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“And it came to pass on the morrow, that the evil spirit from God came upon Saul, and he prophesied in the midst of the house: and David played with his hand as at other times: and there was a javelin in Saul’s hand. “And Saul cast the javelin; for he said, I will smite David even to the wall. And David avoided out of his presence twice.”-I SAM. xviii. 10, 11.
WHEN the Apostle Paul, in his Epistle to the Galatians, referred to the history of Abraham, and his two wives, and their children, he said: “Which things are an allegory: for these are the two covenants.” He did not mean that they were not true history; but that the history is recorded in the Word of God for the sake of the spiritual lessons to be taught by it. What the two women with their sons represented in general, and, according to the Apostle, in his time in particular, was the old covenant from Sinai, with its outbirth, the religion of the Jews, and the new covenant from the Lord Jesus Christ, with its offspring, the religion of Christianity. The one was bondage, the other was freedom: the one was of the letter, the other of the Spirit.”For this Hagar,” he says, “is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and answereth to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children. But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all. Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of’ promise, But as then he that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the Spirit, even so it is now” (Gal. iv. 24-29).
As it was said in that case, so may it be said in the one of Saul and David now before us. These things are an allegory equally with the narrative of Abraham: and the general lesson is the same. It describes those who receive religion externally, and go no farther; who are represented by Saul: and those who go on and become men of the Spirit, men of internal religion, “children of light;” who are represented by David. The one class are comparatively in bondage; the other in glorious liberty, As he that is born of the flesh persecuted him that was born of the Spirit, as the Apostle says, so did Saul persecute David. A great part of Scripture is in reality taken up with the descriptions of the similarities, diversities and changes of state of these two classes of men; or, as it may be, with the states and activities of the two classes of feelings in the mind of one man; for in each mind there is an outer man and an inner man, a natural mind and a spiritual mind, a Saul and David. These divine subjects are treated of in the histories of Abraham and Lot, of Rachel and Leah, of Israel out of Canaan and Israel in Canaan, of the disciples before their conversion when Jesus was with them, and the disciples after their conversion when Jesus was in them (John xiv. 17).
The character of a very considerable portion of the religion of the present day is such that its possessors go but little beyond the external religion represented by Saul; the religion of moderated selfishness. They have the religion of fear and of hope: but very slightly the religion of wisdom and peace; of delight in truth for the sake of truth, and in goodness for its own sweet sake.
It is a grand thing, indeed, to come on the Lord’s side at all. It is a wonderful thing when a man ceases to do evil and learns to do well. To be a hired servant of the King of kings is of course infinitely better than to be a bond-slave of hell. But great as this new beginning is, in relation to a state reckless, careless, and rebellious against God, it is only a very external state, compared to the further attainments of spiritual and celestial men. It is a grand first step, but it is only a first step.
It was a great day when Saul was chosen King of Israel and the people made the air ring with their acclamations of joy and shouted “God save the King!” But what troubles revealed themselves afterwards; and how sad was the monarch’s end on the mountains of Gilboa! So, how often it is that one who began his religious career well, was full of joy at his deliverance, and for a time ran cheerfully in the religious path, at length has paused, become half-hearted, vacillated, exhibited failings that have saddened all who loved him, sunk from bad to worse, and perished in his sins. This is a state like Saul’s. We must never forget that it is well to begin with the letter of the Word and religious life in its plainest, simplest form; but we must not stop there. We must mount up in truth and love into angelic states; never pausing or turning back-until the kingdom of the Lord has been fully formed and the glory of the Lord revealed in us, and dwelling in the spirit of love, we know that we are dwelling in God, for. God is Love (I John iv. 16).
We will endeavour to point out some of the characteristics of the Saul-state and of the David-state: by which we may with greater clearness discern the failings of the one and the excellencies of the other. And may the Divine David from His eternal throne guide us, and grant in His light to see light that will lead to the mountain of His holiness. First, then, the Saul-state of the religious man is one in which self-love has been but little subdued, and he is soon puffed up and easily offended. How jealous Saul was of David! how envious at his success! Although he could not have slain the giant himself, yet when the women sang, “Saul hath slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands,” Saul was very wroth? and the saying displeased him (xviii. 8). David was confident in the Lord, but perfectly unassuming. When questioned by the king as to who he was, he did not even refer to his great service not long before, in having healed the troubled spirit of the king by the music of his harp but simply replied, “I am the son of thy servant Jesse the Bethlehemite” (xvii. 58). Interior religion in the spiritually-minded man is that love which the Apostle describes: which “envieth not, vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up: doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own (but the Lord’s will), is not easily provoked; thinketh no evil” (I Cor. xiii. 4, 5). This spirit as it entirely destroys the elation of self-love, cannot be borne at first by the external Christian; he takes the javelin of his hatred, and would fain destroy it. He wants to be great in religion, and he is told he must be humble. He resists hard and would fain away with it again and again; but it is nevertheless eternal truth, and must prevail. The Pharisees hated our Lord, because they were in this very state. They wanted a Messiah that would lift them up above all nations; and when they were taught: “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. v. 3); “He that is greatest among you shall be your servant”. (xxiii. 1I); “Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven” (xviii. 3); Saul-like they strove to put the Lord to death. Happy would it have been for Saul had he conquered this spirit in himself! Let us take this blessed course; and follow Him who, though the Highest of all, said, “Learn of me: for I am meek and lowly in heart; and ye shall find rest unto your souls” (Matt, xi. 29).
The second characteristic of the external man is that he thinks much of outward glory: he likes a popular religion, a great show. He would not think much of heaven itself, if it were not for the crowns, thrones, robes, and external glories which he associates with the angels. It inflates his self-love to dream of sitting like a Sultan, and having celestial beings passing to and fro to do his bidding. When internal religion comes, and says, “All these things must be spiritually understood: the crowns are wisdom; the thrones are fixed principles of heavenly judgment; the robes are robes of intelligence and righteousness; the joys, the blessedness of doing good, the delights of ever-increasing progress in all celestial and spiritual graces: ‘The kingdom of God cometh not with observation; neither shall they say, lo here! or lo there! for the kingdom of God is within you:'” he is startled as from a fond dream and at first he would fain destroy the unwelcome herald and cling to his fond delusion. He persecutes David, until he finds it is entirely useless, and in fact that David is really his best friend. He then grieves at his ungrateful conduct and hardness of heart, and acknowledges that David must be King.
The third feature in the character of the externally religious man is that he is vacillating, and easily drawn aside. Saul’s whole life was one of sinning and repenting, and falling again. How many failings the Lord’s disciples had when in their external state! What murmurings, what jealousies what disputtings, terminating with an entire forsaking of their Master in his hour of direst trouble! How conspicuous was this in the case of Peter! No one was so ready as he in confident declarations and professions of attachment: yet when trial and danger came, he vacillated and fell, sunk most dismally and disgracefully into cursing and swearing, and the denial of his Divine Benefactor and Friend (Matt. xxvi. 74). Such is the external Christian. But when these same men became internal men, and entered into the spirit of Divine things, they became true, firm, and faithful unto death.
Fourthly, the externally religious man cares little for spiritual truth. He may have been charmed and soothed with the sweet revealings of heaven, as Saul was in earlier times with the music of David’s harp; but the flesh has been strong with him again, and now he dreads and hates what before was like
“The faint exquisite music of a dream.”
To raise the soul to the eternal kingdom to contemplate its laws, its glories, and its felicities; to see, as it were, heaven opened and its celestial splendours realized to the soul until earth fades, and becomes in comparison dim and of little worth; this is the music which comes from David’s harp:
“Lo ! the Psalmist strikes the lyre,
And with holy transport sings!
His, the Spirit’s sacred fire,
And his theme the King of Kings,
How should we delight to hear
Strains that hope and love impart.
Strains that chase away our fear
Strains that elevate the heart.”
But Saul is heavy with the evil spirit, which his own evil state has attracted to him, and which Divine Providence has permitted, that he may be cured by the strokes of his own rod: and so the divine music does not elevate him. He detests it and strikes at David with his javelin; or, in other words, repels the spiritual state with distaste and dislike.
Lastly, the external man is in the religion of fear. He fears death. He fears loss. He has no certainty in anything.. Only “perfect love casteth out fear.” (I John iv, 18). Saul was afraid of David: afraid for his family: afraid of the Philistines: afraid of death. The spiritual man knows he will never die: that what is called death is only an elevation to higher life.
One of the many merciful objects for which our Lord came was to free us from the bondage of the fear of death (Heb. ii. 15). But the natural man still fears it with a great fear; and casts his javelin at the spiritual man, when he perceives his influence becoming powerful over him. Oh how we should pray to have this fear of death removed ! but it can only be in proportion as the spiritual man in us is fully opened by truths of heavenly wisdom rendered familiar by being thought upon and followed out from day to day; and that perfect love perseveringly sought, which casteth out fear.
It seems very astonishing to observe the perseverance of Saul in his attempts to destroy David. Seven times are recorded in which, under various circumstances, he sought to accomplish this unhappy purpose. The first time on the occasion mentioned in the text; the second in his palace after David had slain the Philistines (xix. 10): the third time in Michal’s house by night (xix. I I, 12) : the fourth time at the feast of the new moon, when he was saved by Jonathan (xx. 33): the fifth among the Ziphites (xxiii. 19-26): the sixth in the cave of Engedi, when he confessed his sin (xxiv. 17) : and the seventh near the hill of Hachilah, when he confessed his sin again, and finally gave up the pursuit (xxvi. 25.) We will notice these varied efforts, or some of them; for they are the reflex of our own states. We let the natural man prevail over the spiritual man again and again.
When satisfied with the success of our earthly affairs, we are enjoying ourselves like a king in his palace. We don’t wish to be intruded upon; we are pleased with things as they are, and we don’t want to be reminded that we are mortal. We wish our mentor to be gone.
Again, after David has slain the Philistines, and we find there is no foundation at all for thinking that a religion of the head only will do, we confess that the truth is so, but we do not want to be troubled with it now. We think there is time enough. We will do it all by and by; and in the meantime we wish to be let alone. We can’t bear the sight of David sitting there always. Eternal things will do very well when we are sick and old, and have finished the very important matters that concern us now. As if the matters for our bodies for a few years could for a moment be compared with those of life for ever: or as if any harm could come to any just temporal interests by seeking first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness who has promised that if we do this, all other things shall be added unto us (Matt. vi. 33).
The most peculiar of these attempts of Saul was that when he sought to seize David in his own house: on which occasion he was saved by a curious stratagem, devised by Michal his wife, the king’s daughter. The attempt to slay David by night represents the repugnance to the spiritual man which is cherished by the natural man when in a very dark state; when the soul is benighted, and we repel everything but the trouble with which we are then engaged. Michal, the King’s daughter, who had become David’s wife, is the representative of that glorious principle, the affection for truth. She was given to David after his victory, to teach us that when we have overcome the tendency to a religion of faith only, we are gifted by the Lord with a holy earnestness for those truths which will teach us how to live. This affection is the king’s daughter who is “all glorious within: her clothing is of wrought gold” (Ps, xlv. 13).
The name Michal signifies “who has all,” or ” who is perfect;” and this sacred principle, the love of truth, is that which leads to everything sacred and good; it leads constantly from state to state, until it conjoins us to the All-Good, the Only Perfect, after whom it constantly yearns. By truths sought in the love of truth, we obtain justice, order, goodness, piety, innocence, heaven, all. It is interesting to notice, by the way, that Merab was the daughter that Saul promised (xviii. 17), but that Michal was the one who loved David, and whom he took. The name Merab signifies, “She who disputes,” and would indicate a more external affection; one that loves arguing and controversy for victory, rather than inquiry after truth for truth’s sake and goodness’ sake, which is expressively represented by Michal. The latter preserved David, and presented an image of him to her father, supported by a pillow of goat’s hair (xix. 13). It seems an innocent wife’s stratagem to preserve her husband from the jealous and vindictive father; but it yields a spiritual lesson also. The goat’s hair represents the truths of faith. Men who delight in expatiating on the great truths of religion are represented by the goat, which leaps from rock to rock on the mountain side. The Lord condemns the goats when he is exercising judgment; because they represent such as had gone through life without uniting to their attainments in faith the love and the duties of charity (Matt. xxv. 32 , 33). The goat spirit, however, is good if it be combined with the spirit of love. A young one of the goats might be offered in the paschal supper as well as a lamb (Exod. xii. 5). The spirit of faith has glorious things to do, to cheer, to brighten and to sustain us. To preserve what is spiritual with us, and to assert its preeminence, is the special work of faith. “Faith,” says the apostle, “is the evidence of things not seen” (Heb. xi. 1). That the spiritual man must not be destroyed, and that if he were, all truth would die, and nothing but calamity would follow, is signified by the image of David being supported by the pillow of goat’s hair, and by Michal’s speech to her father (xix. 17).
At the feast of the new moon, David ought to have been in his place, and would have been if Saul had been rightly minded; for the new moon represents faith in clearness, a new light on the understanding diffusing brightness over the mind. But what avails this, if the heart is rankling with envy? No real interior life can be developed there. All is empty, dark and miserable, when malice has usurped the place of loving-kindness in the will. So again Saul was disappointed, and David was not there.
The remaining attempts of Saul, and the manner in which David baffled him, and repaid jealousy and malice by kindness and forgiveness, represent the spiritual man gradually overcoming the natural man by returning good for evil. At last the spiritual becomes entirely the stronger; and the natural man confesses that the government will pass to David, and that every blessing will come from its doing so. All that is intimated in the tender words of Saul, when he saw and confessed his wickedness and folly (xxiv. 16-22).
How beautiful and happy would all things be, if true order were only properly maintained! The natural man fears that his delights will be lost, if he submit himself to the spiritual. But in reality true delight only then begins. Let the natural mind be purified from evil, and the spiritual rule in all things and then like Egypt under Joseph’s rule, peace would flow like a river, and righteousness like the waves of the sea (Isa, xlviii. 18). Confidence and goodwill would then soon be restored among men, and the roses of life would be divested of their thorns. The world would soon re-echo the order of heaven, and the reality would be what has long been promised: “The tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself shall be with them and be their God (Rev. XXI. 3). All this, and much more, is included in Saul’s ceasing from his attempts to injure David; and submitting to the divine will that David should take the throne to which he has been appointed.
So, if we take the whole world as the kingdom of Saul, and notice its injurious efforts to resist the rising government of the kingdom of the greater David, the Lord Jesus Christ, how sad, how self-tormenting, how self-destructive does it seem ! But oh may it speedily pass away! It cannot always last. The days are corning, and will surely come, and let us pray that they may speedily come in us, that the Lord Jesus shall take the throne of His father David, and “He shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of His kingdom there shall be no end” (Luke i. 33).
Author: Jonathan Bayley— The Divine Wisdom of the Word of God (1892)