1 Samuel 15:1-9. (GIBEAH.)
1. The fidelity of Saul to the principle of his appointment, viz. obedience to the will of Jehovah, was once and again put to the test. He had been tried by inaction, delay, and distress, which became the occasion of his being tempted to distrust, and the use of his power for his own safety, in opposition to the word of God (1 Samuel 13:11). He had been tried by enterprise, encouragement, and the expectation of brilliant success, which became the occasion of his being tempted to presumption in entering rashly upon his own ways, and adopting "foolish and hurtful devices" for conquest and glory, independently of the counsel of God (1 Samuel 14:19, 24). He must now be tried by victory, power, and prosperity. Having chastised his enemies on every side (1 Samuel 14:47), his assured success becomes the final test of his character and fitness to rule over Israel.
2. The temptations of Saul may he compared with those of others, and especially with the three temptations of Christ (Matthew 4:1-10; Luke 4:1-12), which are "an epitome of all the temptations, moral and spiritual, which the devil has contrived for man from the day of his first sin unto this very hour." The antecedents in both cases, the circumstances under which the temptations occurred, the principles to which they appealed, the inducements which they presented, the means afforded for their resistance, and their result, are all suggestive. Where the first king of Israel failed the last King of Israel prevailed, and whilst Saul was rejected, Jesus was perfected, and "crowned with glory and honour" (Luke 22:28, 29; Hebrews 2:10, 18).
3. The commission of Saul to execute judgment upon the Amalekites was brought to him by Samuel, whose authority as the prophet of the Lord he never called in question, however much he may have acted contrary to his directions. After Saul exhibited a determination to have his own way, Samuel seems to have exerted little influence over him. At the battle of Michmash the high priest Ahiah was his only spiritual counsellor. It became more and more evident that he wished to establish a "kingdom of this world," like the surrounding heathen kingdoms, in opposition to the design of God concerning Israel, which the prophet represented and sought to carry into effect; and it was inevitable that, with such contrary aims, a conflict should arise between them. "The great prophet's voice brings him a new commission from his God, and preludes it by a note of very special warning: 'The Lord sent me,' etc. This tone of adjuration surely tells all. It speaks the prophet's judgment of his character, of prayers and intercessions, of days of watching and nights of grief for one he loved so well, as he saw growing on that darkening countenance the deepening lines of willfulness. The prophet sees that it will be a crisis in that life history with which by God's own hand his own had been so strangely entwined? The commission was -
I. DIVINELY APPOINTED (ver. 1).
1. When a communication enjoining the performance of any action comes unquestionably from God. it should be unhesitatingly obeyed. His authority is supreme, his power is infinite, and his commands are right and good. It does not follow that everything he directs men to do in one age is obligatory on all others in every age. But some things he has undoubtedly enjoined upon us all.
2. When such a communication is made with peculiar directness and solemnity, it should be obeyed with peculiar attention and circumspection, for important issues are involved in its faithful or faithless observance. "if thou hast failed in other things, take heed that thou fail not in this."
3. When special privilege and honour have been bestowed upon men by God they are placed under special obligations of obedience to him. "Though thou wast little in thine own sight," etc. (ver. 17).
II. JUSTLY DESERVED by those against whom it was directed (ver. 2) - "the sinners the Amalekites" (ver. 18).
1. Some sins are marked by an unusual degree of criminality and guilt. Like the people of Israel, the Amalekites were descendants of Abraham (Amalek being the grandson of Esau - Genesis 36:12, 16); but they attacked them at Rephidim on their way through the desert, and strove to annihilate them (Exodus 17:8-16); they lay in wait for them secretly and subtly, and smote the hindermost, the feeble, the faint and weary, and "feared not God" (Deuteronomy 25:17-19). Their conduct was ungenerous, unprovoked, cruel, and utterly godless.
2. Special sins are perpetuated in families and nations and increase in intensity. The Amalekites were hereditary, open, and deadly foes of Israel (Numbers 14:45; Judges 3:13; Judges 6:3). They lived by plunder, and were guilty of unsparing bloodshed (ver. 33). Some fresh act of cruelty may have shown that they were "ripe for the judgment of extermination."
3. Sinners long spared and persisting in flagrant transgression bring upon themselves sudden, signal, and overwhelming destruction. If judgment is pervaded and limited by mercy, mercy has also limits beyond which it does not pass, and they who despise it must perish. Men may forget what God has spoken (Exodus 17:14); but he remembers it, and fulfils his word at the proper time. "Injuries done to the people of God will sooner or later be reckoned for." Impenitent sinners "treasure up unto themselves wrath against the day of wrath" (Romans 2:5). It accumulates like a gathering thundercloud or an Alpine avalanche (Luke 11:50, 51), and it frequently comes upon them by ways and means such as they themselves have chosen. The Amalekites put others to the sword and spared not; they must themselves be put to the sword and not be spared. The moral improvement of inveterate sinners by their continuance on earth is sometimes hopeless, and their removal by Divine judgment is necessary for the moral improvement and general welfare of other people with whom they are connected, and teaches valuable lessons to succeeding ages.
III. FULLY EXPRESSED (vers. 3, 18). The will of God is made known in different forms and with various degrees of clearness, and some men, whilst.acknowledging their obligation to obey it, have sought to justify themselves in the neglect of particular duties on the ground of their not having been fully directed. But this could not be the case with Saul, whose commission was -
1. Imperative; so that there could be no excuse for evasion. "Go and smite Amalek."
2. Plain; so that its meaning could not be mistaken, except by the most inattentive and negligent of men. "Utterly destroy (devote to destruction). Fight against them until they be consumed."
3. Minute; so that no room was left for the exercise of discretion as to the manner or extent of its fulfilment. It required simple, literal obedience, such as is now required in many things. "Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it."
IV. ZEALOUSLY COMMENCED (vers. 4, 5, 7). The "journey on which he was sent" (ver. 18) was entered upon by Saul with something of the same energy and zeal which he had formerly displayed against the Ammonites, but the deterioration which had since taken place in his character by the possession of power soon appeared.
1. The work to which men are called in the way of duty sometimes bears a close affinity to their natural temperament and disposition.
2. Men may appear to others, and even to themselves, to be very zealous for the Lord whilst they are only doing what is naturally agreeable to themselves. "Come with me," said Jehu, "and see my zeal for the Lord" (2 Kings 10:16, 31). "But Jehu took no heed to walk in the law of the Lord God of Israel." Saul of Tarsus, like Saul of Gibeah, appeared to be fighting for God when he was really fighting against him.
3. The real nature of their zeal is manifested when the requirements of God come into collision with their convenience, pleasure, ambition, or self-interest. Then the hidden spring is laid bare.
V. UNFAITHFULLY EXECUTED (vers. 8, 9). "Spared Agag, and the best of the sheep," etc., "and would not destroy them." "He hath turned back from following me, and hath not performed my commandments" (ver. 11).
1. There may be the performance of many things along with the neglect or refusal to perform others of equal or of greater importance. Saul was "a type of those who are willing to do something as against the world and on behalf of Christ, but by no means willing to do all that they ought to do." Herod "did many things, and heard John gladly" (Mark 6:20), but he would not give up his ruling passion.
2. Disobedience in one thing often manifests the spirit of disobedience in all things. It shows that the heart and will are not surrendered to the Lord, and without such a surrender all else is worthless. In Saul's sparing Agag and the best of the sheep, etc, we have "a melancholy example of sparing sins and evils that should be slain, and sheltering and harbouring them under false pretences by unworthy pleas and excuses."
3. The love of self is the supreme motive of those who refuse to obey God. Saul was actuated by covetousness (ver. 19), worldly mindedness (Matthew 4:9; 1 John 2:15, 16), and vainglorious pride, which are only different forms of the love of self. "Behold, he set him up a monument, and is gone about (as in a triumphal procession), and passed on, and gone down to Gilgal" (ver. 12), intending probably to make a display of the royal captive for his own glory; perhaps to make him a tributary prince and a source of profit. "Pride arising from the consciousness of his own strength led him astray to break the command of God. His sin was open rebellion against the sovereignty of the God of Israel; for he no longer desired to be the medium of the sovereignty of Jehovah, or the executor of the commands of the God king, but simply wanted to reign according to his own arbitrary will" (Keil). - D.
Samuel came no more to see Saul until the day of his death.
1. Few — very few, avoid falling into the error of mistaking what are symptoms of possible good in the future for tokens of real good at the present time, and from at least occasionally thinking that their deliberately formed opinion of the entire character was after all incorrect, and that the persons in whom these good qualities are so clearly observable cannot be wicked at all. These, of course, will think and speak of the "redeeming qualities," not as redeeming qualities, but as the main features of the character, and try to persuade themselves that it is for the sake of these they continue intimacies which their consciences tell them require in some way to be defended.
2. Besides this proneness to self-deceit, which in greater or less force lurks in the best of us, there are two other causes which expose us to the danger of being injured by the "redeeming qualities" of godless men. One is the fact that there are undoubtedly blemishes in the characters of very good men.
3. The other source of danger is this. The very best of men are known to entertain an affection for bad men. From this it is argued that the men are not bad. Samuel had an affection for Saul. Saul had many "redeeming qualities" — qualities calculated to make him exceedingly popular. Nor was this all. He had a good deal about him to be liked, and Samuel did like him. A good man, then, may have an affection for a bad man, without being at all mistaken as to his character; nay, even after he had been, as in the case before us, the very persons who had himself pronounced the Divine condemnation. We must not, then, be led astray as to the real characters of those whom we should otherwise feel bound to regard as dangerous by the mere fact that they have awakened an affection in those whom we justly reverence. Had we known no more than "that there was a King of Israel named Saul," and that the holy Samuel mourned exceeding for him on his losing the kingdom, we should, I think, have taken for granted that Saul was a good man, and yet you see we should have been wrong.
4. This discontinuance of personal intercourse with Saul shows us also the limits of a good man's companionship with a bad man. So long as there is any reasonable hope of his "redeeming qualities" becoming so developed as to constitute the main features, instead of the exceptional points of his character — so long as the influence imperceptibly exercised by early companionship seems likely to be instrumental in bringing about this change, just so long familiar intercourse with one whose grave faults we perceive may be continued without breach of duty towards God: but so soon as that time has gone by — so soon as these hopes seem unreasonable, then, although the regard still linger, the familiar acquaintance must be abandoned. Every case will, of course, have its peculiarities calling for especial consideration. But still there are certain classes of cases in which we may reasonably suppose that our associating with bad men will be unlikely to benefit them, in which the probabilities are so much against it that we had better not make the attempt, in which we had better not so much look to the possibility of our improving another as to that of his injuring us, in which the foremost thought in our minds should be, "Evil communications corrupt good manners." Generally speaking, a good and a bad man cannot be much together without either being, however little or imperceptibly, changed by the other. Nor should it be forgotten that the companionship of a good man may be a positive injury to a bad man. He may deceive himself into the belief that his faults are not so great or dangerous as they really are, by the reflection that a good man and a sensible man would not like him if he were not in the main good also. Universally, on persons of about our own age and our own social position, who are obviously and ostentatiously opposing themselves to the precepts of the Gospel, our constant companionship is not likely to produce a good effect, except we be more than ordinarily religious and firm ourselves. Of all the instances you ever knew in which a woman entertained that wildest of notions that she would be able, after marriage, to reform the man over whom her influence was powerless before it — of all such instances — and there are numbers of them, how many are the successes you can recall? In how many do you know the result to have been intense and irremediable misery? No, there are those whose age or weight of character enables them without danger or misrepresentation to attempt the reformation of the wicked by being, to some extent, in their society. There are those who, perhaps, to both these qualifications have superadded the incentive of personal liking. Samuel was one of this sort, yet even to him the time came when ha, the old man, the good man, the minister of God, the man with a strong, affection towards Saul, felt it his duty to "see him no more."
(J. C. Coghlan, D. D.)
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