Tidings from Gilboa
2 Samuel 1:2-16
It came even to pass on the third day, that, behold, a man came out of the camp from Saul with his clothes rent, and earth on his head…

The horrors of the battlefield are far from terminated when the actual encounter is over, and victory has declared in favour of one of the contending parties. The after-scenes are often such as cause humanity to shudder; and to one of the most revolting of these we are introduced by the circumstances under which the tidings of Saul's death first reached David. We refer to the traversing of the field of blood, for the purpose of spoiling and plundering those who can no longer resist the hand of violence. And, probably, it happened in this case — as it has many a time occurred in the annals of robbery and plunder — that the thing stolen has no sooner been actually obtained, than the spoiler finds its possession very inconvenient, on account of its unusual character, or extraordinary value. Wad it been of less splendid material, or of less intrinsic worth, its possession would have excited no remark, and it could have been parted with without difficulty. But a crown and a royal bracelet, which every one would know he could scarcely have acquired by fair means, which every Israelite would recognise as having belonged to his fallen king, and in which the Philistines, too, would have discovered a property to which they, as victors, were entitled, and of which they had been unlawfully deprived by the haste with which he had commenced his predatory excursion on the battle-field — what was to be done with these spoils? It did not answer his purpose to keep them, and yet they were far from being marketable commodities, for the ordinary ways of turning property to account were not available there. It was at this juncture we find him coming to David, and while professing to sympthise with the disgrace of Israel, telling them not only were Saul and his sons dead, but that he himself had put the finishing stroke to his existence; in token of which he stood there as the bearer of the crown and bracelet. The interested part which he had to act accounts for the discrepancy between the recital which he gave, and the narrative previously furnished by the sacred writer. In his own estimation, however, he was taking the surest way to honour and to the advancement of his worldly interests. What reward could be too large for the messenger who brought to David the intelligence of the death of his enemy? — nay , more, who had, by his own hand, put an end to the life of that bitter persecutor? Well contrived as was the plan, it nevertheless failed; and the reason of the failure deserves notice. Many an apparently well-arranged scheme of iniquity has broken through from exactly the same cause. The Amalekite had made a grievous miscalculation as to the character of the man with whom he had to deal. He had done David a gross injustice; and he, doubtless, was not long in discovering his mistake; but then it was quite too late to recede. His mistake was fatal. He was treated as a murderer, on his own confession. He had failed in his scheme for securing his own advantage and aggrandizement, because he had formed altogether a wrong estimate of the character of David.

1. The incident gives us an opportunity of marking the immense difference in the order of mind and character which may subsist between two individuals brought together by one event, and having their attention occupied by one and the same object. And we observe, too, in this instance, a circumstance which is the natural attendant upon this diversity — the incapability, on the part of the possessor of the meaner and inferior order of mental and moral qualities, to enter into the feelings and principles of the possesser of superior endowments. This incapability operates to prevent its unfortunate subject from suspecting the existence, in a fellow-creature, of any other mode of thinking and acting than that which he himself adopts and employs; and it issues, therefore, in the habit of judging all around him by his own standard, and of reckoning that they will be actuated, in their conduct, by the principles which direct his own proceedings. Now, whenever such judgments are formed, and on the same principle, it must be obvious that a considerable amount of personal injustice is perpetrated; and in reference, too, to that very point upon which a well-regulated mind will be most sensitive. To an upright man — to one who exercises himself to have a conscience void of offence towards God — character is a far more momentous consideration than thousands of silver and gold could ever be; and judgments formed on the principles of which this passage reminds us, do injustice to personal character. Nor is it to be wondered at that David should have felt the injustice acutely. For assuredly where, by the Grace of God, a man has been taught the lesson of true self-respect — where he has been enabled, as the child of God, to hold that principle humbly, firmly, and for sanctified purposes — where the Spirit of God has produced moral elevation, and has stamped sin with its real character of debasement and dishonourableness — where these results have been brought about in the moral history of an individual, there is something very humiliating, something peculiarly distressing, because felt to be deeply degrading, in this very circumstance of having been so misunderstood and misjudged, as to have been supposed capable of finding gratification in acting out the principles which rule minds of another order, and of sympathising with the courses to which these principles conduct. There is scarcely a trial which is more hard to endure, or which pierces the heart with so deep a pang, than thus to find one's self standing, in the estimation of a man whose feelings and principles are low, on that same low platform which marks his own moral position, and side by side with himself. It may be said, indeed, that conscious integrity — the personal conviction of uprightness — ought to have a power to heal the pang, that it ought to be enough for a man to know that the judgment formed of him is wrong. But a more delicate perception will discover that it is this very circumstance which occasions the pang, which embitters the trial. It would be no trial but for this consciousness of personal integrity; and in employing this argument as a comfort to the child of God writhing beneath an injurious and unjust supposition, whether implied or expressed, the danger would be, that instead of mitigating the smart, you should only increase the anguish of the wound. The true solace, then, for the heart bleeding at the injustice perpetrated by a false and injurious estimate of character will be found in an intelligent view of those important ends which such a trial is peculiarly calculated to answer, and in yielding to the trial for the sake of the spiritual benefit which it is designed to promote. It may be hard to bear — it will be; yet it will be worth while to have had the spirit wounded by the injustice, and the heart depressed by the injury, if only the principles of gratitude to God, of humility, dependence, and caution, acquire power in the painful process; if only sin become more hateful — self become more completely laid in the dust — and God be more completely glorified. So long as human nature is what it is — so long as men of corrupt minds want excuses for their sins, or sanction and encouragement in the commission of them — so long we must expect that they will find it convenient to form for themselves, and, if necessary, to present to others, a low and unjust estimate of the character of those whom Divine grace has made the subjects of a better nature. But "the Lord taketh part with them that fear Him."

2. But let it not be thought by any that they can with impunity-commit, under any circumstances, the injustice which has now been described. Apart from the injury which they inflict upon religious character by so representing it to themselves or to others, as that it shall be employed as a sanction for their own sins, or as an excuse for their wrong-doing, it must not be forgotten that, supposing the real character of a professor of religion were such as they represent it — supposing that beneath a profession of purity and love, in any instance, there really did exist a cherished impurity and an indulged malignity, from which they might gain encouragement in their plans, and from which they might secretly expect sanction, yet even this would not justify them in sinning. God looks at sinners in their individual capacity, and deals with them as such. Sin is felt by God to be a personal matter in reference to Himself, and nothing can justify its commission; no, not all the suspected hypocrisy, nor all the proved unfaithfulness of professors of religion, with all the imaginary sanction which the one might give, and all the real encouragement which the other would afford. We know, indeed, that the formation of these wrong judgments of character constitutes a chosen method by which the great enemy of souls seeks to entrap men to their own destruction. He belies and misrepresents religion in their view. He suggests that the high standard of a religious profession is a thing of imagination rather than of reality. He whispers stealthily that, notwithstanding the untoward difference between the men whose lives are avowedly under a higher influence and the rest of mankind, it is not very difficult — for a consideration — to induce these very professors, either to act upon a lower, principle themselves, or to give their sanction to those who adopt an inferior standard of religion and morals. He thus removes the checks and restraints which religious example and influence would exert in discouraging the young from evil. He does more; for, by the insinuation and imputation of real sympathy with sin on the part of professors, he gives direct encouragement to evil courses. Having thus, by acting out his character of "accuser of the brethren," produced an impression of personal religion as being hollow and valueless, the enemy of souls next presents some well-adapted temptation — some well-arranged enticement — to secure present advantage by means which involve personal guilt and expose to heavy penalty. The scheme succeeds — the youth falls into the trap prepared for him — the criminal deed is done — the actual guilt is incurred — and then, the tempter's object being gained, conscience is allowed to speak, to make itself heard; and, amidst shame and misery, the discovery is made that the impressions about religion and religious professors which induced to the commission of sin, were wrong after all. Then the victim of the temptation wakes up to learn that there is such a thing as religious principle; that it does produce a stats of mind which holds sin in abhorrence; that it teaches men to press the inquiry for themselves, "How can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?" There is a fearful peril which the Scripture exposes to view, and to which nothing will so certainly conduct men as this habit of misjudging the character of the people of God for the purpose of gaining sanction to their own sins. The transition is made from entertaining unjust and low thoughts of the people of God to forming unworthy and degrading views of God Himself; and in the same way that a transgressor finds encouragement and sanction for personal sins in attributing to his fellow-creatures the same vicious motives which rule his own heart, so may he proceed a step further, and imagine that the Creator is altogether such an one as himself. It would seem hardly credible, at first sight, that such an idea could ever find entrance in the human heart; but Omniscience records the fact as the object of its own discovery and censure — proving that there is no length to which the hardening influence of sin will not carry a man.

(J. A. Miller.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: It came even to pass on the third day, that, behold, a man came out of the camp from Saul with his clothes rent, and earth upon his head: and so it was, when he came to David, that he fell to the earth, and did obeisance.

WEB: it happened on the third day, that behold, a man came out of the camp from Saul, with his clothes torn, and earth on his head: and so it was, when he came to David, that he fell to the earth, and did obeisance.

The Man Who Professed to have Slain Saul
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