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David, part 2

David Receives Tidings Of The Defeat Of Israel And The Death Of Saul.

2 Samuel 1:1-16.

David had not long returned from the slaughter of the Amalekites when tidings reached him of the disastrous issue of the battle of Gilboa. On the third clay after his return to Ziklag a man came to him "with his clothes rent, and earth upon his head: and fell to the earth before him, and did obeisance." He had come from the camp of Israel. To David's eager inquiry how the battle went, he answered that Israel had been defeated, and that Saul and Jonathan were dead. To the question, "How know you that Saul and Jonathan his son be dead?" the young man replied, "As I happened by chance upon mount Gilboa, behold, Saul leaned upon his spear; and, lo, the chariots and horsemen followed hard after him. And when he looked behind him, he saw me, and called to me. And I answered, Here am I. And he said to me, Who are you? And I answered him, I am an Amalekite. He said to me again, Stand, I pray you, upon me, and slay me: for anguish is come upon me, because my life is yet whole in me. So I stood upon him, and slew him, because I was sure that he could not live after that he was fallen: and I took the crown that was upon his head, and the bracelet that was on his arm, and have brought them here to my lord." As there is some slight difference between this account of Saul's death and that given in the previous chapter, where nothing is said of the young Amalekite, some have supposed that his tale is an invention, intended to win the favour of David, who, he seems to have believed, was to be the future king of Israel. His story does not, however, contradict the previous narrative, but may be consistently understood as supplementing it. Although Saul had fallen upon his sword, he might be still lingering in agony, and desire to have his sufferings ended. The sacred writer says nothing to throw discredit on the relation, and we may therefore accept it as true.

There is something mournful as well as significant in Saul receiving his death-wound from the hand of an Amalekite. Amalek had been his great stumbling-stone and rock of offence. His mistaken leniency to the sinners, against whom the Lord had sworn that He would have war from generation to generation, had rent from him the kingdom; and now he invites from one of the doomed race the stroke that is to deprive him at once of his life and his kingdom. In the government of God, as in His written Word, there is the law of retribution. In the Divine mind, and in the Lord's dealings with His creatures, there is nothing, in the ordinary sense, of retributive justice; but there is the eternal and immutable law of order, that good and evil return into the bosom of those who do them. Not always, however, does evil return to the bosom of the evil-doer as its eternal dwelling-place. To the repentant it returns as an avenging spirit in the way of judgement. It comes, like the Amalekite to Saul, to extinguish the last spark of the expiring fire of the corrupt selfhood. In judgement, not only in the other world but in this, all states return, like the events of life to the memory of the drowning man. As these states appear, the mind passes judgement upon them; when such as it justifies remain and such as it condemns disappear. It is true that the mind itself is not the judge of its own state. The Lord is Judge. But the Divine Judge does not call men before an outward bar, to be tried by external evidence. The bar is conscience, the judge is eternal truth, and the witness is the inward testimony of the fulfilled or violated law of life. It is therefore the Lord that judges, because it is His truth that judges in us, or by which we judge ourselves. In passing through this ordeal, in which evil is to be severed from good, the penitent sinner calls down imprecations on himself, as Saul invited the Amalekite to slay him. For one of the truest marks of penitence for sin is self-condemnation, especially for that sin which comes home to the conscience with the most agonizing sense of guilt before God. And the more the sin itself is hated, the more is retribution felt to be deserved. But this very sense of desert turns the curse into a blessing; for like the scape-goat it carries the sin away into the wilderness. But the Amalekite not only slew Saul; he brought his crown and his bracelet to David. In ancient times kings wore a crown and an armlet in war, one as symbol of wisdom, the other of power. We have only to substitute spiritual for natural war to see in them symbols of spiritual wisdom and power as directed against evil and falsity. The crown and bracelet were providentially transferred from Saul to David, to represent the elevation of the principles they represented from the natural into the spiritual mind; and in the Lord, who was eminently represented by the kings of Israel, from truth Divine to Divine truth.

When the Amalekite had told the result of the battle and the fate of Saul, "then David took hold on his clothes, and rent them; and likewise all the men that were with him: and they mourned, and wept, and fasted until even, for Saul, and for Jonathan his son, and for the people of the Lord, and for the house of Israel; because they were fallen by the sword." The character of David here shines forth with peculiar lustre. Though now delivered from a persecuting enemy, and raised, as he must have felt, to the throne of Israel, he shows no feeling of satisfied resentment or gratified ambition, but, in evident sincerity, mourns with religious fervour, not only for the people of the Lord and the house of Israel, but for Saul himself. The several marks of sorrow which David and his men exhibited are symbolic of the affections which enter into that deeper sorrow which theirs represented. David and they that were with him taking hold of their garments and rending them, represented mourning on account of Divine truth lost, and cast away by those who were in faith separate from charity; for the regal office signified Divine truth, and the Philistines represented those who were in faith separate from charity. Mourning is grief of heart and weeping is grief of mind, or of will and understanding; and fasting is grief on account of the privation of goodness and truth, which support the life of love and faith in the Church, and in the minds of her members. The evening, till which they mourned, is the end of the Church, or the end of the spiritual state of desolation, when mourning is ended. For, as we have said, every end is followed by a new beginning. When the Church perishes, a new Church is raised up in its stead; and the end of every state in the life of those who are of the spiritual Israel is succeeded by another in the ascending scale higher and better.

Another scene, in singular contrast to the mourning and weeping of David and his men over the fate of Saul and his army, now presents itself. With that sudden and apparently easy transition from tenderness to severity which, judging from Scripture, marked the Jewish character, and which is more or less characteristic of all external men, David passes from the meekness of the mourner to the zeal of the avenger. He demands of the young Amalekite, "How were you not afraid to stretch forth your hand to destroy the Lord's anointed? "and calling one of the young men, he said, "Go near, and fall upon him. And he smote him that he died." The Amalekite, although he seems to be free from moral blame in ending Saul's miserable life, is yet put to death as a regicide, because it was a deadly sin to destroy the Lord's anointed. He should have known this: for, although an Amalekite, he was the son of a sojourner, called in our version a stranger, and a foreigner, living among the Israelites to learn their laws and customs. He represented one who is desirous of being instructed in the principles of the Church. One who is instructed in the truth, and yet destroys it, is guilty of sin. Therefore David says to the dying Amalekite, "Your blood be upon your head; for your mouth has testified against you, saying, I have slain the Lord's anointed." The spiritual lesson we learn from this is, that he who, knowing the truth, destroys it, will himself be destroyed. He indeed brings destruction upon himself: his blood is upon his own head; for his mouth litters his own condemnation. "By your words you shall be justified, and by your words you shall be condemned."

Besides this general lesson there are some particulars that deserve our attention. It would seem as if the Amalekite had done both Saul and David a service. He killed the dying king, and brought the insignia of his royalty to his Divinely appointed successor. And yet he is slain. In the simple fact we can see this meaning: that which slays the natural is in turn slain by the spiritual. But why should this be represented in the narrative as an act of vengeance due to blood-guiltiness? The representative character of Amalek accounts for this appearance. Amalek represents falsity grounded in interior evil, which steals in upon the mind when it is suffering from the depression and feebleness produced by severe trial and temptation; like certain diseases to which the body is liable when it is in a low condition. We see this shadowed forth in the present instance. Saul had anticipated the last effects of defeat in battle, and David had but returned from the pursuit and slaughter of the Amalekites. The young man happened by chance on mount Gilboa at a time that was suitable to his own natural and representative character and to the condition of Saul. He was also behind Saul, as of old his people came behind enfeebled Israel (Deut 25:18); for the falsity of interior evil enters rather into the will, which is behind, than into the understanding, which is before. Saul looked behind him, and saw this son of Amalek; as the Lord turned and looked upon Peter (Luke 22), and as John turned to see the voice that spoke with him (Rev 1:12). That which enters into and affects the will causes the understanding to turn in that direction, that the intellect may perceive what the will has felt. And Saul's understanding was now opened to see the nature of the evil to which, in the hour of trial, he had weakly yielded. When the young Amalekite came to David, he came in something of the manner in which Agag came to Samuel, delicately. He came, indeed, as a friend to David, as he had seemed to be to Saul. But his representative character is the same in regard to both. This is seen even in his bringing to David the dead king's crown and bracelet. The evil, or rather the evil spirits—for evil has no abstract existence—which the Amalekites represent, insinuate themselves into the hearts of men, not only through the objects of their ambition, as these insignia of royalty might be to David, but even, in the case of spiritual men, through the spiritual principles which these insignia represent. Evil spirits, like evil men, can simulate characters not their own, and can possess themselves of the knowledges, which are but the symbols, of wisdom and honour, as the crown and bracelet were of the dignity and power of their royal owner. Through these they seek to act upon the minds of men whom they desire to seduce.

We can see a sufficient reason, on the ground of the spiritual sense, for David slaying the seemingly blameless Amalekite. Not that an act of natural injustice could be permitted for the purpose of representing a spiritual truth, or teaching a spiritual lesson. But spiritual causes lie at the root of all natural effects. And although the effect may sometimes seem different in its character from that of the cause, there is still a real relation between them, the outward seeming being all that produces the apparent want of harmony.

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