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2 Samuel 1:17-27.
David's elegy over Saul and Jonathan, considered only as the expression of his own personal sentiments and feelings, is admitted to be one of the noblest and tenderest to be found in any language. It reflects the highest credit upon David himself. Had Saul been a bosom friend we could not have expected more; had he been an honourable rival, we should have been satisfied with less; but when we reflect that for years he had been a bitter and implacable enemy, David's lamentation over him has a moral sublimity worthy of our highest admiration, and, still more, of our faithful imitation. It is true that David speaks of Saul as the Lord's anointed, yet much of the praise he bestows upon him is for his personal qualities, although he says nothing of his general character.
In the inner sense both Saul and David are to be regarded in their representative character. In the highest sense, both are types of the Lord Himself, as King; and the Lord is King as Divine truth. When Pilate demanded of Jesus, who had said His kingdom was not of this world, "Art You a king then? Jesus answered, You say that I am a KING," which was a form of affirmation; and He immediately adds in explanation, "To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness to the TRUTH." Both Saul and David represented the Lord as the Truth; and David, in his lamentation over Saul, bears witness to the Truth. His description of Saul is, in the spiritual sense, a description of the Truth.
When the elegy is thus understood, we can see the appropriateness and significance of that otherwise difficult and almost unintelligible exordium to it, "Also he bade them teach the children of Judah the use of the bow: behold, it is written in the book of Jasher." We need not trouble ourselves with the conjectures of commentators as to the meaning and purpose of this seemingly strange introduction. The book in which it is said to be written suggests a mysterious meaning. Jasher was a book of the ancient Church, written by those who understood the law of correspondence between spiritual and natural things, and who therefore taught spiritual truths by natural images. In the symbolic language of Scripture, which is written according to this law, a bow corresponds to doctrine. Arrows correspond to truths, but to truths opposing falsities; and truths proceed and have their power from doctrine, as arrows from the bow, or stones from the sling. But what connection is there between this lamentation over Saul and Jonathan and teaching Judah the bow? The same connection that there is between revealing truths and teaching doctrine. A religious doctrine is a conclusion from all the truths of the Word relating to one subject, as a doctrine of science is a conclusion from one class of the facts of nature. Truths are made known to men to enable them to do good and resist evil. But in order to employ truths effectually they must know them, not only singly, but in combination. The Word contains all religious truth; but the Word is not understood without doctrine. Without doctrine the mind can have but an obscure and confused notion of what the Scriptures teach. Therefore Saul and Jonathan are celebrated that Judah may learn the bow. One reason why the Church must learn the doctrines as well as know the truths of the Word is this. The Word, as we have remarked, consists to a considerable extent of apparent truths, which, unless explained by doctrine, may be adopted and confirmed as real truths, which then become errors. Doctrine is formed from the real truths of Scripture; and these, when brought into a doctrinal form, explain its apparent truths. This distinction between truth and doctrine, and the formation of doctrine from the real truths of the Word, are taught symbolically in this Divine composition. Saul and Jonathan, as formerly explained, both represent Divine truth, such as it is in the letter of the Word, but Saul represents its apparent truths and Jonathan its real truths. In accordance with this, David speaks of Saul as wielding the sword, because the sword is the emblem of truth, and of Jonathan as wielding the bow, because the bow is an emblem of doctrine. It is Judah, too, that is to be taught the bow, because Judah represents those who are in good, as distinguished from those who are in truth, or the celestial, as distinguished from the spiritual; and the celestial desire and acquire only the real truths of the Word, which teach nothing but the doctrine of love and charity. This is the doctrine meant by the bow; so that to teach Judah the bow is to teach the doctrine of love to God and charity to man. This also is a key to the subject of the lamentation, in the spiritual sense; otherwise the introduction would have no relation to the subject. We shall see as we proceed that there is an intimate connection between what the Philistines had destroyed and what Judah was to be taught.
In David's lamentation, we are to regard Saul as the Lord's anointed, not as the frail and erring mortal that he was; as the representative of the second Adam, not as the too faithful image of the first. In the regenerate man, a corresponding distinction is to be made. Regeneration does not destroy the distinction between the spirit and the flesh, although the Christian no longer lives in the flesh, but in the spirit. The corrupt selfhood is not abolished but only subdued; and the Christian, while with the mind he serves the law of God knows that in himself, that is, in his flesh, dwells no good thing (Rom 7:18).
David eulogizes Saul as the beauty of Israel, and both Saul and Jonathan as the mighty, as lovely and pleasant in their lives, as swifter than eagles and stronger than lions. Terrible to the enemies of Israel, the bow of Jonathan turned not back, the sword of Saul returned not empty, from the blood of the slain, from the fat of the mighty. Bountiful to his people, Saul clothed the daughters of Israel in scarlet with delights, and put on ornaments of gold upon their apparel.
Lofty as the strain of this eulogium is, its language and imagery but faintly describe the beauty and might of Him whom Saul, as the anointed king of Israel, represented, whether we apply it to His person even when veiled in our frail humanity, or to His works of redemption and salvation, in which He overcame the enemies of His kingdom and enriched and adorned His Church with the precious gifts of His grace and truth. Saul, as the anointed king of Israel, represented the Lord as Divine truth; and the destruction of Divine truth in the Church is the general subject of the lamentation.
But it may be well to strike a lower key, and consider the lamentation as it applies to the regenerate and to the work of regeneration. These are not only images of the Lord and of His work in the flesh; but the Lord is in every regenerate man, and works out his deliverance from the evils of his nature, and brings him into newness of life, by a process similar to that by which He overcame the powers of darkness, and glorified His own humanity, and co-ordinated heaven, and established a spiritual Church upon earth. The Lord's work in the flesh is effected anew, in a finite measure, in every true disciple. This is the reason why the greater work is the archetype of the less, and why a description of one is, only in a different degree, a description of the other.
Truth sanctified by goodness, or a true faith anointed with the oil of love, is the beauty of Israel, because it beautifies the meek with salvation, clothing the affections of charity with the beautiful garments of wisdom and righteousness, woven of the scarlet threads of practical truth and adorned with the golden ornaments of practical goodness. Whatever graces beautify the mind, whatever virtues adorn the character, all are derived from the Lord through a living faith in Him, as our God and Saviour, and are to be admired and exalted as His gifts and as the images of His perfections. As faith animated by love is the beauty of Israel, love acting by faith is the mighty; for by the sword of truth and the bow of doctrine it overcomes what is false and evil, as opposed to that which is true and good, as principles in the understanding and the heart. The doctrine of the true Church, which is the doctrine of love and charity, is the bow that turns not back, and the truth of doctrine is the sword that returns not empty, from the blood of the slain and the fat of the mighty, or from the conflict with what is false and evil.
This is the spiritual ground of David's praise of Saul, as the Lord's anointed. It shows forth the excellence of a true and living faith, which the anointed king represented, as opposed to a false and dead faith, of which the Philistines were the types. It shows also the benefits and blessings to be derived from a true faith, when exalted to its true place in the mind, and allowed to have its due influence in the government of the ends and actions of life. This will ever be the case with the true Israel of the Lord. It is this which marks the true disciple of Jesus as an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile. For who are the Israel of the Lord but those who practically acknowledge Him as the King of Israel, the Anointed of Jehovah? And the Lord is practically acknowledged as the King of Israel when His laws are written in the heart and obeyed in the life; when the affections and thoughts, words and works of those who call themselves by the name of Christ, are so governed by His love and truth, that, for the Lord's sake, they do to others as they would that others should do to them. This is the law and the prophets. The Lord governs where His law rules. Where His law is exalted He is exalted, where it is fulfilled He is glorified. How beautiful must be the state and character of one who is thus brought under the hallowing influence of the Lord's Divine law of love and truth! The truth and love contained unitedly in the Divine law, are like Saul and Jonathan, who were lovely and pleasant in their lives, and in their death they were not divided. Death cannot divide those whose lives have been lovely and pleasant, whether we apply this beautiful sentiment to persons or to principles. Those who are united in that lovely connection which exists between the true and the good, and especially as they exist in the two sexes, will not be separated by death. Their union is as firm and indissoluble as that between the Lord and the soul of the true believer. "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, For Your sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom 8:35-39). How beautiful would the lives of Christians be if they were a faithful transcript of the spiritual law of love to the Lord, as exhibited in charity to man, which our Lord Himself revealed, when He said, "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, as I have loved you, that you also love one another"! (John 15:12.) The command to love one another, and to love each other as ourselves, is old; but to love each other as the Lord Jesus has loved us, this is new. This is Christian love. Not ourselves, but Jesus, is the standard of love to one another. He gave Himself for us; lived for us, suffered for us, died for us. Are we willing to give ourselves for each other? But this is not only true love, it is also true faith. This faith is the beauty of Israel, and the mighty also. Faith imbued with love is beauty, love working by faith is power. Faith has no beauty but from love; love has no power but by faith. Separate, they have neither beauty nor power; united, they have both. The religion of faith alone is religion deprived of those elements which give it all its beauty and might.
This is the evil and the calamity that David lamented in his lamentation over Saul and over Jonathan his son. The Philistines had slain the beauty of Israel upon the high places, the mighty had fallen under their instruments of violence; and those who were lovely and pleasant in their lives, and were swifter than eagles and stronger than lions, had died together in the conflict with error and evil. The destructive nature and effects of faith alone are thus expressively described. Faith in its true state is the safeguard as well as the guide of charity. But when that which should be a protection against evil and a guide in the performance of good, claims to itself all saving power, it destroys all that is vital and saving in religion. We shall see this still more clearly if we turn our attention to some of the particulars in which this is symbolically described in the pathetic lamentation of David.
"The beauty of Israel is slain upon your high places: how are the mighty fallen!" The high places are the interior affections of the mind. These are constantly represented in Scripture by high places, especially by mountains, as here by the mountains of Gilboa. The will is the highest faculty of the mind. It is the scat of the affections. In Scripture and in popular language it is called the heart. The Divine law is said to be written in the heart when it is loved with the highest and best affections. Men are required to love God with all the heartówith the will and all its affections. Faith is also, in its highest state, placed in the heart. This is the high place of living, practical faith. "For with the heart man believes to righteousness "(Rom 10:10). When the faith and the love of God are quenched in the affections, and His law is effaced from the heart, the beauty of Israel is slain upon its high places, the mighty are fallen. This is the death and the fall which David, moved by the Holy Spirit, lamented. And he exclaims, "Tell it not in Gath, publish it not in the streets of Askelon; lest the daughters of the Philistines rejoice, lest the daughters of the uncircumcised triumph." In the literal sense this is rather a rhetorical than an actual wish, since David knew that the issue of the battle must have been already published throughout the whole of Philistia. The same idea is often repeated in Scripture. God speaks and is spoken of as doing great things for Israel, that His Name may be known among the nations; and fears are expressed lest the nations hear and rejoice over the people's calamities, and regard them as evidences of the inability of their God to defend them. This idea is the basis of another and higher one. In the inner sense the nations are the evil affections and false thoughts of the natural mind, while the Israelites are the good affections and true thoughts of the spiritual mind, or, of the natural and of the spiritual man. The natural man being opposed to the spiritual, there is war between them. The contest is to determine whether the spiritual shall rule over the natural, or the natural over the spiritual. The consequences of this contest are most momentous. If final they are eternal. There is therefore a deep spiritual reason for David's passionate lamentation over Saul, and for his exclamation, "Tell it not in Gath, publish it not in the streets of Askelon." But this reason refers to more than the victory itself. That had already been gained by the enemies of Israel. The telling of the tidings in Gath and publishing them in the streets of Askelon, and the joy and triumph of the daughters of the Philistines over the victory, is another. This we have now to consider, and this will be seen from the spiritual meaning of Gath and Askelon, and the daughters of the Philistines.
These two principal cities of the Philistines belonged at one time to the children of Israel. In the time of the judges Judah took Askelon (1 Sam 1:18), and in the time of Samuel "the cities which the Philistines had taken from Israel were restored to Israel, from Ekron even to Gath"(1 Sam 7:14); but they had passed into the possession of the Philistines again. These cities, therefore, now represent true doctrines of the Church falsified, like the cities from which the Israelites fled, and in which the Philistines came and dwelt. The two principal doctrines of the Word, and therefore of the true Church, are the doctrines of love to God and charity to man. These doctrines or laws of life are the conditions of salvation, because they teach the very graces that save. But when love to the Lord and charity to man are abolished as conditions of salvation, except as fulfilled by a substitute, and faith is held to be sufficient for salvation, these doctrines are falsified, and become as Askelon and Gath in the hands of the Philistines. Truths falsified, unlike simple errors, are not only aliens but enemies. They inspire the mind with hatred of the truth, and cause it to rejoice and triumph over the truth, when it seems to yield the palm of victory to the reasonings and fallacies of the natural man which have been brought against it. The Jewish Philistines in the time of our Lord, who had made the commandment of God of none effect by their tradition, which they had done by perverting the truth, rejoiced and triumphed over the destruction of the truth in the person of Him who was the Truth itself. When the two witnesses, who bore testimony to the doctrines of love to the Lord and love to man, were killed by the beast, which was the type of faith without love or works, they that dwelt on earth rejoiced over them, and made merry, and sent gifts to one another, because the two prophets tormented them that dwelt on the earth (Rev 11:10). To kill spiritually means to deny, reject, destroy; but to triumph over the slain is to confirm the mind in a state of denial. This is the reason that David deprecates the tidings of Israel's defeat and the death of Saul being published in the cities of the enemy, lest the daughters of the victors should rejoice. The denial of truth is especially confirmed when the affections of the will respond to the decisions of the understanding. The affections of the will are meant by daughters; and we have here the daughters of the Philistines, who are the affection of what is false, and the daughters of the uncircumcised, who are the affection of what is evil. The confirmed denial of what is true is meant by the daughters of the Philistines rejoicing, and the confirmed rejection of what is good is meant by the daughters of the uncircumcised triumphing. That the denial of the principles of truth and goodness in the understanding may not be confirmed in the affections of the will, is the Lord's desire, as expressed in David's wish. And as His love desires so does His providence operate to prevent men confirming their hearts in a state which cuts off the hope and almost the possibility of restoration.
There are two states of mind which, while they have an affinity, and one too often leads to the other, are yet to be distinguished. One state is that in which evil is loved and practised, while a belief in its sinfulness and a secret dread of its consequences remain. The other state is that in which the conviction of sin and the dread of its consequences have been overcome, and the affections rejoice and triumph over the defeat and death of those better thoughts and feelings that gave pain and created alarm. This is a state of confirmed unbelief and impenitence. The conflict is over; the waning power of the good and true in the heart and mind has been overcome. The tidings have been told in Gath and published in the streets of Askelon, and the daughters of the Philistines rejoice, the daughters of the uncircumcised triumph. This is the state which Divine love desires to prevent, and against which Divine wisdom in all possible cases provides; and to express which David by inspiration uttered the desire, "Tell it not in Gath."
But the high places themselves on which Saul and Jonathan were slain are made the subjects of an imprecation. "You mountains of Gilboa, let there be no dew, neither let there be rain, upon you, nor fields of offerings: for there the shield of the mighty is vilely cast away, the shield of Saul, as though he had not been anointed with oil." The consequence of evil is often in Scripture announced in the form of a malediction. Yet God is the author of no curse, but sin entails its own curse on those who commit it. In this case the imprecation is on the scene of the slaughter, and is in harmony with the economy of the Israelitish dispensation, that place should be an image of state.
The curse on the mountains of Gilboa is a description of the state of the heart or will, which mount Gilboa represents, when the truth and love of God are therein destroyed. The dew and the rain of heaven are celestial and spiritual truth, flowing into the inmost of the mind from the Lord out of heaven, and giving refreshment and fruitfulness. And the fields of offering are the good things of love and charity that are offered up to the Lord, as the fruits of His own free and bountiful gifts that have descended upon the humble and receptive mind.
But this also describes the condition of the mind when, the heart being turned away from God, the heaven of the spiritual mind is shut, and the Lord's doctrine no longer drops upon the natural mind like rain, and His Spirit no longer distils like dew and like small rain upon the tender grass; but the mind becomes like a parched land not inhabited. When there is no spiritual love in the heart there is no saving truth in the understanding. There may be knowledge, but there is no wisdom; there may be persuasion, but there is no faith.
A special reason that there might be no dew or rain on the mountains of Gilboa was, that there the shield of the mighty had been vilely cast away, the shield of Saul, as not anointed with oil. The shield of the mighty is vilely cast away when the truth that defends good is condemned and rejected, the shield of Saul, as not anointed with oil, is cast away, when truth is treated as if it had no relation to love, or when that relation is denied.
Thus far David, in his pathetic lamentation, speaks chiefly of the death of Saul and Jonathan as regarded by the Philistines. He next comes to speak of it in relation to the Israelitish people and to himself.
David had desired that the daughters of the Philistines might not rejoice over the death of Saul; he now calls the daughters to weep for him. The daughters of Israel are the opposites of the daughters of the Philistines; they are the affections of truth. They are exhorted to mourn the destruction of truth in the Church, and to mourn by weeping, for weeping is the symbol of sorrow because truth has perished.
But to apply this to the inward state of those who are passing through the trials of the spiritual life. There are states in Christian experience which are called states of desolation, when light and hope seem to have departed, and the delight of life seems to have died away. These are times of weeping. David describes these states from his own experience; as in the sixth Psalm, "O Lord, rebuke me not in Yours anger, neither chasten me in Your hot displeasure." Those whom the Lord loves He rebukes and chastens. But we must be not only the objects, but the subjects, of the Lord's love, before we can be chastened as children. And then the Psalmist describes his distress under the Lord's rebuke and chastening: "I am weary with my groaning; all the night make I my bed to swim; I water my couch with my tears. Mine eye is consumed because of grief; it waxes old because of all mine enemies." This grief is made more poignant by the remembrance of the previous state of prosperity and enjoyment, as the daughters of Israel are called upon to weep for Saul, who had clothed and adorned them. This weeping, with the state of humiliation and godly sorrow which it implies, brings the suffering soul to the Lord. "In those days, and in that time, says the Lord, the children of Israel shall come, they and the children of Judah together, going and weeping: they shall go, and seek the Lord their God "(Jer 1. 4). To those who thus mourn, though it be in sackcloth and ashes, the Lord will give beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, and the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they may be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified (Isa 61:3).
It is natural that in David's lamentation over the slain on the mountains of Gilboa Jonathan should occupy a prominent place. "O Jonathan, you were slain in your high places. I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan: very pleasant have you been to me: your love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women." Wonderful indeed was Jonathan's love for David. A worthy representative it was of love to the Lord, whom David represented, and of love for the truth which He taught. Under another view, it represented that love which is grounded in the harmony and unity which exist between the letter and the spirit of the Word; that is, between the real truth of the letter and the pure truth of the spirit; or, what is the same, between doctrine as drawn from the literal sense of the Word, and the essential principles of doctrine as contained in its spiritual sense. Combining these views we may be able to see more clearly and fully the truth and beauty of that seemingly hyperbolical tribute to Jonathan's love for David, that it surpassed the love of women.
There is one respect in which the love of man surpasses the love of woman. This has its ground in a constitutional difference in the mental character of the sexes; and, in the highest degree of the regenerate and heavenly life, it becomes actual and obvious.
The masculine soul is love covered with wisdom, and the feminine soul is wisdom covered with love. As love in the man is inmost and wisdom is outermost, his love is deeper than his wisdom; and as wisdom in the woman is inmost and love is outermost, her wisdom is deeper than her love. Masculine love is thus deeper or more interior than feminine love, as, on the other hand, feminine wisdom is deeper or more interior than masculine wisdom. Love being inmost in the man it is less perceptible, for it manifests itself in wisdom; and the wisdom of the woman is less perceptible, because it manifests itself in love. We say therefore that the man is wisdom and that the woman is love, because these are their outward and obvious characteristics. We say also that true marriage consists in the union of feminine love with masculine wisdom, because these are the outward and obvious qualities by which they are distinguished. But there is also a deeper and more interior, although less conscious or at least less sensible, union between those who are united in true conjugal love. Besides the union of feminine love with masculine wisdom, there is a union of feminine wisdom with masculine love; or of the internal love of the man with the internal wisdom of the woman. This twofold union is strikingly exhibited in the heavens. In the spiritual heaven, where the spiritual or lower degree of the mind is opened, the husband is wisdom and the wife is love; but in the celestial heaven, where the celestial or highest degree of the mind is opened, the husband is love and the wife is wisdom. In these two heavens we also see the different character of masculine and feminine wisdom exemplified. Masculine wisdom, being external, is rational wisdom; feminine wisdom, being internal, is perceptive wisdom. Therefore in the spiritual heaven the angels reason, in the celestial heavens the angels perceive. In the celestial heaven it is yea, yea, nay, nay; in the spiritual heaven there is something of the whatever is more than these, which comes of evil. We observe this distinction between masculine and feminine wisdom, or between the masculine and feminine intellect, even in this world. We observe that men reason and that women perceive. We see also that the rational wisdom of the man is not communicable to the woman, and that the perceptive wisdom of the woman is not communicable to the man. But we see the Creator's wisdom and benevolence in these distinctive characteristics of the sexes, by which two souls, that can never in anything be the same, become more perfectly one than either of them apart could ever be. In true marriage there is the union of beauty and might, mental and physical; and this marriage exists in its perfection with the angels in heaven.
Jonathan's love for David, as being wonderful and more than the love of women, represented that love for truth and wisdom, whose type David was, which is the primary love that lies at the root of human nature, and out of which all other loves spring, even the love of women, for the woman was taken out of the man.
It would have been interesting to notice the numerous pairs of expressions that occur in this beautiful elegy, which refer to what Clowes so often points out as pervading the Word, the marriage of the good and the true, or, in the opposite sense, of the evil and the false; but this must be left to the reader.
David concludes, "How are the mighty fallen, and the weapons of war perished!" Fallen are the mighty when the heavenly principles of love and charity are no longer the religion of the heart and life, and the weapons of war have perished when the truths of the Word have ceased to defend good against evil, and the conflict has ended in the extinction of spiritual life.3 previous - next - BM Home - Full Page