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David, part 6

The Death of Ish-bosheth.

2 Samuel 4

It is not surprising that "when Saul's son heard that Abner was dead in Hebron, his hands were feeble, and all the Israelites were troubled." It would appear from this that Ish-bosheth was not aware that the captain of his army had made a league with David, to bring all Israel under his rule. Adversity brought effects, not unusual in rude and warlike nations, in the affairs and fortunes of Ish-bosheth; it shook the stability of his kingdom, and raised up unscrupulous and deadly enemies against him in his own camp. Two brothers, that were captains of bands, Baanah and Rechab, went, and came about the heat of the day to the house of Ish-bosheth, who lay on his bed in his bedchamber; and they slew him, and cut off his head. This they brought to David at Hebron, and said to the king, "Behold the head of Ish-bosheth the son of Saul your enemy, which sought your life; and the Lord has avenged my lord the king this day of Saul, and of his seed." Instead of commending or rewarding them, David ordered them to be slain; and the young men who slew them cut off their hands and their feet, and hanged them over the post of Hebron. But they took the head of Ish-bosheth, and buried it in the sepulchre of Abner in Hebron.

It is always painful to read of the sufferings and fate of the unfortunate, especially when brought upon them by those whom "their former bounty fed." But history records too many instances of this to make it a matter of surprise, as it is of regret. Yet even here we are to recognise a permissive Providence. The Creator of all worlds is this Disposer of all events. His presence and power, which are necessary to the subsistence and order of all things, and without which this glorious universe would resolve itself into chaos, are equally necessary to preserve and ordinate the moral world. Unless the providence of the Lord over the states and concerns of men were as minute as the beautiful analogy suggests, that the very hairs of their head are all numbered, and that a sparrow falls not. to the ground without their Father in heaven, the moral world would fall into utter confusion and ruin. True it is that the Divine will is not done in all the actions of men; yet that will is ever active, working out, through the human mind and in human affairs, the greatest possible amount of good and measure of happiness for each one and for the whole of the human race. The Divine is present in the minutest particulars of human thought and affection, influencing where it cannot inspire, controlling where it cannot guide; while all angels and spirits are employed as agents, and men and circumstances are brought to act as far as possible, in furtherance of the one purpose of the Divine Father, in the creation and government of the world, to make men holy and thence happy. A Being who is eternal must have eternal ends in view. Therefore much of human experience in this world is permitted for the sake of life in the world to come.

In sacred history, where we see as much of the dark, with more of the bright side of human nature than in the histories of the world, we find it placed in the light of Divine truth, and thus in the light of Divine and not merely of human judgement. In Scripture the actions and experience of men are not recorded for information merely or even chiefly, but for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished to all good works. But besides all the doctrine and instruction that can be drawn from the sacred history, as history, we can now, by the law of spiritual interpretation, see in it a higher doctrine and purer instruction, enabling us to drink at the upper as well as the nether springs of revealed truth.

In the historical events of this part of the Word we see, especially, in the character and conduct of the two barbarous brothers, the character and operations of the unregenerate natural mind, both as to will and understanding. Their cruel deed exemplifies as well as represents the character of the natural man. One of the characteristics of natural-minded men is their instability. They are the people who change with circumstances. Having no inward principle to guide them, they go with the stream, and can be as zealous in destroying, as they had been in preserving, the idol of their worship. When the will and understanding are united in the pursuit of a selfish object, no deed is too dark, no means too unscrupulous. The two Benjamites went into the house of Ish-bosheth as though they would fetch wheat—as though they were pursuing good when they were hasting to do evil, seeking to promote life when they were eager to destroy it. Ish-bosheth "lay on his bed in his bedchamber, and they smote him, and slew him, and beheaded him, and took his head, and gat them away through the plain all night." When evil and falsehood penetrate into the interior of the human mind, where life reposes, or seeks repose, after the toils and anxieties of its active state, they take that life away, so far as it has been the life of goodness and truth; and severing the inner from the outer part of that which they have already slain, they get them away with it through the plain in the darkness of night. This plain is in the mind itself, and the night is a state of the mind. Plains, in Scripture, signify planes in the mind. These two words in our language have the same origin, and express nearly the same idea, but the idea, and not merely the word, forms the ground of the meaning. "With man there are two planes, on which the celestial and spiritual principles from the Lord are founded. One is interior, the other is exterior. The planes themselves are conscience. The interior plane, or interior conscience, is where genuine goodness and truth are, for goodness and truth flowing in from the Lord constitute its active power. The exterior plane is the exterior conscience, and is where justice and equity, in the proper sense, are, for what is just and equitable, moral and civil, which also flow in, constitute its active power. There is also an outermost plane, which appears as conscience, but is not conscience. It does what is equitable and just for the sake of self and the world, or for the sake of self-honour or reputation, of worldly possessions, and through fear of the law." This last plane is that which exists in the minds of the wicked. It is the plain through which those represented by Baanah and Rechab pass in the night, when darkness is sought to cover deeds of darkness, and hide it even from themselves.

David, to whom the slayers of Ish-bosheth presented his head, as an offering intended to secure his favour, shows the true nobility which marked his conduct on other similar occasions, when his interest would have prompted him to act a less generous part. He said to them, "When one told me, saying, Behold, Saul is dead, thinking to have brought good tidings, I took hold of him, and slew him in Ziklag, who thought that I would have given him a reward for his tidings: how much more, when wicked men have slain a righteous person in his own house upon his bed? Shall I not therefore now require his blood of your hand, and take you away from the earth? And David commanded his young men, and they slew them, and cut off their hands and their feet, and hanged them up over the pool in Hebron. But they took the head of Ish-bosheth, and buried it in the sepulchre of Abner in Hebron." Those mutilations which were practised so much by ancient nations, when recorded in the Word are representative of the effects of evil. The hands and the feet, as the members by which the power of the body operates, or by which, roughly speaking, we work and walk, correspond to the ultimate powers of the mind by which the will and the understanding act. When the evil are such that "the act of violence is in their hands, and their feet run to evil, and they make haste to shed innocent blood" (Isa 59:6, 7), they lose the power of doing good. We see in this the judgement of Divine truth, which returns the evil done upon the evil-doer, according to the eternal law of retribution, that as a man sows so also shall he reap.

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