1 Samuel 13:13-14
And Samuel said to Saul, You have done foolishly: you have not kept the commandment of the LORD your God, which he commanded you…
By this glowing announcement of a "Coming Man" our expectations and our curiosity are naturally raised to the highest pitch. And I daresay that if we read it in a modern three-volume book without any knowledge of intervening occurrences, we should look on to the end of the third volume to know at once whether he was supposed to have realised the ideal. If we did so, we should find an answer in the affirmative. The main question to which I propose to address myself is this. Can God ever express his approval of the whole character of a man who has committed the blackest sins which history records or which the imagination can picture? In approaching the question I must ask you to bear in mind the immense difference between looking back at a sin and looking forward to the self-same sin. A good deal of the genuine perplexity about the case before us is caused, I am sure, by forgetting this. Men commonly think that David was necessarily a bad man, because they think, and rightly think, that they should certainly be bad men if they proposed to themselves to commit the sin which David committed. But we cannot fairly argue thus and say, "If David was a man after God's own heart, it follows that such a complication of sins as he committed is no hindrance to God's favour." It is not fair to argue thus. Why not? Because the whole of the case is not stated. The fair argument from David's case is this, "If David was on the whole a good man, it follows that great sin, followed by deep and lifelong repentance, does not exclude from God's favour, and His approval of the character as a whole." Put it thus: We see as a fact, now that the result is before us, that David did repent and was accepted. If the history had stopped short at the account of his sin, and there were no favourable notices of him, then we could not assume that he had repented. Again, if we read that he sinned deliberately, trusting in the mercy of God and fully intending to repent, then we could have but one opinion of him; and if, in that case, he were mentioned with commendation or anything remotely bordering upon it, Scripture could not, as far as I can see, possibly be defended against the charge of encouraging wickedness and teaching men to "continue in sin that grace might abound." But, as matters stand, what is the very most that can fairly be deduced from David's case? That when a man does fall into a grievous sin,
(1) If he live to have an opportunity of repentance, and(2) If he make due use of that opportunity, God will pardon and receive him. Our own lives are like works coming out in numbers; "serials," as they are called. The lives in Scripture are like the lives as we see them when we have read the last number. They are more than this; they are in many cases — what we never have either in history or in fiction — the whole with the Divine verdict stamped upon them. The end of a character whom we follow with excited interest through a serial is always, of course, doubtful — doubtful to us, and often, as we learn from their biographies, doubtful to the authors themselves. What will become of a character in a serial is always more or less uncertain until the end. At the end it is settled according to man's view. In Scripture it is, in some cases, settled according to God's view. We ought not in fairness, I think, to mix the "unfinished serial" view with the "finished serial" view. We must take our choice between the two. Acting in David's case upon this rule, which we would at once apply to any character in a novel, if we heard him spoken about, you will see that we must not use all our knowledge of what in a given case occurred afterwards, in order to decide upon one particular passage in his life. You ought not to wish your judgment to be biassed. In the case of a fictitious character in whom you were interested you would say to one who had read the whole book, "Don't tell me the end; let me form my own opinion." Act towards David precisely as you would towards a character in a serial, and I shall have no doubt as to your escaping much perplexity and arriving at, a just decision upon the whole subject. God, if I may say so without irreverence, has formally and terribly released Himself from all liability in this matter. But this is not all. The sincere repentance of David is distinctly recorded. Read the number of the current month, and think of the monarch fasting, lying upon the earth all night, impervious to all solicitations from the elders of his house to rise from the ground, and tell me what, do you think now? Have you changed the opinion which you had formed when you read last month's number? You have changed it, and you were right to change it. Why? Because the man has changed. If you take David's sin, judge of it by the law of sin; if you take his repentance, you must judge of it by the law of repentance. Decide as you please upon a character at a fixed point, but do not use all your knowledge of what comes afterwards to help you in forming your opinion at that point. If you will honestly do this on the "serial" principle I believe that David and what the inspired prophet said about him will cease to be a stumbling block. We must have the closing number of the unfinished serial before we can venture to speak. We have the developed character now; it is the character of the penitent Now we can take the life as a whole, and what is it? It is a picture of what God's dealing sometimes is, in giving to the sinner opportunity to repent and "come to himself," and of what God's dealing always is to the sinner who avails himself of that opportunity and "seeks the Lord while He may be found." If this be not so, then the parable of the prodigal son, instead of being lovely, touching, and full of comfort, becomes absolutely without purpose and, indeed, without meaning. But, if it be so, then we are in a position to answer the question to which I said at the outset I meant to address myself, namely, "Can God ever express His approval of the whole character of a man who has committed the blackest sins which history records or the imagination can picture?" I have to lead up to the conclusion that He can.
(J. C. Coghlan, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And Samuel said to Saul, Thou hast done foolishly: thou hast not kept the commandment of the LORD thy God, which he commanded thee: for now would the LORD have established thy kingdom upon Israel for ever.
WEB: Samuel said to Saul, "You have done foolishly. You have not kept the commandment of Yahweh your God, which he commanded you; for now Yahweh would have established your kingdom on Israel forever.