It’s Sunday, and since we had a post early last week on Brother Bryan of Birmingham, I thought one of his sermons would work well today. Sermons can sometimes provide a glimpse into a preacher’s character and ministry. This sermon comes from an undated collection of his sermons, but one biographical detail in this sermon would place the publication at around 1930-31. For background, it helps to know that around 1927, Rev. Bryan was blessed with a trip to Europe and Palestine, and a number of these collected sermons reflect on that trip abroad. Also, many of these sermons give the appearance of having been written down exactly as he preached them, and so some of the expressions may seem a bit odd. I still can’t make sense of a sentence toward the end of the third full paragraph, “We fail to fold the things to give the things we should…”
SUBJECT: “THE FAILURES OF KING SAUL.”
I wish you to think prayerfully and carefully with me about some of the events and places where they occurred in the land which I saw connected with the life of Samuel and Saul and the wonderful peerless Jonathan, the son of Saul. The places that I saw connected with this narrative begin at the twelfth chapter of First Samuel. There was Ramah, Bethel, Bethlehem, Michmash, Gilgal, and Mizpah. Seven out of ten of the places mentioned in the sixty-six books of the Bible have been located by careful students, geographers and explorers. The time, no doubt, will come when every place mentioned in the Bible will be located. Yet I humble take off my hat in this study because I know that I am standing on the holiest ground, having had this responsibility rolled over on my tired heart and brain in this sacred task.
In this twelfth chapter is the wonderful speech of Samuel, the first in the great line of the Old Testament prophets and the last in the line of the judges. His character was clean, pure, holy, positive, outright, righteous. His circuits were from Ramah, his home and the place from where he judged Israel, to Bethel, Gilgal, Mizpeh. His spoiled sons judged at Beersheba, the southern extremity of Palestine. But they took tribes and did not judge righteously as did their father. Here Samuel introduces the king’s walk before the people and says, “Behold, I have stolen nothing from you. I have taken no bribe or silver, gold, ox, ass, wine, of any hand to blind mine eyes with.” Then with a desire to glorify God he said, “It is the Lord that advances His mighty works. It is the Lord who when Jacob was come into Egypt, and your fathers cried out to God that He heard their cry and sent Moses down into Egypt to bring them out of Egyptian bondage.” This fact shows us that these old Hebrews had a deep spiritual life and an idea of God early in life. They had an idea of God’s people of old. Samuel had a knowledge of God since early childhood because he was taught about God from the cradle on up. Samuel said, “Consider all these great things the Lord hath done for you; and turn aside from idols and fear and serve God with all your heart.” Oh to lay aside the idols of our lives and worship only God. I think of a stanza my mother taught me:
“The dearest idol I have known, whate’er it may be.
Help me, Lord, to tear it from my throne
And worship only Thee.”
Then Samuel says, “My dear friends, do you know that I was not the cause of all this? You did not reject me, but God told me that you rejected Him.” Oh, have I rejected God? Have you rejected God? Have I turned my back on God? Now we come to Saul, and we can but notice his seeming success and his failures. I can visualize Bethel, a sacred place from of old, Abraham camped and built an altar there (Gen. 12:8), Jacob fleeing from his brother’s wrath, camped here and had a heavenly vision of angels ascending and descending a ladder from earth to heaven. He awoke the next morning, and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place and I did not know it. I would not have stayed here had I known it.” As Jacob got up early before the gray dawn of the morning and despairingly said that he would not have been there if he had known the Lord was in the place, so I fear that many of us today avoid the places where God is. We fail to fold the things, to give the things we should to God, and fold to our hearts the things we ought to. I beg you today to tear from your heart and life anything that comes between you and God. It was here or very near here that the Spirit of the Lord came upon this man King Saul.
I now visualize Gilgal the first encamping place of the Israelites after they crossed the Jordan. It was here that circumcision was renewed, and the Lord “rolled away” their reproach. (Joshua 4:19; 5:9). It was the place no doubt where the people were taught by Joshua to worship God in the tabernacle until it was removed to Shiloh. It was from here that Joshua went forth on his great military achievements. There Samuel before the Lord slew Agag. It was here that an altar of twelve stones from the Jordan River, representing the twelve tribes of Israel, was built commemorating their crossing over into the Promised Land.
Now this place Michmash has not yet been located by scholars. It was a strong hold of the Philistines. Saul in choosing out a great army against the Philistines selected three thousand, two thousand of which were with him in Michmash. Now at first in all of Saul’s successes he was very humble. Notice that when he was asked to become king of Israel he said, “Why make me king when I am of the least of the tribes of all Israel?” I see him humbly anointed by Samuel for the kingship, a sign of the anointing of the Holy Spirit.
We are now in Mizpeh, which means a watch-tower. It was here, as I have already said, Samuel judged, and here he summoned the people to elect a king. No doubt from this watchtower the Israelites stood to watch for the encounters and plans of the Philistines. Then they go to Gilgal, where the people saw the coronation of Saul and they said, “Long live the king.” But success sometimes is a very dangerous thing in one’s life. It must have been in the life of Saul since his heart was changed from humility to exaltation on the part of himself.
God gave the people a king, just what they wanted, because He had a plan to work out in it. I have known people to rebel because they had lost all of their loved ones and life was sad and lonely for them. But in it all, we are to remember that God’s plan is lined with love. God’s plan for Saul’s life was lined with love. Saul began to fail when he first began to envy and eye David and the peerless Jonathan. His presumption is another point in his fall. When Saul was anointed to be king, he like other kings, was to be a military leader. He rallied the people to fight against the Ammonites. No doubt at that time Saul inquired of the Lord and led a prayerful life. But triumphs in the Christian life are very dangerous sometimes. Many times in God’s Word we are told to humble ourselves in the sight of God that we may be lifted up.
Saul really had read and learned Old Testament history. He refers to the Amalakites who met Israel between the Red Sea and Mount Sinai and now he meets them. God told him to kill Agag and the cattle. But now Saul looms up in a presumptuous attitude and says, “Why wait I for any man? Samuel is late, and here are fat calves which I kept for sacrifices and my own use. I will just offer up a sacrifice myself.” Why in the world did Saul want to usurp the authority of a priest? He was the king and not a priest. I cannot go out and work on the railroad or in the shops, or in the bank or some other trade. My work is to preach the Gospel which I have humbly tried to do in Birmingham and other places for a period of forty-one years in a month from now. [Brother Bryan began his ministry in 1889, so that would date this sermon to 1930.]
Saul offered up the sacrifice and here comes faithful old Samuel. He hears the lowing cattle, for God is revealing to him the sin of Saul. He says “What meaneth all this lowing of cattle which I hear, Saul? Did not God tell thee to kill all the cattle? And, Saul, I see you have King Agag. You were supposed to have killed him, too. God bade thee to do so.” Saul was using the church to carry out his ambitious purposes. In other words he was commercializing on the church. Listen to Saul’s excuse which is like our excuses today: “Oh, I just wanted to keep the people together, so I just offered up one sacrifice of these goodly heifers which I saved back for the purpose.” Today so many people say, “O I could not do that because it would not please the church, the world, the people.” We must shun such sin. O if we would use our time alone in the work which God has given us to do. Forgive us, O Lord, if we are not grasping the opportunities Thou hast given us. Help us to try to make our lives count for Thee in these warning lessons which we get from the life of King Saul.
We now come to Bethlehem Ephratah, as it was first called and which means roses, vegetation. Then it was called Bethlehem, and after this the City of David. It is mentioned first as the home of Elimelech and Naomi. It is the place to which Samuel came from Ramah, having no doubt walked about 18 miles over that ancient highway from Damascus to Egypt, to select a king of the house of Jesse. I see Samuel walking along that road with a hickory switch in his hand driving a heifer down to Bethlehem. Someone says, “Where are you going?” He says, “I am going down to Bethlehem to the house of Jesse.” He, like wise people today, did not tell everything he knew. He did not tell them what his purpose there was. He wisely kept secrets. “He that dwelleth in the secret places of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.”
I see the sons of Jesse lined up for Samuel’s examination. Then Samuel, the great man of faith in God, said, “Jesse, have you any other sons?” I stood and looked toward the north of Bethlehem to the hill country of Judea and the shepherd hills. It was a Jewish custom that the youngest son of a family keep his father’s sheep. David, Jesse’s youngest son, was keeping the sheep on those shepherd hills east of Bethlehem. He was sent for and chosen and anointed king by Samuel. Why did God use him? The answer comes back that God used him because He could trust him. The question is not how much faith I have in God, but has God any faith in me? Am I treating God right? Am I treating my friends right? So as Samuel said, “Man looketh on the outward appearance but God looketh on the heart.” Are we holding on to this Bible on which my mother, dying, placed her hand and said, “My son, I have made no mistake in believing every word of this Bible.”
I see Saul baffled with a great army and yet no one dared fight Goliath, the great Philistine giant. David is sent to carry food and supplies to his brothers employed in Saul’s army. [Goliath] had challenged all Israel. But here comes David eagerly listening to the conversations about this dreaded giant. But yet no one has dared to fight the enemy of God. O my friends, are you willing to go out and fight the enemy of the Church? Goliath is a type of the enemy of the Church. Someone says, “Here comes a little red-headed Jew from Bethlehem, we will let him go try. He has killed a lion and a bear.” So saying they were met with an eager response on the part of David himself.
David then goes out to fight Goliath, the symbol of darkness, hell, and temptations which assail you and me like great avalanches. This giant looked in disdain at David and said, “You poor little thing. Would you dare come out to meet me, Goliath, with a sling and a few small stones?” I hear David say to Goliath, like you and I ought to say now, “You are coming to me with a sword and spear like a weaver’s beam, but I come to you in the name of the God of the army of Israel, the army of the living God.” My friends, we must meet these temptations, we must fight the enemy in the name of Christ.