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no respect to God in what he did.
For he “spared Agag,” the king of Amalek, "and the best of the sheep, , and of the oxen, and of the fatlings, and the lambs, and all that was good, and would not utterly destroy them: but every thing that was vile and refuse, that he destroyed utterly;" that is, he did just so much as suited his own inclination, and no more.
He was a bold, ambitious man; and, no doubt, he loved the pomp and parade of victory, to get himself honour and to be admired for his achievements. But he did not love the Lord his God, for he would not serve Him by an act of self-denial. He flew upon the spoil avariciously, and he spared Agag vain-gloriously. It was clear, therefore, that if he kept to the letter of his instructions in other respects, he obeyed from a selfish, not from a religious motive, and therefore obeyed not at all in reality, but only hypocritically. This is God's view of the case. For “the word of the Lord,” we are told, “came unto Samuel, saying, It repenteth me that I have set up Saul to be king: for he is turned back from following me, and hath not performed my commandments 3.” However, this was not Saul's own view of himself. For there cannot be a greater mistake than to suppose that the grossest sinners are the easiest to be convinced of sin. They are, on the contrary, in general, the most self-righteous; for sin is a deceitful evil, and its natural tendency is to blind the judgment by hardening the heart.
Let us now inquire into Saul's behaviour after his transgression.
His conscience does not appear to have smitten him in the least. “When Samuel rose early to meet Saul in the morning, it was told Samuel, saying, Saul came to Carmel, and, behold, he set him up a place, and is gone about, and passed on, and gone down to Gilgal 4.” These latter expressions seem to intimate that he paraded through the country with great state; and by
setting up a place 5,” it seems to be meant that he
1 Sam. xv. 11.
4 Ver. 12.
5 See Serm. XIII.
erected some trophy or monument of his victory. It is easy, therefore, to see that he was blinded by his pride and vanity. He was so pleased with himself and with what his own arm, as he thought, had done, that he could not discern the hand of God in his success, or his own sin in dispensing with the full execution of his Divine commission; and in truth he had no other part
1; in this great work, than the disobedience which he had mingled with it. This was all his own, and should have covered him with confusion. But the Lord it was who conquered Amalek, which he ought to have acknowledged by devout thanksgivings. But in Saul we have an example of the blindness of man when he turns away his eyes from God to contemplate his own supposed merits. “For men to search their own glory,” says the wise man, “is not glory ®;" and what
6." follows, in the history of Saul, will illustrate both this and that other saying, “Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall?.”
When Saul saw God's prophet coming to meet him, he evidently appeared, from the confident tone of his address, to expect not reproof but commendation. “Blessed be thou of the Lord : I have performed the commandment of the Lord.” But, no! he had not performed it, but had transgressed grievously. “What meaneth then,” replies the prophet, “ this bleating of the sheep in mine ears, and the lowing of the oxen which I hear 8 ?” It was vain to deny the fact, and therefore Saul will not attempt this; but he will do better still, he thinks; he will justify it. True he had disobeyed in some one or two particulars, but his disobedience was a virtue, and all for God's honour; the people, in their great piety, he would insinuate, “spared the best of the sheep and of the oxen, to sacrifice unto the Lord thy God." But Samuel will not suffer this to pass.
He has convicted him of the fact, and now he will let him see the baseness of it, and expose his hypocritical evasions, and pronounce his sentence. . 6 Prov. xxv. 27.
Prov. xvi. 18. 8 1 Sam. xv. 13, 14.
9 Ver. 15.
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 Saul might pretend as he would, but rebellion and stubbornness were his crimes, and nothing less. The one, like witchcraft, not only revolting from God, but paying homage to the devil: the other, mere idolatry, setting up his own will in opposition to God's; giving his own passions the force of a Divine law, and thereby making a God of his own self. Therefore, the prophet proceeds, “Because thou hast rejected the word of the Lord, he hath also rejected thee from being king '.”
This menace brings Saul to a confession of his fault. Still, however, there are no signs in his behaviour of humiliation of spirit or real repentance: having first denied his crime, and then endeavoured to justify it, and having failed in both, he comes now to palliate and excuse it; and, like our first parents, will transfer the guilt, if he can, to others : “ I have sinned: for I have transgressed the commandment of the Lord, and thy words: because I feared the people, and obeyed their voice 2.” It does not appear that he stood in any awe of the people on other occasions; but if he had really done so upon this, what does it show, but his want of religious principle, and his unfitness for his station ? “ The fear of man bringeth a snare ° :" Saul should have remembered the Lord his Maker, and have feared Him; his excuse is only an aggravation of his fault, supposing it to be true, which is at least very doubtful. And then his mind remains unchanged even to the last. There is no contrition, no sorrow for having sinned against God; but all his anxiety is to save his own credit : “ Yet honour me now, I pray thee, before the elders of my people, and before Israel 4.” It is no wonder that his sentence may not be reversed : he is condemned for his hypocritical, partial obedience; and 1 Sam. xv. 22, 23.
1 Ver. 23.
Ver. 24. 3 Prov. xxix. 25.
4 1 Sam. xv. 30.
is not reprieved, because, though he is brought at length to confess his fault, it is with a humility no less defective than his obedience had been in the performance of his duty. A confession wrung from him in spite of himself, a submission so false, and extorted only by a selfish concern for his own worldly interests, was so far from effacing his sin, that it greatly enhanced it, and instead of being acceptable to God, only stirred up his anger more.
The remainder of the history relates the death of Agag by the hand of Samuel. “ Then said Samuel, Bring ye hither to me Agag the king of the Amalekites.” “And Agag said, Surely the bitterness of death is past. And Samuel said, As thy sword hath made women childless, so shall thy mother be childless among women.
And Samuel hewed Agag in pieces before the Lord in Gilgal 5." No doubt, to have dealt thus by a fallen enemy under ordinary circumstances would have been an act of brutal and most unjustifiable cruelty, as it would be if any nation in their wars were to follow the example of Israel in destroying the vanquished as they destroyed the Amalekites. But in the case of Israel, what they did was their duty: they acted under an express warrant, which constituted them the executioners of God's just anger; so that if any of them had spared man, woman, or child, it would have been as though a private man had assisted a criminal to escape whom the king's law had condemned; an act of rebellion surely, and not of mercy. So likewise we may most completely justify Samuel in slaying Agag: " he hewed him in pieces,” it is said, “ before the Lord.” There could be no doubt but that Agag ought to die, for God had commanded it. Saul ought to have seen to this, but he had failed; the Prophet, therefore, only supplied Saul's lack of service. He was a man of most strict and approved integrity, as his history abundantly shows, and cannot therefore be suspected of having been actuated by feelings of private resentment against the king of Amalek. And in the history before us, we have, in his praying for Saul so earnestly when he first heard of his sin, and in his mourning for him when he might do no more than mourn, striking instances of his charity and tenderheartedness; and therefore we cannot imagine that he did what he did by Agag, without putting great violence upon his own feelings: he would not have been a minister of blood, might it have been avoided consistently with God's honour; but nothing might stand in the way of his zeal for that: he was determined that Israel should not lie under the guilt of wilful rebellion if he could prevent it; and he was resolved to make it evident that God must be obeyed in all things. With respect to Agag, he suffered no more than was his due. A wicked man we are sure he was; for God made no exception in his favour when He commanded the utter extirpation of his nation ; and the Prophet's words to him clearly imply that his character was notorious as a bitter tyrant. If it be thought that his sufferings were aggravated, because he was not slain with his people at once, but reserved with hopes of a reprieve, that must be answered for by Saul, and not by Samuel.
5 1 Sam. xv. 32, 33.
II. And now to make some general application of this instructive history.
We learn from it, in the first place, the difference between true religious obedience and that feigned obedience of outward form which many substitute in its place.
The obedience of Saul was partial: a plain commandment was laid upon him; he chose the part which best suited his inclinations, and would have substituted an act of will-worship for the rest: I have done all that consists with my own interests; and now, Lord, accept a burnt offering instead of the remainder. But Christian obedience respects the authority of God: our principle must be to submit implicitly to Him, to esteem all his commandments concerning all things to be right, and to hate every false way. 66 Whosoever