By Samuel Ridout
Saul's Kingdom Established
1 Samuel 14: 47-52.
We now find Saul established in his kingdom and going on with apparent prosperity after what had previously taken place. He shows, too, considerable prowess against his various enemies. Moab as well as Ammon, the victory over whom we have already looked at, and Edom, together with the kings of Zobah and his lifelong foes the Philistines, all feel his power. It is significant that there was no complete and final overthrow of these enemies; but at any rate they were "vexed," and their assaults upon the people of God were doubtless for the time checked.
The flesh in its excellence by no means allows the unrestrained prevalence of evil. Glaring moral inconsistencies in profession, as indicated by Moab; the spirit of rationalism, as suggested in Ammon; an avowed secularity, of which Edom speaks, cannot be allowed where the flesh is taking the place of professed allegiance to God. So too the Philistine ecclesiastical assumption cannot be recognized. None of these, however, are entirely overcome. They remain in abeyance, ready to reassert themselves whenever the inevitable relaxing of fleshly rigor makes it possible.
The Philistines, indeed, continue their warfare, and Saul, whatever successes he may have had against them, was never able to check their inroads, much less to drive them from the field. But he did succeed in delivering Israel in good measure, for the time being, from their foes; and even the Amalekites, who form the subject of our next chapter, were largely subdued by him.
There was no lack of courage too on his part; and much that was excellent in administration within and conflict without, no doubt, characterized this period of his reign. We are also told, at this time, who were the members of his family and the captain of his army.
We have already learned that a list of a few names may furnish us with abundant hints as to the moral character of what is not much dwelt upon, and we might expect to find in these members of Saul's family, and those whom he gathered about him, suggestions both of the strength and the weakness which underlay his whole administration.
We may expect to find in Saul, as the first king of Israel, an intimation of what kingly rule should be; not merely what it has become in the hands of man, but, in addition to this, suggestions of what it will be in the hands of Christ. His family therefore will probably give hints of both that which is of God in government, as well as the abuse of it by man.
The names of three sons are given here, and two daughters, together with that of his wife. Jonathan, "Jehovah hath given," suggests all that is of God in this family. As the natural successor to his father, he may represent that which is of God in government, which surely always abides. It cannot, however, affect with its own God-given devotedness him who merely has the form without the reality of obedience. This explains why Jonathan, the son of Saul, acted in a way so different from his father.
Of Ishui, the next son, we have no further mention except his death, which is recorded under the name of Abinadab (1 Sam. 31: 2), two or more names being often borne by the same person. "My father is willing" would suggest that he stands for but a reproduction of the characteristics of his father. Ishui, "just," or "equitable," suggests that human government when in subjection to God is a righteous thing; but, as has already been suggested, it must be in faith, or it fails to be true justice.
The third son, Melchi-shua, "My king is savior," also suggests that in true rule is safety and deliverance for the people. How little a measure there has been of that the history of Israel and of the world shows us. The true King must first come before a Saviour can be known. The last syllable of his name indeed is almost identical with "Jesus," which has, however, the significant addition of "Jehovah" in the place of "king."
The daughters follow, who speak of abstract principles, rather than personal characteristics. Merab, "exalted," or "increase," speaks of that advancing greatness which is the mark of a true government; and Michal, "Who can measure?" shows its boundless extent. Both these, too, wait for their true fulfilment, not as linked with Saul, but with Him of whom it is said: "Of the increase of His government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David and upon his kingdom, to order and to establish it, with judgment and with justice, from henceforth even forever."
Saul's wife, Ahinoam, "My brother is pleasure," the daughter of Ahimaaz, "My brother is strength," suggests how kingly rule has often had as its consort, not the glory of God, but that "pleasure" which will use its unlimited "strength" to secure its own ends.
Abner, the son of Ner, was the captain of his host. Abner, "the father of light," is also the son of Ner, "light" — a strange combination. One cannot be both father and son, root and fruit. As captain of Saul's army, he would suggest to us the one who upholds kingly authority and that light which is characteristic of righteous rule. "A king that sitteth in the throne of judgment scattereth away all evil with his eyes" (Prov. 20: 8). These eyes suggest the light but it must be truly that, in order to scatter away evil. The only "Father of lights" of whom Scripture speaks is quite Another than the captain of Saul's host. Well will it be for the kingdoms of this world when they are led on to victory under the glorious leadership of Him whose eyes are as a flame of fire, and whose countenance is as the sun when it shineth in its strength.
Significantly, one son is not mentioned here. Ishbosheth, "the man of shame," is the culmination of all human government. He will be found later on in the history; but here, at least at the outset, we are not reminded of the inevitable conclusion of human excellence apart from divine grace. God will allow that which is apparently good to live on unhinderedly until its own end is reached. This, alas, will be found to be in shame.1
1 For a full discussion of the names of Saul's family, and their significance, with much helpful and suggestive comment, the reader is referred to the Notes in the Numerical Bible at this point.