Saul, David, Absalom, Israel.

G. L.

Christian Friend vol. 17, 1890, p. 297.

"That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit." (John 3:6.) Such is the testimony of the Son of God; and the Holy Ghost says, "These are contrary the one to the other." (Gal. 5: 17.) Self is always the object of the nature derived by birth from the first Adam, whatever may be the degree of its activity; but God Himself is the object of the life that He has given to us in His Son. In the activities of flesh God is shut out and ignored, or His name used to sanction the fruit of unbelief and self-will; but the new nature recognizes God as not only the source of its being, but His will as the only true spring of its activities, and the controller of all circumstances and events. It can therefore count on God Himself, not only in scenes where His will is effectuated in fulness of blessing, but also in times of trouble and difficulty caused by self, sin, and Satan's power, and the failure of all around.

Thoughts suggested by the consideration of Saul, David, Absalom, and Israel will be of present profit, if they lead by God's grace to exercise of soul in His presence, and to a clearer discernment of what are the works of the flesh amongst ourselves, and what "the fruit of the Spirit."

Saul - the finest specimen of the flesh that Israel could produce, the man head and shoulders taller than any of the people, on whom the Spirit of God had come, as well as having been anointed with oil - was elevated to a higher position than any one had yet been as king over Israel; but when he was tested as to obedience and dependence, like Adam, he entirely broke down, and was set aside for the man after God's heart, whom the Lord had sought to be captain over His people.

David - chosen of Jehovah and anointed with oil in secret - was not, like his predecessor, at once exalted to sit on the throne, but had to reach it through a variety of circumstances, often of deep difficulty, trial, and sorrow, the trial of his faith being much more precious than of gold that perisheth (as all has which he prepared for Solomon's temple), being found to his honour, praise, and glory. In nothing is his confidence in, and dependence on, Jehovah more strikingly exhibited, than in the way he ever treated the one who stood in the way of his being crowned, viz., Saul himself.

Saul had been raised out of deep obscurity into prominence and position without any action that might win the attention or attract the hearts of his subjects, so that, if the Lord's sanction of him were lost sight of, there was nothing in his own conduct to command their respect or retain their confidence. But whatever may have been the thoughts of Israel generally, to David's faith Saul was always "the Lord's anointed," and as such entitled to the deepest respect; so that, when once and again his life was in David's hand, David would not touch him. Even when David cut off a piece of Saul's robe in the cave, his heart smote him for the oft-repeated reason, "he is the Lord's anointed." (1 Sam. 24:6.) When the news of Saul's death was brought to David by one who, thinking to meet with reward, professed to have given the finishing stroke, David's resentment broke forth in, "How wast thou not afraid to put forth thine hand against the Lord's anointed?" and soon the Amalekite's own life measured the extent of David's indignation. Was it that David had sympathy with Saul's conduct and ways, or fellowship with him and personal affection for him? Surely not. But in the spirit of Him (David's Son and yet His Lord), who said, "The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat," etc., David leaves it to the One who put Saul on the throne, to put him from it in His own time and way. He was content meanwhile to suffer, and to have his name cast out as evil by Saul, until the day should come when God should publicly vindicate him, and the united tribes of Israel should accept him as their king.

Far otherwise was it with Saul (as ever with the flesh), on David's first introduction to Israel in the valley of Elah. What a bright display of the courage of faith in contrast to the cowardice of unbelief - Saul and all Israel being dismayed and sore afraid in the presence of Goliath! The shepherd youth, ruddy and of a beautiful countenance, sent by his father on an errand of love to his brethren, thus unexpectedly heard the challenge of the proud Philistine foe, and witnessed its effect on the Israelites. His soul was filled with a sense of the reproach to Israel, no one being found to accept the challenge of him who, to David's faith, was but an uncircumcised Philistine, defying the armies of the living God. Strong in the Lord and in the power of His might, David stepped into the arena of conflict with the calm confidence of unquestioning faith in Jehovah, God of Israel, having one only object and desire, that God's name should be vindicated, as being still in the midst of Israel (1 Sam. 17:46), and ready to intervene on behalf of His poor and trembling, because unbelieving people.

David's victory, completed by the giant's own sword, and the expressive evidence of that victory (his returning with the Philistine's head in his hand), made him the object of attention to Saul, to his generals, to every soldier in the army, and to all Israel. What was the effect on Saul? Did he share the joy of victory, and the delight of his subjects in the victor? No, the flesh only saw a rival; and anger, envy, jealousy, hatred, took possession of Saul's heart towards the one to whom he owed his life and kingdom. Secretly first, but soon publicly, he sought with all the power at his command to ensnare and destroy David. No gratitude for deliverance from the evil spirit in private, or from the terrible giant in public, had any place in his bosom towards the one who had been the instrument of both deliverances. What was the ultimate result? Whilst every step of David's endeared him more and more to the heart of the people, every step of Saul's only alienated them; so that at last when Saul and Jonathan lay dead, who was there to weep for them but David himself? The daughters of Israel, who spontaneously sang David's praises in the day of his victory, were exhorted by him to weep over Saul, but without meeting, as far as we know, a responsive throb from their hearts, or a tear from their eyes, so complete had the alienation become.

Thus in the righteous government of Jehovah was the man of flesh (Saul) disappointed and set aside, and the man of faith (David) first enthroned in the affection of all Israel and Judah (1 Sam. 18:16), and then firmly seated on the throne of a united nation. How beautiful it is to see that when there, wielding the power of life and death, David not only remembered his oath to Saul (1 Sam. 24:21-22), not to cut off his seed after him, but going beyond the unhappy, unbelieving king's utmost thoughts, he enquires (2 Sam. 9) if there were not any left of the house of Saul to whom he might show the kindness of God. The touching story of the son of Jonathan is the witness in David's day of that full divine grace, that kindness of God our Saviour toward man which has appeared (after all the full seven-fold outburst of the evil of the flesh, Titus 3:3), "not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; which He shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour; that, being justified by His grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life." (Titus 3:4-7.) What a perfect cluster of divine activities in our Saviour God, our Lord Jesus, the true Beloved, showing us that faith finds suited occasion for its activities alike in the day of rejection and contempt, and in the day of acceptance and honour!

Notice as to this the same difference in Nabal and Abigail. To the one David was a runaway servant, to the other he was the one who, as in the valley of Elah, fought the Lord's battles, whose life was bound up with the Lord his God. Abigail counted on God to yet accomplish every word that He had spoken concerning David, whose anger she deprecated, whose favour she desired, though never thinking that the day would come when she would be united to him, and become his wife, after the first man had gone under the judgment of Jehovah.

Varied were the activities of faith in David during his reign, but the incurable evil of the flesh is also brought out. Under the pressure of the power of evil it is weak and fearful, and in the enjoyment of that which is good it soon manifests its wickedness.

David's family grows, but faith is not always successional, as it was in Timothy's case; and Amnon's guilty passion and crime furnish occasion for Absalom's wicked and murderous revenge. The father's weakness leaves the rights of the throne unvindicated, to his own eventual deepest anguish and sorrow. What an example David set them, through the allowance of the flesh in himself, in the awful story of Bathsheba, and Uriah the Hittite, showing us that flesh is as bad in the man of faith as it is in those who "have not faith"! The allowance of Absalom's return into the midst of Israel without righteousness being vindicated by a full confession of guilt, and submission to whatever consequences the rights of the throne demanded - his seeing the king's face, and being kissed by him, did not melt his soul, but introduces to us the person of the rebel, and the heresy which shook the nation from its centre to its circumference. He goes out from the king's presence to cherish and nourish the secret purpose of his soul, to drive the Lord's anointed (his own father) from the throne, and to seat himself upon it. 2 Samuel 14:25 gives us a description of Absalom: "In all Israel there was none to be so much praised for his beauty: from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head there was no blemish in him."

Note, too, his personal graciousness, his plausible ways and manner, his pretended anxiety for the good and right to have justice, his condescension and familiarity with the men of Israel, whose hearts he was stealing away from their true object. Then we get his pretended conscience as to his vow to the Lord in Hebron, the spot once honoured by the presence of the king, the Lord's anointed, but now to become the centre of the movement of the arch-rebel, who to accomplish his purpose would cause an open breach between the ten tribes and the two. This breach, though healed over for the time on the death of Absalom and defeat of his followers, yet burst out afresh when Rehoboam listened to the counsel of the young men, and found its expression in Israel's answer to the king: "What portion have we in David? neither have we inheritance in the son of Jesse: to your tents, O Israel: now see to thine own house, David." (1 Kings 12:16.) So they departed to their tents, taking their first step on that path which led them eventually to Assyria, and their present unknown abode.

Thus we see how the flesh, whether in an individual or a nation, having no ability to see God's kingdom, has no respect for His anointed, no trice thought of the unity of God's Israel, like the men of another day speaking perverse things to draw away disciples after them. In Absalom we see no natural affection exhibited, if it stands in the way of his purpose of revenge, or pride and exaltation; he complains of injustice when about to perpetrate the greatest injustice that a son and subject could be guilty of; he spends years in useless inactivity, but is full of restless energy when the day comes for putting his longcherished plans into execution; and at last, in the presence of his father, the Lord's anointed, he sets out on his awful course, with a hypocritical profession of respect for the Lord, and of gratitude to Him for His goodness in bringing him back to Hebron. Surely it is Satan himself changed into an angel of light!

Many are the lessons the Lord would have us learn from this portion of His divine word, written for our instruction, and deeply profitable for reproof, for correction, and for instruction in righteousness; for who has not "the flesh" still in him, however intelligent he may be in the truth that, as to our standing, we are not in the flesh but in Christ Jesus. I ask myself, therefore, and my reader, What should we learn from what God has written about the past, and from our recent experiences of what we are? Should we sit down and give up in hopeless despair? No; if the moral confusion in David's house, and the political confusion in his kingdom, is duly and deeply felt by the man of God, as weeping, with his head covered he ascends Olivet, leaving the Ark of God and his throne behind; so the faith that prays, and worships, and discerns the right thing to do, shines out as brightly now as ever.

Whilst owning the Lord's hand in all, and counting on Him even in a Shimei cursing, David goes on meekly whither he may, until the day when peace is restored to all Israel by Absalom's death, and by Sheba's head being thrown over the wall. Then, by Jehovah's judgment on the long-forgotten rash zeal of Saul with regard to the Gibeonites, order is restored, and officers have their places in the kingdom - the civil and domestic war gives way for renewed conflicts with the Philistines. Notice the beautiful song of chap. 22, and the activities of David's mighty men in chap. 23, whilst he personally devotes himself (1 Chr. 28), to providing for the building of that temple on which his heart is set, though his eyes were never to see one stone of it laid.

May we, beloved brethren, be made to feel with God by His unfailing grace, our own failures in the light of His faithfulness, and with increasing distrust of self, trust Him more simply and fully. Having then internal peace restored, through all hearts bowing to the rightful claims of our one and only Lord and Master, may each servant learn his place and appointed work, may each soldier desire to imitate Him who conquered the Philistine in the valley of Elah (Phil. 2), and may all hearts be filled with hope of the speedy coming of the day of glory, when no unbelief will hinder the bright shining in of the pure light of His own blessed presence! G. L.

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There is a great difference between confession and self-judgment. The latter is far the deeper work. Forgiveness follows immediately upon confession, according to 1 John 1:9; but restoration to communion is not reached until after the root of the sin is exposed and judged in the presence of God.

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Crossing the Jordan represents the believer being set at liberty, and intelligently entering by faith into the heavenlies. It is conscious death and resurrection with Christ. The Red Sea is the power of redemption by Christ.

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Fidelity, in the power of the Holy Ghost, is what the Lord seeks for in an evil day. (Rev. 3:8.)