Saul - The Rejection of the Theocracy
William Trew, Cardiff
We have already suggested that the subject of the 2nd main section of these books (ch. 8—ch. 15) is “The repudiation of the theocracy, and the enslavement of the people of God to a principle of human rule.”
It was not that God had not purposed that they should have a king. The instructions given for their guidance in Deut. 17. 14—20, are sufficient to show that this was in the mind of God for His people. The song of Hannah had already anticipated the accomplishment of God’s thought (ch. 2-10); and God’s purpose In Christ could only be fulfilled by such provision.
The evil lay in the motives that prompted their demand for a king “like all the nations.” They made Samuel’s age and his son’s failure in administration, their excuses by which to justify their request; but the Lord knew their hearts, and their evil motives were exposed (see 1. Sam. 8; 7-9; ch. 10; 17-19; ch. 12. 12), In spite of the exposure, and notwithstanding the warnings and entreaties of Samuel, the people were unrepentant and hardened in their rebellion. “They wanted not only a king, but royalty like that of the nations around, and for the purpose of outward deliverance; thus forgetting God’s dealings in the past, disclaiming simple trust in Him, and disbelieving the sufficiency of His leadership. In fact, what they really wanted was a king who would reflect and embody their ideas of royalty, not the ideal which God had set before them. And no better representative of Israel could have been found than Saul, alike in appearance and in military qualifications; nor yet a truer reflex, of the people than that which his character and religious bearing offered. He was the typical Israelite of his period. If David was the king “after God’s Own Heart,” Saul was the king after the people’s own heart. What they had asked, they obtained; and what they obtained, must fail; and what failed would prepare for what God intended.” (Edersheim)
There are desires that are granted, but in judgment; and so it was in this case. “I gave them a king in mine anger, and took him away in my wrath.” (Hos: 13. 11).
In Saul then, we see the rejection of the theocracy, and the establishment of human rule; to the bitter despotism of which the people of God willingly submitted themselves. In another day God had to say, “A wonderful and horrible thing is committed in the land; the prophets prophecy falsely, and the priests bear rule by their means; and my people love to have it so.” (Jer. 5. 30—31). And their sin is in our hearts! How astonishing a thing it is that we so stubbornly refuse the increasing blessing of “the sweet, beloved will of God,” and as eagerly seek after the spiritual poverty and ruin that inevitably result from our own self will!
Saul’s Repudiation of the Throne of God.
The unbelief of the people and their rebellion against the Rule of God, were personified in their chosen king. This is clearly indicated by Saul's attitude to the Ark of God through the course of his reign. The Ark was the symbol of God's Presence and Rule among His people but Saul had no heart for the Ark. On one occasion, when in sore need of guidance from God, he commanded the Ark to be brought. But when circumstances seemed to demand immediate action, he had not the patience to await the communication of the will of God, and “Saul said unto the priest, ‘Withdraw thine hand,’” (ch. 14. 18-19). That attitude of heart was characteristic. The Rule of God was deliberately set aside—the Throne of God was displaced. And when at last David stood in his stead, and sought to restore the Ark to its rightful place, he said, “We enquired not at it in the days of Saul” (1 Chron. 13. 3). “The king of Israel was but the representative of the Heavenly King, Whose people Israel really were, and Whose Will alone was absolute throughout all circumstances that might arise. How good, in fact to have it so! How entirely at rest might a king be, so governing! As to any lack of understanding of that Will, there was given the utmost liberty of appeal to Him, through known and readily available channels of communication. With consequences he had nothing to do. Were ever king’s shoulders so entirely relieved of strain as those of the obedient king of such a kingdom? Saul had not the spirit of obedience, and there was no harshness, no undue severity, in his rejection by God.” (GRANT)
Remonstrating with the people in order to arouse their consciences to their sin in demanding a king, when the Lord was their king, Samuel commenced his resume of God’s dealings with them, by reminding them how He redeemed them out of Egypt, ch. 12. 6-17). His sovereign rights over them as their King, were based upon redemption.
“And we have known redemption, Lord,
From bondage worse than their’s by far;
Sin held us by a stronger cord,
Yet by Thy mercy free we are.’
“Our Saviour Jesus Christ gave Himself for us, in order to redeem us out of the slave market of our self choosing, and purify unto Himself a people for His Own absolute possession, zealous of good works” (Titus 2-14, see trans. by Moule). He died for us, not only to save us from hell, but from sin; not only to save us to heaven, but to holiness; not only that He might be our Redeemer, but also our absolute Lord. Grateful hearts will gladly confess His sovereign rights over them, and responsive love will delight to surrender all to the government of His “good and acceptable and perfect Will.” The bond-service of Jesus Christ is sweetest liberty; the freedom of our self will is the bitterest kind of bondage.
To the elders, of the Ephesian assembly, the apostle said, “Take heed unto yourselves, and to all the flock in which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the Church of God which He purchased with His own blood.” (Acts 20. 28 R.V.M.). The true leader will always bear in mind that the local assembly, in which he serves as under-shepherd, is the property of Him Who paid the purchase price. Peter had this in mind when he exhorted the elders of the Assemblies, “Shepherd, the flock of God which is among you, exercising oversight, not of necessity, but willingly; not for base gain, but readily; not as lording it over your possessions, but being models to the flock.” (1 Pet. 5. 2-3 New Tran.) , The flock were not to be treated as the property of the elders. It is the ministry of the overseer to guide the steps of God’s saints into the ways of the Lord, and to secure that the will of “the Master of Assemblies” finds practical expression in the gathering of His people. But that means that the Word must decide every matter relative to the assembly, as also the life of the individual believer. The government of the assembly of God is theocratic not democratic. The will of the Lord is revealed by the spirit in the Word, understanding of which is assured to us if our wills are surrendered to His Lordship. (John 7. 17). The Scriptures given by inspiration of God are not obsolete. The precepts of the Word are still binding; its authority absolute; and it is profitable still for “doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works” (2 Tim. 3. 16-17).
Alas! the history of Israel has repeated itself in the professing church. The prophetic history of the Church (Rev. 2 and 3) witnesses clearly to this. Peter’s exhortations (1 Pet. 5) had in view a very real danger; and at the close of the apostolic days, that danger materialised. “Nicolaitanes” (Rev. 2. 6; 15) means “Conquering the people.” The last part of the word is the Greek word from which is derived the word “Laity.” The Nicolaitanes were those who “subjected the laity,” the mass of Christian people, in order unduly to lord it over them. Important principles are involved in this—though we cannot enter into it now—and how really the Lord has cause to say of Nicolaitanism, “which I also hate.” We need not be ashamed or afraid to be with the Lord in this. In Rev. 2. 6 the saints were in fellowship with Christ, hating what He hated; in v. 15 they were out of communion, and He, unchanging in His attitude to evil, was left to hate alone.
This principle of human rule, then, is clearly what Saul represents. Long ago it was God’s lament, “My people love to have it so.” May we learn to “hate every false way,” and to “esteem all Thy precepts concerning all things to be right.” (Psa. 119. 128).