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2 Samuel 21
THERE is a painful interest in many portions of the Old Testament, where war and bloodshed enter so largely into the sacred history, and where the Divine Being Himself is not infrequently represented as seeking satisfaction in the death of His creatures. Yet these are the parts of Scripture that require our most careful attention. The appearance they present of cruelty or injustice, and of undue severity on the part of the Infinite, if left without satisfactory explanation, has a tendency to diminish our reverence both for the Scriptures and their Divine Author. But when we reflect that such difficulties not only admit of a satisfactory solution, but afford useful spiritual instruction, we have a double inducement for making them the subjects of reflection.
Under a religious dispensation in which the states of the Church were exhibited in their effects in outward nature, a famine that continued for three years, year after year, could not fail to excite in the mind of every pious Israelite a fear, if not a conviction, that some unknown and unacknowledged evil reigned amongst the people. Under such an impression David inquired of the Lord; and he received for answer, "It is for Saul, and for his bloody house, because he slew the Gibeonites." The tragic sequel, the death of seven of Saul's house, and the burial of their bones with those of Saul and Jonathan, are represented as having removed the cause of the famine; for "after that God was intreated for the land."
There are several reflections which this relation suggests.
In the first place, God did not make known by immediate revelation the consequences that must ensue if the crime of Saul were not followed by suitable atonement; but He allowed the famine to fall as a scourge upon the people, and to continue, till they themselves should search out the cause. Of this mode of dealing with His people there are many instances recorded in the Scriptures. And these are no doubt designed to instruct us in the nature of a part of the Divine economy of which we ourselves are the subjects.
The Lord has revealed His will and given us laws, for our instruction and direction in the life of righteousness. If we violate any of those laws, or do what we know to be contrary to the Divine will, the revealed Word assures us that we cannot be forgiven but by repentance and amendment. And if the evil is not removed, its consequences must of necessity fall upon us, that we may be led to self-examination before God, in order to trace the effect up to its cause, and seek His direction and aid for its removal. In many things also we can only be taught by experience. Not that there are any circumstances in which we are left without sufficient direction to walk in the right way. But such is the human will of fallen man, that it cannot be subdued without tasting of the bitter fruits of sinful indulgence. And as man is to be led in freedom, both to resist evil and to do good, he is left to act freely; and on this ground the Lord teaches him through his experience freely to forsake the path of sin, when he has neglected to obey the truth as revealed.
In the second place, the crime of Saul is not visited on him nor on Israel during his time, but on his descendants and on the people in the time of David. In the Israelitish Church, in which all things were representative, guilt is often punished on others than those by whom it is immediately committed. The iniquity of the fathers is visited upon the sons. In the Divine view Israel was considered to be one, and, spiritually, Israel represents one man. The men of Israel represented the principles of the mind of this one man, and the periods of the Israelitish history represented the stages of the regenerate life. The crimes that were punished on the descendants of those who committed them represented those evils that are not checked in their beginning or interrupted in their progress, but are allowed to run their course till they have reached a crisis, which ends either in death or restoration. An evil that exists in the will may not be seen or arrested there, but may branch out into the affections and thoughts, or even into the words and actions, before it be successfully opposed. And the affections and thoughts, in relation to the will and understanding, are as children in relation to parents; and are represented by them in the Scriptures. The derivation of evil in the will into the affections, and of falsity in the understanding into the thoughts, is spiritually signified by the declaration in the decalogue, that the Lord visits the iniquities of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generation of them that hate Him. Three and four do not mean simply a series, but one number has relation to the understanding and its falsity, the other to the will and its evil. And these principles, when rooted in the will and understanding of the mind, branch out into the affections and thoughts. It is in this more ulterior form that they are, in many cases, first discovered, and that they are brought to judgement. This would appear to be the reason that, in the present instance, the descendants of Saul were punished for his sin, and that there is no previous record of the sin itself as committed by that king. The famine was for Saul, because he slew the Gibeonites. But this is the first time that that crime is mentioned. Nothing is said in the history of Saul of his having destroyed any of that people. So, in our experience, there are evils that are only brought to our remembrance and consciousness as sins long after they have been committed; and evils may have had a deadly activity in the will that have only been truly seen and condemned when they have descended into the thoughts of the understanding.
The crime of Saul which was visited by famine upon the people and death on the seven men of his sons requires our attention. The singular history of the introduction of the Gibeonites into the congregation is well known and must be familiar to every reader of the Bible. When Joshua entered as a conqueror into the Promised Land, this section of the Hivites, and here called a remnant of the Amorites, "did work wilily, and went and made as if they had been ambassadors, and took old sacks upon their asses, and wine-bottles, old, and rent, and bound up; and old shoes and clouted upon their feet, and old garments upon them; and all their provision was dry and mouldy. And they went to Joshua to the camp of Gilgal, and said, We be come from a far country: now therefore make you a league with us." So "Joshua made peace with them, and made a league with them to let them live; and the princes of the congregation swore to them." When the fraud was discovered, although the oath could not be broken, Joshua said to them, "Now therefore you are cursed, and there shall none of you be freed from being bondmen, and hewers of wood and drawers of water for the house of my God." The oath with which the covenant was confirmed was then to be held inviolate. Saul was the first and the only one who broke that sacred engagement, although there is no record of when or how the engagement was broken. And an act which set at nought a solemn compact, and was visited by such serious consequences, must represent an evil of a very serious character.
Of the seven nations of Canaan devoted to utter destruction, two were partially received into connection with the Israelitish people—the Hivites by covenant, the Jebusites by sufferance. This partial exception was made in their case, because the Hivites represented idolatry in which there is something good, and the Jebusites idolatry in which there is something true. In relation to those who are being regenerated, whom these seven nations represented so far as regards all the corrupt principles which make up the life of the natural mind as it is hereditarily, the connection of the congregation of Israel with a remnant of two of these nations represented the preservation of every good natural affection and thought, or of every natural good and truth in the mind, and its conjunction with the spiritual good and truth acquired by actual regeneration. Everything is preserved and regenerated that is capable of being bent into conformity with any good end, and that can be made to render any real spiritual service, however lowly or limited. The external character of the good which the Hivites represented, and the external character of the service they were capable of rendering, was represented by their being made hewers of wood and drawers of water to the house of the Lord, this service indicating a cultivation of the knowledge of good and truth, not for their own sake, but as a matter of duty, as a labour, not of love but of service. Yet this service is useful and necessary, and when performed faithfully, is to be received as a use rendered to the Lord and His kingdom; and, like many of the lower uses of religion, forms a means by which the higher uses are preserved in their activity. To destroy these principles, therefore, would be to destroy the use which a beneficent Providence has appointed them to perform; but to destroy them, as Saul sought to do, after a solemn covenant had been made with them, is to seek to dissolve their conjunction with the principles of the spiritual mind, and to deprive both of the mutual use and stability which conjunction secures.
This was the sin which brought a famine for three years upon the land, denoting the privation of the means of supporting the spiritual life, when such a violation of faith and integrity is attempted, though not fully carried into effect.
The death of seven of the men of the sons of Saul represented the removal of the evils and falsities derived from that original and ruling principle in which the crime originated. Although this remedy was demanded by the Gibeonites, it appears to have been approved, and even required, by the Lord Himself. But this does not teach us that the Lord punishes the sins of the fathers upon the children in a spiritual manner; but only that order itself produces, and the Lord provides, the judgement of justice against evil, either in its beginning or in some of its derivations. Painful in a natural point of view as the present relation is to our feelings, it is no doubt intended to impress us with the conviction that the spiritual result of evil, of which it is the symbol, is still more harrowing to the spiritual affections. These natural sorrows have an end, and time itself exhausts them; but those which are spiritual, if not corrective, endure for ever.
Connected with this historical circumstance there is a touching incident recorded in the conduct of Rizpah, the concubine of Saul, and mother of two of the sons who were put to death." She spread sackcloth upon the rock, from the beginning of harvest till water dropped upon them out of heaven, and suffered neither the birds of the air to rest upon them by day, nor the beasts of the field by night. In this we may recognise the unwearied watchfulness and extreme tenderness of womanly affection, especially when that affection is exalted into maternal love. Infamy cannot destroy it, misfortune greatly exalts it; and when all others' hearts are cold or careless, there is one at least that remains warm and watchful by day and by night. In this beautiful instance of feminine and maternal love we see the symbol of inward spiritual affection in its desire and its care to preserve the principles of the Church from being destroyed by falsities and evils. For both Saul and his sons represented the principles of the Church, although in their states of opposition to the Lord's cause they represented those principles perverted. Such is the representation of the men of the sons of Saul in the present instance. The principles of the Church are perverted when our own evil life, or our own evil ends, enter into them and rule them. When, as in the case of Saul's sons, the evil life is destroyed or removed, the principles themselves are holy, and become filled with a new and higher life. As holy things, they are to be preserved by the watchfulness of the spiritual affections from the devouring tendency of the natural lusts and passions, which, like birds and beasts of prey, are ever ready to consume whatever is good and true in the mind. The watching of Rizpah is said to have been continued from harvest till water dropped upon them out of heaven. Harvest in the Word signifies the completion of a state, the time of consummation and decision, when there is an end and a separation; the harvest being gathered in, the wheat is stored up in the garner, the tares are burned in the fire. But when, after the labours and the drought of harvest, the rain drops out of heaven, when truth descends from the heaven of the inner man, and falls, like a refreshing shower or the gentle dew, upon the outer man, a new state begins, and the days of mourning are ended—the sackcloth spread upon the rock ceases to be the couch of the holy watcher. The pious care of Rizpah is told to David, and David completes the object of her care and solicitude by gathering the bones of the seven men, with those of Saul and Jonathan, and burying them in the sepulchre of Kish. After that God is intreated for the land. In Scripture burial signifies resurrection; for while men bury the body, angels welcome the spirit into the eternal world. In the view of angels death and burial have nothing sad or destructive in them. They see only the immortal soul entering into a new and higher life; and in the spiritual, which is the angelic, sense of the Divine Word, life and immortality take the place that death and burial occupy in the letter. The burial of the bones of Saul and his sons by David represented the rising into higher and purer life of the Divine truths of the Church, after being purified from the perversion to which they had been subjected. This is effected by the Lord, of whom David was an eminent type. They were buried in the land of Benjamin, in the sepulchre of Kish, the father of Saul; for the land of Benjamin is the intellectual mind, and the sepulchre of Saul's father, Kish, is the life of love or goodness.
When we view the subject in the light of the spiritual sense we can see our way to a satisfactory solution of the difficulties presented in the simple historical sense, and at the same time draw from it instruction for our guidance in the life of righteousness.
When the evils that obstruct the operation of the Divine mercy and truth are removed from our souls, the sunshine of heaven falls with its blessed influence upon them, and serenity and joy are restored. Our souls become barren when they are turned away from the Lord; but when we turn to Him with the whole heart, and enter into new life, God is intreated for us—He is favourable; and in His favour is life. Of course we do not mean that any change takes place in the Divine mind. Such is presented in the appearances of the letter. The spiritual sense teaches us that the change is in man. The Divine Being is ever favourable, ever kind, but His favour and kindness are turned away by the sins of His creatures, and How in abundance into the human heart when men are willing and obedient.
When we find ourselves without the inward consolation and outward fruitfulness of the heavenly life, we should examine ourselves to discover the cause. And having made the discovery, we should put away the evil of our doings from before the eyes of the Lord, and the light of the Divine countenance will shed joy over our inward life and render our outward life fruitful in all good works.23 previous - next - BM Home - Full Page