Sermon 2. Wilfulness of Israel in Rejecting Samuel

"Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth." Psalm xlvi. 10.

{16} IT was a lesson continually set before the Israelites, that they were never to presume to act of themselves, but to wait till God wrought for them, to look on reverently, and then follow His guidance. God was their All-wise King: it was their duty to have no will of their own, distinct from His will, to form no plan of their own, to attempt no work of their own. "Be still, and know that I am God." Move not, speak not—look to the pillar of the cloud, see how it moves—then follow. Such was the command.

For instance—when the Egyptians pursued the Israelites to the coast of the Red Sea, Moses said to the people, "Fear ye not, stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord; the Lord shall fight for you, and ye shall hold your peace." When they came to the borders of Canaan, and were frightened at the strength of its inhabitants, they were exhorted, "Dread not, neither be afraid of them. The Lord your God shall fight for {17} you." To the same effect was the dying injunction of Joshua, "Be very courageous to keep and to do all that is written in the book of the law of Moses, that ye turn not aside therefrom to the right hand or to the left." And in a later age, when the Moabites and Ammonites made war against Jehoshaphat, the prophet Jahaziel was inspired to encourage the people in these words:—"Be not afraid nor dismayed by reason of this great multitude; for the battle is not yours, but God's ... Ye shall not need to fight in this battle: set yourselves, stand ye still, and see the salvation of the Lord with you, O Judah and Jerusalem." Once more—When Israel and Syria came against Judah, the prophet Isaiah was directed to meet Ahaz, and to say to him, "Take heed, and be quiet; fear not, neither be fainthearted." [Ex. xiv. 13, 14. Deut. i. 29, 30. Josh. xxiii. 6. 2 Chron. xx. 15, 17. Isa. vii. 4.] Presumption—that is, the determination to act of themselves, or self-will—was placed in the number of the most heinous sins. "The man that will do presumptuously, and will not hearken unto the priest that standeth to minister there before the Lord thy God, or unto the judge, even that man shall die, and thou shalt put away the evil from Israel." [Deut. xvii. 12.]

While, however, this entire surrender of themselves to their Almighty Creator was an especial duty enjoined on the chosen people, a deliberate and obstinate transgression of that duty is one of the especial characteristics of their history. They failed most conspicuously in that very point in which obedience was most strictly enjoined them. They were told never to act of themselves, {18} and (as if out of mere perverseness) they were for ever acting of themselves; and, if we look through the series of their punishments, we shall find them inflicted, not for mere indolent disobedience, or for frailty under temptation, but for deliberate, shameless presumption, running forward just in that very direction in which the Providence of God did not lead them, and from which it even prohibited them.

First, they made a molten image to worship, and this just after receiving the command to make to themselves no emblems of the Divine Majesty, and while Moses was still in the Mount. Then they would take to themselves a captain, and return to Egypt, instead of proceeding into the land of promise. When forbidden to go forward, then they at once attempted to do so. At last, when they had entered it, instead of following God's guidance, and destroying the guilty inhabitants, they adopted a plan of their own, and put their conquered enemies under tribute. Next followed their self-willed purpose of having a king like the nations around them.

It is observable, moreover, that they were the most perversely disobedient at those times when Divine mercy had aided them in some remarkable way. For instance, in the lifetime of Moses. Again, when Samuel was raised up to bring back the age of Moses, and to complete what he had begun, then they ran counter to God's design most signally; at the very time, I say, when God was visiting them in their low estate, and renewing His mercies, their very first act, on gaining a little strength, and recovering from their despair, {19} was to reject God's government over them, and ask a king like other nations.

This is the part of their history to which I wish now particularly to draw your attention, the times of Samuel; the main circumstances to be considered being these—the renewal of God's mercies to them after their backslidings; His single demand in return, that they should submit themselves to His guidance; and, lastly, their plain refusal to do so, or rather their impetuous and deliberate movement in another direction.

When Moses was nigh his death, he foretold that a prophet was one day to arise like unto him in his place, a promise which was properly fulfilled in Christ's coming, but which had a prior accomplishment in the line of prophets from Samuel down to the captivity. A period, however, of four hundred years intervened between Moses' age and this first fulfilment of the prediction. The people were at first ruled by judges. At length, in the midst of the distress which their sins had brought upon them, when the Philistines had overrun the country, God visited them according to the promise. He raised up Samuel as His first prophet, and him not as a solitary messenger of His purposes, but as the first of many hundreds in succession.

Now, let us consider the circumstances under which Samuel, the first of the prophets, was raised up. We shall find that his elevation was owing simply to God's will and power. He, like Moses, was not a warrior, yet by his prayers he saved his people from their enemies, and established them in a settled government. "Be still, and know that I am God." The principle of {20} this command had been illustrated in the giving of the Law, and now it was enforced in the beginning of the Prophetical Dispensation, as also in later ages, after the captivity, and when Christ came, according to the words of Zechariah, "Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, saith the Lord of Hosts." [Zech. iv. 6.]

Observe, Samuel was born, in answer to his mother's earnest prayer for a son. Hannah, "in bitterness of soul, had prayed unto the Lord, and wept sore, and vowed a vow," viz.—that if God would give her a son, he should be dedicated to Him. This should be noticed, for Samuel was thus marked from his birth as altogether an instrument of the Lord's providing. A similar providence is observable in the case of other favoured objects and ministers of God's mercy, in order to show that that mercy is entirely of grace. Isaac was the child of Divine power, so was John the Baptist; and Moses, again, was almost miraculously saved from the murderous Egyptians in his infancy.

According to his mother's vow, Samuel was taken into the service of the temple from his earliest years; and, while yet a child, was made the organ of God's sentence of evil upon Eli the high priest. God called him, in the sacred time, between night and morning, "Samuel, Samuel," and pronounced through him a judgment against Eli, for his sinful indulgence towards his sons. Here, again, was a lesson to the Israelites, how entirely the prophetic spirit, with which the nation was henceforth to be favoured, was from God. Had Samuel grown to manhood before he was inspired, it would not {21} have clearly appeared how far the work was immediately Divine; but when an untaught child was made to prophesy against Eli, the aged high priest, the people were reminded, as in the case of Moses, who was slow of speech, that it was the Lord who "made man's mouth, the dumb, or deaf, the seeing, or the blind;" [Exod. iv. 11.] and that age and youth were the same with Him when His purposes required an instrument.

Samuel thus grew up to manhood, with the presages of greatness on him from the first. It is written, "Samuel grew, and the Lord was with him, and did let none of his words fall to the ground. And all Israel, from Dan even to Beersheba," (i.e. from one end of the land to the other), "knew that Samuel was established to be a prophet of the Lord. And the Lord appeared again in Shiloh; for the Lord revealed Himself to Samuel in Shiloh by the word of the Lord." [1 Sam. iii. 19-21.]

After this, when he was about thirty years old, the battle took place with the Philistines, in which thirty thousand Israelites fell. The ark of God was taken, and Eli, on hearing the news, fell from off his seat backward, and was killed. Thus Samuel was raised to the supreme power, in his country's greatest affliction. Still, even in his elevation, he was not allowed to do any great action himself. The ark of God was taken, yet he was not to rescue it. God so ordered it that His name "should be exalted among the heathen, and should be exalted in the earth."

The Philistines took the ark to Ashdod, and placed {22} it in the temple of their idol, Dagon. Next morning, Dagon was found fallen on its face to the earth before it. They set it up again, and the next morning it was found broken into pieces [1 Sam. v. 3, 4.]; and soon after the men of Ashdod and its neighbourhood were smitten with a Divine judgment. In consequence, they resolved to rid themselves of what they rightly considered the cause of it, and transported the ark to Gath. The men of Gath were smitten with God's anger in their turn, and in their turn sent away the ark to Ekron. The Ekronites, in their terror, hardly suffered it to approach them. But the mysterious plague still attended it; and the Ekronites, as they had justly feared, were smitten with a "deadly destruction throughout all the city." The Philistines now determined to send their spoil, as they had at first fancied it, back to Israel; but in order to try further, as it seems, the power of the God of Israel, they did as follows: They took two milch-kine, which had never been under the yoke, and shutting up their calves at home, harnessed them to the cart on which they had placed the ark. Should the kine, in spite of their natural affection for their young, go towards the Israelitish border, then, they argued, they might be sure that it was the God of Israel who had smitten them, in punishment for their capture of His holy habitation. It is written, "The kine took the straight way" towards the territory of Israel, "lowing as they went, and turned not aside to the right hand or to the left." [1 Sam. vi. 12.]

All this was a lesson to the Philistines; but the Israelites had yet theirs to learn. They had taken the {23} ark to the battle, not in reverence, but as if it were a sort of charm, with virtue in itself, and without any command from God, presumptuously. They were first punished by losing it. When they saw the ark returning to them, they rejoiced; and the Levites took it down and offered sacrifice. So far was well, but presently, "The men of Bethshemesh ... looked into it;" this evidenced a want of reverence towards God's sacred dwelling-place. And God "smote of the people fifty thousand threescore and ten men; and the people lamented," and said, "Who is able to stand before this Holy Lord God?"

Thus, when Almighty God, four hundred years after the age of Moses, again visited His people, He showed Himself in various ways to be the sole Author of the blessings they received. The child Samuel, the ark of wood, the brute cattle—these were the instruments through which He manifested that He was a living God; and having thus bared His mighty arm, and bid all men "be still, and know that He was God," then at length He sent His first prophet forward to teach and reclaim the people. "Samuel spake unto all the house of Israel, saying, If ye do return unto the Lord with all your hearts, then put away the strange gods and Ashtaroth from among you, and prepare your hearts unto the Lord, and serve Him only: and He will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines. Then the children of Israel did put away Baalim and Ashtaroth, and served the Lord only." The period during which this reformation was carried on seems to have been the greater part of twenty years, which was more or less a {24} time of captivity. Towards the end of it, he gathered the Israelites together at Mizpeh, to hold a fast for their past sins; and then "he judged the children of Israel in Mizpeh." This seems to imply a more open assumption of power than any he had been hitherto directed to make. In consequence, the Philistines were alarmed, thinking perhaps the subjugated people were on the point of recovering their independence; and, assembling their forces, they marched against them. "And the children of Israel said to Samuel, Cease not to cry unto the Lord for us, that He will save us out of the hand of the Philistines. And Samuel took a sucking lamb, and offered it for a burnt-offering wholly unto the Lord: and Samuel cried unto the Lord for Israel, and the Lord heard him." The Philistines drew near to battle, while the sacrifice was offering; "but the Lord thundered with a great thunder on that day upon the Philistines, and discomfited them, and they were smitten before Israel ... Then Samuel took a stone and set it between Mizpeh and Shen, and called the name of it Ebenezer, saying, Hitherto hath the Lord helped us." This whole transaction is a fresh illustration of the text. It is added, "So the Philistines were subdued, and came no more into the coast of Israel, and the hand of the Lord was against the Philistines all the days of Samuel. And the cities which they had taken from Israel were restored." "And Samuel judged Israel all the days of his life," making circuits year by year through the land.

And now we have arrived at the point in the history which evidences, more than any other, the perverse {25} ingratitude of the Israelites. Just when God had rescued them from their enemies, given them peace, and by a fresh act of bounty established the prophets in the land as ministers of His word and will, when the heavenly system was just coming into operation, this was the very time they chose to rebel and run counter to His purposes. They asked for themselves a king like the nations. The immediate occasion of this request was the faulty conduct of Samuel's sons, who assisted their father in his old age, "but walked not in his ways, but turned aside after lucre, and took bribes, and perverted judgment." [1 Sam. viii. 3.] This, however, though doubtless a grievance, surely was no excuse for them. While the Lord was their king, no lasting harm could happen to them; yet even "the elders of Israel came to Samuel, and said unto him, Behold, thou art old, and thy sons walk not in thy ways: now make us a king to judge us like all the nations." They added a reason which still more clearly evidenced their obstinate unbelief—"to judge us, and go out before us, and fight our battles." By what strange infatuation was it that they sought for a king to "fight their battles," when, through the whole course of Samuel's government, it was so evident that God's power alone had subdued their enemies? There was one additional aggravation of their sin; they had really been promised a king, at some future time undetermined, by Moses himself [Deut. xvii. 14-20 ]; and hence, indeed, they probably defended their asking for one. But, in truth, that very circumstance gave to their self-will its distinctive mark already insisted on, {26} viz., the desire of doing things in their own way instead of waiting God's time. The fact that God had promised what they clamoured for, and merely claimed to choose the time, surely ought to have satisfied them. But they were headstrong; and He answered them according to their wilfulness. He "gave them a king in His anger." David, indeed, succeeded, but the corruption and degradation of the people quickly followed his death. The kingdom was divided into two; idolatry was introduced; and at length captivity came upon them, the loss of their country, and the dispersion or rather annihilation of the greater part of the tribes.

In conclusion, I will make one remark by way of applying their history to ourselves at this day. Certainly we have not, at the present time, learned the duty of waiting and being still. Great perils, just now, encompass our branch of the Church; here the question comes upon us, as a body and as individuals, what ought we to do? Doubtless to meet them with all the wisdom and prudence in our power, to use all allowable means to avert them; but, after all, is not our main duty this: to go on quietly and steadfastly in our old ways, as if nothing was the matter? "When Daniel knew that the writing was signed," which condemned him to the lions' den, if he did what was his plain duty, he did not look about to see whether he might not lawfully suspend it for a time, or whether there were not other ways of serving God not interdicted by the civil power, but "he kneeled upon his knees three times a day, and prayed, and gave thanks before his God, as he {27} did aforetime." [Dan. vi. 10.] It is a very painful subject, but it is not right to shut our eyes to the fact, that friends of the Church are far more disposed to look out for secular and unauthorized ways of defending her, than to proceed quietly in their ordinary duties, and trust to God to save her. What is the use of these feverish exertions, on all sides of us, to soothe our enemies, conciliate the suspicious or wavering, and attach to us men of name and power? Rather let our resolve be, if we are to perish, it shall be at our post of duty. We will be found in the circle of our sacred services, in prayer and praise, in fasting and alms-doing, "in quietness and confidence." All the great deliverances of the Church have been thus gained. Israel stood still and saw the Egyptians overwhelmed in the sea. Hezekiah went up unto the house of the Lord, and prayed to Him who dwelt between the Cherubim, and Sennacherib's army was destroyed. "Prayer was made without ceasing of the Church unto God for" St. Peter, and the Apostle was delivered out of prison by an Angel. The course of Providence is not materially different now. God's arm is not shortened, nay, nor so restrained that He cannot save without miracles as well as with them. He can save silently and suddenly, while things seem to go on as usual. The hearts of all are in His hand, the issues of life and death, the rise and fall of mighty men, and the distribution of gifts. Why, then, should we fear, or cast about for means of defence, who have the Lord for our God? He may indeed, if it so happen, make us His instruments, He may put arms {28} into our hands; but even if He gives us no tokens what He is meditating, what then? At length our deliverance will come, when we expect it not; whereas we shall lose our own hope, and disorder the Church greatly, if we presume to form plans of our own by way of protecting it. Jeroboam thought he acted "wisely" when he set up the calves of gold at Dan and Bethel. Our wisdom is like his, if we venture to relax one jot or tittle of Christ's perfect law, one article of the Creed, one holy ordinance, one ancient usage, with the hope of placing ourselves in a more advantageous or less irksome position. "Our strength is to sit still;" and till we learn this far more than we seem at present to understand it, surely the hopes of the true Israel among us must be low, and with prayers for the Church's safety they will have to mingle confessions and intercessions in behalf of those who believe themselves its prudent friends and effective defenders, and are not.

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