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The Law of Love
Chapter 1. Saul killed himself. An Amalekite, however, claimed that he slew the King. David, taking him at his word, commanded that he be slain for killing the Lord’s anointed. The seeds of death lie concealed within the effort to regulate the conduct of others without any consideration for their freedom, a state of mind much more common than is generally recognized. It appears that willful ignorance, which Amalek represents, is responsible for man’s failure to obey the letter of the law. Educate the people, and they will cease to do wrong! This subtle untruth which virtually justifies evildoing, and does away with the authority of the law, must be utterly repudiated. A better education does not necessarily lessen crime. It frequently aggravates it. The authority of the law can only be established and maintained through a growing love of the neighbor, which king David represents. David’s lament on the death of Saul and Jonathan voices the terrible heart-burning over the wanton disregard of the plain teachings of Christianity, not specifically by others, but by our own selves. The rule is to hurt others as they hurt us, and not to love them in spite of their lawlessness, or shame them by returning good for evil.
2. To know this by experience proclaims the enthronement in character-building of the principle of loving one’s neighbor as oneself. The belief in this principle is signified by Samuel’s anointing David as king. The acceptance of it as a ruling principle in life is indicated in the proclamation of David as king in Hebron. Hebron was the home and the burial place of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. "Jesus Christ was the son of David, the son of Abraham" (Matthew 1:1). Christ’s kingdom comes through the revival of the child spirit of innocence in man, the set purpose of loving others as the Lord loved us. "Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child shall in no wise enter therein" (Mark 10:15). Hebron means "union," and the land of Judah represents the domain of the heart. David blesses the Gileadites for burying Saul. As soon as love rules within, it pleads for mercy toward everyone in the administration of justice. Human nature, however, is heedless of the plea. Abner made Ishbosheth, Saul’s son, king over Gilead, and all Israel. The contest between the letter and the spirit of the law is still with us, in its last stages. We have definitely and seriously joined issue with our inveterate disposition to lay down the law to practically everyone we know. We have something against each one in particular, something we dislike which, in whole or in part, restricts our cooperation with them. The servants of Ishbosheth—Benjamites contend against the servants of David at the pool of Gibeon. It is an old grudge. The teaching of the letter of the Scriptures is brought into the arguments pro and con. The contention for mercy seasoning our judgments is overwhelming. An attempt is then made to follow up the victory, to clinch the argument with a blow that will settle the main question once and for all. Asahel pursued Abner, Saul’s captain, to kill him, but was himself slain by Abner. It is impossible to condemn a sin against the letter of the law unconditionally. We cannot judge whether even murder is in self-defense or not, until we know all the facts. And where shall we draw the dividing line between hatred and zeal, or between lust and love, or sincerity and insincerity? Or, where does the love of money end, and mammon worship begin? This can be known and judged only through experience under the jurisdiction of the law of love.
Love Supersedes Compulsion
3. The country is in the hands of the Philistines. The life of religion is in the doldrums. The policy of coercion is futile. Force breeds force. So "Abner called to Joab, and said, Knowest thou not that it will be bitterness in the latter end? How long shall it be then, ere thou bid the people return from following their brethren?" It is significant that Ishbosheth, Saul’s son, could not rule in the land. Abner took him to the other side of the Jordan, and made him king there. He still had followers in the land. But Saul’s dynasty had come to an end. The rule of common sense is rendered senseless when devoid of any spiritual motive. The name Ishbosheth means "man of shame," indicating apparently the shame of failure and impotence. In such a frame of mind man resents any proposal to reinstate the authority of the law that is unorthodox, and that does not emanate from self in the first place. Ishbosheth reprimanded Abner for cohabiting with his father’s concubine. The altercation leads to the perception that the objective cannot be attained without a more fraternal spirit among men. For example, many people are enamored of the idea of "collective security," (Saul’s concubine, and not his wife). In the League of Nations, however, military and economic coercion as a means of preserving peace has failed. Apparently, any plan to police the world, or prevent war by forcible suppression, awaits the growth of good faith among the members of the League. This means a strengthening of the house of David. Abner’s reaction to the criticism of Ishbosheth sent him into the ranks of David. Through deceit, however, Joab assassinated him, and brought upon himself the curse of David. It is a common weakness to discredit the good constructive views, or policy, of persons who have done us an injury. To damn them with faint praise, or in an underhanded manner, is most damaging to our own character, a debt that must be paid up some day. The pledge of honesty on Abner’s part was certified by the return of Michal to David. The literal sense of the word attests that a man may change his mind radically and be perfectly honest. He is entitled to the benefit of any doubt, especially if his sympathy is in the interest of strengthening the kingdom of God on earth.
4. Literalism and coercion are well nigh inseparable. The spirit of compelling others to obey the letter of the law dies hard. To end war and at the same time uphold the authority of the letter of the law is the problem. Compulsion defeats its own end. "They that take the sword shall perish by the sword" (Matthew 26:52). Saul and Ishbosheth had violent deaths. The Amalekite and the sons of Rimmon must also die by order from David; and the king’s bones he preserved in the land. The law of love is operating all the time to destroy the spirit of compulsion, but save the truth—the letter of the law. It is said that "when Saul’s son heard that Abner was dead in Hebron, his hands were feeble and all the Israelites were troubled." Here is an evident gain in strength through weakness. The point is stressed in the reference to Mephibosheth being crippled in infancy. We discover our helplessness in fulfilling our duty to God when we are as unsparing in criticizing ourselves as others, and extend mercy to them in the same measure that we expect it of them for our shortcomings.
Establishing the Rule of Charity
5. "The good of love reigns in the Inmost Heaven, the good of charity in the Middle Heaven, and the good of faith in the Ultimate Heaven" (Arcana Coelestia #9687). In itself the rule of faith, that is, the good there is in knowing the truth, and yielding unquestioning obedience to it, is insufficient to restore heaven on earth. Saul’s government was short-lived. The reign of charity—equal consideration for the rights of others—gave it an extension until all that was at variance with the good of charity in the good of faith was eliminated, and it became a part of the reign of charity. "The head of Ishbosheth was buried in the sepulcher of Abner in Hebron," where David reigned. Then David was publicly acclaimed King over Israel, as well as over Judah. The law of charity, or neighborly love, rules within after sundry tests of life (implied in thirty years of age), and is destined to be the rule of life to mete out a square deal for everyone. The length, breadth and height of the Holy City are equal. At the outset David took Jerusalem— "the possession of peace"—as the capital of his kingdom. "For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem" (Isaiah 2:2). "The city of David" henceforth represents not simply the teaching church, but the living church society in the process of being organized for the greatest good of all, with no one in it who fails to see the light, or to walk in that light. "The blind and the lame shall not come into the house." The knowledge of the race experience in the life of religion, summarized in the Word, contributes to the edification of the new civilization. The king of Tyre built a house for David. New concepts of the possibilities of life under the new law are brought into existence. Then the old spirit of depression and inactivity must be overcome, and all hands set to work in the reconstruction of the social order. The Philistines must be subdued to establish the kingdom of Israel.
6. The ark of the covenant had been in the hands of the Philistines, and then at Kirjath Jearim. It is now time that it be restored to its place in the house of God. The re-establishment of the covenant in the heart, however, is not a simple matter. The law receives a new interpretation imposing new obligations upon man. The ark is placed in a new cart, drawn by oxen. When this meaning of the law comes under discussion (Nachon’s threshing floor is reached), misapplications of it endanger its stability. We make a fatal mistake, however, when we assume responsibility for the errors of other people. The new order cannot get under way until freedom of conscience is conceded to one and all alike. We are all God’s children, shortsighted and fallible. Our professions do not determine whether we are a God-fearing people, or otherwise, but our life. A new joy enters the heart when we unite with men everywhere in the belief that God is leading all into a stronger bond of unity even through divergent, or opposing, forms of government. The individual is our neighbor so far as he serves his fellowmen. The country and the world are neighbors to be loved in a larger degree. But "the Church of God is a neighbor to be loved in a still higher degree, and the kingdom of the Lord in the highest degree" (True Christian Religion #412–416). The heart expands with this new and inclusive conception of the love of the neighbor, and the possibilities of sharing it with so many others in building up the kingdom. The joy attendant upon the installation of the ark in a humble tabernacle on Mount Zion pictures the newfound delight in the broader and deeper interpretation of the law. The literalist, or fundamentalist, is altogether incapable of conceiving the meaning of this experience. It seems to be immoderate, Utopian, and even immodest, flouting time-honored customs, conventions and proprieties of life in uncovering numerous hypocrisies and camouflage. "Michal the daughter of Saul had no child unto the day of her death."
7. The ark is in a tabernacle, within curtains. David lives in a house of cedar. As yet there is no house of cedar for the ark, or for God to dwell in. David contemplated such a building. The prophet assured him that his house and kingdom shall last forever. "Thy throne shall be established forever." The tabernacle represents the reception of the law of the Lord in simplicity. The child-mind perceives the truth without question. When that fails, the law must be brought home by the rational consideration of principle in relation to practice. We get at the meaning of the law by figuring out how we should feel if other people treated us as we feel like treating them. To receive the law through equal consideration for others in all we do or say according to reason is the equivalent on the plane of the spirit of building a house of cedar for God to dwell in. The cedar tree with its spreading branches on different levels is significant of growing processes of thought on lower and higher planes of living in symmetrical relation to each other. The love of the neighbor is a principle with many ramifications, higher and lower. And when this principle is applied to all social relationships the kingdom of God is at hand. The letter of the law is quite inadequate to govern the spiritual relationship of man to man. Only the spirit of the law—the law of love—is equal to this task. David’s throne lasts forever.
Opposition and Support
8. The throne, however, is safe only so long as its enemies are held at bay. The Philistines need constant attention. We are naturally inclined to lay down on the job from time to time. We procrastinate, we excuse ourselves, we rely upon the goodwill of others to compound our debts, rather than pay them up in full right away. We think we have not enough on hand. And we often get discouraged and depressed. We overindulge in the pleasures of life to drown our sorrows. The Moabites need disciplining. Our pleasures must be kept in their place as servant and not as master. Through war with Syria and other enemies within and without the land David acquired great possessions of brass, and silver and gold, which he brought to Jerusalem and dedicated to the Lord. This means that the serious study of the law in relation to our daily problems yields a wealth of knowledge for the perfecting of the body, mind, and soul as the Lord’s dwelling place. The little kingdom within must be properly organized to administer the law efficiently and expeditiously. We must even keep a record of our judgments in every issue that comes before us. Precedent is of importance in meeting new and larger issues in life. "Jehoshaphat (‘God is judge’) the son of Ahilud was recorder."
9. Every sound judgment formed in relation to our changing states of mind strengthens the kingdom. Growing problems, however, require closer contact with the main sources of enlightenment—God’s Word. Lame Mephibosheth represents those who love the plain teaching of the Word, and feel deeply their inability to live up to it. This spirit, with the help of Biblical scholarship, represented by Ziba, Saul’s servant, and his sons and servants who took care of Mephibosheth, is invaluable in promoting the spiritual life. Mephibosheth fed at David’s table as one of his sons. They who love the inner meaning of the Scriptures are fed from above. The text finely illustrates the threefold point that "doctrine must be drawn from the letter of the Word, and be confirmed thereby; that genuine truth does not appear in the sense of the letter to any others than those who are in illustration from the Lord; and that those alone are in this enlightenment who love truths because they are truths, and make them of use for life" (Doctrine of the Sacred Scriptures #50–61). "Through the sense of the letter there is conjunction with the Lord and consociation with the angels" (Doctrine of the Sacred Scriptures #62–68).
Doubts and Denials
10. Anyone who has measurably entered into the spiritual life knows the reality of it, and that God’s presence is with him in his Word. Yet the world is full of people, many of them good people too, who "reject and despise the interior things of worship, for the reason that they are in the love of self." They know better, and do not wish to hear anything about doctrine, or the inner meaning of the Word, or the spiritual world. We may be in the grip of that spirit ourselves at times also, especially when sorely tried. The Ammonites represent that spirit, with its scornful doubts and denials. The Syrians are in league with the Ammonites. Reasons are not wanting to back opposition to the credibility of spiritual realities. How can we meet these reasons and contempt in other people, or in ourselves? Joab takes the best men to attack the Syrians, and Abishai takes the others to fall upon the Ammonites. The victory was Israel’s, when the Ammonites saw the Syrians flee before Joab. We must meet reason with reason, until the enemy has not any ground to stand upon. He is forced to retreat in disgrace.
Conviction of Sin
11, 12. While this conflict with Ammon was still in progress, David was in Jerusalem. What happened there is intimately connected with the issue. David loved Bathsheba, and got rid of her husband at the hand of the Ammonites, that he might marry her. The king can do no wrong. So thinks everyone who places himself above the law, and rejects all spiritual values (the Ammonites). Nathan’s petition for the king’s judgment in a parallel offense brings out the interpretation of the law which the throne of David represents. And David’s acceptance of the prophet’s accusation against him exemplifies the operation of the law for every subject of the kingdom. David’s sin covers every offense against the law, for all unneighborliness and inhumanity are essentially adulterous—evil in wedlock with falsity. But how does it come about that we accept guilt in God’s sight for offenses which we freely condemn in others? For it is notorious that self-love resents criticism either from without, or from within. In childhood the voice of our parents checked our waywardness and formed our sense of right and wrong. And often the appeal of love gave poignancy to the word, and we felt sorry. The love of Bathsheba, wife of Uriah the Hittite, represents that child love of the parent in the man. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were buried in a cave that belonged to Ephron the Hittite. The sacrifice of Uriah the Hittite’s life fighting the Ammonites for David’s sake represents a conflict within which settles the question that life without God’s love is valueless. The rich man stole the poor man’s ewe lamb to entertain a stranger. The prophet chose the ewe lamb to represent Bathsheba. The king took God’s gift of love, pure and undefiled, and appropriated it to himself to satisfy a desire wholly foreign to the spirit of heaven. And so "the sword shall never depart from thine house, because thou hast despised me, and hast taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be thy wife." Everything damnable in human nature through the perversion of God’s love must be brought into the light from God’s Word, and set right through repentance, as exemplified in the Lord’s life. "Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he hath raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David" (Luke 1 :68, 69). David’s relationship to Bathsheba represents the relationship of self love to the love of the neighbor. When self love predominates over the love of the neighbor the fruit of this relationship must die. But when self love and the love of the neighbor are in wedlock—on a perfect equality—"the son of peace" is born. Bathsheba bare Solomon to David, and David ended the war with the sons of Ammon, and returned to Jerusalem with their king’s crown upon his head. Further comment is unnecessary (see Psalm 51, noting specially the caption).
Taking the Spiritual Sense Literally
13. David’s son Absalom now figures largely in the story. David’s home troubles reflect our trials with "the foes of our own household." David represents the spirit of the law, or the law of charity. That law whether written or spoken can be taken literally, or according to the spirit. Absalom represents the letter of the spirit, and his sister, Tamar, the affection for it, the affection for a literal interpretation of Swedenborg’s writings, for example. Amnon, Tamar’s brother, David’s firstborn in Hebron, of Ahinoam, the Jezreelitess, represents the love of the good there is in this spiritual interpretation of the Scriptures, The meaning of the illicit relationship of Amnon and Tamar then seems to be this: Starting with the premise that the Lord "bore our sicknesses" and healed them all by his word, we passionately desire to prove the infallibility of the Word to solve the problem, following in his footsteps. Frustrated and disillusioned when we are dealing with the subject theoretically (Amnon feigned sickness), we uncover to our own satisfaction the nakedness of an abstract spiritual interpretation of the Scriptures. This is a terrible injustice to the cause of religion. The literalist (Absalom) in rebuttal seeks to demonstrate, again theoretically, that the spiritual sense of the Word holds the solution of all our problems. Absalom invited the princes, and Amnon in particular, to a sheep-shearing, and there killed his brother. The defender of the faith gives the lie to his argument by violating the very principle on which it is based, the golden rule, "the law and the prophets." Absalom, therefore, fled from the presence of David to Geshur in Syria. The literalist studies his subject more ardently than ever to prove that he is right, and his opponent wrong.
14. David’s heart went out to Absalom, but he could do nothing about it. Theology holds an important place in the life of religion, but cannot be accepted as a substitute for it. The literalist shuts himself out of the kingdom so long as he hates anyone who does not agree with him. Yet, a reconciliation must be effected. Joab, captain of the host, represents one skilled in defending the law of the kingdom. The church needs the abstract interpretation of the Word. The church in the juncture is represented by the wise woman of Tekoa sent by Joab to the king with an appeal for help. David was so far affected that he consented to Absalom’s return to Jerusalem, but not into his presence. The Lord cannot be seen till love takes the place of hatred. To none others than those who are in the life of charity is the Word an open book. Absalom had a fine physique and a remarkable head of hair. His outward appearance won the hearts of the children of Israel. He had three sons, and a daughter, whom he named after his sister, Tamar. And he was the son of David. In its inner meaning all this is descriptive of the prestige of a well constructed system of theology, calculated to withstand criticism from any quarter. The possessor of such a system may well change his feelings of hatred and contempt for its critics or traducers to those of pity, or indifference. In any case, as the picture presents it, Absalom made his peace with the king. Through importuning Joab he gained an audience, and was greeted by David with a kiss.
This Supplants the Rule of Charity
15. Then Absalom got his horses and chariots and forerunners together. He stood at the gate of the city to solve the people’s problems, which David left untouched. He won sympathy and respect from everyone, and had himself proclaimed as king at Hebron. David and his servants and bodyguard fled across the Jordan to the land of Gilead, and Absalom entered Jerusalem to rule there in his stead. This represents the ascendance of doctrine—the letter of the spirit— to supersede the spirit of the Word itself. We study the spiritual sense of the Word and the teachings in relation to the spiritual world. We are awed by their coherence and completeness, and think that they must be equal to solve every problem under the sun. An infatuation for the doctrines, however, forces the law of love to abdicate in its favor. Put the letter of the spirit in the first place, and charity is ruled out of court. Enforce orthodoxy in doctrine and exegesis, and automatically the love of the neighbor becomes a mere matter of doctrine. Love toward the neighbor is accorded first place in theory (Zadok, the ark, and Hushai are left in the city with Absalom), but second in practice. David abdicates his throne, and flees for refuge to Gilead.
16. The Lord from his Word sustains the heart in the trial. Ziba provides food for David and his household on their flight. But Shimei cursed David by the way for destroying the house of Saul. Abishai suggested retaliation, but David would not hear of it. The transition from the rule of the letter to the rule of the spirit is not simple, or free from trial. On the one hand we are blamed for being too lenient, and on the other for being unsparing, or overexacting. We are unjustly called to account for having stood firm against narrow literalism, and ignored our critics. They harm themselves more than they harm us! But we do well to accept criticism in meekness, when retaliation would only add to our shame. David’s abdication in favor of Absalom represents a weakening on our part in another direction which requires correction. This is indicated by David’s policy of leaving his house in charge of his ten concubines. Ten concubines! In charge of the house of David during the interregnum! King David represents the rule of charity. His ten concubines acting for him therefore represent forms of government upholding the same rule of life, but having many contradictory elements in them. (The Holy City is the Lamb’s wife.) The earliest forms of government were theocratic. Church and state were one. There was no conflict between them. With the decadence of peoples and nations Church and state were separated, and at variance. Then emerged the specious error that redemption was at hand through change in the government, and the enactment of new and better laws, all with the sanction of the church. Intimate contact with this state of mind and practice discloses the unwelcome facts that a corrupt church is unquestionably fallible, and that no nation can be reclaimed by legislation. "Exterior good does not remove the evil of lust, or the root of evil" (Doctrine of Charity #13). We must "cleanse first the inside of the cup and the platter, that the outside may be clean also" (Matthew 22:26). The letter of the spirit of God’s Word is unmistakably clear on this point. Absalom cohabited with David’s concubines to the abhorrence of David, and the strengthening of his position in Israel for the time being. And David’s first act on his return to Jerusalem put his concubines in ward for good and all. The first duty of the Church is the call to repentance, and the first duty of the state is to put its house in order in completion of the work of the church. Absalom’s treason represents the attempt to set up a theocracy, directing all human activities authoritatively by the doctrines of the church as a substitute for the law of love.
17. The study and understanding of the abstract spiritual sense of the Scriptures is altogether good. It insists throughout upon the life of charity. But if we place the hope of the future welfare of humanity upon the acceptance of our theory, or particular interpretation of the Scriptures, then the theory is at the center and charity itself at the circumference. Absalom forces David out of the land. David will not oppose Absalom any more than he opposed Saul. Charity, or love, impels respect for those who love the abstract spiritual sense of the Word, as well as for those who love the letter of the law. The spirit of charity counsels tolerance, well knowing that the literalist, or theorist, will see the folly of his ways, if given time and a free hand. By guidance from above the literalist rejects the suggestion to summarily get rid of the spirit of charity as weak and inefficient. This is the import of Ahithophel’s counsel. The theologian is forced to admit the strength of charity, and the consequent need of a powerful organized force to prove the superiority of faith over love. Hushai’s counsel. But David is also advised to prepare for the attack.
18. The battle was in Gilead, on the other side of Jordan, in the wood of Ephraim, all representative of an obscure literalistic understanding of the spiritual sense of the Word. "The wood devoured more people than the sword." Argument has no point to the dogmatist. He is quite oblivious to the unpracticality and obscurity of his views. He does not see even the ridiculousness of the extremes to which he pushes them. To him they are revelation, or drawn from revelation. That is enough! But what follows reveals the inside of the situation. Absalom rode on a mule through the wood, his head caught in the branch of an oak tree, his mule went from under him, and he was left suspended between heaven and earth. Mules, on which kings rode of old, signify "the internal rational which is spiritual" (Apocalypse Explained #355). The dogmatist gets involved in his own ideas to such an extent that he forfeits reason. His theories are without any practical bearing on the spiritual or on the natural life. A sensible person sees the absurdity of the conclusions, and passes them by without further notice out of kindness of heart. Not so the rationalist. He is not satisfied until he has shown the fallacy in the premises and conclusions, and disposed of the issue forever. Joab ended the tragedy with three darts piercing the heart of Absalom. How does this stand in the eyes of the law? The king sat between two gates. One gate represents the heart open to influences from above, and the other gate the mind receptive of a better understanding of the Word (see Apocalypse Explained #208). The watchman on the roof over the gate indicates that the whole issue must be considered from within. First thought turns to the good that comes out of the experience. "All is well." This is the report of the son of Zadok, the priest. Second thought centers on the cruel fate of the victim. David is overwhelmed by sorrow for the death of his son. The health of the Church depends upon its understanding of the Word. Why do people not realize it? Why are they so apathetic, even antagonistic to the teaching of doctrine?
The Failure of Dogmatism
19. Paternal love blindfolds the king. Joab must remove the covering. The defender of the law points out that the question is not the defection of the people, but the failure of dogmatism, the infallibility of dogma. The people must be encouraged to think for themselves, and get together in freedom on their problems in the light of the Word. David shall again be placed on the throne with the help of Zadok and Abiathar, the priests. Then all Israel returns to the support of the king. Church and state fall through blind subjection to authority, but rise again through subjection to the government of laws, and not of men.
20. The authority of the law, however, is called in question. The authority of men persists. David put Amasa, Absalom’s captain, in Joab’s place, and ordered him to quell the rebellion. Amasa proved himself to be untrustworthy. Joab disposed of him, pursued the rebel chief, Sheba, and finally got his head by the help of a wise woman in Abel of Beth-maachah. Sheba is said to be a Benjamite, and also "a man of mount Ephraim." Benjamin sometimes represents "new truth, interior truth," and Ephraim "the new understanding" of the Word. With all things that are new there is a temptation to regard them as of a superior order, before which everything that is old ought to give way summarily. Regard for the feelings of others—the authority of the golden rule, David—demands patience, tolerance, and kindliness. Joab returned to Jerusalem (the city of peace) unto the king.
21. The conflict with Absalom and Amasa was followed by a great famine. So also the controversy over the supremacy of dogma, or doctrine, is succeeded by famine, "not a famine of bread," however, "nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord" (Amos 8:11). Strangely enough the famine in David’s time was said to be a visitation for the ruthless slaughter of the Gibeonites by Saul. The covenant with the Gibeonites in Joshua’s day represented the pledge to read God’s Word regularly for guidance in life. This practice brought into being certain beliefs about the letter of the Word. These beliefs have been ruthlessly destroyed by the criticism of a new and more enlightened generation. This especially relates to the interpretation of the Scriptures to live by. But modern criticism in turn needs to sacrifice many of its beliefs drawn from the letter of the Word when the light of the Spirit is turned upon the sacred page. David gave seven of Saul’s sons to suffer death for the death of the Gibeonites. Many, however, still cling to the old ideals, and endeavor to protect them from what they painfully regard as desecration or sacrilege. Rizpah defended the bodies of Saul’s children for a season against molestation day and night. Nevertheless, there are many precious lessons drawn from the literal sense that are of perennial value, and should never be lost. David buried the bones of Saul and Jonathan in the land. It is also worth noting that when the spirit of charity takes hold of the enforcement of the letter of the law, new problems arise, such as saving the criminal, or healing the mentally sick. The effort to solve these problems illustrates the meaning of David’s preservation of the bones of Saul and Jonathan in the land. After this, new troubles arose with the Philistines, and more giants. A deeper knowledge of the truth and life’s responsibilities finds us confronting new conceits, and an indisposition to overcome them. Our trials, however, are our opportunities to test our strength, and to "taste and see that the Lord is good: blessed is the man that trusteth in him" (Psalm 34:8).
22. Psalm eighteen, which is introduced here, takes on a powerful meaning in the whole context, and illustrates how the Psalter may be used continually in life’s vicissitudes to enhance the value of the living Word, and uplift the soul in its worship and love of God. Prophecy is the word for thought and action. The Psalms are the utterance of the heart in its sorrows and its joys, its struggles and its victories, its humiliation and its exaltation.
Vision of the Brotherhood of Man
23. David’s last words are for us an evaluation of present attainments and future possibilities. We have learned from experience that to rule in the fear of the Lord is the highroad to self-mastery. And though our house is far from being in perfect order, the covenant with God ensures the ultimate fulfillment of our highest aspirations. David had a consuming desire to drink of the water of the well of Bethlehem by the gate, when that city was garrisoned by the Philistines. The well is the Word, the fountain of wisdom for men and angels. The water from this well is the knowledge of One, "the Bread of Life," who came out of "the house of bread," "a Governor that shall rule, or feed, my people Israel" (Matthew 2:6). Every truth by which we have condemned evil in thought, or speech, or action, and regulated our conduct in accordance with the law of love (David’s three mighty men), gives us a keener perception and deeper appreciation of the personality of the Lord in the story of the Gospel. Breaking through the inveterate opposition to change in our habits of living we receive the living truth in the life of our Lord, very different to our own. We may not drink the draught. We consecrate it to the Lord, confessing the sacrifice necessary in the first place to prove worthy of it. In his great dramatic lyric, "Saul," Browning places on the lips of David a prophecy of "the great love motive of the Redemption" that glimpses the meaning of the picture here.
’Tis the weakness in strength, that I cry for! my flesh, that I seek
In the Godhead! I seek and I find it. O Saul it shall be
A face like my face that receives thee; a Man like to me,
Thou shalt love and be loved by, forever: a Hand like this hand
Shall throw open the gates of the new life to thee! See the Christ stand!
Thirty and seven great and mighty men whom David had are named on the roll of honor, with some of the enemies whom they conquered. The last, though not least, is Uriah the Hittite.
24. Is it possible in thus reviewing the exploits of the past to eliminate all thought of self-merit? It is human to say in the heart, "My power and the might of mine hand hath gotten me this wealth. But thou shalt remember the Lord thy God; for it is he that giveth thee power to get wealth" (Deuteronomy 8:17, 18). For this reason the law provided that when the census was taken every man should give a ransom for his soul unto the Lord, that there be no plague among the people. The offering of a half shekel to the Lord is the token of an acknowledgment that his is the power to think right, and to do right (Exodus 30:12). This offering was omitted on the occasion when the people were numbered. Joab objected, but David would have his own way. And so the plague followed. As fire burns, so self-praise plagues the heart. The more we demand of others, the greater the suffering brought upon ourselves, and others too. Fortunately, David’s repentance reflects our consciousness of the sin of taking credit for any good we may accomplish in this world. At best "we are unprofitable servants; we have done that which was our duty to do" (Luke 17:10). Reason furnishes ample proof. The plague stopped at the threshing floor of Araunah, the Jebusite. David bought the threshing floor and the oxen which he offered on an altar built unto the Lord. And that was on Mount Moriah, the very spot on which Solomon would straightway erect the temple, and hard by the spot where the "Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world" (John 1:29) "gave up his life for his friends" (John 15:13).
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