Eliab and David.

"Man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart."

1 Samuel 16.

1892 99 In refusing his own thoughts and receiving the thoughts of God a man is blessed. The parents of our race were quick to feel the ruin in which their sin had plunged them, and they became absorbed with their thoughts of a remedy. The abundance of Eden was then of less value to them than a few fig leaves to hide their shame. Had they called on the mountains to cover them and the rocks to hide them, it would have availed them as little as the work of their hands. Then the Lord God, the Creator of all things, stooped to make for them coats of skin and clothed them. Notwithstanding their changed circumstances they had greater cause for joy out of Eden than when in it, for they knew the Lord better; they knew that His thoughts were thoughts of peace and not of evil, while their own were vain.

In the period we are considering, Saul was man's remedy for Israel's shame and sorrow. He was to unite the twelve tribes under one head, to judge them and lead them to victory; and the joy in Israel when he was made king was greater, doubtless, than when the self-invented coverings were completed. Both failed; and shame and grief, trouble and confusion, followed. Nothing of man was left in either case to trust in. A second apron, or a second Saul, would prove as disappointing as the first. It was not the thought of God that they should try. He, Who in His mercy made a covering for Adam, raised up David for Israel.

We enter upon his history in chap. 16, and at once we learn how little in harmony with the mind of God are the natural feelings and thoughts of the best of men. Samuel, after all his ministry as a prophet and a judge, and his experience of men, had yet important lessons to learn. He was still in trouble about Saul. He had left him, but had not in heart done with him. There was that about him that detained his thoughts, and the Lord in his grace would deliver him from all this. He said to Samuel, "How long wilt thou mourn for Saul, seeing I have rejected him from reigning over Israel? Fill thine horn with oil and go, I will send thee to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided me a king among his sons."

Was it not natural for Samuel's thoughts to linger over Saul? Had he not kissed him, honoured him, served him, and hoped in him? It was quite natural, but not divine. The Lord had rejected him, and Samuel must yield up his own thoughts and accept those, now clearly revealed, of God. "I have rejected" — "I have provided" — were words of unspeakable mercy to Israel, the way of the Lord's intervention, the only way of their deliverance and blessing. And Samuel accepted them, though he faltered through the fear of man. "How can I go?" he said, "if Saul hear it, he will kill me." This unhappy interruption has given occasion to cavillers to suggest that, in directing him to take a heifer and to offer sacrifice, there was something like prevarication, a covering of his real errand by an ostensible one. There is not the slightest ground for this unhallowed thought. The Lord was about to instruct His servant as to an indispensable pre-requisite to David's anointing when He thus broke in with his fears. In Saul's case there were no such instructions; but for David all was ordered of God, even to so small a matter as a horn full of oil instead of a vial of oil, "scanty and brittle," as used for Saul.

The Lord God is now looking beyond Israel. His words to Samuel, "How long wilt thou mourn?" are addressed, we may say, with far deeper meaning to all who are weary and heartsore because of sin. It is no question now of Israel's need, of Saul and of David; but of soul need, of self, and of Christ. We may have done the best for self we could, have served it, honoured it, loved it (for who so dear as self?), hoped in it, and yet been disappointed. As Samuel mourned for Saul, we may mourn over ourselves. Is this wrong? Far from it. The deeper our abhorrence of ourselves (Job xlii. 6), the better. The question is not "Why dost thou mourn?", but "How long wilt thou mourn?" "I have rejected" — "I have provided" — rejected the flesh and all its efforts and doings, and provided Christ. God looks at the heart, and it is the work of the Holy Spirit to tell us what He sees there, its desperate wickedness. But the same Spirit testifies of Jesus — the Lamb of God's providing — taking our place in judgment and giving Himself a ransom for us. We need both. Not only "I have rejected," but "I have provided." Christ is provided. Salvation is secured; and when Christ is received by faith, "He is all." The Spirit of God, unless grieved, occupies us with Him and not with ourselves. Souls under law invariably make "I" predominant; under grace "Not I, but Christ."

To return to the history. Samuel, as instructed of the Lord, sanctified Jesse and his sons and called them to the sacrifice. "And it came to pass when they were come, that he looked on Eliab, and said, Surely the Lord's anointed is before him. But the Lord said unto Samuel, Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart."

This, we must remember, was the age of the law. The Jewish system, as we read in Heb. ix. 13, provided for the purification, ceremonially, of the flesh; so that Samuel (without seeking to know the real state of Jesse and his sons, the state of the heart) could sanctify them according to the ordinances of the law; and he did so. But he was tempted to go beyond this, as are many who take Jewish ground, and rest much on ordinances. If all be fair to the sight, if the conduct be well regulated, and religious duties and services be diligently and devoutly fulfilled, what more will the Lord require? The simple but momentous answer is — the heart. Eliab's heart was separated from God. We see it in the next chapter (ver. 28). He was a scorner, the first to openly resent the operations of divine grace in David — as the flesh, in spite of its religion, always does; yet the prophet, deceived by appearances, thought him suited for the service of the Lord, the chosen ruler over His inheritance. Happily, however, Samuel had been long trained in subjection to the word of God. "Speak, Lord, for thy servant heareth," was the formative principle of his character from childhood. He at once left Eliab — where the Lord left him — "refused" as also the rest of the sons of Jesse who were brought before him; until David, evidently little thought of or cared for in his own family, and not even called to the sacrifice, was by commandment brought from the sheepfolds into his presence. Then "the Lord said, Arise, anoint him, for this is he."

It is most helpful to souls to have such living examples of dependence and subjection, as here in Samuel, and of electing grace, as in David. Eliab was more attractive to sight than his youngest brother, who was left in the retirement and obscurity which doubtless he preferred. He stood higher in position, and, as the first-born, evidently desired pre-eminence. He was, moreover, devout and honourable, as is said even of enemies of the truth (Acts 13:50). We cannot question that Satan has pressed such men forward in the church, and they have got into the place of rule and authority, and "have made the heart of the righteous sad, whom the Lord hath not made sad, and strengthened the hands of the wicked." It would have been so at this time in Israel, had Samuel acted on his own thoughts; and where would the nation have sunken if Eliab had succeeded Saul? God must be sovereign, or ruin, universal and without remedy, would be inevitable. God refuses, and God chooses, and there is no unrighteousness with Him (Rom. 9). This was Samuel's lesson, as it is ours. The purpose of God, according to election, stands; so
"He chose David also his servant,
And took him from the sheepfolds;
From following the ewes great with young he brought him
To feed Jacob his people, and Israel his inheritance." (Ps. 78.)

Every incident in the history of this distinguished example of electing grace must be of deep and abiding interest, and the inspired records are ample. We not only have his doings fully and faithfully disclosed, but the secret exercises of his soul are revealed. We know more of him by his Psalms than from the narrative of his life. We learn from the latter how he served his generation by the will of God, but from the former how he has served all succeeding generations by his inspired delineations of the ways of God, of the sufferings of Christ, and of the inward experiences of the righteous remnant in Israel, of whom he was a conspicuous example. The most afflicted have received consolation through him, the most despairing, hope, and the most timid, courage. As "a companion of all them that fear the Lord and keep His precepts," he is unequalled among the saints of old.