"A Reproach upon All Israel"

Read 1 Samuel 12

Partyism is the greatest curse that the Church of God has known

Nahash the Ammonite was a scoffer, and the condition into which Israel had sunk gave him the opportunity to scoff at what should have been amongst their most cherished possessions — their unity as a nation, and their care for one another as brethren. In Joshua's day they had fought shoulder to shoulder to make their God-given possessions their own, and even after Joshua's death something of this spirit survived, for Judah invited "Simeon his brother" to share with him in the battles of the Lord, and afterwards he went with "Simeon his brother" when his turn came to fight, and they were wonderfully successful in their God-directed campaigns (Jud. 1). But in Samuel's days that spirit of unity and goodwill had vanished and I judge that it was this that provoked this grim and scornful humour on the part of Nahash. Tribal interests had superseded national unity, and even tribal interests seem to have narrowed down to what was entirely local and this made the cities of the land easy prey for their foes.

Jabesh Gilead had a sad and tragic history. When all Israel "from Dan even to Beersheba, with the land of Gilead" was aroused to indignation at the terrible evil that had broken out in Benjamin, the city of Jabesh Gilead alone remained indifferent and neutral. It was evidently nothing to them that the Name of Jehovah had been greatly dishonoured and the people of Israel greatly disgraced, and Israel in their zeal had meted out the same judgment to them that they had executed upon the evil-doers and those that sheltered them. In this we feel that their zeal outstripped their sense of justice. It was right to abhor and to judge the dreadful evil, right to treat those who sheltered the evil-doers as the evil-doers themselves, for they were accessories after the fact, and their refusal to separate from the evil only showed that at heart they were one with the evil-doers. So far Israel acted according to the Word of God, and we are instructed as to this same line of conduct in the New Testament (2 John). But the indifference of Jabesh Gilead was not the guilt of Benjamin, their conduct was bad and called for condemnation, but as there are degrees of guilt so there are degrees of penalties, and we feel that less drastic measures would have met the case and achieved happier and more godly results.

From that time the men that remained of Jabesh Gilead must have felt isolated from the rest of the nation and this may have been the cause of their willingness to yield to Nahash and hand over their city to him. They may have reasoned, We have neither friendship nor fellowship with the rest of Israel, why should we suffer in the endeavour to hold this outpost for the nation? Better yield to the enemy and be at peace. But the Ammonite intended not only to dominate their city but to lay a reproach on all Israel. He seemed to be determined to expose their divided condition. It had been their boast that they were one nation with one God, and often had they exulted in the song of Moses. "Happy art thou, O Israel: who is like to thee, O people saved by the Lord?" He would give the lie to it all and show that they were no better but rather worse than other nations, and so his terms of peace were that every man in the threatened city should lose his right eye. He over-reached himself, Jehovah would not permit His people to suffer such a reproach as that, but His way was to unite the people under one leader. The Spirit of the Lord came upon Saul and the people came out with one consent to deliver their brethren whom once they had all but destroyed. It was a heartening revival of care for their brethren, and Nahash learned to his sorrow that the unity of Israel at which he had scoffed was a reality after all when God moved among the people, while his followers were all "scattered so that two of them were not left together."

We might muse upon the story and enquire whether it has no lesson to teach us. May not the apparent many victories by the great adversary over the saints of God be the result of their disunity? And that disunity the beginning of his triumph? We have no doubt that often when questions have arisen in the church which have called for action in the Name of the Lord Jesus there has been "righteousness overmuch" and too little grace and brokenness of spirit; vindictiveness too has often played its sinister part, and zeal for a so-called principle which may have been nothing more than an opinion, has often been greater than care for the life and souls of the saints. In these things the deceiver has had his way, and, alas, when it was supposed that the truth had triumphed, it was the devil.

If a sense of the oneness of the saints as brethren was revived in our souls would there not with it arise a greater care for all? And would not this fill us with desire to stand by those who are harassed and afflicted by the enemy?

These times are analogous to those of 1 Samuel 12. Satan and the world scoff at the disunity of the church of God. It is the thing of which they reproach it above all else, it has become a byword, and because of it Satan has grown very bold and is making further inroads upon it. He has proceeded, in fact, to do what Nahash threatened to do, to put out the right eyes of many of those who at one time seemed to stand for the truth. We see denomination after denomination losing what light they once had, turning from the truth and embracing modernistic views that are in direct antagonism to it, we see companies of Christians, because of their isolation from other Christians, becoming more and more one-sided in their views, keen perhaps to follow one line of things and blind to another. It is the work of the Ammonite — the devil's work indeed. He has succeeded in shutting up one part of the truth in this circle made by man and not by God, and another part of it in another circle of a similar character, so that the whole of the truth may not be given out in delivering uniting power to all who desire to hear it wherever they maybe. The sympathies of many who love the Lord are bound up and confined by these circles and do not flow out to all who call upon the Lord; it seems nothing to them that the devil is attacking and blinding so many of those who bear the Name of Christ; they do not realize that this is their reproach. This partyism is the greatest curse that the church of God has known.

There can be no victory over the saints as they obey the commandments of the Lord. The wicked one touches them not as they are subject to Him, for the hand of the One whom they obey becomes their protection; and His commandments are His expressed will for them, and these are that they should love one another and be of one mind, that they should be united and not divided. While we grieve that the church has wandered from the practice of the truth, we may pray that we with many more may be recovered to it, but this can only be as we come afresh under the influence of the one Head and Leader of the saints of God — our Lord Jesus Christ. All the saints are united by the Holy Ghost to Him and in Him. How profound was the effect upon the late J. N. Darby when he awoke to the fact that his Head was in heaven, and that his Head, the exalted victorious Christ, was the head of every saint — of the whole church of God. That did not mean the building of another sect and so adding to the confusion, it meant deliverance from all sectarianism or partyism; it gave liberty to walk in the truth. As the Spirit of God came upon Saul uniting all Israel under him in sympathy for their oppressed and threatened brethren, so would He work today, we believe, if saints were freed from their party prejudices and indifference to the state of their brethren in Christ and were carried out of their sectarianism by the fact that there is one Spirit and one body, and one Hope, one Head, one Leader and Lord, one God and Father of all, and that the saints are one.

May God so work in the hearts of His saints that they may discern what an evil thing this partyism is, and refuse it as being of the devil and the flesh, and show renewed diligence to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. This is of God.