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1 Samuel 20
The subject of this chapter is painfully interesting and deeply affecting. As a part of inspiration, given for correction and instruction in righteousness, it is not less edifying. But our limits will compel us to make our observations more general than we could wish. We have, besides, already treated of the friendship between David and Jonathan, of which we have here so beautiful a manifestation.
The history tells us nothing more of Saul on his visit to Samuel, but leaves him in his prophetic madness lying naked upon the ground. His presence and prophesying do not, however, seem to have reassured David, "who fled from Naioth in Ramah, and came and said before Jonathan, What have I done? what is mine iniquity? and what is my sin before your father, that he seeks my life?" Such was now David's distress, and his despair of finding any way of escape from Saul's wrath, that he declared to Jonathan, "Truly as the Lord lives, and as your soul lives, there is but a step between me and death." David's bitterness of spirit was but a faint image of that of David's Lord, when He said, "My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even to death "(Matt 26:38). It is very expressive also of a state of mind which is produced by all severe spiritual trial. "Temptations are attended with devastations and desolations, and also with despairings, and with consequent feelings of grief and indignation." These trials and temptations, in which the evils of his nature are excited by the agency of evil spirits, give the Christian a view of the state of his own natural mind, as the seat of hereditary depravity and acquired evil, which is sufficient to produce all those feelings. It is through these evils that the temptations come; and temptation is permitted, that these evils, by being excited, may be seen, and being seen, may be condemned, and being condemned, may be removed. It is the inner man that sees and abhors them. For the state which is here represented is that described by the Apostle, in which the Christian delights in the law of God after the inward man, but sees another law in his members warring against the law of his mind, and bringing him into captivity to the law of sin which is in his members (Rom 7:22, 23). In regard to the Lord, He not only delighted in the law of God after the inward man; His inward man was the law itself; and the law in His members that warred against the law of His mind, was the natural mind which He, in common with His creatures, inherited from His human parent. It was in consequence of inheriting our common nature that He was in all points tempted as we are, but with this all-important difference, that in Him temptation was without sin. In the Lord evil tendencies never become evil acts; they had no active existence but as temptations. In those who are being regenerated evils are not only felt as desires, but come forth as sins. So true is it that no man lives and sins not, and that in temptation no mere man comes up to the full measure of the stature of Christ, since, in all his doings and sufferings, if he does not actually sin, he comes short of the glory of God. David was able to say, "What have I done? what is mine iniquity? what is my sin before your father?" Jesus was able to say, "Which of you convinces Me of sin? "His sinlessness was different from David's, it was absolute and invariable. Yet David's innocence, under the present harassment and provocation, was a not unworthy shadow of the coming substance.
It would appear that while under the protection of Samuel, David, though harassed by Saul, was in no real danger of his life, since Saul and his messengers, when they came within the sphere of the prophet, were for the moment changed into other men. It may therefore seem singular that David should leave his place of safety, and return with the intention of taking his usual place at Saul's table. "Behold," he says to Jonathan, "to-morrow is the new moon, and I should not fail to sit with the king at meat." Yet fearing a repetition of Saul's violence, David expressed a wish to remain in the field until the third day at even, and engaged Jonathan to excuse his absence to his father on the plea that he had earnestly asked leave to go to Bethlehem, his city, for there was a yearly sacrifice there for all the family. The new moon was the occasion of an appointed festival in the Israelitish Church (Num 10:10), because it represented the beginning of a new state, especially a state of faith, which the moon symbolizes; and, therefore, over their sacrifices and burnt-offerings they were to blow the silver trumpets, made of a whole piece (Num 10:2), to represent the unity of faith as the means of expressing the affection of charity. But this new moon was no time of rejoicing for David. The silver trumpet did not speak to him of faith and love, but of unfaithfulness and hatred. Evil had changed its peaceful and jubilant note into a sound of war and alarm. The new moon served the purpose, however, of David excusing himself for being absent from Saul's table on this festive occasion.
Saul missed David on the first day, but accounted to himself for his absence by supposing he was prevented from appearing by some legal unclcanness. When he did not appear the second day, Saul said to Jonathan, "Wherefore comes not the son of Jesse to meat, neither yesterday, nor today?" Jonathan gave the concerted answer. Saul was not to be deceived by this pretence. His pent-up rage vented itself in a form most offensive to an Israelitish son, by making a reproachful allusion to his mother. He revealed at the same time the real cause of his determined attempts to rid himself of David. "For," he said, "as long as the son of Jesse lives upon the ground, you shall not be established, nor your kingdom. Wherefore now send and fetch him to me, for he shall surely die." On Jonathan's advocating the cause of his friend, Saul cast at his son a javelin, which had no doubt been intended for the son of Jesse. "So Jonathan arose from the table in fierce anger, and did eat no meat the second day of the month."
As Saul's enmity to David represents the enmity of the natural man to the spiritual, and his assaults upon him represent the temptation-conflicts that arise from that enmity, we may learn from these particulars something relating to our Christian life and experience, and even to the life and experience of Him who is "the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him that endured such contradiction of sinners against Himself, lest you be wearied and faint in your minds" (Heb 12:2, 3). We have the encouragement and warning of another witness, who tells us that "when man is in temptation his internal spiritual man is under the Lord's rule by means of angels, but his external or natural man is under the rule of infernal spirits; and the contest between them is perceived in man as temptation. Resistance arises from the natural man."
If David left a place of safety to return to the scene of danger, it was because it was the sphere of duty. Our Lord withdrew Himself from those who sought His life, but returned again to the scene of strife, because it was His sphere of usefulness. So the Christian flees from manifest danger and seeks refuge in the sanctuary of his God amid the angels of His presence, but comes forth again in obedience to the call of duty.
The first thing that David did when he returned was to ask through Jonathan what he had done to justify his father in seeking his life. In this and in what is further related in this chapter respecting Jonathan's kind office, in coming between David and Saul, we may see the exemplification of another truth relating to the Lord and to man.
Jonathan, seeking to cheer his friend and to assuage the wrath of his father, is true to his character as a medium, whose use it is to reconcile things that are discordant, especially the inward and the outward man, and of the two to make one new man.
The principle of mediation enters, as we have had occasion to show, into the whole economy of religion, and indeed into the economy of the entire universe, natural and spiritual. As nothing can act through a vacuum, universal attraction requires a universal medium. This is supplied by the ethereal fluid which extends through all space, and "penetrates the earth and the water, preserving the terraqueous globe in its present harmony and impelling it in its rotations." The sun could not convey its light and heat to the earth without (he medium of the atmosphere. The same law rules in the spiritual world. Things that are distinct are connected, things that are discordant are reconciled, through mediums. This prevails in all things from the lowest to the highest, until we come by the supremest of all, the Lord's Humanity, which is the reconciling and uniting medium between God and man. And not only so, but it was the Father's will "that in the dispensation of the fullness of times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth" (Eph 1:10); and "to reconcile all things to Himself, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven "(Col 1:20). With respect to the present case, there are mediums for connecting and reconciling the internal and the external man. "The internal cannot have communication with the external without a medium. The interior or rational man is intermediate between the internal and external, and enables the internal to flow into the external: without it, there could be no communication between them." In the work of regeneration, which is the reconciling of the internal and the external man, and of what is spiritual and what is natural in man, there are also mediums. "During the process of regeneration man is kept by the Lord in a kind of mediatory good, which serves for introducing genuine goods and truths. Every one who has any knowledge of regeneration and of the new man can comprehend that the new man is altogether different from the old, for he is in the affection of spiritual and celestial things, which constitute his delight and blessedness, whereas the old man is in the affection of worldly and earthly things, these constituting his delights and satisfactions. Thus the new man has respect to heavenly ends, but the old man to worldly ends. Hence it is manifest that the new man is altogether other and different from the old. In order that man may be led from the state of the old man into the state of the new, worldly lusts must be put off and heavenly affections must be put on. This is effected by innumerable means, which are known to the Lord alone, and of which some are known to the angels from the Lord, but few if any to men. Nevertheless all these are manifested in the internal sense of the Word. While, therefore, man from the old man is being made into the new, or while he is being regenerated, this is not effected in a moment, as some suppose, but by a process of several years, nay, of a man's whole life, even to the last period; for his lusts are to be extirpated, and heavenly affections are to be insinuated, and he is to be gifted with a life which he had not before, and of which he had scarcely any notion. Since, therefore, the states of his life are to be so much changed, he must be kept for a considerable time in a sort of middle good, that is, in a good which partakes both of the affections of the world and of heaven." In Saul's attempt to slay Jonathan we have a figure of the resistance of the natural man to the influence of the spiritual, as operating through the medium of that real truth which is ever striving to remove the enmity of the natural against the spiritual, by removing the unworthy ends by which it is actuated, and the fallacies by which they are supported. But so long as natural ends prevail and seek to have the dominion, so long will the false principle, like the javelin of Saul, be ready to be cast at the truth in whatever form or through whatever channel it comes. Jonathan's fierce anger is but a mode of representatively expressing the entire disagreement existing between the natural and the spiritual, and the apparent and the real in man; as anger, when predicated of God, is expressive of the disagreement between the Divine and the human mind.
But Jonathan, when he went out in anger from the presence of Saul, came in love to the hiding-place of David. By agreement between the two friends David hid himself till Jonathan should ascertain Saul's temper towards him. When Jonathan came to the place where David had concealed himself he shot three arrows; and by a preconcerted direction to his attendant, David was made aware that his safety was in flight. Truths from the armoury of the Word of God, of which these winged messengers were the symbols, instruct the mind respecting the condition of things, and give either encouragement or warning as the circumstances admit or require.
But the shooting of the arrows. David was to come to the place where he hid himself when the business was in hand, and remain by the stone Ezel. "And I will," said Jonathan, "shoot three arrows on the side thereof, as though I shot at a mark. And, behold, I will send a lad, saying, Go, find out the arrows. If I expressly say to the lad, Behold, the arrows are on this side of you, take them; then come you: for there is peace to you, and no hurt; as the Lord lives. But if I say thus to the young man, Behold, the arrows are beyond you; go your way: for the Lord has sent you away." This hiding to escape a threatened danger is that which is spoken of by David himself. "In the shadow of Your wings will I make my refuge, until these calamities be over" (Ps 57:1); and of which Isaiah speaks when he says, "Come, my people, enter you into your chambers, and shut your doors about you: hide yourself as it were for a little moment, until the indignation be over "(Is 26:20). The Lord is our refuge in time of trouble; but to make Him our refuge we must raise our thoughts and affections upward, or what is the same, turn them inward; for unless the Lord dwells in the heaven within us, it will avail us little to look up to the heaven without us. The interiors of the mind are the inner chambers where the spiritual life may be preserved in safety until the indignation of the natural man be over. The Word also is a place of safety, because the Lord is present with us and in us by His Word. It is the stone Ezel, by which we must remain in our time of trouble. It is also, as it were, the touchstone by which our state and fate are determined. If Jonathan shot within the mark of the stone, it was to be a sign of safety; if beyond, it was to be a sign of danger. Within is the spirit of the Word, beyond or without is the letter; and the letter kills, but the spirit gives life (2 Cor 3:6). The Word, also, like the stone Ezel, as its name imports, shows us the way; and even if it be but the way of departure, it is at least the way out of danger and of escape from evil.
When Jonathan's attendant had gathered up the arrows and gone away into the town, "David arose out of a place toward the south, and fell on his face to the ground, and bowed himself three times: and they kissed one another, and wept with one another, until David exceeded." To rise toward the south is to rise into a state of spiritual light and intelligence; to fall with the face to the earth and bow three times is to be in a state of profound humiliation; and to kiss one another is to be united in love; while to weep over their common troubles and on account of their enforced outward separation, is expressive of grief at the discordance existing between the natural and the spiritual man, and at the consequent enforced separation of goodness and truth, the concord and union of which constitute heaven and happiness. This severance lies at the foundation of all grief; it is this which opens the fountain of tears in all eyes. The fact that we weep from excess of joy as well as of sorrow does not invalidate this truth. The feeling that produces tears is connected with that of separation; and the intense joy that wells up from the heart through the eyes is only the opening of a fountain that a settled sorrow may have long sealed up. Jesus wept; and His tears expressed both grief and love, sorrow and joy. He wept over the doomed city of Jerusalem and at the grave of Lazarus. His tears at the grave of Lazarus must have been expressive of joy as well as of sympathizing sorrow; for He knew, though the weeping sisters of Lazarus knew not, that He was about to raise him from the dead. And when we consider that the resurrection of Lazarus was a type of the Lord's raising up a Church among the Gentiles, we must regard this as a part of the joy that was set before Him.
To look at the subject in relation to ourselves. David himself exhorts us to kiss the Son lest He be angry, and we perish from the way (Ps 2:12)—to seek conjunction with the Lord by love. The Lord sympathizes with us in all our sufferings. He weeps over us while we are yet in our sins; He weeps in us when we shed the tears of repentance; and He weeps with us when we weep for joy. This feeling of sympathy between the Saviour and the saved arises from His being "touched with a feeling of our infirmities," because He "was in all points tempted like as we are" (Heb 4:15). But in all the Lord's weeping in us and with us, He, like David with Jonathan, will ever "exceed" in all the tenderest affections that can be excited in our hearts. It is from Him that our godly sorrow and our heavenly joy come; and He who supplies all must exceed in all that He supplies. Hut the Lord gives us not only sympathy but aid: "For in that He Himself has suffered being tempted, He is able to succour them that are tempted" (Heb 2:18).
Before these two tender friends parted, Jonathan reminded David of the covenant to which both of them had sworn in the name of the Lord, and which was between them and their seed for ever.
The Christian's covenant with the Lord extends to all states of love and faith which are successively begotten in the heart and understanding and born in the life, of which, in the regenerate, there is no end.13 previous - next - BM Home - Full Page