CHAPTER 14. —SAMUEL
As we follow the history of Israel from the time of the Judges along the times of the kings, we do not find the illustrations of the ways of providence grow fainter or less striking; on the contrary, they are more distinct and perhaps more numerous. We shall not, however, follow them all: first, because such a process would be too prolonged; and secondly, because the lessons yielded are in many cases the same and would lead to repetition. Indeed we already feel that the subject is practically exhausted, since all phases of the subject have in some form or other been exemplified in the illustrations passed under review. The only encouragement to proceed in view of this lies in the fact that “line upon line, and precept upon precept, here a little and there a little,” is a characteristic of the divine method of instruction, upon which improvement is impossible.
Eli, the immediate precursor of Samuel, judged Israel forty years. While faithful in his judgeship after a fashion, his zeal for the ark and the service, and for the welfare of Israel, seems to have been merely of the patriotic order; it was dedicated to these things with the sort of proximate human interest that every man feels in his people and his surroundings. It was not an enlightened zeal for the supremacy and honour of Jehovah. He had a liking for the right thing, but not of the enlightened, decided, and energetic and uncompromising type that pleases God. While he remonstrated with his sons who prostituted the functions of the priesthood, “he restrained them not” (1 Samuel 3:13). He honoured his sons above Jehovah (1 Samuel 2:29). Consequently, there came to him a heavy message from the Lord:
“Them that honour Me I will honour, and they that despise Me shall be lightly esteemed. Behold the days come, that I will cut off thine arm, and the arm of thy father’s house, that there shall not be an old man in thine house. . . . And I will raise Me up a faithful priest that shall do according to that which is in Mine heart” (1 Samuel 2:30-31, 35).
By the infant Samuel, the message was repeated in this form:
“I will perform against Eli all things which I have spoken concerning his house: when I begin I will also make an end, for I have told him that I will judge his house forever for the iniquity which he knoweth, because his sons made themselves vile and he restrained them not” (1 Samuel 3:12-13).
The feature of this matter calling for attention in illustration of the ways of providence, is to be found in the way in which the divine purpose thus enunciated was carried into effect. There are two points:
1. The cutting off of the house of Eli; and—
2. The raising up of a faithful successor to Eli.
In reference to both, we have to note Jehovah’s declaration, “I will do it.” When we read the narrative of the circumstances by which both changes were brought about, we read the narrative of a divine work; and we notice that though the work was a divine work, the agents were entirely human and that the events effectuating it were to all appearances naturally-superinduced events. The cutting-off of Eli’s house was brought about thus:
“Israel went out to battle against the Philistines and pitched beside Ebenezer. . . . And the Philistines fought and Israel was smitten and they fled every man into his tent; and there was a very great slaughter, for there fell of Israel thirty thousand footmen. And the ark of God was taken, and the sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were slain. . . And when Eli heard, . . . he fell from off the seat backward by the side of the gate, and his neck brake and he died”
(1 Samuel 4: 1, 10-11, 14, 18).
In all this there was no appearance of divine operation. Yet we know by the testimony it was the work of God. The Philistines did their part from their own motives and with their own objects. With the impulse of natural men, they devastated the land and slew multitudes of Israel; but in addition to their aims and their acts, there was an overshadowing guidance which directed their efforts unconsciously to them towards the accomplishment of a divine purpose: hence it follows that God may be at work in circumstances that are perfectly natural in their form and origin—not that the circumstances themselves are in such a case a divine evolution in the direct sense, but though humanly contrived, they are controlled in a way that makes the upshot of them a divine upshot, although on the surface of things, the upshot is brought about by natural means.
In the second point—the raising up of a faithful successor to Eli—the same lesson is evident. God was to raise up this faithful priest and prophet; yet note the facts: the barren wife of a Levite is taunted by a fruitful sister beyond the point of endurance. In the bitterness of her spirit, she makes the matter a subject of petition, and vowed a vow, saying,
“O Lord of hosts, if Thou wilt indeed look on the affliction of Thine handmaid, and remember me and not forget Thine handmaid, but will give unto Thine handmaid a man child, then I will give him unto the Lord all the days of his life” (1 Samuel 1:11).
What is there in this but the natural result of a grieved and desiring spirit? Apparently nothing: but what led to it? Want of fecundity and a sister’s taunts. Who shall say that the first was not divinely caused and the second divinely stimulated with a view to that powerful exercise of Hannah’s mind which would result in Samuel being first asked from and then lent to the Lord? The earnest prayer received its liberal answer.
“The Lord remembered her,” and a man child being born, “she called his name Samuel, saying, Because I have asked him of the Lord.”
Then when she had weaned him, she brought him, in fulfilment of her vow to the house of the Lord at Shiloh, and handed over the child to Eli, with whom he was brought up in the service of the tabernacle. In process of time,
“The Lord revealed Himself to Samuel in Shiloh,” and “all Israel knew that Samuel was established to be a prophet of the Lord.”
When the appointed disaster befell the house of Eli, Samuel was ready to take Eli’s place, and was duly manifested as the faithful priest raised up according to the promise: a divine work gradually performed step by step, and apparently all by natural means except where revelation comes in.
When Samuel had judged Israel many years, a deputation from the tribes came to him asking for the appointment of a king over them. The request was a complete surprise and grief to Samuel who knew that as a commonwealth, directly governed by divine authority tabernacled in their midst between the cherubim, Israel enjoyed the most perfect political constitution possible to man in an evil state, and that a merely human head was a calamity to any people. Samuel mourned the temper of the nation exceedingly, but God, whose own purpose was ultimately to give them a divine king, made use of the new phase of national feeling to open the way as it were, for the coming change. He instructed Samuel to comply with the people’s request to anoint them a king, but to reprove them for the folly of their desires. But whom was Samuel to anoint? Was he to make his own selection of a man? No.
“I will send thee a man out of the land of Benjamin, and thou shalt anoint him captain over my people Israel” (1 Samuel 9:16).
The emphasis is to be laid on the intimation that God would send a man for Samuel to anoint. Here we strike a vein of providence illustrated. Narrowly construed, and without the narrative of how God did it, we should conclude that God meant to send word to a certain man to go to Samuel to be anointed king. God’s ways are much more interesting than this. Saul was sent, yet Saul knew nothing about it.
“The asses of Kish, Saul’s father, were lost. And Kish said to Saul his son, Take now one of the servants with thee and arise, go seek the asses. And he (Saul) passed through mount Ephraim and passed through the land of Shalisha, but they found them not. Then they passed through the land of Shalim, and there they were not. And when they were come to the land of Zuph . . . Saul’s servant said unto him, Behold now there is in this city a man of God who is an honourable man, and all that he saith cometh surely to pass. Now let us go thither, peradventure he can show us our way that we should go” (1 Samuel 9:3, 6).
The suggestion is acted on, and Saul and his servant call on Samuel. When Saul stands before Samuel, the Lord says to Samuel:
“Behold the man whom I spake to thee of.”
When we turn back from this point, and contemplate the incidents that led Saul into the presence of Samuel, remembering that God said, “I will send thee a man,” it is impossible to fail to be struck with the reflection that God may be at work in connection with the most unlikely circumstances. Here are animals straying: what more common and trifling incident could there be? Yet it was the divine drawing of Saul into the neighbourhood of the Lord’s servant. Can we doubt, therefore, the animals in this case were acted on up to a certain point? They were taken sufficiently far out of the district to cause Saul’s father to suggest a search expedition. When Saul and his servants started, they went the wrong way to find the missing animals. They chose the way that their feelings suggested, but their feelings were angelically biased without their knowing it. They were inclined the way that led to Samuel, but of this they were ignorant. Desire to discover the straying animals was their ruling impulse, but this was used to draw them on and on till Saul, still enquiring after the asses, stood before Samuel, on the very day and hour spoken of to Samuel (1 Samuel 9:16). God sent Saul and he did not know. Ordinary incidents producing natural effects, were so intertwined with the divine guidance as to turn a bootless expedition into a divine mission. Yet the two things were distinct and separable. The divine guidance withdrawn, there would have remained nothing but a common occurrence without significance or result—straying animals, two men seeking them, and not finding them.
God is not in every circumstance. So Saul found at a later stage in his history, when fired by jealous animosity against David, he sought to compass his destruction. Saul tried to force the hand of providence: he contrived a dangerous enterprise for David against the Philistines, saying,
“Let not mine hand be upon him but let the hand of the Philistines be upon him” (1 Samuel 18:17).
David went the dangerous errand.
“Saul thought,” we are told, “to make David fall by the hands of the Philistines” (verse 25).
But Saul’s thought was not God’s thought, and therefore the affair went well with David, and David returned in safety and increased triumph. Had the matter turned out differently—had David fallen in battle—Saul with much secret satisfaction would doubtless have bewailed David’s fate as the inscrutable decree of providence. He would have put the responsibility on providence. He did not like to kill him himself, but he had no objection to providence doing it, and so he laid a trap for providence, but it would not work, because providence was against it, that is, God’s will was otherwise than that David should fall, and therefore the natural chances set in motion by Saul’s arrangements were all fenced off by the shadow of divine protection, against which nothing can prevail.
We have a case in the very opposite direction in the case of these same two men with the parts reversed. Saul hunting David falls into David’s power. A loose interpreter of providence would have said “Now is your opportunity, David: God works by means: he has put Saul in your power: slay him.” In fact this very advice was given him.
“The men of David said unto him, Behold the day of which the Lord said unto thee, Behold I will deliver thine enemy into thine hand, that thou mayest do to him as it shall seem good unto thee.”
What was David’s answer?
“The Lord forbid that I should do this thing unto my master, the Lord’s anointed, to stretch forth mine hand against him, seeing he is the anointed of the Lord”
(1 Samuel 24:6).
Saul tried to force providence. Here we have David apparently retiring before it. What is this lesson? A very important one—that we must govern all our interpretations of the ways of providence by the prior question of righteousness. A good opportunity is no justification of doing a thing if that thing be wrong by any of the laws of God. God works by means but not by wrong means; and therefore in judging of His will in our affairs, we must always have Paul’s question before our eyes:
“Lord, what wouldst Thou have me to do?”
We may be quite sure that it is not His will that we should in any position or circumstance do what He has forbidden, or leave undone what H e has commanded. Our safety therefore lies in making ourselves constantly familiar with His commandments. By this we shall be protected from false interpretations of “providence,” and enabled to walk wisely in all the changing phases of life.
Saul’s evil nature finally manifested itself in acts of official disobedience, his rejection was proclaimed by the Lord to Samuel, who was directed to find a successor.
As in the case of Saul, so in the case of his successor, Samuel was not allowed to make his own selection. Samuel was directed to the house of Jesse the Bethlehemite, as to whom the Lord said,
“I have provided Me a king among his sons.”
This introduces us to David, whose life is replete with illustrations of the ways of providence. These lessons begin with the very fact just stated that God had provided a king among the sons of Jesse. Samuel went to the house of Jesse to find and anoint the new captain of the Lord’s people. He was not made aware beforehand which of the sons it was. He was informed on the spot. He asked to see Jesse’s family. According to custom, the eldest (Eliab) came first. He was a tall, well-made, good-looking man; Samuel concluded he must be the man,
“But the Lord said unto Samuel, Look not on his countenance, nor 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”
(1 Samuel 16:7).
Ten the second was called—Abinadab; the divine comment was, “Neither hath the Lord chosen this.” Then Shammah was called, and four others one after the other, with the same result in each case: “The Lord hath not chosen this.” This seemed to be the whole of the family, and Samuel for a moment was at a loss. God had told him he had provided a king among Jesse’s sons; and lo, all of them apparently had been rejected. What was the meaning? “Are here all thy children?” was Samuel’s question. The answer revealed the divine selection—a boy, supposed to be so entirely out of the question that he was not called.
“There remaineth yet the youngest, and behold he keepeth the sheep.”
This was enough for Samuel.
“Send and fetch him: we will not sit down till he come hither.”
And David was brought—“a youth, ruddy, and withal of a beautiful countenance, and beautiful to look on.” The Lord said,
“Arise: anoint him: for this is he.”
And so David, the humanly-ignored, was declared the divinely-provided among Jesse’s sons.
To see the full bearing of this on the ways of providence, we must look at David before this manifestation of him by the spirit-directed hand of Samuel. He was an apt and intelligent lad, dutifully addicted to the out-door service assigned to him in his father’s house, and given to the study of the writings of Moses, as transpires abundantly afterwards. He was not particularly liked by his brothers, who regarded him with some jealously of feeling as comes out on the day of the encounter with Goliath. In this, he resembled Joseph, and Jesus, the antitype of both. We look at the picture and see nothing in it obviously divine. It was all apparently natural: yet the boyhood of David was a divinely superintended development—the laying of the foundation of that coming “man after God’s own heart,” with whom the royal covenant of the kingdom was to be established for ever. The invisibly-regulated events of his youth were elements in that process of “providing a king” revealed to Samuel: whence we obtain a confirmation of the lesson we have learned from so many other sources, that although all natural evolutions are not of God, some may be so that apparently present no features to distinguish them from natural occurrences in general. This double fact has the double effect of restraining presumption and encouraging faith towards God. We may not, as a matter of natural discrimination be able with certainty to distinguish between what is providential (or truly of God) and what is not: but this we know, that the hand of God is at work, and that all who know and fear and truly love and obey Him, are the subjects of that guidance which constitutes the answer to the prayer:
“Give us this day our daily bread; . . . lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”
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