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David, part 29

Abishag the Shunammite Nourishes David.

1 Kings 1:1-5.

The subject of this chapter may seem to some to be of too delicate a nature to be brought under notice. Let us reflect on the words of David himself, that to the pure all things are pure. We have already, in treating of Amnon and Tamar, partly stated our views upon this point. The present subject differs widely indeed from that which we then considered. This relation, in its literal sense, supplies no moral lesson sufficient to justify us in making it a subject of reflection. It is because it contains a higher and more instructive sense that it is brought under consideration. Yet it may be well to observe that neither in this nor in any other part of the inspired Word is there anything, however delicate, that is really impure. It is a just remark of our Expositor, in speaking of the difference between the Song of Solomon and the books of the Divine Word itself, that "in the literal sense of the Canticles many indecent things occur, which is not the case with the books which are called Moses and the prophets." But whatever may be our views respecting the literal sense of some parts of even Moses and the prophets, we know that their inner sense, of which the letter is but the vehicle, is pure and holy; and one advantage of being aware, not only that they contain a spiritual sense, but of what that sense is, has a tendency to withdraw the mind from the mere natural image, and fix it on the higher reality, which it was designed to be the means of bringing down to our apprehension.

The active and eventful life of David, through which we have followed him, now draws near its close. Youthful and ruddy, brave and powerful as he was when we first beheld him, he is now old and stricken in years, and his natural warmth has almost departed with his vital energy. Life has ebbed so low that the common artificial means for retaining the warmth of the body are found unavailing: "they covered him with clothes, but he gat no heat." In this extremity his servants suggested a means, frequently adopted in ancient times, to impart both warmth and vigour to his now enfeebled and aged frame. There is however something in the tenor of this suggestion sufficient to awaken our attention to the circumstances, recorded as they are in a book written by Divine inspiration, as certainly including more than appears on the surface of the narrative. Why was it necessary that the cherisher of the king should be a young virgin? And why, if the fire of life was sinking so fast, should all the coasts of Israel be sought to find a fair vestal who might watch it and exert herself to keep it alive? If to cherish and minister to the king were all that was required, the royal harem might have supplied abundant means for that purpose.

The truth is, the whole circumstances were typical or representative. David represented the Lord, and Abishag the Shunammite represented the Church. David was about to die, to be succeeded by his son Solomon. A life and a reign of warfare, in which the enemies of Israel had been subdued, are to be followed by a life and reign of settled peace and unexampled prosperity. In the first we may see a type of the life of our Lord in the flesh, when, by His conflicts with the spiritual enemies of His Church, He made His foes His footstool; in the second we may see a type of the life of the Lord in His risen humanity, when He truly reigns as the Prince of Peace, and His kingdom is enriched with the spoil of His enemies and the treasures of redeeming love. One of the objects to be accomplished by our Lord's coming into the world was the raising up of a new Church, and this new Church, in its youthfulness, purity, and beauty, was represented by the young and fair Abishag; the reciprocation of the Divine love and truth, which is one of the highest functions and one of the most distinctive characteristics of the true Church, being, with equal fidelity, represented by her cherishing the king and ministering to him.

Under this general view of the subject there are several particulars which serve for confirmation and illustration.

Death, literally the end of our existence in this world and the beginning of our existence in another, is spiritually the close of one state of regeneration and the commencement of another. "Old and stricken in years" expresses the ripeness of the voluntary and intellectual life for the approaching change; for then vitality begins to recede from the external, that this may be laid aside, to be succeeded by another life, of greater purity, sensibility, and energy. This is the Divine law of progression. And that event which we call death is only one of the effects of a law which is universal and constant, and the more striking because to us it is more distinctly marked. Death is a less important change than many others that we pass through, which make much less impression upon us. Death changes the scene of our existence, but does not alter the state of our life. It clothes us with a spiritual body in place of the material one that is left behind; but the soul is the same in the one as it was in the other. The changes that are effected by progressive regeneration are changes of state. They are the putting off of old principles and the putting on of new. When those which served the purposes of a body, as being instrumental means for the manifestation of the powers of the mind, have performed their use, they fall like leaves from the tree in autumn, not however without having first shown signs of decay. The diminution of heat causes the sap to recede from the extreme parts, and the chilling frosts complete the work of temporary destruction.

In all such changes there are two forces at work, one acting from within and the other acting from without. Apparently there is but one. It appears as if the vernal and summer heat were the cause of vegetation, and as if the vital heat of the body were the cause of life. But the primary cause of both vegetable and animal life is that one universal life which enters from God into all created things. The heat of the sun of nature only acts upon the external of things, and disposes it to yield to the influence of the sun of heaven, which constantly operates from within; and it is this truly and only vital force which causes all things to live and grow. In spring and summer nature reacts with this vital force, and hence all things bud and blossom, and rejoice; in autumn and especially winter nature reacts against this force, and therefore all things languish, and wither, and die. In man's case it is similar; nor was it different with the Lord Himself when in the flesh. The Divine acted from within, the human reacted from without. In the spring and summer of the Church, the love of the human race re-acted with the active love of God, and the Church enjoyed prosperity and brought forth fruits of holiness. But when the love of men waxed cold, the Divine love, though still acting from within, could no longer bring itself into outward manifestation in the affections and lives of men.

This state is described in the letter of the Word as if God Himself had withdrawn His love from the Church; for when the Church has driven away the love of God from herself, she imagines that God has ceased to love her. Natural heat is the emblem of love. And when David, in his old age, even when they covered him with clothes, gat no heat, he but represented the state of the Lord in the world when there was no true love in the Church to re-act with, or to reciprocate, His own Divine love. Clothes, or coverings for the body, are emblematical of truths for the mind; for truths clothe good as garments cover the body. But the clothes with which they covered David represented truths without good, or faith without love. In these there is no virtue, no power of calling forth the Divine love into vital action in the Church or in the human mind. And such was the state of the Jewish Church when the Lord was in the world, and especially when He was about to pass out of the world. The Jews possessed the Word, and were acquainted and conversant with the truths which it contained; but they had not the love of God in them. The truths with which they were acquainted availed them nothing. These truths were like the leaves upon the fig-tree, which was yet cursed for its barrenness; or like the purple and line linen upon the rich man, which served but to make his degradation the greater.

When the Lord could get no love from the Jewish Church He turned to the Gentiles; and He found among them what no longer existed amongst the Jews耀incerity, simplicity, and affection. The Christian Church which the Lord raised up among the Gentiles was represented by Abishag the Shunaminite. The Jewish Church, even in its best state, had never been more than a representative Church, which, compared with a real spiritual Church, is little more than the garments or clothes that cover the body compared to the living body itself. But when that Church became corrupted, it was like a filthy garment, to which in the prophets it is compared. The Church, in its true state, is compared to a woman, the bride and wife of the Lord. The youth, the virginity, the beauty of Abishag make her a fit representative of the Christian Church, which was new, and pure, and fair; differing not only from the Jewish Church, but from all previous Churches, in its having a principle of youthfulness, purity, and moral beauty, derived from that new fountain of all spiritual life, the Humanity of the Lord, the Saviour and Redeemer, of a different character and of a more enduring kind than either the ancient or the most ancient Church possessed.

They sought a fair damsel throughout all the coasts of Israel, and found Abishag, a Shunammite, and brought her to the king.

This is not the only instance in which a Shunammite ministered to the Lord's representatives during the Old Testament dispensation. It was a Shunammite woman who constrained Elisha, on a day that he passed to Shunem, to eat bread; and who with her husband made for him a little chamber in the wall, and set for him a bed, and a table, and a candlestick. It was to this hospitable Shunammite that the prophet, for all her care, gave the promise of a son, and whose son he restored to life, when he had been struck down while he was with his father's reapers in the field. In this instance also the Shunammitish woman typified the Church among the Gentiles, her barrenness representing that state in which the nations were before the Lord came into the world and brought them to the knowledge of the truth, and entered into a covenant with them. Then was the barren woman made to keep house, and to become a joyful mother of children. And when the manchild of true doctrine, which had been born of and gladdened the Church, died in the harvest葉he consummation of the age, when the angels were sent forth as reapers葉he Lord restored it to life again, inspiring the Church with still purer joy and more profound reverence and gratitude (2 Kings 4).

Although David no doubt took Abishag to him as a wife, yet she became, as a virgin, really the wife of Solomon, no doubt to represent that it was not till the Lord had died and risen again, and had been fully glorified, that the Church really became the wife of the Lamb. It was not indeed till the day of Pentecost that the covenant of the Lord with His Church was fully ratified. Hitherto, as the Lord Himself had taught His disciples, He, as the Spirit of light and life, had dwelt with them; it was only now that He was in them. It was expedient for them that He should go away, that He might send them another Comforter that should abide with them for ever. This Spirit was poured out upon them when they were assembled together with one accord in one place. And then was the marriage of the Lord and His Church consummated; and the apostles went forth in the power of the Spirit to carry the Gospel to them that sat in darkness and in the shadow of death.

There was another reason for this circumstance. Abishag the Shunammite represented the celestial Church. And as Solomon represented the Lord as to the celestial principle, and, in the secondary sense, the celestial man, therefore she could not be actually united to David, and become united to Solomon.

The history of David and the Shunammite, like every other part of the Word, treats of the Church in particular as well as of the Church in general. The Lord is in every true member of His Church as well as among the whole body of the faithful. And in every regenerate mind those changes take place which passed upon the Lord and the Church while He was engaged in working out the great deliverance of mankind in human redemption. Without entering into the particulars of this remarkable, and, we may justly assert, mystical narrative, we may learn from it that it is not by faith and truth only, but by love and goodness, that we can preserve the Lord's life in our souls. The warmth of heavenly and Divine love cannot be supported within us without our cherishing it and ministering to it. The Divine love as it is in itself is ever the same. Widely different is it in us, according as, with different degrees of faithfulness, we cherish and reciprocate it; or make it the object of a formal faith or verbal exaltation. We must search through all the coasts of Israel, through the whole spiritual mind, till we find a spiritual affection so tender, so pure, so fair as to be fit to be brought to the king葉he Divine truth in the mind葉hat it may nourish and minister to it, so as to make it in us the truth of love葉he power of God to salvation.

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