore comes more and more into prominence as not only the people but the priesthood sink into the sad but just place of moral censure and of divine judgment, not yet executed but pronounced. And thus, beloved friends it always is, and we must never be satisfied with finding simply judgments in scripture. I believe this is the reason why the study of prophecy is frequently so unprofitable. Surely no believer would say that prophecy in itself, if taken up and pursued in the Holy Ghost, ought to be or could be aught but edifying. Why is it then that the study of prophecy is so often a thing which rather dries up the springs of Christian affection, while it gives scope for mind, intellect, fancy, and imagination? The reason is simple. First it is severed from its moral roots, and scripture on the contrary never gives prophecy except as God's dealing with the ways of man morally. But the greatest of all reasons why it ceases to be profitable is this, that it is severed not only from what is moral but from the grand divine object, Christ Himself.
On the other hand, when taken as God gives it, prophecy has a blessed place, though not the highest one in scripture. Take the very case before us. The New Testament, as we know, particularly speaks of prophecy as beginning with Samuel. It is not meant that no prophecy had been given before Samuel, for clearly there was; nor yet either that the fullest outburst of the Spirit of prophecy was in Samuel's days, for it was considerably later. Still scripture does particularly signalize Samuel in this respect. Acts 3:1-26 is a proof of this, where the apostle Peter introduces his name in this very connection. He says there that all the prophets from Samuel, and those that follow after, as many as have spoken have likewise foretold of these days. Why "from Samuel "? What was the great propriety, and wherein lay, as already hinted, the moral reason why the Spirit of God connects it with this place of Samuel? The people had failed completely long before. The priests were now just as manifest a failure. What was to be done then, if the people of Israel and if the priests had alike failed? and what failure could he more complete than that which this chapter has just now shown and pronounced on? What remained to be done? There is none holy as Jehovah; He is One who never fails. But how does He act? Samuel and the prophets that follow after are just the very epoch when the announcement of His Anointed as king is first caused to dawn upon Israel. It is here that the king is spoken of, not now indistinctly, not merely under the name of Shiloh, nor under the figure of a lion, and so on. Now comes forward the purpose of the anointed King, with a faithful priest walking before Him for ever.
As we proceed in the book, the immense importance of this very truth will be shown; but it is enough to remark in the first instance its connection with Samuel, and the reason why the Spirit makes him to be a commencing epoch of prophecy. He was really a Levite, as such having to do with the service of God in the temple; still that he was called to a higher task is plain from "Samuel and the prophets that follow after him." Here was the great crisis, when the priesthood was manifestly the means of increasing the iniquity of the people, instead of being a stay in the downward progress of Israel. Thereupon God brings in something different and better, pointing to the anointed King the Anointed in another and a higher sense, before whom the priest must take a subordinate place. This is the remarkable introduction to the book.
In the next chapter (1 Samuel 3:1-21), on which we must not think of saying many words now, Samuel is put forward and shown to be marked out for a most serious place as the herald of the change in progress. He was to be the intermediate link in preparing the way. If the king was coming, there is a forerunner. Before the advent of Messiah, John the Baptist prepared the way. So in this book Samuel stands in a similar relation to the king. In these days "the word of Jehovah was precious." There was no open vision. "Eli's eyes were waxed dim, and he could not see" in more senses than one how true! "Ere the lamp of God went out in the temple of Jehovah where the ark of God was, Samuel was laid down to sleep. And Jehovah called Samuel." He called him again and again, so that Eli instructs the youth whose voice it was, perceiving that it was Jehovah. And then comes the appalling sentence which that child was caused to hear, and which as surely was executed at no distant date.
The chapter next following (1 Samuel 4:1-22) lets us see how God brought forward His servant as the vessel of His mind. "And the word of Samuel came to all Israel. Now Israel went out against the Philistines to do battle, and pitched beside Eben-ezer: and the Philistines pitched in Aphek." Thus was the battle arranged when the people, finding that they were smitten before the Philistines, think of the ark of Jehovah's covenant and throne, not as the emblem of His presence, but as a charm to rescue them in the face of their enemies. There was thus a superstitious hope in the ark of Jehovah, but no faith in Israel It was no better than an amulet; and they were no better than heathens in their employment of it. Where was the reverence for God that became His people? Where was the sense of the blessedness of His presence? They thought of themselves; they dreaded the Philistines. The ark would surely prove a defence for Israel. This is what they had now sunk down so low as to make their one and only thought. And, my brethren, have we not to beware of the same thing? The less we suspect ourselves, the greater our danger. There are few things more natural to the heart when in danger than making use of the Lord, not believingly, but selfishly. This in the worst form the children of Israel were now blinded by the enemy to do.
On the other hand, faith, where real, ever thinks of the glory of God morally, whatever may be its own appropriation of blessing in the hour of need. But it would not dream of sacrificing the honour of God. Here Israel, in the hope of shielding themselves, exposed to the enemy the most intimate and holy and glorious sign of the presence of God in the sanctuary. They never contemplated that the God of Israel might give over His ark to the Philistines, judging their selfish unbelief, and would there singlehanded undertake for His own name and praise. What the godly soul does, just because he has faith, is to spread the difficulty before God, and, in the certainty that He will hear and appear on his behalf, waits that he may learn the needed lesson of God's end in the trial, as well as to be shown His way how each danger and difficulty is to be met, and every foe overcome. This did not enter into the minds of the elders of Israel. They thought of the ark simply according to their own wishes and a thoroughly carnal judgment, Their sole anxiety was to deliver themselves from the Philistine, the then imminent danger. It does not seem to have entered their thought to consult His will; still less was there the smallest trace of humiliation. They did not even ask God why He had allowed the Philistines to threaten or attack them. Their first thought was self; their last resource, when pressed at this time, was the ark of the covenant of Jehovah but this only valued as a means of security against the Philistines. What plainer proof of their utter degeneracy from God!
"So the people sent to Shiloh, that they might bring from thence the ark of the covenant of Jehovah of hosts, which dwelleth between the cherubims: and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were there with the ark of the covenant of God." They received it with insensate shouts of triumph. "And when the Philistines heard the noise of the shout, they said, What meaneth the noise of this great shout in the camp of the Hebrews? And they understood that the ark of Jehovah was come into the camp. And the Philistines were afraid." It was precisely the same superstitious fear, the opposite of faith, that produced panic in the Philistines, and short-lived confidence in the Israelites. In both it was total ignorance and unbelief. (CompareRomans 1:18; Romans 1:18)
Accordingly God acts in a way altogether unexpected by either. The reasoning of the Israelites assumed that God would never permit any harm to happen to that ark before which Jordan had fled away, least of all for uncircumcised hands to capture it. Why not then get behind the ark, and thus be safe? God will surely interfere for those who have His ark. How little they knew His mind! for what they counted an impossibility was precisely what He intended. The throne of His presence in Israel was to go into captivity. Why keep up the sign of His glory in the midst of those who could stake it against the Philistines? What were Hophni and Phinehas, who accompanied it, but the gravest misrepresenters of the true God in Israel? And what the state of the people? Like priest, like people. The time was fast approaching when God must put humiliation on Israel. How could He chasten them more effectually than by depriving them of that sign of His presence, in which they had trusted, without a thought of His will or of His glory? Instead of walking in faith, which purifies the heart and works by love; instead of the conscience justifying God, it was a purely selfish superstition; the more guilty because found in the people expressly separated to the true God from such vanities. It was inevitable therefore that their open sin should bring as open a rebuke from Jehovah.
"And the Philistines fought, and Israel was smitten, and they fled every man into his tent: and there was a very great slaughter; for there fell of Israel thirty thousand footmen. And the ark of God was taken; and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were slain." Thus the word of Jehovah was accomplished; and poor Eli sits on the wayside watching, and his heart trembled for the ark of God. One cannot estimate very highly the spiritual apprehension of the high priest; yet was it enough for him to know that God would be no party to His own dishonour, and least of all at the hands of His own people. The Philistines might be wrong in fearing that the mere bringing down the ark into the field would settle the fight; but the Israelites were a hundredfold more guilty who flattered themselves that the ark so brought must prove their deliverance. "And when Eli heard the noise of the crying," and was hastily told, not only of the fleeing of the people and of the death of his sons, but of the ark, "it came to pass, when he made mention of the ark of God, that he fell from off the seat backward by the side of the gate, and his neck brake, and he died: for he was an old man, and heavy. And he had judged Israel forty years."
The heart of Eli, after all, beat rightly towards God. There was truth in the inward parts, though during his life it had been sadly overlaid by not a little that was of nature. But his death lays bare the real feeling of his soul Godward. And so too his daughter-in-law, when she heard that the ark of God was taken, and that her father and husband were dead, came prematurely into travail. "And about the time of her death the women that stood by her said unto her, Fear not; for thou hast borne a son. But she answered not, neither did she regard it. And she named the child Ichabod, saying, The glory is departed from Israel: because the ark of God was taken, and because of her father-in-law and her husband. And she said, The glory is departed from Israel: for the ark of God is taken." How precious to find, even in that dark and feeble day, that grace did not cease to produce a witness for God, though sorrow might fittingly accompany it!
All this prepares the way for the King. It is now, one may observe, not only the sentence executed on the priesthood after proof of their guilt, but the compromise of that central seat of Jehovah which the priesthood surrounded; for what could priesthood do without the ark? What was the high priest to minister before the sign of God's presence, if it had somehow vanished from Israel?
But next we have another great truth dawning through the clouds. It will show how little reason there is to fear for the honour of God: He will not fail to take care of it, and so much the more where He only remains. Supposing it be the fact that the faults of His people have let slip His honour in any way, it is no longer a question of their fidelity. What then? Are we to doubt the resources of God? We may count with assurance on His faithfulness, assured that He will appear when there is no one else to appear for Him. This He did now with the enemy. He had permitted that the Philistines then should overcome the Israelites, whose state and ways were wholly evil.
And now another side of the question begins to open. The Philistines having taken the ark were no longer troubled with fears, but self-confident and boastful. (1 Samuel 5:1-12)
"And the Philistines took the ark of God, and brought it from Eben-ezer unto Ashdod. When the Philistines took the ark of God, they brought it into the house of Dagon, and set it by Dagon. And when they of Ashdod arose early on the morrow, behold, Dagon was fallen upon his face to the earth before the ark of Jehovah." But they would try another time. It might have been an accident. "And they took Dagon, and set him in his place again. And when they arose early on the morrow morning, behold, Dagon was fallen upon his face to the ground before the ark of Jehovah." Now the blow was far more complete. "And the head of Dagon and both the palms of his hands were cut off upon the threshold; only the stump of Dagon was left to him." God is always sufficient for His own honour. "Therefore neither the priests of Dagon," as we are told, "nor any that come into Dagon's house, tread on the threshold of Dagon in Ashdod unto this day." Thus it became a standing mark of the victory of the God of Israel over Dagon.
Nor was this all that was wrought. "But the hand of Jehovah was heavy upon them of Ashdod, and he destroyed them, and smote them with emerods, even Ashdod and the coasts thereof. And when the men of Ashdod saw that it was so, they said, The ark of the God of Israel shall not abide with us: for his hand is sore upon us, and upon Dagon our god." And so they carry about the ark from one place to another. And then the hand of Jehovah is stretched out in every place among the enemies of Jehovah, and we are told, "he smote the men of the city, both small and great, and they had emerods in their secret parts. Therefore they sent the ark of God to Ekron And it came to pass, as the ark of God came to Ekron, that the Ekronites cried out, saying, They have brought about the ark of the God of Israel to us, to slay us and our people." What could be a more illustrious testimony to the living power as well as to the truth of the God of Israel than this very fact? Granted that Israel ought to be in the dust; granted that they were incapable of striking a blow; granted that they were smitten most heavily when they most dishonoured the ark of Jehovah. But God watched over His own ark, which Israel's sin had so wantonly betrayed and lost; and the fact was that so marked a destruction went forth that all the lords of the Philistines could not but feel their utter weakness in the presence of the God of Israel. "And the cry of the city," we are told, "went up to heaven."
Thus the captured ark of Jehovah was there long enough to bring judgment upon the various lands and cities of the enemy. (1 Samuel 6:1-21) "And the Philistines called for the priests and the diviners, saying, What shall we do to the ark of Jehovah? tell us wherewith we shall send it to his place;" and so they devised according to their own thoughts. It is a very notable and instructive fact, that God meets men in their state, though He refuses to meet His own people, save according to His word. How good, yet how holy, is He! This I consider an important truth in having to do with the men of the world. Had the Israelites devised for the ark of Jehovah a plan after their own thoughts which slighted the word of God, He would have surely judged it instead of healing; but when these poor heathen, who had not the lively oracles, merely did according to that which they had, He showed his pitiful mercy. Jehovah is not indifferent to the needy and distressed among men; He despises not any. Doubtless those that have the, word of God among them, as men have all around us here, stand in a different position. Still the principle is true, as a general one, that where souls are outside the positive knowledge of the truth of God, the tender mercy of God meets them in conscience with astonishing compassion. But conscience will not do where there is the knowledge of the word of God, however important it may be in its own sphere where there is nothing else.
These Philistines then propose a new cart and "kine, on which there hath come no yoke," as a test of the Lord. "Take the ark of Jehovah," say their advisers, "and lay it upon the cart; and put the jewels of gold, which ye return Him for a trespass-offering, in a coffer by the side thereof; and send it away, that it may go. And see, if it goeth up by the way of his own coast to Beth-shemesh, then he hath done us this great evil: but if not, then we shall know that it is not his hand that smote us; it was a chance that happened to us." And the Lord deigned to meet them on their own test. Surely this was very gracious; and shows what a God we have to do with, not only for ourselves, but even for those that know Him less. "And the men did so: and took two milch kine, and tied them to the cart, and shut up their calves at home:" that is, that the cry of the calves and the natural instincts of the dam might lead it to go forth towards its young. Instead of that, the kine leave their young, go in a totally opposite direction, and take a course that they had never taken before, contrary to all the instincts of their nature in the brute creation. "And they laid the ark of Jehovah upon the cart, and the coffer with the mice of gold and the images of their emerods. And the kine took the straight way to the way of Beth-shemesh, and went along the highway, lowing as they went, and turned not aside to the right hand or to the left; and the lords of the Philistines went after them unto the border of Beth-shemesh."
Thus God met the thought of the heart where there was but the working of conscience, without the light of revealed truth, not the knowledge of God, but the instinctive feeling of His hand, in order that there might be a voice in their conscience. If they hardened themselves against it, or forgot it, so much the worse would it be for them. "And they of Beth-shemesh were reaping their wheat harvest in the valley: and they lifted up their eyes, and saw the ark, and rejoiced to see it. And the cart came into the field of Joshua, a Beth-shemite, and stood there, where there was a great stone: and they crave the wood of the cart, and offered the kine a burnt-offering unto Jehovah. And the Levites took down the ark of Jehovah, and the coffer that was with it, wherein the jewels of gold were, and put them on the great stone: and the men of Beth-shemesh offered burnt offerings and sacrificed sacrifices the same day unto Jehovah And when the five lords of the Philistines had seen it, they returned to Ekron the same day."
But this is not all. It appears further that "he smote the men of Beth-shemesh, because they had looked into the ark of Jehovah." Why this? There was no smiting the Philistines because they had looked in. They had meddled with the ark, and they had given their offerings according to their own mind, and not according to His word; but because the men of Beth-shemesh looked, "he smote of the people fifty thousand and threescore and ten men: and the people lamented, because Jehovah had smitten many of the people with a great slaughter." These are the ways of God with His own people. Oh, let us never forget it, beloved brethren! There was no such slaughter even for the Philistines. "Jehovah shall judge his people," and the fact that He judges is a proof, not that they are not His people, nor that He does not love them, but that He resents irreverence. Let us not read it unimproved. The grace of God always produces one of two effects a spirit of worship where the heart bows, or a habit of irreverence where grace is trifled with. The familiarity of His love either makes us nothing before Him, and Himself everything, or it emboldens the natural heart to a kind of levity and self-confidence, which I think of all things to be among the greatest hindrances to the truth of God, and this sometimes as far as it can work in those that know Him. We have to be jealous of ourselves as to this. Even real Christians may not be unconscious of it; but you may depend upon it that, instead of our being those that least of all need to watch against it, it is the very knowledge of His grace, the very familiarity with His truth, unless there be the real and sustained enjoyment of His presence, that will always expose us to this; for there can be no real sense of His presence unless there be along with it self-judgment and watchfulness. Failure in this is no proof at all that a soul wants the knowledge of His grace and truth, but it betrays our low state. Rather it is the effect of grace known when our nature has been feebly judged. On the other hand, never can we be kept in constant judgment of self, but in communion with Him and His grace.
The men of Beth-shemesh furnish no doubt a very extreme case. There was a certain sort of joy of heart when they saw the returning ark of God. Was not this right? It was assuredly not wrong; but then there ought to have been another and a humbling feeling when they saw it come from the Philistines. If God's part was full of mercy, what had theirs been toward Him and even it? And ought there not to have been lowly prostration before the God of Israel? This would have cut off all thought of prying into it. Was the ark desecrated because Israel had been faithless? Justly did that one look into the ark of God cost Israel more than all the swords of the Philistines. "And the men of Beth-shemesh said, Who is able to stand before this holy Jehovah God? and to whom shall he go up from us?" But if this panic was but natural, it was not the cry of faith. They ought to have judged themselves instead of thus giving way to a feeling of alarm before the solemn judgment of God. Nor is it thus that evil is really corrected. Where there has been levity and disrespect to God, not a reactionary distance can be the true remedy (if possible worse than the disease), but a better knowledge of the grace and truth of God. This, if received by faith, will correct it, not by courting a spirit of bondage, but by employing the certainty of grace to apply the truth to ourselves. Distance and uncertainty are man's way; but God brings home His word in the Spirit to judge nature so much the more because of the fulness of His grace and the clearness of the truth. Thus judging self goes along with grace.
The next chapter (1 Samuel 7:1-17) tells us of the men of Kirjath-jearim who fetch up the ark. Then Samuel reappears. "And Samuel spake unto all the house of Israel, saying, If ye do return unto Jehovah with all your hearts, then put away the strange gods and Ashtaroth from among you." There is the secret. They were in a condition that made them light, because along with a certain natural joy at the return of the Lord, there was that which always interferes with His own honour. So says he, "Prepare ye hearts unto Jehovah, and serve him only." And Samuel gathers them together and says, "And I will pray for you unto Jehovah. And they gathered together to Mizpeh, and drew water, and poured it out before Jehovah." This is very instructive. It is not, I suppose, that one can find a prescription of God for this solemn act in all the five books of Moses if any of us were asked why it was that the people of God gathered together and poured out water before Jehovah, one might hesitate to say. Are we, therefore, to judge that the act was wrong? Not so. In a broken state of things, whilst holding fast the grand central truths and duties attaching to our relationships, the mere return to that which was originally formed is by no means the truest way of meeting the difficulties which sin brings in.
On the other hand, we are never free (need one say so?) to take up human inventions; and certainly the act in question was not such an invention. But I repeat that the remedy for a ruined state of things in the church of God, just as here in Israel, does not consist in going back to each form which existed at the beginning. One looks first and foremost for brokenness of spirit for the sense of where we have all got to in the dishonour done to God; then we begin to see more clearly our place of obedience in all that remains. But without the judgment of self and of the church's state in the presence of God nothing can be right; whereas, if this be wrought in us, His grace will surely show us from His word what suits such a state of confusion and weakness. Yet it affords a door to dark and self-willed souls, who adhere to words and appearances, actually flattering themselves as if they alone are right, and censuring most these who are most truly obedient.
Supposing for instance, at the present time, the church of God awakened to feel its long-continued departure from God, what would be the first and natural resource? Why to set up twelve apostles, and to yearn after tongues and miracles, if not to imitate the circumstances of the Pentecostal Church in the community afterwards. But what would be the spiritual judgment suited to the present state of the church? Setting up apostles? No such presumptuous dream, but to sit down ourselves in dust and ashes before God, taking on us the shame and sorrow of the church reduced to ruin by the sin of those whom God had so deeply favoured.
Such a taking the sense of ruin upon his soul before him seems to have been expressed in what Samuel did. The pouring out of water before Jehovah was an act, in my judgment, most suitable and appropriate. It was not an effort to patch up appearances, but rather the confession of utter weakness before God. Such at any rate we all know is the force of the figure applied in the very next Book of Samuel: "As water spilt on the ground." It was appropriating the truth of their own condition before God. But was there any lack of confidence in His grace? The very contrary. "And they gathered together to Mizpeh, and drew water, and poured it out before Jehovah, and fasted on that day, and said there, We have sinned against Jehovah. And Samuel judged the children of Israel in Mizpeh." At once Satan bestirs himself and rouses the Philistines; he if not they could not bear to hear of any souls, least of all of the people, gathering thus before Jehovah in confession of their sins. It is possible that the Philistines might think Israel's object in gathering was political a mere mustering for battle, and an effort for independence. But Satan knew better its import, and could not rest; and of this I am sure, that had they, his Philistine instruments, known the meaning of such an act as that which broke Israel down before God, this would have been something far more terrible for the enemy of Israel than any gathering for martial purposes. There is nothing so alarming to Satan as the people of God humbling themselves in real prayer and confession, where there is also a believing use of His word. Whatever the difficulty or the distress, there never can be a reason for distrusting God. It is the point of honour that we owe the Lord that, whatever we have to own about ourselves, we should never doubt Him; whatever failure we may confess, at any rate let our first confession and our constant confidence be Jesus our Lord, "God over all, blessed for ever."
"And when the Philistines heard that the children of Israel were gathered together to Mizpeh, the lords of the Philistines went up against Israel. And when the children of Israel heard it, they were afraid of the Philistines. And the children of Israel said to Samuel, Cease not to cry unto Jehovah our God for us." This, to my mind, is beautiful. They had begun neither with sin-offering nor with burnt-offering. They had already taken the place of penitence before God as to their sin; they had solemnly owned their ruin in the water poured out; and Samuel prayed as they confessed. They were entitled to look to the Lord with assurance that He would appear on their behalf. There is the sign of acceptance now, as we read that "Samuel took a sucking lamb, and offered it for a burnt-offering wholly unto Jehovah: and Samuel cried unto Jehovah for Israel; and Jehovah heard him. And as Samuel was offering up the burnt-offering, the Philistines drew near to battle against Israel." Ah, how little the foe knew what was preparing for them! Did they dare to interrupt Israel when that sweet savour was rising up to God for them? It was no longer a question between Israel and the Philistines, but between Jehovah and the Philistines. "And Jehovah thundered with a great thunder on that day upon the Philistines, and discomfited them; and they were smitten before Israel." And the men of Israel had the easy task of pursuing. "The children of Israel went out of Mizpeh, and pursued the Philistines, and smote them, until they came under Beth-car. Then Samuel took a stone, and set it between Mizpeh and Shen, and called the name of it Eben-ezer, saying, Hitherto hath Jehovah helped us. So the Philistines were subdued, and they came no more into the coast of Israel: and the hand of Jehovah was against the Philistines all the days of Samuel. And the cities which the Philistines had taken from Israel were restored to Israel, from Ekron even unto Gath." And it is repeated, "Samuel judged Israel all the days of his life."
But the next chapter (1 Samuel 8:1-22) brings out the failure, not of Eli's sons, but of Samuel's. The intermediate person, however blessed, fails to meet the depth of need. The seer is not Christ; the herald is not His master. The sons of Samuel then perverted judgment, and took bribes; and the children of Israel say, "Behold, thou art old, and thy sons walk not in thy ways: now make us a king to judge us like all the nations." Thus, you see, two currents are flowing on. But let us mark that God divulges His plan before man as the enemy seems to bring it in. So in the Book of Job, it is not Satan that begins the action, but God. It is He that has Himself a purpose of good for Job. Satan no doubt tries to spite Him, as he has plan after plan of mischief; but God is before Satan in good a very comforting thought for our souls. As God is before Satan, He will certainly be after him. The good that God has then is the first thought, and the good that He at the beginning has at heart will be accomplished, even though it may be late, if not last. Thus good is before evil, and abides when the evil is gone. We may see similarly here. Who was it that raised the hope of a king? Who was it that saw fit, if not to pronounce death on the priests, as on the people before, at any rate to set them aside from the place they once had to make room for a better thing, the true secret of Israel's blessing, as will be shown another day? It was God. But here may be found the under-current; not a blow from the Philistines, but an effort to undermine Israel by Satan's craft.
Thus the thought of a king was not from man, but from God; yet the desire for one like the nations was rebellion against God on man's part. The purposed king would be a rich blessing from God, and it was His purpose to give them a king before their wicked heart desired it to get rid of Himself. It was an evil in man to be judged; it was grace in God to purpose as He surely will also accomplish it. Both are true; but man's mind often sets one against the other, instead of believing both. Here we have man's heart. They desire a king. Samuel feels it deeply, not because it was against himself so much as it was against God, and so he tells them the thing displeased him. "And Samuel prayed." Oh that we might in this take pattern by so true a servant of the Lord! that when things displease us, we might pray, and not fret or fume or scold! It is not that Samuel did not feel Israel's state; but he prayed to Jehovah. "And Jehovah said unto Samuel, Hearken unto the voice of the people in all that they say unto thee: for they have not rejected thee " (what a God of patience so to speak and act!), "but they have rejected me." Yet was he to hearken. How God moves in love above all man's evil, and accomplishes His own blessed plans! "They have rejected me, that I should not reign over them. According to all the works which they have done since the day that I brought them up out of Egypt even unto this day, wherewith they have forsaken me, and served other gods, so do they also unto thee. Now therefore hearken unto their voice: howbeit yet protest solemnly."
There was no doubt about the evil involved. Still, if their lie would only bring out the faithfulness of God, what can do but love? "And Samuel told all the words of Jehovah unto the people that asked of him a king. And he said, This will be the manner of the king" (they are warned): "He will take your sons, and appoint them for himself, for his chariots, and to be his horsemen; and some shall run before his chariots. And he will appoint him captains over thousands, and captains over fifties; and will set them to ear his ground, and to reap his harvest, and to make his instruments of war, and instruments of his chariots. And he will take your daughters to be confectioneries, and to be cooks, and to be bakers. And he will take your fields, and your vineyards, and your oliveyards." This is man's king, and such an one can scarcely be any more. It is impossible in the nature of things that it could be materially different. We shall find on another occasion the perfect contrast of God's king in every particular. But now it is simply a question of their responsibilities, though Samuel warns them fully.
It was in vain. "Nevertheless the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel; and they said, Nay; but we will have a king over us; that we also may be like all the nations." Their heart was getting farther and farther away from God. Every word they uttered, though they little suspected it, condemned themselves the more. It was self-will active against God, and more, in deliberate renunciation of their own highest privilege. "And Samuel heard all the words of the people, and he rehearsed them in the ears of Jehovah. And Jehovah said to Samuel, Hearken unto their voice, and make them a king. And Samuel said unto the men of Israel, Go ye every man unto his city."