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Bible Commentaries

The Biblical Illustrator

1 Samuel 13

 

 

Verse 1

1 Samuel 13:1

Saul reigned one year; and when he had reigned two years over Israel.

The War of Independence

The sacred historian prefaces the account of the War of Independence with a statement as to Saul’s age and reign. The Revised Version thus gives it: “Saul was thirty years old when he began to reign; and he reigned two years over Israel.” There is no mention of Saul’s ago in the present Hebrew text, the number having been accidentally dropped in the copying; but the number thirty, which the translators of the Revised Version have adopted from an emendation of the Septuagint, is very probably correct, as thirty was the usual age for public service amongst the Jews. As to the second half of the statement, many, such as Ewald and Dean Stanley, take it to be a correct account of the period that elapsed between Saul’s election and the War of Independence. According to them, the War of Independence began after Saul had reigned two years. But there are several considerations which go to show that this can hardly be accepted.

1. The abject condition of the country when the War of Independence began.

2. The age of Jonathan. Jonathan appears in the War of Independence as the captain of a thousand and one of the most heroic warriors of the nation; and as such he could hardly have been less than twenty years of age. That would make him, if Saul had only reigned two years, eighteen years of age when his father was elected king.

3. The sad deterioration in the character of Saul. The character of Saul, as displayed in the War of Independence, is in marked contrast with that portrayed in the early part of his history. As a young man in the beginning of his career, he was meek, humble, considerate, and self-restrained; but in the War of Independence he is impatient, imperious, cruel, and rash. And according to the Latin proverb, Nemo repents turpissimus est--no one becomes wicked all at once--the period of little more than a year is much too short to account for this baleful and disastrous change. As the sacred writers are in the habit of giving the age of each king, and the length of his reign--there are no fewer than thirty-seven illustrations of this in the Old Testament--it seems extremely probable that this was what was actually done in this passage. And I am convinced that the passage originally stood thus: “Saul was thirty years old when he began to reign; and he reigned forty years over Israel.” My reasons for thinking so are the following:--


Verses 1-23

Verses 2-7

1 Samuel 13:2-7

Saul chose him three thousand men of Israel.

Aggression upon the camp of evil

The spiritual application of this incident teaches us that every man in the Church is a soldier acting under Divine leadership, or human leadership Divinely appointed, and that the solemn and unchangeable duty of the great army is to make daily aggression upon the whole camp of evil. The very existence of that camp should be regarded as a challenge. There need be no waiting for formal defiance; the Christian army is justified in regarding the existence of any form or colour of evil as a call to immediate onslaught. We fight not against men, but against their corruptions. We do not kill our brother men, we seek by Divine instrumentalities to slay the evils which have debased their manhood. There must be war in the world until all evil is driven out of it. Physical carnage is incompatible with the Spirit of Christ, and is, therefore ever to be regarded with horror and inexpressible detestation; but the grand spiritual war is never to cease until the last black spot of wickedness is taken away from the fair robe of the moral creation. Judging by what is seen in the spirit and action of nominal Christians, who could justly regard them as men of intrepidity and invincible resoluteness? What trembling, what hesitation, what nightmare fancies, what ghostly noises in the night, what nameless spectres have combined to make the Church afraid! What a genius the Church has for creating fears! How afraid the Church is of sensationalism, offending the weak, annoying the sensitive, disturbing the slumbering! What wonder if amid all this unworthy hesitation the war should be going against the Divine standard! But we must not look at the people: our eyes must be upon the Captain of our salvation. In his heart there is no misgiving; he must reign till he hath put all enemies under his feet; he never turns back from the war; his sword is always highest in the air, pointing the road to danger and to victory. (J. Parker, D. D.)


Verses 8-10

1 Samuel 13:8-10

And he tarried seven days, according to the set time that Samuel had appointed.

The impatience of man and the long-suffering of Christ

(with 1 Timothy 1:16):--The figure of Samuel is scarcely ever presented to us alone. In childhood it is ever set in contrast with the wicked practices of those sons of Eli. Those young men defiled with sin the sanctuary of God: that child adhered to duty in the very presence of their ill example. In manhood and old age, the prophet is ever confronted with the king; the messenger sent to select, to anoint, to counsel, at last to warn and to reprove, to judge and to condemn, with the unhappy object of all these ministrations; whose advancement seemed in the fore view so full of honour and of happiness, but was made by his ungoverned temper and perverse self-will so ruinous to his own peace and to his people’s welfare. The king had been expressly charged to await the coming of the prophet to offer an offering in Gilgal. It was a trial of fidelity and obedience. If Saul really believed that the direction was from God, and if he was really anxious to obey God, he would wait. If he allowed any other considerations to come in, considerations of self-interest, of expediency, of what was reasonable or probable apart from the command, then, tried as he was to be, he would certainly anticipate the ceremony, and not wait. The seven days ran their course, and there was no sign of Samuel’s approach. Meanwhile the people were discouraged. Accordingly the king’s resolution gave way. There was some excuse, considerable temptation, no slight admixture of better motives, some superstition, some religion, some sense of the necessity of God’s help, much neglect of God’s directions as to the proper way of securing it. Saul’s fell on this occasion through the operation of a principle (if so it can be called) which is natural to all of us, the principle of impatience. How many errors, faults, and sins, in our lives, spring out of this source! We scarcely ever do a thing (as we express it) in a hurry, without having afterwards to regret it. Nothing so done is likely to be well done. A thing may be done quickly, and well done, but not hurriedly, not in impatience. How many things have to be done twice over, because they were not done once quietly! Sometimes out of a little momentary act of haste springs a misunderstanding never to be cleared up, a quarrel never to be reconciled, an injustice never to be repaired. It is thus that impatience shows itself in the little daily acts of life: but it has a still more serious influence upon life’s greater changes. Every condition of life has its less pleasant side: those who think they have a right to a portion wholly agreeable fret under these alloys of enjoyment, and can sea almost nothing else in the lot assigned to them. Every rank and every age is liable to this feeling. A servant has become dissatisfied with his present position, and in the hurry of his impatience he suddenly resolves to make a change: how often, how often, for the worse! He has changed perhaps a kind master for one cold and considerate, a Christian home for a worldly, a safe place for one full of temptation, and in point of comfort, meanwhile, he has gained nothing. He would fain have returned, but the door is closed, and even if he could, pride would not let him. And how often has a man of mature age erred, and marred his life, through the very same impatience! Keenly alive to the trials of his present position he has greedily seized some opening for change. Bitterly may he one day regret that unthankful spirit of human impatience, which doubled the aggravations of the then known and present, and blinded him to the certain dangers of the then untried and future. But most of all is the working of this mind seen, as it was seen in King Saul, when there is not only a lurking imprudence but also a lurking disobedience. It was not merely that Saul was too much in a hurry, and did that precipitately which he might have done quietly: he showed the strength of his impatience by letting it interfere with and overbear a plain command of God. And how often now is the same sin committed! A man impatient of what is, is in no safe state for choosing what shall be. To say nothing of things positively forbidden, choices which can only be made by absolute sin, there are many things wrong for the individual though not wrong for another, and of which God, in the manifold workings of conscience and of His Spirit, leaves us not in ignorance or forgetfulness. But, like all God’s admonitions, these may be overborne, and often are so. There is yet, perhaps, a just application of the history before us to the subject of human impatience in matters more entirely and purely spiritual. There is a strong yearning in the heart of man for the realisation of God. We long, and it is right to do so, for something more than a mere book knowledge or a mere head knowledge of Christ and of His salvation. We would believe, not because of the saying of another, but because we have seen Him for ourselves, and know that He is indeed the Christ, the Saviour of the world. But, O how many, in the sickness of a hope deferred, have at last discarded it; in the impatience of nature, they have said at last. The happiness, the blessedness, of a realised conviction is not for me: they have either ceased to look for it, and gone back into the world of sense and sin, or they have accepted some lie in its place; have put their trust in forms or in shadows, in things external and ceremonial. Thus, in one way or another, after waiting their seven days almost but not quite to a termination, they have despaired of the promised advent of comfort and illumination; they have seized some offering of their own, and offered it instead of that which God hath provided; they have satisfied conscience and stifled the Spirit. Human impatience has forced itself into things spiritual, and destroyed for the soul itself God’s best and highest gift. I have reserved the last few words of my sermon for that beautiful and touching thought which should correct as well as contrast with the impatience of man, the thought, I mean, of the long suffering of Christ. St. Paul gives this as the object with which he, once a blasphemer and a persecutor, he the chief of sinners, had obtained mercy, that in him first Jesus Christ might show forth all long-suffering for a pattern to those who should hereafter believe on Him to life everlasting. If Jesus Christ were impatient like us, where should we be at this time--where, and what? His ways are not as our ways: if He dealt with us at all as the very best deal with one another, there is not a man upon earth who would live to grow up: one and twenty years of such provocation would be absolutely impossible. But to all things there is an end. A day of grace implies a morning, a mid-day, and an evening; implies too a deep dead midnight when all work has stood still, when all prayer is silent. Let patience have her perfect work, the patience of Christ which so long calls you to repentance. (C. J. Vaughan, D. D.)

The trial of Saul

We are all on our trial. Every one who lives is on his trial, whether he will serve God or not. Saul is an instance of a man whom God blessed and proved, as Adam before him, whom He put on his trial, and who, like Adam, was found wanting. Before Saul went to battle, it was necessary to offer a burnt sacrifice to the Lord, and to beg of Him a blessing on the arms of Israel. He could have no hope of victory, unless this act of religious worship was performed. Now priests only and prophets were God’s ministers, and they alone could offer sacrifice. Kings could not, unless they were specially commanded to do so by Almighty God. Saul bad no leave to offer sacrifice; yet a sacrifice must be offered before he could fight; what must he do? He must wait for Samuel, who had said that be would come to him for that purpose. What a great trial this must have been! Here was a king who had been made king for the express purpose of destroying the Philistines; he is in the presence of his powerful enemy; he is anxious to fulfil his commission; he fears to fail; his reputation is at stake; he has at best a most difficult task, as his soldiers are very bad ones, and are all afraid of the enemy. His only chance, humanly speaking, is to strike a blow; if he delays, he can expect nothing but total defeat. Yet he is told to wait seven days; seven long days must he wait; he does wait them; and to his great mortification and despair, his soldiers begin to desert. Yet does be govern his feelings so far, as to wait all through the seven days. So far he acquits himself well in the trial; he was told simply to wait seven days, and in spite of the risk, he does wait. Though he sees his army crumbling away, and the enemy ready to attack him, he obeys God; he obeys His prophet; he does nothing; he looks out for Samuel’s coming. But now, when his trial seemed over, behold a second trial--Samuel comes not. The prophet of God said he would come; the prophet of God does not come as he said. Why Samuel did not come, we are not informed; except that we see it was God’s will to try Saul still further. O that he had continued in his faith! but his faith gave way, when his trial was prolonged. When Samuel did not come, there was no one of course to offer sacrifice; what was to be done? Saul ought to have waited still longer, till Samuel did come. He had had faith in God hitherto, he should have had faith still. He who had kept him so safely for seven days, why should He not also on the eighth? however, he did not feel this, and so he took a very rash and fatal step. That step was as follows: since Samuel had not come, he determined to offer the burnt sacrifice instead of him; he determined to do what he could not do without a great sin; viz, intrude into a sacred office to which he was not called; nay, to do what he really could not do at all; for he might call it a sacrifice, but it would not be really such, unless a priest or prophet offered it. This is a crime often denounced in Scripture, as in the case of Korah, and Jeroboam, and Uzziah. Korah was swallowed up by the earth on account of it; Jeroboam had his hand withered, and was punished in his family; and Uzziah was smitten with leprosy. Yet this was Saul’s sin. You see, if he had waited but one hour more, he would have been saved this sin; in other words, he would have succeeded in his trial instead of failing. But he failed, and the consequence was, he lost God’s favour, and forfeited his kingdom. How much is there in this melancholy history which applies to us at this day, though it happened some thousand years ago! We are, like Saul, favoured by God’s free grace; and in consequence we are put on our trial like Saul--we are all tried in one way or another; and now consider how many there are who fall like Saul.

1. How many are there who, when in distress of any kind, in want of means, or of necessaries, forget, like Saul, that their distress, whatever it is, comes from God; that God brings it on them, and that, God will remove it in His own way, if they trust in Him: but who, instead of waiting for His time, take their own way, their own bad ways, and impatiently hasten the time, and thus bring on themselves judgment! Sometimes, telling an untruth will bring them out of their difficulties, and they are tempted to do so. They make light of the sin; they say they cannot help themselves, that they are forced to it, as Saul said to Samuel; they make excuses to quiet their conscience; and instead of bearing the trial well, enduring their poverty, or whatever the trouble may be, they do not shrink from a deliberate lie, which God hears.

2. Again, how many are there who, when in unpleasant situations, are tempted to do what is wrong in order to get out of them, instead of patiently waiting God’s time! What is this but to act like Saul? he had very little peace or quiet all the time he remained in presence of the enemy, with his own people falling away from him; and he, too, took an unlawful means to get out of his difficulty.

3. Again, how many are there who, though their hearts are not right before God, yet have some sort of religiousness, and by it deceive themselves into an idea that, they are religious! Observe, Saul in his way was a religious man; I say, in his way, but not in God’s way; yet his very disobedience he might consider an act of religion, He offered sacrifice rather than go to battle without a sacrifice. An openly irreligious man would have drawn up his army and fallen upon the Philistines without any religious service at all. Saul did not do this; he desired to have God’s blessing upon him; and, while he felt that blessing to be necessary, he did not feel that the only way of gaining it was seeking it in the way which God had appointed. Thus he deceived himself; and thus many men deceive themselves now; not casting off religion altogether, but choosing their religion for themselves, as Saul did, and fancying they can be religious without being obedient.

4. Again, how many are there, who bear half the trial God puts on them, but not the whole of it; who go on well for a time, and then fall away! Saul bore on for seven days, and fainted not; on the eighth day his faith failed him. O, may we persevere to the end! Many fall away. Let us watch and pray.

5. Once more, how many are there, who, in a narrow, grudging coldhearted way, go by the letter of God’s commandments, while they neglect the spirit. Instead of considering what Christ wishes them to do, they take His words one by one, and will only accept them in their bare necessary meaning. They are wanting in love. Saul was told to wait seven days--he did wait seven days; and then he thought he might do what he chose. He, in effect, said to Samuel, “I have done just what you told me.” And, in like manner, persona now-a-days, imitating him, too often say, when taxed with any offence, “Why is it wrong? Where is it so said in Scripture? Show us the text:” all which only shows that they obey carnally, in the letter and not in the spirit. How will all excuses, which sinners now make to blind and deaden their consciences, fail them in the Last Day! Saul had his excuses for disobedience. He did not confess be was wrong, but be argued; but Samuel with a word reproved, and convicted, and silenced, and sentenced him. And so in the Day of Judgment all our actions will be tried as by fire. (Plain Sermons by Contributors to the Tracts for the Times.)

The first wrong step

At this first wrong step we are imperatively called to stay and investigate--for it, was in Saul’s case, as it has been in thousands of others--that the first digression from the course of integrity was ruinous He never recovered himself; and the principles which were set going then are to be detected in active operation throughout the whole of his history.

I. The nature of the sin itself demands explanation. We find Samuel saying to Saul, in prospect of the kingdom, “And thou shalt go down before me to Gilgal; and, behold, I will come down unto thee, to offer burnt offerings, and to sacrifice sacrifices of peace offerings: seven days shalt thou tarry till I come to thee, and show thee what thou shalt do.” Now, from the whole tenor of the narrative, we conclude that this direction was not intended to apply to any one single occasion, but that it was to be a general rule for his guidance; that whenever a difficulty arose Saul was to proceed to Gilgal, as a place of religious resort, and to wait there for Samuel’s arrival, which, he was given to understand, might not be until seven days had expired. Looking, then, at this requirement, we are at once struck with the abundant wisdom which is manifest in it. It was a simple but a very significant way of telling Saul that he was not an independent monarch--that he must not act as though he were--that as he was Divinely appointed, so he must consent to be Divinely guided--and that Samuel was to be the medium through which this guidance was go be obtained. This requirement, therefore, was a test by which it might be ascertained whether or not there existed in Saul’s bosom an acquiescence in God’s plan. In the same way, all Divine precepts become tests of character. If they are followed out, they afford the proof of a spirit of obedience; if they are neglected, they expose the lurking spirit of opposition. And now the time of emergency had come--the Philistines were up in arms--the public danger was great Saul is found at Gilgal--Samuel does not arrive--Saul is impatient Not a moment longer will he wait. He did not mind running the risk of offending God: and be sure, that when even the possibility of doing wrong can be lightly viewed--when, there being a doubt even, we take advantage of that doubt to gratify our own passions, rather than act on the principle of denying ourselves in case we should be wrong--be sure, that when we do this, our hearts have begun to be callous, the searing process on our conscience has already commenced. And then, as it often happens in such eases, Saul had scarcely committed himself to the wrong course before he was detected. It is clear that his conscience told him that he was wrong, from the vain excuses which he made. He told Samuel that he did it reluctantly--“I forced myself.” He charges Samuel with delay and want of punctuality. “Thou camest, not within the days appointed.” He assigned a religious motive--“I had not made my supplications to the Lord.” Here we see that sort of special pleading which always shows a consciousness of guilt.

II. This first wrong step proved fatal to the prospects of Saul. Is it objected that the penalty was severe, for not waiting a little longer than he did, till Samuel arrived? We answer, “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” And though we should never volunteer a justification of the Divine proceedings as though they needed this, yet, we may find that there is a power in such thoughts as the following, to throw light on the Divine dealings in this case.

1. Sin is not estimated by God according to its outward form, but according to the amount and extent of the principle of evil embodied in that form. There may be as much of downright rebellion against God in what men would call a little sin, as in a series of what, they would describe as flagrant offences.

2. The first wrong step is always marked by a peculiarity of evil which does not attach to any subsequent offence. Men are accustomed to palliate the first offence, because it is the first: a more accurate estimate would show that this habit of judging is thoroughly erroneous and fallacious. There is more to keep a man from committing a first offence, than there is to keep him from committing a second or any subsequent criminal act. The impression of the command is at least one degree deeper than it can possibly be after it has been trifled with. The first sin involves the taking tip of a new position, and this is harder work than to maintain it. It is assuming a character of disobedience, and this requires more hardihood than to wear it when it has been once put on. It is breaking through consistency, which is a strong barrier so long as it is unbroken; but if once broken through, sin becomes easy. It is the first offence in any particular direction which Satan aims at inducing us to commit; that sin committed, the habit of doing right is broken through, and the next offence in the same direction will be easier. It is to this point that he addresses his most specious plea, “Only this once,”--“The first time, and it will be the last.” But did it ever prove to be the last? All history says, No; and loud, among other evidence, is the testimony of the narrative of Saul. Have we been brought into the right path, and tempted to forsake it, then be this our answer--“No! not even the first step will I venture again out of the path of duty.” (J. A. Miller.)

Beginning of evil

There is a factory in France where spider webs are regularly cultivated, and of the delicate fibres ropes for balloons for military purposes are constantly made. It seems almost incredible that so frail a thing can, by being multiplied, be made into a strong rope, strong enough go strangle a man; yet so it, is. Cobwebs can now literally become cables. Sinful thoughts, shadowy and filmy at the first, may become so strong by constant indulgence that the strong cords of avarice, lust, hate, may at last bind the soul to its utter undoing. Beware of the beginnings of evil. (H. O. Mackey.)

Decline of soul

When a worm gets to the root of a delicate and sensitive plant, the first effect may only be a vague sense of general sickliness, a loss of brightness, an unhealthy drooping of the leaves. But if it remain it will by and by be the utter death of it. So when some secret sin is cherished in the soul, the idolatry of gold, some awful lust, or a bitter spirit of detraction or revenge, then there creeps over the religious life a general sickliness; the brightness of Divine gladness departs; spiritual interests begin to droop, and the whole soul becomes languid and weary. But if the evil be not removed, by and by there comes open apostasy and blank denial and despair. Secret faults lead to presumptuous sins. May grace arrest the former, that we fall not into the latter. (H. O. Mackey.)

Loyalty essential to royalty

Saul was now to be taught that to be really royal a man must first be really loyal. Obedience is the first condition of rulership. There was no need for this usurpation of the priestly office on the part of Saul. It is at this point that so many mistakes are made, that men will imagine that the cause of God is in necessity, and will rush in a spirit of usurpation to do the work which God Himself has undertaken to be done by other hands. When will men learn to stand still, and in holy patience await the coming of the Lord? When will men give up the self-idolatry which supposes that unless they undertake to quicken the movements of Providence, the destinies of the universe will be imperilled? The worship of patience may be more accepted than the service of rashness. (J. Parker, D. D.)


Verse 11-12

1 Samuel 13:11-12

Because I saw that the people were scattered from me, and that thou camest not within the days appointed.

Principle and expediency

What a solemn and impressive condemnation have we here of that far too common practice--deserting principle to serve expediency. I don’t like to tell a lie, someone may say, but if I had not done it I should have lost my situation. I dislike common work on the Sabbath day, but if I did not do it, I could not live. I don’t think it right to go to Sunday parties or to play games on Sundays, but I was invited by this or that great person to do it, and I could not refuse him. I ought not to adulterate my goods, and I ought not to give false statements of their value, but every one in my business does it, and I cannot be singular. What do these vindications amount to, but just a confession that from motives of expediency God’s commandment may be set aside? (W. O. Blaikie, D. D.)

Waiting the Lord’s time

Unbelief is always in a hurry, cannot wait the appointed time, will snatch at unripe fruit, and in deed, if not in words, proclaim itself wiser than God, and better able to determine times and seasons. Faith is a lovely, quiet, waiting grace; and taking its rest on infinite wisdom, and boundless love, whether the Lord gives or denies, cheerfully exclaims, “Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Thy sight.” If this be faith, you will readily perceive the need of that prayer, “Increase our faith.” It is easy for us to blame Saul, but are we sure we should not have made haste under such circumstances? He had waited till the seventh day; Samuel was not come, and “the people were scattered from him.” Sometimes we think, if I could just see a glimpse of hope--a prospect of an opening--the least sound of a distant moving for my help; but seeing is not believing--believing is hoping for that which we see not; yea, “against hope believing in hope.” The furnace for faith must be heated to this point, or it is not sufficient to prove that it is real faith. Sense might have waited till the seventh day; but to wait till the close of the seventh day without an appearance of help, yea, with all appearances against it, this required a faith to which poor Saul was a stranger. He would fain have had Samuel come within the time appointed. Samuel would not come until the time, but at the set time he came. The seventh day was not expired, for as soon as ever Saul’s unholy sacrifice had been offered, behold, Samuel appeared. The Lord grant us more of this patient waiting upon Him! this assurance that He will come and will not tarry. He who made haste to be everything, shall now be nothing. (Helen Plumptre.)

Awaiting God’s time

Good old Spurstow says that “some of the promises are like the almond tree--they blossom hastily in the very earliest spring; but,” saith he, “there are others which resemble the mulberry tree--they are very slow in putting forth their leaves.” Then what is a man to do, if he has a mulberry tree promise, which is late in blossoming? Why, he is to wait till it does blossom; since it is not in his power to hasten it. If the vision tarry, exercise the precious grace called patience, and the appointed time shall surely bring you a rich reward. (C. H. Spurgeon.)


Verse 12

1 Samuel 13:12

I forced myself therefore, and offered a burnt offering.

The right and the wrong of Saul’s conduct

“I forced myself therefore”; “could not help it”; “my poverty but not my will consents.” This not tenable in Christian morality. (Romans 12:1-21 fin.; 1 Corinthians 10:13.) The prophet was mouthpiece of Divine law: the king its administrator and executor. Prophet superior to king in respect of religious observances. Saul’s difficulty continually recurs, plain commands of God not to be slighted or disobeyed for less plain ones. In this incident we find something right in Saul, and something wrong.

I. Where Saul was right. He was in great distress, and felt need of Divine aid. (Psalms 60:11.) He was for seeking it in ordinances appointed. Christ’s sacrifice on cross our great peace offering, to be presented in faithful, intelligent prayer. (St. John 14:6 fin.) Do not stay at a mere dull, diffused sense of wanting pardon. So, if need enlightenment, seek it in Holy Scripture (St. John 5:39); if spiritual refreshment, at Holy Communion. Ordinances have their proper value, rightly used. Thus Saul was right.

II. Where Saul was wrong. Elements of his fault: Want of faith; contrast Gideon (Isaiah 28:16); superstition as to sacrifice. Nowadays, many value ordinance of religion quite independently of state of heart in the person using it. Saul relied on the form only. “Sacrifice must be offered!” No! It is not the objective but the subjective that is of highest importance; the formal is useless without the spiritual. Heart first. (Isaiah 1:10-20; James 4:3; St. John 4:24; Psalms 51:9-10.) Saul misapprehended the object and effect of religious ordinances. It is not the thing done, but the obedient spirit of the doer which obtains. (Psalms 50:18.) No mechanical influence upon God by prayer, etc. Ordinances are not charms, but channels of grace when rightly used. Therefore Saul disobeyed. Sin never necessary. Contrary notion arises from cowardice, or from superstition, or from some other want of intelligence Since Saul’s fault was superstitious distrustfulness, seek from Holy Spirit an intelligent reliance on the general promises of God, and an intelligent obedience to the plain commands. (Cornelius Witherby, M. A.)


Verse 13-14

1 Samuel 13:13-14

And Samuel said to Saul, Thou hast done foolishly: thou hast not kept the commandment of the Lord.

Folly illustrated by the character of Saul

We perhaps, had we possessed no ulterior information, might have been disposed to expect that, when the Searcher of hearts cast His eye over the twelve tribes in quest of a man whom He might appoint to be ruler over His people; He would select one conspicuous for piety, and prepared by steadfast faith to meet the trials with which his exaltation would be attended. Yet why should we have expected such a choice? Is it the established order of Providence that piety should be recompensed by elevation to dignity and power? Are the rulers of the earth, whether in Pagan or in Christian lands, whether God raises them to empire by the settled course of succession, or by the storms of warfare and revolutions, usually eminent for religion beyond the mass of their subjects? The thoughts of the Most High are not as our thoughts. He knows by what governor, in any particular nation and at any particular time, His Own secret and righteous purposes, whether of mercy or of vengeance, will be most efficaciously promoted. I purpose to lay before you the leading circumstances in the conduct of Saul: and afterwards to deduce, for your edification, some of the inferences which they suggest.

I. In the early behaviour of Saul, after the period when he is introduced in the Scriptures to our notice, there is much to prepossess us in his favour. The fruit, however, corresponds little with the blossom. The impressions produced by early symptoms in Saul of moderation end of respect for his sovereign Benefactor are soon to be effaced. Though Saul by his disobedience respecting the sacrifice has incurred the forfeiture of the kingdom, yet God, ever merciful and long-suffering, forbears to commission Samuel to anoint a successor to the throne, and is willing to grant to the unworthy prince an opportunity of reinstating himself in the Divine favour. Samuel, by the direction of the Most High, now commands Saul to execute the long predicted vengeance. To the conduct of Saul throughout the whole of this transaction can a name more appropriate than folly be ascribed? Can any fact be ascertained more clearly than the identity of folly and sin? Saul is now an outcast from the Divine favour. He is permitted to retain the kingdom during his life; but judgment in its most terrible form delays not to overtake him. The Spirit of the Lord departs from him. How shall the life of Saul be summarily described? I have sinned; I have played the fool; I have erred exceedingly. Whose are these words? The words of Saul himself in his latter days. Do you require stronger testimony to the identity of folly and sin?

II. From the foregoing history, several important observations may be derived.

1. We learn, in the first place, not to repose blind and premature confidence on some few promising appearances as to piety. Let every symptom favourable to the supposition that religion is the ruling principle in the character of another be cordially welcomed, and judiciously encouraged. But learn to guard your willing hopes from degenerating into sanguine credulity. Conceive not that examples of religious consideration on some particular occasions are proofs that religion is firmly and durably established in the bosom. Gold is not known to be genuine, until it has stood the test of fire. The crop is not estimated by the blade, but by the harvest. Wait until religion has for some time been tried by the temptations of life, before you pronounce on its reality.

2. Consider in the next place the guilt of impatiently endeavouring to attain a present good by departing from the way of God’s commandments. Everything which is not conformable to His revealed will is evil. Are you involved in difficulty or trouble? Abide thou in the track of righteousness. This is the way. Walk thou in it. Turn not aside to the right hand or to the left. Abide thou in the track of righteousness: wait thou the time of the Most High, and in His Own time and by the track of righteousness the Most High shall guide thee to peace and to salvation.

3. Behold, thirdly, the guilt of rash resolutions and vows. In concerns of importance that which is resolved hastily is commonly resolved foolishly. But whenever, like Saul, a person forms a determination, or fetters himself by an engagement, under the precipitate impulse of passion, seldom shall a considerable time elapse before he perceives reason for deep and lasting regret.

4. Mark the heinousness of fearing man rather than God. What sin is more general? What sin is more conspicuously arrayed in the attributes of folly?

5. Lastly, let the example of Saul admonish you to frequent meditation on the consequences of disobeying God. (Thomas Gisborne, M. A.)

The great test of character

Michael Angelo once went into the studio of a young artist who had just executed a statue to stand in the public square. Angelo saw its grave defects, and pointed them out to his friend. The exultant artist did not appreciate the criticism of his work, and supposed the greater man to be moved with envy. So he told him, in the dim obscurity of his workshop he could not see the defects which were so apparent to the aged critic, and in passion sneered at the opinion given. “Well,” said Angelo, not the least disturbed, “the light of the public square will test it.” “The light of the public square will test it.” Ah, year The light of the public square is to test every human life. Eternal blaze shall pour upon it, and defects unseen by the poorer light of earth will grow to ghastly deformities. The light of the public square will test it.

The prophet rebuking the king

It is never easy, and it is always unpleasant, to become a rebuker; and when the transgressor is wealthy, or noble, or royal, the difficulty of faithfulness is enhanced. It requires considerable courage and great boldness in the faith for a man of God to reprove a king in whose hands may be his life. Many have had to imperil their lives in the discharge of this duty Some have attributed rudeness and insolence to John Knox, because he spoke the truth to the bigoted Queen Mary of Scotland; but it required courage to tell royalty that she ought to obey God. Had Saul but waited, he might have spared his soul this guilt, and Samuel would have stood at the altar and spoken authoritatively for God! But he took the step of sin, and was insnared in its wiles. He took the first false step in his public career, and his future was an incline to his tragic end. It was his first false step. The embankment of a river can keep out the waters even though they swell and beat; but if a single orifice be opened, how soon do they rush in, and sweep all away, and scatter ruin around. Such is the first sin. It is as the letting out of water. Let the reader beware of the first wrong step. It has wrecked many a soul. It has caused many domestic griefs, darkened the fairest prospects, and withered the most promising expectations. It has sent young men into a career of dishonesty which ended in a prison, and young women into shame and the streets. It has induced apostasy from the faith, and made the professor’s reprobate. This first wrong step is often the crisis of a career. It is not the mere earliest development of iniquity. That comes out with our natural character; but this is the test of our good resolution, or of our profession. When a young man is intrusted with money, and is tempted to dishonesty; when a daughter is enticed by the spoiler, and is tempted to yield; when a professor has been at the table of the Lord, and is called to take up his cross; when a convalescent has to decide whether he will act upon the serious thoughts of eternity and the earnest purposes of soul which marked his illness; when a convicted soul has his old sin alluring him again;--these are times when a false step may prove the beginning of sins and sorrows.

2. He had acted foolishly. This was more than thoughtlessness. It was disobedience. “There are,” says Dr. Kitto, “two kinds of fools prominently noticed in Scripture,--the fool who denies that there is any God,--the fool that saith in his heart, ‘There is no God:--a text which suggests the remark, that if he is a fool who says this ‘in his heart,’ a much greater fool is he that utters the foolish thought. This is one. There is another,--the fool who does not obey God, though he does not deny His existence. And yet, after all, these are but one. If we probe the matter closely, we shall find that there is scarcely more than an impalpable film of real difference between the foolishness of the man who says in his heart there is no God, and that of the man who does not render Him obedience. One may as well believe that there is no God, as not obey Him.

3. The conduct of Saul was the test of his dynasty. He failed, therefore he was cut off. His house was doomed by reason of his sin. His kingdom could not be established. Samuel made the announcement of his fall to the guilty king: “Now thy kingdom shall not continue.” It was not to be an absolute monarchy. It was to he dependent on the will of God, and thus far constitutional to the people. But Saul was not equal to the task of forming a model monarchy for the people of God. He had ability enough, but he lacked principle. He had advantages enough, but he lacked loyalty to God. Therefore, his dynasty was to cease in himself. On first sight, the offence seems small and the punishment heavy. And the question may arise, “Why did God so severely punish Saul for so small an offence, and that occasioned by great necessity, and done with an honest intention, as he professed?” Pool has given the following answer: “First, men are very incompetent judges of God’s judgments.” Men see nothing but Saul’s outward act, which seems small; but God saw with how wicked a mind and heart he did this; with what rebellion against the light of his own conscience, as his own words imply; with what gross infidelity and distrust of God’s Providence; with what contempt of God’s authority and justice,--and many other wicked principles and motives of his heart, unknown to men. Besides, God saw all that wickedness that yet lay hid in his heart, and foresaw all his other crimes; and therefore had far more grounds for his sentence against him than we can imagine. Secondly, God doth sometimes punish small sins severely, and that for divers weighty reasons; as that all men may see what the least sin deserves, and how much they owe to God’s free and rich mercy for passing by their great offences; and what need they have not to indulge themselves in any small sin, as men are very prose to do, upon vain presumptions of God’s mercy, whereby they are easily and commonly drawn on to heinous crimes.

4. Conformity to the heart of God is necessary to the soul’s blessedness. This was its original beatitude, and this is the result of regeneration. Without holiness we cannot see or enjoy God. The man after God’s heart only can enjoy the bliss of fellowship with God. “This likeness is a vital image”--not the image only of Him that lives, the living God, but it is His living and soul-quickening image. It is the likeness of Him in that very respect, an imitation and participation of the life of God, by which, once revived, the soul lives that was dead before. It was not a dead picture, a dumb show, an unmoving statue; but a living, speaking, walking image,--that wherewith the child is like the Father, and by which it lives as God, speaks and acts conformably to him; an image, not such a one as is drawn with a pencil, that expresses only colour and figure, but such a one as is seen in a glass that represents life and motion. The hope of being thus like God gives energy to the Christian in his struggles with sin, and attraction to the many-mansioned home. This conformity is attainable in character, and it is more promotive of bliss than intellect or power. We can be born again. This experience is the introduction of the soul to the life of God. The man after God’s own heart was to be the captain over His people. Saul was quite unfit for this. David was the elect of God. His heart was right. (R. Steel.)

But now thy kingdom shall not continue.

Severe punishment for seemingly small sins

Sometimes God punishes small sins severely, and such are set down in scripture record, for weighty reasons. As--

1. To teach us the heinous nature of sin in its self, so hateful to God, and so hurtful to men, that we may abhor all the degrees of it.

2. To show us, that indeed no sin can truly be called a little sin, because there is no little God to sin against; therefore to disobey the great God even in the smallest matters is a ground great enough, and a sin great enough to procure God’s severity.

3. That we may not indulge ourselves in the least sin, as we are prone to do in presuming on God’s mercy, lest God punish us for them, and lest little sins make way for greater, as little wedges make room for the more massive ones, and little thieves serve to open the doors for the grand crew.

4. That we may all learn the riches of Divine grace and free mercy, in passing by and pardoning such great iniquities in us, when we find the rigour of justice executed upon others for far lesser faults recorded in scripture.

5. That an honest intention will not warrant an unwarrantable action, as some suppose Saul had in sacrificing; two things make a godly man, good actions and good aims. (C. Ness.)

The doom of the unfaithful instrument

The king, one whose character faithfully represented their own national character and desires. Like his people, he leaned to an arm of flesh. Their sin in desiring his rule was his sin in the conduct of that rule. In his darkening course and fearful end was exhibited to them that law of God’s dealings of which their own national history was to be to all ages the most marvellous example whereby His chosen instruments, who refuse to fulfil the end for which He raises them up, are cast down into darkness, and their opportunity of service is given to another. In all this, so far as individuals go, the lesson is plain and inevitable. It is a law of that unseen but most certain dominion which even here, amidst the blinding showers which conceal His immediate working, the Most High is administering, that they who being set anywhere to do His will neglect to do it, are replaced by other and more faithful instruments. This is an universal and eternal law. It was evidently thus that He dealt with the chosen people, who in this, as in so many respects, were the pattern nation. What else but a declaration of this truth is their whole history as it is recorded by inspired annalists and interpreted by gifted prophets? How is this written in every page of the record of God’s dealings with them, down to that last sentence of rejection pronounced by the mouth of the Apostle Paul, when charging on themselves the guilt of their own blood, he said, “Lo, we turn to the Gentiles.” Here then we may see the same righteous hand which wasted Jerusalem overturning the great Assyrian Nineveh. The same law, which first exalted and then cast down the chosen people reached also to the great empires of the heathen world. They rose because they were commissioned to do a certain work; they fell, not by any mere natural process of decay, but under the weight of God’s judicial sentence, executing itself through the permitted action of these secondary causes. And now let me ask you to apply this principle to our own country, and its prospects at this moment.

1. Are there then any tokens which specially mark out for us our appointed work? Now to answer this question we must glance at those distinctive features of our national life which sever us from other people. The first of these is our insular position; for this at once confines us within narrow bounds at home, and facilitates the formation of those distant settlements by which alone we can provide for increasing numbers. Further, the same cause makes it well-nigh impossible that we should be a great military nation, and naturally leads, as the condition of national defence, to our becoming strong in naval power: Further, the natural characteristics of our people tend to produce the same result. In many of the highest gifts bestowed on other tribes of men we are manifestly deficient. We have not the keen sense of beauty which has ere now enabled Greece and even Rome to exalt our race. But we have the gifts of a hardy, industrious, enterprising genius. We are fitted, apparently by innate disposition, to be great subduers of nature’s rebellious and reluctant but conquerable powers. And when any external agency has threatened to destroy these powers, as when Spain and its Armada, or France at the head of a continual system of exclusion, would have destroyed our naval greatness, some direct interpositions of Providence have thwarted their designs. The natural course of such influences has led us on, first to the establishment of distant factories, and then to those factories growing into settlements, and from them turning into colonies, which hays sometimes grown into mighty nations. Now what special charge would such a national organisation seem naturally to suggest as having been providentially committed to our hands? Surely at once it suggests that we are to be employed by God as the bearers of some message to every race and tribe. Not more evidently does the possession of great military power wielded by a single despotic will, mark a people as charged with the avenger’s office; not more evidently do eminent gifts of genius mark a nation as charged to educate its brethren, than do our special faculties, instincts, and relations to the great family of man mark us as the bearers of some message through the world. What then can be the message to bear which we have been so eminently fitted? Let the spiritual blessings God has given us supply the answer to this question.

2. And if here we pause but for one moment, to ask how we, as a nation, have fulfilled this our vocation, how appalling is the answer! Have we not encircled the earth with the girdle of our settlements? Is it not true that as from east to west the morning sun awakens to new life the successive nations, the drum roll of English soldiers follows round the world its rising light? And what, with all this, have we clone for God? Alas, how tardy, how scanty, how interrupted, how unsystematic, how timid, how faithless have been our services! How readily and how plentifully have we sown our vices and diseases broadcast over a suffering world! How feebly, alas, have we planted amongst its nations the living seed of God’s truth in God’s Church! if it be so with us, why tarries yet the day of retribution, why sleep the thunders of judgment? Is our present prosperity but the deep calm before the wild triumph of the hurricane? God only knows, my brethren, how close to us may be that fearful time of uttermost rejection. If to our startled gaze were now opened revelations such as those which fell at Patmos on the beloved St. John, we perhaps might see the mighty angels of vengeance withholding, but, as for a moment, the four winds of heaven, to see whether Britain would repent and do God’s work. Here then plainly is our nation’s calling and our nation’s risk.

3. And if this indeed be our vocation, what are the especial duties binding upon us if we would rise up to its greatness? May it please God to bring them home in all their power to some who listen to them. Now beyond all question the first of all requisites for the delivery of such a message is that we have received it thoroughly ourselves. Here then, alike for the teacher and the taught, is our first, necessity; that the truth of God in all it, purity, with a loving spirit and a patient reiteration, be proclaimed and inculcated; that every lawful means be used, in season and out of season, to reproduce amongst, ourselves men of the true apostolic stamp. Next to this we need to learn to feel, and to make others feel, how mighty are the issues for our own people, and for a waiting world, which hang on our fidelity or faithlessness. (Bishop Samuel Wilberforce.)

The Lord hath sought Him a man after His own heart.--

The man after God’s own heart

The simple earnest Christian has read and learnt the Psalms of David with the greater care, and has loved them the more dearly because the sweet Psalmist of Israel was declared to be after the mind of God: and on the other hand the scoffer has pointed to David’s grievous sins, and asked with scorn whether such things are the deeds of the man after God’s own heart. I propose to offer to you some remarks upon the meaning of David’s noble title, and to show you how he deserved it. And this I shall do principally by contrasting his character with that of Saul, a contrast which is made in the text, and which is in fact the basis of the title applied to David. And this point I must beg you especially to bear in mind, if you would understand the text aright, namely, that David is not called the man after God’s own heart as distinguished from all other good men; it is not asserted that David was on the whole the purest and best man who ever lived. David is described there as being after the Lord’s own heart specially in opposition to Saul, who was very far from being after the mind of God. Saul was a wilful disobedient man, the text was spoken to him on occasion of his disobedience. And if he did such things in the green tree, what would be do in the dry? if be thus ran riot while the oil of consecration was almost fresh upon him, what would he do when his kingdom was established and he became puffed up by his power? Do you not see then, that Saul had showed himself radically unfit for the charge of the Israelitish people? and therefore Samuel was charged to convey to him the voice of reproof and warning, and to tell him that whereas he had shown himself to be a man wilful and disobedient, God would not continue the kingdom to him, but would give it, to a man after His own heart,--His own heart (that is) especially in those very points in which Saul had failed. Now let me contrast a little more carefully the characters of Saul and David. I should say, that the basis of the character of the two men was exactly opposite in one to what it was in the other; and if I can show you, that the basis of the character of one was pleasing to God, and that of the other hateful to Him, then you will not be surprised that the one should be spoken of as being after the mind of God, while the other was rejected from being king. Observe, I am not saying that there may not be some passages in David’s life very bad and disgraceful, and some in Saul’s very good; but I am maintaining that the roots of their characters were different, the one being faith in God, the other faith in man, and that in the main the life of David was a life of faith and obedience, that of Saul one of godless independence. It would not be possible for me to call up all the passages in David’s life which would illustrate the point which we have in hand; but I would refer you to those writings of his, in which he has given us a transcript of his own mind. The Psalms of David present to us a more vivid picture than can perhaps be anywhere else found of a mind waiting upon God, looking away from itself, trusting in Him, blessing Him in trouble, and blessing Him in prosperity, of a mind of which the motive principle is evidently faith in God and submission to Him. It is true that we may find in David’s life at least one very fearful stain. I suppose that never was sin committed which brought such lasting contempt upon piety as that fearful fall of David; but even in this ease let us look to David’s own record of his feelings, when repentance and sorrow had enabled him to see his crime in its true colours, and we shall see what a deep view be took of his sin, and what an intolerable burden it was to him You must remember that David suffered most severely in this world for his sin. “Against Thee, Thee only, have I sinned.” You see here how every other view of sin vanishes before this, the view of it as against God; a man’s vice may bring wretchedness on himself, it may ruin his health, it may bring him to beggary; and these views are very true and in their proper place valuable, but he who looks upon wickedness as God looks upon it, must see it in the light in which it appeared to David; he may regard it as noxious in itself, he may lament the unhappiness which it causes, but he regards it emphatically as sin because it is against God. Thus looking upon the character of David, I seem to see that of a man whose heart was in a very wonderful degree right with God; a man not perfect indeed, for none is perfect, and least of all must we look for Christian perfection under the imperfect dispensation of the old Covenant; but still of a man whose chief characteristics were faith in God, zeal for the honour of God, and humble submission to the will of God. And therefore I do not wonder that Samuel, as contrasting him with Saul, should describe him in the text as after God’s own heart; for these are the characters of mind, which, whether in a king of Israel or in an Englishman of our own days, must aver be the source and spring of all that is pleasing to God. But now for a moment let us look at Saul. Without wishing to depreciate such good qualities as he might possess, I think one may justly hold him forth as a specimen of a man self-dependent, wilful, eminently deficient in these qualities which form the beauty of David’s character, faith in God, humble waiting upon Him, quiet submission to Him. And when we contrast the two characters as I have sketched them to you, you will I think easily see, how, without speaking slightly of David’s sin, we may nevertheless say with truth, that his character in the main features of it was peculiarly after the mind of God, and that David may be rightly spoken of as a man after the Lord’s own heart. I have been endeavouring to show you from the example of David, what is the character of mind which God loves; God loves the man who is ever looking to and leaning upon Him, who has His honour ever in his mind, who thinks little of his own personal convenience and advantage, and delights rather to worship God and God does not love the man who ever seeks himself, the man of irreverent mind, who exalts himself above God, and the world present above the world to come; whatever qualities such a one may have which may make him popular or powerful in the world, God who knows the heart estimates such a man’s deeds as those of Saul, and rejects them. (H. Goodwin, M. A.)

Saul and David

The widely different judgments which Holy Scripture leads us to form respecting Saul and David is a subject which occupies much attention when we are reading the first book of Samuel. The impression which Saul makes upon an average reader, at least at first, is beyond all question a favourable impression. The salient points of his character engage our sympathy, and this sympathy is deepened when we consider the misfortunes of his later life and its tragic close. Saul, indeed, had many of these qualifications which always go to make a man popular. Of the higher qualities of Saul’s natural character which inspires this affection the first was, I do not say his humility, but his modesty. Modesty, unlike humility, is not inconsistent with certain forms of pride; and it is a natural virtue which is good as far as it goes, and which is always attractive Saul was modest. It is plain from the account of his elevation to the throne that he had no wish for such a position. When a number of his new subjects despised him, and, failing in the ordinary usage of Eastern courtesy, brought him no presents, he betrayed no annoyance or irritation; “he held his peace.” Closely allied to this modesty was his capacity for generosity towards opponents. Certainly, Saul was much besides all thin; he was proud, he was reserved, he was obstinate, he was haughty in his later years, he was a prey to the most capricious and irrational jealousy; but, especially in his early life, he had qualities which are always valued and valuable, and which explain the affection with which he was regarded by those who knew him. Moreover, his reign was, on the whole, and in a civil or political sense, of benefit to his country, and yet with this personal character and this note of God’s assistance--for such it was under the old covenant--Saul had upon him, almost from the first, the presentiments of disaster and ruin. When we turn to David we find it difficult, at first, to explain this phrase--the man after the heart of God--thus used by Samuel by way of contrast to Saul, for David’s feelings are written much in the page of Holy Scripture, and they seem, at first sight, to make such an expression unintelligible, or, at least, exaggerated. In point of natural excellence, Saul and David had, at least, while each was a young man, several points in common. If David could not rival Saul’s stature, his activity and his muscular strength were exceptional; his feet, he tells us, were like the feet of the gazelle; his arms could break even a bow of steel. Both Saul and David were men of personal prowess and of personal courage, and David resembled Saul in his modest estimate of himself, and in his generous conduct upon occasions towards others. But there are dark traits in David which the Bible makes no attempts to disguise. Nothing in the annals of Oriental courts can well exceed the baseness of his intrigue with Bathsheba and the cowardly murder of Uriah. Rarely has cruelty towards a conquered enemy been greater than that with which David treated the Ammonites, and although another side of his failings has been much exaggerated by some ancient and by several modern critics, there are traces of deceitfulness in David which recall his ancestor Jacob, and which impair the nobility and the beauty of the general impression he leaves with us. And yet in contrast with Saul he has on him from the first the notes of God’s special approval; his trials and misfortunes only established or renewed his prosperity; his long persecution by Saul leads to his succession to the throne; Absolom’s rebellion only makes his rule more secure than ever in Jerusalem. All through there is upon David a presentiment of acceptance, just as upon Saul, especially as the years pass on, there is more and more plainly stamped a note of reprobation. If it seems at first sight that there is something arbitrary in the different estimates that Holy Scripture itself leads us to form of Saul and David, let us look once more hard at Saul, and let us ask ourselves what it is that is especially wanting in him. Is it not this, that Saul, so far as the Bible account of him goes, gives no evidence of having upon and within him the permanent influence of religion, of anything that we could call the fear and love of God in his hearty. And the same temper is observable in Saul when he was ordered to go and smite the sinners of the Amalekites and utterly destroy them and their cattle. The first particular of his disobedience was occasioned by his wish to be popular, he “feared the people and obeyed their voice”; the second was probably due to his feeling for a brother monarch--a feeling which, however natural at other times, ought not to have arrested obedience to a Divine command. Certainly, Saul’s conduct in respect of Agag did not arise from any unwillingness on his part to shed blood. He had no such scruples to prevent him from attempting the extermination of the Gibeonites, although they ought in his eyes to have been protected by Joshua’s oath, which pledged their safety in the midst of Israel. The truth was that he was at heart indifferent to the command of God, and thought himself at liberty to disobey just as much of it as the feeling or convenience of the moment, might suggest. And it is no objection to this view of Saul’s mind, as in reality unconcerned with the claims of God and with the unseen world, that he showed himself anxious for some superhuman guidance when on the eve of his death he stole round the base of little Hermon to endeavour to consult the witch. We see the same thing every day of our lives. Men who have scornfully rejected the Christian revelation are constantly haunted by weird or grotesque superstitions. The human soul is made for faith in the unseen, and if its deep craving be not satisfied by the one supreme reality of what He has told us about Himself, it will seek satisfaction in quarters which faith would condemn more earnestly than reason. Now it was precisely in this respect that Saul presents so great a contrast to David. David, in spite of his grievous faults, had upon his heart and conscience continually the impress, awful, yet most fascinating, of the majesty, the beauty, the encompassing presence, the boundless magnificence of God. This great possession remained with him throughout his life. He has admitted us to the secrets of his soul at almost every stage of his eventful history. David associates us with his experiences not, only in his triumphs, but in his deep and unspeakable humiliations. We know what he feels and thinks after his sin with Bathsheba, what he feels and thinks as he flies a dishonoured exile before his rebellious son. And he is always true to this ruling characteristic of his life. When in his fear or his exaltation, in his penitence or in his joy, in his struggles or in his repose, in thought or in action, God has the first place in his intellect; God’s approval, God’s condemnation, God’s works, God’s will are ever his first concern. This, the preoccupation of his life, makes him, even in the camp or on the throne, a sort of enthusiast, on whom the outward world sits lightly, and who cares not for its unfavourable opinion if only he is loyal to his unseen and awful Master. “Whom have I in heaven but Thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire in comparison of Thee.” One cannot imagine these words in the mouth of Saul, the cool-headed man of the world, conducting himself as did David when the ark was moved in state from the house of Obed-edom, near Kirjath-jearim, to Jerusalem. This is the reason why David is called, in contrast to Saul, “the man after God’s own heart.” Certainly. David’s sins were not after God’s own heart. May He forgive the blasphemy that would suggest that they were! But beyond and beneath those sins there was a permanent character of soul instinct with the fear and with the love of God that survived and conquered them. There was, so far as we know or can conceive, nothing corresponding to this in Saul. There is, indeed, no event in Saul’s life which is at once so cruel and so base as David’s sin with the wife of the murdered Uriah; but then there was nothing in Saul that could have issued forth as David’s heart-broken repentance. It is the difference between cold, tranquil, decorous indifference to the real claims of God upon a human life, and a fear of God and a love of God which are upon the whole of the governing forces of the soul. Saul and David are lasting types of human character. Saul and David live in their representatives at the present day. Lives on the whole decorous, illustrated even by undoubted and high natural virtues, but based on a deep, if not a reasoned, indifference to the will of God--such lives are lived side by side with lives open to grave criticism on account of conspicuous failings, yet based at bottom on a true fear and love of God, which lasts on under and in spite of the imperfection of the service which is rendered to Him. Saul is the more popular character with the world at large. The world likes his mixture of generosity and haughtiness, his jaunty carelessness about all that points to the mystery and the responsibilities of life. David too, is unquestionably vulnerable and keen sighted, and unfriendly critics are always hard at work upon the inconsistencies which they detect between his practice and his professions. Nevertheless, my brethren, it is better to have our part with David than with Saul; with a loyalty to God which is not always consistent, rather than with an outward propriety, if so be that it is never really loyal. (Canon Liddon.)

A man after God’s own heart

I. It is plain by a reference to the context that the title “after God’s own heart” was only comparative, not absolute. Meant that, by the side of Saul, David was the man who attracted favour and confidence of God. The faith by which he walked with God; gained the victory over Goliath; became at all worthy to be God’s vicegerent; remained unconquered, though not unhurt, through many a defeat and fall, through a life-long struggle.

II. Title was given him in early days, before his life had become overcast with the cloud of sin and error. “The Lord hath sought Him a man,” etc. And when God found him he was still the David of the 23rd Psalm. Do not say that God did not love him after his fall, or did not give him large praise until his death, and after his death. But he is certainly never called the man after God’s own heart again.

III. David’s repentance was far more deep than appears on the surface of the narrative. How deep and true it was we know from 51st Psalm, which has supplied so many millions of penitent souls with very words they wanted.

IV. It is most necessary to bear in mind, in considering the career of David, the severity of punishment which followed upon David’s sin. Let anyone look at David’s old age, and say whether the justice of God is not an inexorable and an awful thing. For every sin there is forgiveness, but for all that it may be that every sin leaves its mark, its effect for ill. (R. Winterbotham, M. A.)

David

By this glowing announcement of a “Coming Man” our expectations and our curiosity are naturally raised to the highest pitch. And I daresay that if we read it in a modern three-volume book without any knowledge of intervening occurrences, we should look on to the end of the third volume to know at once whether he was supposed to have realised the ideal. If we did so, we should find an answer in the affirmative. The main question to which I propose to address myself is this. Can God ever express his approval of the whole character of a man who has committed the blackest sins which history records or which the imagination can picture? In approaching the question I must ask you to bear in mind the immense difference between looking back at a sin and looking forward to the self-same sin. A good deal of the genuine perplexity about the case before us is caused, I am sure, by forgetting this. Men commonly think that David was necessarily a bad man, because they think, and rightly think, that they should certainly be bad men if they proposed to themselves to commit the sin which David committed. But we cannot fairly argue thus and say, “If David was a man after God’s own heart, it follows that such a complication of sins as he committed is no hindrance to God’s favour.” It is not fair to argue thus. Why not? Because the whole of the case is not stated. The fair argument from David’s case is this, “If David was on the whole a good man, it follows that great sin, followed by deep and lifelong repentance, does not exclude from God’s favour, and His approval of the character as a whole.” Put it thus: We see as a fact, now that the result is before us, that David did repent and was accepted. If the history had stopped short at the account of his sin, and there were no favourable notices of him, then we could not assume that he had repented. Again, if we read that he sinned deliberately, trusting in the mercy of God and fully intending to repent, then we could have but one opinion of him; and if, in that case, he were mentioned with commendation or anything remotely bordering upon it, Scripture could not, as far as I can see, possibly be defended against the charge of encouraging wickedness and teaching men to “continue in sin that grace might abound.” But, as matters stand, what is the very most that can fairly be deduced from David’s case? That when a man does fall into a grievous sin,

David-Beloved

In what respects did David deserve this name?

I. As a type of Christ.

1. A perpetual covenant made with Him. Isaiah 55:3. (Explained Acts 13:34).

2. Born at Bethlehem. (John 7:42; Acts 13:23).

3. Chosen out of the people (Psalms 89:19).

I. As an example to us in his own character.

1. Two qualifications Godward.

2. Five qualifications manward (1 Samuel 16:18).

III. He was God’s choice. If God calls us to witness for Him, and we feel ever so unfitted in ourselves, let us remember John 15:16; 1 Corinthians 1:27. (R. E. Faulkner.)

The character of David

Men are apt to give their chief attention to certain moral blemishes which disfigured the life of this extraordinary servant of God; and either they deduce from them an excuse for their own intemperances, or they assume that God does not hate sin so vehemently as Scripture elsewhere represents; or else they fairly own themselves unable to reconcile the several wicked acts of David’s life with that election and special favour which God was pleased to bestow upon him. Now, the conclusion that the crimes of David can ever justify similar acts of wickedness in others must be utterly delusive, if we find that David never justified them in himself. I shall, therefore, endeavour to examine the character of this very eminent person, and to account, from a general view of the subject, for that title of affectionate preference--“a man after God’s own heart”--by which the prophet was commissioned to speak of him. In reviewing, therefore, these facts, and comparing them with the privileges their author enjoyed, you may feel disposed to assume that God makes an irrespective choice of His servants, and that their moral worth does not weigh against His predetermined election. If such be the judgment you are disposed to give, from a consideration of David’s career it is very certain that you have very imperfectly studied his character, and that you would strangely misinterpret the ways of our heavenly Father. For, without reckoning many extenuating circumstances in our consideration of David’s evil deeds--for instance, his power and temptations as a king--his ignorance of that perfect morality which was unknown until the Gospel was preached--that disregard, too, of human life and female virtue which has always obtained in eastern countries--without, I say, reckoning any of these things in our final estimate of David’s character, we may safely assert that neither in the Old or the New Testament can be found repentance so deep, humility so sincere, faith so unwavering, or generosity so noble, as the records of David’s life show; and if these excellent virtues, united in the character of one person, are not sufficient to account for the Divine preference, then indeed David’s privileges ate a mystery, and God’s love for him is wholly unintelligible. Let us, however, consider the several qualities which I have attributed to David, and, if possible, trace in them the workings of that Spirit who alone can rescue our nature from the dominion of evil.

1. First, his repentance. This we naturally look for after his fall with Bathsheba, and the attendant conspiracy against her husband’s life. Immersed for a time in guilty indulgence, David seems to have been in that common state which sensuality produces, literally unaware of the extent of his crime. Suddenly, and in the midst of this fancied security, the Prophet Nathan stood before him, and, by a parable almost, unequalled for its truth and tenderness, recalled the king to his senses. Now, if any one of you wish to express his own repentance, or to test its reality, let him use such language as this, and try how far his feelings accord with it. If you can repent in this spirit, you know indeed what repentance is. In fact, the Bible affords no language for the broken and contrite heart equal to this, and other penitential Psalms by David.

2. Now, with regard to David’s unwavering faith in God, I may say at once that it was the ruling principle of his life. Everything he deliberately undertook was in simple reliance upon Divine support. Faith with David really was “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen:” it supported him through all the vicissitudes of a strangely chequered life, and spread a halo of hope around his departing spirit. After making allowance for the minute record of his human failings--a publicity which most men happily escape--and for the partial revelations which visited the times in which he lived, we find no character in Scripture so full, perhaps, of unwavering faith in the goodness and promises of God as David!

3. The last point which I shall notice in the character of this extraordinary person is his generous and noble feelings; and most, strikingly were these displayed in David’s connections both with Saul and his son Jonathan. The former regarded David as his deadliest enemy; the latter loved him as his bosom friend. In the study of the life of David the lesson which has struck me, and which I would inculcate upon you, is the extraordinary difference betwixt David and mankind in general, in all the good points for which he was eminent; for it would appear that, though we can imitate him in his crimes, in his faith and humility we widely differ from him: and thus we have a sort of prurient interest about all his weaknesses, fancying we see in them some justification for our own; whilst with his excellencies we are comparatively unacquainted, because they rebuke and cry shame to us at every step in life. Why David was the favourite of God rather than any of us, is, therefore, very clear: we partake the condemning sinfulness of his fallen nature; but we do not join him in penitence, in humility, and in faith. Our repentance is commonly mere shame and worldly discomfiture; no real change of mind, and therefore requiring to be repented of, our trust we give to the world and its trifles rather than to God. In business we are lively, earnest, and active; but in prayer we are cold and doubting. The records of David’s piety are before us in the Psalms--compare with these the remembrance of your best devotional exercises, and you will see how we differ from him. If there be this difference betwixt you and David which I have attempted to show you, still delude not yourselves with the fancy that a higher standard of excellence was demanded from him than is expected from you. As to this matter there is but one rule--“Be ye perfect as your Father which is in Heaven is perfect,” and for this every one of you must strive. The standard for all men is the highest possible. Finally, remember one other thing, which the example of David has taught us, with regard to progression upon the heavenly road: whatever be your peculiar temptations, or your besetting sins, you must commence a spiritual reformation--you must seek the renewing of your minds by prayer and spiritual exercises, or you will seek to grow better in vain. Our Lord enjoined the Pharisees to cleanse first the inside of the cup and the platter; and David, with the same conviction, prayed--“Create in me a clean heart, and renew a right spirit within me.” This, believe me, is the only way to become a Christian here, or to inherit glory, immortality, and icy hereafter. (A. Gatty, M. A.)

Was David a character after God’s Own heart-Yes or No?

Was the character of David after God’s own heart? Conventional pietists will to a man say, Yes. The most thoughtful, independent, and critical students of God’s Book will to a man say, No. We say, No, for the following reasons:--

I. Because the affirmative is a reflection of God’s holiness. Sin is the “abominable thing” which the Almighty hates, hates everywhere, and in every form David had his virtues, as most bad men have; but few men in history were guilty of more heinous crimes. He was guilty of falsehood, cruelties, adulteries, murders His whole nature at times seemed flooded and fired with the spirit of revenge. It is blasphemy to assert that such a character was after the heart of infinite purity We say, No.

II. Because the affirmative is unsustained by the Word of God. The text which is the passage quoted in its favour does not mean it. The expression, “after His own heart,” does not mean after His own approval, but after His own counsel. “He worketh all things after the counsel of His own will.” Indeed, when these words were uttered David was not born. The Almighty used David as He used Cyrus, Alexander, Caesar, etc., after His own “heart,” that is, after the counsel of His own will. We say, No.

III. Because the affirmative is fraught with mischief. The thoughtful worldling says, “All right; if God approves of a man whose history is so full of meanness, revenge deception, ungovernable lust, and bloodshed, we cannot be far wrong.” (Homilist.)


Verse 17

1 Samuel 13:17

The spoilers came out of the camp of the Philistines in three companies.

The spoilers

Saul is reproved for his haste, his presumption, and his disobedience. Samuel then departs to Gibeah, and the nation are for a time, notwithstanding Saul’s valour, reduced to great straits under the rule of the Philistines. “The spoilers,” too, “came out of the camp of the Philistines in three companies,” spreading desolation over the whole country. At last, by the brilliant valour of Jonathan and his armour bearer, a portion of the Philistine host was slain, and a sudden panic spreading throughout their camp, their entire forces were routed. Thus the children of Israel regained once more their freedom.

I. That it is when men are unprepared that temptations come. When “there was neither sword nor spear found in the hand of any of the people,” that was the time that the spoilers came out. Temptations assail us on our weakest side, and at the most unexpected moment. The sin that most easily besets us is the sin that comes upon us when we are in idleness and ease, in no way prepared for a spiritual conflict.

II. That temptations, though very distinct, are often difficult to separate from each other, and to individualise. These spoilers came out of the camp in three companies, and they are not named nor individualised. Sins glide so into each other that it is frequently difficult to analyse any particular offence amidst so confused a mass. Lavish benefactions, for instance, may be given from thoughtless generosity, from true charity, or from ostentation. Who can tell which of these is the actuating motive in any particular case? Not even, often, the doer himself. It is the same with our sins and vices. It is difficult to assign the true place, and therefore the real guilt, of any particular one amongst them.

III. That temptations come from three main causes, the world, the flesh, and the devil. The spoilers came out of the camp of the Philistines in three companies. “The world is too much with us;” its pleasures and its pains continually affect us. The lusts of the flesh unceasingly tend to drag us down. The temptations of Satan, too, are craftily devised to overwhelm us.

IV. That these temptations often arise from our superabundance of worldly riches. These spoilers came out of the camp of the Philistines, and this camp was situated at Michmash, which name means treasure. Money is useful if it be usefully employed. Wealth is a great trust, which, if a man employs rightly, he may be a benefactor to his fellow men, and may receive a blessing from God. But it is a great snare, more especially if it has been acquired without much personal merit or much personal exertion on the part of its possessor

V. That these temptations have their starting point frequently from wilful and conceited ignorance. The spoilers came out of the camp of the Philistines. A modern author, Matt, hew Arnold, has taken the term Philistine as descriptive of self-satisfied and offensive want of culture. From the fields of ignorance and of thoughtlessness no harvest but a crop of tares can be expected. “Evil is wrought from want of thought, as well as want of heart.”

VI. That obedience is the garrison that keeps these companies of evil passions in check. The spoilers did not come out of the camp of the Philistines to spread like devouring grasshoppers over the land of the children of Israel until Saul had disobeyed the Divine command given to him through Samuel. So, as long as we follow the plain line of duty, and act in obedience to the strict letter as well as to the real spirit of the law of God, we shall be little liable to the assaults of sin. It is when we palter with truth, equivocate with conscience, enter into dalliance with some evil passion, that we are ensnared by temptation. In the “Pilgrim’s Progress,” as long as Christian kept on the highway, he was safe; it was only when he strayed into the byways of error that he fell into the power of Giant Despair, and was immured in the dungeons of Doubting Castle. (R. Young, M. A.)


Verses 19-21

1 Samuel 13:19-21

Now there was no smith found throughout all the land of Israel.

The blacksmith’s captivity

What a scalding subjugation for the Israelites! The Philistines had carried off all the blacksmiths, and torn down all the blacksmith’s shops, and abolished the blacksmith’s trade in the land of Israel. The farmers and the mechanics having nothing to whet up the coulter, and the goad, and the pick-axe, save a simple file, industry was hindered, and work practically disgraced. The great idea of these Philistines was to keep the Israelites disarmed.

I. I learn first from this subject, how dangerous it is for the church of God to allow its weapons to stay in the hands of its enemies. We are too willing to give up our weapons to the enemy. The world boasts that it has gobbled up the schools, and the colleges, and the arts, and the sciences, and the literature, and the printing press. Infidelity is making a mighty attempt to get all our weapons in its hand, and then to keep them. You know it is making this boast all the time; and after a while, when the great battle between sin and righteousness has opened, if we do not look out we will be as badly off as these Israelites, without any swords to fight with, and without any sharpening instruments. I call upon the superintendents of literary institutions to see to it that the men who go into the class rooms to stand beside the Leyden jars and the electric batteries, and the microscopes and telescopes, be children of God not Philistines. We want to capture all the philosophical apparatus, and swing around the telescopes on the swivel, until through them we can see the morning star of the Redeemer, and with mineralogical hammer discover the “Rock of Ages,” and amid the flora of all realms find the “Rose of Sharon and the lily of the valley.” Recapture these weapons. Let men of God go out and take possession of the platform. Let the debauched printing press of this country he recaptured for Christ, and the reporters, and the type setters, and the editors, and publishers be made to swear allegiance to the Lord God of Truth.

II. Again, I learn from this subject what a large amount of the Church’s resources is actually hidden, and buried, and undeveloped. The Bible intimates that that was a very rich land--this land of Israel. It says: “The stones are iron, and out of the bills thou shalt dig brass,” and yet hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of this metal was kept, under the hills. Well, that is the difficulty with the Church of God at this day. Its talent is not developed. The vast majority of Christians in this day are useless. The most of the Lord’s battalion belong to the reserve corps. The most of the crew are asleep in the hammocks. The most of the metal is under the hills. O, is it not time for the Church of God to rouse up and understand that we want all the energies, all the talent, and all the wealth enlisted for Christ’s sake? I like the nickname that the English soldiers gave to Blucher, the Commander. They called him “Old Forwards.” We have had enough retreats in the Church of Christ; let us have a glorious advance. And I say to you tonight, as the General said when his troops were affrighted. Rising up in his stirrups, his hair flying in the wind, he lifted up his voice until 20,000 troops heard him, crying out: “Forward, the whole line!”

III. Again: I learn from this subject, that we sometimes do well to take advantage of the world’s sharpening instruments. Let us go over among sharp business men, and among sharp literary men, and find out what their tact is, and then transfer it to the cause of Christ. If they have science and art it will do us good to rub against it. In other words, let us employ the world’s grindstones. We will listen to their music, and we will watch their acumen, and we will use their grindstones; and we will borrow their philosophical apparatus to make our experiments, and we will borrow their printing presses to publish our Bibles, and we will borrow their rail trains to carry our Christian literature, and we will borrow their ships to transport our missionaries. That was what made Paul such a master in his day. He not only got all the learning he could get of Doctor Gamaliel, but afterward, standing on Mars Hill, and in crowded thoroughfare, quoted their poetry, and grasped their logic, and wielded their eloquence, and employed their mythology, until Dionysius the Areopagite, learned in the schools of Athens and Heliopolis, went down under his tremendous powers. That was what gave Thomas Chalmers his power in his day. He conquered the world’s astronomy and compelled it to ring out the wisdom and greatness of the Lord, until for the second time, the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy.

IV. Again, my subject teaches us on what a small allowance Philistine iniquity puts a man. Yes; these Philistines shut up the mines, and then they took the spears and the swords, then they took the blacksmiths, then they took the grindstones, and they took everything but a file. O, that is the way sin works; it grabs everything. It begins with robbery, and it ends with robbery. It despoils this faculty and that faculty, and keeps on until the whole nature is gone. Was the man eloquent before, it generally thickens his tongue. Was he fine in personal appearance, it mars his visage. Was he affluent, it sends the sheriff to sell him out. Was be influential, it destroys his popularity. Was be placid, and genial, and loving, it makes him splenetic and cross; and so utterly is he changed that you can see he is sarcastic and rasping, and that the Philistines have left him nothing but a file. So it was with Voltaire, the most applauded man of his day. Seized with hemorrhage of the lungs in Paris, where be had gone to be crowned in the theatre as the idol of all France, he sends a messenger to get a priest, that he may be reconciled to the Church before he dies A great terror falls upon him. He makes the place all round about him so dismal that the nurse declares that she would not for all the wealth of Europe see another infidel die. Philistine iniquity had promised him all the world’s garlands, but in the last hour of his life, when he needed solacing, sent tearing across his conscience and his nerves a file, a file. So it was with Lord Byron. Is it not so, Herod? Is it not so, Hildebrand? Is it not so, Robespierre? Aye! aye! it is so; it is so. “The way of the wicked He turneth upside down.” History tells us that when Rome was founded, on that day there were twelve vultures flying through the air; but when a transgressor dies, the sky is black with whole flocks of them. When I see sin robbing so many of my hearers, and I see them going down day by day, and week by week, I must give a plain warning.

V. I learn from this subject what a sad thing it is when the Church of God loses its metal. These Philistines saw that if they could only get all the metallic weapons out of the hands of the Israelites all would be well, and, therefore, they took the swords and the spears. They did not want them to have a single metallic weapon. When the metal of the Israelites was gone their strength was gone. This is the trouble with the Church of God today. It is surrendering its courage It has not got enough metal (T. De Witt Talmage.)

Philistinian policy

The care here taken by the Philistines to leave no smith in Israel, who should make any arms for their defence, is an usual policy with conquerors, in order to disarm and keep in subjection those whom they have subdued. Our spiritual enemy, represented by these Philistines, never failed to use the like stratagem. The souls which they hold in captivity they first deprive of their arms, and prevent, as much as possible, the use of any weapons which may rescue them from their tyranny and regain their liberty. These arms are principally the word of God, and the use of the Holy Scriptures, which are not only a light and lantern to our path, but a buckler of defence, and a sword to smite and subdue our enemies. Thus the spirits of error and lies employ their utmost efforts and craft to take away both the knowledge and means of truth.

 


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Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "1 Samuel 13:4". The Biblical Illustrator. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/tbi/1-samuel-13.html. 1905-1909. New York.

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