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1 Samuel 8
I have long desired, I have for some time intended, and I am now to attempt to explain that portion of the Israelitish history comprehended between the beginning of the reign of Saul and the end of the reign of Solomon.
I am well aware of the arduous, I had almost said hazardous, nature of this undertaking. Were my task limited to an elucidation of the historical sense, and a practical application of the historical circumstances, there might be little cause for apprehension. But without undervaluing this kind of instruction, yet as a minister of the internal Word my principal aim must be far higher than to supply it. Knowing, and addressing myself to those who know, that the Word contains a spiritual meaning within, and distinct from that of the letter, my primary aim must be to unfold and apply it. It is in attempting this that I have some just cause for anxiety. The Scriptures in their literal sense have received so much attention from learned expositors and pious commentators, that any one who has to deal with that sense only can derive great assistance from the labours of others. Not nearly so much so he who undertakes the exposition of this part of the Word according to its spiritual sense. In the works of our great expositor we have, besides a minute explanation of the first two books of the Old Testament and the last book of the New, many other passages of the Word incidentally elucidated. But of these, few comparatively belong to the historical books of the Old Testament, while, unlike the Prophets and Psalms, they have received from his matchless pen no summary exposition. True, we possess a key to the heavenly mysteries of the Word in the Science of Correspondence. This enables us to see the cloud of the letter radiant with the glory of the sun that shines in splendour behind it; while the explanations we possess of particular passages that lie scattered throughout these immortal works, like the sun's rays streaming through the opening clouds, connect with lines of light the heavens and the earth, and while they light up with peculiar brightness the favoured spots on which they fall, throw light at the same time on parts that lie beyond their direct influence. But with all these advantages it is not without some degree of hesitation that I approach the present momentous and important subject. Any one who has read but a small portion of the works to which I have referred, must be satisfied how much more is required than a mere knowledge of correspondence to enable one to unfold any part of the Divine Word; and how comparatively imperfect must be the results of the application of this science by any one possessing but an ordinary share of that enlightenment under which they were so evidently written.
I offer these remarks, not for the purpose of magnifying the difficulties of the subject, or of enhancing the value of the labour bestowed upon it, but with the view of showing you how much reason you have to be moderate in your expectations and charitable in your judgements.
Besides these reflections which apply to us as speaker and hearers— and I may now add, as writer and readers—there are others that apply alike to us both. It becomes us all without distinction to approach the subject in a devout and reverent spirit. The place on which we stand is holy ground, and we require to tread it with holy fear and profound humility. In our eagerness to see this great sight we may turn aside too hastily from our ordinary thoughts and temporal interests, forgetful of the danger of coming into the more immediate presence of the Divine glory without first putting the shoes from off our feet, by removing from our minds the artificial covering which it assumes from sense and the world. Spiritual truth cannot be seen except in spiritual light, nor can its power be felt except under the influence of spiritual love. For these, therefore, we ought to look and pray.
Before entering on an examination of the particular events of this history, it may be useful to view it in its relation to other portions of the historical Word with which it is connected, in order to ascertain the place it occupies in the typical history of which it forms a part, and to glance at its general scope and meaning.
The Sacred Record presents the representative people as living under several different forms of government. We find them ruled successively by patriarchs, priests, judges, and kings. Under a political view, these may be understood to mark the natural stages of their national development. Regarded in an ecclesiastical light, the succession of these different forms of government describes the decline of the Israelitish Church from a simpler and purer to a more artificial and imperfect state. As commonly expressed, the children of Israel, originally a theocracy, became less and less under the immediate government of the Divine Ruler. Under the patriarchal and priestly government the Israelites represented that state of the Church when it yields a willing submission to the mild and gentle sway of Divine love and justice; while under the judicial and regal government they represented the state of the Church when it gives a constrained obedience to the authoritative laws of Divine truth and judgement. Such is the internal historical sense of this aspect of the Israelitish history.
In its spiritual sense, which is a history of the spiritual life of the individual man, these successive changes in the government of Israel describe man's descent from higher to lower states. During the age of infancy and childhood the human being is ruled by love, but as these states recede before the strengthening passions and increasing reason, the mind comes more under the government of truth. There is thus in the earlier period of human life a descent resembling that which takes place in a declining church. In the individual case, however, these changes of state do not of necessity run through a course of moral or spiritual exhaustion. On the contrary, provision is made during the mind's descent for its re-ascent with increased intellectual power and means for its elevation.
It is thus of the mercy and wisdom of the Divine Providence that when the sweet influences of love become insufficient of themselves to rule, truth should assume the reins and curb the headstrong passions. If this were not the case, both the Church and the human being would fall into irremediable disorder, which would end in total and irretrievable ruin.
In the history of Israel we find the clearest traces of the representative circumstances of the subject of which we are now speaking. The immediate occasion of the Israelites asking a king was the ill conduct of Samuel's sons. Samuel himself had been raised up to stand in the breach that had been made by the corrupt house of Eli, whose sons had indulged in a course of such gross and unrestrained licentiousness that men abhorred the offering of the Lord. The sons of Samuel the judge had come to be too much like the sons of Eli the priest. They "turned aside after lucre, and took bribes, and perverted judgement." Thus we find that the priests had lost their influence and the judges had lost their power. No longer able to preserve order in the commonwealth of Israel, a king had become necessary for the preservation of the national existence, as well as for continuing the representative character which it had been chosen to sustain. Still, it was the substitution of a lower for a higher power.
When "all the elders of Israel gathered themselves together, and came to Samuel at Ramah, and said, Now make us a king to judge us like all the nations, it displeased Samuel, and he prayed to the Lord: and the Lord said, Hearken to the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me, that I should not reign over them."
It is the Lord's desire that His Church and His children should live and act under the government of His love, to which His truth is subordinate and instrumental. This is the perfection of order. Into this order man was created. Into this order man is still providentially initiated in his infancy and childhood. The capacity of loving God above all things and his neighbour as himself is the condition proper to that being who was created in the image and likeness of his Maker. God is Love; and Divine Love desires to reproduce itself in the hearts and lives of its created recipients. When man first departed from the law of love, it was because he would not have a God of love to reign over him. And when man desired to be ruled by the law of truth rather than by the law of love, the Lord granted him his desire, but He granted it as a thing He permitted rather than willed, and as a temporary rather than as a permanent condition; for truth is given that it may lead to goodness, and thus to love, whose servant and minister it is.
It was to mark the disinclination of the Divine mind to this degradation of state in the Church and in the human mind that the Lord protested while He granted, and, as stated in another place, that He gave the people a king in His anger, and took him away in His wrath. Of course there is no anger in God. Wherever this passion is ascribed to the Divine Being it is for the purpose of expressing a state of the human mind in contrariety to the Divine mind. When God's love is quenched in the human mind, anger is kindled in its stead; and this is called the anger of God, because God's love, which still flows into the mind, is turned into its opposite; for "an opposite has birth from the cessation of the existence in some one thing, and the rising up of another at the same time with a tendency contrary to that which the former existence had, acting as a wheel against a wheel, or a stream against a stream."
Well might the change we are considering be condemned and protested against by the Most High. The grounds of that protest, as they related to the condition of the people themselves, were rehearsed to them by Samuel. They were told that the king whom they desired would take their sons, and appoint them for himself for his chariots, and to be his horsemen; that he would take their daughters to be confectioners, and cooks, and bakers; that he would take their fields, and vineyards, and oliveyards, and give them to his servants, and the tenth of their seed, their vineyards, and their sheep; in one word, that he would appropriate to his own use whatever they possessed. We know that whatever principle rules in the human mind, and thence in the Church and in the world, it makes all things subservient to itself. The kingly rule in Israel was a type of the rule of intellect rather than of affection. And whenever religion becomes a matter chiefly of the intellect, the goods and truths of the Word are employed to advance the glory of man more than the glory of God. As the sons of Israel were to be taken by the king for charioteers and horsemen, to fight the king's battles and adorn his pageants, so the truths they represented are used by the intellectual man to aid him in his intellectual conflicts and exalt his intellectual displays. As their daughters were to be taken for confectioners and cooks, so the affections of good which they represented are made to minister to the appetites and passions by affording them gratification suited to their sensual desires. As the men-servants and maid-servants were to be taken to do the king's work, so the truths and affections of science are employed to confirm whatever the mind adopts as a principle and desires to uphold. When this is the state of the Church and of man, even the remains of goodness and until are appropriated by and made subservient to intellectual supremacy, which is the same as charity being made subordinate to faith, and which is meant by the king taking the tenth of their seed, their vineyards, and their flocks. Nay, all the celestial and spiritual things of the Word, general as well as particular, are brought into a state of servitude, for all Israel were to become the king's servants.
But that of which we are now speaking is a state of comparative, not absolute, disorder. Absolute disorder is disorganization. That which was now granted to Israel is a less instead of a more perfect order, an order which is established under the law of truth, which is comparative bondage, instead of that which exists under the law of love, which is perfect freedom. The law of truth, and the organization resulting from it, though not absolutely the best, may yet be the best under the circumstances. This fact is of the utmost importance, and may be applied in every department of human affairs, public and private. There is a perfect law, and a perfect order which is the result of obedience to it; and we ought to place that law before us, and constantly strive to reach it. But while we ought to aspire after the highest ideal of personal and public excellence, we must not imagine that everything short of its attainment is a failure. Were the law of love the ruling principle among the nations and families of the earth, the condition of mankind would be widely different from what it is. There would be peace on earth, goodwill amongst men. The means and energy now spent in preventing evil would be expended in doing good. But who, except the most ignorant and fanatical, would imagine that crime would cease with the abolition of criminal code, or ambition expire with the disbanding of standing armies? These and other means of protection and preservation from each other are indeed evidences of the degenerate state of the human race. But what would the human race, in its present state, be without them? Crime and anarchy and conquest would reign; but their reign would be of short duration, for society would soon be dissolved, and the human race would perish.
Since, then, the law of love cannot find its place in the hearts of men, it is a blessing, though a lesser one, that they can be brought under the law of truth.
We see, therefore, both the wisdom and the goodness of God in the answer which He gave to Samuel, when that eminent prophet was disposed to deny the people their request that he would make them a king like the nations. A king had indeed become a necessity to Israel. The priest had failed, the judge had lost his power. Every man did that which was right in his own eyes; and what appeared to every one to be right was in many cases wrong. Their enemies, too, had acquired considerable dominion over them. Nothing could save them but a new and more powerful governor. It was a perception of this need that led the people to answer Samuel's protestation with the declaration, "Nay; but we will have a king over us; that we also may be like all the nations; and that our king may judge us, and go out before us, and fight our battles."
But the Divine command to Samuel to acquiesce in the people's desire was not only to prevent their further degradation, but to provide the means of their elevation; and there can be no doubt that during the reign of the first three kings at least the Israelites made great and rapid advancement in all that concerned them as a people, and made them a wealthy, powerful, and united nation.
The spiritual meaning of their history during this period describes a state of spiritual advancement in the religious life of those who are Israelites indeed. The beginning of the kingdom of Israel may be considered as representing the beginning of that upward progression by which the kingdom of God is begun in the human mind; and the history of the first three kings describes its advancement from natural to spiritual, from spiritual to celestial. The natural, the spiritual, and the celestial are represented by Saul, David, and Solomon. It will be our principal aim to unfold the sacred history as it applies to these several states and stages of the regenerate life.
But there is another and still higher subject to which the history of the first three kings of Israel relates, and which demands our earnest attention. The Holy Word, which, in its interior sense, treats of the regeneration of man, in its inmost sense treats of the glorification of the Lord; for the Lord made His humanity Divine by a process analogous to that by which He makes man spiritual. This Divine subject, although too exalted for us to dwell upon continuously, has yet so important a relation to that of the regeneration of our own souls that it is profitable to see their connection.
There can be no doubt that the first three kings of Israel were types, two of them at least eminent types, of the Lord Jesus Christ in His regal character; and that their history is, in its inmost sense, a history of the Lord's inner life and experience when manifested in out nature upon earth, and while He was engaged in glorifying His humanity and effecting the work of human redemption.
We are instructed in the writings of the Church, that, in the progress of His glorification, the Lord first made His humanity truth Divine, then Divine truth, and lastly Divine good (AC 7014). We can easily see that, in these three general stages of H is progressive glorification, the Lord was represented by the first three kings of Israel. Saul represented Him as truth Divine, David as Divine truth, and Solomon as Divine good. To express it still more accurately and fully,—the history of the reign of Saul, of David, and of Solomon, is a typical history of the Lord's inner life and experience while He was making His humanity truth Divine, Divine truth, and Divine good.
As the reign of Saul is first to be considered, and as the history of Saul's reign is interwoven with the early history of David, even as the anointed king of Israel, it is desirable we should see clearly the difference between truth Divine, which Saul represented, and Divine truth, which was represented by David. Truth Divine, as distinguished from Divine truth, is truth such as it is in heaven, as distinguished from truth such as it is above heaven. Truth divine is Divine truth finited, by being received and apprehended by finite minds, as those of the angels are; Divine truth transcends all finite apprehension. Truth Divine is sometimes in the Writings called truth from the Divine, as distinguished from truth which is in itself Divine. I do not say which is in the Divine; for I conceive that Divine truth, in its most comprehensive sense, includes all truth which is in itself Divine, not only as it is in the Lord Himself, but as it is in all the spheres and degrees that intervene between the infinite mind and the highest finite minds, by which infinite Divine truth is made fit for entering into the minds of angels and men.
Truth Divine, or Divine truth in heaven, constituted the Lord's humanity before the Incarnation. When the Lord's Divine truth flowed into the minds of the angels it took a human form in their will and understanding. It was through this humanity that the Lord acted upon the human race before the time of His Advent. Therefore whenever the Lord appeared to men on earth it was in the person of an angel. But as His angelic humanity became in course of time, by mankind receding from heaven, inefficient as a medium through which the Lord's love and truth could flow down into the minds of men, the Lord came into the world, and assumed humanity in the womb of the Virgin. He thereby made His humanity a separate essence, raising it by glorification into union with His own infinite and eternal Divinity. Thus the Lord provided a medium of salvation above and besides that which existed in heaven, and became Himself, as to His glorified humanity, the Mediator between God and man. Love and light from God still come to men through heaven; but besides this mediate influx there is now immediate influx from the humanity of the Lord Himself, by which the human mind can be interiorly affected and enlightened, and therefore interiorly regenerated.
In a special sense, Saul, as representing truth Divine, represented the humanity of the Lord in heaven before the Incarnation, and David, as representing Divine truth, represented the humanity of the Lord after His manifestation in the flesh. Yet since the Lord made His humanity truth Divine before He made it Divine truth; or, what is the same, since the Lord regenerated His humanity before He glorified it (AC 3138); Saul represented the Lord's humanity while it was being regenerated, as David represented the Lord's humanity while it was being glorified. The Lord regenerated His humanity when He made it truth Divine, or truth such as it is in heaven; and He glorified His humanity when He made it Divine truth such as is above heaven, yea, far above all heavens, when He entered into the light that no man can approach to.
Such are the spiritual and Divine subjects treated of in the history of the first three kings of Israel, which it will be my endeavour, with Divine assistance;to trace in the inspired record of their successive reigns.