KING SAUL'S IGNOMINIOUS END
--I SAMUEL 31.--SEPTEMBER 6.--
Golden Text:--"Prepare to meet thy God."--Amos 4:12.
SAUL'S career began under most favorable conditions and terminated most ignominiously in suicide. A man of manifest ability, as a general and a ruler he lacked in one thing, which made his career as a whole a failure. As we have seen, he was not irreverent, nor profane and vicious in the ordinary sense of those terms. In many respects he showed a deep reverence for the Almighty and a considerable desire to do his will. His failure, on the whole, was the result of a double mind. The Apostle remarks that "A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways." Our Lord states that we "cannot serve God and Mammon." King Saul was desirous of serving God, but was also desirous of serving self and Mammon. His proper course would have been full consecration, full submission of his will to the divine will. This is the principal difference between his course and that of his successor, David. Outwardly, perhaps, Saul was as noble in character [R4233 : page 265] as his successor; but the latter, putting God first and submitting his own will to the divine will, had the advantage, so that whatever natural blunders he made, whatever natural defects he shared in common with the remainder of the human family, these were offset by that heart loyalty to God which never permitted him to stray far, and which, after every transgression caused him to weep bitterly and to seek divine forgiveness and therefore a closer walk with God. Thus David was a man after God's own heart, not because of his perfection of the flesh, but because of his perfection of intention and heart desire. Saul's character is represented today in many worldly people, who by a full submission of their wills to the Lord, a full consecration, might become saints, but who, in endeavoring to maintain their own wills, make a failure of life and accomplish little that is praiseworthy.
MADE MAD BY JEALOUSY
Saul lamented his loss of divine favor, declared by the Prophet Samuel; but apparently the matter did not strike him so seriously until he began to notice that the divine blessing was with the youthful David. Jealousy, one of the most intense foes of human happiness, entered his mind and almost bereft him of reason. The more faithfully David served him, and the better the results obtained, the more did Saul recognize that this marked David as his successor in the Kingdom under the Lord's providence. This, as we have seen, led to the hate which sought to assassinate him and which later on led to Saul's hunting him as a brigand, with his troops. Various matters associated with the narrative clearly imply that the evil spirit which entered into Saul in connection with his envy of David was a spirit of an unsound mind, an evil or injurious spirit or disposition. There is a great lesson in this matter, not only for the worldly class represented by Saul, but a lesson also for ourselves of the New Creation. In our journey through life, almost daily we come to places and circumstances which, wrongly received, may change our entire course from fellowship and relationship to God to sin and opposition to him. What Christian has not realized certain crises in his life in which two voices seemed to speak to him; the one favoring humility and obedience to God at any cost; the other urging self-will backed by pride? If we are advanced Christians, who through numerous victories have gained a position where such besetments are rare, we still need to be on guard and to remember that we have a very wily Adversary, that we have the treasure of the new mind in an earthen vessel, and that in our flesh dwelleth no perfection. These recollections should make us very humble, and lead us to cling closely to the Lord, and to fear and abhor any attitude of conduct and even of thought that would in any measure seem to antagonize the divine will. Even if the Lord's favor seemed to be passing from us to another in certain respects, we should follow the course of Jonathan and know for a [R4234 : page 265] certainty that it would be folly to battle with God, for no blessing could possibly lie in that direction.
THE PHILISTINE INVASION
It would not be correct for us to suppose that Saul's persecution of David occupied all of his time and attention. Undoubtedly as a man of ability he exercised quite an influence throughout his Kingdom. This is evident from the fact that for seven years after Saul's death the ten tribes of Israel clung to his successor and declined to recognize David. On the other hand Saul's insane jealousy undoubtedly weakened him personally and also the resources of the people, so that the Philistines considered it an opportune time for an invasion of the land of Israel. The battle was not fought on the borders, and the invaders were not met promptly, but obtained a considerable foothold before the battle began. Meantime the attitude of King Saul's mind may be well judged from the incidents of his visit to the witch of Endor. Poor man! He had sufficient knowledge of God to have faith in him, but equally well for years he knew that he had been cut off from special divine favor, and that he had been vainly striving against God in his opposition to David. But with all this, in his vexation of heart he desired some superhuman counsel. Not only had he been seeking to take David's life, but he had slain the priest for giving David the shewbread, and in general had done everything he could to cut himself off from God's favor, even though he realized his need of it.
VISITING THE WITCH OF ENDOR
The fallen angels, demons, even back in Saul's time, sought to personate the dead, to hold communion with the living by representing themselves as their deceased friends. The Lord distinctly forbade such communications with demons; and the command throughout Saul's dominion had been that witches and those having familiar spirits, mediumship, should be put to death, with a view to driving them out of the land of Israel and thus to put away temptation from the Israelites. But now in his extremity doubtless, King Saul, disguising himself, sought the witch, that through her he might have communion with Samuel, the prophet. Evidently he had come under the delusion which was very rapidly making headway throughout the world, namely, that the dead are not dead, but merely disembodied. On this supposition he placated the witch and made his request for an interview with the Prophet Samuel.
The manifestation that took place may be accounted for in two ways:
(1) An evil spirit may have personated Samuel and foretold the results of the battle on the morrow. Doubtless it would have been easy for any one of mental acumen to forecast the predicted results. Besides we know not what facilities for information on such matters the demons may possess. Many of the things which today they tell through mediums are remarkable for their accuracy.
(2) It is not said that Saul saw anything nor that he heard anything. His communications were through the witch; she saw, she heard, she told. Saul perceived from what the witch said that it was Samuel, recognizing the prophet from the description of his mantle, etc., which she gave him. But his boldness in still attempting to ascertain his future is remarkable. One would think that, with his knowledge of God and with his realization that already he was under divine disfavor, he should have feared God's further displeasure in doing that which was forbidden. There is a lesson, too, for the Lord's people here. What the Lord is not pleased to give us through proper channels we should realize we would be better without. It is in vain that any might endeavor to circumvent the Lord, to get ahead of him in any manner. Our Lord's words, "Agree with thine Adversary quickly while thou art in the way with him," would certainly apply in such a case as Saul's, [R4234 : page 266] when God had become his adversary. His proper course would have been to throw himself completely upon the Lord's mercy, assured that he is able to make all things work together for good. This should be our course. Faithfulness to the divine will is the only secure and happy course for us.
SAUL AND JONATHAN SLAIN
The next day the battle raged, and the army of the Israelites was worsted, and Saul and his three sons were slain, besides many of his troops. Our lesson tells of the suicide of Saul. He preferred to die by his own hand rather than to come under the control of his enemies alive. Poor man! The poet describes the anguish of his last hour, saying,
"And the falchion at thy side
To thy heart thy hand did guide;
Crownless, horseless, headless, fall
Son and Sire, the house of Saul!"
The closing verses of the lesson tell us that the Philistines sent Saul's armor piecemeal to their various cities with reports of their victory, and that they fastened his dead body to the wall of Beth-shan. It will be remembered that at the very beginning of Saul's reign, forty years before this, the Ammonites, having made an attack upon the city of Jabesh, overpowered it and demanded the surrender, and would give no better terms than that the right eye of each Jabeshite should be destroyed; and that then King Saul went promptly to their deliverance and rescued them. It is worthy of note that the men of Jabesh, forty years after, had not forgotten Saul's energy on their behalf; so that when they heard that his body and those of his sons were ignominiously fastened to the outer wall of the city to putrefy and to be devoured by vultures, they went quite a distance and took down the bodies and burned them, so that no such indignity could further be expressed, and carefully buried the charred remains. Thus they attested their recognition of the king's kindness to them. Kind words and kind deeds can never die, and we are often surprised at what a power they exercise even over those who are not in any special degree the Lord's people. Such evidence of a spirit of appreciation, of kindness, illustrates the fact that, although our race is sadly fallen and bruised by the fall, nevertheless elements of the original image of God in the flesh are still traceable in the words and deeds of natural men. Without this, it might be said there would be nothing to work upon. How glad we may be to suppose that when the new dispensation shall have been ushered in, and when by reason of the binding of Satan and the restraint of evil it will be more easy to do right than to do wrong, then many will fall in line with righteousness and eventually learn to love righteousness and to hate iniquity!
Our Golden Text, "Prepare to meet thy God," is appropriate to everybody in every time. But the right way to prepare to meet God and to hear his decision respecting the character is not, as usually supposed, to begin to get pious when we feel the approach of sickness or death or in the presence of calamity. From the moment we become believers in Christ and turn from sin and seek forgiveness and thus become eligible to God's favor, we are urged to present our bodies living sacrifices to him and thus to receive of him an adoption of his spirit to fellowship. This in turn proves to be but the entrance way to the school of Christ, where they are to be taught as sons of God, to be prepared for the glorious work in association with their Redeemer in his glorious Kingdom. As they grow in grace and knowledge, they grow in appreciation of divine favor. As the poet has said,
"Oh, let no earth-born cloud arise
To hide thee from thy servant's eyes."
Such as are in this attitude of heart are prepared to meet their God at any time. Indeed their meeting with him has already begun, and anything that will serve in any degree to hinder its pleasurable continuance will be a disaster indeed.