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Chapters 4 to 6
Chapters 8 to 10
Chapters 18 and 19
Chapters 29 and 30
We have seen that the Book of Ruth occupies, in its purport, an intermediate place between the end of the period in which Israel was governed by God Himself, who interposed from time to time by means of judges, and the setting up of the king whom He selected for them. This period, alas! came to an end through the people's failure, and their inability to make a right use, by faith, of their privileges.
The contents of the books of Samuel
The Books of Samuel contain the account of the cessation of Israel's original relationship with God, founded on their obedience to the terms of the old covenant, and the special prescriptions of the Book of Deuteronomy; the sovereign interference of God in prophecy; and the setting up of the king whom God Himself had prepared, with the circumstances which preceded this event. It is not merely that Israel failed under the government of God: they rejected it.
The ark in the enemy's hands and the failure of the priesthood
Placed under the priesthood, they drew nigh to God in the enjoyment of privileges which were granted them as a people acknowledged by Jehovah. We shall see the ark — which, as it was the nearest and most immediate, so was it the most precious link between Jehovah Elohim and the people — fall into the hands of the enemy. What could a priest do, when that which gave his priesthood all its importance was in the enemy's hands, and when the place where he drew near to Jehovah (the throne of God in the midst of Israel, the place of propitiation by which in mercy Israel's relationship with God, through the sprinkled blood, was maintained) was no more there?
It was no longer mere unfaithfulness in the circumstances in which God had placed them. The circumstances themselves were entirely changed through God's judgment upon Israel. The outward link of God's connection with the people was broken; the ark of the covenant, centre and basis of their relationship with Him, had been given up by the wrath of God into the hands of their enemies. Priesthood was the natural and normal means of maintaining the relationship between God and the people: how could it now be used for this purpose?
God in communication with his people by a prophet
Nevertheless God, acting in sovereignty, could put Himself in communication with His people, by virtue of His grace and immutable faithfulness, according to which His connection with His people existed still on His side, even when all acknowledged relationship between Him and them was broken off by their unfaithfulness. And this He did by raising up a prophet. By his means God still communicated in a direct way with His people, even when they had not maintained their relationship with Him in their normal condition. The office of the priest was connected with the integrity of these relations; the people needed him in their infirmities. Still under the priesthood the people themselves drew nigh to God through the medium of the priest, according to the relationship which God had established and which He recognised. But the prophet acted on the part of God outside this relationship, or rather above it, when the people were no longer faithful.
The establishment of a kingdom
The setting up of a king went much farther. It was a new order of relationship which involved most important principles. The relationship of God with the people was no longer immediate. An authority was set over Israel. God expected faithfulness from the king. The people's destiny depended upon the conduct of the one who was responsible before Jehovah for the maintenance of this faithfulness.
God's grace and wisdom displayed in our follies and faults
It was God's purpose to establish this principle for the glory of Christ. I speak of His kingdom over the Jews and over the nations, over the whole world. This kingdom has been prefigured in David and in Solomon. To ask for a king, rejecting God's own immediate government, was folly and rebellion in the people. How often are our follies and our faults the opportunity for the display of the grace and wisdom of God and for the fulfilment of His counsels hidden from the world until then! Our sins and faults alone have conduced to the glorious accomplishment of these counsels in Christ.
These are the important subjects treated of in the Books of Samuel, so far at least as the establishment of the kingdom. Its glorious condition and its fall are related in the two Books of Kings.
It is the fall of Israel which puts an end to their first relationship with God. The ark is taken; the priest dies. Prophecy introduces the king — a king despised and rejected, man having set up another, yet a king whom God establishes according to the might of His power. Such are the great principles unfolded in the Books of Samuel.
History shews us here, as everywhere, that there is but One who has remained faithful — an humbling result for us of the trial to which God has subjected us, but one well adapted to keep us humble.
The priesthood and its fall
If we have spoken of the fall of the priesthood, we must not infer from it that priesthood ceased to exist. It was always necessary to a people full of weakness (as it is to ourselves on earth); it interposed in the things of God to maintain individual relationship to Him in them, but it ceased to form the basis of relationship between the whole people and God. The people were no longer capable of enjoying this relationship through this means alone; and the priesthood itself could suffice no longer, having so deeply failed in its standing. We shall do well to dwell a little on this, which is the turning-point of the truths we are considering.
In Israel's primitive state, and in their constitution generally, as established in the land given to them, priesthood was the basis of their relationship with God; it was that which characterised and maintained it (see Heb. 7:11). The high priest was their head and representative before God, as a nation of worshippers; and in this character (I speak here neither of redemption from Egypt nor of conquests, but of a people before God, and in relationship with Him), on the great day of atonement he confessed their sins over the scape-goat. It was not merely intercession. He stood there as head and representative of the people, who were summed up in him before Jehovah. The people were acknowledged, although faulty. They presented themselves in the person of the high priest, that they might be in connection with a God, who, after all veiled Himself from their eyes. The people presented everything to the priest; the high priest stood before God. This relationship did not imply innocence. An innocent man should have stood himself before God. "Adam, where art thou?" This question brings out his fall.
Still the people were not driven away, though the veil was between them and God; the high priest, who sympathised with the infirmities of the people, being one with them, maintained the relationship with God. They were a very imperfect people, it is true; yet by this means they stood themselves in connection with the Holy One. But Israel was not able to maintain this position; not only was there sin (the high priest could remedy that), but they sinned against Jehovah, they turned away from Him, and that even in their leaders. The priesthood itself, which should have maintained the relationship, wrought for its destruction by dishonouring God and repelling the people from His worship, instead of attracting them to it.
The place and duty of a king
I pass over the preparatory circumstances; they will be considered in detail in their place. God then sets up a king, whose duty it was to preserve order and to secure God's connection with the people by governing them, and by his own faithfulness to God. This is what Christ will accomplish for them in the ages to come; He is the anointed. When the king is established, the priest walks before him (1 Sam. 2:35). It is a new institution, the only one capable of maintaining the relationship of the people with God. Priesthood is no longer here an immediate relationship. It provides indeed, in its own functions, for the wants of the people. The king watches over it, and secures order and blessing.
The difference between Israel and the Church as to priesthood
Now the assembly's position is altogether different. The saint
now approaches God directly. Together with the priesthood, which is
exercised for the saints on earth, to maintain them in their walk
here and in the enjoyment of their privileges, it is united to the
Anointed; the veil exists no longer. We sit in the heavenly places
in Christ, made accepted in the Beloved. The favour of God rests
upon us, members of the body of Christ, as upon Christ Himself.
That which has unveiled the holiness of God has disclosed all the
sin of man, and has taken it away.*
Thus in Christ, members of His body, we are perfect before God,
and perfectly accepted. The priest seeks neither to give us this
position, nor to maintain relationship with God as to those who are
not in this position. The work of Christ has placed us in it. How
intercede then for perfection? Can intercession make the Person and
the work of Christ more perfect in the sight of God? Certainly
not. But we are in Him. In what manner then is this priesthood
exercised for us? In maintaining mercy-needing creatures in their
walk, and so in the realisation of their relationship with God.* The Christian indeed enters into a still clearer manifestation
of God and more absolute relationship with God, that of being in the
light as God is in the light. We are seated in the heavenly places,
made accepted in the Beloved, loved as He is loved, the
righteousness of God in Him. He is our life; He has given us the
glory that was given Him. Now the Holy Ghost, who came down from
heaven after that Jesus was glorified, has introduced us consciously
into the unveiled presence of God. Nevertheless we, though without
excuse in doing it, fail and pick up defilement here below. Through
the advocacy of Him who is in the presence of God for us our feet
are washed by the Spirit and the word, and we are rendered capable
of maintaining a communion (of which darkness knows nothing) with
God in that light. Hereafter, in the presence of Jesus the King,
priesthood will no doubt sustain the connection of the people with
God, whilst He will bear the weight of government and of blessing
for the people in every sense.