In the love David has for Saul we can see a faint but real foreshadowing of the love of Christ for us, even when we were his enemies. Saul was required by God to step down rather than become a better king, and to give way to David. In Not I, But Christ, Hession shows that the way to victory for us also is not in striving to be better people, but in allowing ourselves to be supplanted by Christ our true King.
From Chapter One, 11–23:
The Rejected King
Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, he has also rejected you from being king.
1 Samuel 15:23
With what high hopes did the people of Israel accept Saul as their king when he was presented to them at Mizpeh! Samuel, too, shared those hopes, for when the lot was cast and confirmed the private anointing he had already performed on him, he said to all the people, “Do you see him whom the Lord has chosen?” (1 Samuel 10:24). Yes, even Samuel was caught up in the euphoria of that moment. True, he knew it had never been God’s first purpose for them to have a king, since they already had one in Jehovah. He knew, too, that the people’s request for a king was only because they had rejected the Lord from reigning over them. But, he reasoned, God had now assented to their request and had led in the most unmistakable way to this man and to his anointing of him. And now before all the people the lot had confirmed the anointing. First the tribe of Benjamin was taken, then the family of Matri, and finally of that family, Saul, the son of Kish. And, thought Samuel, was he not a man of becoming modesty, hiding among the stuff, when he should be receiving the acclaim of the people? Surely that boded well for the future. Above all, when he did appear, did he not look every inch a king, head and shoulders taller than any other? So it was that Samuel joyously said, “Do you see him whom the Lord has chosen? There is none like him among all the people.”
And yet only two years later, Samuel, as God’s mouthpiece, is having to say to Saul, “But now your kingdom shall not continue. The Lord has sought out a man after his own heart, and the Lord has commanded him to be prince over his people” (13:14). That word referred to his dynasty; every king hoped that his sons would occupy the throne after him for many generations; but here the Lord says it was not going to happen; he had sought another man after his own heart for that. And then, two chapters later on, Samuel had to declare the Lord’s rejection, not only of his dynasty, but of his personal rule right there and then. “Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, he has also rejected you from being king” (15:23). So final was it that “Samuel did not see Saul again until the day of his death” (v. 35). Though Saul was to continue to occupy the throne for years yet and attempted to function as ruler, he did so all the time as the rejected king.
If it be asked, why this summary rejection of his kingship, the answer is that almost from the beginning he began to violate the terms of his appointment. In acceding to the people’s request for a king, God had not for one moment abrogated his own kingship. Saul was to be king only under God—just his vice–regent, so to speak. He was made king simply to do what God told him to do, to be his instrument of deliverance from the people’s enemies and to mediate the divine rule to them. Thus, under authority to God in every detail, he would be clothed with authority. These were the terms of his appointment, and although not specifically stated in these words, they are clearly implied in every line of the story. But this was something Saul could not, or would not understand. He did not see himself only as a king under orders to God, but as a king in his own right. He assumed that he was exalted to the throne to do what he liked, rather than what God told him. This was proved by the fact that whereas he would seem to obey, he always chose how far he would obey, just as far as pleased him. This trait came out in two important matters right at the beginning of his reign.
Wait for God
One of God’s first purposes in appointing him is shown by his words to Samuel, “Tomorrow about this time I will send to you a man from the land of Benjamin, and you shall anoint him to be prince over my people Israel. He shall save my people from the hand of the Philistines. For I have seen my people, because their cry has come to me” (1 Samuel 9:16). Freedom was the people’s most pressing need and it was for their freedom that Saul was appointed. But when Samuel anointed Saul, he told him clearly that before he struck the first blow against the Philistines, “Then go down before me to Gilgal. And behold, I am coming to you to offer burnt offerings and to sacrifice peace offerings. Seven days you shall wait, until I come to you and show you what you shall do” (10:8). This was God’s enterprise and Saul must wait for God and his instructions. When at last the encounter was imminent he did indeed go to Gilgal, and he did indeed wait for Samuel and that for seven days, but not, it would seem, for the whole of the seventh day. Because the forces of the Philistines were building up while his own were melting away, and because Samuel had not yet arrived, he felt he could wait no longer, and, to use his own words, “So I forced myself, and offered the burnt offering” (13:12). It was indeed a dire situation in which he found himself, but its very direness should have been the more reason to have waited on God and for God. Instead, he took things into his own hands and acted independently. And although his independent action expressed itself in a religious matter, the offering of a burnt offering, it was disobedience nonetheless. That incident was apparently enough to prove that Saul would only rule Israel according to his own haughty will, for when Samuel appeared, there followed the first word of censure: “You have done foolishly…But now your kingdom shall not continue…” (v. 13, 14). His action had shown that he was in basic violation of the terms of his appointment, that deep down he did not regard himself as a king under orders to God, but as a king in his own right. And to what further insubordination would such an attitude lead? This was the reason the sentence upon him was so summary and drastic.
The second incident took place later and was a further and more serious act of disobedience. He was here commanded, as God’s vice–regent, to execute his justice on Israel’s ancient oppressors, the corrupt Amalekites. They were all to be utterly destroyed—men, women and cattle. “Do not spare them” was the command. Here too he obeyed, but only partially. He possibly would not have obeyed at all had the commission to cut heads off not appealed to him; he was that sort of man! But he did it as his own will, rather than God’s, as shown by the fact that here too he chose how far he would obey—till it suited him to do otherwise. He certainly destroyed the people with the edge of the sword; “But Saul and the people spared Agag and the best of the sheep and of the oxen and of the fattened calves and the lambs, and all that was good, and would not utterly destroy them. All that was despised and worthless they devoted to destruction” (1 Samuel 15:9). When confronted by Samuel, he excused his action once again on the ground of religion; it was “to sacrifice to the Lord your God,” he said. But Samuel would have none of it and cried, “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 listen than the fat of rams” (v. 22). Then followed the final words of rejection, not merely of his dynasty, but of himself as the present king: “Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, he has also rejected you from being king” (v. 23). And when Saul, in pleading with Samuel, accidentally tore Samuel’s robe, the latter saw it as symbolic and said, “The Lord has torn the kingdom of Israel from you this day and has given it to a neighbor of yours, who is better than you” (v. 28). And to emphasize that it was irrevocable he added, “And also the Glory of Israel will not lie or have regret, for he is not a man, that he should have regret” (v. 29).
So it was clear that he was rejected from reigning over Israel because he first had rejected the word of the Lord and had violated the whole terms of his appointment. Thereafter he fills page after page of our Bibles as the rejected king, from whom the Spirit of the Lord has departed, vainly trying to be king nonetheless—a pathetic figure indeed, all the time to be replaced by a neighbor of his who is better than he. That neighbor, as the unfolding story reveals, is to be David, but as yet he has not appeared on the scene.
Man the rejected king
Saul in this aspect I take to be a picture of man, the rejected king, for such he is today. He had been appointed by God to be king over his earth, to rule it for him. God told Adam to “have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth” (Genesis 1:26). It would be interesting to speculate what that dominion involved, how great were the powers given to him. They clearly included power over creatures animate; did they also include dominion over things inanimate, such as the elements? The second man certainly had power over them; did the first man have the same power before he fell? We can only speculate, but “dominion” is a big word and can only mean that he was God’s king, ruling everything on the earth, as far as it needed to be ruled.
But it was clear that the terms of his appointment were that he was to be only a king under God, having authority because he was under authority. The fact that God had imposed the one prohibition he did, that of not eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, demonstrated the fact that Adam, king though he was, was accountable to a higher king. But just here Adam failed. In taking of the forbidden fruit, he demonstrated that he was assuming the position of a king in his own right, with freedom to do as he liked. It was that aspect of the temptation that attracted him most (“when you eat of it…you will be like God”) and accounted for him yielding to it. It was an act of insubordination to God whereby he violated, as Saul did, the whole terms of his appointment as king.
And the verdict on him as a result was in effect the same: “Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, he has also rejected you from being king” (1 Samuel 15:23). Ceasing to be under authority to God, he lost the authority he once had. He who once ruled the beasts of the earth now fears them and has to protect himself against them; he who once had every fruit of the earth for the taking now has to battle with thistles and thorns and can only make the earth yield bread by the sweat of his brow; and he who once commanded the elements (if indeed that was part of his early powers) is helpless and fearful before them; and above all, he who once was destined to live as long as he chose (for he had unrestricted access to the tree of life) became subject to death, whether he chose or not. Behold man as God’s rejected king! How are the mighty fallen! All his efforts since then have been to regain his lost powers over nature, but without success. Although he has certainly come a long way to make nature once again serve him, he will never finally make it. As long as men still have to die, man is the slave of nature, rather than its king. There are still remnants about him which show his past kingship, but “the Lord has torn the kingdom” from him and given it to a neighbor of his, who is better than he.
A neighbor better than he
What’s that, you ask—a neighbor of his who is better than he? Who is that? It is another man, Jesus, the man after God’s own heart, the Son of God who became Son of Man and thus neighbor to the first man. To him is given the kingship which the first man has been deprived of. This world, this universe, is yet to be ruled by a man. The first man proved a failure; the second man will fulfill all God’s will and prosper gloriously. It is interesting to note that according to the prophecies of scripture he is always given the title “the Son of Man” in all the great events of the future which he will precipitate, such as his coming again, the putting down of his enemies and the establishing of his kingdom on earth. (See for example Daniel 7:13; Matthew 24:30.) Son of God he truly is, but he is going to act in these events in his capacity as the second man, the last Adam.
Although this seems a gloomy message for the rejected king, it provides for him his one bit of hope, for it is given to him to enjoy all the benefits and blessings of the rule of the second man, if he is prepared to bow to his kingship. But will he? That is the question of all questions. You see, it is not like an electorate voting for the best president, or a nation choosing a good king and government to rule them. It is rather, as has already been said, one king stepping down in favor of another king—and that is a different matter. We shall see in coming pages that that was the struggle that Saul faced for years with regard to that neighbor of his who was destined to take his throne.
How does this apply?
Now the important thing is how all this applies to us individually, for apply it most certainly does. As sons of Adam we have all repeated his sin in the garden again and again. To begin with, each one of us has been anointed king over some territory or another which we are to rule for him. What the territory is will vary from person to person. A husband and father has been anointed as head of the home that he may rule it for God so that the family may know the beneficence of the divine rule as communicated to them by its king. A wife and mother has also been given her own territory to rule. For some of us the territory over which we are anointed as king is some sphere of Christian service, the church led by its minister, the Bible class taught by its leader, or some other form of Christian service in which we have influence. In other cases the territory over which we are called to rule may be the sphere of secular employment, as the manager of a firm, the owner of a shop, the leader of a section in office or factory, or a teacher in a school. Whereas nearly all of us have those over us, we also often have those under us for whom we have responsibility. And if no other territory seems to be given us there is for each of us the territory of our own personality—a vast domain—and we are anointed to be king there, to rule and subdue it for God.
But we are made kings only under God, not kings in our own right. We are given that sphere, not to do in it what we like, but only what God commands, that others might get the blessing of it. Let those who know themselves kings in their spheres, recognize that they themselves have a king over them. That is what is meant by the divine title, “the King of kings” (Revelation 19:16). How many kings there are about—well, Jehovah is the king of the whole lot of them. To none is accorded absolute power in his sphere; each is subservient and accountable to the one who appointed him. Only as men are under authority do they have his authority and know his power.
However, it is just at this point that we, along with Saul and Adam, have failed. Their sin has been our sin. We have assumed that we are kings in our own right and have acted and reacted accordingly, and others have suffered at our hands as a result. This has happened both in our families, among our friends, in our secular work and, most culpable of all, in our Christian service and in the work of our church. In assuming ourselves to be kings in our own right, we have imposed our will on others, and blazed forth in anger when we imagine our wishes have been disregarded. We have acted for our own gratification and advancement without scrupulous regard for the will of God or the needs of others. As Lord Acton said, “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” And we have assumed that in certain spheres at least we have absolute power. But we have never been granted that in any sphere at all, not even in the sphere of our personalities. In all such spheres we are kings under orders to God, and in acting in any other way we have violated, as Saul did, the terms of our appointment.
We like Saul…
The actual details of Saul’s violation may well resemble closely the ways in which self–on–the–throne has expressed itself in our own lives, though at first you might fail to identify them. Saul’s two violations, as we have seen, were both cases of reserving for himself the right to choose how far he would obey, and he excused them both on the grounds of religious activity. First, we may need to see that, like Saul, we have not waited for God in his enterprises, as he commanded us to do—at least not fully. The Bible tells us that he is a God “who acts for those who wait for him” (Isaiah 64:4). And we are to accept in faith every moment of our waiting as a moment of his working. But we have not waited on him or for him, but because he seemed to tarry we have “forced ourselves” and acted independently of him, taking action which he did not command, action which came out of the top of our head rather than from the depths of his heart. That is characteristic of the independent Saul within us.
Secondly, we may have spared something which God told us was to be utterly destroyed, just as Saul spared the best of the sheep. We have obeyed, but only partially. That which God has appointed to utter destruction are all expressions of the flesh, that is the self–centered ego. Every expression of that is to be judged and repented of, but we have thought that some such traits about us are not too bad, indeed that they can be useful in God’s service, and we have spared them judgement. But God’s purpose with regard to the works and expressions of the flesh is death, not dedication. Some of our natural gifts can indeed be used in God’s service, but not before they have been freed from the clinging ivy of the flesh, not before self has relinquished its hold on them. But we have not relinquished that hold with regard to some things, yes certainly, but with regard to other things, no. They are still functioning in the energy of the flesh and for its glory and not in the Holy Spirit. This partial obedience, this sparing of favored sins, is also typical of the Saul in us.
As a result of all this, the same judgement is pronounced upon us as upon Saul: “Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, he has also rejected you from being king” (1 Samuel 15:23). It is not that he rejects us as persons, for as believers we are accepted by him for ever in the beloved, but he rejects us as being kings over that territory he has given us to rule. Because we have rejected the word of the Lord in so many points, and because of the mess we have made as a result, we are declared flops and failures, unfit to rule that territory. And he tells us he has torn it from us, and given it to a neighbor of ours, who is better than us. The Lord Jesus, that neighbor whom God has appointed, has not come merely to help us to be better Sauls. It is too late to improve Saul. The Saul within us has already shown himself to be what he is, and that his is the disposition that “does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot” (Romans 8:7). Jesus has come to supplant us and take over from us, and that progressively in issue after issue. And he does so, not as someone exterior to ourselves, but in and through the personality of the failed saint himself. He comes to forgive us, of course, but of what avail a salvation which leaves self still a king in his own right? The mess he caused in the first place he will cause again—in perhaps more subtle and dangerous ways, if he is left in that position.
So it is that the progressive superseding by Christ of this Saul within us is the hard but prime necessity of the Christian life—hard, because we shall not like it any more than Saul did; prime, because in this way lies happiness and fruitfulness; anything less will mean failure and even disaster.
The message of the cross
These are not truths which depend only on the story of Saul and David, but rather truths which are plainly declared throughout the New Testament, of which these Old Testament incidents are simply illustrations. The declaration that man is rejected as king is the message of the cross of Jesus, and the anointing of another as king instead of man is declared by God’s raising of Jesus from the dead. The New Testament declares in Romans 8:3 that “God…By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh.” He was not only bearing our sins, but wearing our likeness. he had already been made in the likeness of men (Philippians 2:8) at the manger; there was no question of humanity’s sinfulness there. But at the cross something more terrible took place; he was made “in the likeness of sinful flesh.” He became an effigy of the man who had caused all the trouble, or rather of that in man, the flesh, which had done so. And the moment he became that, God condemned him, and he had to cry out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). But God was not condemning the Son as the Son, but as the one whose likeness the Son was then wearing—mine. In judging Jesus he in reality “condemned sin in the flesh.” What a verdict that is upon man! What is it but the complete setting aside of him as king, that he might live again as God’s humble, repentant subject, turning everything over to Jesus, raised from the dead. And if he should seek again to act or react as a king in his own right, he can look again to the cross and accept afresh that verdict on himself and be restored to that subject position.
That is exactly what the text at the head of our book, Galatians 2:20, teaches. “I have been crucified with Christ,” that is, at the cross I have been judged in the judgement of Christ. When one pays another’s debt, in the eyes of the law it is as if the debtor himself has paid it. Paul fastens on this and says, “We have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died” (2 Corinthians 5:14). The cross means we were ended, not mended. The first man’s history as king was ended there, and God does not intend to mend him, for he has raised one from the dead to take his place. So it is that the text does not stop with us being crucified with Christ, but goes on to say, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). The kingdom has been torn from the first man and given to the second man, the Lord from heaven, who deigns to live in him and exercise his rule over him and through him….
Not I, But Christ:
Our Relationship with Jesus in the Story of David
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