Overcoming the World (1 Samuel 12-14)
Jesse Webb, India
(D) THE WORD OF GOD AND HUMAN EXPEDIENCY
WE have seen that the position of the people was weakened by their unwillingness to face the Philistine enemy, but another and greater cause of weakness was the spiritual decline of their leader. We have reached a sad page in the history of Israel's first anointed king (1 Sam. 13. 8-14). Saul should have known that there was no justification whatever for setting aside the plain commands of God. By so doing he entered upon a path that was to cost him finally his kingdom and his fife. The lesson for us is solemnizing, and one we need to take to heart today. Oh, the folly of self-will and self-pleasing in regard to the worship and service of God ! How many and varied are the expedients resorted to today! Saul could plead three apparently good reasons for acting as he did:—
(1) He had wailed seven days for Samuel, who had not come at the time appointed (verses 8-11).
(2) His army was deserting him.
(3) The Philistines were gathering for battle and he had not made supplication to the Lord (verse 12).
This was the plea of expediency, the same plea that men have always used to justify their actings in self-will. Samuel's answer to this was simple and sufficient. Consider his reply to Saul's specious pleading : " And Samuel said to Saul, Thou hast done foolishly; thou hast not kept the commandment of the Lord thy God, which He commanded thee: 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 " (1 Sam. 13. 13, 14).
On a later occasion when Saul again failed to carry out the commandment of the Lord he was met with this word from the prophet Samuel: " To obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams " (1 Sam. 15. 22).
There may be much to commend in our work for God, there may be much zeal and great self-sacrifice. There may be apparent fruit to show for our labour, but if it is service unaccompanied by loyal obedience to the will and Word of God, service rendered contrary to God's expressed will, how will it appeal in that coming day of award ? " And if also anyone contend in the games he is not crowned unless he contend lawfully " (2 Tim. 2. 5, New Translation by J. N. D.).
Someone has written : " Look at your work as you'll look at it then. Scanned by Jehovah, and angels and men."
In one of Caroline Blackwell's letters occurs the following searching remark : " I'll tell you what I want . . . not to have to change my opinions about anything when I stand ' face to face '; let all the change be now ; for as heaven is higher than earth, so are His thoughts than mine. I want to value earthly things now as I shall then ; to value souls now as I shall then : to value Him now as I shall then,"
If eternal realities weighed with us as much as they ought, this would be the expression of every heart that knows the Lord.
Let us heed this word of Samuel. To set aside the word of God and substitute our own wishes and preferences, or the opinions and preferences of others, is to act foolishly. Expediency is no excuse for disobedience to revealed truth. What right have we to opinions of our own in matters where God has plainly expressed His mind and will ? Saul could not have pleaded ignorance of the Word of God. He was supposed to have written out for himself the law of God, and to read therein all the days of his life (Deut. 17. 14-20). He must have known that he was wrong to usurp the priestly office as he did (1 Sam. 13. 8-10). He was without excuse for his disobedience. What shall we then plead today as an excuse for our innovations for which the orderings of God are set aside ? We need to reject the idea, which is becoming more and more popular in these days of departure from God and His Word, that anything not expressly forbidden in Scripture is permissible. Those who argue thus should consider well the bearing of such passages as Lev. 10. 1-10; Deut. 4. 2 ; 13. 4; Josh. I. 7,8; Prov. 30. 5; Eccles. 3. 14; Mark 7. 7-9 and 13 ; Rev. 22. 18. There is uncommon danger in tampering with the plain commands of God. God's own perfect orderings in His House for worship and service are sufficient. Man's additions do but mar the work of God.
(E) "NO SMITH IN ISRAEL"
We come now to a passage, 1 Sam. 13. 19-22, that is truly heart-searching. Consider the implications.
(1) What Bankruptcy of Resources ! " Now there was no smith found throughout the land of Israel."
(2) What Loss of their Separation Character ! " And all Israel went down to the Philistines, every man to get his ploughshare, and his hoe, and hind his sickle sharpened," when the edges of the sickles, and the hoes, and the forks, and the axes were blunted.
(3) What a Tragic Disarming for the Conflict! ' 'And it came to pass in the day of battle, that there was neither sword nor spear found in the hand of any of the people that were with Saul and Jonathan."
We learn from this how very subtle were these Philistine foes of the redeemed people of God. The Philistines knew well that they had nothing to fear from a people that had neither sword nor spear. They were careful to see that there were no smiths in Israel, for well they knew that ploughshares and axes could be turned into implements of war. As all the men that followed the king were unarmed, can we wonder that they followed their leader with trembling hearts?
The Philistines possessed plenty of initiative. They devised the new cart (1 Sam. 6. 7-12) which was copied by David with such disastrous consequences (2 Sam. 6. 1-11), and it was another Philistine device to see that there should be no smith in all the land of Israel, so that the people of God should be unarmed and unprepared for war. The lesson for our hearts is clear. We must walk in separation from the world, and be entirely independent of its resources. Let this exercise our hearts continually that " the friendship of the world is enmity with God," and " If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him." The Christian has no need of this world's resources. Its expedients and devices are to be refused. Observe what a young Christian wrote about this:
" And yet, outside the camp,
'Twas there my Saviour died ;
It was (the world that cast Him forth,
And saw Him crucified.
Can I take part with those
Who nailed Him to the tree ;
And where His name is never praised,
Is there the place for me ?
" Nay. world. I turn away.
Though thou seem fair and good ;
That friendly outstretched hand of thine
Is stained with Jesus' blood. If, in thy least device,
I stoop to take a part, All unawares, thine influence
Steals God's presence from my heart."
In the Book of Isaiah we hear God declaring : " Behold, I have created the smith that bloweth the coals in the fire, and that bringeth forth an instrument for his work " (Isa. 54. 16).
In the Epistle to the Ephesians, Paul tells us who these smiths are: " When He ascended up on high He led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men. And He gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists ; and some, pastors (Gk. " Shepherds") and teachers."
Observe the divine purpose to be served by these gifts of the risen Lord to His Church : " For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ. Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God; unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ " (Eph. 4. 7-13).
But where are smiths today ? See how they arc needed (Comp. Prov. 27. 17). We are living in days of lowering standards and loosening principles. The bare word of God is not sufficient for many today. Philistine devices are common in Christendom, and many true believers have been attracted by them. Let the Christian who desires to be approved of his Lord in that coming day of award refuse to adopt or use any method or device which is not sanctioned by the Word of God. The Israelites were helpless in the day of battle, because they had no smiths and no arms for the conflict.
The call to the child of God is clear and insistent: " Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing " (2 Cor. 6. 14-17).
Our armoury is divine. " The weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds " (2 Cor. 10. 4).
" Our citizenship is in heaven " (Phil. 3. 20). " Christ our life " is there (Col. 3. 1-4), and there, as to our spiritual experience, we must live (Eph. 2. 6). Only a life so lived in the energy of faith can enable us to fight the battles of the Lord and overcome the world. " This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith " (1 John 5. 4).
The following chapter (1 Sam. 14) records a great victory. This was accomplished by two men of heroic faith in God. These men dared to go forth to the attack upon a Philistine garrison or stronghold. It was apparently a most foolhardy undertaking ; but, leaning wholly upon God, and daring all in reliance upon His Almighty arm, they wrought a great deliverance for the people of God (1 Sam. 14. 45). Thesen God wants and uses.