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Saul, part 11

The Friendship of Jonathan and David.

1 Samuel 18

With the exception of Joseph's love for his brethren, there is nothing of the same character in the Old Testament so pure and noble as Jonathan's love for David. In their case, differently from that of Joseph and his brethren, the love was mutual. Drawn to each other by an essential, similarity of character, brought out by the accomplishment of a great national deliverance dear to them both, their souls were knit together in the closest and most enduring friendship. If there is a greater resemblance to Joseph in one of these devoted friends than the other, it is in Jonathan, whose warm and generous love involved one of the noblest acts of self-abnegation which mortal man can perform, and of which history records not a more disinterested instance. It was on David's return from the field, where he had defeated Goliath, and where in consequence the whole Philistine army had been overthrown, that the patriotic soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and that the expectant heir to the throne of Israel "stripped himself of the robe that was upon him, and his garments, even to his sword, and to his bow, and to his girdle, and put them upon David," transferring by this significant act his prospective regal authority and power to one who had shown himself so able to vindicate the honour of Israel, and maintain the cause of the Lord.

While the history before us supplies this singularly beautiful instance of lofty patriotism and disinterested friendship, it furnishes likewise, as if to exalt them by contrast, a no less striking instance of base ingratitude and deep malignity. Saul, whose honour David had vindicated and whose kingdom he had possibly saved, though he showed at the moment a becoming favour for the youthful warrior, by whose pious bravery it had mainly been effected, yet, after the first generous impulse, he became, except during brief gleams of remorse, his bitter and implacable enemy. In their triumphal return from the battle-field, where so great and unexpected a victory had been worked for Israel, the women sang, "Saul has slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands;" which evoked in the heart of the king the spirit of jealousy and envy, "and he eyed David from that day forward." From that day, too, the harp of David seems to have lost its power to charm away the evil spirit from the mind of Saul, who henceforward became so infuriated against the innocent object of his hate, that he endeavoured, while David was giving out his sweet sounds, to strike him with a javelin to the wall. Everything that Saul now did to David, even the favours he bestowed upon him, were meant for his destruction. He charged his son and his servants to kill him; and when Jonathan strove to remove his father's unjust suspicion and disarm his fierce wrath against his friend, he himself incurred his hot displeasure, and was subjected to the same abuse and assault. Under all these trying circumstances Jonathan's love for David remained unshaken; and after providing, on several occasions, for David's safety, the two friends bade each other a tender and final farewell.

In drawing attention to these features of the narrative, it may seem that I retain the mind too long and engage it too deeply in the literal sense. It is possible, however, to pass over the simple sense of the letter too lightly, as it is to dwell on it too exclusively. It is true that the moral instruction of the Old Testament Scriptures does not always appear on the surface, and that some of the acts that are recorded with commendation or without reproof it would be dangerous to follow as examples. But where the literal sense delineates character or records acts that are calculated to make virtue beautiful and vice hideous, it is but right, as it is useful, that we should give ourselves unreservedly to its study, that by admiring, we may be led to imitate, what is lovely and of good report, and by detesting, we may be led to avoid, what is base and dishonourable. Besides, the literal sense of the Word is designed for the young and the simple, whose thoughts and feelings are to a considerable extent limited to the sphere of the senses, and to the imagination, which is in immediate connection with them. And the capacities and wants of these, as well as those of their more advanced fellow readers and students of the Bible, require to be ministered to.

From the very different character and conduct of Saul and his son Jonathan much useful instruction may be derived. Their personal interests in the kingdom were the same; yet how different were their ideas and conduct in relation to it! Both of them had no doubt learned that David had been anointed king; and as pious and obedient Israelites they should have submitted humbly, if not cheerfully, to the will of Him whose kingdom Israel really was, and who had the right to give it to whom He pleased. Jonathan did so, not only from piety to God but from friendship to David, while Saul's personal and paternal feelings revolted against the claims of both. From the conduct of Jonathan we may learn the highly important lesson, that we should subordinate our personal feelings to the will of God and our private interests to the public good, and be ready to recognise excellences in others without any self-consideration; while from the conduct of Saul we should be warned against the vices of ingratitude, envy, and jealousy. This much may we learn from the history in its plain literal sense. The spiritual sense teaches a still higher lesson.

By the light shed upon the historical circumstances of the Scriptures by the internal sense, we are enabled to see in this narrative a Divine and spiritual meaning.

The first three kings of Israel represent, we have seen, the Lord while making His humanity truth Divine, Divine truth, and Divine good. Saul represented the Lord while making his humanity truth Divine, or truth from the Divine, as it comes down to finite apprehension, as it is in heaven among the angels and in the world among men. Strictly speaking, there is no absolute truth but in the Divine Being. Pure truth transcends the apprehension of the highest intelligences, because it is infinite, and between infinite and finite there is no proportion, there is only correspondence. In the Word, therefore, there are the three finite degrees of truth, the natural, the spiritual, and the celestial, and within and above these there is a truth purely Divine. But although there is no absolute or pure truth with finite beings, there is with them truth relatively real and apparent. In heaven there are appearances of truth, but these are what may be called real appearances, being the forms which real truths assume when they present themselves as objects of sense; but as they only exist in connection with the states that produce them, they are understood, and never mistaken for the realities which they represent. On earth it is different. Apparent truths do not here proceed from and exist in connection with the real truth relating to the same subject in the minds of men; and therefore they are constant, and are the same to one as they are to another. The appearance that the sun rises and sets is constant and common to all men, to those who know and to those who do not know the real truth. It is from this condition of things on earth that the literal or natural sense of the Word contains so many apparent truths. For if even natural truths clothe themselves in appearances, how much more spiritual truths, when they come down into the natural world, and present themselves to the natural minds of men.

Saul and Jonathan, we consider, represent the apparent and the real truths of the Word, as they exist in the literal sense. According to this view we can see the reason why David refused to go into the battle with the armour of Saul, but did not refuse to put on and wear the robe and the weapons of Jonathan after the battle was won. David represented Divine truth, such as it is above the heavens. And the Lord, as Divine truth, did not put on and fight from the apparent truths of the Word; or rather, He did as David did with the armour of Saul, He put it on, and assayed to go, but put it off again, and took His own simple weapons, on which man had not lifted his tool and shaped by his own intelligence. But although the Lord did not put on and fight from the apparent truths of the Word, He put on its real truths when the conflict was over and the battle won, and exalted and glorified them by union with Himself, as Divine truth. In this light also we can see the cause and meaning of the almost constant and growing opposition of Saul to David; for the more the Lord was perfected, and the more His humanity was made Divine truth, the greater the difference between Divine truth and truth Divine became manifested, and this divergence continued and increased until the apparent was entirely removed. But we must turn our attention from this exalted view of the subject to that lower and corresponding one which relates to ourselves.

Keeping in view the principle of interpretation which brings the whole history within the scope of individual experience, Saul, David, and Solomon represent Divine truth as it exists successively in the minds of those who are progressing in the regenerate life, or as they successively advance in the affection and perception of the Lord's truth from natural to spiritual, and from spiritual to celestial. The history of the reign of Saul represents the regeneration of the natural mind, or degree of the mind. Thus Saul may be regarded as representing the natural mind itself, as he personally showed much of the character of the natural man. But Saul in relation to Jonathan represented the natural mind in its first state in relation to the natural mind in its second state, or, what amounts to the same, apparent truth in relation to real or genuine truth in the natural mind.

In the progress of regeneration the human mind is being continually perfected, and this perfecting process is effected by successive steps as well as by imperceptible gradations, a more perfect principle or state being produced by means of one less perfect. The natural mind in its first state regards spiritual things from affections and thoughts which partake more of self and the world than of the Lord and heaven, more of fear than of love; and not until the birth of the new and higher motive does the kingdom of righteousness begin to be established in its true order in the mind. The natural mind in its first state may be regarded as being imaged by Saul, and in its second state by Jonathan. The natural mind in its first state, while ruled by the appearances of truth, is fitly represented by Saul; in its second state, when it comes under the direction of genuine truth, it is fitly represented by Jonathan. The natural mind in its first state is at enmity with the spiritual, as Saul was with David; in, its second state it is in harmony and unity with it, as Jonathan was with David. When the successive states of the mind are thus understood, the circumstances of this part of the history of the kings will be clearly seen and may be usefully applied.

Jonathan's soul was knit to the soul of David as soon as the youth had made an end of speaking to Saul, when he appeared in the monarch's presence with the head of Goliath in his hand. The conquest of that delusive persuasion, that heaven and happiness can be secured by the name and form without the reality and power of godliness, is that which knits the soul of the natural to that of the spiritual, and unites them by an indissoluble bond. "He that has My commandments and does them, he it is that loves Me: and he that loves Me, shall be loved of My Father, and We will come and make Our abode with him." "Love is the fulfilling of the law." Faith without loving and doing is faith without life; for faith without works is dead. The heaven to which such faith looks forward is a place of rest, not from labour but from work. Such a life would be insipid and wearisome. It would neither be useful nor happy. The rest into which the righteous enter after death is the peace which is obtained by victory over the errors and evils of their natural thoughts and inclinations. But a state of spiritual rest may be, to some extent at least, secured and enjoyed even in this life. And indeed there may be inward peace while there is outward trial; just as our Lord, when He bestowed peace upon His disciples, warned them that in this world they should have tribulation. There is inward peace when the soul of the natural mind is knit to the soul of the spiritual, when there is an internal agreement between them, even before the outward evils of the natural mind are removed, the presence and activity of which cannot but cause tribulation. It is love with its works that brings the natural into harmony with the spiritual; and the first and most necessary work which is required for this end is the conquest of the evils and falsities which produce enmity and separation between them.

When the soul of Jonathan had been knit to the soul of David, and the heir of Saul had invested the future king of Israel with the insignia of his regal status, they entered into a covenant with each other, thus bringing into a practical result the love and union that inwardly existed between them, This covenanted friendship must have been sweet and comforting to the soul of David during the time of the bitter and disheartening treatment he experienced at the hand of Saul. So with the Christian. It is the covenanted union that exists interiorly between the inward and outward man that enables him at the time to bear, and afterwards to rejoice in, spiritual persecution. Nay, it is this inward state that prepares him for undergoing persecution; for spiritual trials are incident to those only who delight in the law of God after the inward man, but have another law in their members warring against the law of the mind. This other law soon began to act in the case of David. The exaltation of the law of God in the affections of the inward man, which are the women answering one another in their song in praise of David more than of Saul, awakens in the outer man feelings of wrath and displeasure, and the fear of losing the supremacy which the natural man still claims as his own and is unwilling to lose: "What can he have more than the kingdom?" This state of the will enters into the thoughts, which are constantly directed to this source of danger, as Saul eyed David from that day and forward. Another and worse state follows; as on the morrow the evil spirit from God came upon Saul. When we give way to bad feelings, evil spirits enter into us and rule over us. They secretly excite the evils of the will and suggest false thoughts in the understanding. The falsities they insinuate are intended to have the appearance of truth, and are indeed truths falsified. Satan tempted the Lord through the truths of His own Word. It is always so. We are tempted through the appearances of truth. These are bent out of their right course, so as to give a seeming sanction to the indulgence of congenial evil—so, in fact, as to make evil appear as good. The evil spirit that entered into Saul caused him to prophesy. It seems singular that an evil spirit should confer the prophetic gift. We find indeed that Balaam, though a soothsayer, had the gift of prophecy, but could not prophesy more or other than the Lord permitted. Prophets were teachers as well as predictors of events. As false prophets could utter true prophecies, so can false teachers teach true doctrine. Whatever was the nature and subject of Saul's prophesying, the fact itself is not inconsistent with his being possessed by an evil spirit. An enlightened, or at least an instructed understanding may be connected with an impure heart, so that a man may utter true sayings while meditating dark deeds. This possibility is permitted for wise purposes. The normal state of man is to speak as he thinks and act as he wills. This was his original state. But when the heart became depraved, it was necessary to emancipate the understanding from the absolute control of the will, so as to enable a man to look into his own heart, and see its state, and control its unruly motions. Yet this very gift may be abused, for a man may now employ his thoughts to conceal his intentions, or to carry them out with greater ingenuity. Saul could therefore prophesy in the midst of his house, while he meditated smiting David to the wall with his javelin, and which he attempted even while David played with his hand as at other times, to drive away by his sweet strains the evil spirit with which Saul was possessed. David avoided out of his presence twice, to mark the immunity from harm that results from the combined power of a good heart with a true understanding.

From being an object of hate David now became to Saul an object of fear, "because the Lord was with him, and was departed from Saul." This is not the fear that precedes love, but the fear that supplants it; that which occupies the centre of the mind, while love is removed to the outside. Therefore Saul removed David from him, and made him his captain over a thousand. This was not intended although it proved to be a means of increasing David's power and his favour with the people, while it represented the growing influence and power of the spiritual over the natural in the regenerate mind. For the state here represented is that in which the spiritual is subject to the natural, but in which the natural by its own acts undermines its own power. It is true of the mind as well as of the world, "The wrath of man shall praise You, and the remainder of wrath shall You restrain "(Ps 76:10). The opposition of the human to the Divine, and of the natural to the spiritual, tends to strengthen and exalt them. David could not but prosper, for the Lord was with him, because he behaved himself wisely in all his ways, and all Israel and Judah loved him because he went out and came in before them. When the highest and the lowest are with us who can be against us? If the inward man behave wisely in all things, and act consistently in all states of life from beginning to end, there can no evil befall him, but good must be in and around him. As David became more an object of love with the people, he became more an object of fear with Saul. Another scheme was now, therefore, formed for his destruction. Saul proposed to give David his eldest daughter in marriage, but he made the gift conditional on his righting the Lord's battles; for he said, "Let not mine hand be upon him, but let the hand of the Philistines be upon him." Saul had two daughters, and they remind us of the two daughters of Laban, Leah and Rachel. Unlike Jacob, David did not marry both the sisters. The eldest, who had been promised to David, was, for no assigned reason, given to another; but the youngest, who loved David, was offered to him on condition of his giving Saul as a dowry a hundred foreskins of the Philistines. Michal, like Rachel, represented an internal affection for truth: we can hardly call it spiritual, in the sense that the affection was which Rachel represented; for Michal partook too much of the character of Saul. That which she represented was rather an inner natural affection. Nor is it said that David loved Michal, but only that Michal loved David; so that there was not the mutual affection between them that there was between Jacob and his beloved Rachel. Yet David did not slight the idea of being the king's son-in-law, but joyfully agreed to the condition on which he was to win Michal as his bride. When David had escaped safely out of the snare that Saul had laid for him, and had slain twice the number of Philistines demanded of him, Saul gave him Michal his daughter to wife. Saul had hoped to rid himself of David, but now he was more securely fixed than ever in his position in the kingdom, and still nearer to the throne. What must have been his feelings when the two hundred foreskins of the Philistines were given to him in full tale! They might have taught him, what they represented, that he himself was uncircumcised in heart; while David had obeyed by anticipation the command that was afterwards given, and which had always been included in the law of ordinances, "Circumcise yourselves to the Lord, and take away the foreskins of your hearts "(Jer 4:5). Such was evidently the opposite states of the two parties to this singular covenant; and such is its lesson to us. No wonder "Saul saw and knew that the Lord was with David;" but it does seem wonderful that, knowing this, and knowing that his own daughter loved him, Saul should yet be more afraid of David, and should become David's enemy continually. But such is the carnal mind which Saul represented. "The carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be." This mind is not and cannot be changed and made spiritual, but must be put off, and not by the natural process of decay, but by strife and violence.

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