11 Saul and the Ammonites

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“Then Nahash the Ammonite came up, and encamped against Jabesh-Gilead; and all the men of Jabesh said unto Nahash, Make a covenant with us, and we will serve thee; And Nahash the Ammonite answered them, On this condition will I make a covenant with you, that I may thrust out all your right eyes, and lay it for a reproach upon all Israel.”- I SAM.xi. 1, 2.

ONE of the general signs of the superiority of the present age over the barbarous periods of the past, is its horror at such cruelties as that proposed by the Ammonite in our text. Yet they were common in the gloomy days gone by, before our Lord’s corning into the world. And when, after His coming, the overwhelming crowds of rude barbarians were baptized by command of their conquerors, and received into the Church with all their coarse passions, their dark and cruel minds unchanged, similar revolting crimes were commonly committed in the middle ages by so-called Christians. The proceedings of those acres of rude uproar were rather the conversion of the names, forms, and doctrines of the Church to the purposes of selfishness, greed, and wickedness, than (as was fondly dreamed) the conversion of savage nations to the faith of the Lord Jesus. The celebrated Emperor Constantine himself (whose conversion was the subject of endless exultation by the then leaders of the Church), even after he had presided at the famous Council of Nice, not only put his son to death In a wild fit of anger, but caused his wife to be burnt alive.

The Christianity of the middle ages was chiefly heathenism in a Christian dress, and was quite as cruel as heathenism had previously been. What have been called religious wars, the crimes of the Inquisition, the pains and penalties inflicted for the sake of opinions, and the burning of so-called heretics in the name of the divinely merciful Prince of Peace, all arose from brutality being conjoined with superstition. “The dark places of the earth are full of the habitations of cruelty” (Psa. Lxxiv. 20). Hence the effort of us all should be to diffuse by every means in our power the light that leads to a good life, the wisdom that comes from above, and which is so beautifully described by the Apostle James as “first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy” (James iii. 17).

Again may we congratulate ourselves on the advance of the new age of love towards the Lord, and love to our neighbour, so far in the way of good, that anything so revolting as the horrid proposal of Nahash the king of the Ammonites in our text would be now impossible in civilized and Christian communities. But whether something mental, quite as cruel and quite as detrimental to human progress, is not even now too prevalent, let us proceed very patiently to inquire.

The eyes correspond to the understanding in the mind. The bodily eyes are formed to perceive objects in earthly light; the eyes of the intellect are formed to see mental objects in heavenly light. Such is the constitution of things, and it is everywhere recognised in Scripture. Hence the apostle says, “‘The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints” (Eph. i. 18).

Light corresponds to truth; not so much to truth in statement as to interior truth, which shines in the mind, and enables it spiritually to see. This light shines from the Lord Jesus, the Heavenly Sun; and to receive it, and to comprehend all things important to our well-being, and to enrich us with mental beauty, He has given, and He sustains in us, THE EYES OF THE MIND.

He teaches us to pray-“Open Thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of Thy law” (Psa. cxix. 18). Again we read: “Mine eyes have seen Thy salvation” (Luke ii. 30). “I am the Light of the world; he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light: of life” (John viii. 12).

These, and other frequently recurring passages of Holy Writ, demonstrate the recognition in the Word of God of the correspondence of natural light and natural eyes with spiritual light and spiritual eyes. From common conversation, also, it is perfectly clear that the analogy between the body and the mind, in this respect, is universally perceived and understood. When a person is ignorant upon a certain subject, he is described as being in the dark; when true thoughts upon it are entering his mind, he is said to be getting a little light, and when he fully understands it, he is said to see clearly. This ordinary form of speech, familiar to everyone, indicates that some portion of the analogy between the outward world of matter and the inner world of mind is generally seen, and taken for granted.

But this consideration may well be pondered over; for if inner truth is like light, and the understanding eyes to the mind, how immensely important both must be to our real well-being, will be suggested by a few reflections on the value of light, and the inestimable blessings we realize from the use of our eyes.

It is to LIGHT we owe all the fertility, as well as all the beauty, of the glorious universe of which we form a part. Without light no forest-trees would ever have waved their majestic heads or risen upwards to the sun; no fertile fields would have abounded with grateful harvests; not a flower, not a leaf, not a blade of grass would have grown. The earth without light would have been bare, hard, arid, bleak, and dead. No sun would have poured over the world his morning splendour or his evening glory. The myriad stars and starry systems, with all their varying shades and multiform magnificence, the silvery moon with her mild beauties, would, without light, all alike have been to us hidden and unperceived. Without light there is no colour. All the hues of nature, all the varied loveliness of flowers, all the varying aspects of the sky, nay, the very changes of the human face expressive of the shades of joy and grief, of human thought and feeling, are revealed to us by light.

“Prime cheerer, Light !
Of all ethereal beings first and last !
Efflux divine! Nature’s resplendent robe!
Without whose vesting beauty all ‘were wrapt
In unessential gloom! and thou, 0 Sun!
Soul of surrounding worlds, ill whom, best seen,
Shines out thy Maker I”

But grand beyond description as light is for the outer world, still grander is TRUTH, which is the light of eternity, of heaven, of angels, of sages, the light of the mind, the “true light which enlighteneth every man that cometh into the world.” It is the manifestation of Divine Love, the splendour of God. From truths flowing out of love, come all the blessings of life, all true joys, all progress, all victory, all purity, all glory, in time and in eternity. Truth is the Word of God, the King of kings, the Lord of lords, adorned with many crowns. If the thought of nature without light is appalling, still more dreadful is it to think of the soul, with no truth to light its path to wisdom; of the inner universe, of heaven, without truth to reveal their supernal splendours. Here, indeed, must one say with Milton, who knew by his privations the unspeakable worth of light,–

“Hail, holy light, offspring of heaven first-born,
Or of the eternal co-eternal beam,
May I express thee unblamed ? Since God is Light,
And never but in unapproached light
Dwelt from eternity, dwelt then in thee,
Bright effluence of bright essence uncreate.”

Oh yes! light for the outer world, and light for the mental and spiritual worlds are divine gifts, for which all praise must ever fall far short: so great are their excellences that our warmest thanksgivings must needs be inadequate, poor and weak!

Yet, worthy as they are, they would have been as nothing to us, if we had not been furnished with eyes! Grandeur and loveliness would have been above and around us as at present; but without eyes we could not have perceived a single ray. Hence we perceive how accordant with the Divine Wisdom it is to have given us eyes so curiously and wonderfully formed, and so guarded that it is difficult to hurt them. Mark how they are placed in the front of the head, best for observation, best also for protection. They are placed in bony fortresses, projecting beyond them on every side. There are the eyelids ever nervously alive to cover and protect. There is then the thick outer coat of the eye, very difficult to injure. Within, there is the IRIS, ever opening and contracting, so that an injurious amount of light even may not destroy the delicate tissues which constitute the inner chambers of the eye. Then there are the three humours, the aqueous, the crystalline, and the vitreous, which attemper and refract the light, so that by the lens, and these delicate substances, in proper order, perfect vision is secured.

And what an amazing marvel is that! The world around, countless objects with their shades and varied proportions, stars at incalculable distances, minute forms and diverse hues, all pass their images through a small aperture of about the eighth of an inch, and are reproduced on the exquisite membrane at the back of the eye, the retina, that finest of all network, and there inform the soul of the world around. By the same wondrous organ, the soul flashes out its intelligence, and utters in burning glances the glowing fervours of the immortal being within. Oh wondrous door of thought! oh wondrous window through which the radiant splendours of the spirit shine! Oh wonderful photographic power which transfers the universe, and with God-given appliances fixes all the pictures! What malicious being would dare or desire to injure an organ so guarded and so prized by Providence Divine?

Yet in such cases as the one in our text, wretched cruel tyrants have sought ruthlessly to destroy what the skill of all the philosophers who ever lived could never make. We shudder to think what a monster Nahash the Ammonite must have been! He proposed to put out the right eyes of the inhabitants of this city. Appalling crime ! Yet how many there are who from lust of power, or from an unguarded acquiescence in blind traditions, are constantly seeking to induce spiritual blindness. Have we quite as vivid a dread of these? ” You must not dare to think for yourself Religion is a collection of dark mysteries, of which we have the keeping. You are not to think but to heed what we say. In blind obedience to what we call faith.” Yet to darken the soul is more mischievous than to darken the body. “You must sacrifice your intellect,” say these blindness makers. “The greater the mystery, the greater the faith.” “I believe because it is impossible.” “The more impossible, the more certain.” These are of the tribe of Nahash the Ammonite, His name signifies “serpent;” many such serpents there have been in the past, and many such there are at the present day. They long for a blind people, especially in relation to THE RIGHT EYE. The right eye corresponds to the intellect which is directed chiefly to notice things of love; the left eye to that part of the understanding, which is directed to things of faith. The mental right eye, when it looks up to the Lord sees that He is good to all, that His tender mercies are over all His works. When it looks to heaven, it beholds the realms of bliss a kingdom of love; when it looks to religion, it regards charity as chief; when it looks to human conduct, it rejoices when it sees a loving heart and a good life.

What is there in all this to offend Nahash the Ammonite? Let us see.

Jabesh-Gilead was situated in the portion of the Israelitish possessions beyond the Jordan. They had a beautiful country, rich in fruits and flowers, surrounded by glorious mountains, part of the territory granted to the two tribes and a half, Reuben, Gad, and the half tribe of Manasseh. They represented good, simple people, who are upright, but who do not think deeply or care for much beyond the letter of the Word. The name Jabesh, which signifies dryness, is expressive of their state; there is but little of sap in them, but in external life they conform themselves to the teaching of the divine commandments. Gilead means a “heap of testimony.” It was the place where Jacob and Laban made a covenant. It signifies such a state of religion as a Gentile would admit, and to which he would conform. The Ammonites were the descendants of Lot from one of the two sons who were the result of his unhappy proceedings in a cave: Moab was the other.

Ammon represented a religion of perverted truth originating from evil, and an obscure state of mind, a mind like a cave. Moab represents a religion of ceremony, with a similar origin. Both are superstitious, and hate the light.

Lot was the cousin of Abraham, and was in a certain state of good, but a very low one. After he was saved from Sodom, he declined, and he represented those who have dispositions towards religion, but whose gloomy minds are like a cave. They invent a religion of their own, but a religion of grimness. They take some parts of the letter of the Bible, but never enter into its loving, broad, and genial spirit. They have no love, and they don’t think God has any. They magnify what they esteem to be duties, and these must be attended to, whatever becomes of the weightier matters of the law. They would neglect their families to attend a prayer meeting; they would grind down their workpeople to build a place of prayer. They would multiply services of worship and profession; but the services of justice, uprightness to all men, goodness, real virtue, and gentleness are, in their code, of no account. They will, like the Pharisees of old, move heaven and earth to make a proselyte, but it is a convert to their party, not to wisdom, to loving-kindness, or to God. They make much of a few things in the letter of religion, and call it FAITH to believe in these; but all the loving part of religion they despise. This is the reason of their being represented by Nahash desiring to put out the right eyes of the men of Jabesh-Gilead. These latter, being simple people, had not sufficient power to drive their foes thoroughly away, but they held them at bay for a time. They desired a truce of seven days.

Seven is the sacred number, and the truce for seven days implied that in the loving religion of the Heavenly Father there would be found help for them.

In the meantime Saul had been chosen king, and had taken the responsibility of government. Messengers came to him, whose tidings spread sorrow around. The Spirit of God came upon Saul and filled him with courage and wisdom. He took his two oxen and hewed them in pieces, sending the pieces by messengers in every direction, requiring all the able-bodied men to assemble with him, and denouncing the destruction of the oxen of all who fail attend.

Oxen correspond to obedience, the plodding spirit of duty; the two oxen imply the acknowledgment of duty to God and duty to man; and Saul sent pieces of the oxen around, inviting thus the aid of all who sympathized with him in the conviction that the one indispensable principle is obedience to the commandments of God, to obey God in using rightly the faculties He has given, and to repel all who in His name are “blind leaders of the blind.” This is the true duty implied in Saul’s invitation to come up to the help of the men of Jabesh-Gilead. Religion is a thing of light, not of darkness; of seeing, not of blindness.

The thirty thousand men of Judah and the three hundred thousand men of Israel who came, represented all the teachings of love and all the powers of faith; for three, which is the chief number concerned, is used in Scripture when fulness of truth is intended to be expressed. They sent messengers to Jabesh Gilead to assure them of help on the morrow, when the sun should be hot. When the soul has marshalled its powers as carefully as if all depended upon itself, and stands ready to do its best for the Lord, it will soon have a glorious morrow; the sun will soon be hot, and victory will soon be achieved. The Lord is the Sun of the soul, the Sun of righteousness; and when we prepare ourselves in devout and loving trust in Him, He will soon rise in the warm glow of love, with healing in His wings. The soul burning with zeal and courage will chase as “chaff before the wind” all who love darkness rather than light. The agents of man-made mystery must then fly like detected owls. Divine mysteries indeed there are, but they are hidden wisdom, which we are invited to fathom (I Cor. ii. 7). “Unto you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven,” said the Lord to His disciples (Matt. xiii. I I), and He says the same in every age.

“Let there be light” was His original charter for mankind. It is His charter now. Conspiracy demands secrecy and darkness; innocence, virtue, and progress rejoice in the light. They are of the tribe of Nahash the Ammonite, who seek to put out the right eyes of mankind, who say, “Don’t pry into divine things, don’t examine; don’t think, you are sure to be either infidel or insane if you venture to use your mental powers.” It was well said by an ancient sage, “The wise man’s eyes are in his head, but the fool walketh in darkness” (Eccles. ii. 14). When poor

Caspar Hauser, who had been confined from childhood in a dark cellar, first saw the brilliant sky on a splendid star-light night, all radiant with magnificent loveliness, he burst into tears, and exclaimed, ” Oh what have I ever done that I should not have been permitted to see this wondrous sight before!”

Look further at a beautiful sunrise. See how the glorious light diffuses its splendours over the east, and gilds the mountain tops. As the sunbeams spread down, and lighten up the plains, fields, forests, gardens, towns, and towers the soul exclaims: rejoicing at the beauties bursting into view on every side, “These are Thy glorious works, parent of Good! Thine this universal frame!” Just so it is with the splendours of truth, when they enter the mind. Fields of thought, landscapes of mind, expand before you. Heaven opens its bright lights irradiated with golden hopes, and the Lord shows you the path of life. Mysteries give place to holy beauties, and you rise above the mists and fogs of ignorance and error to lovelier and still lovelier things, until your thoughts settle on the Lord Jesus in His glorified beauty for ever. “Your sun shall no more go down, nor your moon withdraw itself: for the Lord shall be your everlasting light, and your God your glory.”

Dread, as a sacred duty, the efforts of all who would substitute dreamy darkness for the light of holy truth that commends itself by being spiritual, rational, and scientific at the same time. When the superstitious would call you down to gloom and contradiction, do you rise to the glorious liberty of the children of lght; and in the spirit of charity invite the sleepy sons of superstition to awake, in the divine words of the prophet, “Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee” (Isa, lx. 1).

Author: Jonathan Bayley— The Divine Wisdom of the Word of God (1892)