By Samuel Ridout
The Man after God's own Heart
1 Samuel 16; 17.
The people's choice, king Saul, has already proved himself unworthy of the position of rule and service to which he had been called, and was therefore set aside. The act was not a public one, and so far as we know, the people as yet had no knowledge of it. With God, however, there was no thought of change. It was not the chastening of one of His children who would thus be recalled to the path of obedience, but Saul had manifested himself as unalterably unfit, because inherently disobedient. His reign indeed goes on as if nothing had occurred, except the significant absence of Samuel from the royal presence. Doubtless, this was not unusual in the sense that prophets do not usually dwell in kings' courts, and perhaps even in David's day of glory, the prophet did not constantly abide near the king. Samuel's absence, therefore, may possibly not have been known; or, if so, the people at least probably did not realize the full significance of it. Saul is allowed to go on and thus fully to manifest his unfitness.
Meanwhile, however, God calls for the man of His choice, who is one day to supersede the people's choice. This is in harmonious accord with God's ways, both with individuals and dispensations. Nations are rejected, and yet allowed, as in the case of the Amorites, to go on for years until the measure of their iniquity should be full. Individuals who have taken a final stand in rejecting Christ are not immediately cut off, but go on throughout life, surrounded still by every token of God's goodness, if they might even yet be led to repentance, though unalterably crystallized in their opposition to God. For such, in an awful sense, eternity has already begun. Well is it for us, that we do not know who such are, or when they are thus rejected. How solemn the thought: "Ephraim is joined to his idols; let him alone."
So, too, dispensationally, Israel was rejected as a vessel of testimony when the captivity to Babylon took place; yet they were restored again to their own land, and then, too, later on, came in the true Anointed of the Lord, while yet the nation as such went on, being allowed to manifest their character and to fill up the iniquity of their fathers.
So, the four Gospels give us what we have in type, the Pharisees and the nation at large fully manifested, indeed rejected as in Matthew 12, and yet allowed to go on until the final rejection of the testimony of the Holy Ghost, with Stephen. Then it is that the testimony goes out to the Gentiles, and Christ is seen to be no longer connected with the nation as such. However, judgment still lingers, and the destruction of Jerusalem did not take place until years later, when there was the final break up of Judaism, which answered to the death of king Saul.
Returning for a moment to the fact of the two natures in the believer, we have something similar to this. "That is first which is natural, and afterward that which is spiritual." The flesh we inherit, and it manifests itself; spite of every safeguard of care and testimony of mercy and truth given, it proves itself to be utterly unfit for God and is set aside. Grace then comes in and Christ is formed in the heart of the believer by faith. It would answer to the call, we might say, of David. Still, however, the flesh remains in us, no longer to be in authority, but by its presence to be a constant witness to what nature is, and how it cannot be trusted. The day is coming when its very presence will be banished.
This brings us to the narrative before us. Our special subject is king Saul and to trace his course, so we must follow him on to his end, gathering the lessons his history affords and, by contrast, learn of Christ. We cannot follow the life of David, save as it is interwoven with the history of Saul. It would be a far more attractive subject, but has been so fully treated by others, that there is not the same necessity, perhaps, for going into detail.1
David's genealogy is given to us from the beginning. He stands out as one of the landmarks in the genealogy of our Lord, from Abraham down, as given in Matthew, or back, through His mother's line, as probably is the case in Luke, still to David and thus back to Adam. Abraham's side is given and the line of Judah singled out, and in that, Boaz continues the descent until Jesse is reached. Any examination of this genealogy would lead us too far from our subject and we must content ourselves with commending it to those who desire to prosecute that study further.
Samuel is sent to Bethlehem, the former home of Boaz, and where Jesse, the son of Obed, had his family inheritance. He shrinks from the danger involved in going thus, because Saul would hear of it and surmise his object, and the prophet seems to know instinctively that the man who is afraid of the people, still had such love for his own position that he would not shrink from putting him to death. God quiets the fears of His servant, however, by telling him to take a heifer and go to Bethlehem and say that he had come to offer sacrifice.
This has doubtless been thought to suggest a subterfuge on the part of the prophet which God commanded him to adopt, but this comes from ignoring the tremendous significance of the sacrifice and its prominent place in the mind of God. With Him, and with faith, a sacrifice meant no light matter, but that by which alone He could be truly approached. Indeed, king Saul's own anointing had been associated with a sacrificial feast. Bearing in mind that the sacrifice refers to the atoning death of Christ, our shelter from judgment, we can see its place of supremest importance.
Then, too, Samuel was not told to conceal his object, but to anoint the son of Jesse, presumably before as many as might be present at the feast. Thus, we have a beautiful type of the sheltering value of the sacrifice of Christ. Under its protection, the servant of the Lord can go forward in the very face of his enemies, knowing that all the enmity of the flesh can do nothing against that sacrifice. King Saul himself, with all his hardihood, dared not lay unholy hands upon one who had such protection.
The men of Bethlehem seem to share Samuel's thoughts as though knowing that the visit of the prophet was no idle matter, and so ask him: "Comest thou peaceably?" How our poor hearts shrink from turmoil and conflict, even when necessary, and how most would prefer the undisturbed reign of the flesh, rather than have the conflict which they fear from the presence of the Spirit striving against the flesh.
Of the anointing, we need say but little. It is a very striking repetition of the lesson in king Saul's choice. The prophet himself here is deceived when the eldest son of Jesse is presented. "Surely, the Lord's anointed is before Him." But Eliab, as Saul, is not to be chosen for the height of his stature. "The Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart." All Jesse's sons are thus set aside until the youngest is sent for.
All through Scripture, we find the setting aside of the elder. Thus, Abel is accepted, while Cain is rejected. Isaac and Jacob are both younger sons; Reuben, the first-born, must be set aside, and Judah's own children illustrate the same truth that nature's excellence and the rights of primogeniture are not to be respected in the things of God. Fittingly, too, David is connected with the keeping of the sheep. A shepherd has always suggested Him who is the Shepherd of Israel, and the Good Shepherd, who giveth His life for the sheep.
When David is presented, there is an attractiveness about him which commends him. There is the glow of healthy vigor and the beauty of a countenance which expressed in some measure the beauty of the spirit within. He is anointed among his brethren, and here we see the choice of God resting upon him, marked out by the oil, a type of the Holy Spirit, even as our Lord was anointed with the Holy Ghost and with power for His work in the midst of an ungodly nation.
The Spirit comes upon David from that day, and while he resumes his lowly service of caring for the sheep, all would now have a new significance, at least in the mind of Samuel. The Spirit which had come upon David, the true anointed one, now leaves Saul, and he is afflicted with an evil spirit from the Lord. This seems to be a clearly marked case of demon possession. One who has rejected the word of God is given over to the power of Satan. It is striking that we find so many cases of demon possession in the life of our Lord, and in beautiful accord with the thought of His mastery over the demons, we see here David, His type, called in to soothe the troubled spirit of king Saul when afflicted by the demon. Of the nature of that affliction, we cannot speak minutely. Unquestionably, there was a sense of being forsaken of God, no longer having His approval. Of the utter hopelessness and despair of this, no one could speak fully. It was likely accompanied by certain clouding of the mind, or at least, such an oppression that one was rendered totally unfit for the performance of any duty.
It has sometimes been said that king Saul was afflicted with insanity. This is not the truth. Alas, it was not insanity, but the demon of evil to which he had yielded himself and which now asserts itself as his master. What a picture of him who but a little while ago was the proud victor over the hosts of Ammon, who was acclaimed with joy by the people as the man of their choice and who had the fullest privileges of the prophet's guidance, and, above all, the power of God with him! Here he is, brought so low that even his servants can only pity him. And such is the consequence of disobedience, seen here in full measure in the setting aside of one whose abilities and powers towered above all others in his time.
The servants' thought of relief is that a sweet singer should soothe the poor king in his hours of despair, and they suggest, with his approval, a man exactly suited for this. It is none other than David; and how the providence of God thus brings him into the presence of the king! There is a solemn thought that there is a kind of ministry of Christ of so soothing a character that the fears and distress of a soul may be measurably relieved without any radical cure being effected. David evidently here is a type of Christ, who by His Spirit in the ordinary ministration of His word, with its sweet tale of God's love and care, of His power too over evil, of the comfort which He brings to His own, affords solace even to those who are in their hearts estranged from God.
Our Lord while here, relieved many a case of suffering, such as the impotent man in John 5, where His mercy was not allowed to extend further because of the unbelief of the heart. There were doubtless many out of whom He cast demons, who remained still strangers in heart to Him. So, too, in the present day many in Christendom itself have been, we might say, soothed by the sweetest songs of redeeming love that have ever been heard, who yet in heart have refused the full benefit of that redemption.
Saul is attracted to David. The melody has its effect, and he is for the time relieved. He greatly loves him too, and makes him his armorbearer, but it goes no further. He is still the proud, though rejected man, and has no thought of giving to David the place which God had given him — a place which, had he but known it, would have meant abiding peace for Saul himself.
The victory over Goliath and the Philistines, recorded in 1 Sam. 17, shows how completely unnerved Saul had become by his affliction, and how fully David was qualified to step into the place of the trembling king. It was the Philistines, enemies of Saul throughout his reign, who, spite of the victory of Jonathan, had reasserted their power, who now come up to threaten Israel.
The names of the place here are no doubt suggestive, as elsewhere. Shochoh, "His tabernacle," and Azekah, "a fence," as we might say, which protects the tabernacle. Ephes-dammim, "the boundary of blood," suggests that outcome of any struggle in which the people might engage without a God-appointed leadership. Remembering that the Philistines stand for a carnal religious establishment, and, as we have seen, representing outwardly that spirit of Pharisaic profession for which Saul himself stands, it will be seen that he had no power against them. Indeed, the lesson which is stamped upon the whole life of Saul is this. He succeeds only in the measure in which he is distinct from the enemy whom he opposes, but when that enemy is the embodiment of his own character, how could he have power against it? And this is true with all. The empty talk about self-mastery is practically the dividing of a kingdom against itself. The very conflict that confronts a Christian is the witness at least, that he is not the enemy whom he is opposing, and though he may be overwhelmed again and again, still the enemy is not himself.
The champion of the Philistines, Goliath of Gath, is a magnified Saul, where human greatness is energized by Satanic power. Goliath is said to mean "banishment." He is from Gath, "the winepress," a foreshadowing of the doom of that which arrays itself against God and His people, — banishment and treading in the winepress of His wrath, but it is this very banishment which is the weapon that strikes terror into the heart of those who are threatened by it: and Rome, to which the Philistines answer, has ever shaken this dread weapon against the trembling subjects of its authority.
Goliath's brazen armor and the number six connected with his stature and the weight of his spear's head, suggest the power of evil reaching is height as the number of the Beast in Revelation. Against such armor and such a stature, the king of Israel, who has no excellence except what belongs to him by nature, appears as a pygmy, and his armor worthless. Even Jonathan, too, here, man of faith though he is, cannot withstand the fearful assault. He evidently recognizes his own limitation and knows that if deliverance is to come, it must be by the hand of another. All here is most striking and suggestive, and the utter powerlessness of Israel to do aught, shows the complete need of a deliverer.
David's three older brothers, as we have already seen, have excellence of a character similar, but inferior, to that of king Saul itself. It is the excellence of nature. David thus comes on the scene in the glow of youth, but with no outward display of power comparable with that mighty enemy. We see in him that power which is of God, manifested in its perfection in our Lord who came in lowliness, as did David from his father with the message of love to his brethren; who seeing the enemy, goes forth to meet him in what was a real "boundary of blood" and a valley, apparently not of Elah, "mighty one," but of weakness.
He discards the armor of Saul, inferior, indeed as it was to that of Goliath, and going down into the brook, gathers five stones, the number of human weakness linked with divine power, the number too of our Lord's incarnation, God with man; and with these alone, he goes out to meet the giant foe. All victory over evil is at least a shadow of that one supreme victory which our Lord gained over the prince of this world, once and forever, at the cross. While there are details which have special reference to the character of the enemy and the nature of the victory, applicable to special periods in the history of God's people, these carry us back always to the Cross. We, therefore, would take this as the great lesson here before us.
David presents himself to Saul who, it would seem, has forgotten the one who had soothed his troubled spirit many a time before, and reassures him. The enemy was defying, not man, but God; and it was God's battle, not theirs. Thus faith ever reasons. It sees the hostile adversary not against poor puny man, but against the Lord of hosts.
To Saul's inquiry, how he could meet such a mighty foe, and he but a youth, David replies that already God has given him the victory over both the lion and the bear, and would, in like manner, deal with this foe. Our Lord had won the victory over Satan at the time of temptation, and the cross, therefore, was but the culmination of that same victory. Thus David goes forth, meets the foe, overcomes him, and a glorious triumph is the result; a triumph in which Saul himself, for the time being, shares, and David is brought before him and begins a new chapter in his life as the recognized leader of the people.
Saul himself rejoices in this victory, as though little realizing what it meant for him personally. How much the world, though dominated by the flesh, owes to the victory of Christ! The very peace and order of government are the result of that victory; and yet, alas, the world has only temporary blessing resulting from it and would cast those results away in the inevitable refusal of the reign of Christ and the adoption of the Man of Sin as their king.
1 The reader will find much profit in the "Life and Times of David" by C. H. M.; "Staff and Sceptre" by C. K.; and the full and orderly Notes in the Numerical Bible on the life of David.