King Saul: Part 5

1 Samuel 28-31
My present business I will not forget is with Saul; but I cannot entirely pass by further notices, which these chapters suggest, of David and of Jonathan.
In David we see much that is indeed beautiful and excellent, richly savoring of the Spirit of God. But still we see also the failing of man. Troubles prove temptations to him, and such temptations as are at, times too strong for him He lies to Ahimelech, feigns madness before Achish, purposes vengeance on Nabal, and seeks a refuge among the uncircumcised. For such is man found to be even in this, one of his best samples. But such was not the Lord. He stood faultless, the author and finisher of faith. The faith of David at Nob or at Gath was not what it had been in the valley of Elah, but all was full and equal brightness in Jesus from the manger to the tree.
In Jonathan also we see beautiful faith. His soul was knit to David the moment he saw him, and he empties himself in order to fill David—he strips himself that he may clothe David. For God gives Jonathan clearly to see the divine purpose touching David. But then the question is, this being so, did Jonathan go far enough? ought he not to have more fully left his father, and joined the little outcast band in the cave of Adullam? and is not his inglorious fall at Gilboa the wages of his unbelief? I judge that is so; and thus Jonathan gives us another proof that there is none perfect but the Lord, that none but He has ever gone the walk of faith without some backward step, some error to the right hand or the left.1
But I must now hasten to the closing scenes of this solemn and affecting history. For the night of Israel is now setting in with many a dark and heavy cloud. (xxviii.) Samuel is dead, the Philistines as strong and threatening as ever, David the deliverer of the people forced without the camp, and our poor king, the slave of his lusts, all fear and confusion. He inquires of God, but there is no answer, even as it is written, “because I have called, and ye refused, I will mock when your fear cometh.” The Lord was now building against him, and—setting him in dark places—He was hedging him about, and making his chain heavy, and when he now cried, He shut out his prayer. It was indeed a day of darkness and trouble to Israel, as it will be by and by. There was now a forsaking of the living for the dead, and a seeking unto wizards that peep and that mutter, as there will be in the vexation of the latter day. The day of Israel's final iniquity is now anticipated—it is “trouble and darkness and dimness of anguish,” as it will be then. (Isa. 8:20-2220To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them. 21And they shall pass through it, hardly bestead and hungry: and it shall come to pass, that when they shall be hungry, they shall fret themselves, and curse their king and their God, and look upward. 22And they shall look unto the earth; and behold trouble and darkness, dimness of anguish; and they shall be driven to darkness. (Isaiah 8:20‑22).)
At different seasons of the ripening of man's iniquity, there has been a confederacy of kings and their counselors against the Lord and His Anointed. Thus Pharaoh took council with the withstand Moses. Balak sent for Balaam to curse Israel. The Jews with Caiaphas their counselor rage against the Lord, and imagine evil. And so in the latter day, the confederacy of the beast and the false prophet will form itself against the power, and in despite of the glory and worship of God. And thus at the close of the iniquity, whether it be in Egypt, in Midian, in Israel or in Christendom, man puts forth his full strength, forming confederacies between the wise ones and the great ones of the earth “The carpenter encourages the goldsmith, and he that smootheth with the hammer him that smites the anvil;” but all that is only made to show forth the greater glory of Him who sits above all waterfloods. His patience has then been despised, His waiting to be gracious has then been neglected, and “the grounded staff,” the decreed vengeance, has only to take its course.
And now, in our history, we get another instance of the same desperate effort of man of the consummation of his sin. Saul with the witch of Endor is another apostate king in consultation with his evil counselor for the filling up the measure of his iniquity. (1 Chron. 10) The cup was now about to be full, and judgment at the doors ready to enter.
Saul, I may here observe, had never set up an idol in the land, though that had been so much the way of Israel both before and after him. He had rather been moved with the desire of setting up himself, thus more clearly marking his brotherhood, as I have before observed, with that willful one of the last days, who is not to regard any God but to magnify himself above all. And with this desire he had already cleared the land of wizards and witches.
But even this light was darkness in him; for it was himself and not, the God of Israel that he would fain bring in instead of the idol. But now that he is losing himself, and the world, as he fears, is departing from him, he will readily enough strike2 hands with any helper, and form confederacy with even the witch of Endor. The way which the Lord now takes in hand to deal with this confederacy, is very striking, By his prophet Ezekiel he has said, “Every one that setteth up his idols in his heart, and putteth the stumbling-block of his iniquity before his face, and cometh to the prophet, I the Lord will answer him according to the multitude of his idols.” (Ezek. 14:1-81Then came certain of the elders of Israel unto me, and sat before me. 2And the word of the Lord came unto me, saying, 3Son of man, these men have set up their idols in their heart, and put the stumblingblock of their iniquity before their face: should I be inquired of at all by them? 4Therefore speak unto them, and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord God; Every man of the house of Israel that setteth up his idols in his heart, and putteth the stumblingblock of his iniquity before his face, and cometh to the prophet; I the Lord will answer him that cometh according to the multitude of his idols; 5That I may take the house of Israel in their own heart, because they are all estranged from me through their idols. 6Therefore say unto the house of Israel, Thus saith the Lord God; Repent, and turn yourselves from your idols; and turn away your faces from all your abominations. 7For every one of the house of Israel, or of the stranger that sojourneth in Israel, which separateth himself from me, and setteth up his idols in his heart, and putteth the stumblingblock of his iniquity before his face, and cometh to a prophet to inquire of him concerning me; I the Lord will answer him by myself: 8And I will set my face against that man, and will make him a sign and a proverb, and I will cut him off from the midst of my people; and ye shall know that I am the Lord. (Ezekiel 14:1‑8).) Now this, I judge, was just the way of the Lord in this case. Saul was a corrupt man, in whose heart, and before whose face, the world, as his idol and stumbling block, was set; and because of this the Lord now answers him Himself. He takes the business out of the hand of the witch altogether, gives Samuel for a moment according to Saul's desire, but it is only in judgment, only “according to the multitudes of his idols,” only to tell him of the vengeance that was now at the very doors prepared for him, his house, and his people. The witch is set aside, just indeed as Balaam had been. Balak, like Saul, had consulted the prophet; but the prophet, like the witch, had been overruled and disappointed. He could not go beyond the word of the Lord, but simply speaks as the Lord constrained him; as here the witch is confounded, and cries out in fear, not knowing what she saw, for the Lord had taken the business into His own hand according to the word of the prophet. And thus this appearance and word of Samuel was another hand-writing upon the wall, marking judgment against another profane king with the finger of God Himself.
The Lord thus in Saul illustrates His own principle of acting as revealed by Ezekiel. It was too late now for anything but an answer in judgment. Like Esau, Saul might have had God for his portion. The birthright was his, but he sold it. For the honor that cometh from man, he sold it, as Esau did for a mess of pottage. And now there is no place of repentance for him He beseeches Samuel, but the door was shut, and the master of the house had risen up.
And Saul was no more renewed by all this than God was led to repentance by it. The prophet going from the dead will not persuade, where the living prophet has been refused. Esau might weep at the loss of the blessing, but he still hated his brother. So here Saul for a while is amazed and troubled, lying on the earth and refusing to be comforted; but the trouble and amazement pass by, and he takes of the woman's hand and is refreshed by her dainties. Thus all this is only another stage in his downward path, rather progress than interruption in his dark and evil way. As in Israel His people afterward, the raising of Lazarus did but strengthen the enmity against the Lord, and carried them onward only the more rapidly to finish their sin at Calvary. (John 11:4747Then gathered the chief priests and the Pharisees a council, and said, What do we? for this man doeth many miracles. (John 11:47).)
And now we have only to follow our infatuated king to the place of judgment, the “day of visitation.” He had rejected the word of the Lord, and the Lord had rejected him. His sin had gone before unto judgment—no inquiry after it need now be made. Every passage of his evil reign had declared it, and now he has only to meet the judgment. Accordingly in the strength of that food which he had received at the hand of his evil counselor, he goes out against the uncircumcised, but it is only to fall before them. (31.) But not the death of all men does he die. He dies as a fool dies, slain by his own sword; his sons fall with him, and his army is routed by the enemies of the Lord. “Saul died, and his three sons, and his armor-bearer, and all his men that same day together.” For it was the Lord, and not the Philistines, that had a controversy with him. The day was the Lord's, and in the day of the Lord the apostate king and his host fall. “They lie uncircumcised with them that go down to the pit “; and he comes to his end, as another shall do, and there is none to help him. (Dan. 11:4545And he shall plant the tabernacles of his palace between the seas in the glorious holy mountain; yet he shall come to his end, and none shall help him. (Daniel 11:45).)
Thus all ends in the fearful day of Mount Gilboa. Our king has presented us with a fearful pattern of the apostate and his end. He was one indeed who left his first estate. Chosen, anointed, gifted for office, he stood at first in the full title and exercise of the throne; but by transgression he fell, and his office another is to take. Lost, infatuated, child of this world! Here was death the wages of sin again, here was the end of man's and of Israel's way, ruin and confusion and the full power of the enemy, the harvest of whirlwind from the wind which they had sown, the end of that storm of rain and thunder which they had been called to listen to at the beginning of their sin.(12.)
Our Lord has said, “For judgment am I come into this world, that they which see not might see, and that they which see might be made blind.” So is it in these scenes. (29.-31.) Here “the lame take the prey,” and the stout ones “bow down under the prisoners.” The poor outcast David with his little goodly band does mighty deeds which are still to be had in remembrance; but Saul, with the strength of his camp and the glory of his court perishes, the sport and reproach of the uncircumcised. The spoils of Amalek go among David's friends, while Saul's armor hangs in the house of Ashtaroth and his head in the temple of Dagon. “This is David's spoil,” was said over Amalek; while the Philistines had to publish every where among their people, that “Saul was dead.”
Thus are the bows of the mighty broken, while they that stumbled are girded with strength. Because for judgment has the Lord come into the world that they which see not might see, and that they which see might be made blind.
Well, beloved brethren, surely we have reason to remember Saul, as we are charged by our blessed Master to remember Lot's wife. In him we see the man of the earth perishing in his own corruptions; and in his history we read the end of one whose inward thought was that his house should have continued forever, but whose way proved his folly. “Lo, this is the man that made not God his strength, but trusted in the abundance of his riches, and strengthened himself in his wickedness.”
Can you and I sit down on the ruin of all that which Saul lived for, and still find that we have lost nothing? Can we look at the world failing us, and yet know that our real inheritance is untouched? Has “the God of glory” as yet led us out from the world? Have we as yet cast our anchor within the vail? Is our “good thing” with Jesus? O brethren, is there not a cause to sound the warning of the history of Saul in our ears? does it not show us, that “the friendship of the world is enmity against God?” He sought its honor, and what it had to give; and that he might make sure of that, he gave up God. And are not we pressed and tempted by the same world that ruined him? O that our blessed, blessed, Lord may, by His grace set our hearts upon Himself, and our eye upon His glory, so that we may stand on the wreck of all that can be wrecked, and still find that our portion is like the everlasting hills! Amen, Lord Jesus!