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FOURTH SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY.
1 SAMUEL XVI. 14.
But the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from
the Lord troubled him.
Ar this season of the year, both in the lessons for today, and next Sunday, we have set before us the history of Saul : of him who was anointed first king over Israel. It is a history full of interest, full of instruction, full of warning. Saul was a man exposed to great reverses of fortune-one of a family—the least of all the families of Benjamin ; Benjamin, the smallest tribe of Israel : and yet raised, without any seeking it, on his part, to be captain over God's inheritance. In his high place he had little happiness: his people's praise was given to another : again and again he incurred rebuke and blame from the great prophet who had anointed him king: his mind was torn with bad passions: his enemies, the Philistines prevailed against him, and at last he fell miserably, by his own hand, to avoid being made their captive.
But that which gives the greatest interest to Saul's
history is the moral lesson which it contains of the downward progress of a once highly gifted soul. In Saul we see, what we see also in so many around us, what others perhaps see in ourselves, the evil gradually overcoming the good; the Spirit of God driven out before another spirit which is not of God;—a man, in short, who had great natural qualities to recommend him, great gifts from God, yet soiling those qualities, and throwing away those gifts by his carnal pride and self-will.
It is a lesson to be considered by us all; and it will appear the more clearly as we look nearer at some of the circumstances of Saul's eventful history.
At the first mention of Saul, in 1 Sam ix., we have this description of him-A choice young man and a goodly; and there was not among the children of Israel a goodlier person than he : from his shoulders upwards he was higher than any of the people. .
It would appear from this that Saul had great outward advantages—a choice young man and a goodly; of a tall and commanding stature. Nor was he less gifted in mind. God's Spirit moved in his heart and gave him the power of prophecy.' He was naturally, too, of a humble, unambitious temper-for when they came to make him king, he could not be found : he had hid himself, as though he would escape from so high an honour.
After he was king, in the early days of his reign, he gave many proofs of a kingly understanding; and the hearts of the people were conciliated to him. But he soon changed for the worse. His high place seems to have spoiled him-he began to be self-confident, and to fall away from God.
Two instances of this I will recall to you—two occasions on which Saul evidenced a want of trust in God, and an impatience under His restraint, a too great leaning to his own understanding.
The first is that recorded in 1 Sam. xiii. There was war between Saul and the Philistines—the Israelites were over-matched, and followed their king trembling. At Gilgal, where the gathering was appointed, Saul waited seven days, according to the set time that Samuel had commanded. But Samuel came not, and the people were scattered from him. Whereupon Saul took upon
himself the priest's office, and offered a burnt offering. No sooner had he done this, when Samuel arrived. Saul sought to excuse himself under the cloke of necessity-he spoke of the timidity of his soldiers; of the approach of the enemy; of the urgency of the occasion : he saidas if he were conscious that the act required an apology --conscious that he had done an unlawful thing-I forced myself therefore, and offered a burnt offering.
But what said Samuel ? did he allow the excuse ? No—he rebuked the king before his people ; and set plainly before him the sin of which he had been guilty.Thou hast done foolishly—thou hast not kept the commandment of the Lord thy God: for now would the Lord have established thy kingdom upon Israel for ever.—But now thy kingdom shall not continue : the Lord hath sought Him a man after His own heart, and the Lord hath commanded him to be captain over His people, because thou hast not kept that which the Lord commanded thee.
Here is one instance of Saul's want of trust in
God. He saw only the immediate danger; the threatening host of the Philistines, the falling away of his own men-but He endured not as seeing Him Who is invisible! He had not the courage, nor the patience which comes of faith. He could not stand still and see the salvation of God!
The other instance is that of his sparing Agag and the best of the spoil (1 Sam. xv.), notwithstanding the message he had received from the Lord to destroy Amalek utterly. Here again Saul shewed a self-willed spirit, and a backwardness to obey. But what makes his conduct the more blameable, is the hypocrisy of his address to Samuel—his pretending to have obeyed, when he had departed so widely from the prophets injunctionBlessed art thou of the Lord; I have performed the commandment of the Lord. And then, when he was found out, note his specious excuse—The people spured the best of the sheep and of the oxen, to sacrifice unto the Lord thy God!
Well might Samuel, at such words, rend asunder, as he did, with no gentle hand, the flimsy veil with which the king sought to cover his transgression.-Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because thou hast rejected the word of the Lord, He hath also rejected thee from being king.
And now from henceforth we trace a rapid fall in the self-willed King. From now, till his sad and
suicidal death, his course is the course of a man given over to be destroyed. The Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord troubled him!
So entirely was Saul possessed by the Evil One, so manifest in him were the workings of a bad spirit, that means were sought by those about him to counteract its violence, and to restore if they might, some calm to his troubled mind.
It was David's harp that they employed for this—and not wholly without success. The music soothed for awhile the King's malady. When David played with his harp before him, he was refreshed, and was well, and the evil spirit departed from him.
But it was only for a while. The evil spirit came back, gaining ever a stronger hold upon Saul; making him more wicked and more miserable ; filling him with envy, malice, hatred, melancholy, and despair.
You remember, brethren, how that envy burned against David. Saul could not bear to hear him preferred. The words of the women, who came out of all the cities of Israel, to welcome their deliverer-Saul has slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands stirred up an unquenchable jealousy in his heart.- From that day forward Saul eyed David--and his eye was upon him to do him some mischief.-He sought an opportunity to kill David-more than once he tried to take his life with his own hand.
But his cruel purpose was always frustrated. The Lord was with David, and all Saul's plots were baffled. Nay, even Saul himself had fits of remorse.
There were from time to time in him the flickerings of a better spirit