By Samuel Ridout
The New King
1 Samuel 10: 17 — 11.
God having dealt faithfully and fully with Saul in private and through the prophet, now manifests to the nation at large the man whom He has chosen for them. Samuel is again the honored instrument here and calls the people to meet the Lord, as he had already, so far as possible, brought the future king face to face with Jehovah. The people are to come together at Mizpah, the place where God had signally manifested His delivering hand in rescuing them from the Philistines, and also one of the stations where Samuel was accustomed to judge Israel. Its name, as we have seen, means "Watchtower," appropriate surely for those who would rightly survey the past and the future, and heed the admonitions with which God would address them. "I will stand upon my watch, and set me upon the tower and will watch to see what He will say unto me, and what I shall answer when I am reproved" (Hab. 2: 11). Good would it have been,for them and their king, had this attitude of soul truly marked them. It was that indeed to which God called them, as He ever does His people, to hearken to the admonitions and reproofs of love, and thus to be guarded from the snares into which we will otherwise surely fall. Well would it have been for Peter had he been spiritually at Mizpah to receive the warning of our Lord.
God again reminds them of His work for them as a nation, from the time of their deliverance out of Egypt, and from all the power of the enemy up to the present. He reiterates the fact that in their desire for a king they, and not He, have been the rejectors. He, blessed be His name, never turns from His people whom He has redeemed. His love to them is measured by that redemption, and all their future experience would be but repetitions, according to need, of that deliverance but, alas, how prone are His people to forget the past, and measure the present by their unbelief, rather than by His power as manifested for them again and again.
It is not, however, with any view of securing a change of mind on the part of the people. They were determined in their course. That wretched watchword "like all the nations" had gnawed into their spiritual vitals and produced its necessary results. A king they must and will have, and it must be the one who answers to such a state of heart as that. What other kind of one could it be?
God deigns still to serve His people, as we have been seeing, and to interpret their own wretched minds for them, giving expression to their desires, far better than they could themselves. For this purpose He uses the lot, leaving nothing to mere chance or to the caprice of any part of the people, still less to that modern fallacy, the will of the majority. "The lot is cast into the lap, but the whole disposing is of the Lord." It also causes contentions to cease. We cannot for a moment think that, though thus guiding in the choice, God was pleased with it, or that the man selected thus would represent His desires for the people. We have already dwelt upon this.
And now the tribes are brought up one by one, and "little Benjamin" is taken, ominously significant as one which up to this time had been distinguished chiefly by its fearful rebellion. The one who rules others must rule himself first of all, and he who claims obedience from a nation must be preeminently the obedient one. How perfectly has our blessed Lord manifested His capacity for rule in this way, resigning, as we might say, the place of authority, "taking the form of a servant," learning obedience in all His life of lowliness. Truly He has qualified Himself to be the true King of Israel as well as the Ruler and Lord of all His people.
There is no account of Benjamin's repentance, and therefore we may well suppose that the tribe was still marked by that spirit of rebellion which had wrought such havoc in the days of the judges. And yet that hardihood of spirit, that rash courage which marked them at that time — one of the least of the tribes facing the entire nation, and "giving a good account of itself" in the conflicts that ensued — was doubtless rehearsed and handed down, and became matter for boasting, rather than for humiliation and true self-abhorrence before God. Thus it will ever be with the flesh. It will boast in that which is its shame, and plume itself upon a strength which must be broken to pieces before God can come in. It thus represents, as a tribe, the nation; and while we cannot say that all this was intensified in that branch of the tribe from which Saul came, neither is there any indication of its absence.
The various families are sifted out and finally the choice falls upon Saul himself. We have already looked at his genealogy. Another name is here mentioned, the "family of Matri," which is said to mean "Jehovah is watching," which ought, at least, to have been a reminder that the holy eye of God had seen all their past, and knew well too their present. How the mention of this should have caused both the people and Saul to halt! God's holy eye was upon them. He had searched out their secret thoughts. He knew their motives, their state of soul, their self-confidence, their pride. Could they, with that holy eye of love resting upon them, proceed in this wretched course of disobedience, that which was practically apostasy from Himself? Alas, while Jehovah's eye is open upon them, theirs is closed as to Him. They have eyes only for the king whom they desire, and he is soon presented to their gaze.
The lot declares that Saul, the son of Kish, is the appointed man. But he is nowhere to be found. Flesh-like, he hides himself when he ought to be present, and obtrudes himself when he should be out of sight. Self-depreciation is a very different thing from true lowliness of spirit. As the poet says; Satan's "darling sin is the pride which apes humility." He had already spoken to Samuel of his tribe being the smallest in Israel and his family the least in that tribe. All this had been overruled by the prophet who had anointed him. He had already received the assurance that he was the appointed king. God Himself had spoken to him through the signs that we have been looking at, and in the spirit of prophecy which had indeed also fallen upon himself. Why, then, this feigned modesty, this shrinking from the gaze of his subjects? Does it not indicate one who is not truly in the presence of God? For when in His presence, man is rightly accounted of. The fear of man indicates the lack of the fear of God, and "bringeth a snare." In God's presence, the lowliest can face the mightiest unflinchingly. Hear the faithful witnesses refusing to obey the command of king Nebuchadnezzar. There is no hiding there: "We are not careful to answer thee in this matter. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace; but if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up" (Dan. 3: 16-18). Faith in God produces true liberty in man.
But even if this shrinking from the people did not indicate the extreme of fear, it yet showed a self-occupation which is utterly incompatible with the true spirit of rule. Saul indeed does not appear to advantage here, and we get a glimpse of his character as he hides among the baggage, which bodes ill for himself and the people.
Indeed it is the Lord Himself who must go further in this patient care for a perverse people and tell them what has become of their king. The baggage seems a strange place in which to look for royalty; not much dignity about that, and one can almost imagine the ludicrousness of the scene. No wonder that carnal men ask, a little later on, How shall this man save us? He was indeed a part of the baggage and an illustration of the old Latin word for that, "an impediment," no help, but a hindrance to those whom he should lead on to victory.
But he at least appears better than his people. Judged according to the appearance, he is "every inch a king," head and shoulders above all the rest, one to whom they could look up and in whom they could boast; and if fleshly strength were to count, one who was more than a match for any who would dare dispute his right and title to the place. Do we not all know something of this stateliness of the flesh when it stands in full length before us? Hear another son of Benjamin describing how he stood head and shoulders above his countrymen: "If any other man thinketh he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more: circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the Church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless" (Phil. 3: 4-6). I "profited in the Jews' religion above many my equals in mine own nation, being more exceedingly zealous of the traditions of my fathers" (Gal. 1: 14).
Here is another Saul, a king among men, too; but, ah how all this shrivels up under the eye of divine holiness and love; in the very noontide of his carnal greatness, he beholds One who had been crucified but now was glorified, and as he catches sight of that glorious Object on high, from the dust he can declare for the remainder of his life: "What things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ." Would that we ever remembered this when tempted to glory in our flesh, or measure ourselves by ourselves and compare ourselves among ourselves!
Paul was ashamed even to speak of the work of Christ in and through him, save as it was needed to deliver the poor Corinthians who were, like the Israel we are examining, tempted to judge according to the flesh. The only man in whom he could glory was the man in Christ, and well he knew that that man was "not I, but Christ." "I am crucified with Christ; nevertheless I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me" (Gal. 2: 20).
However, there is none of this knowledge of the flesh, even in an Old Testament measure, among the people. They compare their king with themselves. He is better than they are, head and shoulders above them, and exultantly they shout aloud: "Long live the king!" They have found their man. How that cry has re-echoed down the centuries ever since! King after king has been brought into view over great or small nations, and when he is seen, his prowess, his knowledge, his ability, in some sense has been recognized as above the average; at least his position has put him upon a pedestal, and "Long live the king!" has been the people's acclaim!
But faith can detect the wail in this exultation, and the unconscious yearning for One who is indeed the true King; One who is not to be compared with the sons of men, surely not head and shoulders above them; One who took His place as servant to the lowest, humbled even unto death, the death of the cross, and who now in His exaltation is far above all principality and power and might and dominion and every name that is named. Who could compare himself with the King, even to acknowledge His superiority? No, "my beloved is one," "the chiefest among ten thousand" "yea, He is altogether lovely."
"The shout of a king is in her"; but in this shout there is the echo of that other shout when the Ark was brought out to the camp of Israel and they supposed that God was going to link His holy name with their unrighteousness and give them victory over the Philistines. As we saw, He would rather let His glory be carried captive into the enemy's land than dishonor His name among His people. This shout is like that. We yet wait for the true shout of the King: but it will come, thank God, for Israel and for this poor, groaning earth; the time when all creation shall burst forth in the shout. "With trumpets and sound of a cornet make a joyful noise before the Lord, the King. Let the sea roar and the fulness thereof; the world and they that dwell therein. Let the floods clap their hands; let the hills be joyful together before the Lord, for He cometh to judge the earth. With righteousness shall He judge the world."
The scene, however, is not allowed to close with mere enthusiasm. This is not checked; but "the manner of the kingdom" is described,and God's will is impressed upon them, if they will but hear it, together no doubt with His warning which we have been considering. All is written in a book, to leave them without excuse; to be there, too, no doubt, for reference, should penitence or faith ever turn to it — a proof of God's faithful care, though His heart was grieved and wounded at the treatment He had received from those He had fed from His hand for so long. The book is laid up before the Lord. Surely it is there yet. He has not forgotten. He never can forget. In His own patience He still waits, and the time is coming when all will be gone over with them and they shall acknowledge, with shame, their own folly as well as His love and faithfulness.
We, too, have the book of the Lord in which His faithful testimony as to the unprofitableness of the flesh is fully recorded. This He never forgets, and oh, may we remember always that God has put a mark upon it even as He did upon Cain, and may we shrink from every form of that exaltation of the natural man, "hating even the garment spotted by the flesh."
Saul again retires for the time, into private life. The second stage has been reached, the first being his private anointing. Still, however, opportunity must be afforded for him to make good practically that which has been publicly declared. A band of young men are touched by the hand of God and follow Saul. Many yet, however, are skeptical and ask how such an one could save them out of the hand of their enemies. The king is still despised by many of his people. There is none of the honor paid to him, no presents brought to him which would show he is enthroned in their hearts. He, however, is impressed, for a time at least, by the solemnity of all that he had been passing through, and makes no attempt to vaunt himself or claim a place which was not willingly accorded to him. He holds his peace and waits a suited time. Had he continued to do this, a different history would follow.
The occasion is not long wanting to show what manner of man the new king is. With the nation prone to wander from God, as the whole book of Judges shows, attacks were constantly invited by the enemy from various quarters. Morally, their condition was unchanged from the times of the Judges; and, as is abundantly shown in that book, so far from there being true progress, the periods of captivity increase as the years roll on. Nature never improves with time. It can only deteriorate. However, there was some gracious recovery on God's part, of the people, which preserved them from complete disintegration. But the constant danger when they were left to themselves was from the hands of enemies, who were all too ready to take advantage of every weakness. The outbreak narrated now was significantly on the east side of Jordan, in Gilead, and by the Ammonites, kinsmen according to the flesh, of Israel.
Remembering that the whole settlement of the two tribes and a half on the east side of Jordan was practically dictated by self-interest, that they seemed never fully to be identified with the mass of the nation on the west side of the river, it can easily be gathered that there was less devotedness to God there than even in the proper inheritance of the people. Looking at it spiritually, it is, of course, very significant. Settling down in the world, allowing selfish interests to dictate our path and testimony, is to open the gates for the enemy's assail. Alas, how frequently this is done, and what subtle tendencies there are in our hearts to repeat it!
These two tribes and a half are finally carried captive before even the remnant of the kingdom of Israel. They would answer, in that way, to the hindmost of the people in the march through the wilderness, who were specially exposed to the assaults of Amalek.
It is also worthy of note that the men of Jabesh Gilead, who were the special object of the assault in this case, had refused to unite with the rest of the nation in revenging the awful iniquity of Gibeah in which the tribe of Benjamin was involved. There is a significant connection in this, at which we will look later on.
As to Ammon, the assailing power, as has been said, he was a descendant of Lot and related, according to nature, with the people whom now he would overthrow; and so far from this forming any tie of affection, it was really the occasion of special hatred, as the history will show. Moab and Ammon are the inveterate enemies of Israel, constantly threatening and frequently bringing them into subjection. Spiritually speaking, we have learned to dread that which can claim a sort of kinship to the things of God without being truly His. Thus, Judaism was the bitterest enemy of Christianity, and at the present time everything that apes the true faith of God is all the more dangerous, because of a certain external similarity. Satan's weapon, liar that he is, is dissimulation. He makes a counterfeit, with which he assails the truth, as Jannes and Jambres, by imitating it.
As has been seen in the book of Judges, Moab and Ammon represent the two sides of the flesh: Moab, an empty profession, accompanied by carnal indulgence, as seen in Eglon their king (see Judges 3: 17-25); and Ammon, living further north, with, apparently more vigor, answering rather to intellectual perversion and the intrusion of doctrinal evil into the things of God.
What would complete this array of fleshly religionists is the Philistines, who represent the religion of the flesh, as Moab does its profession, and Ammon, its doctrines.
The king of Ammon is Nahash, which primarily means "'serpent," and, in that connection, suggests the thought of sorcery and divination and other Satanic practices. Thus, the association of evil doctrine with its author is clearly seen. The serpent was more subtle than any of the beasts of the field. It is the cunning of Satan which has mingled together some outward forms of truth with the deadly poison of error. We need only to look about us at the present time to see the Ammonites, under the leadership of their cunning king. False doctrines of every kind flourish under the very shadow of Christianity, and bearing its name. In fact, these, so far from decreasing as the knowledge of Scripture increases, seem to multiply. Satan has many forms of untruth, all alike proceeding from the common source. These, then, would represent the enemy now attacking a portion of the nation of Israel; that portion, as we have seen, which was most exposed to such an assault, but least able to cope with it.
We must notice also another thing in striking similarity with the revival of a power which also, to some extent, resembles that of Ammon. It will be remembered that in the time of Joshua, Jabin, king of Hazor, was completely overthrown and his capital laid in ruins. Notwithstanding this, again we find the same enemy, with the same name, revived in the times of the Judges, threatening the people with destruction, as though he had never been overthrown. This is characteristic of evil, of that which assails doctrinal truth. Jabin stands for the spirit of infidelity, and Ammon, as we have just been seeing, is the same spirit of untruth, only applied more intimately to the doctrines of God's word.
As Jabin had once been overthrown, so Ammon had been completely conquered by Jephthah during the Judges; and yet we find him here re-asserting his power with all the vigor of the early day. All this scarcely needs any comment in the way of spiritual application. We know too well how ancient heresies revive, and how it is not sufficient to have overcome them once. They must be ever kept beneath the feet of God's people, or they will quickly reassert themselves and bring havoc and destruction. At the present day, very many of the blasphemous doctrines which are being held and taught under the name of Christian truth, are the revival of old heresies which were apparently exploded centuries ago. This shows a perennial activity in things of evil, which must be met by a perennial vigor of faith far greater than the evil which it opposes.
Nahash is sufficiently insolent in his demands upon the men of Jabesh Gilead to awaken in them any slumbering manhood but this seems impossible. He is not satisfied with their subjugation. He will rob them of their eyesight, taking away their right eye, and lay this as a reproach upon the whole nation of Israel. Thus we see the pride which is not satisfied with the local triumph, but would array itself against the entire mass of God's people. And it is just in these ways that Satan overreaches himself. He seems never to have learned, in all the centuries of his experience and with all the power of his cunning, to control that malice which, after all, is the strongest feature of his character.
It has been suggestively remarked that the right eye would speak of faith, as the left would of reason. So far from being fanciful, this seems perfectly simple. The right is the place of priority and importance, and surely faith is above reason; and yet reason has its place even in the things of God. We are not deprived of that, but where it is under the control of faith, reason can put forth all its powers without danger of leading us astray.
The challenge of Nahash, then, would be that faith is to be sacrificed. That which they know to be the truth of God is to be given up, and this is to be laid as a reproach upon all the people of God. And surely is not this the case? Wherever faith is compelled to close its eyes, it is a shame upon the saints of God throughout the world. Alas, how much there is to bring the blush to our cheek as we see how many reproaches have been laid upon us!
The men of Jabesh apparently have little hope, but are not ready to submit to this loss and indignity without at least an appeal to one who had been pointed out by God as a leader and deliverer for them. Thus they ask for a seven days' respite, and send for succor to Saul.
After his public recognition, Saul had returned to the privacy of his daily work and is here found by the messengers from Jabesh Gilead. The humiliating story of the threat of Nahash produces in the people at least sorrow, if not indignation, but there are no stirrings of faith, only a helpless lamenting that such things should be possible. It is different, however, when Saul returns from his labor in the field. Inquiring what the cause of their grief is, he is told the shameful story; there is no weeping on his part, but rather the righteous indignation of God by His Spirit against the insolence of the enemy.
As we said, Saul shows well here. He passes from service into conflict, and the one is a fitting preparation for the other. However, certain things are wanting, which are suggestive. In the first place, let it be noticed that the Spirit of God may come upon one in whom He has not effectually wrought for salvation. The Old Testament gives instances of this, notably in the case of Balaam, who declares the whole mind of God as to Israel, while himself willing to pronounce a curse upon them, and, in fact, afterwards plotting for their overthrow. Thus, it roust not be understood that the Spirit that moved Saul was anything more than the external power which the Spirit of God put upon him in connection with his official place. The threat, also, against the people, with the bloody message evidenced through the oxen hewn in pieces, does not savor of that dignity of faith which alone endures. Threats may energize in o, temporary faithfulness and spasmodic courage, but it is only the inward abiding which can produce lasting results for God. Then, too, we see that Saul is still leaning upon another arm than that of God, even though it be the arm of the faithful servant of the Lord, Samuel. The threat is, that "Whosoever cometh not forth after Saul and after Samuel, so shall it be done unto his oxen." Samuel never claimed a place of equality with the new king. He was perfectly willing to be his servant and that of Jehovah, and it does not look as though Saul fully realized how his relations were to be directly with the Lord,without any human intervention whatever.
However, there is, at any rate, thorough earnestness for the time being, and a real purpose to deliver Israel; and this God recognizes — as He ever does in whatever measure He can, a turning to Himself. Multitudes respond to the threatening call and are gathered after Saul. A reassuring message is sent to the men of Jabesh Gilead, and all is ready for the deliverance. Saul shows skill and wisdom in disposing his army in three companies. There is an absence of precipitateness which argues well. The early rising, too, before daylight, shows an intentness of purpose and prudence in taking the first step, which always is a presage of victory.
This reminds us of some of the old conflicts of days gone by, under Abraham and Joshua. In fact, it was under the same leadership, though perhaps with people not so willing and ready as in those days. The result is not for a moment in any uncertainty. Ammon is thoroughly discomfited, his vast hosts beaten down and multitudes destroyed, while the remainder are scattered to the winds, no two remaining together. Thus, the proud flesh, with its knowledge and insolence, is overthrown. Heresy, false doctrine, cannot stand before an attack like this. It is quite significant that King Saul should be more successful in this conflict with the Ammonites than in any of his subsequent wars. There was that in him which peculiarly fitted him, typically speaking, for such warfare.
After all, a successful conflict with doctrinal evil is not the highest form of victory. The history of the Church has shown men who were vigorous contestants for doctrinal truth and scriptural exactness, who had, alas, but little heart for the Lord Jesus, and little in their lives that would commend Him. A certain form of the flesh may, for the time being, take special pleasure in overthrowing error. Jephthah, who had previously conquered the Ammonites, showed that a victory over false doctrine can go with bitter hatred of one's brethren; and of this, too, we have illustrations in the history of the Church. Doctrinal contentions that sprang up in connection with the great work of the Reformation are the common shame of Protestantism.
However, the victory is won, and God can be thanked for it. The people, in that revulsion of feeling which is common to human nature, wish to know who it was that had opposed Saul being appointed king. They are ready to put them to death at once, when perhaps multitudes of themselves had looked with much suspicion upon him.
Saul, however, checks all this, and still shows well in his ascribing the glory of the victory to Jehovah; at the same time he would show perfect clemency to his enemies. There is wisdom as well as mercy in this.
Samuel, however, goes further. He calls the people back: "Come and let us go to Gilgal and renew the kingdom there." Strikingly fitting place indeed was it for all to return to. The normal camping ground after every victory, as we remember in Joshua's day, it is the true place to which we should ever come. Gilgal teaches the great lesson of the sentence of death upon ourselves, having no confidence in the flesh. It was the true circumcision, where the reproach of Egypt was rolled off, the first camping ground in the land after the people had crossed Jordan. It thus emphasizes, as we were saying, the great truth of the Cross applied practically to our lives and persons. It was the one lesson which the nation as a whole needed to learn in fuller measure than they had yet done, and which, for Saul, as their leader and representative, was absolutely indispensable.
So, it is a call of mercy which is hearkened to externally, and all congregate at Gilgal. Here Saul is again made king in connection with sacrifices of peace-offerings. It is rather significant that these are the only offerings mentioned. Nothing is said whatever of the burnt- or sin-offering. The peace-offering speaks of fellowship with God and with one another; the burnt-offering, of the infinite acceptability of Christ, in His death, to God; while the sin-offering tells how He has borne our sins and put them away. Communion cannot be the first thought. It is appropriate, at Gilgal particularly, where death to the flesh comes in, that there should be prominent mention of that death of the cross which has put away sin and which is infinitely precious in God's sight. However, peace-offerings show at least a unity of fellowship, which, as far as it goes, is good. We read that Saul and all Israel rejoiced greatly. Poor man, would that that joy had had a deeper root! It would have borne more abundant and abiding fruit. Nothing is said of Samuel's joy. Doubtless it was there in some measure, though perhaps chastened as he remembered the cause of their being there. He could not forget, spite of all this brave show and recent victory, that the people had rejected the Lord, and that the man before them was not the man of God's choice, but of their own.
They had come to Gilgal at the invitation of Samuel to renew the kingdom; and this he proceeds to do in the divine, rather than in the human way. Man's thought of reorganization, or renewal, is to strengthen everything on the basis upon which it rests. The people evidently had this in mind in connection with the celebration of their victory over the Ammonites, and the joy which accompanied it. Samuel, however, appropriately with the place, seeks to lead the people into deeper self-judgment, goes back indeed to the roots which had made possible their present condition, and shows how their desire for a king was connected with their sin and departure from God.
First of all, he speaks of himself. He is about to lay aside that government which, as judge, he had exercised for God. There was no longer need for a judge if they had a king. How significant it was that there was still the same need for him as ever, showing the utter incompetence of the king, who occupied a place officially which he could not actually fill! Samuel spreads his whole life before them, going back to his childhood days, when he had taken his place publicly before the nation as one who was to be a servant for God. From that day to the present he had walked before them. His sons also were with them. Of these indeed, as we have already seen, not much could be said, and yet the very contrast of their unfaithfulness with his uprightness would only serve to bring into bolder relief the integrity which had marked his entire course. He asks them to witness against him, even as Paul did at a later day. Had covetousness, self-interest in any of its forms, characterized him? Whom had he defrauded? Whom had he oppressed? From whom had he received a bribe, that he might pervert justice? It is the last opportunity the people will have of having their wrongs righted, if indeed there were such. What a sense of integrity must have filled his heart thus to challenge their accusations!
Not even calumny can raise its voice against this faithful old man. His pure, unselfish life spoke for itself, and they can only reply, "Thou hast not defrauded us nor oppressed us, neither hast thou taken aught out of any man's hand." He calls God to witness that they have made this statement; and in thus silently passing over rule to the hands of Saul, he calls him also to witness that there has been nothing unjust in all his past life. Again the people reply, "God is witness." Will they be able to say the same of the young king, flushed with his recent victory, and the man of their choice? Will he prove as unselfish, as devoted, as single-eyed, as this aged servant of God, whose care is not so much for his own good name as for the honor of that gracious God whose servant and representative he has been? Samuel would have shrunk from the thought that he in any way had been a king. All his authority was derived from God; all his appeal was to God, and he had never sought to interpose between the people and their direct obedience to their rightful King and Ruler, Jehovah.
This is ever the character of all true rule. Self is obliterated. If it speak of its own faithfulness, it is simply to silence false accusation, and to awaken conscience. Thus Paul, in the eleventh and thirteenth chapters of 2 Corinthians, is compelled to speak of his own course, but is well-nigh ashamed to do so. It is only to leave the Corinthians without excuse as to the character of ministry there had been amongst them.
True service, as we have said, ever has clean hands. Love, which is the spring of all service, "seeketh not her own." Fruit-bearing is for others, and not for our own enjoyment. Samuel never sought a place nor claimed dignities for himself. It was his one desire to witness for God and to be a help to His beloved people. This his whole well-spent life testified to.
It is a searching question for us: What is our motive in ministering to the saints of God? Is it simply for the honor of our Lord and for the blessing of His people, or does self enter, as an important element, into it all? The Lord keep us in that true lowliness of spirit which desires simply the blessing of others!
Having cleared his own skirts and secured from the people themselves a witness of his integrity, Samuel next speaks of the faithfulness of God, and with it of the unfaithfulness of His people. He goes back, as he had once before done, to Egypt, and rapidly reviews the salient features of their history. In their distress in Egypt they had cried to Him. Had He failed them? He sent Moses and Aaron to deliver them out of their bondage and bring them into the place which they were now occupying. Moses and Aaron were not kings. They were God's instruments accomplishing His will; but so far from displacing Him, they were the means of preserving the people in closer relationship with Himself. So, too, in the trials which had beset them since their entering into the land: all these trials were produced by their own departure from God, and He had never delivered them into the hands of enemies save when they had forsaken Him. But even when, in faithfulness, He was compelled to turn them over to such enemies as Sisera in the north, or the Philistines in the west, or the Moabites on the east, it had only been that they might learn the difference between serving God and serving evil. It would only intensify in their souls the absolute necessity of cleaving to the Lord in true-hearted obedience. As soon as they had begun to learn their lesson, how quickly did He respond to their cry! He had sent them one deliverer after another. Gideon, Jephthah, Barak, and Samuel himself, amongst others, had been used of God to rescue them from the most cruel bondage. But, as we have already seen, did these deliverers become kings? Gideon distinctly refuses the crown, and even Jephthah, though he apparently dallied with it, never usurped full kingly authority; and as to Samuel, we have already seen.
Their past lessons should have taught the people, surely, both the cause of their trouble and the way of escape. What deliverance could be more brilliant and complete than that of Gideon, or of Barak? Was anything lacking in it? Had not Samuel led them victoriously against the Philistines? Could a king do more than these had done? And yet, when a fresh evil menaces them, caused unquestionably by the same spirit of departure from God, they turn now to other relief than to the living God. The Ammonites assail, and instead of crying to God with confession of the sin which had made such an assault possible, they ask for a king, thus displacing Him who was King in Jeshurun. How faithfully the aged prophet shuts the people up to a sense of their folly! They cannot escape it. They have turned away from the One who has been their Saviour and Deliverer from Egypt to that present time. They have dishonored and rejected Him, and now they may look at their king. Surely his stature and goodly appearance would shrivel into nothingness in the presence of the mighty God whom the prophet had been holding up before them. Surely, if there was a heart to hearken, such a review as this could not fail to bring them to that true self-abasement which answers to Gilgal.
He has now unburdened himself, and therefore next speaks of the future. Even though they have thus slighted the Lord, let the time past for all this suffice, and let them with their king now go on in obedience to His will; for, after all, the king, as the people, must be subject to God. If so, they will find that His path is still open for them, and blessing will follow them; but if they turn away from Him, and refuse the voice of the Lord, and depart from Him, His hand will be against them, and they will go on to the bitter end, to learn that God is as true as His word, and that departure from Him can only bring one result.
But he will not leave them even with this last word alone. There must be visible manifestation that he is speaking for God, and that God will speak with him. It is the time of their wheat harvest, a season when all nature seems at rest; but in answer to his cry, God will send storm and thunder as tokens of His displeasure at His people's course — a witness of His resistless majesty and power. As at Sinai, the people tremble. Alas, the flesh can only tremble in the presence of God. It cannot profit by the solemn lessons of His majesty. Its one desire is to get out of that Presence, that it may do its own will. So they seem contrite enough for the time being. They acknowledge their sin in having desired a king, and ask God's mercy. Alas, all this too is superficial, as is abundantly seen in a short time.
The prophet has not meant to overwhelm them, but only to test them. And so comes the reassuring word "Fear not: ye have done all this wickedness: yet turn not aside from following the Lord, but serve the Lord with all your heart."
How patient and long-suffering is our gracious God! He will test the flesh down to the last, give opportunity after opportunity to see if there is still any true desire to cleave to Him. The prophet's one anxiety is that the people should not depart from God. There is no danger that the Lord would forsake them. For His own great name, for that grace which has set its love upon them, He will not depart from them. They are His people. The very chastenings which fall upon them are but a proof of this, and so far as He is concerned they can rest assured that His love will be with them to the end. So, too, the aged prophet will ever remain loyal to the people dearer to him than his own life. It would be a sin against God to cease to pray for them. He will continue, therefore, to be their intercessor, though they have rejected him as their leader. How beautiful and gracious is all this! Into his retirement the servant bears no grudge against an ungrateful nation. He enters simply into his closet, there to pour into the willing ear of a loving God the needs of this foolish, self-confident, fickle people.
How beautifully all this speaks of the unchanging purpose of God and the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, we need hardly say. All on that side is secure: divine love and power pledged to bring us safely through, even in spite of the folly which would forget that grace alone can preserve. Our Intercessor abides before God, and bears His people's names and needs before His Father. So, too, will it be with all true ministry for God. One will not be soured by the indifference of those whom he is seeking to help. If he has truly been ministering for God, he will continue to pray for those who, for the time being, have no desire for his service, and are glorying in the flesh.
How the prophet rings the changes on his message! "Only fear the Lord, and serve Him in truth with all your heart; for consider how great things He hath done for you" — words surely that need not exposition, but the impress of the Holy Spirit upon our own souls! How great things has He done for us! Shall we then for a moment boast in that flesh which He condemned by the cross?
Lastly, there is a final word of warning: But if ye shall still do wickedly, ye shall be consumed, both ye and your king." How solemnly this was fulfilled in their later history, the captivity of many a king, with the people too, makes only too manifest.