Chapter 12 – Agag, or the Subtleties of the Self-Life

(1 SAM. 15:32, 33.)

Saul and Agag both teach the same great lesson and warning, namely, the peril of a self-centered life, but they teach it in somewhat different ways.

Agag belonged to the race of Amalek and the family of Esau, who through their entire genealogy represent the life of the flesh. From the very beginning of the human race God has drawn the line of demarcation between two races — the fleshly and the spiritual. Just outside the gate of Eden the division began. The family of Seth called themselves by the name of the Lord, and the race of Cain went off and built their city of culture and pride, and became pioneers of worldliness and wickedness. The separation, alas! soon began to disappear; and in the days of Noah the two races had mingled and intermarried, and the progeny was a generation of monsters of iniquity, so degenerate and depraved that God turned with loathing from the race and pronounced the awful sentence, “The end of all flesh is come before Me; I will destroy man from off the face of the earth.”

After the Flood God chose a separate family, the line of Abraham, and again endeavored to keep the chosen people separate. All along that line we see the earthly off-shoots of the family tree separating from the central trunk and going out into the world. The first of these was Ishmael, the type of the spirit of bondage and sin. The next of these was Esau, the progenitor of a whole race who inherited the earthly spirit of their father, who, for a morsel of meat, sold his birthright, and afterward married with the daughters of Canaan and became as corrupt and polluted as they. In the same line were the descendants of Lot’s unnatural daughters, the Moabites and the Ammonites.

Above all these, the race of Esau and Amalek were the representatives of the spirit of the flesh and the world. This was the reason that God pronounced the decree of their extermination. We find that, when Israel went out of Egypt and started on their journey through the wilderness on their way to the Land of Promise, Amalek was the first to attack them. It is not difficult to see in this the foreshadowing of the fact that the first adversary that we have to contend with, when leaving our sinful past of bondage and iniquity, is the carnal nature in our own hearts, which tries to force us back to “the gall of bitterness and the bond of iniquity.” This is what Agag represents, and this is what each of us has found to our cost to be a very real element in the experience of a Christian life.

The word Agag means ruler, and represents the spirit of self-will, self-assertion, and independence in the human heart. Its prototype is Lucifer, the prince of light and glory, who, being lifted up with pride and refusing to be controlled, turned from an angel to a fiend, and has become the desperate leader of the rebellious hosts of hell. We see it next in the supreme temptation of the Fall — “Ye shall be as gods ” — the desire for supremacy. We see it in the spirit of human ambition, in the Oriental despot, in the world conqueror, in the society belle and the political “boss.” All belong to the same family. They are of the race of Amalek and the house of Agag. Their cry is like the prodigal, “Give me the portion of goods that falleth to me,” and let me go away from parental control, and do as I please.

There has been no age when this spirit was so rampant as our own. It appears to us as mannishness and calls itself liberty, but its end is license, lawlessness, and Antichrist, that “lawless one” who is yet to embody the elements of human wickedness and pride, and end the present dispensation by defying God and man, and perishing, like his father, the devil, in his presumptions. This spirit is found in every human heart, and may be disguised in many insidious forms. It may call itself by illustrious names, and ape the highest ambitions and the noblest pretensions, but it is Agag and Satan every time. The thing in you that wants to rule, wants to have its own way, to be independent, to refuse control, to despise reproof, is wrong in its very nature. The very first thing you need in order to be of any use anywhere is to be thoroughly broken, completely subjected, and utterly crucified in the very core and center of your will. Then you will accept discipline, and learn to yield and obey in matters indifferent; and your will shall be so merged in His that He can use you as a perfectly adjusted instrument. Henceforth you shall will only what God wills, and choose only what God chooses for you.

This is the real battleground of human salvation; this is the Waterloo of every soul; this is the test question of every redeemed life. This was the point where Saul lost his kingdom and Agag lost his life, and where still eternal destinies are lost or won as we learn the lesson or refuse to be led in triumph by our conquering Lord.

God had determined that the race of Amalek and the house of Agag should be utterly exterminated. They were not to be spared, but to be destroyed. It was a case of no compromise. There was nothing good in them. The least element of Agagism was destructive, and the whole community, with all their goods and belongings, must be put out of existence, just as the effects of a household where some one had died of some contagious disease must be wholly given to the flames. This is God’s decree against the flesh in us. It cannot be cleansed; it cannot be improved; it cannot be cultivated; it cannot be educated into good ideas and principles. The flesh must be exterminated.

Now, what is the flesh? Is it the bad principle in man? Is it some outward or inward evil which can be cut away like a tumor by a surgical operation? Listen: “The carnal mind is enmity against God, for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So, then, they that are in the flesh cannot please God.” There is the uncompromising decree of the total depravity and the hopeless condition of the flesh. But now, what is the flesh? Listen again: “But ye are not in the flesh, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you.” There is the distinction clear as a ray of celestial light. Every man who has not the Spirit of God is in the flesh; therefore, everything outside the Spirit of God is flesh. Therefore, the flesh is not simply the sinful part of human nature, but the whole of human nature. It is the natural man. It is the whole creature, and the whole thing is corrupt and polluted. The tree is so crooked that you cannot straighten it without cutting it in two. The tumor is so interwoven with the flesh that you cannot cut it without killing the man. There is no remedy. There is no hope. The old life must be laid down, and the new creation, wholly born out of heaven and baptized with the Spirit of God, must take its place as a new creation, as an experience so supernatural and divine that its possessor can truly say, “I am no longer the former man, I have died and Christ has taken my place. It is no longer I, but Christ that liveth in me.”

Don’t try to sanctify the flesh. Don’t attempt to evolutionize the kingdom of heaven out of the kingdom of hell. It is not evolution, it is creation. It is not morals or manners, it is a miracle of grace and power. Take no risks upon the old man. He will fail you every time. You may think your trained hawk is a dove, but in an unsuspecting moment its beak will be buried in your flesh. Your little wolf may have all the manners of the lamb, but in an evil hour it will destroy all your lambs, and perhaps rend you limb from limb. It is hopelessly, eternally corrupt. It cannot please God. It must be utterly dethroned, renounced, and crucified with Christ.

We next see the attempt of man to compromise with the flesh and to disregard this Divine decree of its extermination. Saul spared Agag that he might grace his triumph, and he kept the best of the spoil that he might sacrifice unto the Lord his God. He obeyed the commandment of the Lord, to a certain extent. He defeated Amalek and destroyed the nation, in a sense. He did all God told him as far as it was agreeable, and he took his own way just where it was pleasant. His obedience, therefore, was not really obedience to God, but, in fact, self-will. He retained just enough of the flesh to destroy the whole service. The very essence of the disobedience was compromise. He tried to put the evil to a good use. It was a very insult in the face of Heaven to bring the forbidden thing and offer it to the God he had defied.

This is the spirit of modern religious culture. “Don’t go too far! Don’t be extreme! Don’t be Puritanical! Go easy! Be liberal!” In other words: “Meet the world halfway. Marry that scoundrel to save him. Take that saloon-keeper into the church because you can make good use of his money. Put that brazen-faced woman up in the choir because she will draw her theatrical set to hear her sing. Go to the theater and the play with your husband, to get him to go to church with you on Sunday.”

Nonsense! In the first place, in such an unequal contest on the enemy’s ground the devil will always get the best of you. Instead of being saved, the husband will drag to his level the woman that ventured on forbidden ground. Instead of bringing her set under the influence of religion, the operatic singer will bring the church to the level of her set, and turn it into a clubhouse and a concert-room. The saloon-keeper’s money will moderate the tone of the preaching, so that it will be a comfort unto Sodom, so that vice and sin can sit unchecked, and even count itself the very buttress and pillar of the holy Cause of Christ.

Think you that God will accept such service? Will He who owns the treasures of the Universe, and could Create a mountain or a mine of gold in a moment, and send a thousand angels to sing in His sanctuaries — will He accept the money that is stained with the blood of souls and polluted with the filth of dethroned purity and honor? Will He accept the meretricious service that is sold for sordid gain? Will He go begging to the devil’s shrine, and asking permission to let go his captives that they may be saved? Shame upon our unfaithfulness and our compromise! Oh, for the sword of a Samuel to hew in pieces the compromises that are an offence to Heaven and a disgrace to the Bride of the Lamb! We see the fawning pleading of the flesh for indulgence. Agag came forth, walking delicately, mincing like a silly, coquettish girl, smiling, seeking by his blandishments to disarm opposition, to win favor, looking like an incarnation of gentleness and innocence. A perfect gentleman! Surely, he could not harm a child! Surely, no one could dream of doing him harm! Ah, that is the old flesh pleading for his life, pointing out its refinement, its culture, its graces, the good that it is doing and wants to do, its claim upon your consideration and regard. Surely, such a beautiful gentle creature should not be rudely slain. But back of all its disguises and fawnings the Holy Ghost will show you, if you will let Him, the serpent’s coil, the dragon’s voice, and the festering corpse of the charnel house.

Death is not always repulsive at first sight. The daughter of Jairus was beautiful in her shroud, and a flush of life still lingered on her cheek, but she was as dead as Lazarus stinking in his tomb. And so the sweet-faced creature, with her fawning charms, that brilliant minister with his intellectual sophistries, that voice that sings like an angel in the choir, are as corrupt and polluted as the poor creature that lies in yonder hospital dropping to pieces in the last stages of corruption, or that red-handed assassin reeking with the blood of his victim. They are both flesh, only at different stages of moral putrefaction.

We see in Agag the flesh feigning death. “Surely,” said Agag, “the bitterness of death is past.” And so you will find plenty of people, in pulpits and pews, on platforms and in obscure corners, who would make you believe that they are utterly dead, and yet, when you get a good look at them, remind you of corpses walking in grave clothes. They are so conscious of their deadness that you know they are alive! They are so proud of their humility that you would rather they were proud than humble. They are so constantly in their own shadow that they try you by their religious egotism. Surely, dead people don’t know it, don’t think about it, are unostentatious, unobtrusive, modest, simple, natural, free, and, like good water, without taste, color, or consciousness. Oh, for this blessed simplicity and this place of self-forgetting rest! Oh, for this fulfilment of the prayer, “Lord, let me die so dead that I won’t know it.”

Beloved, there is no danger so great, especially among Christians somewhat advanced, as that of counting ourselves in a place where we really do not live. There is nothing so hardening to the heart as to take the place of self-surrender and then live a life of self-indulgence, self-will, the while adding to it the greater fault of self-complacency; calling things holy which are not so. We are not to reckon that we are “reckoned” dead, but rather we are to reckon on a reality, to insist upon it, and take nothing less from God or from ourselves. Oh, that we would dare to call things by their right names and have no counterfeit, even ourselves.

Agag could not deceive Samuel. The old man pierces him through with one glance of the Holy Ghost, and, looking at his mincing figure, we can imagine him saying, “I know you with all your fawning. You are an old murderer. You are a selfish, cruel tyrant. Your sword has made many a mother childless. Many an innocent victim has been crushed beneath your lust of hate, and back of all your smiles there is a skeleton and a serpent’s sting.” With that sharp sword he cut through his blandishments, and hewed him to pieces before the Lord.

Sin never stops till it reaches its worst, and God shows us in a single sample the possibilities of the evil to which the tiniest seed and fairest bud of selfishness may yet ripen. Let us ask God to expose it in our hearts; let us open our being to the sword of Samuel, which is the sword of the Holy Ghost, described in the Epistle to the Hebrews in solemn but blessed words, “The Word of God is quick and powerful, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.”

To be delivered from any form of self and sin, we need to be willing to see it, to recognize it, to call it by its right name, to throw off its disguise, to brand it with its true character, to pass sentence of death upon it, to stand to the sentence without compromise, to consent to no reprieve, to give God the right to slay it; and then there is power enough in the sword of the Spirit, in the fire of the Holy Ghost, in the blood of Calvary, in the faithfulness and love and grace of God, to make us dead unto sin, and alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.