The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
Almighty God, thou art always consecrating men to thy service. Thine is a call to every man to come up higher. Thou dost daily enlarge our capacity, and enlarge our opportunity, and bring to bear upon us the inspiration of new experience of grace and new consciousness of power. Thou dost make the priest. We are a royal priesthood. Thou hast made us kings and priests unto others. Thou didst turn the dust into man, and man into the priest; and thou wilt fill all heaven with thy chosen ones, clothing them with the white linen of the saints and setting upon their heads crowns of gold. Whatever we see of thy providence enlarges our conception of thy goodness. We cannot measure thy purpose, any more than we can measure thy firmament. It is full of grace, it burns with glory, it is like thyself in every quality. May we fall into its march, be taken up into the music of its progress and be enabled to understand that we are not atoms without a centre, children without a home, worlds without a central fire. We are grouped around God, related to the one throne, shepherded by the one Pastor, and regarded with infinite vigilance by the one Overseer. Let this comforting truth come into our hearts as long-expected rain softens the hardened earth. Thus shall we become comforted, fertilised, wondrously refreshed, and like slaves who have slipped off their chains and left them behind never more to be resumed, we shall pass upward into the light and enjoy the glorious liberty of the sons of God. Let thy word speak to us now. May every man feel himself at the altar receiving tokens and pledges of consecration so that when we leave the house we may take with us the robe of thy righteousness, garments of ineffable beauty, being clothed upon with the Lord Jesus, who is our one Priest and only Saviour. Amen.
The Books of Samuel.—These two books were anciently reckoned as one, the present division being derived from the Septuagint and Vulgate. In those versions they are called the first and second Books of Kings, as they form part of the history of the Kings of Israel and Judah.
The question of the authorship of the books is not free from difficulty; but the decided preponderance of evidence is in favour of the ancient view, that Samuel wrote 1 Samuel 1-24 and that the rest was written by Nathan and Gad (1Chronicles 29:29). The authenticity of the history found in the Books of Samuel rests on sufficient grounds. Portions of them are quoted in the New Testament (2Samuel 7:14 in Hebrews 1:5; 1Samuel 13:14 in Acts 13:22). References to them occur in other sections of Scripture, especially in the Psalms, to which they often afford historic illustrations.
The contents of the Books of Samuel belong to an interesting period of Jewish history. The preceding Book of Judges refers to the affairs of the republic as they were administered after the conquest, when the nation was all but a congeries of independent cantons, sometimes partially united for a season under an extraordinary dictator. As, however, the form of government was changed, and remained monarchical till the overthrow of the kingdom, it was of national importance to note the time, method, and means of the alteration. This change happening under the regency of the wisest and best of their sages, his life became a topic of interest. The first Book of Samuel gives an account of his birth and early call to the duties of a seer under Eli's pontificate; describes the low and degraded condition of the people, oppressed by foreign enemies; proceeds to narrate the inauguration of Samuel as judge; his prosperous regency; the degeneracy of his sons; the clamour for a change in the civil constitution; the installation of Saul; his rash and reckless character; and his neglect of, or opposition to, the theocratic elements of the government. The historian goes on to relate God's choice of David as king; his aberrations from the path of duty; the unnatural rebellion of his son Absalom and its suppression; his carrying into effect a military census of his dominions, and the divine punishment which this act incurred. The second Book of Samuel, while it relates the last words of David, yet stops short of his death. As David was the real founder of the monarchy and reorganiser of the religious worship; the great hero, legislator, and poet of his country; as his dynasty maintained itself on the throne of Judah till the Babylonian captivity—it is not a matter of wonder that the description of his life and government occupies so large a portion of early Jewish history. The Books of Samuel thus consist of three interlaced biographies—those of Samuel, Saul, and David.
The design of these books is not very different from that of the other historical treatises of the Old Testament. The Books of Kings are a history of the nation as a theocracy; those of Chronicles have special reference to the form and ministry of the religious worship, as bearing upon its re-establishment after the return from Babylon. Samuel is more biographical, yet the theocratic element of the government is not overlooked. It is distinctly brought to view in the early chapters concerning Eli and his house, and the fortunes of the ark; in the passages which describe the change of the constitution; in the blessing which rested on the house of Obed-Edom; in the curse which fell on the Bethshemites, and Uzzah and Saul, for intrusive interference with holy things. The book shows clearly that God was a jealous God; that obedience to him secured felicity; that the nation sinned in seeking another king; that Saul's special iniquity was his impious oblivion of his station as Jehovah's vicegerent, for he contemned the prophets and slew the priesthood; and that David owed his prosperity to his careful culture of the central principle of the Hebrew Government.
Now it came to pass after the death of Saul, when David was returned from the slaughter of the Amalekites, and David had abode two days in Ziklag;2 Samuel 1
"The beauty of Israel is slain upon thy high places: how are the mighty fallen!" (2Samuel 1:19).
"How are the mighty fallen, and the weapons of war perished!" (2Samuel 1:27).
David's Lament Over Saul
FROM what we have learned of the relations subsisting between David and Saul, we should have expected a song of triumph rather than a song of lamentation, over the death of the king. For a long time there had been no kindness in Saul in relation to David. He had pursued him malignantly, and had not sought to conceal the bitterness and determination of his hatred. Twice, indeed, as we have seen, the better nature of Saul momentarily disclosed itself, but the disclosure was too impulsive not to be transient. Now that the great king lies in ruins in Mount Gilboa, what is the feeling of the man against whom his sword was directed? Is it a feeling of relief? Is it a feeling of triumph? Is it a feeling of selfish congratulation? The answer is in the pathos of the text. David lamented the king's death, and was sad with genuine and noble sorrow. There are events in life which make the commonest men almost sublime: how much more do such events elevate the princeliest men until they sing as angels or burn as seraphs? David's life has up to this point charmed us by its simplicity and heroism: today we see it in its highest mood of veneration and magnanimity. Suppose we had for the first time opened the book at the chapter containing this lament, what would have been our impression? Reading the lament, without knowing the history which preceded it, we should undoubtedly have said, David has lost in Saul the tenderest of his friends and the wisest of his counsellors; his heart has been impoverished; the light which he viewed as a lamp from heaven has been suddenly put out. This inference would be forced upon us. When, however, we read the lament first, and then go back page after page through the history, we find the discrepancy widening verse by verse until it becomes a literary, if not a moral contradiction.
Let us gather such lessons as we may be able to find,—having special regard to those which bear upon ourselves and upon all generations of mankind.
I. One of the first lessons impressed upon us by this lament relates to David's noble-minded forgetful ness of all personal injury. Observe what the song might have been! There might not have been any song: David might have received the news of Saul's death with significant silence. Do not some of us cherish the memory of our personal injuries, even after death has dug the awful gulf of the grave between the present and the past? Understand we are not expected to call the evil good, or the good evil. Death is not to obliterate moral distinctions; but why should we judge when the man who injured us has passed on to the dread invisible,—the very seat of the Just One?
II. The lament shows how David was enabled to take the highest and brightest view of human character. He did not detract from the valour of Saul. He might have done so. He did not undervalue what Saul had done for Israel: "Ye daughters of Israel, weep over Saul, who clothed you in scarlet, with other delights, who put on ornaments of gold upon your apparel." David called the nation to mourn. He gave a limpse, too, of the happy relations which prevailingly subsisted between Saul and Jonathan: they "were lovely and pleasant in their lives." We know an exception or two, but David's knowledge was extensive and minute. Men may be better at home than on the battle-field, or in the strife of politics. Most people, surely, have some sunny spot upon their character! Observe that David did not reserve his praise of Saul until after Saul's death. There is not one word in the lament which is not sustained by the speech and action of David throughout his connection with Saul. Some people delay their praise too long. They keep back their affection until they have to suggest an epitaph. Make your love longer, even if you make your epitaphs shorter.
III. The lament impresses us with the beauty of a zealous and tender care for the reputation of the Lord's anointed. "Tell it not in Gath, publish it not in the streets of Askelon; lest the daughters of the Philistines rejoice, lest the daughters of the uncircumcised triumph." David did not proceed on the assumption that it was of no consequence what was said about a dead man. The man now dead had been anointed with oil. Saul had been king of Israel; let him be honoured even in death! The lesson is most delicate, and undoubtedly far-reaching. Death is not the only fall. Men fall morally. The mighty men of the church fall like stars from heaven. The great preacher becomes a debauchee. The trusted professor is caught in fraud. The feet of the strong are tripped up. And there are men who delight in telling these things in Gath and Askelon! There were cowardly men who could come and abuse the dead body of Saul, who dare not have met him in battle! Look at the jackdaws hopping round the dead eagle! See the hungry whelps opening their ravenous mouths upon the dead lion! Is there anything more wicked than the joy felt when gloating over the fall of a good man? Some people do not wait for the actual fall: they cannot repress their delight when a good man stumbles, even for a moment. How eagerly do they report the slip! How sneeringly do they taunt the offender! "Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted. Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ."
IV. The lament shows how bitter is the distress which follows the irreparable losses of life. "I am distressed for thee, my brother Jonathan: very pleasant hast thou been unto me: thy love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women." Yet on earth David and Jonathan would meet never more! We do not always give full value to the positive side of life. We hold advantages and blessings as if we had a right to them. It is so in the very commonest things. It is so in nature: in family life: in church relations: sunshine; water; bread; friendship; ministry. Is it a small thing to lose a man who understands your heart? Through human sympathy do we not see far into divine compassion? Every moment we are exposed to the possibility of irreparable loss! [The lessons suggested by this fact: appreciation, kindness, forbearance, etc.]
The application of the whole: (1) Let us so live, that death will be but a momentary separation. (2) In commending the wonderful love of Jonathan, let us remember that there is a Friend that sticketh closer than a brother.
Hold us in the hollow of thine hand, we humbly pray thee, Father of our spirits and God of all grace. They only are kept who are kept by God. Hide us in thy pavilion from the strife of tongues; hide us in thine almightiness from the assaults of every foe. How are the mighty fallen! But thou dost deplore a greater fall; thine heart is moved towards thy people, because thou hast nourished and brought up children and they have rebelled against thee. Forbid that we should shed our tears only over historical falls; may each man remember that he too may fall and droop and die. Hold thou me up, and I shall be safe, is the cry of every broken heart Keep us, and we shall not stray; love us, and mightily restrain us by all the ministry that can guard human character from apostasy, and we yet shall be saved. Give hope to those who are in great sorrow of heart because of fear and apprehension concerning their ability to finish the race and to receive the crown. They wonder how the strife will end; sometimes their hearts whisper to them, Give it up; it can end only in ruin: why prolong the agony? Then thy Spirit whispers a gospel from heaven, saying, Strive on; withstand in the evil day; take unto thee the whole armour of God; hope continually in heaven. Thus is the life of man a great strife and contradiction—now right, now wrong; now glowing like the day, now dark and troubled as a night of storm. Thou knowest our frame; thou knowest everything about us, and thou wilt command thy blessing to rest upon us according to our speciality and our need. Jesus Christ thy Son, our Saviour, was in all points tempted like as we are: he was taken to the pinnacle of the temple, and to the exceeding great and high mountain, and it seemed to us as though we could not have stood where he retained his integrity. He will help us; he is able to save unto the uttermost; he is our priest, our intercessor, our paraclete; we put our trust in him. Hide us till the storm of life be past. May we be able to finish our course with joy. Save us from bringing upon thy name that which men may account a scandal. Enable us to live wisely, nobly, usefully. This we can only do by thy grace, thou living One; this alone is possible within the circle of the cross. Spirit of the living God, be our guard and guide while life shall last. Amen.