William M. (William Mackergo) Taylor.

David, king of Israel: his life and its lessons online

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eur of this noble poem. Over the grave of the Cid, near
Burgos, in Spain,* its last stanza is engraved, as the most
fitting memento of a mighty man ; and to this day, when a
great man is carried to his sepulchre, the most appropriate
music for the occasion is found in that exquisite composition
which seeks to express in sound this threnody of David, and
which is known among us as "The Dead March in Saul."

" The wild-roe of Israel, slain upon thy high places :
How are the mighty fallen !

Tell it not in Gath, publish it not in the streets of Askelon ;
Lest the daughters of the Philistines rejoice,
Lest the daughters of the uncircumcised triumph.
Ye mountains of Gilboa, nor dew, nor rain be upon you,
Nor fields of offerings :

For there the shield of the mighty was vilely cast away,
The shield of Saul, not anointed with oil.
From the blood of the slain, from the fat of the mighty,
The bow of Jonathan turned not back,
And the sword of Saul returned not empty.
Saul and Jonathan ! lovely and pleasant !
In their lives and in their death they were undivided :
Than eagles they were swifter ! than lions they were stronger !
Ye daughters of Israel, weep over Saul,
Who clothed you in scarlet, with other delights ;
Who put ornaments of gold upon your apparel.
How are the mighty fallen in the midst of the battle !

Jonathan, thou wast slain in thine high places.

1 am distressed for thee, my brother Jonathan :
Very pleasant hast thou been unto me :

Thy love to me was wonderful, passing that of women.

How are the mighty fallen, and perished the weapons of war !"

* Stanley's "Jewish Church," ii., 37.


The . Philistines, however, had nothing of the generous
magnanimity of David ; for when they found the bodies of
Saul and his sons, they cut off the head of the king, and
stripped off his armor, sending the former to the temple of
Dagon, and the latter to the house of Astaroth. Then they
fixed the headless trunk, along with the bodies of his sons,
to the wall of Bethshan, a town at the head of the Valley of
Jezreel, looking down into the Valley of the Jordan. And
now we have the record of a deed of gratitude which con-
nects the closing act of this sad tragedy with the first brill-
iant deed of Saul as king in Israel ; for the men of Jabesh-
gilead, remembering how much they had owed, in their peril,
to his promptitude and prowess, arose, and went at night,
and took the bodies of Saul and his sons from the wall of
Bethshan, and burned them there, and took their bones and
buried them under a tree in Jabesh, where they remained,
until many years afterward, when David, then an old man,
took them, and buried them in the country of Benjamin, in
Zelah, in the sepulchre of Kish, his father.

So ends the history of Saul. But we may not pass from
it without staying for a moment to point the lesson which it
so impressively teaches. It may be given in the words of
David himself, at a later date, to Solomon, his son : " Serve
God with a perfect heart, and with a willing mind : for the
Lord searcheth all hearts, and understandeth all the imagi-
nations of the thoughts : if thou seek him, he will be found of
thee : but if thou forsake him, he will cast thee off forever."
Some may think, indeed, that, in the record of David's histo-
ry over which we have passed to-night, we have come upon
blacker spots than any which we have found in the biogra-
phy of Saul. And no doubt, as Archbishop Trench has
said, " He was clear of offenses which make some pages of
David's history nothing better than one huge blot."* But then

* " Shipwrecks of Faith," p. 48.


David knew that he had sinned, and turned from his iniquity
in penitent confession unto God. Now we look in vain for
any thing like this in Saul. If on any occasion he seems to
use the words of regret, they are merely superficial, and come
not from the depths of his soul. He cared more for being
honored before the people, than for being accepted by the
Lord ; and even in this last climax of his misery, his con-
cern is not that God may forgive him, but merely that he
may vanquish his enemies in battle. In view of all this, we
are almost tempted to exclaim, with the eminent prelate from
whom I have already quoted, " How much better it would
have been to have sinned like David, if only he had repented
like David ; if a temper resembling at all the temper which
dictated the 5ist Psalm had found place in him. But all
this was far from him. Darkness is closing round him ; an-
guish has taken hold of him ; but the broken and the con-
trite heart, there is no remotest sign of this ; no reaching out
after the blood of sprinkling. We listen, but no voice is
heard like his who exclaimed, ' Purge me with hyssop, and I
shall be clean ; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow ;'
but dark, defiant, and unbelieving, he who had inspired such
high hopes goes forward to meet his doom."* Surely, from
such a history as that we may well rise with the prayer upon
our lips : " Oh for the broken and the contrite heart, which
God will not despise." David's sins sent him weeping to
the mercy-seat. Saul's sins sent him defiant and unbending
to the cave of Endor : there is the root of the difference be-
tween the two.

Again : in the history of Saul we see how, with such a
disposition, a man's character will go on deteriorating, until
there is little or no good left in it. There was much of no-
bleness about him when we met him first; but now, alas ! as

* " Shipwrecks of Faith," pp. 48, 49.


we see him at Endor, he is the moral wreck of his former self.
The enamel of his conscience having once been broken, that
noble faculty crumbled gradually away, until at length he com-
mitted a sin at thought of which at first he would have shud-
dered, and which at one time he punished in others with jeal-
ous severity. You can see a contrary process to all this in such
a man as Jacob, who, though repulsive to every reader in his
early history, grows upon us latterly, until we come to rank him
among Faith's noblest worthies. Now how shall we explain
the difference between the two ? We explain it by the dif-
ference in the relation of each to God. The one gave back
to God all that he had received from him, and, as the result,
got it back again himself, exalted and ennobled by the con-
secration ; but the other carried every thing away from God,
and endeavored to assert his independence of the Almighty.
" They that wait upon the Lord renew their youth ;" but they
that depart from him become " weary in the greatness of
their way," and lose all the elements of noblest manhood.
Young men, if you would conserve your purity, your intellect-
ual vigor, and your moral excellence, consecrate them all to
God, and keep them all for him. Thus shall you escape the
deterioration which else must overtake you, and your path
shall be like that of the just, which " shineth more and more,
unto the perfect day."

Finally : let us learn from the history of Saul that this life
is a probation. God put this man into a kingdom, with
splendid opportunities and ample resources ; but he did not
rise to his responsibility, and these were taken from him.
But have we received nothing from the hand of God ? To
whom do we owe our lives, our Gospel privileges, and our
means of serving our generation ? Have we improved these ?
Are we improving them ? If not, then let us learn the lesson
of this sad life, lest at length the Lord should say over us, as
he did over Jerusalem : " If thou haclst known, even thou, at


least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace !
but now they are hid from thine eyes ;" " behold now thine
house is left unto thee desolate." Again and again the tide
of opportunity may rise, and one may float upon it almost
into safety, even as Saul was repeatedly found " among the
prophets ;" but if such times of visitation are continually
slighted by us, we may not count upon their recurrence, for
there shall come a day when they shall end forever. Listen,
I beseech you, to this word of warning, which comes to us
from the mountains of Gilboa, " He that being often reproved
hardeneth his neck, shall suddenly be cut off, and that with-
out remedy."



2 SAMUEL ii.-v., 10; i CHRONICLES xi.-xiL

THE defeat of the Israelites on Mount Gilboa utterly
disconcerted them, and left the Philistines masters of
the situation, so that neither the representatives of the house
of Saul, nor David and his band, could do very much for the
furtherance of the ends which they severally had in view.

What they could do, however, they did promptly. Abner,
Saul's cousin, and the captain of his host, fleeing from the
field of battle, took with him Ishbosheth, Saul's fourth son,
and, crossing the Jordan, settled for the time at Mahanaim,
where he proclaimed Ishbosheth king. David, having asked
counsel of the Lord, went, by direction of the oracle, to He-
bron, where the men of his own tribe rallied to his standard,
and anointed him king over themselves. Here we are told
that he reigned seven years and six months ; but as in the
verse immediately following that which gives us this infor-
mation it is stated that Ishbosheth reigned over Israel two
years, there is an appearance of discrepancy between the two
declarations ; since, if Ishbosheth was anointed at Mahana-
im at the time when David set up his court at Hebron, their
reigns would be of equal duration. The best solution of the
difficulty which I have seen is that given by Mr. Wright,*
who says, " Immediately after Saul's death, Abner, we sup-
pose, made Ishbosheth king at Mahanaim over Gilead, that
is, over those Israelites east of the Jordan who had not sub-

* " David, King of Israel," by Josiah Wright, M. A., pp. 247, 248.


mitted to the Philistines. But it was Abner's aim to drive
the invaders utterly out of the land, and to build up again
from its ruins the kingdom of Saul. This, however, could
not be done at once. The Philistines could only gradually
be dislodged, and the enumeration of districts which we have
in the ninth verse (2 Sam. ii.) seems to tally with the natu-
ral order of the conquests by which Abner's aim was accom-
plished. First, he drove the Philistines out of the coasts of
Asshur ; secondly, out of the Valley of Jezreel ; then from
the mountains of Ephraim ; lastly, from the hill fortresses of
Benjamin. And having now touched the frontiers of Judah,
he caused Ishbosheth to be proclaimed anew over the whole
of recovered Israel ; for so early do we find all that was not
Judah distinguished by this name." Allowing, then, five and
a half years for Abner's reconquest of the land, we have two
years left for the long war between the house of Saul and
the house of David, which ended in the dominion of the

The city in which, by divine direction, David established
himself, was not only one of the most ancient in existence,
but also one which was encircled with associations which to
an Israelite must have been peculiarly sacred. There Abra-
ham, the father of the faithful, sojourned for a considerable
portion of his life in Canaan ; in the immediate neighbor-
hood was the oak of Mamre, beneath which the patriarch
had so often offered sacrifice to Jehovah ; and hard by was
the cave of Machpelah, in which he buried the remains of
Sarah, and in which his own ashes, and those of Isaac and
Jacob, were afterward deposited. Hence, of all the cities of
Palestine at that date, it must have had the richest attrac-
tions to the chosen people ; and even yet, in its modern
name, El-Khulil the Friend we can see a reference to him
who was styled, by way of eminence, the Friend of God. In
the days of Joshua the surrounding territory was given to


Caleb, and it was made a city of refuge, and a city of the
Levites. It was, besides, one of the places to which David
sent a portion of the spoils which he had taken from the
Amalekites. Hence, both from its holy associations, its
central situation, and the probable favor of its inhabitants
toward him, it was a most appropriate place for David's

Here over the little kingdom of Judah he served, so to say,
an apprenticeship to monarchy ; and from this, in due sea-
son, he graduated with honor, as one fitted and entitled to
sit upon the throne of Israel in Jerusalem.

It was most probably in connection with his anointing at
Hebron that David composed what I may call the Inaugu-
ration Psalm, known among us as the zoist. "It is,"* says
Dean Stanley, " full of a stern exclusiveness, of a noble in-
tolerance ; but not against theological error, not against un-
courtly manners, not against political insubordination, but
against the proud heart, the high look, the secret slanderer,
the deceitful worker, the teller of lies. These are the out-
laws from King David's court ; these alone are the rebels
and heretics that he would not suffer to dwell in his house or
tarry in his sight."

The great national celebration which has just been held at
Washington! gives this Psalm a peculiar present interest for
us ; while, alas ! the disclosures of the past months make man-
ifest that the resolutions which it expresses are as much re-
quired to-day in the case of the chief magistrate of this great
republic, as they were in the times at which they were first
formed by David. Let us read it with our own legislators,
governors, and president in mind ; and let us, while we read
it, lift up our hearts in prayer for them, that they may all be
disposed and strengthened to act according to its principles.

* " Jewish Church," vol. ii., p. 89.

t The inauguration of General Grant to his second term of office, 1873.



"I will sing of mercy and judgment : unto thee, O Lord, will
I sing. I will behave myself wisely in a perfect way. O
when wilt thou come unto me ? I will walk within my house
with a perfect heart. I will set no wicked thing before mine
eyes : I hate the work of them that turn aside ; it shall not
cleave to me. A froward heart shall depart from me : I will
not know a wicked person. Whoso privily slandereth his
neighbor, him will I cut off: him that hath a high look and
a proud heart will not I suffer. Mine eyes shall be upon
the faithful of the land, that they may dwell with me : he
that walketh in a perfect way, he shall serve me. He that
worketh deceit shall not dwell within my house : he that tell-
eth lies shall not tarry in my sight. I will early destroy all
the wicked of the land ; that I may cut off all wicked doers
from the city of the Lord."

David's first public act after his anointing was one in
which we see both chivalry and policy united. He sent a
message of thanks to the men of Jabesh-gilead for their no-
ble conduct in rescuing the bodies of Saul and his sons from
dishonor ; and while invoking the blessing of God upon
them, he delicately intimated to them that his brethren of
Judah had made him their king. No doubt his regard for
the memory of Jonathan had something to do with the send-
ing of this message ; yet I suppose that this noble motive
was slightly alloyed by the anticipation that those who re-
ceived it would be forward to tender to him their allegiance.
But if that hope entered at all into his calculations, it was
doomed to disappointment, for the men of Jabesh made no
response. Perhaps they remembered to David's disadvan-
tage his recent sojourn among the Philistines, and were sus-
picious of one who had, in their view, so compromised him-
self with their enemies ; or perhaps the influence of Ishbo-
sheth and Abner, who were in their immediate neighbor-
hood, added to their own feeling of attachment to the house


of Saul for what he had done for them, kept them from giv-
ing any heed to the overtures of David ; in any case, noth-
ing came out of this politic "bid" of David's for their support.

So, for at least five and a half years, if we have been right
in our interpretation of the tenth and eleventh verses of the
second chapter of 2 Samuel, David lived in the city of He-
bron in peace. During this period, thinking probably, like
other Eastern chiefs, that his greatness as a ruler would be
estimated by the number of his wives, he added four to those
whom he had already wedded. Among these was Maachah,
the daughter of Talmai, king of Geshur, one of the tribes
on whom he had inflicted such cruelty while he sojourned
at Ziklag. This alliance, besides being a case of polygamy,
which is always prolific in unhappiness, was a flagrant vio-
lation of the divine command, which forbade the Israelites
to intermarry with the people of the land ; and let it be no-
ted here, that from this concubinage came Absalom, whose
after - history so wrung the heart of David, and made him
feel " how sharper than a serpent's tooth it is to have a
thankless child." God's law, whether physical or spiritual,
whether positive or moral, can not be contravened with im-
punity. A man's sin will, sooner or later, find him out ; and
he may rest assured that, in some way or other, God will
bring it to his remembrance.

But David's peace at Hebron was not to remain unbroken ;
for, after conquering those whom we have already named,
Abner, in whose hands Ishbosheth seems to have been little
else than a weak tool, advanced to attack David. The rival
armies confronted each other at Gibeon. They attempted to
settle their differences, at first, by a kind of duel between two
companies of twelve men ; but when these had slain each
other, a fierce battle ensued, in which Abner and his host
were defeated and put to flight. The army of David was
commanded by his nephew Joab, who here for the first time


appears in the history, and who was supported by his broth-
ers Abishai and Asahel. The last-mentioned of these war-
like brothers was distinguished by his fleetness of foot, and
in the pursuit of the retreating enemy he pressed sore upon
Abner, evidently bent on securing his destruction. But con-
scious of his own strength, and perhaps also knowing some-
thing of the implacable disposition of Joab, Abner desired to
spare his pursuer, and urged him to return. When, however,
this advice was disregarded, he put Asahel to death ; and
the sight of his body, as he lay covered with blood, robbed
victory of its glory in the eyes of David's soldiers, and filled
the heart of Joab with a terrible purpose of revenge, which
he carried out in the most deceitful manner at a later day.

The war thus begun between the house of David and the
house of Saul lasted a long time ; but when it was seen that
the former was continually gaining the advantage, the people
of the land, weary of the strife, and longing for the blessings
of peace, began to incline to the side of the stronger, and
spoke of putting David on the throne. Seeing this, Abner,
with the instinct of a cunning, selfish, and unprincipled man,
prepared to save himself by going over to the ranks of Da-
vid, and taking the kingdom of Ishbosheth with him. A
pretext was soon found for carrying out his design ; for when
Ishbosheth faulted him for claiming one of his father's con-
cubines, which in Eastern etiquette was the next thing to
claiming the throne itself, he became indignant, and swore
this angry oath : " So do God to Abner, and more also, ex-
cept, as the Lord hath sworn to David, even so I do to him ;
to translate the kingdom from the house of Saul, and to
set up the throne of David over Israel and over Judah, from
Dan even to Beersheba." What a depth of wickedness does
this reveal ! He knew all the while that he was fighting not
against David only, but against God. Why, then, did he
fight against him so long ? Because he judged it best for his


own interests so to do. And why does he propose to join
David now ? Because his pride has been wounded, and he
thinks he can make good terms with David for his future
eminence. Thus he had no regard to God all through. He
thought only for himself, and his introduction of Jehovah's
name into his asseveration is the most sickening profanity.

When he opened up negotiations with David for the trans-
fer of the kingdom, the son of Jesse did not show himself
overeager to respond. He, too, had his dignity to consult,
and he declared that he could not enter into a league with
him until he had sent unto him Michal, the daughter of Saul,
whom he had first wedded. A man who had already six
wives had no great need for a seventh, and we do not sup-
pose that there was much affection for Michal remaining in
David's heart. Still, she had been wrongfully taken from
him, and the giving of her to another was a grievous and de-
liberate insult offered to him by Saul, for which it was natu-
ral that he should now desire some sort of apology. More-
over, the making of such a request to Abner would be an ad-
mirable test of his sincerity ; and so, when it was at once
complied with, he declared his readiness to enter into nego-
tiations with him. Thereupon, after communicating with the
elders of Israel and with his kinsmen of the tribe of Benja-
min, Abner went to Hebron, accompanied by twenty men ;
and in the absence of Joab and Abishai, he was hospitably
entertained by David, and dismissed with many tokens of

When Joab returned, and discovered how Abner had been
treated, he became furious ; and after bitterly inveighing
against the simplicity of David for allowing himself to be
duped by so cunning a diplomatist as Abner, he sent after
him, decoyed him back by a false message, and deceitfully
slew him, under the pretense of desiring to have a private
conference with him.


This cold-blooded deed must be branded with the deep-
est condemnation ; Joab violated what was equivalent to a
flag of truce ; and though some may remind us of the old
law of blood-revenge, and affirm that, under the Mosaic in-
stitute, Joab, as the next of kin to Asahel, had a perfect right
to do as he did, there are two things which go to bar this
plea; for Asahel was slain in battle, and Hebron was a city
of refuge, in which Abner's life ought to have been respected,
until at least he had been tried by the elders. Hence this
act of Joab was not only cruelly treacherous, but also a fla-
grant violation of the law of God. David was greatly af-
flicted by it, and took every means, short of putting Joab to
death, to show that he had no hand whatever in its insti-
gation. He proclaimed a public mourning for Abner, and
went himself to the funeral, making lamentation over him
with a song, which has been here preserved, and mourning
yet more deeply for what he calls his own helplessness, for
thus he speaks : " I am this day weak, though anointed king;
and these men the sons of Zeruiah be too hard for me : the
Lord shall reward the doer of evil according to his wicked-

But David was weak, not so much because Joab was strong,
as because he himself shrank from doing what he knew to be
right in the case. Had he put Joab to death, public opinion
would have sustained him in the execution of justice ; and
even if it had not, he would have had the inward witness
that he was doing his duty to the state. For a magistrate
to be weak, is to be wicked. He is set to administer and
execute the law without fear or favor; and whensoever he
swerves from justice from either cause, he is a traitor at once
to God and to the commonwealth. " Weak !" this is not to
speak like a man, not to say a king. Oh, what suffering
may I not even say what sin ? David might have saved him-
self from, if he had only thus early rid himself of the tyran-


nic and overbearing presence of Joab ! I wonder if in after-
days, when his soul was vexed and chafed by the conduct
of his unscrupulous nephew, David ever thought of his sinful
weakness in this moment of emergency. He spared the ser-
pent, only to be himself stung by it at last.

Abner's death took away the solitary pillar on which the
kingdom of Ishbosheth rested; and two of his servants,
thinking thereby to serve themselves, slew him, and took the
news to David, who did with them as before he had done
with the Amalekite who professed to have slain Saul. And
now, every obstacle to his full royalty having been removed,
he was waited upon by the elders of Israel, who requested
him to become their king.

The circumstances connected with his coronation are too

Online LibraryWilliam M. (William Mackergo) TaylorDavid, king of Israel: his life and its lessons → online text (page 15 of 36)