Saul Steps Up! — Part One
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Saul Steps Up! — Part One

Salvation is the melody line that runs through Scripture, pointing us to Jesus. When Nahash the Ammonite came to intimidate and humiliate Israel, for example, they certainly needed saving. The people had forgotten what God had previously done for them and nearly capitulated—until Saul, angered by their faithless lament and empowered by God’s Spirit, led them to victory. God’s redemption plan isn’t a business venture that relies on our initiative, teaches Alistair Begg; it’s a battle that requires a divine invasion.

Series Containing This Sermon

A Study in 1 and 2 Samuel, Volume 2

Saul, Israel’s First King 1 Samuel 8:1–15:35 Series ID: 109012

Sermon Transcript: Print

I invite you to follow along as I read from 1 Samuel and chapter 11. If you’re visiting with us, we’ve been studying in 1 Samuel, and we’ve reached this section. And this records for us, as you will see in the text, the defeat of the Ammonites under the leadership of Saul. First Samuel 11:1:

“Then Nahash the Ammonite went up and besieged Jabesh-gilead, and all the men of Jabesh said to Nahash, ‘Make a treaty with us, and we will serve you.’ But Nahash the Ammonite said to them, ‘On this condition I will make a treaty with you, that I gouge out all your right eyes, and thus bring disgrace on all Israel.’ The elders of Jabesh said to him, ‘Give us seven days’ respite that we may send messengers through all the territory of Israel. Then, if there is no one to save us, we will give ourselves up to you.’ When the messengers came to Gibeah of Saul, they reported the matter in the ears of the people, and all the people wept aloud.

“Now, behold, Saul was coming from the field behind the oxen. And Saul said, ‘What is wrong with the people, that they are weeping?’ So they told him the news of the men of Jabesh. And the Spirit of God rushed upon Saul when he heard these words, and his anger was greatly kindled. He took a yoke of oxen and cut them in pieces and sent them throughout all the territory of Israel by the hand of the messengers, saying, ‘Whoever does not come out after Saul and Samuel, so shall it be done to his oxen!’ Then the dread of the Lord fell upon the people, and they came out as one man. When he mustered them at Bezek, the people of Israel were three hundred thousand, and the men of Judah thirty thousand. And they said to the messengers who had come, ‘Thus shall you say to the men of Jabesh-gilead: “Tomorrow, by the time the sun is hot, you shall have salvation.”’ When the messengers came and told the men of Jabesh, they were glad. Therefore the men of Jabesh said, ‘Tomorrow we will give ourselves up to you, and you may do to us whatever seems good to you.’ And the next day Saul put the people in three companies. And they came into the midst of the camp in the morning watch and struck down the Ammonites until the heat of the day. And those who survived were scattered, so that no two of them were left together.

“Then the people said to Samuel, ‘Who is it that said, “Shall Saul reign over us?” Bring the men, that we may put them to death.’ But Saul said, ‘Not a man shall be put to death this day, for today the Lord has worked salvation in Israel.’ Then Samuel said to the people, ‘Come, let us go to Gilgal and there renew the kingdom.’ So all the people went to Gilgal, and there they made Saul king before the Lord in Gilgal. There they sacrificed peace offerings before the Lord, and there Saul and all the men of Israel rejoiced greatly.”

Thanks be to God for his Word.

Lord, we have expressed our clear need of your help all day, every day, and right now, in this moment, as we turn to the Bible. So many thoughts clamor for our attention, distractions of every kind, and only by the Holy Spirit will we have that clarity of purpose and understanding that would lead us to the very foot of the cross of Jesus Christ and to the understanding of the gospel itself. Help us, then, we pray, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

In 1935, a Scottish physicist by the name of Robert Alexander Watson-Watt received the largest wartime award in the Second World War for an invention. Many people had been working on radar, but he was the first person to put together a unit that actually worked in practical terms. And they paid him—or gifted him—$144,000, which was, in the 1930s, it was a substantial amount of money. Ironically, later on, driving in Canada, he found himself caught in a speeding trap, in a radar trap. And he was not only a clever man, but he was a humorous man, and he wrote his own little doggerel concerning what had happened to him. It went like this:

Pity Sir Robert Watson-Watt,
Strange target of [his] radar plot.
And thus, with others I [could] mention
[A] victim of his own invention.[1]

Now, there is a sense in which, as we come back to our studies here in 1 Samuel, true—definitely for some—is that very idea. Because in their quest for a king, which is what we’ve been dealing with now for some time, it is fairly obvious, and quickly so, that these people could not get exactly what they wanted. You remember they wanted to have a king. They had only had judges up until this time, and they thought if they could have a king, then they could be like the other nations. And they couldn’t actually get what they wanted without at the same time virtually getting what they didn’t want—although what they didn’t really want was what they actually needed. And so I said to myself during the week, “That reminds me of old Watson-Watt,” because these people are beginning now, as the story unfolds, to see that they’re virtually victims of their own designs and their own desires. They wanted this to be the case, and now, as they find themselves in the middle of it, it seems a little more daunting than they had perhaps anticipated.

Now, the background to it—and it is important that we keep having background. In teaching the Bible week by week, I’m aware of the fact that we’re all very good at forgetting things, and even in the gap of seven days. Now, since our last study in 1 Samuel, there’s a gap of fourteen days, because last Sunday we didn’t do 1 Samuel. And so you’ll forgive me if I take a moment or two just to make sure that those of us who should know remember, and those who have never been in the study up until this point at least have some idea of what’s going on.

The genesis of this whole thing is, as I’ve said, the request on the part of the people for a king. That’s back in 8:5. They’ve said to Samuel, “You’re old, your boys are not in a position to pick up where you’re leaving off, so make a king for us so that we can be like the rest of the nations.”[2]

Now, Samuel’s response to that was displeasure. He took it personally. He felt that it was a rejection of his own leadership. He’d done his best for these people, and now they said, “We don’t actually want you. You’re old; it’s time to move on.” It’s the kind of thing that happens in business and industry every day. Eventually, they said, “We need somebody younger, somebody better, somebody brighter, somebody bigger.” Well, that’s the kind of thing.

But God says to Samuel, he says, “Samuel, you need to know that you don’t need to take this personally. Because they’re not actually rejecting you; they are rejecting me.” And you’ll see that in 8:7: “They have[n’t] rejected you, … they[’ve] rejected me from being [a] king over them.”

But they proceed accordingly, and in chapter 9, God introduces Samuel to the one that he has chosen. “Here is the man,” he says, “of whom I spoke to you!”[3] And the text tells us that God had communicated with Samuel, saying, “Tomorrow, you’re gonna meet a fellow from the tribe of Benjamin, and when he comes, essentially, I will tap you on the shoulder, and I’ll say to you, ‘Here’s your man.’”[4]

And then in chapter 10, advancing through the story, and at the beginning of it we have the record of Saul being anointed privately. You will remember that Samuel, quite unexpectedly for Saul, “took [out] a flask of oil … poured it on his head and kissed him.”[5] Now, that might seem a bizarre thing to do, except in the context in which they found themselves. It was an indication of the fact that just as God had anointed priests for his service, so now, in inaugurating the kingship, Saul was to be anointed and set apart in this way. So that took place privately.

In the balance of chapter 10, what had happened privately was now confirmed personally to Saul. And if you were here, you will remember the signs, the evidences that God gave to Saul, that something dramatic had taken place in his life. And you remember the story of him and the tambourinists and the people doing the music, and all of a sudden him prophesying as well, and then the word going out among the people, “Is Saul among the prophets as well? How bizarre is this?”[6]

And then, in 10:24, what had been taking place privately, confirmed personally, we now find Saul being acclaimed publicly. And in 10:24, the people said, “‘There is none like him among all the people.’ And all the people shouted, ‘Long live the king!’”

Now, you have to wait until the end of chapter 11 for the final stage to come. And I think as I read it, you would have picked it up there in verse 15: “So all the people went to Gilgal, and there they made Saul king before the Lord in Gilgal”—so that you got a kind of four-stage operation. You’ve got the anointing that take place privately, the confirmation that he had experiences perfectly, the acclamation which comes publicly, and then, finally, as we will see not this morning but this evening, at the end of the chapter, this takes place in that way.

Now, I want to step even further back for a moment so that we don’t lose anybody along the way. What we’ve said in coming to this… Because we’re studying material that is eleventh century BC. That is a long time ago by any standards. And so the inevitable response on the part of anybody who’s thinking may be, “Why, in the twenty-first century AD, would we go back such a long way and look at this material?”

The Bible is the story of God’s plan to redeem and restore mankind, despite the fact that mankind has determined, from Genesis 2 on, to go its own way.

Now, the answer to that is very simple. We’re not particularly interested in historical narrative, per se. We’re not dealing in the realm of archaeology. No, we’re actually dealing with the fact that the Bible is given to us from the very mouth of God—that we’re dealing with the Bible. And in the Bible God speaks. What God has done by his actions throughout history has been recorded for us verbally in Scripture, so that when we go to the Scriptures, we might hear from God himself. That is the conviction which underpins this. And we have used as an underlying verse Romans 15:4, where Paul has said to the readership, “Everything that was written in the past was written to teach us”—to teach us—“so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures, we might have hope.”[7] So in other words, the material, ancient though it may be, exists for our instruction also, not only in the immediacy of the moment but in the long-term lasting benefit of its truth.

So, where then does the hope lie and the endurance and the encouragement come? Well, the answer to that is in knowing ultimately what the Bible is about. And when Paul writes to Timothy in his letter, he reminds him, he says, “You know, you’ve had a tremendous background, Timothy, ’cause your grandmother followed Jesus, and your mom followed Jesus, and you know—you know—that you have lived in the benefit of the instruction of those who have made known to you the sacred writings,” i.e., the Scriptures. “They made known to you the sacred writings, which are able to”—now, I could give prizes out for anybody who can finish that sentence, and red marks for everyone who can’t—“who have made known to you the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.”[8]

So what is the purpose of the Bible? What is the storyline of the Bible? The answer is it is the story of salvation. It is the story of God’s plan to redeem and restore mankind, despite the fact that mankind has determined, from Genesis 2 on, to go its own way. And the story of the Bible, from Genesis 3 all the way to Revelation chapter 22, is this story. That’s why the story of the Bible always takes us to Jesus. Because Jesus is the only one who can save us.

Now, when you realize that—that this theme then runs all the way through the entire Bible—then we wouldn’t be surprised if when we came to a very difficult passage of the Bible—namely, 1 Samuel 11 (at least very difficult for me when I was trying to understand it and study it)—then we wouldn’t be surprised if, then, salvation provides us the key to understanding the text; if salvation provides, if you like, the melody line which runs all the way through.

You remember, I’ve told you before, I did music at school in Yorkshire when I was a teenager. I wasn’t any good at it at all, but it seemed a soft option—until I discovered that it wasn’t. And you were supposed to be able to look at the score of, you know, Haydn’s “Clock symphony” or something and be able to see which of the instruments was carrying the melodic line. Well, it was like… But I had a friend called Norman Salmon, and he was very good. And so if he turned the page, I turned the page. And every time he’d do a head fake—he turned back, then flip back again—but I stayed with him, because if he went, I was done. ’Cause I hadn’t a clue. I looked at it: “I don’t know where it is.” Maybe you’ve got a friend like that who’s doing that with you in the Bible. You’ve been looking in this Bible forever. You don’t know where to turn. They’re gonna help you. They’re gonna show you where the melody runs. You said, “Oh, that’s what it’s about?” That’s exactly what it’s about.

Now, let me show you how the melody line runs through this chapter. We won’t get to it all this morning; I know that, because I’ve tried this once already. But we’ll start at the end of chapter 10 with the question of verse 27—remember, our thought here is salvation—the question they asked: “How can this man save us?” “How can this man save us?” Into 11:3, where they send out the messengers, and the thought in mind is “If there is no one to save us, we will give ourselves up to you.” And then in 11:9, “[Tell the people]: ‘Tomorrow, by the time the sun is hot, you shall have’”—what?—“‘salvation.’” And then in verse 13: “[And] Saul said, ‘Not a man shall be put to death this day, for today the Lord has worked salvation in Israel.’” Okay?

“How Can This Man Save Us?”

Well, let’s start at the beginning, then, at the end of chapter 10 and this question “How can this man save us?”

Well, the man in question, of course, was Saul himself. And we can safely assume that this is not simply inquiry. There’s a kind of question that asks, like, “Could you tell me where McDonald’s is?” That is simply inquiry. This is not inquiry. They’re not just saying, “Well, I wonder…” No. There is mockery in this question, and there is animosity in the question. This is a question that is raised, you will notice in the text, by those who are described as “worthless fellows.” So you have to say to yourself, “Then why would they react in this way?” After all, they have been part of the process that has led to the public acclamation of Saul. They’ve been part of the group, presumably, that started to say, “Long live the king!”[9] Now they respond as they do.

Now, it doesn’t appear that the question is posed in light of any inadequacy in Saul. How would we know that? Well, because Saul hasn’t done anything! He hasn’t done anything. You know, he’s like most people elected to public office. I mean, there’s no reason to start criticizing them; they haven’t done anything yet. They haven’t had a chance. He hasn’t had a chance. He’s tall, he’s handsome, he has been looking for donkeys, he’s been hiding in baggage, and he’s done nothing. And he’s gone home. That’s what it says at the end of verse—what?—26: “Saul also went [home] to his home at Gibeah.”

So the reason for their reaction, the reason for their concern, their disappointment—“How can this man save us?”—has to lie somewhere else. Now, how would we know where? Well, by paying attention to the text. You will remember that in 10:25, Samuel had made it clear to the people, telling them “the rights and duties of the kingship, and he wrote them in a book and laid it up before the Lord.” And we can’t backtrack all the way, but you perhaps recall that I said the cross-reference for that would be in Deuteronomy chapter 17, beginning around the middle of the chapter, where God has said to Moses, “Moses, there’s going to come a day when the people will want a king. On that day, let me tell you how it needs to be.” And the instructions are very clear. And part of the instruction goes along these lines: the person who is set apart to be the king must “learn to fear the Lord … keeping all the words of [the] law and [the] statutes,” and to ensure that he will “not turn aside from the commandment,” either to the left or to the right.[10]

Now, Samuel, in reminding these people of the rights and the justice of the kingship, has made it clear to the people that Saul’s kingship is going to be subordinate to God’s kingship. Ah! There’s the problem: “We wanted a king, to be like all the other nations. If you’re gonna give us a king who is still subordinate to God as King, then we’re not gonna be like the other nations. And therefore, the kind of salvation that we want, which sets us free to be unlike what we really are, is not gonna be ours. Therefore, how can this king save us?”

Now, the underlying issue is straightforward. Verse 19 of chapter 10: Samuel says, “Today you have rejected your God, who saves you from all your calamities and your distresses.” When you reject God as the Savior, you don’t have a savior. It’s straightforward. If you fast-forward all the way to the Acts of the Apostles, after the ascension of Jesus, and the appearance of the apostles on the streets of Jerusalem, what do they say? They say there is salvation in no one else except in Jesus, because he’s the only one who is qualified to save[11]—so that if you reject the Savior, you’ll inevitably find yourself saying, “Well, how could this one save me?” The answer is he couldn’t. He can’t. That’s why the psalmist says—I think we read it, didn’t we, in Psalm 146?—don’t trust in princes, for their breath will eventually expire, and they’ll be gone, and they’ll be irrelevant.[12] No, there’s only one in whom to trust.

“If There Is No One to Save Us”

Well, let’s get into chapter 11. Because the story advances, and it is in 11:3 that we have this next statement concerning saving: “If there is no one to save us…”

When you reject God as the Savior, you don’t have a savior.

The context here is quite dramatic. In fact, I heard some people… There was a significant intake of breath when we got to the story of this gentleman Nahash. There’s a crisis in the community of Israel, particularly amongst those from Jabesh-gilead. The problem is that a warlord by the name of Nahash, who is an Ammonite—the Ammonites were cousins of the Israelites—he is an arrogant, cruel, intimidating, Stalinesque figure. And he has built a reputation for terrorizing his enemies, and his favorite fiendish expression of brutality is in gouging out the right eyes of his enemy.

Now, unless we know something about warfare at the time, we may regard that as bizarre as well as being cruel. But it was strategic. The soldiers, taking their shield to their left hand and their implement of destruction to their right hand, would almost inevitably find that their line of sight was obscured in the left eye, and therefore, the right eye was crucial, because with the right eye we could see our enemy and we could advance upon him. He knew this. Therefore, he understood that to gouge out the right eyes of the enemy is to incapacitate them completely for battle, to neutralize them, and to humiliate them. And so, he comes to intimidate and to humiliate Israel.

Now, let’s just pause and acknowledge something that is important for us to recognize. Throughout the history of man, brutality, hatred, vengeance continues. Every utopian dream eventually has to collapse before the fact that despite history suggesting to us that a previous war was “the war to end all wars” and so on, to quote Robert Burns, the Scottish poet, “Man’s inhumanity to man makes countless [millions] mourn.”[13] And it continues. From the very genesis of man’s rebellion, the first thing you have is murder, and it is murder within the family. And the history of the world confirms this. So I referred to him as being Stalinesque, and purposefully so, because I found this quote of Joseph Stalin himself. This is Stalin: “To choose the victim, to prepare the blow with care, to slake an implacable vengeance, and then to go to bed—there is nothing sweeter in the world.” Well, Nahash is right up there with him.

And when he appears, notice from the text that the people are immediately ready to capitulate. “Make a treaty with us,” they say, “and we will serve you.” And they ask for seven days to try and figure out a plan. What a sorry picture you have there! The messengers being sent out: “We’ll send messengers through all of the territory of Israel.” So you have these people going out: “Off you go, and see if you can find somebody to save us.”

Is this not strange? I mean, is this not the same group of people that were declaring, “Long live the king”? Now, weren’t there at least some “men of valor” who had accompanied Saul to his home in Gibeah that would actually stand up and say, “Excuse me, we’re gonna poke you in the eye,” or something like that? No! What’s happened to them? Well, they have forgotten what God has done for them in the past.

Well, I hope you’re not sitting in judgment. Have you ever forgotten what God has done for you in the past? Have you ever found yourself in the midst of some peculiar circumstance and find yourself saying, “This is unbelievably horrible and unavoidable, and I think I’m just going to have to capitulate”? What, don’t you know who God is and what he’s done?

You see, what God had done for them in the past, as we saw in 10, is he had been the one who “brought” them “out of Egypt” and “delivered [them] from the hand of the Egyptians and from the hand of all the kingdoms that were oppressing you.”[14] So why doesn’t somebody stand up and say, “Hey, wait a minute. We’ve faced stuff like this before. Remember our forefathers, they were in Egypt. They had to make bricks, and it was a horrible situation. And they were captives in Egypt. And God did that.” But nobody says.

In fact, in Joshua, in chapter 5, when the people have now crossed the Jordan—you remember they set up the stones, the stones of remembrance, to remember God’s goodness to them in the exodus from Egypt. And now, at the entry point to Canaan itself—interestingly, in Gilgal—Joshua says to the people, he says, “Today God says, ‘I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you. I’ve rolled away the reproach. This is a great day’”[15]—referring to the exodus.

The day is going to come when, in the exile, the reproach will return, when Nebuchadnezzar and the forces of Babylon come in and gather up the people and take them away into exile—Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, and all those boys—and people wondering, and the psalmist writing, “By the rivers of Babylon, we hanged our harps on the willow trees, and we just sat down and wept, because how could we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?”[16] That day is about to come.

And this day is a low point. A low point. Is there nobody to stand up and say, “Don’t you remember that it’s only a matter of a short time since Samuel took that big stone, the Ebenezer stone, and he set it up, and he said, ‘We’re gonna put this stone here so that we will be able, every time we see it or every time we think about it, to say’”—what? “Thus far the Lord has helped us,” or “Up until now, the Lord has helped us.”[17]

Think about where you would be this morning, if you’re a believer, were it not for the intervening hand of God so many times helping us, so many times coming into our distress, so many times protecting us in our foolishness? Because he helps. Because he is the God who saves. And yet how prone I am to take these foolish paths. How much do I need the reminder of the psalmist, who says, “You need to talk to yourself, and this is what you need to say”: “Bless the Lord, O my soul”—so we’re talking to ourselves—“and forget not all his benefits.”[18] “All his benefits.” “When I remember what you’ve done for me, when I realize your purposes for your people, when I recognize that you are the God who delivers from calamity and restores, that you are the God who’s committed to redemption and to restoration and to renewing your people. How can I forget you, Lord?” That’s where they are.

Newton—Newton, who’s known best for “Amazing Grace,” but that’s not his best hymn, for sure—in one of his hymns, he writes these words. He’s speaking of God as the subject in this: “Determined to save”—that is, God. “Determined to save, he”—that is, God—“watched [over] my path. When Satan’s blind slave, I sported with death.” Those are graphic words. What the words are referring to is the fact he’s brought up in a Christian home, he turns his back on it, he goes off his rocker. And in the midst of the storm-tossed reality as a slave-trading captain, God grabs him. And what he remembers are the words of his mother, the words of his infancy. And this is his recollection in the hymn:

Determined to save,
He watched [over] my path
When [I was] Satan’s blind slave,
[And] I sported with death.

And then he makes the deduction. Listen:

And can he have taught me
To trust in his name,
And thus far have brought me
To [leave] me in shame?[19]

He says, “It doesn’t make any sense. If he would have intervened in my life when I didn’t give a rap for him; if he would come when in my rebellious heart I said, ‘Forget that; I’ll get another kind of king’; if he would do that then, do you think he’d leave me now?” No, you see, it’s that logic that’s missing here. And it needs to be restored.

And if it’s not bad enough, look at them in verse 4: “When the messengers came to Gibeah of Saul…” Now, you read that in the text, you go, “Gibeah of Saul! We’re gonna get the Saul part now.” But no, there’s no part: “When the messengers came to Gibeah of Saul, they reported the matter[s] in the ears of the people, and all the people wept aloud.” What? You went to Saul’s hometown, to which he’d gone home after the “Long live the king!” episode, and nobody ever said, “Maybe we should check with Saul!” I mean, it’s terrific, isn’t it?

Well, what do you think had happened? Well, I think the impact of the “worthless fellows” was greater than the impact of the “men of valor.” People like negative stuff: “I don’t think we can do it.” “Yeah, chuck it, we won’t do it.” “No, I think it’s a hopeless situation.” “I tend to agree with you.” And so it’s pervasive. It runs through them. And so they report the matter in the ears of the people. There’s no evidence that the big, tall, handsome country boy that they pulled from the baggage hold could ever save them. And so verse 4 ends, “And all the people wept aloud.”

How’s it going so far, huh? “We want to have a king. We got a big, tall one. Handsome. All the girls love him.” The tide is about to turn—to which you say, “Yes, I know it is, and the service is about to end.”

“Tomorrow You Shall Have Salvation”

Well, let me just take you to the turning point. At least we will have this in mind. So, in verse 9, the word is going to go out amongst the people: “Tomorrow, by high noon, you shall have salvation.”

Now, actually, when you turn—in my Bible it turns a page, so you turn the page and it says, “Now, behold, Saul…” And so you’re like, “Good!” But then it’s like, no: “Now, behold, Saul was coming from the field behind the oxen.” Well, good old Saul! That’s nice. Yeah. It’s an interesting trajectory, isn’t it? So, seeking the donkeys, hiding in the baggage, following the oxen. It would be difficult to find someone who looks less like a savior. So there is some ground to the initial question “How can this guy save us?” He’s certainly not gonna be able to do this on his own, that’s for sure.

But you remember Brutus to Cassius in Julius Caesar? “There is a tide in the affairs of men which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune.”[20] And here the tide rises. And Saul, who has now arrived in the town, says, “What[’s] wrong with the people, that they[’re] weeping?” How passive is this fellow? Don’t you think he ought to at least know? Would he have some people—you know, like he’s got a small team like you have if you’re the president or something? Somebody, you know, who watches out for him? Gives him a little word, said—you know, he could at least say, “I believe we have a problem here in town, and, you know, I’m Saul. I’ve been doing the oxen thing, and…” No, nothing! Here he comes: “What’s going on here? What’s all the crying?” “So they told him the news.”

The gospel is not a business venture. It’s a battle. The preachers of the gospel were not marketers. We’re messengers. We’re town criers.

Now here we go: so the news dawns, and the Spirit of God rushes upon him. Now we’re about to make progress. Because what follows in the story is not as a result of human initiative, but it is a result of a divine invasion. And without that divine invasion, then Saul would be aware of what Jesus made his followers aware of when he was present, when he said to them, “Apart from me you can do nothing.”[21] And it is in the awareness of that nothingness and in the provision of that somethingness in the divine rush of God that this story resolves itself.

Now, to that we will have to return later in the day. Some of us will be present to complete this study. I need to stop now. There are a number of ways in which I could conclude. And here’s my decision: if this is a pointer to us of the story of salvation, that God who saves, if God comes in Jesus to save, that presupposes that men and women need to be saved. That then makes it clear to us that either I have embraced that salvation or I have rejected that salvation.

So, if it is a gospel story, the gospel is first of all to be believed. Question: Do I believe it in a not “intellectual assent” way but in a “sitting down” way? And the gospel that is to be believed is then to be proclaimed. And it is to be proclaimed in such a way that an alien world is made aware of the fact that we have good news to make known.

And if you find yourself uncomfortable with the battle stories of the Old Testament, realize this: that in the New Testament, the apostles pick up the battle metaphor, and they apply it to the proclamation of the gospel. They say, “We do not wrestle against flesh and blood.”[22] They say that “the weapons of our warfare…”[23] ’Cause it’s not a physical battle; it is a spiritual battle. In other words, they would be perfectly comfortable by singing, “Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to war.”[24] A very unpolitical picture, isn’t it, now? Un–politically correct picture?

The gospel is not a business venture. It’s a battle. The preachers of the gospel were not marketers. We’re messengers. We’re town criers. The message is an unpalatable message. If you compromise the message, you can increase your crowd. If you stay with the message, you diminish the crowd, because the people don’t want to face the message. And if you and I this morning are uncomfortable with that metaphor, it is probably because we have never understood the enormity of the task and of the essential requirement, not only on the part of Saul to fulfill the role of king but on the part of each of us to invite our friends to Community Day: the essential part of the divine rush of the Spirit of God.

For as Zerubbabel said, it’s “not by might,” it’s not “by power”—it’s not by being tall, it’s not by being handsome, it’s not by the acclamation of the people, it’s not by any of that—“but by my Spirit, says the Lord.”[25] And in that is our confidence. It’s fantastic. So you want to say to one another, “[Hey,] church, arise, and put your armour on.”[26]

[1] Robert Watson-Watt, “A Rough Justice” (1959).

[2] 1 Samuel 8:5 (paraphrased).

[3] 1 Samuel 9:17 (ESV).

[4] 1 Samuel 9:16 (paraphrased).

[5] 1 Samuel 10:1 (ESV).

[6] 1 Samuel 10:11 (paraphrased).

[7] Romans 15:4 (paraphrased).

[8] 2 Timothy 1:5; 3:14–15 (paraphrased).

[9] 1 Samuel 10:24 (ESV).

[10] Deuteronomy 17:19–20 (ESV).

[11] See Acts 4:12.

[12] See Psalm 146:3–4.

[13] Robert Burns, “Man Was Made to Mourn: A Dirge” (1784).

[14] 1 Samuel 10:18 (ESV)

[15] Joshua 5:9 (paraphrased).

[16] Psalm 137:1–2, 4 (paraphrased)

[17] 1 Samuel 7:12 (paraphrased).

[18] Psalm 103:2 (ESV).

[19] John Newton, “Begone, Unbelief, My Savior Is Near” (1803).

[20] William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, 4.3.

[21] John 15:5 (ESV).

[22] Ephesians 6:12 (ESV).

[23] 2 Corinthians 10:4 (ESV).

[24] Sabine Baring-Gould, “Onward, Christian Soldiers” (1864).

[25] Zechariah 4:6 (ESV).

[26] Stuart Townend and Keith Getty, “O Church Arise” (2004).

Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.