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Saul, part 19

David Penetrates Saul's Camp and Takes his Spear.

1 Samuel 26

THE subject of the present chapter is so similar in its character to that which formed the subject of a previous one, that we have to some extent anticipated the lesson which it must be our main object to deduce from it. Had its moral tone been different we might have passed it over, not as being less Divine and instructive, but as being less necessary for our instruction, after dwelling on an incident the leading features of which are the same. Those parts of the sacred history which present more of the dark side of human nature are not less necessary to show us what human nature really is, than are those which exhibit its bright side to show us what it is capable of becoming. But it is pleasant, and may be made profitable, to linger at those brighter and fresher spots which we meet with in our progress through the historical Word, as it is at those we meet with in our progress through the historical world.

Much as we meet with in the Scriptures, in their simple literal sense, that is painfully indicative of the degraded state of human nature, and which may well convince us of the truth of the Scripture declaration, that the heart of man is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked, there are yet some things that no less pleasingly exhibit the nobility of human nature, and its capability of being restored by regeneration, which is a new creation, to the image and likeness of God.

Natural men have, it is true, exhibited beautiful traits of humanity, in times of war and in moments of triumph, as well as in seasons of peace and periods of humiliation. All these reveal the divinity of man's origin, and the presence of God in the minds and affairs of men, even when He is in heart unacknowledged. The good of the natural and even of the wicked man is from the same origin as that of the spiritual and righteous. There is none good but one, that is God. Good in the creature is from the Creator, and is the Creator's in him. The fragrant scent and blushing beauty of the rose are not more truly dependent on the influence of the sun of this world, than are all kind feelings and beautiful thoughts on the Sun of heaven; they all have their beginning in Him who causes His sun to rise alike on the evil and on the good. There is, nevertheless, a wide difference between the spiritual and the natural man. On one point it is this. The spiritual man traces all that he possesses of the good and the beautiful to Him who gives it, and returns it in grateful acknowledgement to its bountiful Giver, connecting himself by means of the gift with Him who bestows it. The natural man regards himself as the author of whatever good he possesses or performs, and, by claiming the merit which is due to God, cuts himself off from that conjunction which is effected by reciprocation. The natural man, with all his excellences, remains natural, because he looks not and desires not above nature. His virtues are full of himself, and are therefore inwardly tainted with his natural corruptions. The virtues of the spiritual man are spiritual, because the Spirit of the Lord is in them, and that which gives them an eternal end gives them an eternal existence.

While, therefore, we contemplate those manifestations of the good and the beautiful in human conduct, of which we find such fine examples in the Sacred Scriptures, we should ascribe them to that Being in whom all that is good originates, and regard them as the shadow of His wings, falling upon this world of ours, to relieve the lurid light which the fire of unhallowed passion sheds upon it. And as the Gospel requires us to be perfect even as our Father in heaven is perfect, all that in the human character which reflects anything of the Divine, we should seek to realize in our own, that we may be assimilated to the likeness of Him in whom all perfection dwells.

The beautiful incident which we are now to consider differs in a few particulars from that which engaged our attention in the twenty-fourth chapter.

It was after David had left the wilderness of Paran, and had taken up his abode in the wilderness of Ziph, that Saul, again thirsting for his blood, set out with three thousand of his men in search of him. The wilderness of Ziph is in the territory of the tribe of Judah, and Hachilah is at no great distance from Engedi, where the previous encounter of David with Saul, so similar in its character to the present, took place. The desert still points to a state of temptation, and Hachilah, the "dark" or "dusky," indicates, as some other particulars to which we shall have occasion to advert, a state of temptation having more immediate relation to the understanding than to the will. And wherever indeed two circumstances, and even two expressions, occur in the Word, similar to each other, one relates to the will and the other to the understanding, as the two faculties of the mind in which the principles of love and faith have their abode, and which are to be distinctly perfected by regeneration. It was in the dark hill of Hachilah that Saul pitched when in pursuit of David; and here the singularly interesting circumstances took place, which so strongly mark the conduct of David as generous and forbearing. When David, who abode in the wilderness, heard that Saul had come indeed, he arose and came to the place where Saul had pitched. Without some Divine impulse to prompt or Divine voice to direct him, it is difficult to account for David's venturing into the midst of the camp, where the sacred person of the king was surrounded by three thousand men, and no doubt usually guarded by his immediate attendants. He found them indeed asleep; but this was not the ordinary condition of the camp, but was produced supernaturally, "because a deep sleep from the Lord was fallen upon them." The same supernatural agency must have acted upon David, to lead him into the midst of his enemies. Nor can we reasonably doubt that a Divine influence caused him to act that noble part, by which he again disarmed the wrath and won the admiration of his cruel persecutor.

So is it with the Christian. In times of danger the Lord provides for the safety of those who trust in Him. David himself has uttered the language of the Christian in these times of tribulation: "Though an host should encamp against me, my heart shall not fear: though war should rise against me, in this will I be confident." And this confidence, in circumstances corresponding to the present, may be expressed in other words of the same inspired writer: "The stouthearted are spoiled, they have slept their sleep: and none of the men of might have found their hands. At Your rebuke, O God of Jacob, both the chariot and horse are cast into a dead sleep." What then is this sleep into which the Lord casts the enemies of His people, the persecutors of the souls of the innocent—of those very enemies and persecutors that are to be found in our own bosoms? For in our own hearts is the war of the flesh against the spirit, the world against heaven, and self against God, in which all our conflicts of a spiritual kind consist. Briefly, spiritual war is the opposition of the natural mind against the spiritual. It is the natural mind that is laid asleep; and during the state which is represented by sleep the spiritual mind descends into it and performs its beneficent work, which that of David in the camp of Saul represented. The particular condition of the mind here and in similar instances meant by sleep, is that state in which the appetites and passions of the natural mind are brought into a state of quiescence. When sickness or misfortune fall upon men, while they are yet in a comparatively natural state, their minds are subdued, their eagerness in pursuit of the world and their desires for the advancement of self are moderated; and some would then freely give up all they possess or had desired in exchange for their soul.

A still deeper sleep may fall upon the natural mind without these natural agencies. The fear of death and judgement has a still greater influence on minds in a certain religious condition—a condition in which there is more dread of hell than love of heaven—in which the conscience accuses rather than excuses. When the Scriptures talk of judgement, how many like Felix tremble; and their rebellious motions are quelled for the moment within them. The natural appetites and passions are cast into a sleep still more profound when, not merely a dread of punishment, but a conviction and sense of sin are impressed upon the mind. The sleep of passion produced by any of these causes is from the Lord; for it is His Providence and His Spirit that bring men into this state. The effects produced may in some cases be but temporary; like Saul, the mind may return to its former state; but even when contrition is temporary, it is not entirely useless. Even with those who are being regenerated, there are alternations of state. Theirs is not a life of sinning and repenting; but they have their times of disturbance and tranquillity, of sleep and wakefulness, of joy and sorrow. Those who are spiritually minded have indeed states and experiences peculiar to themselves, states in which these apparently, and in some sense really, opposite conditions of life exist at the same time. They may be subject to outward tribulation while they enjoy inward peace, they may be in outward obscurity while they have inward light, and their sensuous nature may be cast into a deep sleep while their spiritual is in a state of complete wakefulness. In relation to the regenerating man, who is still in the wilderness, this state is represented by the scene which the present part of the history presents to our minds. Saul and all his host are buried in profound slumber, while David and his companion penetrate into the very midst of the camp, and take away from the pillow of the king his spear and his jug of water.

And when the rebellious passions of our natural man are quelled into rest, when a deep sleep from the Lord, by any of His providential acts or spiritual operations, has fallen upon them, and our spiritual man is awake, and has ascertained the condition of the mind below, then is the time to go down, and pass through, and enter into the very inmost of the natural thoughts and affections, to examine, that we may discover their real state, with the view of depriving them of their power to injure our spiritual life, or of bringing them into harmony with it. Do we thus improve our opportunities? When the outward joyfulness of life is taken away, when the animal spirits are depressed, or when any more spiritual cause produces deep slumber in the propensities of the natural mind, do we, in the dark silence, enter faithfully if not fearlessly into self-examination? This is our duty, and if faithfully and judiciously performed, it will result in important advantage to our souls. Saul's wrath was, for the moment at least, turned away by the courageous but wise and merciful conduct of David, which thus proved the means of his present preservation, and no doubt had some share in making this the last attempt that Saul made upon his life. As on the former occasion, David was exhorted to kill Saul, and rid himself at once of his enemy; but David still retained his veneration for Saul as the Lord's anointed. As on the previous occasion, too, he did what was necessary to show that he had the power if disposed to use it. He took away from the king's bolster the spear and the jug of water: two of the most necessary means for the defence and support of his life. And when he had awakened the king, he showed him these as evidences of his power and mercy.

And what does this teach us in regard to ourselves? It instructs us that when the duty of self-examination is faithfully performed, it will result in transferring all the power of the natural man to the spiritual, and in convincing the natural man himself that his life and the means of it belong to the spiritual. This act of David, like that of cutting off the skirt of Saul's robe, may be considered prophetic of his future possession of the kingly power; and such is every corresponding act of the mind. The spiritual mind acquires dominion over the natural gradually, and by successive acts; but it is not till it has made its last conquest that the kingdom or government is entirely its own. Every act, however, makes its power felt and acknowledged, and brings some degree of submission, and prepares the way for a more unreserved, and finally for a full surrender. The jug of water and the spear are symbols of truth as the means of support and defence, though sometimes turned by the natural man into means for his own support, independently of the spiritual, and for offence and defence against him. The true state of the case is, that all which the natural mind has of truth or of good belongs to the spiritual; and it is not till this is seen and acknowledged, and until it is carried into practice, that there is a state of true harmony and union between the two conflicting parts of our nature, and the inner and outer man become truly one.

Until this is effected, we must expect tribulation, and we must or should be prepared to meet our trials, whatever they may be, with faithfulness, but with reverence arid temperance. Let us not suppose that trials are only to be recognised in great calamities. Every day brings its trials, for every day brings some trial of our temper, our patience, our charity, our forbearance, our endurance. And our principles are tested and may be manifested in these as well, though not perhaps so much, as in matters of more seeming importance. There is nothing so small in the conduct of our minds and lives as to be unimportant; and it may be well for us to remember that he who is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much. He who is faithful in the duties of a day is most likely to be faithful in the duties of a whole life; and he who attends to the least of his thoughts and actions will be likely to attend to the greatest.

Whether, therefore, our trials and temptations be great or small, let us be faithful and trustful; and the end will be peace.

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