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King David's early history reveals a clear spiritual gulf between him and flawed King Saul!
First and Second Samuel gives us the history of two men, Saul and David. These two men illustrate for us the two principles in the heart of every Christian believer seeking to walk before God. They are the principle of flesh and the principle of faith. Saul is the man of the flesh, and David is the man of faith; the carnal believer and the spiritual believer. The fact that both of these men were kings perfectly illustrates the effect of the supremacy of the will in human life for, surely, God would be with both of them in equal measure as long as they were true to Him. But then, this is the crux of the matter. As so many books in the Bible show, such as the book of Esther, each one of us is a king over a kingdom. Too often, we make our will supreme in our life and the Spirit of God will allow us our way until we are deep in the mire of life before we call out to Him to rescue us. We are ruling over the kingdom of our lives and our affairs, over those things that concern us personally and also the things that have an impact and influence upon others. As the king of our own lives what we say and do influences the whole kingdom over which we reign.
The story of David portrays what happens in a Christian's life as he follows God into the place of dominion and reigning. Every Christian is offered a kingdom, just as David was offered a kingdom. That kingdom is the believer's own life and it is exactly like the kingdom of Israel. There are enemies threatening it from the outside and there are enemies threatening it from within, just as there were enemy nations outside the boundaries of Israel and there were enemy tribes living amongst the people within the land. The enemies from without are representative for us of the world and the direct attacks of the devil upon us. The enemies within represent those internal enemies of the flesh that threaten to undermine and overthrow the dominion that God intends us to have as we learn to reign in life by Jesus Christ. We do not call them Ammonites, Jebusites, Perrizites, etc., as they are called in the Old Testament, rather we call them jealousy, envy, lust, bitterness, resentment, worry, anxiety, etc. But they are the same enemies and proceed in the same ways.
In these two kings the two principles which are in conflict in our lives are illustrated. We see in Saul the ruin caused by the will that is set on the flesh. In David we see beautifully illustrated the blessing brought by the mind that is set on the Spirit: "To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace" (Romans 8:6). This conflict is illustrated in the book of 1 Samuel in the lives of these two men and 2 Samuel 5:12 is a verse which, in many ways, summarises the spiritual character and understanding of David for we read: "And David perceived that the Lord had established him king over Israel, and that he had exalted his kingdom for his people Israel's sake." This was something Saul never realized, for he had been a man devoid of faith. He saw the kingdom as his own, and he served only for himself and what he hoped would be his dynasty on the throne of Israel. He never saw the kingdom as belonging to God, only as belonging to himself. King David, on the other hand, knew that God had established him as king, not for his sake, but for the sake of His people Israel. Because of this, we can identify Saul as egocentric, that is, self-centered. David, however, was theo-centric, God-centered. Everything that King David did was for God and for the advancement of His kingdom. David, in I Samuel 13:14 is called "a man after [God's] own heart"; but King Saul, the first king of Israel, is labelled "the king like the nations around" (1 Samuel 8:5). Thus, as we have seen in I Samuel, Saul represents the man of the flesh who tries in his own way to please God by good-intentioned, often highly sincere, but basically disobedient efforts to be religious. For him everything falls apart. We learn from Saul that the Christian life is not to be a shabby imitation of the life of Jesus Christ. It must be the real thing, with Christ Himself living His life in us. But as Saul is the picture of the flesh and its attempt to imitate reality, David is the picture of the man after God's own heart, the believer in whom the Spirit of God dwells and who is open to the instruction of the Spirit and who is led by the Spirit.
In the Book of Samuel (1 and 2) is set forth the eternal conflict between the proud heart which finds confidence in itself and its ability to do things, and the humble spirit which looks to God in utter dependence, receiving all the fullness of divine blessing. This was the problem with Israel. The priesthood was failing, and not because there was anything wrong with the priesthood which was a picture of the ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ, but because the people refused to bow before the Lord. They refused to come for cleansing and to turn from idolatrous worship. As a result, their access to God was cut off. The priesthood, then, was about to pass out of the picture as an effective means of mediation between the people and God, but remained pictured before the people in the typology of the shepherd king, David, whose lineage would lead the people to the Great Shepherd and King of Kings, the Lord Jesus Christ.
The difference between the two men is well emphasised by the way in which God gave a great victory through his son Jonathan's faith, and delivered the people from this vast horde of Philistines. When at last the battle was won, Saul built an altar. It is the first altar that we are specifically told King Saul ever built. Here was a man who thought the outward marks of faith are all that are necessary. If you go through the external ritual, if you belong to a church, if you sing the hymns, if you say the right things, if you confess the right creed, that is all God expects. That is the principle of the man of the flesh exemplified by Saul. But God says that when you act on that basis, your reign over your own life is taken away. You no longer have authority in your own kingdom. You become the victim and the slave of an inexorable force which will grind you under its heel and bring you into subjection to it. This is what every man or woman who lives by the flesh sooner or later discovers. When we yield ourselves to that which we obey, as Paul puts it in Romans, we become slaves of that thing (Romans 6:165): "Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness?" This is what happened to Saul. After he built an altar, God brought him to his knees, but still gave him one last chance.
At the beginning of 1 Sam 15:1-37 we read:
And Samuel said to Saul, "The Lord sent me to anoint you king over his people Israel; now therefore hearken to the words of the Lord. Thus says the Lord of hosts, 'I will punish what Amalek did to Israel in opposing them on the way, when they came up out of Egypt. Now go and smite Amalek and utterly destroy all that they have; do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass.'"
This was Saul's last chance, because if Saul had obeyed this command, he would have demonstrated that he was ready to allow the cross to do its work against the flesh - to crucify it and to put it to death. Amalek is a picture throughout all of the scripture of the principle of the flesh which opposes the things of God. Amalek was that people about whom Moses had said to Israel, "Remember Amalek unto all generations. He will never make peace with Amalek" (Exodus 17:162). Saul was given this remission to carry out. But instead he probably reasoned, "Why should we destroy these perfectly good animals?" He presumed to find something good in what God had declared utterly bad. Paul wrote that we must "put off the old nature" (Colossians 3:9) with its ways of jealousy, perverseness, bitterness, envy, anger, intemperance, selfishness and all these things. But the mind of the flesh says, "Oh, some of this is worth keeping. I can hardly be a real personality if I don't have a real temper and rage at people once in awhile." This is a clear picture of what many Christians do today when they refuse to judge the manifestations of the flesh, but defend them and excuse them as part of their personality or temperament. The result was that Samuel came to Saul and asked how he had progressed in his task. Samuel listened to the sounds of the animals Saul spared and asked him, "What do I hear? What is that sound of bleating and lowing?" Saul was of the opinion that it was alright to spare the best, "I spared a few; I thought God would be pleased if I dedicated them to him." That is an excuse we use, isn't it? What we desire to keep something sinful, we pretend to dedicate to God. This is what Saul tried too:
And Samuel said, "Though you are little in your own eyes, are you not the head of the tribes of Israel?" (1 Sam 15:17a 7)
Why did you not obey the voice of the Lord?" (1 Sam 15:19b 7)
And Saul said to Samuel, "I have obeyed the voice of the Lord." (1 Sam 15:20a 7)
And Samuel said,"Has 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 divination, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, he has also rejected you from being king." (1 Sam 15:22-23 7)
Again he proved disobedient by sparing King Agag of the Amalekites. No man can walk in the authority and the freedom that God has intended for his children when he rejects the authority of the Spirit of God in his life and this is primarily the story of Saul's "spirituality."
The story of David is the story of the man after God's own heart. There are tremendous lessons in the accounts of David, his rejection, and his exile. He was chosen from the eight sons of Jesse. The seven eldest sons passed before Samuel and each one looked like a king in the making until God said to Samuel, "This is not the one that I have chosen." And last came the youngest and the skinniest one of all - David. God put his seal upon him. His choice was not according to outward appearance - God looked instead at his heart.
When focusing upon the life of David there are two ways that we may view him. First, it is orthodox to see him as a picture of the Lord Jesus Christ, for Jesus Himself used this analogy. David was not only the forerunner and ancestor of Jesus according to the flesh, but in his reign he is a picture of the reign of Christ during the millennium. David went through a long period of time when he was rejected, persecuted and harassed; but during that time of exile he gathered men around him who later, after he was king, became his commanders and generals. Thus David pictures Christ in His rejection - forsaken by the world but gathering disciples who will be His commanders, generals and captains when He comes to reign in power and glory over the earth.
Second, David is also a picture of each individual believer; and as we read these histories from that point of view the books come alive and glow with truth for us. "These things...were written," Paul says, "for our instruction" (I Corinthians 10:11), that we might understand ourselves as we see events worked out in the lives of these characters in the Old Testament. David was not set on the throne immediately as Saul was, but was tested and proved by struggle and adversity. This is the principle that God often follows with the man who learns to walk by faith. He is put through a time of obscurity, of testing, and of problems. Everything seems to go against him until at last he recognizes the great principle by which God's activity is always carried on - man can do nothing in himself but only in complete and utter dependence upon the God who indwells him. This is what David learned even as a shepherd boy, so that he could say, "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want; he makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul." (Psalm 23:1-3a2)
During the time that Saul persecuted David and tried to kill him David wrote many of the Psalms - wonderful songs that speak of God's faithfulness in the midst of distressing conditions and speak volumes about David's spiritual condition and his willingness to recognise his sins and dependence on God for forgiveness and salvation. David was pursued and finally exiled from the presence of Saul but the fullness of God's abundant provision was with him even in his exile. He was given the holy bread of the tabernacle. This bread, representing the presence of God, is a picture of that secret ministering to everyone who is undergoing difficult problems, yet looking to God for deliverance. To such God gives the hidden bread, the bread from the very table of the Lord himself. Jesus said, "I am the bread of life." (John 6:352) "As I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me." (John 6:572) In his exile, David the king had a prophet, Gad, and a priest, Abiathar, whose resources were available to him even though he was hunted like a bird upon the mountains, just as when we are in trouble, hardly able to work out our own problems ourselves, we can find in the Lord Jesus Christ (who is our prophet, our priest, and our king) all that it takes to bring us through the time of trouble to God's open door for us. This is what happened to David who refused to act for himself, even when others tempted him to take the easy path and destroy Saul, his adversary for the throne. Just as Christ resisted Satan's temptation to take a short-cut to apparent success in His time on earth (Matthew 4:1-11) David twice spared Saul as God delivered him into his hand. In a remarkable spirit of faith he waited for God to work out the problems.
At the end of 1 Samuel we see the end of the man of flesh. Saul, out of desperation, descends to witchcraft to try to determine the mind of the Lord after the Spirit of God has departed from him. Although witchcraft was utterly forbidden to the people of God, Saul calls up the witch of Endor and tries to get her to call Samuel up. God overrules this and sends, not an impersonating spirit, as the witch expected, but the true Samuel who announces Saul's impending death on the field of battle the next day. True to the prophecy, Saul and his son Jonathan, David's bosom friend, are slain, and David, ever the man of faith, in the opening chapter of 2 Samuel extolls them both as men used of God, despite their many weaknesses. The death of Saul illustrates perfectly Paul's words (1 Corinthians 32) concerning the carnal believer and his work, "If any man's work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames." So Saul joined Samuel in the life beyond, but as one whose earthly life was essentially wasted and whose opportunity for service in glory was thereby diminished.
The witness of the spirituality of Saul speaks of the way we, too, would chose a king or leader. He was supposed to be a king of humble spirit and obedient heart who would be the human instrument of the government of God. But, as so many times before, God permitted Israel to have their way that they might learn from the sad results the nature of their folly. The principle of the flesh is thus seen at work in the nation of Israel to destroy its communion and enjoyment of God's blessing. The same principle is interwoven in every Christian life. The desire of the flesh is to be religious in a manner acceptable to the world and to conduct its business along the principles of the world. Even within the church many are often uncomfortable with the idea of an invisible Head directing the affairs of the local assembly. They insist on making a pastor or some other leader the ultimate voice of authority in the church, and thus follow Israel in their folly.
Again, in David's final ascension to the full throne over all the tribes of Israel we read of the bloody story of the murder of Ishbosheth by two men of the tribe of Benjamin. They brought the head of Ishbosheth to David in Hebron, thinking to gain his approval but he met them with the same treatment he had given the Amalekite who brought the news of Saul's death. Their immediate death at the hands of David's men demonstrated again David's unwillingness to make use of subterfuge and injustice to secure the ends appointed by God. Nevertheless, with the death of Abner and Ishbosheth, the warfare with the house of Saul is ended and the way is now clear for David to be king over all of Israel. In our lives, this depicts the time when we come at last to the full truth of the cross and what that cross has done in putting to death the old man within us, thus bringing an end to the reign of the flesh, as pictured by the house of Saul. When at last it breaks upon our astonished minds that God really means it when He says He has separated us from the life of Adam and linked us to the life of Jesus Christ, and thus our old man no longer has any right to live, then we are standing right in the same place David was when he saw the opportunity to ascend to the throne over all the united land of Israel.
We even see a beautiful interlude in the recounting of David's search for any remaining sons of Jonathan (2 Samuel 10). Upon finding one named Mephibosheth, who had been lamed by a fall on the terrible day when Saul and Jonathan fell in battle, David brought him to Jerusalem, set him at his own table, and treated him as his own son. Thus he remembered his covenant with Jonathan to "show the kindness of the Lord" to his descendants. In all this he appears afresh as a man after God's own heart in contrast to Saul, who promised the victor over Goliath his daughter in marriage - and gave Merab, who "should have been given to David" (1Samuel 18:19) to Adriel the Meholathite, and then even took Michal away from David, when he married her with Saul's fleshly approval (1 Samuel 18:21), and gave her to Paltiel the son of Laish. Thus Saul even showed contempt for God's holy matrimonial pattern for family life!
It is truly tragic that 1 Chronicles, Chapter 10 gives this brief account of the death of Saul, for verses 13 and 14 tell why Saul's kingship ended: "So Saul died for his trespass which he committed against the Lord, because of the word of the Lord which he did not keep; and also because he asked counsel of a medium, making inquiry of it."
Many have wondered how David, the man who is called "a man after God's own heart" could ever merit such a title after being guilty of the sin of taking Bathsheba and planning the death of her husband Uriah. But we can answer that by observing what happened in David's life when God sent Nathan the prophet to him. Nathan told the king a parable, which caught him completely off guard, and when the king responded in righteous anger, Nathan charged him with having committed the sin he had just condemned. Immediately. David acknowledged and faced his sin; he did not try to justify it, but confessed his total wrong in this matter. It was at this point that David wrote Psalm 51. Many have turned to this psalm in times of guilt and self-condemnation, and have found in David's experience the grace to handle their own sin properly before God, and to know also the washing away of stain and ugliness in the ever-flowing stream of God's mercy. David truly is a picture of a hero of the faith - a sinner who did not try and hide behind excuses, but showed himself to be a repentant and committed believer in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
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