Comments On The First Book Of Samuel
From Family Hour
After the book of Joshua has recorded the many great victories of Israel over their enemies, being sustained by the grace and power of God, and established in the land of Canaan, the book of Judges shows how quickly Israel forgot God, sinking lower and lower in selfish independence. The unity that was seen under Joshua was soon exchanged for the sad condition expressed in the last verse of Judges (ch.21:15): "In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes." Honest faith might have recognized God as King, and in submitting to His authority would find His guidance in unity with others in the nation; but the test in Judges proved them unprepared for any such thing.
In Samuel therefore the time has come for God to provide Israel with a king. Yet the first king given, Saul, an outstanding specimen of humanity though not born again, became a humiliating failure; and even the second, David, a man after God's heart, a true believer, proved himself eventually a failure also. But these were tests for Israel. Did they have confidence in the greatest of men? Neither Saul nor David could be a satisfactory king, nor could any who followed them. However, David is a type of the One who alone can be trusted to rule in absolute authority over men, the Lord Jesus Christ, and his history is precious for this reason.
Before the kings are introduced, however, the sovereign operation of God prepares a prophet to introduce them. Samuel is brought in an extraordinary way to the temple of the Lord in Shiloh, about 20 miles north of Jerusalem, a temporary building of which we are given no description. The tabernacle was still in existence (1 Kings 8:4), but of course Eli and Samuel would have no place to live in the tabernacle, though it was likely in the same place, for the ark of God was in Shiloh (ch.4:4). The priesthood was in a state of decadence and failure, Eli and his sons strikingly illustrating the painful vanity of natural succession. Samuel, from his childhood, was called to bear solemn witness against this abuse of priesthood, though he had no official position. It was God who had raised him up and his spiritual power far outweighed the official dignity of Eli, Saul or even David. After Saul was installed as king, it was still really Samuel who maintained any stable relationship between God and the people.
All this is a serious lesson for our day. Official authority of men cannot be trusted. Only the direct working of God is worthy of our confidence. Therefore in the church of God no official authority is given to any man; but the Spirit of God is given to every believer in order that all may submit to His authority and be guided by His power. On this account all the Lord's people ought to be prophets, and will be in the measure in which they respond to the living operation of the Spirit of God in their souls.
From 1 Chronicles 6:22-28 we learn that Elkanah was a Levite of the sons of Kohath. The names of four of his forebears are recorded in verse 1, which in order of descent are Zuph (meaning "observer"); Tohu ("low, sunk down"); Elihu ("my God is He"); Jeroham ("he is tenderly loved"); resulting in Elkanah ("God has purchased"). These meanings give some indication of the working of God in view of accomplishing His own will in the eventual outcome seen in His servant Samuel.
The two wives of Elkanah, Hannah and Penninah, remind us of Jacob's wives, Rachel and Leah. Though Jacob loved Rachel, she did not bear children, while Leah did so. Hannah means "she was gracious," and Peninnah, "glittering."
Elkanah was a godly Israelite who made a habit of appearing every year to sacrifice to the Lord at Shiloh. In verse 3 is the first time the expression is used in scripture, "the Lord of hosts." It is used five times in 1 Samuel and six times in 2 Samuel. It is only mentioned that Hophni and Phinehas, the sons of Eli, were there. Eli evidently took the place of high priest (though not called that), but left the duties of priesthood to his sons. Though we are told "every priest standeth daily" (Heb.10:10), Eli is not spoken of as standing but twice as sitting (ch.1:9; 4:13) and once as lying down (ch.3:2).
In sacrificing, Elkanah did not forget his wives and the children of Peninnah, but was more favorable toward Hannah because of his love for her. The Lord had, in His wisdom, withheld her from childbearing. On the other hand, Peninnah had children, and became an adversary, provoking Hannah evidently with the taunt that she had none. But Hannah was to learn the lesson, as we all ought to, that "that was not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural; and afterward that which is spiritual" (1 Cor.15:46). The Lord allows mere human nature to have its way at first in order to prove its own vanity: then He introduces what is altogether superior to it just as Adam was the first man, Christ the second Man.
This is not accomplished in us without exercise of soul, for what is merely fleshly must be judged as worthless. Hannah is therefore seen weeping and fasting because of her inability to bear fruit. Elkanah was a kind, considerate husband, but did not understand the intensity of her grief, for he thought she would consider him better to her than ten sons. However, to apply this spiritually, even though the Lord Himself is sufficient to satisfy out hearts, yet He has implanted within every believer a desire to bear fruit for Him this is only normal and right.
Evidently coming to Shiloh into the Lord's presence intensified her distress, and at the temple she prayed in bitterness of soul, weeping and vowing that if the Lord would give her a son, she would devote him to the Lord as a Nazarite (Num.6:2-12) all the days of his life. Eli was a stranger to such exercise: he sat on a seat by a post of the temple, virtually sitting as a judge rather than standing as priest. He saw Hannah's lips move as she prayed silently, and made the sad blunder of judging that she was intoxicated. He knew how to reprove her, but did not provide the help and compassion which was the very purpose of priesthood (Heb.5:1-2).
Hannah's reply to Eli was most beautiful and precious. Altogether contrary to the effects of liquor, she was a woman of sorrowful spirit who had poured out her soul before the Lord. She pleads with him not to consider her a daughter of Belial, a virtual enemy of the Lord, for the facts were quite the opposite.
One would think her words would be enough to stir Eli's conscience to be ashamed of the mistake he had made, and apologize to her. But priesthood to him was merely a formal matter with little necessity for the heart to be involved. He does not even inquire as to the reason for her sorrow, but dismisses her "in peace," expressing the desire that the God of Israel would answer her petition. She, however, in spite of Eli's lethargy, takes his words as from the Lord, a precious indication of her faith: her sadness was lifted and she returned to normal living.
They returned to Ramah, and very soon she conceived a child for we are told, "The Lord remembered her." At his birth she named him "Samuel," meaning "asked of God." Though she had waited long, yet faith can afford to wait. God answered in His own time, the evidence being clear that this was His sovereign work.
Following this, when Elkanah and the rest of his household went up to Shiloh for the yearly offering, Hannah remained at home with her little child, deciding that she would go only when Samuel was weaned, in order to leave him there with Eli, for when once she brought him to appear before the Lord, she considered he should remain there always. It is precious to see her purpose of heart in regard to carrying out her vow, for it would be no small sacrifice to give up the child for whom she had so longed, and whom of course she deeply loved. But to her the Lord's interests were first.
The day then comes when she brings the child to the house of the Lord. With him she brings three bullocks, one ephah (three measures) of flour and a bottle of wine. One of the bullocks is sacrificed and the child brought to Eli. She knew this was important. We do not read of any child being rightly presented to the Lord without some symbol of the death of Christ accompanying this; for only on the ground of that death can any human being be acceptable to God. The flour reminds us of the meal offering, typical of the perfection of the humanity of Christ, and the wine symbolizes the joy that results from the value of the sacrifice, both God's joy and man's.
In verses 26 to 28 the words of Hannah to Eli are of such importance as to be recorded by the Spirit of God. She reminds him that she was the woman who had stood near him praying to the Lord adding that it was specifically "for this child I prayed." Since the Lord had graciously answered her prayer she was now returning him to the Lord, not only for a time, but permanently. She considered that the way to accomplish this was by leaving him with the priest at the house of the Lord. We may well doubt that Eli would be able to give him the same solid moral training and care that Hannah could but by faith she was really putting him into the Lord's hands, and the Lord cared for him in spite of Eli's inadequacy. In fact, the short time that Hannah had him no doubt left an indelible impression on his young heart that affected his whole life.
We hear nothing of any words that Eli may have spoken at this time: if he spoke, the Spirit of God did not consider his words worth recording. Why did he not heartily commend the faith of Hannah? Perhaps he was rather dismayed to be charged with the responsibility of caring for the young boy. The last sentence, "he worshiped the Lord there" evidently refers to Samuel.
The rejoicing prayer of Hannah is now uttered AFTER she has given up her child. The prayer of Mary, the mother of the Lord Jesus, reminds us of this one, though hers was spoken before he child was born. Samuel, the first of the prophets, is surely typical of Christ, and Hannah's prayer implies the intervention of the Messiah in man's affairs, as verse 10 shows. The language is therefore that which the godly remnant of Israel will use following the suffering of the tribulation when the "the Sun of righteousness" arises "with healing in His wings" (Mal.4:1).
First, her heart rejoices in the Lord; and secondly, her horn is exalted in the Lord. The horn speaks of potential power in place of years of humiliation. Her mouth is opened in triumph, following all the hostile, overbearing words of her enemies, because it is in God's salvation that she rejoices. Also, when His salvation is known, the heart is drawn to Him personally, so that verse 2 gives Him the place of great dignity, set apart from all others in sublime holiness, and the place of absolute stability, the Rock of eternal, solid strength, upon whom all the universe depends. What are men in the face of such glory as this? Their exceeding pride and arrogance is soundly reproved, for the Lord is a God of knowledge also. He is omniscient as well as omnipotent. He sees and weighs every activity in the scale of pure righteousness, understanding every motive.
Verses 4 and 5 show that God's intervention puts the first last and the last first. The strength of the mighty is reduced to nothing before Him, while His power is exercised in tender goodness toward the weak, whom He girds with strength. Those who have had more than heart could wish become hired servants in order to have even bread to eat, while the hungry become hungry no more. The barren woman unexpectedly bears a full number of children, while the one who had many children becomes feeble. For the new creation reverses the order of the natural creation. How much superior to natural strength is that which is spiritual!
For it is the Lord Himself who is able to kill, and able to make alive: He knows how to bring one down even to the grave; but is no less able to bring up. Hannah had learnt something of this resurrection power of God in her own body, and she recognizes that it is only God's work that accomplishes anything. Some He makes poor, others He makes rich. He will often bring one down with the object of later lifting him up.
How consistent is verse 8 with the gospel of the grace of God! -- grace that reaches down to the poorest of the poor, raising him out of the dust of his broken, sinful state; lifting the beggar from the dunghill of a corrupted life, to set him among princes, in dignity above the level of the world; and greater still, to make him inherit the throne of glory. This reminds us of the words of the Lord Jesus in Revelation 3:21. . . "To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in His throne."
Verse 8 speaks of the Lord's lifting up the poor and the beggar from the lowest degradation to make them inherit the throne of glory, for the pillars of the earth are established by the Lord alone, the world being upheld by the might of His power. He can do as He pleases, and He pleases to exalt the humble. But as well as saving by His matchless grace, He also keeps the feet of His saints (v.9) preserving them from the snares that worldlings cannot avoid. In fact, the wicked, who loudly now proclaim their own honor, will be utterly silenced in darkness, for the strength of human flesh cannot prevail, but will be totally reduced to weakness. Nor will this be all when the judgment of the Lord falls, it will break His adversaries to pieces, His voice thundering out of heaven to strike terror in their hearts. Neither will there be any isolationism at that time: the whole earth, to its limits, will be affected.
Then Hannah's prayer ends on a wonderful note of supreme victory on the part of God's King, the Lord Jesus Christ, He being given the strength of God above all others, He, the anointed Messiah of Israel, exalted in glory. His horn exalted speaks of His sovereign authority finally taking its rightful place after long patience. Notice in Hannah's prayer that the name of the Lord is mentioned seven times. In all of this too, though Hannah was a woman, only the first verse is subjective, speaking of her joy in the Lord and in His salvation: the rest is beautifully objective, dwelling on the greatness of the Lord's person and of His work.
Samuel then did not have the childhood of a normal child. Not having the care of father and mother, or the company of other children, he was left with the aged priest Eli, to minister to the Lord. For this he certainly needed, and received, special grace from God, and particularly so when he witnessed daily the wicked practices of the sons of Eli in their pretense of serving God.
They had initiated the custom, totally foreign to scripture, of having their servant come with a three pronged fleshhook to take from the offerings of the people all that the fleshhook would take up from the boiling pot. God had stipulated what part of the peace offerings the priest was to have - "the wave breast and the heaven shoulder" (Lev.7:34), but the greed of the priests moved them to haughtily defy His word and take all they pleased.
Another method they had, before the sacrifice had been actually made, and therefore before the fat was burned, was to require raw flesh from the offerer. If the offerer would speak for God on this occasion, urging that the fat should first be burned (for it was to be entirely devoted to God and burned on the altar -- Lev.7:31), the priests' servant would reject the very suggestion, and threaten to take it by force with the fat. In this way, not only did the priests cruelly oppress the people, but they treated the commandment of God with contempt. Certainly this sin was great in the eyes of God, for it led men to abhor the offerings of the Lord.
"But Samuel," though not even a priest, "ministered before the Lord, being a child, girded with a linen ephod." His ministry is mentioned both before and after the notice of the wickedness of Eli's sons. Thus does God value the simple service of a little child. The linen ephod speaks of moral righteousness: how much more appropriate for Samuel than for the priests!
Samuel's mother was able to see him only once a year at the time of the yearly sacrifice, but certainly she did not forget him, each year bringing him a new coat which she had made. We may be sure her mother's heart was genuinely glad that her son was doing the work of the Lord. Eli, in spite of his general lethargy, had some spiritual sense left, for he blessed Elkanah and Hannah for their having offered Samuel to serve the Lord. By now at least he had found it was worth while having a boy such as Samuel with him. He expressed the desire also that the Lord would give Hannah more children. The Lord graciously answered this too, giving her three more sons and two daughters. Thus her faith was richly rewarded. In verse 18 we have read that Samuel "ministered before the Lord." In verse 21 it is added "the child Samuel grew before the Lord." No doubt this growing was more than physically, for when it is said, "before the Lord," God was observing his spiritual growth.
While we are told that Samuel "grew before the Lord," this is followed by the sad report of Eli's sons growing in evil. Eli, at this time very aged, heard the report of his sons' gross corruption, but had no spiritual energy to do anything more than mildly reprove them. "Why do ye such things? for I hear of your evil report by all this people." The people were evidently all protesting to Eli and he knew that his sons were actually making the people transgress against the Lord. If it were a matter of only one man wronging another, this could be settled by a judge; but sin against God was a more dreadful matter. Who would entreat for the guilty in this case? But Eli went no further than this. Being high priest he was responsible to see that the priests did not abuse their position. He ought to have expelled them entirely from the priesthood. He speaks of a judge rightly judging between people; but it was his duty to act for God. However, he had weakly ignored this with his sons, no doubt from their youth, and they took full advantage of his weakness. His words to them took no effect because they were not backed up by action. Too many parents follow in his tracks.
In contrast, as the child Samuel grows he is found in favor both with God and with men. This will remind us of a far greater than Samuel, as we read in Luke 2:52. "And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men." The prophet was being prepared of God for most serious and exacting work.
Meanwhile, God will use an unnamed "man of God" to bear witness to Eli that ought to have so penetrated his soul as to move him to act with firm decision. This message from God was one of most solemn reproof to Eli himself, beginning in a questioning way. Did Eli not consider that God Himself had plainly appeared to Aaron, his father, even before Israel's deliverance from Egypt? and that He had chosen him specifically to be His priest, to be privileged to offer sacrifice on His altar, to burn incense, to wear a distinctive ephod that gave him a sanctified place of dignity in Israel? Did Eli remember that it was God who had given to his father (and by implication to his sons) the privilege of offering all the offerings of the children of Israel?
Then God blames Eli, not his sons, for kicking at His sacrifice, as to which He had given express commandments. This kicking is of course showing contempt for God's rights by rebelling against His authority. We may ask, was it not his sons who had done this, not Eli? But Eli was guilty of allowing his sons to do it, for he was in the chief place of authority. God blames him for honoring his sons above God. Solemn indictment indeed for a priest! Eli's selfishness is included with that of his sons, as God says they had made themselves fat with the chiefest of all the offerings of Israel. How sadly and dreadfully one may abuse the great privileges that God has given Him!
Though under the covenant of law it had been proposed by God that Eli's house and the house of his father would walk before Him forever, yet the glaring failure of the priesthood changed this completely, for such a promise was contingent upon their faithfulness. God therefore presses upon Eli the unchanging principle, "them that honor me I will honor, and they that despise me shall be lightly esteemed." This history of the priesthood plainly illustrates the vanity of natural succession.
Therefore God pronounces a solemn judgment: the days were coming when Eli's arm and the arm of his father's house would be cut off. Of course God speaks figuratively. The arm is that which accomplishes work, the strength behind work that may be done. Nothing of this would be left: the priesthood would be reduced to impotence. An oppressor or adversary would gain some prominence in God's habitation. Israel's history has surely proven this, for the priesthood never regained its proper dignity, and priests have been notorious for their oppression of the people. God would do good to His people in spite of this, but would take away the priests in their youth. Eli was to be the last of the old men among the priests. All his sons would die in the flower of their age. A sign to confirm the reality of this was given. His two sons would die the same day. God did not add what was also true, that Eli himself would die that day.
Verse 35 looks far beyond the time of Eli and his sons and all the priests who have come and gone down through the centuries. God Himself would raise up a faithful priest -- not one of the natural succession of the line of Aaron. Certainly it can be said only of the Lord Jesus Christ that He would do according to that which is in God's heart and mind. God would build Him a sure house. This Priest was of the order of Melchisedec (Heb.5:9-10), not of Aaron, and as such He is a priest forever (Heb.5:6). He would walk before God's anointed forever (or continually). Though the language here is veiled, does it not imply that His priesthood would be consistent with His kingly dignity as Messiah (the anointed)? Just as God promised a sure house to Christ as the Son of David, the King (2 Sam.7:16), so He promises a house to Him as High Priest.
The pathetic condition of Eli's house, on the other hand, would be such that it would be reduced to the status of beggars, having no heart of a priest, but asking for a priest's office just to relieve their hunger. The sadness of this should surely have reached the conscience of Eli, but exercise of soul seems to be foreign to formalism. Compare chapter 3:18.
Again the contrast in the child Samuel to what goes before is emphasized: he ministered to the Lord before Eli. Eli witnessed his simple faithfulness to the Lord; but while he no doubt appreciated it it had no effect of stirring Eli to more wholehearted obedience. At this time the Word of the Lord was rare: conditions were such that the Lord did not reveal Himself as He had done to Moses, Joshua and some of the Judges. Verse 21 shows however, that Samuel became the one exception.
Samuel's first revelation from God comes at a time when Eli had laid down to sleep and his eyes had begun to wax dim. No doubt this is intended that we should apply it spiritually too. Formalism always becomes dim-sighted, while faith becomes wide awake. While the lamp of God in the temple was virtually ready to go out God had His own way of causing revival. Samuel had laid down, but was not asleep when God called him. The alacrity of the little boy's response indicates a beautifully obedient spirit. He ran to Eli, for there was no one else there, so far as Samuel knew. Eli could only tell him he had not called. At the second call, Eli ought to have been alerted by this unusual experience, but tells Samuel again to lie down. Not until the third time did he begin to realize that the Lord was calling Samuel. Samuel was so young that he did not yet know the Lord, and Eli then instructs him to wait for another call, and respond, "Speak, Lord; for thy servant heareth."
All this was intended by God to stir the exercise of both Samuel and Eli. Certainly Samuel would remain wide awake for the fourth call, to which he responds, "Speak; for thy servant heareth." He omits the word "Lord," no doubt because he had not before been instructed as to the Lord Himself, which is all too possible even when surrounded by the formal acknowledgment of His things: in fact such things often tend to obscure the real knowledge of Himself.
The Lord's message to Samuel is dreadful. It may seem to us too terrifying for the ears of a little boy; but God is wiser than we in fact, it is the "little children" who are warned against anti-christ in 1 John 2:18. Samuel knew of the wickedness of Eli's sons, and it was necessary that he should also know God's thoughts about this. God's patience as to this would come to an abrupt end in His doing in Israel what would make every ear tingle. He confirms to Samuel what He had said before to Eli, that He would perform against him all that He had spoken as to his house: when once this began there would be no delay in its accomplishment.
Of course Eli would not have told this prophecy to Samuel, but God tells Samuel that He had told Eli that He would judge his house forever because of the iniquity that he himself was acquainted with and had not corrected. His sons made themselves vile and he did not restrain them. His mild protests were no restraint whatever. In contrast, God's words to him were confirmed by a solemn oath that this iniquity would never be purged with sacrifice or offering. For this willful sin there was no offering: God must act in judgment.
Samuel remained in bed till morning, but it is not said he slept. This first message of God to him would surely burn itself into his inmost soul, so that he would never forget it; but rather have impressed upon his heart the utmost respect for the holiness of the God with whom he had to do. We can easily understand his fearing to tell Eli what God had said. Similarly, any true prophet of God will have some measure of fear as to declaring the whole counsel of God, for he knows that it will not be always welcomed by men. But he must not give in to his fear, for when God speaks He will allow us no excuse for concealing His word.
Eli, calling Samuel, adjured him to tell him all that God had spoken. He surely realized that it would be no light matter of which God spoke to Samuel, and likely relating to the corrupt condition of the priesthood. Samuel responded by telling him everything, hiding nothing from him. Thus, at a young age, he acted as a true prophet of God. Eli could not but recognize this was God's solemn message to him, and speaks submissively, though he seems to have gotten beyond any thought of exercise to change matters himself. His was a pathetic state of passivity without exercise.
How different was the stirring exercise of Samuel's soul from his youth! The Lord was with him as he grew, and allowed none of his words to fall to the ground. How few indeed have a reputation of this kind! For if we are not given to harmful words, at least too often we allow useless words to fall from our lips, rather than always true and right words. But a character of this kind in a public place like the temple could not remain hidden: all Israel soon knew that he was established to be a prophet of the Lord. Shiloh was blessed by the appearance of the Lord, but it was only to Samuel, and this "by the word of the Lord." Today the word of the Lord to us has been completed in scripture, and only by this written word does He communicate His mind to His prophets now.
Verse 1 shows that Samuel did not conceal the word that God gave to him, but communicated it to all Israel. But it is not said that it was this word that called them to battle with the Philistines. It seems the battle was initiated by Israel, however. They pitch near Eben-ezer, which means "the stone of help," evidently confident of God's help apart from His word and apart from the recognition of His rights among His people. The Philistines pitch in Aphek, meaning "restraint," which perhaps indicates that they were not so self-confident as Israel. Yet they gained a decisive victory, with a great slaughter of 4000 men.
This surely ought to have brought Israel down to their knees in broken humiliation, and with honest enquiring of God. They do not think of Samuel, the man of God, just as we too often forget to think of Christ and His word at times of facing serious problems for which only He is sufficient. The elders recognize that it is the Lord Himself who has smitten them before their enemies, but instead of seeking His face, they resort to mere fleshly planning, considering that if they bring the ark of the Lord to the battle, it would be a sacred charm to influence the Lord on their behalf! The ark was of course symbolical of Christ, the true Center of His people Israel, but on this occasion Israel thinks of it merely as an idol with magical powers to save them from their enemies.
Eli's sons, Hophni and Phinehas, came with the ark from Shiloh, having the official position of being in charge of it. The elders, though they knew well the moral corruption of the young men, were blinded to the fact that the living God could not possibly approve of their public identification with the ark, which we are reminded here was "the ark of the covenant of the Lord of hosts who dwells between the cherubim." This very expression insists on the absolute holiness of God.
The men of Israel were as blind as the elders: they remembered only that in the past the ark had led the nation into the land in conquest of their enemies, but they depend on past experience while harboring gross moral evil among them at present. Their great shout sounds like that of victory, but their loud noise does not influence God, though it alarmed the Philistines.
When the Philistines hear that Israel has shouted so loudly because the ark had come into the camp, their fear is increased, for they were idolaters, mere formal religion being very familiar to them. They assume (practically as did Israel at this time) that the ark was Israel's god, and are most apprehensive. For Israel had not used this before when fighting the Philistines, at least since their entrance into the land. They remember that God, whom they call "gods" had sent numerous plagues upon Egypt, but did not know that the ark had not even been in existence at that time! Thus men are often so dense that they can conceive of no god but one this is visible to their eyes, though it is a lifeless, inanimate thing!
Could the Philistines fight against the living God and expect to win? But they stir themselves to fight to the utmost against this mere immobile god. This was unnecessary, for God had already decided that Israel would badly lose. The Philistines gain a far more decisive victory than at first. 4000 men killed was a great loss for Israel, but 30,000 is over 7 times as many! The loss of life among the Philistines is not mentioned: it was likely small. But God will make Israel feel the results of their dishonoring Him.
Far more serious than the defeat, however, was the fact of the ark of God being captured by the Philistines. God's prophecy concerning Hophni and Phinehas is fulfilled too, both of them being killed. God has used the idolatrous Philistines as a rod to punish His people Israel, who had lapsed into an idolatrous state themselves.
A man of Benjamin brings the sad news to Shiloh, his clothes rent and earth on his head in token of repentant mourning. At this time Eli is again sitting, not at the temple door, but by the wayside for he was fearful of the whole matter, and specially for the ark, for which he felt some responsibility. The man's message causes a noisy tumult in the city, which stirs the questioning of Eli. In response the messenger tells him personally of his fleeing from the battle, and that Israel had suffered defeat and great slaughter Then he adds that Eli's sons had been killed and the ark of God taken.
The death of his sons did not have the same effect on Eli as did the loss of the ark. This was such a shock to him that he fainted and fell backward and broke his neck. Certainly it was serious that the ark had been captured, but Eli's mere formal religion placed more emphasis on the ark that on obedience to God's word: since the ark was taken, it was to him as though God Himself had been taken away! but God was caring more for His own glory than Eli was. Subsequent history tells us too that He was able to care for the ark among the Philistines when they had full possession of it. Meanwhile, however, it was necessary for God to shock the nation Israel to its depths by removing the three priests and the ark at the same time. Though Eli had lived 98 years, his end was sad, and he was the last of his family to live long. God had patiently borne with the evil of the priestly family for long time, but now Israel must be given the clear evidence that God's patience is far from indulgence. The sudden swiftness of God's judgment was intended to put the fear of God into the hearts of all Israel. True indeed were God's words to Samuel that the ears of every hearer would tingle at what would transpire -- the three prominent priests of Israel all killed in one day as well as the ark of God lost to the enemy!
Yet this was not all. The wife of Phinehas, having neared the time of childbirth, when she heard the news that the ark was taken and her husband and father-in-law killed, was so affected that this induced birth pains. Then she lived only long enough to name her child Ichabod (meaning "where is the glory?"). In her case it is sad too that it seemed a worse thing to her that the ark was captured than that her husband and his brother had made a practice of dishonoring God in connection with the ark and the temple. To her, as to the many in Israel, the ark itself was actually "the glory,": but it was really only a symbol of the glory. Not only had the symbol departed, but how could God's glory itself remain complacently among the people? As a general rule people have more abhorrence of God's righteous discipline on account of their sins than they have of their sins themselves. Such is the perversity of man's sinful nature! How much better if we feel our guilt and accept its results.
Though God had allowed the Philistines to gain the victory, He very soon spoils their pleasure in having captured the ark, taking it to Ashdod. They think the most fit place for it is in the house of Dagon, the fish-god (half fish, half man). No doubt they even considered they were patronizing Israel's god by giving it this place!
But the next morning Dagon was found fallen on its face before the ark, and they were given the work of lifting their god back into its place! The second morning, however, they were not able to restore the damage; for as well as being fallen again, the head of Dagon and the palms of his hands had been cut off. It was a message to the Philistines that if they thought Dagon had intelligence, he had not even a head: if they thought he could do anything, he had no hands to do it. Since the damage had been done on the threshold of his house, the priests of Dagon adopted the superstitious custom of never stepping on the threshold as they came in the door. They did not come to the sensible conclusion, however, that they should give up the worship of this impotent idol.
But not only did their idol suffer at the hand of God: the people themselves were afflicted by an epidemic of painful hemorrhoids, or boils. The evidence was so clear that this was all connected with the presence of the ark among them that they wanted this removed somewhere else immediately. They decide on Gath, further inland from Ashdod, perhaps because it had no temple of Dagon, as did Ashdod and Gaza. Where it was put in Gath we are not told, but its presence in the city was quickly felt by a great destruction and an epidemic of hemorrhoids that left the whole city in consternation.
What can they do? They try a third city, Ekron, but only to further spread the scourge of death and painful disease. The people themselves cry out in fear of the results when the ark is brought there, and their fears are quickly realized. They have learned now that it would be folly to take it to another Philistine city, and yet the awful scourge continues to plague the Ekronites. Finally in desperation they convene a gathering of the Lords of the Philistine cities to make a decision as to what to do with the ark. Of course the answer was to return it to Israel. How good to see in all this that God was caring for His glory when Israel had failed to do so.
The seven months during which the Philistines had possessor of the ark was a full time in which to prove the severity of God's hand in solemn displeasure. How could they bear it any longer? There is a question in their minds, however, as to how to send it back. If, as they discern, it has been an offense to God that they have taken the ark, how is that offense to be paid for? For this they consult their idolatrous priests and diviners, who tell them they must return it with a trespass offering.
Yet, how ignorant they are of what a true trespass offering is! For this God required a blood sacrifice, which is totally foreign to the unbelieving mind. They conceive the rather amusing notion (thinking it wise, no doubt) of sending five golden images of hemorrhoids and five of mice. Here we are told also that an infestation of mice had damaged their land, and they connected this also with God's dealing with them on account on the ark. In this the five cities of the Philistines were represented. Men of the world are the same today, in spite of God's having shown clearly that only the blood of Christ shed at Calvary can possibly atone for man's sins. They think that some gift of their own temporal possessions ought to ingratiate God toward them, as though God, the Maker of the universe, possesses the same selfish nature as man does, grasping for material things! But God thinks no more of this than He did of Cain's offering of the fruit of the ground (Gen.4:3-5). Still, these were not Jews, and God made no issue of it with the Philistines: the question of the ark's return was the matter of greatest importance.
Verse 6 shows they were well acquainted with Israel's deliverance from Egypt in the face of Pharoah's cruel opposition, and that Pharoah's stubbornness was eventually broken by God's many miracles that caused great suffering in Egypt. So history warns them that if they harden their hearts they will prolong their suffering.
Though fully purposed to return the ark to Israel, the Philistines know nothing of God's ways as to this, and resort to the natural expedient of sending it back to Israel on a new cart. Of course they might have invited the Jews to come and take it back to their land by means of the priests carrying it, as was God's order. But God makes no issue of this with the Philistines. The cows they chose to pull the cart were not accustomed to this, and also were milk cows having new-born calves. They propose to give them no driver, but let them go as they will. With their calves locked up at home, their natural bent would have been to return directly to them. The images of gold were put in a coffer beside the ark.
This was to be the one last clear evidence to the Philistines of whether or not it was God who had plagued them because of the ark. If the cattle would go straight toward Beth-shemesh in Israel (the most direct route), then they would know that this affliction had been from God's hand: if not, they would consider that only chance had been involved in the whole ordeal. Even though the previous evidence had been very clear, men are extremely slow to give God the honor that is rightly His.
But God allows no slightest question to remain. The cows take the straight road toward Beth-shemesh, in spite of their natural aversion to doing so, protesting all the way by lowing for their calves. The rulers of the Philistines followed them all the way to the border of Israel to make sure they did not turn back.
Of course the men of Beth-shemesh, busy at the time of harvest, were astonished and joyful to see the ark. The cows turned into a field of a certain man named Joshua and stopped beside a great stone. Levites came and removed the ark and the coffer of golden jewels from the cart to the stone, then cut up the wood of the ark and offered the cows as a burnt offering to the Lord. As to the five rulers of the Philistines, it is said only that they witnessed this and returned to Ekron. No mention is made of whether or not the plague was immediately eased in their land.
Verses 17 and 18 record the names of the five Philistine cities represented by the golden images of the hemorrhoids and mice, including their adjacent villages, and the fact that the great stone in Joshua's field was still remaining when this record was written.
However, God proves again that He is no respecter of men. If the Philistines had suffered for their having the ark among them, the Israelites of Beth-shemesh suffer for daring to look into the ark. This would not have been allowed while the ark was in the temple, but men's foolish curiosity evidently moved them to open the ark and look into it, at Beth-shemesh. The Lord Himself smote a large number of them, though Hebrew scholars consider that 50,000 is not a correct translation, and that 70 seems more likely. The spiritual significance of this is most important. The ark was made of acacia wood overlaid with gold, the wood speaking of the humanity of the Lord Jesus, and the gold of His eternal deity. We must simply adore Him, not daring to speculate as regards how He can be God and Man in one Person. This would be looking into the ark.
Those who remained were rightly subdued with awe at this contemplation of the holiness of God. Of course the ark, the very representation of the throne of God, was rightly held in sacred esteem by Israel, and it was gross negligence for the men of Beth-shemesh to ignore this. They may have been greatly blessed if they had given it the solemn respect that was due, but being smitten as they had, they want the ark taken elsewhere. Apparently Kirjath-jearim was the closest town of any size, and was in the direction of Jerusalem, but they send messengers there to ask that someone from there should come down and bring the ark to Kirjath-jearim. Of course the ark should have been where a priest could care for it, but there is no mention of priests at all at this time, and evidently no-one was in the position of high priest. As to Shiloh and what had been called the temple there, we have no word whatever, or of anyone taking Eli's place in the priesthood. How disordered everything had become in Israel, the priesthood having so failed that it held no apparent influence over the people at all.
Men from Kirjath-jearim respond to the call to bring the ark there. It is not said how it was transported, nor whether it was Levites who attended it. We are not even told whether Abinadab, to whose house the ark was taken, was a Levite, though it would seem he must have been, since he sanctified his son to keep the ark. Whatever the case, however, it appears evident that there was a proper respect given the ark, for it remained there for twenty years with no mark of God's displeasure. Not until David was reigning was its location changed (2 Sam.6:1-11).
However, during this time, when God was virtually confined to a private location, Israel was in a lax, unprofitable state, allowing an admixture of idolatry along with a slight recognition of God. No doubt it was the working of the grace of God that awakened them to lament after the Lord, that is, to feel the fact of their having largely left the Lord out and allowed idols in. Samuel, the man of God, is ready for this occasion, though still a young man whose ministry was only half appreciated by Israel.
He tells Israel that if there is reality in their returning to the Lord, then let them put away the idols they had adopted and serve only the Lord. This had some real effect, for they did put away their strange gods, Baalim and Ashtaroth, and gave their allegiance to the Lord alone. At least, this was the public action they took and it gave occasion to Samuel to seek to deepen some work in the souls of the people. He calls for a gathering of the people at Mizpah, meaning "watchtower," for in the past they had not watched, and found themselves under Philistine domination. Their gathering is in order that Samuel may appeal to the Lord publicly on their behalf.
They drew water and poured it out before the Lord. The significance of this is seen in 2 Samuel 14:14: "We must needs die, and are as water spilt on the ground, which cannot be gathered up again." This was a confession before the Lord that their condition was such that they were helpless to recover themselves. Their fasting further speaks of their self-judgment, that is, refraining from satisfying their natural appetites. When there is reality in such exercise as this, God will work in pure grace on behalf of His people. It is not that these things have merit in themselves, but are rather a genuine confession of our deserving nothing from God. Then He works on behalf of those who have no power.
The Philistines, hearing of this gathering of Israel, are alarmed and militant. Satan always hates the thought of believers unitedly seeking the mercy of God, and will quickly raise opposition. Of course Israel had before suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of the Philistines (ch.4:10), and are frightened at the show of Philistine strength. It is now therefore with no bold self-confidence that they go to battle, but with the entreaty that Samuel will not cease to pray to God for them. This spirit of humiliation and of dependence on God will not fail to bring God's intervention. However, Samuel does not only pray, but offers a young lamb as a whole burnt offering to God. Of course this typifies the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus, which is the only basis on which we are given any title to blessing from God.
Under law it was not the work of Levites to offer sacrifice, but of the priests. But the priesthood having badly failed, God in this unusual way both exposed the shame of the priests and provided for Israel's needed help. Later Saul forced himself and offered a burnt offering because Samuel had not come to him as quickly as he wanted (ch.13:9-14), but this was an act of fleshly impatience, not God's leading, and Samuel told him that for this reason his kingdom would not continue.
The Philistines came to the attack as Samuel was offering the lamb. If the enemy attacks us at a time when we are consciously dependent on the precious sacrifice of Christ, there will be no doubt of his defeat. It was not Israel's strength that gained the victory that day, but God's intervention by thundering with a great thunder upon the Philistines. One can imagine how sudden, tremendous peals of thunder, very close at hand, would send chills of fear into the hearts of brave men. This of course frustrated them and spread confusion in their ranks, so that Israel had no difficulty in gaining a decisive victory.
After God's victory over the Philistines on behalf of Israel, Samuel was careful to keep Israel from gloating over such a victory, for when all is done he set up a memorial stone, calling it Eben-ezer, "the stone of help," that they might not forget that the triumph was gained only through the help of the Lord. While their attitude was thankful, it was also subdued in the recognition "Hitherto hath the Lord helped us." As to the future, they must remember that they could expect His help only as they honestly recognized His authority and depended on His mercy.
The Philistines, having been repulsed, are not so anxious again to take the offensive against Israel, and God's hand was manifestly for Israel against the Philistines all the days of Samuel. How much power there is in one man's genuine intercession! "The effectual, fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much" (James 5:16). This is a precious type of the mediatorship of the Lord Jesus. They were able also to reclaim those areas that the Philistines had taken from them before, from Ekron to Gath. Both of these were border cities, which made them an object of contention, but they were really Israel's. Philistines continued to live in them, though tributary to Israel, much as is the case with the Gaza strip now in 1990. Also mentioned is the fact of peace between Israel and the Amorites. These were highland dwellers in Israel who had been put under tribute, not being expelled from the land. Samuel's intercession was evidently effective in this case also, to preserve peace.
All his life from youth he remained the judge of Israel. For his consistent, plodding faith and faithfulness he stands out among all the characters of scripture. He had adopted a general plan of travel that holds helpful spiritual significance for us. Each year he went in a circuit, first to Beth-el, meaning "the house of God." God's house that is, God's interests in connection with His people, we should rightly expect to be given the first place. Today God's house is composed of all believers, and care for them and fellowship with them is vitally important if we are to prosper spiritually.
Gilgal was his next stop. This is a negative complement of the positive truth of the house of God. Gilgal means "rolling away," significant of God's rolling away Israel's reproach in their coming out of Egypt into Canaan, by means of circumcision, the cutting off of the flesh (Josh.5:2-8). This therefore involves serious self-judgment, the self-discipline that is always necessary if we are to preserve godly unity among saints in the assembly of God.
Mizpah followed this. We have seen that its meaning is "watchtower." Though we may have learned self-discipline in some good degree, yet the enemy is cunning enough to attack if we are not on guard: watching against his wiles is a vital element of true Christian life (See 1 Cor.16:13).
Finally, his return was to Ramah, meaning "height," where was his proper dwelling, as it should be for us too, for it speaks of our position "in Christ" far above the level of earth, as seated "in the heavenlies" (Eph.2:6), our true sphere of life and blessing. Typically, Samuel was making true practically for himself the reality of what was true doctrinally. May we be more like him in this regard. There he built an altar to the Lord, the symbol of a vital relationship to God based on the value of Christ's sacrifice.
However, old age often brings weariness with it. The time comes when Samuel considers it necessary to have others as judges in the land, and it was quite natural (not spiritual) that he should give this place to his sons, specially since God had evidently not raised up any one else to take this responsibility. In fact, people generally expect something like this. What was Samuel to do? Certainly he could have earnestly sought the Lord's face first about a matter so important, entreating His guidance as to what to do; but we are only told, "he made his sons judges over Israel." However, godliness is not inherited, and "sons of the prophets" are too frequently far from being prophets themselves. The corruption of Samuel's sons was serious, in taking bribes and perverting justice, though it was not the same loathsome evil as that of Eli's sons, who committed abomination in the things of God.
The corruption of proper rule in Israel is the occasion the elders use for gathering together to Samuel to voice their own opinion as to what should be done about it. Since Samuel was old and his sons did not walk in his ways, the one alternative they saw was to have a king over them. They did not consider the obvious question: would a king be any more satisfactory than a judge? Their one argument was that other nations were ruled by kings: why not they? The people of God too frequently descend to this level. Instead of depending fully upon the leading and grace of God, they observe what others are doing; they see some apparent surface results, and decide on the basis of outward appearances what course of action to take. This is not faith.
Samuel was rightly displeased, yet it did not seem to have occurred to him to remove his sons from their position as judges and seek God's guidance as to finding others who were honorable men. However, he did pray to the Lord about the matter. No doubt things had already gone too far, and God Himself does not suggest any alternative, but tells Samuel to listen to the people's demand. For He adds that they had not merely rejected Samuel, but had rejected the Lord from reigning over them. This was consistent with their character from the time the Lord brought them out of Egypt. Over and over again they had left the Lord in order to serve idols. Now the same spirit was moving them.
God allows this, therefore, not merely as a concession to Israel's folly, but in order that they might learn by painful experience the results of that folly. Later God tells Israel, "I gave thee a king in mine anger, and took him away in my wrath" (Hosea 13:11). Though Saul's beginning as king seemed rather favorable, his end was pathetically sad.
Yet behind the scenes we can surely see the wisdom of God working for good It is right that Israel should have a king, but only one King has any title to this place, the One who came once and was rejected, but who will come again in power and glory and assert His right to the throne. Saul provides a dark background by which the glory of the true King is made to shine the more brightly by contrast. Saul is an example of mere man in the flesh wanting and clinging to the place of authority and rule of which he is incapable, and must be put out of it. David, who replaced him, is a type of Christ, a refreshing character insofar as he does represent Him, but whose personal failure emphasizes the fact that Christ alone is fitted to be King.
God, knowing well the sad future for Israel, instructs Samuel to warn them solemnly as to what they must expect if they are given the king they desire. Samuel, a true prophet faithful to his Lord, tells all the words of the Lord to the people. Their king would take their sons for his own servants, to be chariot drivers and horsemen, to be trained for army service, both officers and privates, to make instruments of war, etc. He would take their daughters also for every kind of female service. He would, as he pleased, appropriate their fields, olive yards and vineyards for his own servants. The best of their servants he would take for his work, and their animals. If people want such government, they must pay the costs. Of course it will be easily argued that all these things are necessary taxes, whether the people like it or not. But the Lord warns them they will not like it, and would eventually cry out for relief, but could not expect the Lord to give it. They would have to learn deeply the results of their own wilfulness.
The solemn warning falls on deaf ears. The most considerate wise reasoning is lost on those who are determined to have their own way. They have no answer for the warning, but reply to Samuel, "No; but we will have a king over us," because, first, they want to be like the nations, Just as many Christians today want to be like the world; and secondly, they expect a king to fight their battles for them. In both of these things they lose sight of God. How can they represent God before the nations if they choose to be like the nations? this would effectively take away any real testimony to a difference that God had made because of His love for them. Also, in the past, who was it who fought their battles for them at those times when they gained victories? See Exodus 14:13-14.
The word of God now transfers out attention to a man of Benjamin whose genealogy is given us for four generations, and he a mighty man of power. From men's point of view everything was favorable as regards the background of Saul, the son of Kish. More than this, he himself was a physically striking young man, outstanding above everyone else, head and shoulders taller than the average person. The honor of being from Benjamin too, "the son of my right hand," was a matter in which man in the flesh could boast (Phil.3:4-5). So far as mere man is concerned, Saul was the idea example. God therefore would give him to Israel as king. Though he was really the people's choice, yet God did not allow them to choose him, but He Himself would inaugurate Saul as king, so that he would remain just as long as God intended. When Israel would cry out in resentment against their desired king, they would have no authority whatever to depose him, no more than to appoint him. they must learn in a full way the vanity of man in the flesh.
Saul is introduced to us in an interesting and significant way. His father's donkeys were lost, and his father appointed him and a servant to look for them. Later, in contrast, David was keeping the sheep when he was called to be king. Of course sheep are typical of believers, while man generally, in unbelief, is likened in his very birth to a wild donkey's colt (Job 11:12), the symbol of stubborn rebellion. David is a type of Christ, who has a faithful, tender heart toward His sheep; whereas Saul is typical of all mere human government, which never succeeds, just as Saul never did find his father's donkeys. One writer has said that all human government concentrates on subduing the wild beast in man, which is a hopeless pursuit. Indeed, the governors themselves have the same rebellious nature, however well trained and cultured they may appear to be.
They passed through four areas of the country, the number four being that of testing and generally of failure, as the fourth book of the Bible (Numbers) manifestly teaches. "They found them not." How precious is the contrast in Luke 15:4, where the Shepherd whose one sheep was lost is seen "going after that which was lost" UNTIL HE FIND IT."
Finally, coming to a fifth area, Saul proposes to his servant that they return home defeated, for he expects his father now to be concerned about them rather than the donkeys. The servant knows of Samuel, a man of God with an honorable reputation, a true prophet of God, and that he was at least at this time in a nearby city. Whether this was Ramah we are not told. He suggests that he might tell them what to do as regards finding the donkeys. Saul, however, thought it essential that they have a present to give to the man of God. Men's natural thoughts are always directed in this way, as though God looked for something from man first before He would answer his need. It is the legal principle that fails to realize that God is a God of pure grace. Sad to say, Saul did not learn better than this all his life. The servant had a fourth part of a shekel of silver, and Saul agrees that this will be appropriate, though later we never read of his giving it to Samuel. It was quite the opposite: Samuel had made provision FOR SAUL.
We are told in verse 9 that the designation "Prophet" referred to the same person as did "Seer,"the former having replaced the latter. The seer of course is one who sees or discerns, while prophet refers to one who communicates what he discerned as from God.
Coming to the city they enquire for the seer and are told by young girls that he had come that day to the city because of a feast of the people in the high place, and was on his way there. Going quickly in that direction they would find him. The many details in this history all fit perfectly in God's directing everything to bring about His own ends. As they came inside the city Samuel met them. We are told that Samuel was expecting Saul because God had told him the day before that He would send him a man out of Benjamin about the same time the following day, and Samuel was instructed to anoint him as captain over Israel. God would - use Saul to save Israel from the Philistines because of His own compassion toward His people. Certainly He could have used other means for Israel's salvation, but in grace He made this concession to His people because of their urging, not because this was His directive will.
At the moment Samuel saw Saul the Lord told him this was the man of whom He had spoken to him, and he would reign over Israel. Samuel did not however take the initiative, but waited for Saul to come to him, asking where the seer's house was. Samuel tells him, "I am the seer," but waits for no other question from Saul.
Samuel, rather than asking Saul why he wanted to see the seer, instructs Saul to go up before him to the high place, where he would eat with Samuel that day. The following day he would let him go after telling him all that was in his heart. Then he tells him that the donkeys that were lost had already been found (a lesson for Saul that God could do what Saul could not).
But more than this, he gave him the arresting news that the desire of Israel was on Saul and on all his father's house. This was certainly unexpected by Saul, who rightly protests that he is only a Benjamite, of the smallest tribe in Israel. Why did Samuel speak in this way to him'? Samuel later refers to this when Saul stood in need of serious reproof, telling him, "When thou wast little in thine own sight, wast thou not made head of the tribes of Israel, and the Lord anointed thee king over Israel?" (ch.15:17). When Saul was elevated to the prominence and authority of king, it was not long before he forgot his own littleness: he thought himself great enough to ignore God's express commands, and of course suffered the consequences. On the other hand, faith always maintains a humble place, no matter how greatly one may be honored.
About thirty guests were present when Samuel took Saul and his servant to dinner, giving them the most honored place at the table. Then Samuel ordered the portion he had reserved for Saul to be brought. The shoulder then given to Saul is typical of the responsibility he must shoulder in becoming king. Of Christ we read, "the government shall be upon his shoulder" (Isa.9:6). Saul surely ought to have taken to heart the truth that in taking responsibility to reign, he must bow his shoulder to the authority of God, but he later forgot this. That day, however, he ate with Samuel, indicating that God, on His part, was willing to show fellowship to Saul in his appointment to the throne, though Saul would later show himself unwilling to have honest fellowship with God.
After the meal Samuel communed alone with Saul on the housetop, typically a place of watching. Perhaps he was giving instruction that Saul deeply needed at the time. The next morning, rather than retaining Saul to install him immediately as king, he sent him away again. In those things already seen, Saul was intended to discern that he first had to do with God before he could be placed on the throne, the eating of the sacrifice is a most significant matter, as we have seen. But God still has lessons to teach him before his coronation. Whether he learned them is another matter, but if he had had an exercised heart, he might have discerned far more than he did. Samuel accompanied him to the border of the city and asked that he might privately speak with Saul, "that I may show thee the word of God."
No one else was present when Samuel anointed Saul. This contrasts with David's anointing in Chapter 16:3, "in the midst of his brethren," then by "the men of Judah" in 2 Samuel 2:4; and later by the elders of Israel in 2 Samuel 5:3. For God could have David publicly anointed because he was God's specific choice, being a type of Christ. On the other hand, Saul was really the people's preference for king, yet behind the scenes God anointed him (by His servant) so that the people could not depose him as they pleased. Democracy is not to be allowed in Israel. This reminds us that "the powers that be are ordained of God" (Romans 13:1), even though those powers have no intention of honorably carrying out God's will; whereas the only government that God actually approves is that in which His Son is given full pre-eminence.
The anointing oil speaks of the Holy Spirit, who alone can give power to enable a king to rightly rule in Israel. Did Saul discern in this that he could be enabled only by God? Samuel also kisses him, an indication that God's kindness and love was fully available to Saul if he would receive it. Then Samuel gives him three signs of an unusual character that were intended also to speak to his soul. How plain is the fact here that though Saul was to be king, yet Samuel was in practical authority over him, the representative of a higher kingdom than that of Israel. First, Saul was to meet two men by Rachel's grave. We remember that Rachel died in giving birth to Benjamin (Gen.35:16-19). Saul should then remember the sorrow and death from which his very tribe had sprung. This ought to subdue the pride of the flesh. More than that, the men would tell him that the lost donkeys had been found, and now Saul's father was sorrowing for him. Saul could have learned from this that the rebellious house of Israel (typified by the donkeys) will be recovered by God apart from man's help, so that Saul's being king was not a thing in which the flesh had any right to boast.
The second sign given to Saul (v.3) was to take place at the plain of Tabor, where he would meet three men going up to God to Bethel. There is of course special significance in the number three, for one was to be carrying three kids, another three loaves of bread. It was the triune God they were going to meet at Bethel, "the house of God." They had full provision with them for a blood-sacrifice, for the meal offering and for a drink offering (a bottle of wine). All of this was surely a reminder that Saul too would have to deal with God, and ought to be prepared with proper sacrifices and a genuine concern for the house of God. They would greet Saul and give him two loaves of bread, which he was to receive. Would this not tell Saul that the king's sustenance would actually come from God by His moving the hearts of His people? for these loaves were what was really offered to God. Moreover, the liberality of the people ought to have been an example to Saul that he would take to heart, rather than to have an attitude of merely expecting from others, as those in authority often do.
The third sign (v.5) was to be at "the hill of God," where the army of the Philistines was then garrisoned. But no suggestion of conflict is made. Rather, Saul would meet a company of prophets coming from the high place, following a band of musical instruments, and they themselves would prophesy. The lesson here is most significant. Though Saul would be required to lead Israel in battle against the Philistines, yet the way of victory is only in giving God His place first. The music is of course symbolical of joyful worship of God, and prophesying is the declaring of God's message to the people where this order is observed, then the victory in battle will follow, for God will have directed the battle. In going to fight against Ammon, Moab and Mount Seir, Jehoshaphat first appointed singers to praise the Lord and beauty of holiness (2 Chron.20:21). This resulted in a resounding victory of Israel. But we read nothing like this in Saul's history in spite of his having this early sign.
Added to this sign was Saul's having the Spirit of the Lord come upon him to virtually turn him into another man in his prophesying among the prophets. God was thereby signifying His own willingness to lead Saul by the power of His Spirit in Saul's taking the kingdom. It was left to Saul to realize, however, that only in his submitting to the Spirit of God could he expect this guidance, though this is implied in Samuel's telling him, when this happened, to do as occasion serves him. Sad to say, this spirit of submission to God was ignored by Saul in his ruling Israel. But what can we expect? "The mind of the flesh is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God." (Romans 8:7-8). Saul did, for a brief time, make a fair show, but the flesh very soon exposed itself in his pathetic failure.
Yet on this occasion God gave him another heart, so that he would act differently than usual. All the signs given him came to pass, including his meeting the company of prophets and the Spirit of God endowing him with power to prophesy also. This surprised his former acquaintances, who incredulously asked the question, "Is Saul also among the prophets?" One person, however, who was resident there, asks a discerning question, "But who is their father?" The source of the prophecy was the important thing, for the questioner evidently knew that this was not Saul's normal character, but that if it was a true prophecy it came from God.
Coming then to the high place Saul is met by his uncle, who asks him and his servant where they had been, and when knowing that they had sought Samuel's help, was interested to learn what Samuel had said to them. Saul informed them only that Samuel had told them that the donkeys were found, and said nothing of Samuel's words to him in reference to the kingdom. At least at this time he showed no inclination to boast in his anticipated greatness. The effect of the signs he had witnessed had not yet worn off: he seemed in some measure rightly subdued by them, though later it appears that he forgot them entirely, or at least forgot their significance.
The time comes for the king to be presented to Israel. It is Samuel who gathers the people to Mizpah, and there addresses them with a message from God. They are reminded that it was God who had brought them out of Egypt, delivering them from that bondage and from subsequent enemies who opposed them in coming into the land of Israel. He had done this without the help of a king. Therefore, their demanding a king was their virtual rejection of God who had before saved them out of all their adversities and tribulations.
Since it was God who had so graciously dealt with Israel in bringing them from Egypt and delivering them from all their enemies, then for Israel to demand a king to virtually take God's place was actual rejection of Him. This must be pressed upon their consciences before the king is given them. Then Samuel tells them to present themselves together before the Lord, that He might indicate who was to be king.
The method Samuel used was evidently the same as seen in Joshua 7:16-18 in the exposing of Achan as the man whose sin had been a curse to Israel. The tribes come first, and Benjamin is taken. We are not told exactly how this took place. It may have been by the casting of lots, for we are told in Proverbs 16:33, "The lot is cast into the lap, but the whole disposing thereof is of the Lord." From the families of Benjamin, that of Matri was taken, and from his family Saul was designated. This whole process at least tells us that all Israel was considered, but Saul was the one whom God discerned to be the people's general preference.
But Saul was not to be found, which cause further enquiry of God, who told them that Saul had hid himself among the baggage. Evidently at this time Saul was still "little in his own sight," and no doubt apprehensive of being given a place of such prominence and honor in Israel. He is then found and brought before all the people, and seen to be in height head and shoulders above all. The head of course speaks of intelligence, and the shoulders of strength to bear responsibility. These human qualities, great intelligence and strength, are considered the essentials in men's governments, but the more important matter of faith in and dependence upon the living God, is largely overlooked and forgotten by men.
Presenting him then to the people, Samuel told them that there was not another like this man whom the Lord had chose. To all outward appearances this was true, though Samuel had to be told by God later, "Man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart" (Chapter 16:7). The people respond with a great shout, "Let the king live." It is a great mercy of God in any culture when at least some measure of respect is shown for God-appointed authority.
Samuel then in addressing the people lays down the principles of the kingdom, after which he writes these in a book. Manifestly the government at its inception was not top heavy with ordinances, as is the case with virtually every government now. Of course the laws of God had been already given to Israel in scripture, and these remained in force just as before.
Of course there was no palace in which the king was privileged to live: the people went back to their homes and Saul did the same, though a band of men accompanied him "whose hearts God had touched." No doubt they were capable men, which was practically a necessity if Saul was to have the support he needed in his new office. On the other hand, we read of "children of Belial" who despised him and gave him no allegiance. These were the class of people who would "despise dominion and speak evil of dignities" (Jude 8), no matter who is placed in authority. Though believers know that the only ruler who can ever satisfy God is the Lord Jesus Christ, yet they recognize that at present "the powers that be are ordained of God" (Romans 13:1) and for this reason we are told to submit to them. The two books of Samuel give excellent instruction as to this question of proper subjection to government. On this occasion Saul's silence in bearing the despite of the men of Belial is commendable. At least at first he did not take advantage of his authority to act rigorously: he resorted to this only after he was established in the kingdom.
The first test of Saul's prowess is made by Nahash, the Ammonite. His name means "serpent" and Ammon means "peoplish." This expression "peoplish" reminds us of humanism, which makes everything of man and leaves God out. The "serpent" is its king, so that Ammon stands for those today who are characterizes by gross Satanic doctrine. They encamp against Jabesh-Gilead, meaning "dry heap of witness," for when the witness of believers begins to dry up, Satan finds them susceptible to attack. The men of Jabesh-Gilead, in their alarm, show themselves so weak as to offer compromise by a covenant.
But what will a compromise with Satan involve? Nahash lays down the cruel condition that he should be allowed to tear out their right eyes. If we consider this to apply to every man of Jabesh-Gilead, the prospect would indeed by dreadful. But the literal losing of one eye is small compared to the spiritual significance of such a loss.
Nahash's demand that the eyes of the men of Israel should be torn out may remind us of Matthew 6:22: "The lamp of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light." Only one eye is mentioned here in spite of the fact that we have two eyes. The eye lets in the light, which is typical of understanding. By what means do we discern and understand? One means is by reasoning, which is the only one that the unbeliever uses. But the positive right eye symbolizes the principle of FAITH, by which the believer understands what the unbeliever misses entirely. Compare Hebrews 11:3 and I Corinthians 2:14-15.
To accept Satanic doctrine one must virtually have his right eye torn out. If we want to make a league with the Ammonite world they will require us to do away with faith as a means of learning the truth. As Satan well knows, this amounts to rejecting God Himself, though the followers of this evil may speak glibly of God, all the while meaning something else than the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. What a reproach indeed it would be upon Israel if a number of Israelites would agree to renounce faith in the living God!
The elders of Jabesh-Gilead ask for three days respite from hostilities with the object of finding someone in Israel who will come to their rescue. It appears that Nahash was so confident of himself that he allowed this just to expose the pathetic condition of all Israel. He did not consider the evident fact that if evil is to gain an advantage it must strike quickly. The Pharisees knew this when they demanded the immediate crucifixion of the Lord Jesus (Mark 15:11-14). Ahithophel knew it when he counselled Absalom to pursue and kill David immediately (2 Samuel 17:1-2). Hushai knew it too when he counselled Absalom to the contrary (v.7-13); but Absalom's own pride blinded him to this fact. When he accepted Hushai's counsel, Ahithophel knew that their evil cause was doomed, and he committed suicide (v.23).
Messengers bring the appeal to Gibeah, which was in the proximity of Jerusalem, causing the people to weep. Saul, though anointed king, was still engaged in his normal work, caring for the herd. The news had immediate effect upon him, through the power of the Spirit of God, who stirred him greatly in anger against the cruelty of the Ammonites. Hewing in pieces a yoke of oxen, he sent the pieces throughout Israel by swift messengers, telling the men that if they did not come out to follow Saul and Samuel, their oxen would be cut up too. He recognized the necessity of having the power of Samuel's name to back him up, for Samuel was held in high regard by the people.
God used this, however, as the fear of the Lord fell on the people, so that they responded well. This was of course working by fear, the usual method that man in the flesh uses in such cases. How much higher is the character of Christianity: "faith -- worketh by love" (Galations 5:6). However, the people came out "with one consent." In Acts we read similar expressions a number of times, "with one accord" etc., but the saints of God then were moved by the powerful energy of love toward the name of the Lord Jesus.
In very short time a formidable army of three hundred and thirty thousand is raised, and word is sent to Jabesh-Gilead that they will have help on the third day. Considering a distance of over fifty miles, this was remarkably quick work. The army must have left before evening and marched overnight to arrive there by the time of the morning watch. The men of Jabesh-Gilead, however, gave no indication to the Ammonites that they were going to have help, but rather told them that they would surrender the next day. Evidently the Ammonites were so self-confident that they did not consider secret intelligence necessary in case of an Israelite attack.
As the Israelite army approached in the morning, Saul divided them into three companies, no doubt each coming from a different direction so as to confuse the Ammonites. Their sudden attack totally routed their enemies, slaughtering large numbers and scattering the rest. The victory was complete by the heat of the day. It is important to remember that it was God who had moved Saul and sustained him, enabling him to gain this victory, thus showing His willingness to back Saul up fully if Saul would obey Him.
Let us consider the present significance of Saul's victory over the Ammonites. A man who accepts orthodox doctrine, though he is not born again, may even be a strong leader against deceptive Satanic doctrines, decisively defeating this dreadful scourge of evil. Of course God backs up the fight against such things, and Saul realized that the victory was really God's. Jehu could be most zealous in destroying Ahab's house because of its gross corruption of the truth of God, and God commended him for it (2 Kings 10:30); but the next verse tells us that "Jehu took no heed to walk in the law of the Lord God of Israel with all his heart" (v.31).
Samuel was not carried away by the people's enthusiasm for Saul. He rather encouraged the people to go to Gilgal to renew the kingdom there. We shall remember that in Israel's coming to the land they first stopped at Gilgal, where the men were circumcised, and when they had gained victories later, they were instructed to return to Gilgal. This reminds us that, no matter what victory is gained, the flesh must be judged as actually having no part in it, and therefore not allowed to exalt itself. How often we must be reminded of this cutting off of the flesh! Saul is officially made king there, a subduing lesson for anyone who is given a place of prominence. This is accompanied by the sacrifice of peace offerings which symbolize the fact that, as well as God having His part in the value of the sacrifice of Christ, the people also are blessed in communion with that sacrifice. Its object is here to express unity between God, the king, and the people, based upon the value of the sacrifice of Christ. With Saul this did not last: the full significance of it can only be found when the Lord Jesus takes His place as King. Yet at the time Saul and all Israel rejoiced greatly. Samuel is not mentioned in this rejoicing.
This chapter intervenes in the history as a solemn reproof to Israel and a warning of the dangers to which they had exposed themselves by asking for a king The voice of the prophet is not to be put in the background because the people have a king, Samuel brings to Israel's attention some plain facts, the significance of which they ought to seriously consider. They had been given their way, with a king established over them, Now he had become old.
He invites their criticism. Had he used the place God had giver him for his own advantage? Had he taken anything from anyone? Had he defrauded anyone? Had he oppressed anyone? Had he ever received a bribe? He addressed this publicly to all Israel and spoke as in the presence of God. Was there even one who could point the finger at him?
Their answer is clear and decisive to the effect that he had not been guilty of any aberration whatever in his relationship with the people, To more deeply impress this on them, Samuel invokes the witness of the Lord, to which they respond, "He is witness." Sad it is to say that not many men in authority could stand up to a test of this kind. But Samuel had learned early in life to depend upon the pure grace of God, the result being a steady, consistent life of truth and stability. This showed be true of every servant of God.
He speaks then of Moses and Aaron whom God had put in the Place of leader bring Israel out of Egypt. It was no less true that it was without any official appointment. He did not say this, but they ought to have recognized it without his claiming it. He asks them to stand still and pay close attention to his reasoning with them before the Lord, not concerning his life before them, but concerning all the righteous acts of the Lord by which Israel had been blessed.
When the family of Jacob had been in Egypt (of course for some time) they cried to the Lord because of their bondage, and the Lord sent Moses and Aaron to deliver them with the object of bringing them into their own land. This was an accomplishment, the conducting of (probably) between two and three million people for fourty years through the wilderness and establishing them in a land from which God had to drive out the previous inhabitants. History has never seen anything like it. At the time, and later time, and later Israel accepted it as a matter of fact, but hardly realized the wonder of the grace of God in so dealing with them in marvelous blessing.
Verse 9 refers to the book of Judges, chapter 4:1-2 as well as chapter 13-1 and 3-12. Samuel does not use chronological order here, for which he has no doubt a reason, but in the cases of all those enemies it was Israel's disobedience to God that led to Israel's captivity. In each case God heard their prayers when their distress became sufficient to make them cry to Him in confession of their sin and in entreaty for deliverance. How faithful and gracious He had been in spite of their unfaithfulness! Three men are singled out whom God sent as deliverers, Jerubaal (or Gideon), Bedan and Jeohthah. These were military leaders in contrast to Samuel himself, whom God sent for Israel's deliverance also by means of spiritual and moral power rather than by warfare. The deliverance was effective in enabling Israel to dwell safely.
However, he tells them that when they feared an attack by Nahash the Ammonite, instead of realizing that only their own sin would leave them vulnerable, and therefore appealing in confession and faith to their faithful Creator, they demanded a king! This was virtually telling God that He was no longer to be trusted as their king!
Yet they did not think they were displacing God: they thought they could have their king and serve God too. So Samuel tells them that if they will obey the Lord and serve Him, not rebelling against any of His commandments, now that they have their king, then so long as they did this, they and their king would continue following the Lord. If they think it is an actual advantage to have a king, let them prove it by their obedience to God. On the other hand, they are solemnly warned that if they will not obey the Lord, then the hand of the Lord would be against them in serious discipline, just as had been the case with their fathers when they had been guilty of rebelling against the commandments of God.
However, it was necessary that Samuel's words should be confirmed by a clear public sign from God in order to press these facts solemnly upon their consciences. He calls upon them to stand and see the great thing that God would do. During wheat harvest in Israel a thunder storm was unheard of. Samuel told them that he would pray and the Lord would send such a storm in order that they might realize that their wickedness was great in asking a king. There was no suggestion that they change their minds now; for since they have received their king, they may not get rid of him again, but must learn the consequences of their own folly. God answers the prayer of Samuel in sending thunder and rain, a sign so clear that the people greatly feared the Lord and Samuel.
They ask for Samuel's prayers for themselves, that they should not die on account of their sin, a sin added to many more. At least their consciences were reached, and Samuel reassures them, telling them to fear not. For in spite of their having done wickedly they can depend on the faithfulness of God; and he urges them not to turn from following Him, but to serve Him with all their heart. Thus he stirs their sober exercise, whether or not he had confidence that they would thoroughly obey. They are told to avoid those vain things that too often become idols, totally unable to deliver anyone from bondage, and devoid of value. The encouragement he gives is based on the faithfulness of God. He would not forsake His people: the honor of His own name was involved in His continuing to care for them.
Verse 23 shows the seriousness with which Samuel considered his responsibility to pray for the people. To cease to pray for them would be sin in his estimation. Let us remember that sins of omission are not to be lightly regarded. Together with prayer, he would teach them the good and right way, for if one honestly prays for others, he is most concerned that they should be guided in the ways of the Lord. He therefore urges them to fear the Lord and to serve Him in truth with all their heart. He based this exhortation upon the abundance of God's grace to them in the past He had done great things for them, just as we today have been blessed beyond measure by virtue of the great sacrifice of Christ. May we well consider what great things He has done for us, and respond with willing obedience to Him. On the other hand, Samuel warns them faithfully that if they choose to still act wickedly, they can expect to be consumed by it, and their king also. The scales of God's justice are right and equal.
Hebrew scholars consider that either something is missing from verse 1 in the Hebrew manuscripts or that the whole verse was not originally in the text. After Saul's victory at Jabesh-Gilead he sent most of his army home, but chose 3000 from among them, 2000 to remain with him and 1000 to be under the leadership of his son Jonathan. The case of Jabesh-Gilead was a one time matter quickly accomplished, though there had been no previous organization. But a standing army would require capable organization. Saul confined this likely so as not to attract too much attention from the Philistines who were at this time strong enough to consider Israel virtually under their domination.
Immediately we hear of Jonathan, however, he is seen attacking a garrison of the Philistines. His faith stands in refreshing contrast to his father's rationalizing and indecision. Typically the Philistines speak of mere formal religion, a form of godliness with no spiritual power. Can faith submit to this? Certainly not. But of course Jonathan's action awakened the displeasure of the Philistines. Saul, however, who had not the faith to initiate this, blew the trumpet to inform Israel: he is ready to take advantage of Jonathan's faith to the extant that Israel understood that it was Saul who had taken the action. Israel then gathers to Saul in Gilgal, while the Philistines gather a great army that would seem invincible by its very size. Today too we know that formal religion gains multitudes in contrast to the few who claim Christ as their Center. Yet Jonathan had not been afraid to attack this formidable foe. It seems amazing that they could gather 30,000 chariots, six thousand horsemen and footmen virtually unnumbered.
This array strikes fear into the hearts of the men of Israel, and they seek every possible hiding place, whether caves, thickets rocks, high places or pits. Why should the faith of God's people be so weakened because of being outnumbered? "If God be for us, who can be against us?" (Romans 8:31). Would faith not cry to God in firm confidence? Some of Israel even deserted their own land, choosing to cross the Jordan to avoid possible conflict. Let us remember that God does not provide us with armour for our backs! (Eph. 6:11-17). Those who remained with Saul did so trembling! Yet there was the courage to follow in spite of fear.
Samuel had told Saul to wait for him at Gilgal for seven days -- "till I come down unto thee, to offer burnt offerings and to sacrifice sacrifices of peace offerings" (ch.10:8). Saul waited just the seven days, then instead of depending on the word of Samuel, took matters into his own hands and offered a burnt offering. Samuel arrived just as he had finished sacrificing.
Samuel's question, "What hast thou done?" seems to indicate that he realized something was amiss. Saul's answer, however, is prefaced by rationalistic excuses. He was alarmed because the people were being scattered while the Philistines were gathering ready for battle, and that Samuel had not arrived more quickly. He realized that if the Philistines attacked he would need the help of God; but instead of simply asking God's direction as to this matter, he says, "I forced myself therefore, and offered a burnt offering." He ignored any thought of HEART DEPENDENCE on God, but forced himself to resort to the outward formality of worshipping God, as though that would be of some magical value. Such is man in the flesh: he recognizes nothing but formalism in the worship of God and thinks he is honoring God while disobeying His plain word.
Samuel solemnly reproves this disobedience, telling Saul that he had done foolishly; for certainly at any time disobeying God's commands is foolishness. The issue is deeply serious. If Saul had simply obeyed, his kingdom would have been permanently established; but his disobedience to God settled the fact that his kingdom would not continue. So soon after the beginning of his reign Saul is forewarned that the Lord has sought a man after His own heart, to make him captain over His people. This refers directly to David, as we see in Chapter 16; but it is typical of the fact that the kingdoms of men must all be set aside by God, who will eventually bring in the Man after His own heart, the Lord Jesus Christ, who alone can be trusted with the responsibility of reigning fully for God.
Though God had given sentence that Saul was to lose his kingship, yet he was not deposed immediately: he was allowed to remain for some years in the place of rule. In fact, David was not yet pointed out as the man to succeed him: this awaited Chapter 16 where David was anointed, though not reigning for some time.
Samuel then left Saul, going to Gibeah, and Saul is seen now to have only six hundred men, over two-thirds depleted from the former number. Vastly outnumbered by the Philistines, he has no heart whatever to proceed to the attack. The Philistines, on the other hand, do not seem inclined to attack Saul, but use maneuvers evidently intended to intimidate Israel without direct confrontation three companies of "spoilers" came from their camp, going in different directions, evidently to plunder the villages of Israel. Saul's army was no protection for these oppressed people: the Philistines had them at their mercy while Saul was trembling under a threat of an attack by the camp of the Philistines.
A major complication also was that the Philistines had deprived Israel of metal workers, so that Israel's army had no swords or spears. Even to sharpen their farm implements they had to go to the Philistines, except for those that could be sharpened with a file. There is of course a serious spiritual lesson in this. Mere formalistic religion will always deprive us of any true spiritual defense. Forms are substituted for the pure truth of God, "the sword of the Spirit", and in this case the people of God are left powerless. In the day of battle, therefore, only the two leaders, Saul and Jonathan, possessed weapons. How similar to formalistic religion! Only clergymen are expected to have any knowledge of the Word of God. The laity depend on the clergy to interpret the Bible for them, so that they can only follow blindly and helplessly, having no clear grasp of the Word of God for themselves. They are virtually under the domination of the Philistines.
The Philistines seemed content to intimidate Israel with their tremendous show of strength, rather than to attack Saul. One man, however, is not to be intimidated. Jonathan, in the face of Philistine power and in the face of Israel's pathetic weakness and fear, decides to act apart from his father's approval or even his knowledge. Jonathan's faith is a refreshing contrast to Saul's wavering indecision. He enlists only his armor-bearer to accompany him to the garrison of the Philistines.
There is no doubt interesting spiritual instruction in Saul's remaining "under a pomegranate tree." The pomegranate is a fruit full of seeds, speaking of the great fruitfulness the nation Israel will enjoy in the future millennium of earthly blessing. Does this not tell us that, typically speaking, Saul was excusing his present laxity by falling back upon the promise of the future? it is true we should deeply appreciate the promises of God in reference to future great blessing, but this should stir us to exercise a vital faith at present bearing true witness to Him who has given us such "exceeding great and precious promises." Genuine faith does not encourage laxity, though it may have to wait for some time for God's leading.
Verse 3 tells us that Ahiah (called Ahimelech in Chapter 22:9), the grandson of Eli, was priest at this time. Yet the priesthood was of no consequence to Saul, nor did Jonathan think of consulting the priest. The priesthood had regained no power since Eli's day, and God's prophecy as to there being no old man of Eli's descendents would prove solemnly true in this case, when Saul had Ahimelech and other priests killed by Doeg the Edomite (ch.22:18).
These things are mentioned as indicating that Jonathan's faith had no encouragement from circumstances. This is further emphasized in verse 4 by the two sharp rocks that stood on either side of the passage that Jonathan chose. Bozez means "shining," indicating the apparent shining triumph of the Philistines over Israel at this time; while Seneh means "thorny," perhaps typical of Israel's suffering under the thorn-discipline of God. For Bozez was northward on the Philistine side, so that the southern sun would shine on its face, while Seneh was on the south side, toward Israel's camp.
Jonathan does not speak to his armor bearer with any brash self confidence, but with a dependence that says only, "it may be that the Lord will work for us: for there is no restraint to the Lord to save by many or by few." The armor bearer evidently knew Jonathan well enough to have confidence in the reality of his faith, and is ready to fully back him up, telling him, "I am with thee according to thy heart."
Jonathan's plan of attack had no military strategy in it whatever. The two men come into plain view of the Philistines, who have the advantage of a height well above them. They first decide that if the Philistines tell them to stay where they are until they come down to them, they will do so, and await the result. If, however, they are told to come up to them, they will take this as a sign from the Lord that He is assuring them of victory. Of course, if some had come down to Jonathan, these would be the only ones who might be killed, but since Jonathan and his armor bearer had been invited to come up, they were then in the very midst of the camp. The Philistines speak despisingly when they see the two men, saying they have come out of the holes where they had been hiding. They think of their being no threat whatever, and tell them, "Come up to us, and we will show you a thing."
Taking this as the Lord's answer, they fearlessly climb on hands and feet, undaunted either by the steep ascent nor by the contempt of the enemy. Notice, however, that Jonathan does not say, "The Lord hath delivered them into our hand," but "into the hand of Israel." Though Israel as a whole was of no help to Jonathan, yet his heart was concerned for the true welfare of the nation rather than for himself.
They reach the crown of the hill, where the contemptuous enemy has expected to make sport of them. But they immediately attacked with a strength begotten of faith in the living God. The Philistines fall one by one before the sword of Jonathan, and his armor bearer made sure the men were killed. About twenty men were quickly dispatched in this first sudden assault. But it did not end there. Confusion was spread into the ranks of the Philistines, and the whole garrison trembled together with the companies of spoilers, apparently thinking that many Israelites had invaded the camp by some means. At the same time God fought for Israel by sending an earthquake that further confused the Philistines. Saul's watchmen, observing from a distance, were astounded to see the fighting and beating down of one another, for evidently the Philistines fought one another, not knowing who were enemies.
Of course Saul was perplexed, and his perplexity was not relieved by finding that, of his own army, only Jonathan and his armor bearer were missing. He called for Ahiah the priest, that he should bring the ark, no doubt with the intention of inquiring of God. But as he was talking with Ahiah, the increasing noise in the Philistines' camp so excites him that he tells Ahiah, "Withdraw thine hand." He is virtually saying. "We don't need God's direction now: the noise of the battle decides the matter for us."
Bringing his army with him to the scene of battle, Saul finds that the Philistines are fighting against each other. Also Hebrews who had been among the Philistines, whether captives or disloyal because of fear, now took sides with Israel. Other Israelites who had hid themselves became brave on hearing of the defeat of the enemy, and joined the ranks of the pursuers. But it was clear for anyone who had eyes to see that it was not man, but the Lord Himself who saved Israel that day.
However, a most untimely element is interjected by the selfish pride of Saul. He had nothing to do with the rout of the Philistines, but pronounces a curse on any of his soldiers who eat food that whole day until evening, in order, as he says, "that I may be avenged on mine enemies." How did he expect them to be sustained for the conflict? This is the same principle as that of telling the Lord's servant he is to concentrate on fighting the Lord's battles, and no to feed on the Word of God before doing so! One does not need to spend ALL his time eating, but if he does not digest the truth of God's Word he will be less effective in Christian warfare.
The people were greatly distressed by the cruel prohibition of Saul as regards eating food, but they did refrain from eating. However, in coming to a wooded area they found honey on the ground and dropping, evidently from a tree. To have eaten a little of this energizing food would have taken practically none of their time but though God had made the food easily obtainable, Saul's arbitrary command denied it to them. This is the same legal attitude of the Pharisees in criticizing the Lord for allowing His disciples to eat grain on the sabbath day (Luke 6:1-2). The Lord's answer shows God's heart of faithful care for men when they are hungry; for David and his men were allowed even to eat the showbread, which was not lawful under normal conditions (vs.3-4). But in his rigid legality, Saul did not even pretend to be acting for God, but for his own satisfaction in being avenged on his enemies.
Jonathan had been acting for God at the time Saul had pronounced his prohibition, so that he was not there to hear it. With the end of his rod he dipped honey from a honeycomb. In eating it, his eyes were enlightened, which certainly involves a revival of strength. Honey is typical of the ministry of the Word of God. Just as the worker bees digest the nectar before storing the honey for the use of all the hive, so believers, meditating on the Word, digest it before presenting it to others in ministry. A little of this sweetness can be a wonderful stimulation to strengthen the souls of saints for conflict. Is it not often the case that our eyes are enlightened by only a little God-given ministry from one who has himself digested the truth that he ministers?
Then Jonathan is told of the curse his father had pronounced. But added to this is the pertinent notice, "and the people were faint." Jonathan discerns that his father had troubled the land. His own eating of the honey proved his father wrong. He rightly replies therefore that if the people had been allowed to eat of the spoil of the enemy, they would have had strength to accomplish a much greater victory. The distance they traversed that day was between fifteen and twenty miles, if their rout had been direct, which likely it was not since engaged in battle on the way. Of course they were extremely faint when the evening came.
As soon as Saul's curse was lifted at evening, the people killed and ravenously ate the animals they had taken as spoil, not taking time to drain the blood from them, according to the commandment of God. This was reported to Saul, who was insensible to the fact that he himself had occasioned this disobedience to God, telling the people, "Ye have transgressed," and requiring them to roll a great stone to him, evidently upon which to slaughter the animals. Then the order was circulated among the people to bring their animals to Saul and kill them there, making sure the blood was shed. He could be meticulous in matters of this kind, while in other matters, just as serious, he could calmly ignore the rights of God.
At this time Saul built his first altar to the Lord. But why did he do so? Was it not because he had been avenged on HIS enemies? It was not for the sake of God's own glory among His people Israel but rather because he thought God had backed up his own self-importance in this victory. Is this not mere childish reasoning?
He becomes quite bold when he knows the Philistines are defeated, and proposes that they pursue them by night to accomplish what had been hindered by his senseless interdict. The people were not enthusiastic, telling him to do what seemed good to him. How different were their words to those of Jonathan's armor bearer in verse 7: "I am with thee according to thy heart." In this case the priest was apparently doubtful, and suggested that they inquire from God.
But God gave no answer to Saul's questioning. Certainly He had a wise reason for this, and allowed matters to develop just as He did in order to show Saul that he would not be able to do as he pleased just because he was king. It was necessary that Saul should be shown up as being wrong before the people. If he had taken this to heart, his ensuing history might have been different, but he ignored many danger signs that God put in his way.
Saul decided that God did not answer him because someone had sinned; so he adopted the method of Joshua in the case of Achan (Josh.7:16-18) in finding the offender; but ignored the question of the tribes: rather he put all the people on one side and only himself and Jonathan on the other. He must have strongly suspected Jonathan, for he declared that if the sin was in Jonathan he would surely die. Actually his own prohibition had been sin. Jonathan's eating of the honey was not sin at all. But God did not bring matters out in this way. Rather, in response to the casting of lots, God had Jonathan taken, in accordance with Saul's idea of what sin was.
In answer to Saul's demand as to what he had done, Jonathan did not even mention that he had not been present when Saul uttered his curse, but acknowledged that he had tasted a little honey with the end of his rod, and adds that for this he must die. In Achan's case, he had stolen and hid some valuable goods, knowing full well of GOD'S curse upon Jericho (Josh.8:20-21). Jonathan, being hungry, had eaten food that God had graciously put in his way. It was a perfectly normal and right thing to do. But Saul considered his foolish curse to be as serious as God's curse; and though Jonathan had been ignorant of it, Saul uses God's name to back up his cruel declaration that Jonathan must die.
However, God speaks through the people, who discern that Saul is breaking the bounds of honor and righteousness. They strongly insist that Jonathan, who had wrought for God in this great salvation of Israel, must not suffer on account of what was only his father's arrogance. They rescued Jonathan from so unjust a sentence. In this way God used the occasion for the humiliation of Saul before the people. Men very commonly use their position of authority just to get their own way, but God knows how to bring such men down, as He did with Nebuchadnezzar (Dan.4:29-33).
Of course at this time Saul retained no energy and little influence with the people to further press the pursuit of the Philistines, and the Philistines returned home, not anxious either to initiate further warfare at the time.
However, in Saul's taking the kingdom, we read in verse 47 of his fighting against five different enemies of Israel. Moab (meaning "what father?") speaks of the sensual, opulent, easy-going religion that settles down in smug self-complacency (Jer.48:11). Ammon (meaning "peoplish") is typical of false, satanic doctrine that gives the people the honor that belongs only to God. Its king was Nahash ("a serpent" -- 2 Sam.10:1-2).
Edom means the same as Adam ("red earth"), and pictures simply man in the flesh. Zobah means "a station" or "standing", apparently indicating the religious pride of having "arrived" at the ultimate end. The Philistines (meaning "wallowers") speak of formal religion with its mass of ritual in which men become swamped. However, Saul is not said to have defeated them, but only to have "vexed them."
On the other hand, because the Amalekites were spoiling Israel, Saul gathered an army and smote them, delivering Israel out of their hands. Amalek means "licking up," and speaks of the lusts of the flesh which continually threaten the people of God. Saul was given power from God to defeat that enemy, though in the next chapter he would not fully carry out God's judgment against Amalek and later on it was an Amalekite who reported to David that he had killed Saul (2 Sam.1:6-8).
Verse 49 tells us that Saul had three sons, Jonathan being evidently the eldest: Ishbosheth (Ishui) figures for a time in later history: of Melchi-shua we read very little. Two daughters are also mentioned, of whom we shall hear again. Nothing is told us of his wife except her name and her father's name, Ahimaaz. It seems doubtful that this was the same man who was a messenger for David, for Saul's father in law would likely be too old to be a runner at the time of the history of 2 Samuel 17:17 and 18:19-29. At this time, however, Saul's uncle (Abner) was captain of Saul's host. The names of his father and grandfather are mentioned. The Philistines were (at least for Saul) the major enemies, and war continued with them throughout Saul's reign. He never did fully subdue them. He always watched for strong men to add to his force.
God had a more solemn controversy with the Amalekites than with the Philistines. The mere formal worship typified by the Philistines is empty; but Amalekite "lusts of the flesh" are a deadly enemy that had afflicted Israel from the time of their leaving Egypt. Samuel reminds Saul that it was the Lord who had sent him to anoint Saul as king over Israel, and calls for his attention to the authoritative words of God.
God remembered the early attack of this bitter enemy of Israel (Ex.17:8), taking advantage of the feeble and faint and weary, who were the "stragglers" at the rear of the company (Deut.25:17-19). He had declared "I will utterly put out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven" (Ex.17:14).
Now that Israel had a king, God calls upon him to attack Amalek and completely destroy all that they have, not sparing man of woman, child or babe in arms, together with all their animals. Of course God would command no such thing in this present dispensation of His grace, but the iniquity of Amalek was such that destruction was the only righteous remedy. It may seem dreadful to kill little children, but at least they would be taken to heaven, while it would be a different matter if they were reared in bitter enmity against God and the truth of His Word.
The typical lesson for us also is most important. Since Amalek stands for the lusts of the flesh, then we should spare nothing of this cunning enemy that is always ready to attack us in underhand ways. This therefore involves the self-judgment that should at all times characterize the children of God.
Saul is able to amass a great army of 200,000, plus 10,000 men of Judah. When God gives commands, He opens the way for our carrying these out. Saul begins with a city of Amalek, waiting however to give opportunity for the Kenites to separate themselves from Amalek, for the Kenites were not the same people, and if associated with them would be exposed to the same judgment as they. The Kenites were of Midianite background (Judges 1:16; Ex.2:15-21), and friendly to Israel. They were evidently of the kind who could get along well with anyone, and therefore were in danger of making wrong friendship
Then God gives Saul a decisive victory over the Amalekites, and he "utterly destroyed all the people with the edge of the sword." This evidently refers to all that they were able to find, for we read of the Amalekites again in 1 Samuel 27:8 and 30:1. Of course the typical significance is that, however decisively we may judge the lusts of the flesh, they always have a way of springing up again, just as poisonous weeds.
But Saul and the people spared Agag, the king of the Amalekites and also the best of their domesticated animals. All that was of inferior quality they destroyed. This was a fatal blunder: mere natural thoughts enter in to take precedence over the express command of God. Of course Agag the king was the worst of all Amalek, the figurehead of all its opposition to God. His name means, "I will overtop." This signifies the pride of being who I am, which is at the base of all the evil of the lusts of the flesh. If this root is not judged, but merely some of the details of lustful things, then the evil is not rightly judged at all. The best of the animals speaks of those things that are the more refined lusts, not glaringly bad, but which can put on a nice appearance that deceives people into thinking they are not so bad.
God cannot let this pass. He speaks solemnly to Samuel, telling him He has repented of making Saul king because he has turned back from following the Lord, deliberately ignoring His clear commandments. The soul of Samuel is affected to its depths, and all night he cries to God in prayer. Of course his mourning over Saul was directly connected with his concern for God's people Israel. On the one hand, when a leader fails, there is a great tendency of accusing him. On the other hand, those who are more friendly with him are likely to excuse him. Neither of these attitudes is right. How much better to be like Samuel and to pray for those leaders who wrongly influence the people of God, rather than either defending them or becoming angry with them.
After praying all night Samuel rose early in the morning to go to meet Saul, and was informed that Saul came to Carmel where "he set him up a place" before going down to Gilgal. He knew it was right to return to Gilgal after a victory, for it speaks of the self-judgment of our own flesh, which must not be allowed to exalt itself because of a victory. But Saul exalted himself BEFORE going to Gilgal. His settling up "a place" shows that he wanted some public recognition, perhaps a monument, to the effect that he had gained this victory, before he would take the low place of attributing no credit to himself! Therefore, coming to Gilgal after setting up a place was really hypocrisy. Let us take this seriously to heart, for we too may easily become hypocritical in our claims of judging the flesh, while desiring the recognition of men.
On meeting Samuel, Saul uses impressive words that were empty so far as Samuel was concerned: "Blessed be thou of the Lord: I have performed the commandment of the Lord." He was evidently not at all prepared for the response of Samuel: "What meaneth then this bleating of the sheep in mine ears, and the lowing of the oxen which I hear?" But though Saul acknowledges that these have been taken from the Amalekites, he excuses himself by blaming the people of Israel for sparing the animals, but only the best, he adds, in order that they might be sacrificed to the Lord. Was Saul not king? Did he not give the people clear orders as from God that ALL the animals were to be destroyed? It is clearly evident that Saul agreed with the people's desire to spare the sheep and oxen.
Therefore Samuel speaks to him most solemnly, declaring to him the words the Lord had spoken. Saul is reminded that when he was little in his own sight the Lord anointed him as king of Israel. Did he no longer think he was little enough to be required to obey the word of God? The Lord had sent him to utterly destroy the confirmed enemies of God and of Israel. Samuel tells him plainly he did not obey the Word of God, but dared to "fly upon the spoil." God easily discerned that the motives were not those of genuine desire to sacrifice to Him, but motives of greed. Israel knew that if they offered peace offerings to God, the offerer would get a good share for himself.
In spite of the exposure, Saul protests that he actually had obeyed the Lord, had taken captive Agag, the Amalekite king, and had utterly destroyed the Amalekites. But why had he spared Agag? Was this obedience to God's word? Partial obedience is not obedience at all. Then a second time he tries to excuse the sparing of the sheep and oxen by blaming it on the people, but insisting that they did so with the object of sacrificing these to the Lord. But when God had given orders to him, then he was responsible to give the same orders to the people, and see that they were followed. God rightly makes him responsible for the whole matter.
Samuel therefore speaks as God had directed him, questioning Saul if the Lord has as great delight in offerings (even burnt offerings) and sacrifices as in obedience to His word. He answers the question himself, "Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams." When there is plain disobedience to God's word, then sacrificing is a mere pretense of honoring Him. But there is still stronger condemnation of this evil. "Rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness as iniquity and idolatry." One who is guilty of this is therefore opening the door for Satan, for he is virtually closing the door against God's word. This is the very reason for the flood of evil with which the world is filled today, which is all too sadly seen even in the professing church.
Then God's sentence against Saul is pronounced with irrevocable solemnity. Because he had rejected the word of the Lord (not merely that he had misunderstood it), then the Lord had rejected him from reigning as king of Israel. From this point on the matter was fully decided. While Saul continued to reign for some years after this, yet this was only because the sentence was held in abeyance. It is the same with all the governments of the world today. All have been already rejected by God, yet allowed to continue until God sees fit to remove them and give to the Lord Jesus His rightful authority over all creation.
After Samuel pronounces God's sentence against Saul, Saul finally confesses to Samuel, "I have sinned," adding that he had transgressed the commandment of the Lord and Samuel's words. He admits his fear of the people (which had more effect on him than the fear of God. No doubt it was true that the people wanted to take some of the spoil, and were able to influence Saul. But Saul had clearly heard the word of God. Perhaps the people had not heard this directly, but Saul was responsible to tell them absolutely that God required the utter destruction of animals as well as of people.
He asks Samuel to pardon his sin, and turn again with him, that he might worship the Lord. If there was repentance in this at all, it was very shallow. For true repentance involves willingness to bear the just results of one's sins, as in the case of the thief crucified with the Lord: "we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds" (Luke 23:41). It seems that Saul thought the mere admission of his sin would make everything clear, so that he could go on worshiping the Lord as though nothing had happened.
For this reason Samuel told him "I will not return with thee: for thou hast rejected the word of the Lord, and the Lord hath rejected thee from being king over Israel." This sentence would not change, and Saul must bow to it. As Samuel turned to leave, however, Saul took hold of the skirt of Samuel's mantle, tearing it. Evidently Saul was anxious lest Samuel's disapproval would discredit him in the eyes of the people. Samuel however uses this occasion to impress on Saul the truth he had told him, that the Lord had torn the kingdom of Israel from him and had given it to one better than he. He insisted that the Hope of Israel, the eternal God, would not lie, nor repent of passing this solemn sentence. He was not as a mere man, disposed to change His mind. Samuel would allow Saul no false impression as to this matter.
Saul repeats his confession, "I have sinned," and evidently realizes it as true that he will eventually lose his kingdom to another; yet for the present he urges Samuel, "honor me NOW before the elders of my people, and turn again with me that I may worship the Lord." Many since Saul have little taken to heart God's word as to the future because they are more concerned for present honor! Saul would hold on to his public position just as long as the Lord would allow him to. This of course is not true repentance as in the eyes of God. Honest repentance would have made him willing to step down immediately: had he done so he might have saved himself the pain of a sad public history.
Yet Samuel turned again after Saul, and Saul (at least outwardly) worshiped the Lord. No doubt Samuel was right in doing this, for Saul must be taught through painful experience and failure that he was far from qualified for the responsibilities of reigning over Israel. Just as Adam was allowed to live for years after God had passed the sentence of death, so, though Saul had forfeited his right to reign, the sentence was not carried out until later.
But if Saul had failed as regards Agag, Samuel would not. He is not influenced by the servile appearance of this king of Amalek, nor by his words, "Surely the bitterness of death is past." He firmly tells him, "As thy sword hath made women childless, so shall thy mother be childless among women." Then Samuel, old man though he was, "hewed Agag in pieces before the Lord in Gilgal." Solemn work for a man of God! But we too must allow no compromise with sin in the flesh.
Samuel returned to Ramah, and did not come to see Saul again, though Saul saw Samuel once more (ch.19:21-24). The last phrase, "the Lord repented Him that He had made Saul king over Israel," does not infer that God had made a mistake in doing so, but rather His regret because of Saul's proving himself unfit for this position. A similar expression is in Genesis 6:6: "it repented the Lord that He had made man on the earth." Certainly there was nothing morally wrong with what God had done, but His regret was because He felt deeply the sorrow of the consequences in both cases. Thank God that He has wisdom, power and grace to bring in afterwards what will far transcend the tragic failure of man and provide infinitely greater blessing in exchange!
Samuel's mourning for Saul was deep and real; nevertheless it must not be too long protracted. The Lord stirs him up now to some positive action. God has chosen a king from among the sons of Jesse, a Bethlehemite, and Samuel is told to go to anoint him. The boldness of Samuel's faith wavers for the moment. He had been firm and decided in telling Saul that another would take his place as king yet now he is apprehensive that his anointing David will antagonize Saul to the point of killing Samuel. The Lord graciously answers this by the provision of the sacrifice of an heifer. This was not deception, but protection of Samuel. On this occasion the most important thing was the sacrifice, not the anointing. God's honor must first be recognized, and the anointing was therefore sanctified by His presence. Samuel was told to call Jesse to the sacrifice, and to depend on God as to what to do and whom to anoint.
His coming to Bethlehem awakens fear among the elders of the town. Israel's disobedience. has left an uneasy conscience: they knew of Samuel's strong censure of Saul, and wonder if he has come to Bethlehem to take severe measures. But he answers them that he has come peacefully with the intention of sacrificing to the Lord, inviting them all to come to the sacrifice. He personally sanctified Jesse and his sons (by what process we are not told) and called them to the sacrifice. This was not a matter, however, for Jesse's family alone, for the elders of Bethlehem at least were also present.
Eliab, apparently Jesse's eldest son, seems to Samuel to be God's choice for king. He was evidently tall and of a commanding appearance (as was Saul). But Samuel had not learned his lesson well enough as regards the impressive appearance of man in the flesh. As the Lord tells him, this does not decide anything, for the Lord looks on the heart, not at what appears on the surface.
Jesse then presents Abinabab, evidently the second son, then Shammah, then the rest of his seven sons, no doubt in order of age. But the Lord makes it clear to Samuel that He has chosen none of them. Do we not see here an analogy of the Lord passing by all those men who are seen in the Old Testament, not one of them being God's choice for king? Jesse had not even considered his youngest son for such an honor, just as the Lord Jesus is the last man people think of as being the One to rule over them. The youngest was keeping the sheep. He was not considered of such significance to even be present at the sacrifice.
However, the typical meaning of keeping sheep is precious to God. This is in contrast to Saul who was looking for his father's donkeys, which he never found. God's thought of a king is to have one with a shepherd's heart, who would genuinely care for the people. Samuel insists on the youngest being called, for he too must have part with them when they sat down to eat. When he comes he is seen to be "ruddy," accustomed to the outdoors, "and besides of a lovely countenance and beautiful appearance." Of course this is intended to remind us of the beauty of the Lord Jesus. David's outward beauty was not the deciding factor, for God looks on the heart; but when the heart is right it is only normal that there should be outward beauty. Of course there may be genuine beauty where the natural man sees none. (Cf.Isaiah 53:2).
God gives His direct word to Samuel that this is His choice. Then Samuel "anointed him in the midst of his brethren." It was not a private matter such as the anointing of Saul (ch.9:27-10:1), for David was a man after God's heart, clearly a type of Christ, who is God's conclusive choice for King. From that time we are told that the Spirit of the Lord came upon David. This was a special empowering that God gave him to enable him to act in a manner and with a wisdom suitable to kingly dignity. It was not long after that the people discerned that David was more qualified to reign than was Saul, and Saul become apprehensive because of this (ch.18:6-18).
On the other hand, the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord troubled him. God had graciously given Saul His Spirit to enable him to properly function as a king, but Saul had rebelled against God's word, thinking he could rightly act independently of God. Therefore God removed His Spirit from him, to allow him to go ahead and act in his independent way.
Not only did God allow Saul to take his own headstrong way, but since Saul had refused the Spirit of God, he was left open to the opposite of this, an evil spirit. God allowed the evil spirit to trouble Saul in order to awaken him to the folly of his own self-will. Disobedience to God does not leave us in a merely negative state, but in a state of positive evil. This sobering fact ought to have driven Saul to seek the grace of God and to willingly give up his kingdom to the man of God's choice; but he stubbornly persisted in his evil course until his tragic death.
His servants discerned that it was God who had allowed this evil spirit to trouble Saul. Their solution is not to go to the root of the matter, but to treat its symptoms. This is characteristic of men's governments everywhere. A capable minstrel could so play the harp as to calm the spirit of the troubled king. Today we are acquainted with the well-known adage, "Music has charms to soothe the savage breast." There is no doubt that music is a wonderful provision of God for mankind, often rightly used, though also often badly abused.
At Saul's request for such a musician, one of his servants suggests a son of Jesse, who was none other than David, whom Samuel had anointed without Saul's knowledge. His credentials were of a high order. First, he was a skillful musician, secondly, a valiant man, thirdly, a man of war, fourthly, skilled in speech, fifthly, presentable in his person, and last, but most important, the Lord was with him. How clearly he is a type of Christ.
It must have been to Jesse and to David a striking sign of God's leading that Saul should require his service. In his coming he brings a present to Saul of bread, wine and a kid, all typical of Christ and His sacrifice. The character of David was such that Saul loved him greatly and employed him as his armor bearer. We shall see later, however, that his love was turned to virtual hatred when he realized that David was better qualified to be king than he was, specially as was discerned in the estimation of the women in their songs (ch.18:6-8).
At this time Saul asks Jesse that David may remain in his service; and the harping of David provides a soothing remedy for Saul's distress occasioned by the evil spirit. This music is typical of the sweet music of the ministry of the Word of God, the harp of ten strings reminding us that scripture provides a lovely range of truth that is all necessary for the proper instruction and guidance of men. The lowest notes may tell us of the depths of sorrow and anguish to which the Lord Jesus descended in pure love for us: the highest notes, of the great glory to which He has been exalted, above all heavens, causing the highest, purest joy. Between these there is a range of other notes, all adding to the glorious harmony of the Word of God. We must learn it well, if we are to use it well.
That Word, when listened to, does have an effect upon people even unsaved people, just as Saul was refreshed and improved in his spirit when David played, so even men of the world will find themselves quieted and calmed when listening to the sweet strains of the Word of God from the lips of one who knows it well. If this does not lead them by faith to received the Lord Jesus, the effect is only temporary, as was told by God to Ezekiel, "And behold you are to them like a sensual song by one who has a beautiful voice and plays well on an instrument; for they hear your words, but they do not practice them" (Ez.33:32 -- NASB).
In spite of this poor reception, the believer is to continue giving the ministry of the Word of God to all who will receive it. The Lord Jesus is the supreme example of this beautiful character. He continued speaking the Word to the people, even to Pharisees and scribes, as long as they would listen. David willingly played his harp for Saul when Saul desired it of him, though more than once Saul threw his javelin with the intention of killing David. Eventually he was driven from Saul's presence, however. His ministry of music did not accomplish such a work as to change the attitude of Saul. We may well be saddened that souls who often hear the Word of God and seem to be favorably affected by it may at last turn away from it. But God has been honored in the declaration of His Word: it will not return to Him void.
The time comes when both Saul and David are to be publicly proven as regards their fitness to rule over Israel. The Philistines, though previously defeated through Jonathan's faith, return to challenge Israel, but with a different approach. The armies of Israel occupy a height on one side of a valley and the Philistines similarly stationed on the other side. If one army wanted to attack, they would have to cross the valley and climb up the other side, which would put them at great disadvantage.
The Philistines had a man who was their champion, a giant from Gath named Goliath, whose height was over nine feet. His armour is mentioned, first his helmet of brass. This tells us that typically he has made his head (his mind) impervious to being influenced by the word of God; for "the god of this world has blinded the minds of them that believe not" (2 Cor.4:4). His whole body was similarly protected by armour of great weight, so that a sword in the hand of a weaker man would mean nothing. The size of his offensive weapon (his spear) is emphasized, both its shaft and its head. He could easily overreach any ordinary adversary and kill him before the other got within striking distance. He illustrates the stature and power of the well-trained controversialists of this world, the boasted strength of man in the flesh. He is well prepared too by the help of a man bearing a shield to go before him.
Goliath's challenge fills the hearts of the men of Israel (including Saul) with fear and dismay. He defies the armies of Israel, asking for one man to come and fight with him, and the whole issue of victory for either side would depend on which man killed the other. Even Saul, though head and shoulders above the rest of the people, was no match for the giant, and having rejected the Word of the Lord, he could expect no help from Him.
In verse 12 David is introduced again, with the reminder of whose son he was and his being the last of eight sons. The number 8 symbolizes a new beginning, just as the new covenant has set aside the old now that Christ has come. The three eldest sons of Jesse were in Saul's army, while David had returned home from Saul's service to shepherd his father's sheep. How long he was at home we are not told, but the giant continued to deliver his challenge to Israel every morning for forty days (v.16), before David returned to visit his brothers in army.
Verse 17 tells us that Jesse sent David with some provisions and a message to his brethren, just as God the Father sent His Son to Israel, His brethren in the flesh. At the time there was fighting continuing between Israel and the Philistines (v.19), though no one had accepted Goliath's challenge. David arrived as the army was in process of preparing to engage the enemy. He left all that he brought with him in the hands of an army steward, and ran immediately into the army to greet his brothers (v.22).
As they were talking together Goliath appeared, voicing his daily challenge against any man of Israel who would fight with him. This only made the men of Israel recoil in fear. Their words in verse 25 express this fear, but are an answer to David's question recorded in verse 26. David shows no fear of the giant in his questioning, for he asks, "Who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?" His formidable size makes no difference to David: when he defies God's armies, it is God whom he is defying. David is told that one who would fight and kill Goliath would be greatly enriched by the king, given the king's daughter as wife, and have his father's house made free in Israel. Perhaps this third reward was the reason for Saul's later inquiring as to whose son David was (v.58).
Goliath's defying of Israel surely reminds us of Satan's challenging God's authority among His people. It may be by means of ungodly men that Satan does this, as all history witnesses. David is a type of Christ, and also illustrates the work of Christ IN HIS PEOPLE during the present dispensation of grace when Christ is not reigning though having been anointed. David asked questions and also spoke plainly in his confession of "the living God" (v.26). This shows both humble wisdom and firm, decided faith.
David's questioning and his speaking for "the living God" awakened the animosity of his elder brother Eliab, who was evidently envious of David's having previously been anointed by Samuel. Eliab was not prepared to do anything by faith in regard to Goliath's challenge, and was not happy to think that his younger brother was suggesting taking positive action. He speaks insultingly to David, "Why have you come down? And with whom have you left those few sheep in the wilderness? I know your insolence and the wickedness of your heart: for you have come down in order to see the battle" (v.28 -- NASB).
David however uses a soft answer. He had come because his father had sent him: was there anything offensive in what he had done or said? So also the Lord Jesus did not respond angrily to Israel, his brethren according to the flesh, when they treated Him with unjust contempt. Yet He did not give up doing that for which God had sent him. We must not be intimidated by relatives or friends, no more than by enemies.
When Saul heard how David had been speaking among the people (v.31), he at least did not treat him with contempt: after forty days of Goliath's challenges he was ready to grasp any hope of having the giant defeated. He called for David, and David immediately told him that Israel may take courage: he would go and fight the Philistine. Saul objects that this was impossible for a youth like David, when Goliath was a practiced man of war. David had all the odds against him.
David's confidence was not shaken by this (v.34): he informed Saul of two occasions when he was keeping his father's sheep, one of a lion stealing a lamb, the other of a bear doing the same. In each case David pursued the animal, attacked it and took the lamb from its mouth. Then facing it head on he caught it by the beard and killed it. It is important for us to observe that David did not do this to show off his own strength: in fact there were likely no witnesses. It was his concern for the lamb that moved him, and God gave him strength on this account. If one has a shepherd's heart of love for the people of God, together with concern for the honor of God among His people, then he may fully count on God to enable him to defeat the power of ungodly enemies.
David therefore speaks with calm certainty (vs.36-37). The Philistine would suffer the same fate as the lion and the bear because he had defied the armies of the living God, not because David was more capable than he. The living God would certainly intervene in this case and deliver David. His confidence persuades Saul to give him permission to go, though Saul recognizes too that the Lord must be with him if he is to triumph.
Still, Saul thought it necessary that David should be protected by armour (v.38). this seemed only sensible, for Goliath was well armed. In fact Saul was willing to contribute his own armour for such a cause. It is no wonder, when it was put on David, that he was only encumbered by it. He was not accustomed to any such thing, let alone using the armour of a man so much bigger than he. God does not require human arrangements for the doing of His work.
David dispensed with the armour and took with him only a staff, a sling and five smooth stones in a shepherd's bag (v.40). The stones came from the brook, where they had been smoothed by the flow of water over a long period of time. The water is a well known type of the Word of God (Eph.5:26), and when it is running (or living) water, the energizing power of the Spirit of God is involved in it (John 7:38-39). Believers are said to be "living stones" (1 Peter 2:5), the stone being God's workmanship in contrast to bricks (Gen.11:3) which are man-made. These stones are smoothed by the action of the water, the Spirit of God applying the Word of God to the hearts of believers. When this is true, the believer becomes vitally identified with the Word he believers. This is proven by Mark 4:14: "The sower sows the Word," and Matthew 13:38: "The good seed are the children of the kingdom." Similarly the stone speaks of a believer, but as formed by the Word and Spirit of God, therefore each stone may be likened to a particular scripture that has become real to the heart of one who uses it.
David is far more well armed than would appear to people on the surface, just as one who has learned the Word of God is far better armed than one who is well versed in all the arguments of unbelief. When Goliath sees David approaching him without armour or sword, he speaks to him with haughty contempt (vs.41-44). Was he a dog that one should come to him with sticks? Cursing David by his own idolatrous gods, he tells him disdainfully that he will give his flesh to the birds of the air and to the beasts of the field. Wicked men or women can be extremely arrogant when they think they have no real opposition.
David's answer (vs.45-47) does not show anything of the same spirit, however, for he does not come with sword and spear as does Goliath, but in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel whom Goliath had defied. He speaks respectfully but firmly with the calm conviction that the Lord would deliver Goliath into David's hands to be killed and decapitated, and that the dead bodies of the Philistine
Jonathan, the son of Saul stands in refreshing contrast to his father. He was present when David returned to Saul. Doubtless David's victory had attracted Jonathan, but David's words decide him. When he had heard David he was drawn to love him as his own soul. How good it is if the work and the words of the Lord Jesus have such an effect on our own hearts! His WORK and His WORDS should always draw our attention to the beauty of His PERSON.
Verse 2 shows that Saul was evidently glad to employ David regularly as his servant after he had served him so well. But Jonathan did not think of David as a servant. Because he loved him as his own soul he made a most striking covenant with him. Nothing is said of David's side of the covenant, but Jonathan stripped himself of his robe and gave it to David. More than this, he gave him his garments, his sword, his bow and even his belt. This was a plain declaration that he was there and then turning over all his potential kingly rights to David. Rather than succeeding his father, he would gladly relinquish his rights to the throne to David. If Saul had only been wise enough to do this, how much less tragic would his history have been!
Yet it has been observed that nothing is said about Jonathan's shoes. Does this imply that, though he genuinely loved David and submitted to him, he reserved the right to have his feet go where he wanted? At least, when David was later an exile, Jonathan did not choose David's company, though he deeply sympathized with him (1 Sam.23:16-18). Instead, his feet took him into the company of his father Saul who was persecuting David, and Jonathan sadly died with Saul in battle (1 Sam.31:2-6).
For a short time at least Saul appreciated David's service. David (v.5) bore a witness of true devotion to the Lord, obediently going wherever Saul sent him and behaving himself wisely. His character and qualifications were such that Saul gave him a position over his men of war, and not only they, but all the people recognized his capability for this.
Verse 6 speaks of a time, evidently later, when David was returning from the slaughter of the Philistines, as the margin reads not simply his defeat of Goliath. Apparently David had been sent out and accomplished a clear victory in which Saul had little or no part. The Women coming to celebrate the victory with singing and dancing were not exactly diplomatic to sing in Saul's presence that Saul had slain his thousands and David his ten thousands. The tide of popular opinion was evidently turning in David's direction, and this alarmed and aggravated Saul. Samuel had told Saul that God would give his kingdom to another (1 Sam.15:28), and Saul discerns the signs that David may very well be the man. This was another opportunity for Saul to willingly abdicate and give the kingdom to David, but instead he watched David suspiciously for any signs that he might desire the throne. Of course, David himself showed no such inclination. It was only the facts of his character and ability that spoke to both Saul and the people.
David continued to serve Saul in cheerful subjection. Saul's jealousy of David gave occasion to the evil spirit from God to trouble Saul again in such a way that he prophesied (v.10). That prophecy was not from God, but from the evil spirit. To quiet this David again played with his harp for Saul. But this time it did not have a calming effect, just as the ministry of the Word of God eventually will not produce good effects after it has been given for some time and treated with indifference. Saul's previous love for David (1 Sam.16:21) turned to hatred, for he feared that David was more fitted to be Saul's master than his servant, and he was determined to keep the place of authority. Though he was afraid to fight against Goliath, he threw his javelin at David, intending to kill him (v.11) at a time when David was obediently serving him by playing his harp. This cowardly act itself proved Saul incompetent for his place of royal dignity. At this time David was able to dodge the javelin, and also on a later occasion. We might wonder at his returning to play for Saul after Saul's first attempt to kill him, but this proves the reality of David's faithfulness.
David's escape from Saul's javelins added to the evidence that the Lord was with David and not with Saul. This increased Saul's fear of him, so that he removed him to some distance, making him captain over a thousand men. But though absent from Saul's presence, David could not be hid from the eyes of the people. He "went out and came in before the people," which implies a clear, honest testimony: he had nothing to hide. We were before told that he behaved himself wisely (v.5), now it is added "in all his ways." This wise behaviour only increased Saul's fear of him rather than incurring his thankful respect, as was the case with the people. They loved David on this account, a perfectly normal and right reaction in contrast to the abnormal folly of jealousy.
Of course Saul knew that David was highly esteemed by the people, so he resorted to the subtlety of offering his older daughter Merab to David if David would prove himself valiant in fighting the Lord's battles (v.17). David surely had cause to be suspicious of this, for Saul had before promised his daughter to the man who would kill Goliath (ch.17:25). Saul hoped that David would be so venturesome in his fighting that he might be killed by the Philistines. However, David showed a humble spirit in protesting that he did not consider himself worthy to be the king's son-in-law.
The time came when David had proved himself equal to the task Saul had assigned to him and was therefore entitled to be married to Merab; but Saul again proved himself untrustworthy by giving Merab to another man (v.19). This may have been just as well so far as David was concerned, for there seems no indication that he had any love for Merab anyway.
Another of Saul's daughters, Michal, made it known that she loved David, and Saul was pleased about this, not because he thought of his daughter's happiness, but because this might lead to David's death (v.21)! He wanted his own daughter to be a snare to David. Deceitfully he commanded his servants to tell David, as though in private confidence, that Saul actually thought very highly of David and would be glad to have him as a son-in-law. David should have suspected this since Merab had been promised him and not given to him, but this seemed to be no question to him because he considered himself unworthy to be the king's son-in-law, being a poor man of no reputation (v.23).
King Saul used this to his advantage by instructing his servants to tell David he would not require any dowry except one hundred foreskins of the Philistines. This would not guarantee that the men would be killed, but evidently this was what Saul had in mind; and he expected that David would be killed in attempting to kill so many. But David doubled the number to two hundred, killing the men and bringing their foreskins to Saul. Saul could hardly then go back on his promise, and David was given Michal as his wife (v.27).
Though David was now Saul's son-in-law, this did not make Saul feel any more kindly toward him. Knowing that the Lord was with David and that Michal loved him only increased Saul's fear of David and his animosity against him. It is noted in verse 30 that the commanders of the Philistines went out, evidently with the object of attacking Israel, but in each case David behaved himself more wisely than all Saul's servants, so that his name became highly esteemed.
When Saul told Jonathan and all his servants to put David to death, no sensible servant would have approved of this. Jonathan however, positively loved David and warned him of Saul's intentions. Still, Jonathan thought He could reason with Saul and persuade him that David was not an enemy, but a true friend. He advised David to remain hidden from Saul, while Jonathan interceded for him with his father. Then Jonathan "spoke good of David to Saul his father" (v.4). How appropriate it is if we today will speak good of the Lord Jesus before others who oppose Him! He speaks of the negative fact that David had in no way harmed Saul, then of the positive fact that David's works had been very good, including venturing his life against Goliath, which had caused Saul and all Israel to rejoice.
Jonathan urges his father that, since he had himself rejoiced in David's victory over Goliath, he should surely not now change his mind and give orders for David's death. He tells him that this is sin against innocent blood, for there was no cause. Jonathan's reasoning is of course plain and right, and on this occasion has a good effect upon Saul. Not only does he give way but swears by the Lord that David would not be killed (v.6). Jonathan therefore brings David back again to his former position in Saul's company. We may be sure that David would be continually on his guard at this time, for experience would teach him to be cautious.
Another war takes place (v.8). David leads the armies of Israel, accomplishing a great victory, with many Philistines slaughtered, the rest retreating in confusion. Instead of this causing Saul to appreciate and honor David, it rather incurred his deeper jealousy. His real enemy was only his own pride which opened the door to the evil spirit to influence him hatefully toward David. Yet it is again made clear that the evil spirit could not do this without God's permission. God in His sovereign government allowed this because of Saul's stubbornness. Saul had refused God's Spirit, therefore he must learn by experience that he has actually chosen a spirit of evil. This experience ought to have awakened his conscience and driven him to the Lord, but he would not yield to God.
Again Saul threw his javelin at David, intending to kill him. What was the value of his sworn oath that David would not be killed (v.6)? This breaking of his oath shows Saul's painful incapacity for ruling over men. David was on guard, however, and again dodged the javelin and escaped from Saul's house (v.10).
Now he was not safe even in his own house. Michal knew that Saul had sent messengers to watch David's house through the night and she realized that Saul had given them orders to kill David in the morning. She warned him to escape during the night and let him down (perhaps with a rope) through a window. He was able to avoid being seen by Saul's servants and escaped for his life.
Michal, to gain time for David, had put a "teraphim" in David's bed (v.13). This was a image in human form, actually idolatrous yet too often used by Israelites alongside of the worship of God. Poor Michal! She did not know the power of God, nor did she have real faith in His faithfulness. She thought it necessary to at least partly trust in idols! but we all may too easily become adept at practicing deception.
Michal did not gain her desired end by telling Saul's messengers that David was sick. Saul was so determined to kill him quickly that he ordered his servants to bring David to Saul in his bed. Then of course they discovered the deception, and Saul was upset with his daughter because she had been helpful to her own husband! Instead of calling David HER HUSBAND, Saul calls him "my enemy," which was not true, for David had no enmity toward Saul. He demanded of her why she had let David escape.
Why did Michal not tell Saul frankly that she did not want her husband to be killed? Evidently her love for David took second place to her fear of Saul. For she lied to her father, telling him that David had threatened to kill her if she did not let him go. What pathetic weakness was this, in contrast to her brother Jonathan's bold defense of David before Saul (vs.4-5).
From this time David no longer served Saul in fighting his battles or in playing the harp for him. Mere jealousy had made Saul a cruel enemy of David, and David is practically driven away as a fugitive in the wilderness. He came to Samuel at Ramah and reported Saul's activities against him. Samuel does nothing about this, not even sending a reproof to Saul, nor interceding with him for David. He knew that Saul had committed himself to his senseless course, and nothing would stop him. For the time, David lived with Samuel at Naioth, in the vicinity of Ramah.
News of David's whereabouts reached Saul, who sent men to take him captive. However, they find Samuel in charge of a company of prophets, all of whom were prophesying. This was actually the work of the Spirit of God, who also influenced Saul's messengers to prophesy rather than to arrest David.
When Saul learned that his messengers had come under the power of God's prophetic Word, rather than having his conscience exercised to remember this had happened to him before (1 Sam.10:10), he sent more messengers to apprehend David. But they too prophesied when they came to Samuel. Therefore Saul sent another group, who were also affected in the same way.
But even this did not reach Saul's hardened conscience. Consequently he must learn by a humiliating experience. He went himself to Ramah, and asking directions found his way to Naioth where Samuel was, but before reaching Samuel he was laid hold of by the Spirit of God to prophesy as the others had. His weapons here were useless. In fact, he stripped off his clothes, at least his outer garments, and laid down without defense of any kind all that day and all night. God was showing Saul His superior power, not in judgment, but in kindness. Yet this rendered Saul helpless to do harm to David, for it was spiritual power. This ought to have spoken deeply to Saul's conscience, and also ought to have encouraged David to realize that God's sovereign hand could always be depended upon to provide protection for him.
David however was fearful of the very presence of Saul at Naioth. He left there and returned back to find Jonathan, apparently hoping to find some possibility of help in Jonathan's further interceding with his father. He asks Jonathan what reason Saul had for being determined to kill him. This could be justified only if David were guilty of serious iniquity. Jonathan cannot believe his father would go that far: if so, he would have let Jonathan know. But David insists that Saul is firmly set on killing him, but in this case has concealed it from Jonathan because he knows Jonathan is friendly with David. In fact, he assured Jonathan "there is but a step between me and death" (v.3).
Between them they agree to a test as to this matter. The following day was the new moon, when as a rule David was required to have meats with the king, evidently over a period of three days. David proposes to be absent, and would hide in the countryside, but asks Jonathan to excuse him to Saul by telling him that David asked permission to go to Bethlehem to attend a yearly sacrifice for his family. Of course this was deception, which we must not think of defending, but if Saul should be agreeable to David's absence, this would give confidence that he was not now holding the enmity that had surfaced more than once. If Saul became angry, this would indicate his intention of killing David (v.7).
In this case David entreats the kind consideration of Jonathan, telling him too that if he (David) was guilty of iniquity, he would rather have Jonathan kill him than Saul. But Jonathan's friendship for David was real, and he freshly assures him that if he knew Saul was purposed to kill him, he would certainly not conceal it from David.
David then asks how Jonathan would communicate to David the information as to what Saul's attitude was after he had tested him (v.10). In answer Jonathan takes him out to a field, no doubt a wooded area. There he invokes the witness of the Lord God of Israel, that whether Saul showed a favorable attitude or whether he showed a hostile attitude, Jonathan would faithfully let David know. In the latter case he would send David away in peace, desiring the blessing of the Lord to go with him. He also asks David's consideration of his (Jonathan's) family, that he would show kindness to them when God would cut off David's enemies and establish him as king over Israel. This takes the form of a covenant, with David giving his oath to Jonathan, which Jonathan desired because he loved David as his own soul (vs.16-17).
Jonathan anticipated that though David would be missed even the first day of the new moon, yet that Saul would make no issue of it until later, so that he arranges with David that he should be present at the stone Ezel, hidden, on the third day. On that day Jonathan would come to that vicinity with bow and arrows, and a young boy with him (v.20). Such practicing of archery would be quite normal and would raise no suspicions on the part of the people.
In sending a boy to find three arrows, Jonathan would shoot them either short of where the boy was or beyond him. If short, he would call out to the boy that the arrows were on this side of him. This would indicate that Saul's intentions against David fell short of his actually desiring to kill him. But if he called to the boy that the arrows were beyond him, this would inform David that Saul would not stop short of killing him if he had the opportunity. In this case the only wise course would be for David to leave.
The day of the new moon finds Saul's court gathered to eat together, the chief men present with him. When Saul saw David's place empty he missed him, but said nothing, thinking that David must have contracted some ceremonial defilement and therefore could not be present until he was ceremonially cleansed from this (v.26). It seems strange that it did not occur to him that David might feel he was not safe in Saul's presence, specially since Saul had threatened his life more that once.
The second day, however, Saul questions Jonathan as to why ""the son of Jesse" was not present either the first of second day. When Jonathan answers that David had earnestly asked leave to go to Bethlehem since his family observed a sacrifice at the time, Saul was infuriated. A matter like this ought to have caused no objection whatever, but Saul's outburst showed that he only wanted David there so that he could kill him. His vicious anger is directed against Jonathan whom he calls the "son of a perverse, rebellious woman." Jonathan himself was not characterized by perverse rebellion, and this was a most cruel way of describing Jonathan's mother. Saul's unreasonable tirade only exposes the folly of his own pride. It was true that Jonathan had chosen David in preference to himself. But this was not to Jonathan's confusion. Saul said this because Saul thought Jonathan would have the same pride as his father in wanting to reign. His insulting language shows that he is ignorant of the dignity becoming to a king (v.30).
Why was Saul so concerned that Jonathan would not be established as king so long as David was alive? Was it because Saul loved Jonathan? No, it was because he loved himself, for his own pride involved pride of his family name. Jonathan had showed that he was perfectly willing that David should be king, as God had decreed (ch.18:1-4). But Saul was so enraged that he demanded that Jonathan should send and bring David to Saul to be killed. It is the sad characteristic of this world's rulers that they would rather see Christ dead than taking the reins of government.
Jonathan was not a mere "yes-man", however: he protested with the question, "Why should he be slain? what has he done?" Saul had no answer for this except to allow his bad temper to rise to such a height as to throw a javelin at his own son (v.33). If he had killed Jonathan, then he would have fulfilled his own words that Jonathan would not be established as king.
We can only approve Jonathan's fierce anger against his father, for his motives were not selfish. He was grieved for David, that Saul should have so shameful an attitude toward him. Yet he did not retaliate or speak insulting words to Saul as Saul had to him. He did show his displeasure by leaving the table and not eating that day. This shows that one may have fierce anger without losing control of his temper. Today we know that many have the same unwarranted hatred toward the Lord Jesus as Saul had toward David. We should feel this, but should still control our own temper as regards the matter. The righteous "fierce anger" of the Lord is recorded often in scripture (Jer.4:8; 12:13; 25:37; 51:25 etc.)
The next morning (the third day) Jonathan took a boy with him out to the field at the time he had appointed with David (v.35), instructing the boy to find the arrows he shot. Shooting the arrow beyond him, he called out to the boy that the arrow was further. He shot more than the one arrow, for the boy obediently gathered up the arrows, whatever the number was, and brought them back to Jonathan. Jonathan then gave his bow and arrows to the boy and told him to return with them to the city. Though David had received his message, evidently Jonathan decided that he did not want David to leave without their speaking together.
When the boy who gathered up the arrows had gone, David came from his hiding place, fell on his face before Jonathan and bowed himself three times. Evidently David intended to show all due respect to King Saul through the person of his son Jonathan, and instead of being angered and resentful, would bow to the ordeal of being rejected and a fugitive (v.41). This spirit of true subjection to government is seen in perfection in the Lord Jesus, who did not resist though government was grossly unfair toward Him.
The cruelty of Saul, however, only strengthens the affections of Jonathan toward David. They kissed one another and wept "until David exceeded." As well as feeling the sorrow of his exile, David felt the pain of being separated from Jonathan. They part with the reminder to each other of their having sworn in the name of the Lord to remain faithful to one another and to each other's families, the Lord Himself being the Bond between them.
David came down to Nob, which was a cause of alarm to Ahimelech the priest, who asks why he had no man with him. It would seem from the history here that he had no-one identified with him, yet there must have been others in the vicinity who where with him, because the Lord Jesus, in commenting on this occasion, definitely speaks of "those that were with him (David)" (Mt.12:3). As he told Ahimelech, he evidently appointed his servants to a place in the area. Still, his words were not true that the king had sent him on some secret mission. He did not want Ahimelech to know of Saul's determination to kill him, for this might make him fear to show any evident kindness to David. Ahimelech was easily deceived by his words, however, and was persuaded to give David the used bread of the sanctuary. He did want to make sure that the men were ceremonially clean, and he took David's word for this (v.45).
Strictly speaking, it was unlawful for David and his men to eat this bread, for it was the property of priests only. But there are matters that make a difference. First, the priesthood had seriously failed in Israel. Secondly, the service of the tabernacle was in the wrong place, not the place God had chosen. Thirdly, the ark was not present. And fourthly, the true king was in exile and hungry because of persecution. This last matter alone was reason for Ahimelech's giving the bread to David. The question of genuine need takes precedence over mere formal exactness.
David also makes the point that the bread was "in a manner common, and the more so, because today (new) is hallowed in the vessels" (v.5 -- J.N.D.trans.). Fresh bread had just been put in the vessels of the sanctuary to replace that had been there before, so that David was not asking for the actual showbread, but what had been removed from the table. Only the priests were lawfully entitled to this, but due to the circumstances, Ahimelech rightly gave it to David. The Lord Jesus speaks approvingly of this in Matthew 12:3-4.
An ominous note is introduced at this point, however, concerning Doeg an Edomite, the chief of Saul's shepherds. He had been "detained before the Lord" in that place. Does the Lord not allow circumstances of this kind to take place in order to remind us that we have not first sought His own guidance before acting? For there is no indication that David asked for His leading. David knew Doeg was there (ch.22:22), and expected he would tell Saul. Could he not then have been more cautious in asking for bread while Doeg was aware of it?
Doeg also knew that David had asked and received the sword of Goliath (ch.22:9-10). David evidently did not stop to consider that it was unfair of him to endanger Ahimelech without Ahimelech's knowledge of the facts. But if we act without depending on the Lord for His guidance, we are likely to find ourselves exposed to further failure. He tells Ahimelech that because of the urgency of the king's business he had no weapons, and yet that he needed one. Goliath's sword was there wrapped in a cloth behind the ephod. This was no doubt kept as a reminder that it was God who had annulled the power of the enemy. Did David actually require the world's weapons for his protection? But he took it.
Leaving Ahimelech David went to Gath, where Goliath had lived! First, he accepts the world's weapon, then he descends to the world's level. This is the same devoted, bold man who had stood so faithfully for the Lord before. How easily we slip when faith begins to waver! In fact, he goes to Achish, the king of Gath, whose name means "only a man." How poor a substitute for "the living God" of whom David had spoken when Goliath challenged Israel (ch.17:26)! It was fear of Saul that moved him, however, the same Saul who had been afraid of Goliath, and was also afraid of David (ch.18:12).
The servants of Achish were alarmed at the presence of David there, and reminded their king that the song was sung in Israel to the effect that Saul had slain his thousands and David his ten thousands (v.11). They recognized that David was more entitled to be king of Israel than Saul was. They clearly saw the inconsistency of David's making friends with the Philistines when he had before consistently fought against them. David heard that these things were being said He was afraid of Saul, now he becomes afraid of Achish-- "only a man," though he had not been afraid of the giant Goliath who was of the same city. But again, he had not depended on God to lead him, and he finds himself descending further to the level of a humiliating deception (v.13), acting publicly like an insane man.
The Philistines might have detected the deception if they had been discerning enough. For it is not likely that one could be acting perfectly normal and then suddenly change to become totally insane, as he appeared to be. But when Achish, because of his servants words, had his attention more drawn to David and saw David acting like a madman, he was only disgusted and dismissed the whole matter as of no account (vs.14-15). This was the result that David apparently desired, that he might escape from there without hindrance.
David wrote Psalm 34 at this time, which shows that he was truly restored to the Lord. Verse 4 of that Psalm is particularly significant, "I sought the Lord and He heard me, and delivered me from all my fears." His painful experience was evidently profitable for him in that it drove him to the Lord. It seems therefore that the Lord guided him to escape to the cave Adullam. He did not have to remain lonely there for long. His reputation before the people could not but influence some to seek his leadership. His brothers (who were all older than he -- ch.16:11) and others of his father's house were attracted to take part with him in his exile.
Three other classes of people are mentioned as coming to him also: those who were in distress, those who were in debt and those who were discontented. This was not an elite gathering, but it illustrates the fact that necessity is often a large factor in people being drawn to take a stand for Christ when He is rejected, as in the present dispensation of the grace of God. Though it is true that we should not be guided by circumstances, yet God often orders our circumstances in such a way that we are driven by these people just as the Lord Jesus holds the place of leadership over His redeemed saints today. About 400 men were included in this company.
The history that follows proves that this group was not formed with any intention of opposing Saul, but rather because of their being attracted by respect for David. Believers today also must remember that our business is not to fight against established government, though it may be guilty of corrupt and unjust practices but rather to follow the Lord Jesus in personal devotion to Himself and to the truth of His word. David's parents being no longer young, would find exile with David a rigorous experience, and David was likely apprehensive that his parents would be in danger of persecution by Saul if they were in their own home. Therefore he took them to Moab (v.3), asking the king of Moab to keep them under his protection until David's circumstances were stabilized. This was not the resource of faith, but of natural expediency.
God intended David to learn by suffering: therefore the prophet Gad told David not to dwell in "the hold," the cave Adullam, but go into Judah, there to be more exposed to danger (v.5).
David with his 400 men could certainly not remain hidden. Saul hears of him at a time when Saul's servants are with him (v.6). Evidently he was suspicious that his own men might be induced to follow David, so he appeals to their natural greed. Would David give them fields and vineyards and make them captains of thousands and of hundreds? He accuses them of conspiring against him because they have not taken sides against Jonathan, his own son, whom he claims has been guilty of stirring up David against Saul. His language sounds like that of a petulant child, displeased because his men have not shown themselves sorry for him! It was not David who was stirred up against Saul, but Saul who had stirred himself up against David. But such is the twisted reasoning of self-centered men.
This gives occasion to Doeg the Edomite to deceitfully seek Saul's favor. Nor only did he inform Saul of David's visit to Ahimelech the priest, but embellished his account by adding the falsehood that Ahimelech had enquired of God for David (v.10). The fact that Saul employed an Edomite in a responsible position indicates a serious lack of discernment on Saul's part, and he ought to have known better than to accept his word without question. But Saul's unreasonable prejudice against David outweighed any sensible consideration of simple facts.
He summoned not only Ahimelech, but all his relatives, the priests who were at Nob, not to enquire if Doeg's words were true, but to unjustly accuse them all of conspiracy together with David against Saul. This was totally false, as was his assumption that what Ahimelech had done for David was with the motive of having David raise insurrection against Saul (v.13). Neither David nor Ahimelech had any such motives.
Ahimelech's answer (vs.14-15) was straightforward and honorable. He reminded the king that David had established a reputation of being a faithful servant of Saul, willingly taking orders from him. This was reason enough that Ahimelech should give him bread and a sword. However, he denied that he had even begun to enquire of God for David, for this was not true. Nor did he know anything of any friction existing between Saul and David. On the very face of things Ahimelech was thoroughly innocent.
However, the truth had no effect on Saul's cold blooded arrogance. He sentenced Ahimelech and all the priests to an immediate death, only because of his unreasoning fear and hatred of David. The soldiers, being ordered to kill the priests were sensible enough to disobey Saul's foolish command, particularly so because these men were priests of the Lord (v.17). The soldiers at least realized they would have to answer to the Lord for such an atrocious action: they were engaged to fight ENEMIES, not their own people Israel.
This does not bother the conscience of Doeg the Edomite, however. When Saul orders him to kill the priests, he gladly indulges in this cowardly slaughter, for none had a weapon to withstand him, and it is likely that he would as soon kill Israelite priests as anyone else. Yet, who can doubt that Saul's own conscience would afterward painfully accuse him for the awful guilt of the murder of 85 priests of the Lord?
However, it was not only this: Doeg's thirst for blood did not abate until he had gone through Nob, the city of the priests, killing both men and women, little children and domesticated animals (v.19). What honorable person in Israel would not be appalled at this indiscriminate wicked rampage of cold blooded murder? Being ordered by the king only increased the horror of it.
One son of Ahimelech escaped, however, and went to David, the only possible refuge at the time. When he gave the report to David of all that had transpired, David felt himself responsible for occasioning the death of the priests, for, as he said, he knew that Doeg would be an informer when he saw him at Nob (v.22). One wonders what David could have done to protect the priests, but no doubt he did not expect so great a slaughter as took place. The comforting words of David to Abiathar remind us of the Lord's care for those who take a place of rejection with Him: "Stay with me, do not be afraid, for he who seeks my life seeks your life: for you are safe with me" (v.23).
David remains devoted to his people Israel. It is disturbing to him to hear that the Philistines were fighting against Keilah and robbing grain from the threshing floors. Saul shows no concern for the welfare of these persecuted Israelites, but David enquires of the Lord as to whether he should attack the Philistines and save Keilah. The Lord's answer is definite and clear: they spoke of being afraid even where they were in hiding: how much more if they came into open warfare with the Philistines? Saul would certainly then know of his whereabouts.
David then goes back to enquire of God a second time (v.4). Evidently it was simply confirmation he desired in order to convince his men. The Lord's answer is positive: He would deliver the Philistines into David's hand. Therefore David and his men act on this word, attacking the Philistines at Keilah, winning a complete victory, gaining the spoil of their cattle and saving the inhabitants of the city from their oppressors.
Verse 6 intervenes here to tell us that Abiathar had brought an ephod with him when he had come to David. In this ephod (or tunic) was set the urim and thummim, the breastplate with its twelve precious stones. This had special significance in inquiring of God because in this ALL the tribes of Israel were represented. If any wanted God to show favoritism, the ephod was a rebuke to this, for God would do only what was right for the sake of ALL of the tribes, and would not take sides with one against another. We too today must remember never to ask God for something that is inconsistent with the unity of the entire body of Christ, the Church. This would be sectarianism of which God can never approve.
The report came to Saul that David was at Keilah, and Saul thinks that God was favoring him by putting David in that critical position where Saul could apprehend and kill him (v.7). This glib talk about God shows how seared his conscience was. He would not go to Keilah to save the people there from the Philistines, but he would take his army there to fight against David, who had been willing to fight for Keilah!
David however had well learned to be on guard. He called for Abiathar to bring the ephod in order to enquire of God. His prayer to the Lord tells us that Saul was willing to go so far as to destroy Keilah in order to kill David. David understood this, but wanted confirmation from God as to what might transpire. His first question is, would Saul come? God answers, Yes, he would come (v.11). Of course it is understood that his coming would be only because David was there. He questions then, would the men of Keilah give David and his men up to Saul'? The Lord answered, Yes, they would do so (v.12). Of course we see in this that their attitude to David was not as strong as their fear of Saul. Yet we can understand their very natural thoughts: It was either this or their city would be destroyed. Terrible alternative!
David realized that his only course therefore was to leave the inhabited area and find a dwelling for himself and his 600 men elsewhere. They would not be safe in any city: they must accept the status of fugitives. When Saul heard they had left Keilah, he did not go there (v.13), but tried every day to find where David was (v.14). David and his men found strongholds in the mountainous area of the wilderness of Ziph. It was no small thing for 600 men to remain hidden: they would have to be ceaselessly on guard.
Yet Jonathan knew where David was, possibly through a messenger sent to him by David. He went, evidently alone, and found David in the woods, where he "strengthened his hand in God" (v.10). David would certainly be grateful for this true hearted encouragement. Jonathan confidently assures him that Saul will not find him. He had no doubt that God's having had David anointed was an absolute promise that David would yet be king. He added however, "I shall be next unto thee." This was a sad mistake, for though Jonathan was devoted to David, he did not take the path of suffering with him, and later died with Saul. He said too, "that my father knoweth," indicating that Saul knew David was God's choice for king, though he was determined to prevent it if he could.
When Jonathan had come to encourage David in the woods, we are told they made a covenant before the Lord. This was likely a confirmation of a previous covenant of which David speaks in chapter 20:8. David remained a fugitive, however, but Jonathan went to his house, and there is no record that they ever had the joy of seeing one another again.
The Ziphites were not honorable men, and were willing to betray David in order to be in Saul's favor. They informed Saul of David's hiding in strongholds in their area (vs.19-20). David did not confine himself to one location, however, but they thought that if Saul came to seek him, they would be able to pinpoint his location for Saul. Saul's answer to them is despicable. He tells them they are blessed of the Lord because they were showing compassion to Saul (v.21). He was determined to show the opposite of compassion to David by murdering him. David was no threat to him whatever, but Saul considered them compassionate because they were willing to implicate themselves in the murder of David!
Saul however wanted more certainty of finding David, and urged them to obtain all the information they possibly could as to all the places David might be likely to hide (vs.22-23). He uses words in speaking to them that were only the figment of his imagination: "It is told me that he dealeth very subtly." Saul had himself dealt this way with David, but David's dealings with Saul had been frank and open until he had to flee for his life.
Saul did take advantage of the information he had received, however, to take his men with him to Ziph. When David heard this he changed his location to a rocky area of Maon. Saul gets information of this move, and pursues David at close proximity, evidently only a small mountain separating them. It seemed imminent that Saul and his men would surround David and his small company.
But God intervened. A messenger came to Saul to tell him that the Philistines had invaded the land (v.27). This was a jolting reminder to Saul that he ought to recognize who his actual enemies were. He had to leave in order to defend his own land. All this history had pertinent lessons for David. He had been on the verge of discovery and death. But God had decreed he would be king. There was no possibility that Saul would kill him. Did the Lord not put him directly in the face of danger in order to show him that the Lord is greater than all the circumstances, and therefore that David had no reason for fear, but every reason for unfaltering confidence in God? Should not we today -- every believer - have such living, practical faith in the living God?
The place was called Sela-hammalekoth, meaning "the rock of divisions." Divisions in Israel are not pleasant to contemplate, no more than they are in the Church of God, but when division was forced upon David, God could yet sustain him in maintaining a right attitude toward all Israel, just as He can do for believers who by necessity are separated from others whom they love. David then finds another place of dwelling at En-gedi ("fountain of the kid"), a place of refreshment, even though he was as a helpless, sensitive kid surrounded by beasts of prey
Having 600 men with him, David could not easily be hidden, and Saul gets the report of his being in the wilderness of En-gedi. Not being exactly a brave man himself, Saul required 3000 chosen men of Israel (five times as many men as were with David) to go with him to seek David and his men. Thus the army, maintained at the expense of the people of Israel, is used by their king, not for the benefit of Israel, but for the king's personal wicked enterprise! He would allow nothing to stand in the way of his killing David.
On his way Saul finds sheep-folds with a cave nearby. Likely the folds were build there because the cave would provide shelter for shepherds when they put their sheep in the folds for the night. Saul would of course not know how large the cave was. He left his men in order to have a nap in the cave. Certainly it was the Lord who arranged this, for David and his men were inside the cave. Little did Saul think he was putting himself into the hands of the man he considered his enemy!
When Saul entered the cave alone and lay down to sleep, some of David's men who were in the cave were in favor of killing Saul. They appealed to the fact that God had intimated that David would be king, but they interpret the facts in a way that was not precisely right (v.4). We have no record that God had told David He would deliver Saul into his hands, that David could do with him as seemed good. Yet there was no doubt that God had done this. To David's men it seemed good that he should kill Saul. If the tables had been reversed certainly Saul would have been glad to kill David. But David remembered to give respect to the man God had first anointed to be king. He would not kill him, though he cut off the skirt of his robe. Even then this was an irritation to his conscience: his heart smote him even because of this indignity done to God's anointed king.
There is a lesson here that every believer should learn. When we suffer unjustly it is natural (not spiritual) that we should want to retaliate. God may give us grace to resist this temptation, so that we are kept from any spirit of fighting for our own rights. Yet we may even then take advantage of an opportunity to expose our adversary to the eyes of others, so that they will know we are in the right. But if we are walking with God we should want to avoid even this. Faith can depend on Him to eventually bring everything to its proper level. It is wiser that we do not seek to put anyone in a bad light because of his opposition to us. If God exposes him, this is a different matter. David's words in verse 6 express the sober exercise of genuine faith. He still considered Saul to be his master and would not dare to harm him.
However, this occasion gives David opportunity for making a personal appeal to Saul. When Saul is a little distance away, David calls to him, "My lord the king" (v.8). Saul turned and David stooped and bowed himself as was befitting to his position as the king's servant. Then David asks why Saul was listening to men's words to the effect that David was seeking to harm Saul. David was letting Saul down easily in his saying this, because it was Saul's own imagination that had conceived these thoughts (though possibly others had dishonestly added fuel to the fire).
David further pressed on Saul what Saul knew was true, that though the Lord had delivered Saul into David's hand in the cave, yet David had not harmed him. He says that some had urged him to kill Saul, but he would not do this to the Lord's anointed. He shows Saul the skirt of his robe, emphasizing that in his only cutting this off he was proving he was not Saul's enemy, in spite of which Saul was seeking to kill him (v.11).
He appeals to the Lord as judge between them, and expects the Lord to avenge him rather than taking vengeance himself (v.12). He is decisive in saying, "my hand shall not be against thee." Quoting an ancient proverb, he tells Saul, "Out of the wicked comes forth wickedness." David would not stoop to practices of wickedness, though he does not say how Saul would be classified in application of the truth of this proverb!
In effect he tells Saul he was pursuing a dead dog or a flea, something from which he could expect not the slightest danger. His final appeal therefore is to the Lord to be judge in this matter and deliver David out of Saul's hand (v.15).
Saul's conscience is seriously affected. He calls David his son, and weeps. His confession to David seems sincere, though it is sad that later circumstances showed it to be all on the surface. He tells David he was more righteous than Saul, but this implied that Saul was righteous, only less so than David. Nevertheless he acknowledge that David had done good to him while he had done evil to David. This illustrates the fact that one who is not born of God is still capable of recognizing what is good in contrast to what is evil and capable also of acknowledging his own wrongs. He knew it was not natural for one to allow his enemy to go fully free when he had him in his power (v.19), so that the grace of David's heart was far superior to the vindictive attitude of Saul. He seems to mean it too when he expresses the desire that the Lord will reward David good for the good he had done to Saul. Yet he makes not the slightest suggestion that he himself would reward good to David!
Saul makes a most striking confession to David to the effect that he knew well that David would certainly be king, with the kingdom of Israel established under his rule (v.29). Samuel had told Saul that God had chosen another man to be king, and all the evidence pointed to David. If even at this time Saul had found grace to willingly give up his authority into the hand of David, how much brighter would have been the rest of his life! But though he knew David would eventually reign, Saul was determined to reign just as long as he could. Many men of the world know that the Lord Jesus Christ is the one ruler whom God has ordained to reign eventually, but they will not bow to Him now!
Selfishly Saul asked David to swear to him by the Lord that he would not cut off his family or destroy Saul's name out of Israel Why did he ask this? Because Saul himself had the desire to cut David off, and he expected that David might have the same attitude. The position was such that it ought to have been Saul swearing to David that he would not seek his life, but Saul's self-centeredness rendered him undiscerning as to the simplest moral principles. Yet David was willing to give his oath to Saul. He more than fulfilled this in his kindness to Mephibosheth when reigning (2 Sam.9).
Saul then goes home, making not even a suggestion that he would restore David to a place of honor in the kingdom. David also evidently had no confidence that Saul's attitude was permanently changed, for he returned to his refuge in the mountains.
David's moral victory over Saul and over his own natural instincts has been most admirable. However, in this chapter we see him showing just the opposite attitude. It seems hardly possible that this can be the same man. We are told first of Samuel's death, which involves a significant change in Israel. David no longer had the steadying influence of this man of God over him. All Israel mourned his death, for they no longer enjoyed his godly influence. But changes are inevitable, each succeeding set of circumstances testing us in a differing way. The many changes of David's life illustrates this strikingly for our learning.
In verse 2 we are introduced to Nabal, a man of great wealth, His name was not exactly complimentary, for it means "fool." One wonders what kind of parents would give him such a name. Having three thousand sheep as well as one thousand goats, the time had come for his shearing the sheep. This would be a great project with great monetary returns.
The contrast between Nabal and his wife is told us in verse 3. Her name Abigail means "father of joy," and her beautiful face also reflected a beautiful character. Nabal, however, was a harsh man whose actions were evil, a self-centered hedonist, in spite of the fact that he had descended from Caleb, a man of unusual godliness and devotion.
When David heard of Nabal's sheep shearing project, he felt it opportune to send ten young men to him to request some provisions of food (v.5). Of course Nabal was not under any legal obligation to David, though there was no doubt he ought to have felt himself under moral obligation. The young men were instructed to show fullest respect to Nabal, greeting him with peace toward himself, his house and all that he had. Nabal is to be reminded that while David and his men were in the same area as Nabal's shepherds, they had been a protection for them rather than stealing from them, as many armies would do. None were hurt, nor were any sheep missing. They suggest that Nabal ask his shepherds about this, to confirm it. In view of this they ask that Nabal should give them whatever provisions he may have readily available (v.8). The message was simple and respectful, and any right-minded man would have been considerate of them.
However, Nabal is only aroused with anger against them (v.10). He answers in the most insulting way, "Who is David? and who is the son of Jesse?" Then he speaks of him as a servant who has broken away from his master. This was not true, of course, but he was not interested in enquiring as to the truth.
Though Nabal asked who David was, he was not concerned to find out, for he was intensely self-centered. "Shall I then take MY bread and MY water and MY meat that I have slaughtered for MY shearers, and give to men whose origin I do not know?"
The young men return to David to report the way in which Nabal responded to their request (v.12). David without thinking of consulting the Lord, immediately decides to retaliate against the insulting treatment of Nabal, taking with him four hundred armed men. Nabal had not, like Saul, determined to kill David, yet David is ready to kill Nabal, though he would not kill Saul when he had opportunity. When people treat us in a haughty, contemptuous way, we far too easily give way to our own feelings of outrage, and are ready to take revenge. Yet when we take these matters into our own hands we are practically always exposed to the unrighteous reaction of doing WORSE to the offender than he did to us.
But the hand of God intervened in grace. He influenced one of Nabal's young servants to tell Abigail how Nabal had treated David's servants, not only refraining from oppressing them or taking from them, but acting as a wall of defense for them by night and day (v.16). He knew it would be expected that David would do something to avenge Nabal's insulting words, and discerned that both Nabal and all his household were in imminent danger. Evidently some of the servants had tried to reason with Nabal, but found that he was such a son of Belial (worthlessness) they could not speak to him.
Abigail was a woman of action. She had large provisions made up, of bread, wine, ready dressed sheep, corn, raisins and figs (v.18). She did not tell Nabal anything about it, but took enough servants to care for the donkeys that carried the food. She did not have to go far to meet David, who with his men was on the way to attack Nabal (v.20). He had given himself no time to calm down before acting. We are told in verse 21 that he had said that it was useless for him to have shown kindness to Nabal's men and possessions in the wilderness, for Nabal had only returned him evil for good. He was forgetting that he himself had returned good for evil to Saul. And now he had another opportunity to do the same to Nabal. Then he used God's name in invoking vengeance against the enemies of David, declaring that he would not leave one male alive of all the household of Nabal. We should think that at least he would make only Nabal suffer for his insulting words; but his temper was not allowing him to be discriminative.
How beautifully Abigail stands in contrast to both Nabal and to David on this occasion! She fell on her face before David, bowing to the ground (v.23); but the humility of her words goes further than that of her lowly attitude (v.24). For she tells David that she will take the blame for Nabal's evil, and she humbly asks David to hear what she has to say. Though Nabal was her husband, she would not conceal the truth as to his harsh character: she plainly admits him to be a man of Belial (worthlessness), telling David that his name, Nabal, meaning "fool" was descriptive of his character. she had not seen the men David sent, so did not know till afterward what had taken place.
In verse 26 she pleads with David on the basis that the Lord lives and that David's soul lives. Was it not evident that it was the Lord who had sent her in order to withhold David from killing to avenge himself with his own hand? She does not excuse Nabal, but expresses the desire that David's enemies and all that seek his harm should be as Nabal. What did she mean? Certainly not that they should prosper materially as Nabal had done, but rather that they should be left to God to deal with in His own way. David had left Saul in God's hand: now Nabal would be left there too. In fact, God dealt with him more quickly than David would have imagined. In this regard David's other enemies would be as Nabal. It seems this wise woman was speaking prophetically.
She entreats David to receive the supplies she has brought for the benefit of the young men who followed him (v.17), and asks that he would forgive HER trespass, for she was persuaded that the Lord would make David a sure house.
Abigail, in verse 28, shows the manifest faith that recognized David as the king of God's choice even while he was in exile. She knew that David was concerned about fighting the battles of the Lord, which was a contrast to Saul who thought only of fighting against his own enemies -- real or imagined (1 Sam.24:14).
She refers to Saul only as "a man" who had risen up against David to pursue him and to seek his life (v.29), but she expresses the unshaken confidence that David's life would be bound up in the bundle of the living with the Lord God. God would be his preserve and also his avenger, for He would sling out the life of David's enemies as from the hollow of a sling. Her prophetic insight was likely the result of her knowing something of God's having had David anointed by Samuel, for in verse 30 she refers to the fact that the Lord had spoken of good concerning David and speaks of it as to be positively fulfilled. Her unquestioning faith in the living God is refreshing to observe. She believed that David would in due time be installed by God as ruler of Israel.
With wise foresight she tells him that when he ascends the throne, he would be most thankful if he had no record of having shed blood without cause or of having taken the law into his own hands to avenge himself (v.31). If such a blot was on his past record, it would remain a great grief to his own heart. She concludes by asking him to remember her at the time the Lord would deal well with him. This reminds us of the words of the thief on the cross, "Lord remember me when You come in Your kingdom." (Luke 23:42 -- NKJV)
David had no alternative but to recognize that it was the Lord who had sent Abigail. He blessed God first for His great grace in this matter. Then he blesses Abigail's wise advice, and then Abigail herself, who had prevented David from carrying out his purpose of shedding blood and avenging himself with his own hand. For he tells her the terrible truth, that if she had not hurried to meet him, he and his men would have killed all the males of the household of Nabal He again emphasizes the fact that it was the Lord God of Israel who had kept him back from hurting Abigail by his purposed destruction of her household. Otherwise he would not have controlled his own temper until it was too late. David accepted from her the large gift of provisions she had brought with the assurance that he had accepted her person (v.35), that is, in her taking the responsibility for Nabal's insult, so that Nabal and his house were spared.
Returning to her home, Abigail found Nabal holding a feast, having become drunk (v.36). This is the way of the world. When an awful judgment was just about to fall on him suddenly, he was utterly insensible to his danger. So with no conscience about the past and no fear of the future, men immerse themselves in the self-indulgence while on the very verge of the devastating judgment of God! therefore said nothing to him that night, but waited until the morning.
Then she told him the full truth of what had taken place, her having taken large provisions to go to meet David, finding him on his way to Nabal's home with the full intention of killing all the males of his household. The foolish man had no anticipation of this, and when he heard it his heart died with him and he became as a stone (v.37). Evidently he was so terrified that he became as one paralyzed. But fear of judgment does not save a man's soul, nor does it soften his heart to respond to God: his heart became as hard as a stone. We are told concerning God in Romans 9:18: "whom He will be hardeneth." This is the result of one hardening his own heart. Whom does God will harden? Those who will not repent.
Only ten days later God took away Nabal's life (v.38). What control then did he have over all those things he had called his own (v.11)? We are certainly reminded here of God's words, "Vengeance is mine: I will repay, saith the Lord" (Romans12:19).
When David hears the news (v.39) he is afresh reminded of the great mercy of the Lord that had kept him back from the evil of avenging himself. He blessed God for taking this matter into His own capable hand. God rewarded the evil-doer himself and did not punish the men of his household, as David was ready to do.
From all of this experience with Nabal David also receives another wife. He sends messengers to Abigail, the widow of Nabal to ask that she be willing to marry him (v.40). There was no hesitation on Abigail's part. She was willing to leave her former wealth and identify herself with David in exile and danger. We know the reason for this: she had already expressed her unquestioning faith in God's promise to David that he would reign over Israel (vs.29-30). In view of this she feels herself worthy only of the most lowly service in David's household, "a maid to wash the feet of my lord's servants" (v.41). True faith and humility always go together. Bringing with her five maidens who attended her, she rides on a donkey to go to David (v.42), and became his wife.
We are not told what became of the property and possessions that had been her husband's. To her these were of no importance compared to her union with David, and David was not covetous of this great wealth.
Verse 43 tells us that David took another wife also, Ahinoam of Jezreel. This was not forbidden in the Old Testament, though it was never God's intention (which was that a man should cleave to his WIFE, not his wives -- Gen.2:24). As to Michal, Saul had unrighteously taken her from David and had given her to another man. Later David demanded of Ishbosheth that should be returned to him (2 Sam.3:14), which she was. But this was a mistake on David's part: why should he add her to those he had already? It is not surprising that he did not find her any more devoted afterward than she had been before (2 Samuel 6:20-23).
It seems tragically foolish on Saul's part that he should respond as he did to another message from the Ziphites to the effect that David was hiding in the hill country of Hachilah (v.1). He had told David only a short time before this, "I know well that thou shalt surely be king" (ch.24:20). Now he seems to have forgotten this and forgotten the kindness of David to him, and again takes three thousand chosen men to hunt David as a defenseless deer.
Of course David and his men knew the terrain, and they knew of Saul's coming to the area. David sent out spies to locate the exact position where Saul and his men would encamp for the night (v.4). He decides on a bold plan, but one as to which he could depend on God for His protection. He came with at least some of his men to an observation point where they could discern just where Saul was lying down to sleep in the midst of his men. Then he asks for a volunteer to accompany him into Saul's camp. Abishai immediately responds (v.6), and they go together.
Silently they pass by the men intended to be on watch and find no hindrance in coming to where Saul is sleeping. Abishai urges David to allow him to kill Saul immediately, telling him that God had delivered him into his hand (v.8). Yet David would not be guilty of harming God's anointed king. He had been ready to kill Nabal and his men, yet afterward realized that even this was wrong, though Nabal was in no place of authority. But it is good to see David's respect of authority that forbad any thought of his taking revenge against Saul. He assures Abishai that as truly as the Lord lives, they could depend on the Lord to remove Saul at His own time, whether (as with Nabal) it might be by a direct infliction of the Lord, by a normal type of natural death, or by death in warfare (v.10).
Instead of doing Saul any personal harm, they take away his spear and a vessel of water that was near his head. This is significant. The spear was his offensive weapon. Thus Saul was given evidence that the Lord knew how to deprive him of the ability to do the damage he desired to. The vessel of water being taken was to remind him that God could also take away the refreshment that he depended on. The water speaks of the word of God: it was this alone that could maintain Saul in his kingdom, though he did not recognize it. He would have to be deprived of it before realizing how he needed it.
Despite the presence of David and Abishai there, not one of the company of Saul woke up. This unusual matter is explained by God's intervention in causing a deep sleep to fall on them all (v.12).
Leaving Saul's camp, David and Abishai crossed over the valley to a hill, a good distance away. There David called loudly to Saul's camp, addressing Abner, the captain of Saul's army (v.14). When Abner responded, David told him that, though he was a great man in Israel, he had failed to guard the king, for someone had penetrated their ranks and could easily have destroyed Saul. Therefore, he says, both Abner and others with him deserved the death penalty. Was there any doubt of the truth of what he said? Let them observe that Saul's spear and the vessel of water were no longer where they had been, near his head.
Saul was wide awake by this time too, and recognized David's voice (v.17), though asking to be sure, "Is this thy voice, my son David?" In answering David maintained the same respect for Saul that he had always done, calling him, "my lord, 0 king." As he had pled with Saul in Chapter 24:9-15, 50 he does again, asking why he should pursue his servant, and what had David done to deserve this. Did David seek to do any evil to Saul?
In verse 19 he suggests two alternatives, either that the Lord had stirred up Saul against David, or that men had done so. If the first were true, would God not receive an offering to settle the matter? But if the second, then David considers such men accursed before the Lord, guilty of driving David out of God's inheritance, the place God had given him. Israel was the place where the true God was worshiped. If David could not remain in Israel, then he was driven to where false gods were worshiped. David did not mention a third alternative, which was likely the true one, that Saul was stirred up by his own jealousy and pride. This was tact on David's part, for he was as much as inferring that Saul could hardly be guilty of such cruelty apart from some outside influence. He pleads with Saul not to shed his blood. For the king of Israel was hunting one who was no more danger to him than a flea or a partridge.
As had been the case in chapter 24:16-19, Saul's conscience was seriously affected, and ought to be. He tells David, "I have sinned," just as he had said to Samuel in chapter 15:24. He adds, "Return, my son David, for I will harm you no more, because my life was precious in your eyes this day. In deed, I have played the fool and erred exceedingly" (v.21). When Saul's guilt has been brought to his attention by means of such a shaking experience, he cannot but see how foolish his course has been.
However, David is by no means persuaded that he should return to Saul. Experience had taught him that Saul's considerate times were only temporary, in spite of the fact that all of Saul's army bore witness to what was said. David would not even bring Saul's spear to him, but asked that one of Saul's young men would come for it. He leaves a message with Saul that ought to have had telling effect, that the Lord would repay everyone for his righteousness and his faithfulness (v.23). This was true, for God did repay David for this; but David did not need to mention God's repayment of bad actions. Saul was not so obtuse that he would fail to think of this too.
Verse 24 shows that David did not expect any radical change in Saul's attitude. Rather than asking for Saul's ceasing his opposition to David, he appeals to God's protection in the midst of danger. Just as he had shown very real respect for the life of Saul so he desires that God might have respect for his own life, and deliver him from all tribulation.
Both David's action and his words have such effect that Saul responds by blessing him and declaring, "You shall both do great things and also still prevail." Saul knew this was true. Why did he not then and there decide to give up his throne to David? but he passed by this last opportunity of delivering himself from the folly of his own ambitious pride, and decided to continue his downward course toward fatal ruin. How can there be a reconciliation between the world and the Lord Jesus Christ so long as the world, though it knows it is wrong, is determined to insist on its own authority and refuse to bow to Him who alone is worthy of all authority? David and Saul go their separate ways.
So soon after David's admirable moral victory in Chapter 26, it is sad to see his faith wavering in his decision "to escape to the land of the Philistines." Did he not remember his experience with Achish, king of Gath, some time before (ch.21:10-15)? He was quite sure that Saul would hunt him again and thinks he might be likely killed by Saul. But he had appealed to God. Could he not therefore depend on God to preserve him? He makes his decision to go to Gath because it seemed to him there was nothing better for him (v.1). How much better it would have been if he had enquired of God what to do, depending fully upon God's leading! But he goes to Achish, whose name means "only a man!"
He had before overcome the power of Goliath of Gath. Now he becomes friendly with Goliath's city. We too may at one time have gained a clear victory over the world, then later become friendly with it because of weakening faith. He takes his 600 men with him: others are thus wrongly influenced by his lack of faith, including families of all these. We may wonder why Achish and his people were not alarmed by an army of 600 Israelites coming to stay in their city. The servants of Achish before protested to him because David had come alone (ch.21:11). Likely some at least had misgivings, but Achish appears to be rather naive.
When Saul heard that David had gone to Gath, he no longer sought him (v.4). Having gone that far, David did not pose such a threat to Saul's comfort. What a lesson there is for us here, that while leaving the ground of testimony for God may avoid Satan's direct persecution, yet the deceit involved in this lack of faith will reap a painful harvest, as David eventually learns.
We have before seen that David's character was commendable, and he was soon able to gain the favor of Achish. Therefore he asks Achish to allow him to reside in a smaller town that was apparently under the jurisdiction of Gath, but a distance away. In suggesting this he inferred that his presence in Gath might tend to detract from the honor of the king in the royal city (v.5).
Achish willingly complied, and gave David the town of Ziklag. David's proportion of the population of the town. Here at least David was not threatened by Saul, and he remained there for a year and four months (v.7), until Saul was killed in battle.
However, David was far from idle during his time there. He maintained a warfare that he was able to keep secret from Achish for all that time. He was apparently satisfied with the fact of his outwardly fighting the battles of the Lord, for the invasions he made were against the enemies of Israel who had remained in the land after Israel ought to have destroyed them, -- the Geshurites, Gezrites and Amalekites (v.8). This will often be true of God's people when they are not in genuine communion with the Lord. They try to make up for it by outward zeal in fighting the Lord's battles.
David and his men totally destroyed these people at least in the areas that they attacked, and took great spoil in the way of domestic animals and clothing (v.9). Returning to Achish, who asked him where he had gone, David lied to him, telling him that they had attacked the south of Judah, of the Jerahmeelites and of the Kenites. These latter two were friendly to Judah and Israel, so that Achish thought David had turned fully against his own nation.
Verse 11 tells us that David did not take any captives or allow any of these enemies to live, not because it was God's command, but because he did not want anyone to bring a true report to Achish of what had actually happened. It seems strange that he could keep up such deception for so long a time.
Achish was completely deceived. He believed that David had so antagonized his own people Israel that he would be the servant of Achish forever. How sad that we should ever leave the impression with anyone that we are on the world's side rather that linked with the people of God! But if instead of being led by the Lord in obedience to His word, we leave the place of obedience, we shall soon find that being in the wrong place leads to further disobedience, just as Abram, in going down to Egypt, thought it necessary to practice deception (Gen.12:11-13).
The inevitable conflict between Israel and the Philistines arises again, and David finds himself in an unpleasant situation Achish tells him that he and his men must accompany Achish to fight against Israel. Could he possibly do this? No! Could he explain this to Achish? Nol Instead he answers him In a way that sounded favorable to Achish, but did not commit himself one way or the other. He told him, "You shall know what your servant can do" (v.2). This sounded so enthusiastic to Achish that he promised to make David his bodyguard forever. David never did take this promotion.
SAUL'S VISIT TO A SPIRIT MEDIUM
We are reminded In verse 3 that Samuel had died and was buried with the lamentation of all Israel. Also Saul, likely out of respect for Samuel, had outlawed the practice of spiritism In Israel. Saul had before rejected the Word of the Lord. and now he has no help from Samuel. What is he to do? The Philistines have come to fight against Israel (vs.4-5) and their number and apparent power dismays Saul. He knows he himself is not equal to the occasion, and he needs some kind of help. He enquired of the Lord and received no answer, whether by urim (priestly intercession) or by prophets, What right did he have to the Lord's direction when he had refused the Lord's Word?
Therefore he goes contrary to his own legislation against sorcery and asks his servants to find for him a woman (not a man) who had contact with a familiar spirit (v.7). They knew there was such a woman at En-dor who was still practicing. In spite of Saul's ban, people must have been commonly aware of her unlawful trade.
In order to visit the woman Saul disguises himself. How sadly degraded tor a king of Israeli But tie needed supernatural help, and since he had refused the Word of God he desperately seeks help from demonic sources. He took two men with him and went by night, for he wanted no-one to suspect his consulting a spirit medium. Since that time, and even recently, there have been other heads of government who realized their own human limitations and have consulted mediums because they had no confidence In God's Word,
He asks the woman to bring up for him a person who had died. This is what mediums profess to do. But it Is false. They only contact an evil spirit who impersonates the dead person's. The spirit knows something of the dead person's past, and may refer to this to persuade the inquirer that he is actually the dead person.
The woman Is on guard and suspicious that this was a trap by which to find her guilty of practicing spiritism and to have her put to death (v.9). She reminds him that Saul had cut off the spiritists and wizards out of Israel, which of course put her in danger for practicing.
However, Saul's conscience Is so deadened that he even Invokes the name of the Lord in swearing to her that she will not incur any punishment for her unlawful services in this case (v.10);
He asks her to bring up Samuel, but when she saw Samuel come up, she was shocked and cried out. Why was this? She did not expect Samuel himself, but the evil spirit to which she was accustomed. Immediately she knew that it was King Saul who was her customer. The fact is that God had intervened in this exceptional case, and actually allowed Samuel to come up. The woman asks Saul why he had deceived her (v.12).
But Saul was not there to trap her. He tells her not to be afraid, and asks what she has seen. She answers that she saw a god ascending out of the earth (v.13) Saul asks as to the form of the apparition she sees (v.14). She tells him it is an old man covered with a mantle. Saul perceived it was indeed Samuel, and stooped and bowed before him, a mere show of servility.
Samuel asks why Saul had disquieted him to bring him up (v.15). This case was extraordinary, but Samuel's question shows that any effort to contact people who have died is an effort to disquiet them. In this exceptional case God allowed Samuel to be disquieted. Saul tells him of his great distress because the Philistines were waging war against him and he could no longer find any help from God.. He apparently thinks that Samuel might be more Indulgent than God is and asked for Samuel's advice,
Samuel does not answer Saul's problem in the way that an evil spirit would have. An evil spirit speaking by means of a medium, always gives messages of a nice, pampering kind that are intended to make the enquirer feel good. But Samuel frankly, honestly tells of the inconsistency of Saul's enquiring of Samuel when the Lord had departed from him (v.16). Samuel was the Lord's servant and would fully concur with what the Lord said and did. He reminds Saul, therefore, of how the Lord had spoken by him before, that the Lord would take the kingdom from Saul and give it to another man. This time he tells him that David is that man. Saul knew this without being told, yet was putting off the day as long as he could.
But Saul's time had come. Samuel repeats what he had told Saul before, that, because Saul had disobeyed God's express command concerning Amalek therefore he could expect to lose the kingdom. In fact, Samuel tells him, "the Lord has done this thing to you today" (v.18). Samuel gave Saul no advice as to what to do but left him in his own hopeless confusion.
More than that, he tells him that the Lord would deliver Israel and Saul into the hands of the Philistines, and the next day Saul and his sons would be with Samuel (v.19). Saul knew that Samuel meant that Saul would die. He does not at all refer to the question of whether he and his sons would be in heaven or in torment. Saul had not shown any clear signs of being a believer, and no unbeliever will be in heaven. His son Jonathan was evidently a true believer. As well as Saul and his sons being killed in battle, God would cause the whole army of Israel to be defeated by the Philistines.
What a shock for Saul! There is not the slightest ray of hope to lighten his darkness. He only felt the worse for consulting the spirit medium. Tall and strong as he was, he fell to the ground in terror (v.20). He had refused the Word of God. Now he has to face the results of his own folly and is not prepared. What a picture of those who dare to dismiss God from their lives, then come to the end, having nothing whatever to depend upon! He had not eaten, evidently thinking that fasting would gain him some favor with God.
This was probably the most distressing case the woman had ever seen. She reminds Saul that she had put her life in her hands by doing what he wanted. Now she asks him to consider her advice and take some food in order to be strengthened (v.22). The best she can offer is what will give him physical strength in order to go to meet his doom!
Saul refused to eat. Evidently he was too disturbed to even desire food. But the insistence of both the woman and Saul's servants prevailed, and Saul go up from the ground and sat on the bed. The woman's house was apparently sparsely furnished, but she had food to give him, a fat calf which she killed, and flour that provided means of baking unleavened bread (v.24). This reminds us of Abraham's provision for the Lord and the two angels (Gen.18:6-8), but how totally in contrast were circumstances!
Saul and his servants ate, then left that night to return to the camp of Israel. We are not told whether they paid the woman for her services. However, this whole history should persuade us that there is no value in trying to find out what may transpire in our lives in the future. God may be trusted for this.
There is in all of this also a dispensational application that is of deepest interest. The Lord Jesus told the scribes and Pharisees, "When an unclean spirit goes out of a man, he goes through dry places seeking rest, and finds none. Then he says, 'I will return to my house from which I came.' And when he comes, he finds it empty, swept, and put in order. Then he goes and takes with him seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter and dwell there, and the last state of that man is worse than the first. So shall it be with this wicked generation" (Mt.12:43-45). Just as Saul got rid of spirit mediums, so Israel had, at the time the Lord spoke, outwardly outlawed idolatry. But since they have not received Christ they are left empty, swept, and outwardly improved, and in the time of great tribulation the evil spirit will return and with it an infestation of even more wicked spirits, so that Israel's last state will call for the solemn judgment of God.
The events of this chapter apparently took place before Saul's visit to the witch of En-dor, for Saul was killed the day following that visit (ch.28:19), and the battle in which he was killed did not take place until after David's defeat of the Amalekites recorded in chapter 30:16-20.
In verse 1 the Philistines and Israel are seen preparing for battle. As the armies were marching in their various units, David and his men are seen marching with Achish. This alarms the leaders of the Philistines, who demand, "What are these Hebrews doing here?" (v.3). Achish is fully ready to defend David, telling them that David had been with him for many days, in fact amounting to years, and Achish had found nothing to blame him for. (If Achish had known the truth, he would not have been so confident!)
The princes of the Philistines were understandably angry at the very suggestion of a Jewish unit present when they were fighting against Jews. They absolutely insist that David be not permitted to go with them (v.4). As they say, would this not be an ideal opportunity for David to turn and fight against the Philistines in order to reconcile himself to Saul? They did not forget what was common knowledge that in dancing and celebrating, Israel had sung that Saul had killed his thousands and David his ten thousands (v.5).
Achish had no alternative. Calling David, he told him that though he himself fully approved of David personally and wanted him to accompany him to the battle, nevertheless the Philistine rulers were opposed to this (v.6). Therefore he asks David and his men to leave. David certainly had reason to be most thankful to God for this turn of events, but he did not want to give that impression to Achish. Deceitfully he protested, asking what he had done to disqualify him from going to "fight against the enemies of my lord the king" (v.8). If Achish had known what David had done, he would have had a convincing answer! Notice that David does not expressly speak of fighting against the enemies of Achish, but against those of "my lord the king." Achish of course thought that David meant the former, but he did not know that David still considered Saul to be his lord the king (ch.26:17). But David was in a compromising position from which God graciously gave him a convenient release.
Achish repeats his commendation of David in verse 9, and his word as to the attitude of the princes of the Philistines. Therefore he asks him to leave early in the morning with his men (v.10). David would certainly be greatly relieved as he acceded to this and left to return to Ziklag.
Returning to Ziklag, David and his men find themselves described by the meaning of Zikiag's name, "enveloped in grief." They had been at least some days away, and the Amalekites had invaded the land, sacking Zikiag and burning it. They had not killed the women and children, but had taken them captive (v.2). David had before attacked the Amalekites in a certain area at least and killed men, women and children (ch.27:8-9). Likely other remaining Amalekites would hear of it, so that this attack could have been in reprisal. At any rate, David had not been caring for his own city, but was on an ill-advised trip with Achish. This is a spiritually important lesson for us. When we are not properly on guard and in communion with the Lord, the lusts of the flesh (of which Amalek speaks) will almost certainly take advantage of us. This will not result in the total destruction of a believer, but will rob away from him much of that with God has entrusted him.
David and his men were so overcome with grief that they wept until they could weep no longer (v.4). It is mentioned too that David's wives, along with all others, had been taken captive (v.5). But David's distress was increased when the grief of his men turns to anger against him. They would easily point to David's wasting time in a useless trip which Achish, and being grieved at the loss of their families, they consider stoning David to death! Of course this would help nothing. Men similarly talk against God for allowing their enemies to harm them. In that case, it is totally unjust, and certainly of no help. But David turned to the Lord in his need. (v.6). This was the one source of real help.
David asks Abiathar the priest to bring the ephod. This was the garment the high priest wore over his robe. In the ephod was the breastplate containing the urim and thummin, the twelve precious stones, each of which symbolized a tribe of Israel (Ex.28:6-21). It was used for enquiring from God. The twelve stones emphasize the vital truth that God will only answer on the basis of his love and care for ALL Israel, not from any sectarian viewpoint, as though favoring one person or another. Saul could not rightly use it for it was not Israel that he loved, but himself. It may be that Abiathar himself wore it when David enquired of the Lord.
It is good to see David so inquiring. He did not do so in the case of Nabal (ch.25:12-13), and was preserved from acting rashly only by God's grace in working in Abigail's heart. This time God answers his inquiry as to pursuing the Amalekites by assuring him that he would not only overtake them, but would recover all that had been taken.
They could therefore go with full confidence in the living God David's six hundred men went with him only as far as the brook Besor, where two hundred remained behind because they were tired out (v.9). The other four hundred, in pursuing, found an Egyptian man in an exhausted condition, and brought him to David. They first gave him bread and water, a piece of a cake of figs and two clusters of raisins, then found out that he had been without food and water for three days (vs.11-12). The man was welcomed and fed before they questioned him. This is a refreshing picture of the grace of God. The fact of one's need is enough to entitle him to a free salvation. Abundance of grace is waiting for those who know themselves to be in real need. Christ has already died for them and risen again. He is "the bread of life" (John 6:35), available for every hungry heart, and He gives "the water of life" freely to anyone who desires it (Rev.22:17). That water is the Spirit of God (John 7:37-39) who applies the Word of God to the one who realizes his need of it (Eph.5:26). The figs and raisins indicate that the grace of God abounds beyond our actual need.
The man being revived, David questioned him, "To whom do you belong? and where are you from?" Every sinner on earth should be prepared to honestly answer these questions. If so, their answer would be similar to the answers of this man. "I am a young man of Egypt" (v.13). We know that Egypt is a type of the world in its independence of God. Typically then the men is saying, "I am a young man of the world." More than that, he adds, "servant to an Amalekite." Typically this means "servant to the lusts of the flesh." How many in the world today does this describe! They have never been freed from their bondage to sin.
His master had no care for him personally. When he became sick, his master left him lying in a field. Thus many become slaves to sin, to drink, to drugs, etc., and find themselves alone and destitute, hopelessly lost. The one true resource for them is the grace of God in Christ Jesus, who can save the guiltiest and lift them out of their miserable condition.
In verse 14 the man frankly confesses his part in the invasion the Amalekites had made in the land of the Cherethites, of Judah and Caleb, and in the burning of Zikiag. The confession of who he was and to whom he belonged, together with a confession of what he had done, illustrates the proper attitude of one who comes to the Lord Jesus for salvation. He hides nothing, but simply tells the truth, though it may hurt him to do so.
David then asks the man if he will bring him down to this band of the Amalekites (v.15). This is similar to the Lord asking a newly converted person if he will bring Christ to his former friends. The man agreed only on condition that David would swear to him by God that he would not kill him and would not give him back into the hands of his master. We do not need to be told that David gave him this assurance. God gives similar assurance to all who trust the Lord Jesus as Savior. The words of the Lord Jesus are, "they shall never perish" (John 10:28). Also, Romans 8:14 assures the believer, "sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under the law, but under grace."
The day has come for Saul to descend into battle and die. The Philistines fight against Israel and find no resistance. We know that Saul was totally demoralized and could only expect that his armies would share the same hopeless fear. Israel fled before the enemy and the Philistines were able to slaughter them indiscriminately. In pursuing Israel (v.2) they killed three of Saul's sons (ch.14:49), as Samuel had foretold (ch.28:19). Ishbosheth was a son not mentioned before. Likely he was a younger son, but he had no energy nor capacity to be king, though Abner tried to install him in this place later (2 Sam.2:8).
Saul was badly wounded by an arrow. There was no compassionate stretcher bearer to carry him away, and his armour bearer was unable to do anything to help him. Therefore he urged his armour bearer to put him to death, for he feared the mockery of the Philistines when they found him. How pathetic is his utter absence of faith in the God of Israel! He would choose a death of dark hopelessness rather than to endure mockery from his enemies. But his armour bearer had more respect for the throne of Israel than to kill the king: he was rightly afraid of doing such a thing. Saul then deliberately committed suicide by falling on a sword.
This whole picture is most solemn to consider. Saul was orthodox, correct in a formal way, requiring legal outward obedience to God, -- though compromising this when his own interests were involved. To him the things of God were formal, not vital. No wonder then that he is destroyed by Philistines, the very type of formality in religion, but also by his own hand, indicating that our disobedience to God is really what destroys us. But in Jonathan's case, he MIXED his reality with formal conformity to Saul, and perished with is father! -- but not by his own hand.
Saul's armour bearer, however, was so devoted to Saul that Saul's example moved him to commit suicide also. All Saul's men (perhaps referring to those close to him) were killed also (v.6). The Philistines must have marched a long distance to attack Israel in the area of Jezreel, for we can well understand that Saul would not want to initiate the battle. Mount Gilboa is in the far north and east of Jerusalem. The Philistines pursued Israel through Israel's own land, almost to the Jordan valley. in verse 7 it may be another valley mentioned, when Israelites on the other side of the valley forsook their own cities, for it is also said that those on the other side of Jordan did the same. This was a great victory for the Philistines, who took possession of these cities by having their own people come to live in them.
The battle being over, the Philistines return the next day, not to bury the bodies of the dead, but to strip them. Finding the bodies of Saul and his sons, they cut off Saul's head and take his armour. To them this was an occasion of great rejoicing, and thy published the news in their idol houses and throughout the land of the Philistines (v.9). Saul's armour was taken to the temple of the idol in Beth-Shan, not far distant from Mt.Gilboa. The bodies of his sons were hung there too. (v.12).
Such gloating over the defeat of enemies is disgusting. God will take this into serious account. If He allows the king of Israel to suffer a humiliating death because of his refusing God's word, He will not ignore the heartless wickedness of men who gloat over his death. (Proverbs 24:17-18). When we see judgment fall on anyone, our attitude should be that of sorrow for the person and of honest judgment of ourselves, remembering that only the grace of God preserves us from the judgment we deserve.
The inhabitants of Jabesh-Gilead (across the Jordan), having heard of the indignity done to the body of Saul, took immediate action to counteract this. The valiant men of the city journeyed all night to Beth-Shan, removed the bodies of Saul and his sons from the wall and brought them to Jabesh. There they burned their bodies and buried the remaining bones. Though cremation is not God's way of disposing of a body, it may have been that these men were apprehensive that the Philistines would go to the length of exhuming the bodies in order to show further indignities to them. At least they showed honorable respect for God-ordained authority.