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Saul, part 4

Saul Releases The Inhabitants Of Jabesh-Gilead And Defeats The Ammonites.

1 Samuel 11

THE regal power having been set up in Israel for the purpose of delivering the people from their surrounding and powerful enemies, it was not long before an occasion arose to call forth the energies of their newly-elected king. The town of Jabesh-gilead had been invested by Nahash, king of the Ammonites, and, to save their lives, the inhabitants had agreed to the ignominious condition imposed upon them, of having their right eyes thrust out; and this was to be regarded not only as a mark of their own submission, but as a reproach upon all Israel—as a sign that the whole power of the Israelitish nation was unable to prevent the indignity threatened to the inhabitants of the invested city. On this ground, we may suppose, the request was made and granted, that seven days should be allowed for the besieged to send messengers into all the coasts of Israel to ask for help. The enfeebled and disorganized state of the Israelitish people, as a matter well known to their enemies, is strikingly evinced by the fact of Nahash granting what he evidently had the power to refuse, and which he no doubt believed he could grant with perfect safety.

When the messengers came to Gibeah of Saul, the people heard the tidings with the grief of despair; they lifted up their voices and wept. The condition and conduct of Saul on this occasion, considered only as ordinary history, is equal to the finest parts of classic story. Anointed by the hand of the prophet-priest, and himself raised by inspiration to the dignity of a prophet, Saul had returned to his former occupation, and appears now returning from the field after the herd. On learning the cause of their lamentation, the Spirit of God comes upon him, and, by means of a dreaded sign, he collects a large army, and effects the deliverance of the beleaguered city.

The circumstances of the history thus set before us are chiefly interesting to us as describing, in a representative manner, one of the many states of the Christian life and experience, for the sake of which the Word was written. In one aspect life is a warfare. The flesh lusts against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh. This contrariety gives rise to frequent conflict, and necessitates constant watchfulness to prevent the evils of our nature from obtaining dominidn over us and reducing us to a state of servitude. These evils are various, numerous, and powerful. They were represented by the nations and peoples hostile to the children of Israel. Each of them represented some distinct evil, more or less directly opposed to the good which springs from love to God and charity to man. One of those evils was represented by the Ammonites, the nature of which we must now consider.

Moab and Ammon were the two sons of Lot by his daughters. They and their descendants are mentioned in Scripture both in a good and in a bad sense. In a good sense Moab and Ammon signify those who are in natural goodness and truth; in a bad sense they signify those who pervert and profane goodness and truth. When the Israelites in their pilgrimage came to where the children of Lot dwelt, they were commanded not to distress, or fight against, or seize the land of the Moabites and the children of Ammon, for the Lord had given it to them for a possession; and the reason assigned for leaving them undisturbed is, that they had destroyed the giants, and now dwelt in their land. When goodness and truth, however external, remove evil and falsity, and take their place, the Lord does not disturb or disinherit them. But natural goodness and truth are liable, on the other hand, to turn against and oppose spiritual goodness and truth. We see this clearly enough exemplified by the Moabites and Ammonites of the present day. People who are good and true in the natural degree, and who abhor and shun what is grossly evil and false, may yet be opposed to everything spiritual. Yet while they live peaceably they should be left in peace, that is to say, free from hostile opposition; even although their goodness and truth may, like the children of Lot by his daughters, have been begotten by an intoxicated intellect acting under the influence and through the medium of spurious affections. When, however, they actively oppose, and especially when they pervert and profane what is spiritual, they are to be resisted, and they come under the curse at times pronounced against them in Moses and the prophets. Those who profane goodness are spiritual Moabites, and those who profane truth are spiritual Ammonites. When we apply the subject to our own minds, the Ammonites represent the truths themselves which are profaned, and. consequently, the false persuasions and sinful practices which arise from that profanation. But what are we to understand by the profanation of truth, and the false persuasions and sinful practices that spring from it? To profane truth is to pervert its meaning and falsify its teaching, so as to make it appear to favour evil. Truth is nothing but the teacher and minister of goodness. Without reference to goodness truth is but an empty name; it is expressive of no quality, and is directed to no useful end. But truth can hardly be considered, and is seldom found, without relation to some subject or object. If it has not relation to goodness, it will generally be found to have relation to evil. But it acquires this relation by being perverted. And yet it may, in its perverted state, be most highly honoured. For instance, it is a truth that of himself man is only evil, and can do nothing that is truly good. But this truth is perverted when it is maintained that, therefore, what are called good works contribute nothing to salvation; so that a man must trust for salvation to the merit of Christ. This truth is still further profaned when it is held that, being entirely corrupt, man can do nothing but evil, therefore that evil does not condemn those who are justified through faith. True it is that man of himself can do nothing that is good, but it is equally true that he can do all things by Christ strengthening him.

Besides the doctrinal forms which perverted truth has assumed, and which have gradually risen out of the evils of the human heart, in their desire and effort to free themselves from the restraints which truth has laid upon them, there are other shapes which it spontaneously takes in the ordinary operations of the mind in everyday life. Every attentive observer of human nature must have seen that there are two very different classes of men in society. There are those who are continually striving to bring their practice up to their principles, and there are those who are constantly striving to bring their principles down to their practice. Those who belong to the first class are they who have conscientiously adopted what they believe to be the truth, and honestly strive to realize it in their lives; while those who belong to the second class are they who know or profess right principles, but who are continually trying to justify themselves for departing from them in practice on the plea of custom or necessity.

In considering the Ammonitish character in connection with the present subject, which allows us to apply it to the individual mind, it is not necessary to assume its actual existence among those who are the true Israel of God. Those who have really entered on the regenerate life cannot be supposed to act as profaners of truth, but they can be, and no doubt sometimes are, tempted to commit this great sin. The evils that are actually committed by some exist potentially in all, and are only prevented from coming forth into the life, either by prudential consideration on the one hand or by the controlling and corrective power of truth on the other. In the progress of the regenerate life, the evils of our nature are excited by the influence of evil spirits acting from within in connection with inducements acting from without. It is possible for Christians to suffer temptations from which others may be exempt; since the perfection of the Christian life requires not only that evils should not be committed, but that the very inclination to commit them should be overcome. This is one of the reasons that evil is so prominent a subject of the Scriptures, and that so much more is said as to the necessity of shunning evil than the duty of doing good, it being still more important that evil should not be committed than that good should be done. Good may be done without evil being eradicated from the heart; but the eradication of evil is sure to result in the doing of good. The good that is done before evil is removed is only outward good, but that which follows the removal of evil is inward, and therefore saving.

To view the history in its particular sense. A temptation to profane the truth being described representatively by the attempt of Nahash the Ammonite to take Jabesh-gilead, the place, the people, and the circumstances all tend to throw light on the subject, and to instruct us respecting the consequences of yielding to the assault; for it is Israel that is tempted, and Nahash that tempts.

Gilead was on the other side Jordan, and was in that part of the land that was given as an inheritance to the half tribe of Manasseh. For when the Israelites came to the promised land, two tribes and a half were permitted to take their inheritance on the other side of the river, on account of the rich pasturage it afforded for their cattle; but there was this peculiarity with respect to Manasseh, that one half the tribe took their lot in Canaan, while the other half remained in Gilead. By this arrangement the tribes in Canaan itself represented the principles of the Church in the inner man, and the tribes out of Canaan represented the principles of the Church in the outer man; while Manasseh represented the conjoining medium between them. Manasseh and Ephraim, the two sons of Joseph, represented spiritual goodness and truth, or charity and faith. But the half tribes of Manasseh outside of Canaan represented goodness or charity in the natural mind. The men of Jabesh-gilead belonged therefore to the tribe of Manasseh, and represented mutual love or charity in the external man or natural mind. But they were in a city, which signifies doctrine; so that Jabesh-gilead represented the doctrine of mutual love or charity. Doctrine is a defence for the principles it contains, as a city is for its inhabitants. Jabesh signifies, and was so called from the heat of the sun upon it, because it lay upon a mountain. Before the present instance, this city and its inhabitants are mentioned only once; and that serves to explain the cause and nature of the danger, spiritually considered, to which they were now exposed. They are mentioned in connection with one of the most singular transactions of that most singular book—the Book of Judges.

A Levite passing the night, on his homeward journey, in one of the cities of Benjamin, some of its inhabitants, sons of Belial, abused his concubine so shamefully that she died. The Levite divided the body into twelve pieces, and sent them through all the coasts of Israel. The people rose as one man to avenge so dreadful a crime; and so terrible was the revenge, that they not only destroyed the greater part of the tribe of Benjamin, but they vowed that they would not again give any of them his daughter to Benjamin to wife. But the people soon relented, and began to lament that a tribe should be cut off from Israel. The few remaining Benjamites had taken refuge in a rocky fastness of the desert; but as their vow did not permit the other tribes to give them wives, the extinction of the tribe seemed inevitable. In this dilemma inquiry was made, which one of the tribes had not come up to Mizpeh and appeared before the Lord when the vow was made; and it was found that none of the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead were there. Twelve thousand men were sent against Jabesh, who slew the entire population, except four hundred virgins, whom they saved as wives for the Benjamites.

It is easy to see that the dreadful outrage of the wicked Benjamites on the wife of the Levite involved the crime of profanation. The men of Jabesh-gilead, by not joining the rest of the tribes to avenge this enormity, virtually consented to it, and thus became partakers of the crime of those who had committed it. All, therefore, were destroyed, with the exception of the four hundred virgins, representing that only those affections which had not been united to and defiled by the falsities of so great an evil could be preserved and united to truths. The Benjamites, who had committed the crime, and the men of Jabesh, who had consented to it, were, with a few exceptions, both destroyed, and the remnants of the males of one tribe, and the remnants of the females of another, were united to preserve and build up a tribe anew. Thus is it also sometimes spiritually. Departure from the principles and path of religion may be so serious as to almost exterminate all perception of truth and affection of goodness; but by the Lord's providence a remnant of both may be saved, that when repentance and amendment take place, the remains of what is good and true may be brought together and united to form the commencement of a new state of life.

Profanation being the subject treated of in the war of Nahash against the men of Jabesh, their previous crime may be supposed to have contributed to bring upon them the present assault, or may show, if not in their actual, at least in their representative character, the ground of such an attack. The people, it is true, were not the same, but their representative character was not necessarily changed. In the present case we see in the men of Jabesh a disposition to yield to Nahash; for they offer to serve the Ammonites, and are only deterred by the hard conditions imposed upon them. We now come to inquire what those conditions signify.

We can easily account for those conditions on natural grounds. Putting out the right eye, like cutting off the thumbs and great toes, according to the barbarous custom of the times, was for the purpose of rendering them unfit for war. This natural reason is not inconsistent with the spiritual sense.

The eyes of the body correspond to the understanding of the mind, the right eye to the understanding of good, the left eye to the understanding of truth. This signification of the eyes, and of the right eye in particular, is clear from the manner of Divine speech, as we find it in the New Testament, "The light of the body is the eye: if therefore your eye be single, your whole body shall be full of light. But if your eye be evil, your whole body shall be full of darkness." The mind is the spiritual body, and all that is said of the material is true of the spiritual. When the eye is evil, the evil eye, or the evil that is in the eye, must be removed, that the body itself may be preserved. "If your right eye offend you, pluck it out, and cast it from you: for it is profitable for you that one of your members should perish, and not that your whole body should be cast into hell." This plucking out of the right eye in obedience to the will of God is the opposite of the thrusting out of the right eye in obedience to the will of man, as the enemy of God. One denotes the removal from the understanding of the evil which prevents the perception of goodness, the other involves the destruction of the faculty itself by which goodness is perceived. This is the consequence of profaning the truth. It deprives the mind of the power of perceiving goodness; it puts out the right eye; and this is for a reproach upon all Israel, for when the understanding of goodness is destroyed the whole mind is full of darkness. Errors in matters of faith obscure the understanding, but do not necessarily corrupt the heart. Such errors are motes in the eye, which indeed prevent it from seeing clearly, but are not like the beam that perverts the vision. Nor are they like the thrusting out of the right eye, which disables us, as soldiers of the Lord, who should follow Him, as the Captain of our salvation, in warring against the enemies of our souls, the evils of our own hearts.

Such is the evil represented by that which first brought Saul into action as the captain of the Lord's people. When he heard of the straits of the men of Jabesh, and the condition to which they had been compelled to submit, the Spirit of God came upon him, and his anger was greatly kindled. Truth, animated with the spirit of truth, inspired him with zeal, which is anger as a generous sentiment. Virtuous anger is zeal. It is an unselfish indignation against wrong, and an ardent desire to vindicate innocence against injury. Zeal differs from anger in this: zeal has love within it; anger has evil within it. They are similar in their outward appearance, but are entirely different in their inward state. From this similarity of appearance between anger and zeal, anger is ascribed to God in the letter of Scripture, because the literal sense of Scripture is written according to appearances, the real truth, as contained in the spiritual sense, being, that the Lord is a zealous but not an angry God. But to effect deliverance the Spirit of truth and its zeal must be propagated and spread through all the affections and thoughts of the mind till they come into act. Saul, therefore, proceeded to arouse all Israel to go at once to the rescue of their distressed brethren. He took a yoke of oxen, and cut them in pieces, and sent them throughout all the coasts of Israel, threatening a similar treatment to the oxen of those who refused to come up to succour the inhabitants of Jabesh. Thus are we instructed that all, especially those who are under the yoke, must obey the call, and fight against evil and falsehood under the banner of divine truth, and that to those who refuse to obey its commands the truth is a sword that will cut them to pieces, that will divide and dissipate all the affections and perceptions of the natural mind. But the call was universally responded to. The fear of the Lord fell upon the people, and they came out as one man. It was not the fear of Saul, or the dread of his significant threat, but the dread of Jehovah, that Divine name which is expressive of Divine love; so that they obeyed from love, for this is holy fear.

When numbered in Bezek the men of Israel were three hundred thousand, and the men of Judah thirty thousand. Bezek was one of the cities of Judah, which he took from the Canaanitish king, Adoni-Bezek, whose thumbs and great toes he cut off, which the king acknowledged as a just retribution for having done the same to seventy kings who gathered their meat under his table. These cruel mutilations are symbols of the privation of power which evil brings upon those who commit it; the law of retaliation, though in their case unconsciously inflicted, being the result of the eternal law which prevails alike in heaven and in hell, that as we do to others, so shall it be done to us. In that place, memorable for the infliction, upon an enemy of Judah, of a punishment similar in its nature and meaning to that which an enemy of Manasseh threatened to inflict upon them, the tribes assembled and were numbered. It is the first time that Judah and Israel are mentioned together as including all the tribes; two names under which they are frequently mentioned afterwards, as representative of the two universal principles of goodness and truth, or love and faith, which constitute the Church and kingdom of the Lord. The numbering of the people, when done in conformity with the Divine will and wisdom, represented the arrangement of the principles of the Church according to just order, and in due subordination, so that they may act in harmony and unity under one head, and that head the Lord Himself. The numbers themselves are expressive of the combined qualities of the principles, or of the graces and virtues, of which the Church or religion consists; for the thousands refer to goodness, and three to truth: the general principle of order amongst them being according to the laws of truth, is further indicated by these being divided into three companies, which also refers to that trine of will, understanding, and action, or of love, faith, and works, in which the principles of the Church are in their fullness and power.

The messengers who had come to seek for help were now dismissed with the tidings that on the morrow by the time the sun be hot the men of Jabesh should have help; tidings which gladdened their hearts, and enabled them to announce to their enemies that on the morrow they would come out to them. That was, we conclude, the last of the seven days, and the answer was no doubt intended to lead the Ammonites to believe that all their hopes of succour had been disappointed. But the morrow brought a new state of things. In the morning watch Saul led his three companies into the midst of the host, and they slew the Ammonites until the heat of the day, and they who remained were scattered, so that two of them were not left together. The morning watch was the dawn of a new state, a state of deliverance out of temptation. It was a state of light advancing to a state of love—from the morning watch to the heat of the day, which saw the Ammonites so completely scattered that two of them were not found together: the dispersion that followed the slaughter was so complete that no evil and falsity were left together. As good and truth constitute the strength of the righteous, evil and falsity constitute the power of the wicked; and when their connection is severed their power is gone.

When the battle was ended, and Saul's character as a leader was established, the people, flushed with victory, demanded of Samuel that the men who had spoken slightingly of Saul as a saviour of Israel should be brought out and slain. But Saul with true nobility of soul said, "There shall not a man be put to death this day: for today the Lord has worked salvation in Israel." It is singular, but it nevertheless is true, that overcoming in one temptation sometimes leads to another. So far as we think we have overcome a temptation by our own strength, we fall into the temptation to ascribe to ourselves the merit of our deliverance; and so far as we claim merit to ourselves we deny it to others. Saul's words correct this double evil. He ascribes the salvation of Israel that day to the Lord, and declares that after so signal a manifestation of the saving power of the Most High not a man should be put to death. Not death but life marks the state of true spiritual triumph. Thus are the suggestions of the lower thoughts of the mind reproved and corrected by the higher, by referring all power, and therefore all merit, to the infinite Source of good.

" Then said Samuel to the people, Come, and let us go to Gilgal, and renew the kingdom there. And all the people went to Gilgal; and there they made Saul king before the Lord in Gilgal." This was the third time that Saul was made king. It was the renewal and confirmation of his appointment by the anointing of Samuel and the lot among the tribes. There must be something significant in this in reference to Saul's representative character. On the two previous occasions Saul was appointed without any direct choice or act of the people themselves. They no doubt recognised the Divine appointment in the lot; but this was to be a voluntary and deliberate act of their own. So with the Lord's people spiritually. They can see the truth, and acknowledge that it is from the Lord, as it comes to them through the Word and is witnessed by the law and the testimony; but not until it has the testimony of their own experience, especially in enabling them to overcome evil and obtain deliverance from it, do they themselves confirm it and establish its reign in their own hearts and lives. The place where the renewal of the kingdom took place is not without its significance in this confirmatory act. Gilgal is remarkable for two very important and significant acts in the history of the Israelites. It was in Gilgal that Joshua set up the twelve stones that he took out of the midst of Jordan, where the priests' feet had stood while the ark of the covenant and the people passed over; and it was here that the whole of the men of Israel were circumcised after they had thus entered the Holy Land. It was in reference to this occasion that it received its name. "For the Lord said to Joshua, This day have I rolled away the reproach of Egypt from off you. Wherefore the name of the place is called Gilgal to this day." This was truly the beginning of the new life, the life of the spiritual Canaan as distinguished from that of the natural Egypt. Gilgal thence signified the doctrine of natural truth, serving for introduction into the Church. But that which is first in the order of the regenerate life becomes the last; for, as we have had occasion to remark, the spiritual life, and the particular states in it, begin and end in ultimates. The quality of the first and of the last state is indeed different. The mind returns to its first state invested with knowledge and experience, and finds in its first truth the confirmation of its subsequent acquirements. The renewal of the kingdom in Gilgal is thus representative of the confirmation of Divine truth in the regenerate mind, by which it is made, actually, because practically, the governing principle in the thoughts and affections. The sacrifices and peace-offerings which they sacrificed to the Lord when they had made Saul king, and the mutual rejoicing between the king and the people, tell us of the conjunction which is effected with the Lord when order is established in the kingdom of the regenerate mind, and its principles, the ruling and the governed, exist in harmonious relation to each other, and rejoice together.

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