So on that day, Saul died together with his three sons, his armor-bearer, and all his men.
I. SAUL'S DEATH.
1. His despair. When the battle went against him, and the Philistines, keeping beyond reach of his long arm and terrible sword, hit him from a distance with their arrows, the king's spirit suddenly failed and died within him. "He trembled sore because of the archers." Always fitful in his moods, liable to sudden elation and sudden depression, he gave up all for lost. He would not flee, but he would fight no more. Probably the horrible recollection of the words spoken to him by the spectre at Endor increased his despair, and he thought only how to die.
2. His pride. Saul had never shown much regard for the sacredness of human life, but he cherished a most exalted sense of the sacredness of his own person as the Lord's anointed. No descendant of a long line of so styled Christian or Catholic sovereigns has held a loftier claim of personal inviolability. So he resolved that no heathen should cut him down in battle. Anything rather than this. If his armour bearer would not kill him, he would kill himself.
3. His suicide. With all his horror of being slain by a heathen, Saul died like a heathen - dismissed himself from life after the manner of the pagan heroes; not with any sanction from the word of God or the history of his servants. (Illustrate from the stories of Brutus and Cassius and the younger Cato.) The only instance of what can be called self-destruction among the men of Israel prior to the days of Saul was that of Samson, and his was a self-devotion for the destruction of his country's enemies which ranks with the heroism of one dying in battle rather than with cases of despairing suicide. There is a case after the days of Saul, viz., that of Ahithophel, who, in a fit of deep chagrin, deliberately hanged himself. To the servants of God suicide must always appear as a form of murder, and one that implies more cowardice than courage. English law regards it as a very grave crime, and to mark this our old statutes, unable to punish the self-murderer, assigned to his body ignominious burial It is, however, the charitable custom of our times to assume that one who kills himself must be bereft of reason, and so to hold him morally irresponsible. Apology of this kind may be pleaded for King Saul, and pity for his disordered brain takes away the sharpness from our censure. Still we must not overlook -
4. The admonition which his death conveys. Saul had really prepared for himself this wretched death. He had disregarded the prophet, and so was without consolation. He had killed the priests, and so was without sacrifice or intercession. He had driven away David, and so was without the help of the best soldier in the nation, a leader of 600 men inured to service and familiar with danger. He had lived, in his later years at least, like a madman; and, like a madman, he threw himself on his sword and died. Here lies admonition for us. As a man sows he reaps. As a life is shaped, so is the death determined. We speak of the penalty on evil doers, but it is no mere arbitrary infliction; it is the natural fruit and necessary result of the misconduct. One leads a sensual life, and the penalty on him is that of exhaustion, disease, and premature decay. One leads a selfish life, hardening his heart against appeal or reproach, and his doom is to lose all power and experience of sympathy, to pass through the world winning no love, and pass out of the world drawing after him no regret.
II. JONATHAN'S DEATH.
1. Its innocence. Look at the pious, generous prince, as well as the proud and wilful king, slain on that woeful day. A man who loves God and whom God loves may be innocently involved in a cause which is bound to fail. It may be by ties of family, or by official position which he cannot renounce; and, unable to check the fatal course of his comrades, he is dragged down in the common catastrophe. Jonathan died in the same battle with his father, but not as his father died. Let us remember that men are so involved with one another in the world, in ways quite defensible, sometimes unavoidable, that as one may share the success of another without deserving any part of the praise, so also may one share the downfall of others without being at all to blame for the courses or transactions which brought about the disastrous issue.
2. Its timeliness. The death of Jonathan: occurring when it did, brought more advantage to the nation than his continued life could possibly have rendered. It opened the way for David's succession to the throne. Had Jonathan survived his father, be might have been willing to cede the succession to David, but it is not at all probable that the people would have allowed his obvious claim to be set aside, and any conflict between the partisans of two such devoted friends would have been most painful to both. So it was well ordered and well timed that Jonathan died as a brave soldier in the field. He missed an earthly throne indeed, but he gained all the sooner a heavenly home. So is it with many a death which seems to be sad and untimely. A man of God cannot lose by dying. To die is gain. But he may by dying advance the cause of God more than he could by living. His departure may clear the ground for other arrangements under Divine providence, for which the time is ripe, or open the way for some one who is chosen and called to do a work for God and man that must no longer be delayed. - F.
I. THE CHARACTER OF SAUL.
1. We begin with this: "Sin, when it is finished, bringing forth death." The career of the first monarch Israel ever had is now actually completed: his life is a failure; the wrong beginning has reached the fetal end. The parallel has more than once been drawn between the rejected Saul and the Roman Brutus at Philippi. They seem to have had a warning in very similar terms the night before they died. And the terrible destruction of their respective forces, the entire rout and ruin of their cause, worked the same maddening result. Each fell on his own sword, and so sealed his guilt with suicide. One thinks of the story which naturalists tell concerning the scorpion, which, girded by the circle of fire, coils up on itself into narrower and narrower folds, till, when it can endure the heat no longer, it turns its deadly venom against itself and buries the sting of destruction in its own brain. Saul knew he must die before nightfall that day; it was not necessary he should let himself be tortured.
So Saul died and his three sons.
1. Saul was what the Bible calls a "reprobate." By that we do not mean that he was a man hurried forward to his doom by a blind fate, or lashed to such a doom against his will by the scourge of relentless furies. There is no such case in all the Bible. Yes, Saul was a sinner, and a persistent sinner — a sinner who sinned against light and knowledge, against providence and grace, against mercy and judgment. "God gave him over to strong delusions, to believe a lie." God will not force men to obey him — will not compel them to repent when they have done wrong.
2. God's retributions are slow but sure. It had been a long time since Saul committed that first grievous offence against God. There were years of apparent peace and prosperity, when God seemed to have forgotten his old curse, and when Saul might have thought that God had changed his mind and purpose.
3. To forsake God is to be lost. That was the fatal turning point in Saul's history, both as a man and as the first king of Israel. There was everything to make him loyal to God. It was not the want of knowledge or the want of counsel that led him to stumble. It was a want of reverence for God as "King of kings." It was a want of will to do God's will, and a desire to follow the bent of his own heart in spite of all that God told him was right and wrong. So he forsook God. And what could God do, as a lover of truth and a lover of Israel, but forsake him.
(T. W. Hooper, D. D.)
2. So there is a second text of God's Word illustrated here in the incident: "None of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself." The lines and links of connection with bind us to our fellow men are often very subtle, and sometimes unexpected; but they are certainly always very strong. We do not know that Saul cared much about others' interests, but his guilt was visited on many innocent, souls. By a tradition of the Rabbins we are told that the armour bearer mentioned here was named Doeg, and the tale adds that both of these men were slain by the same weapon, that was indeed the one with which the Lord's servants had been massacred at Nob.
3. Notice, therefore, closely in this connection that another of the Bible texts phrases for us a new lesson: "One sinner destroyeth much good." There was more in this tremendous catastrophe at Gilboa than an individual wreck. Great public interests were shaken almost as if the nation had been rocked by the force of an earthquake. Saul reaped the wind before he died, and when he died too; but it was his people that, with sickles of humiliation and loss and shame unutterable, reaped the whirlwind in his stead.
4. Happily there is another side even to this. We choose again from the utterances of inspiration, and we read, "The triumphing of the wicked is short, and the joy of the hypocrite but for a moment." It has been noticeable in human history that the Almighty deals somewhat surprisingly with remnants; even in great devastations there is often left a seed that tries to serve him and retrieve the disasters. It does our hearts good just now to learn that Jabesh-Gilead was aroused: somebody after all was alive in the land. A good turn often comes back again. Years before this Saul had saved the inhabitants of that town from losing their eyes at the hands of some brutal enemies; now they sent a faithful band to take reverently down from the spikes the bodies of the royal victims and give them decent burial at last. It is wiser always to side with the Lord of hosts, no matter how discouraging the present prospect may be.
5. Once more, we find an illustration also here of the text that has grown so familiar in our times: "In the place where the tree falleth, there it shall be."(1) He lost his chance through his sinning against God.(2) He lost his chance: but ours remains to us yet; and this is of vast importance and demands our notice as living men. While the hours linger salvation is possible anyone who will come with patience seeking it, and even a great bad record may be blotted from the book of God's remembrance by the blood of Christ.
(C. S. Robinson, D. D.)
1. Proud preference of his own will to God's, carried out boldly in the life; deadly jealousy, that coloured and distorted his view of things, determined the special mould of his character and destiny, and threw over both deep shades of darkness; cruelty, that was causeless as against an innocent man, unnatural as against a son-in-law, sacrilegious, in smiting without scruple a whole city of priests with their families; impiety, that dared to stand up against God. Potentially the tyrant lurked in the king, the monster in the man. Circumstances alone would not, could not, make him such as he became. They helped to mould and colour his character, and gave it its peculiarity of aspect. But the regulating power lay within. From the same circumstances a different character would have been fabricated by a different disposition. Does not the same sunlight nourish Hemlock and All-heal, the Nettle and the Lily, the Thistle and the foodful Grain? Do not all flowers drink their own colours from the same flood of sunbeams? Even so, the plastic power of evil within employed for deadly harm the very circumstance which another would have turned to good and holy purposes.
2. His careless naturalism of heart. Let us call it by its Scripture name: "carnal mindedness." This was the warp on which were woven all the glaring designs of his life. His heart was never broken by a sense of sin, or melted with the love of God, or touched by the marvellous grace that shone in the economy of type and shadow.
II. THE MORAL PURPOSES OF HIS REIGN.
1. Punitive. His whole reign was a judgment. Disaffection, despondency, internal strife, and enfeebled power, were but different aspects of the same black cloud. It was throughout a ministry of retribution.
2. Disciplinary. These terrible years had a forward as well as a backward look. The harvest of the past they were also the seed time of the future.(1) The Divine holiness was solemnly held forth. Every new infliction of judgment was a new demonstration of God's hatred of sin.(2) Conviction of sin. This would be the very result of an impression of Divine purity. The inference in a quickened conscience, would be immediate and pressing. Instinctively the contrast would be felt. The conviction of impurity would be the dark dreadful shadow of Divine intolerance of it.(3) Turning to God again. Left, for this dark series of years, to follow their own ways, with a king as they desired and such as hey would have chosen, it was proved to them how foolish they were to separate themselves in the smallest measure from the God whose love had guarded them. They could not direct their own steps. It was suicidal weakness to think of walking alone. Their weary hearts looked wistfully back from the gloom that had settled on the land to that happier sunshine which now seemed gleaming on those vanished years of closer allegiance to God.
3. Instructive.(1) The meeting of two lines of providential agency in the accomplishment of a certain intended result — a principle which finds frequent illustration in the early history of the New Testament Church, as when Simeon and the Infant Saviour, Peter and Cornelius, Paul and Ananias, from different points, were borne divinely to a meeting.(2) The judicial arranging of events and circumstances so as to make the sources of perplexity, temptation, and ruin, to the wilful soul — an awful truth which has been repeating itself in actual life ever since Pharaoh, in his infatuation, hastened after Israel because "the wilderness had shut them in." But these truths, and many like them, were developed by particular occurrences in the life of Saul. When that life is looked at as a whole, it yields most useful lessons for men of every age.
1. No change of circumstance can slacken God's hold of His creatures. Convincing proof of this might have been given by a character and history directly the opposite of Saul's. But doubly impressive is the demonstration made by a life like his.
2. No human institution can of itself bring real blessings to a people. The Hebrews fondly dreamed that royalty would bring with it healing for all social ills. In their case the dream was not only baseless, but signally dishonouring to God. In every case it is really so. The folly of it is written conspicuously on all history. It is taught clearly by our common sense. With multitudes, a bright vision of happiness seems hovering over some great political amelioration yet to come. And it is to be feared that the noble instinct of our nature, which craves for true enjoyment, is bidden fill itself here. Deluded multitudes, to set down an immortal nature to these husks of the prodigal! True happiness is a heavenly gift. It is madness to seek it growing among the political improvements or social amenities of earth.
3. No combination of outward advantages can save or sanctify the soul of man. We cannot well conceive a human being surrounded by greater and more powerful means of improvement than was the first king of Israel.
4. There is in human nature a tendency to growth in evil. Here, again, Saul stands for the race. And in him this growth is terribly conspicuous. The modest man has come to stand without shame in the light of a public exposure; and he who had been so winningly regardful of the life of rebels now pants for the blood of the righteous, and barbarously sacrifices to the Moloch of his passion the whole innocent population of a city. Keeping pace with the monstrous growth of evil, and probably accounting for it, we observe in him the gradual consolidation of infernal agency. The human nature refused to admit its full operation all at once. At first the dark influence came in pulses over him, like the sullen ripples of the sea of death on a boat's resisting sides. But soon that influence gained so thorough a mastery that all sounds of resistance ceased. With terrible facility the infernal power abated the reluctancy of his nature, and at last identified itself so completely with him that all trace of a struggle vanished, and the occasional impulses of its first contact changed eventually to a steady and uniform influence. It would be comforting to believe that this appalling progressiveness was peculiar to Saul. But this consolation we dare not take. While differing from him in the line of descent, and in the circumstances, enormity, and visible effects of our growth in evil, that growth itself is beyond question. The heart gravitates to sin. A malign influence has breathed upon our race. As surely as the body of the newborn babe tends earthwards unsupported, its moral nature tends to corruption. Deeper and deeper it sinks into sin. Habit adds new strength to nature. Surrounding temptations hasten the speed of the soul's departure from God and holiness. How dreadful this downward pressure! What miracle has preserved the world from perishing by the excess of its own vices? A kindly Providence has done it.
(P. Richardson, B. A.)
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