1 Samuel 13:1-7. (MICHMASH, GIBEAH, GEBA, GILGAL.)
1. The great conflict between good and evil which has been waged from the first (Genesis 3:15) has been concentrated in every age on some particular issue. At this time it was whether Israel and the worship of the true God or the Philistines and the worship of idols should prevail. It was thus of the highest importance in relation to the kingdom of God upon earth.
2. The Philistines were old enemies and powerful oppressors (Judges 3:3; Judges 10:7; Judges 13:1; 1 Samuel 7:2). During the administration of Samuel they were held in check (1 Samuel 7:13), although they appear to have had military posts or garrisons in the land (1 Samuel 10:5; ver. 3), and the overthrow of one of these by Jonathan (at Geba, four miles north of Gibeah, and opposite Michmash) gave the signal for renewed conflict. Having evacuated Michmash, where he had stationed himself with an army of 2000, Saul summoned all the men of Israel to gather to him at Gilgal; but the advancing hosts of the enemy filled the country with terror, so that he was left with only 600 followers, and found it necessary, after his interview with Samuel, to join his son Jonathan at Gibeah (Geba) (vers. 2, 16; ch. 14:2). Meanwhile the enemy occupied Michmash, whence three companies of spoilers issued, plundering the plains and valleys. A second and greater exploit of Jonathan, however, drove them out of Michmash, and it was followed by a general engagement, in which large numbers of them were slain, and the rest "went to their own place" (1 Samuel 14:23, 31, 46).
3. The conflict to which Israel was summoned represents that to which Christians are called. It is a conflict with physical and moral evil, with the world, the flesh, and the devil (John 15:19; 2 Corinthians 10:4; Ephesians 6:12; 1 Peter 2:11; 1 Peter 5:8; 1 John 2:16), and with men only in so far as they are ruled by sin, and in order to their salvation; a conflict which is good ("the good fight of faith" - 1 Timothy 6:12) and necessary, and affords full scope for whatever warlike instincts and energies are possessed. What does the sound of the trumpet signify? (1 Corinthians 14:8).
I. A BLOW HAS BEEN STRUCK AGAINST THE FOE. The greatest blow that was ever inflicted upon the "power of darkness" was struck by "the Captain of our salvation" in his life and death and glorious resurrection (John 12:31; John 16:33; 1 John 3:8); and in the spirit and power of his victory his followers carry on the conflict (Matthew 10:34). At times there seems to be something like a truce, but it never lasts long; and when a fresh blow is struck by "a good soldier of Jesus Christ" it -
1. Reveals the essential difference between the spirit that is in "the Israel of God" and "the spirit that is in the world."
2. Intensifies their antagonism (ver. 4).
3. Commits them to more definite and decisive action. And to this end the fact should be proclaimed. "When Saul the king of the Hebrews was informed of this (ver. 3), he went down to the city of Gilgal, and made proclamation of it over all the country, summoning them to freedom" (Josephus).
II. THE ENEMY IS MUSTERING HIS FORCES (ver. 5), which are -
1. Exceedingly numerous, "as the sand which is on the sea shore."
2. Skilful, crafty, and deceitful (2 Corinthians 11:14).
3. Very powerful. There is at the present day an extraordinary combination of anti-christian agencies (2 Timothy 3:1-9; Revelation 13:11-18), threatening Christian faith and practice, which might well fill us with fear, did we not believe that "they that be with us are more than they that be with them" (2 Kings 6:16). "The spirits of the unseen world seem to be approaching us. Times of trouble there have been before; but such a time, in which everything, everywhere, tends in one direction to one mighty struggle of one sort - of faith with infidelity, lawlessness with rule, Christ with antichrist - there seems never to have been till now" (Pusey).
III. THE FAITHFUL MUST RALLY AROUND THEIR LEADER. The gathering forces of the enemy should constrain us to closer union, and the proper centre of union is he of whom the greatest kings and heroes were feeble types and shadows.
1. He has been Divinely appointed, and claims our obedience and cooperation.
2. He is fully qualified as "a Leader and Commander of the people."
3. He is the only hope of safety and success. "God is with him" (1 Samuel 10:7).
"With force of arms we nothing can, Ask ye, Who is this same? IV. THE SUCCESS ALREADY ACHIEVED GIVES ASSURANCE OF VICTORY (1 Samuel 11:11; ver. 3). 1. What triumphs has he gained in former days I 2. They are an earnest of "still greater things than these." 3. And they should inspire us with the confidence and courage which are needful to participation in his victory and glory (Revelation 17:14; Revelation 19:11). "This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith." - D.
Ask ye, Who is this same?
IV. THE SUCCESS ALREADY ACHIEVED GIVES ASSURANCE OF VICTORY (1 Samuel 11:11; ver. 3).
1. What triumphs has he gained in former days I
2. They are an earnest of "still greater things than these."
3. And they should inspire us with the confidence and courage which are needful to participation in his victory and glory (Revelation 17:14; Revelation 19:11). "This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith." - D.
Saul reigned one year; and when he had reigned two years over Israel.
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: —(1) The testimony of Paul. He said to the Jews in the synagogue at Antioch, in Pisidia: "And afterwards they asked for a king: and God gave unto them Saul, the son of Kish, a man of the tribe of Benjamin, for the space of forty years" (Acts 13:21).(2) The simple way in which the text might be corrupted. There is the strongest ground for believing that the numbers wore originally written, not in words, but in letters which were used as numerals. (See Keil on Samuel in loc.) The Hebrew letter for forty was Mem, and for two Beth; and, as the two letters in the ancient Hebrew characters are not unlike, the copyist might easily mistake the one for the other, and put into the text the letter for two instead of the letter for forty.(3) The period of forty years seems needful to account for all the facts of the history. It seems to explain best the age of Jonathan, the deterioration in the character of Saul, the abject condition of the country under the Philistines when the War of Independence began, and the fact that Ishbosheth, the son of Saul, was forty years of age when he began to reign at Mahanaim (2 Samuel 2:10). Saul might marry Ahinoam, the daughter of Ahimaaz, shortly after his confirmation in the kingdom; and from this union Jonathan might be born towards the close of the second year haul, the abject condition of the country under the Philistines when the War of Independence began, this national struggle would take place in the twenty-third year of Saul's reign. The contrast between this national gathering at Gilgal and that which took place when Saul was anointed king is very striking. Then there was a full muster, but now it is comparatively meagre. Then the people were flushed with victory, but now they are trembling with fear. Then the future was all bright, but now it is all dark, with hardly one gleam of hope. The truth seems to be that Saul's difficulty lay, not in forcing himself to act, but in restraining himself from acting for nearly the whole of the seven days. Saul's justification of himself was plausible, and might be deemed satisfactory before an earthly tribunal; but Samuel, who was inspired by the All-seeing One, treated it as altogether worthless. The kingdom, instead of descending to his eldest son, as it would have done, had he been faithful, was to be given to another whom God had chosen, and who was to be a man after His own heart. And if we are right in supposing that the War of Independence occurred in the twenty-third year of Saul's reign, David would then be a boy at Bethlehem about thirteen years of age
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