Chapter 11 – The Holy Spirit in the Lives of Saul and David

“Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy Spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free Spirit.” Psalm 5: 10-12.

These words express the prayer of David at an important era in his life, and suggest to us his relation to the Holy Spirit in his deepest experience. Back of this picture there lies in dim outline another picture, that of a life that had also possessed the Holy Spirit but had lost His blessing; and it was, perhaps, in reference to this dark, sad background that David cried, “Take not Thy Holy Spirit from me.” The other picture is that of Saul. These two lives stand side by side as companion pictures illustrating the dealings of the Holy Spirit with two opposite characters, and leading to entirely opposite results. It is a very solemn contrast and a very instructive lesson.

1. First, in the story of Saul we find that he, too, had the Holy Spirit. We have a very distinct account of his call and enduement by the Spirit. We find the story in the tenth chapter of First Samuel. Here we see the Spirit coming upon a man almost unsought, and apparently without any spiritual preparation. It was the Spirit of God coming for service, giving him power to prophesy, to conquer, to rule, the enduement for service rather than for personal experience.

There is always real danger just at this point. It is a very serious thing to want the Holy Ghost simply to give us power to work for God. It is much more important that we should receive the Holy Spirit for personal character and personal holiness. Perhaps the deep secret of Saul’s failure was that, like Balaam, he had power to witness and to work rather than to live and obey.

God’s graces are higher than God’s gifts, and one grain of love is worth a thousand lightning flashes of prophetic fire.

Again, we see, perhaps, another secret of Saul’s failure, in the fact that the power came upon him largely from others. It was when he was in company with the prophets that the spirit of prophecy came upon him.

There is always the danger of absorbing much from the atmosphere around us, and being too little self-contained and directly centered in God. “Cursed is the man that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm, and whose heart is departed from the Lord.” The difference between Saul and David was that David knew God for himself, and knew Him from a deep personal experience of the indwelling life of the Spirit, and the outflowing life of habitual obedience, while Saul knew Him only as a supernatural impulse for his public life.

But notwithstanding these drawbacks, the enduement of Saul with the Spirit of God was very deep and very important. It marked a complete crisis in his life, and his heart was changed into another heart, and he became another man.

It is very remarkable how fully God can possess a human soul. We read of demoniac possession through which the entire being of a man becomes so controlled by evil spirits that they are able to add tenfold intensity and force to his life. Why may not a man be just as much God-possessed as he can be Satan-possessed, so that every faculty and power of his being shall be filled with the power of the Holy Ghost, and his energy and capability shall be redoubled?

This was the case with Saul, and it may be true of us. Look again, how all-sufficient His divine presence was for every emergency. “When this is come upon thee,” Samuel said, “thou shalt do as occasion serve thee; for God is with thee.”

We do not need to have elaborate plans or depend upon our own wisdom; for we have a Guide and a Friend that will direct us as need shall require, and, if we will acknowledge Him in all our ways, He will direct our paths.

So Saul started in his career. No man ever had a more promising beginning, supported by splendid personnel, an enthusiastic people, a clear call of God and a manifestly divine enduement for his great work. Surely he had every opportunity to accomplish the grandest results for God and man.

But, alas! he ended in disappointment and failure. His kingdom ere long was rent from him by the hand of God, and his sun went down in darkness and blood. What were the causes of his failure, and what are the lessons of this strange career?

We find the test coming to him very soon. Samuel sent him on a high commission, and told him to wait a certain time until he should arrive. He bade him tarry seven days, promising him to come and offer sacrifices to God before marching against their enemies. Saul waited until the seven days had expired, and then, becoming impatient and anxious, he rashly offered the sacrifice himself. No sooner was the sacrifice accomplished than Samuel arrived and told him that, by his disobedience, he had forfeited the approval of God and the permanence of his kingdom.

It may seem a little thing, but little things are always deciding the issues of life because they are the best tests of real principle and character. It was but a little thing that wrecked the human race. One trifling act of disobedience, one minute detail of God’s commandments in which our first parents dared to take their own way and began the career of rebellion and independence which has brought upon the human race all their sorrow.

This act indicated the true spirit of Saul. One word expresses that better than any other, self-will.
Although God had appointed him to be His king, Saul insisted upon being his own master, thereby proving himself unfit for his trust.

It was not long before the second test came. God gave Saul another chance, He sent him on an expedition against the Amalekites, Israel’s ancient foes, types of the flesh and the world, and the enemies of the true life of God in the soul. His instructions were implicit and peremptory. He was to destroy Amalek utterly. Because God went with him in his expedition and crowned him with success, Saul returned victorious, having subdued Amalek and laid waste all their cities; but he brought back with him the best of the spoil and Agag, their king, to grace his triumph.

Samuel arrived just as he was congratulating himself on his splendid success, and his faithful fulfillment of his great commission. Saul met him with confidence, but Samuel responded with a stern rebuke. “I have obeyed the commandment of the Lord,”says the king. Then followed those terrible words of divine denunciation, which ended at last in the withdrawal of Samuel. As Saul clung to him in despair, the prophet’s garment parted in the hands of the king, and Samuel declared that it was the pledge of the broken covenant and the loss of his kingdom.

Saul betrayed the real earthliness of his heart by his last appeal. “Honor me,” he cried, “at least before the people,” and God granted him the little gratification which for the time satisfied his poor shallow heart. Out of this dark and dreadful scene there comes one sentence which is the keynote of true obedience and true success. “Obedience is better than sacrifice and to hearken than the fat of the rams.” This was the secret of Saul’s failure; he lacked the true hearkening spirit and the obedient will.

He was quite willing to go half way with God as long as it did not cross his personal preferences; but when there came a test and a sacrifice, his obedience failed, and he pleased himself rather than God. This was the essential difference between Saul and David. It was this that made David a man after God’s heart. He wanted to obey God, and the real purpose of his heart was to please Jehovah.

Saul was a man after his own heart, and he wanted to please and glorify poor Saul. He was the type of a man that had power without grace, and gifts without holiness.

His desire to spare Agag was but a sample of his whole spirit. He wanted to spare himself. Agag is the type of the self-life and the whole story illustrates the great lesson of self-crucifixion, which lies at the threshold of all spiritual blessing. Amalek and the flesh must die. Saul was not willing that they should die, and, therefore, Saul had to die. He that would save his life must lose it, and he that is willing to lose his earth-life will keep it unto the life that is not of earth but eternal.

This was the turning point in Saul’s career. From this time the Spirit of God left him, and “an evil spirit from God” possessed him. It was the spirit of Satan, but it was by divine permission.

We touch a very awful theme here, but one that we dare not evade. We are taught in many places in the Holy Scripture that when men refuse the leading of the Holy Ghost, and choose their own way and the ways of Satan, the Lord lets them be filled with their own devices and gives them over to the power of evil.

Oh, let us not trifle with the sacred things of God! Let us not talk lightly of the perseverance of the saints when we are presumptuously disobeying God. Like the little child who keeps her hoop steady in its movement by touching it first on the one side then upon the other, so God speaks to us His promises and His threatenings as we are ready to receive them. To the disobedient and careless disciple He says with great solemnity, “Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.” But to the poor trembling heart, sinking in its own discouragement, He cries, “I will never leave thee nor forsake thee”; “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: and I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.”

Like the pilgrim in Bunyan’s dream, let us both hope and fear. Let us guard against the first step backward. We never know where it is going to end. The apostle hints that it may be unto perdition, and he pleads with us, “Cast not, therefore, away your confidence.” “If any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him. But we are not of them who draw back unto perdition, but of them who believe to the saving of the soul.”

2. David, likewise, has his experience of the Holy Ghost.

In the same paragraph that tells us of the Holy Spirit’s departing from Saul, we read these simple words, “Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the midst of his brethren: and the Spirit of the Lord came upon David from that day forward.” (1 Samuel 16: 13).

The first effect of the Holy Spirit upon David is shown in the next reference, in the eighteenth chapter of first Samuel and the fifth verse, where we read that “David went out whithersoever Saul sent him, and he behaved himself wisely.”

This was not only an anointing with power, but an anointing also of wisdom and grace, enabling him to live a true life and to commend himself to this master and to all men.

The subsequent story of David’s life is but an unfolding of the power of the Holy Spirit. In the book of Psalms we have the inner life of David, and in the historical books we have the outer story that corresponded to this.

We find David himself attributing his military exploits and his physical power, as well as the success of His whole kingdom, to the power of the God upon whom he depended. There is no finer illustration of this than the eighteenth Psalm, in which he himself tells us the secret of his strength.

“He teacheth my hands to war, so that a bow of steel is broken by mine arms.”

“Thou hast also given me the shield of thy salvation: and thy right hand hath holden me up, and thy gentleness hath made me great.” Yet the warrior king recognized in his body the same power which gives us strength today in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and attributed all his victories to the power of the Holy Ghost.

In the story of his campaigns we have some vivid illustrations of his constant dependence upon the presence of God and the leadership of His Spirit. Even when he wandered as a fugitive among his enemies, we find him constantly inquiring of the Lord about all his movements. When, as he ascended the throne, the Philistines came up against him, we see him at once appealing to Jehovah, and asking, “Shall I go up to the Philistines? Wilt thou deliver them into my hand? Not until the answer came and the order was given to move, did he presume to go forward.

It is needless to say that his movements were crowned with victory. A year later when the same enemy returned in force, David did not go against them as before. He again went to God for direct guidance, but he received an entirely different direction.

“Thou shalt not go up; but fetch a compass behind them, and come upon them over against the mulberry trees. And let it be, when thou hearest the sound of a going in the tops of the mulberry trees, that then thou shalt bestir thyself: for then shall the Lord go out before thee, to smite the host of the Philistines.” Surely this was a divine plan of battle and a divine victory.

Thus he fought his battles, thus he won his crown; thus he ruled and organized his people; thus he planned the glorious temple; and thus he lived his wondrous life in the power of the same Holy Spirit which comes to us in the fuller light of the New Testament Dispensation.

We have in the Psalms some delightful revelations of the relation of the Holy Spirit to his inner life. We find in one of the most profoundly spiritual of them this prayer, “Thy Spirit is good; lead me into the land of uprightness.” We see in some of them the unfoldings of a deeper life which makes them lighthouses for us upon the voyage of our higher Christian experience.

Nowhere else can we find a profounder conception of faith than in some of these Psalms. The thirty-seventh Psalm is not unlike the beatitudes of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself.

There we see two pictures, one corresponding to the story of Saul and the other to the spirit of David. There we see a man who is plotting against God’s servant and seeking to slay him; and there we see the spirit of trust, fretting not because of evildoers, but trusting in the Lord with holy obedience, committing his way unto the Lord, and waiting patiently for Him, resting in the Lord and delighting himself in Him, and receiving from Him the desires of his heart.

Surely the man who could write this must have drunk deeply of the fountain of the Holy Spirit.

In the passage which we have quoted as our text we havea most definite unfolding of the Holy Spirit in David’s personal experience. He is represented here in a threefold aspect, and under three distinct names. First, as the right spirit, “Renew a right spirit within me”; second, as the Holy Spirit, “Take not thy holy Spirit from me”; third, as the free spirit, which literally means the princely spirit, the lofty, noble spirit,thespirit which communicates life and liberty. “Uphold
with thy free spirit.”

These are not repetitions. First, there is the right spirit. This is connected with the clean heart. It is it work of creation. It is the spirit of the newborn soul. It is the heart that has been purified. It is not so much the indwelling person of the Spirit as the effect of His work in producing rightness of heart toward God and toward man.

Secondly, we have the Holy Spirit. This is the person of the Holy Ghost Himself, which will come into the heart that has been made right, and dwell within us in His power and holiness.
It is the Holy Spirit, the spirit which brings holiness; and holiness just means wholeness, completeness, entireconformity to the will of God. David here intimates the possibility of losing this Holy Spirit, as Saul had done; but he cries, “take not thy holy Spirit from me.”

David’s trust is very beautiful. He had come to a great crisis. He had forfeited his kingdom and his place of deeper blessing. Had it not been for his confidence in God, he would have been driven to despair. He had fallen and fallen so far that his whole moral nature was stunned, and his spiritual sensibilities were so paralyzed that he was left for four long years without the consciousness of his very fall. When he awoke from his dream to the dreadful consciousness of his sin, the realization of his iniquity was fearful.

He beheld himself in the light of the Holy Ghost, and cried again, “Against thee, thee only, have I sinned.” Yet, in the face of this dark and dreadful vision, he saw the grace of God as perhaps no one ever saw it before; and he was able to rise from the depths of sin to the heights of mercy, and cry, “I shall be whiter than snow.” Judas had a similar vision of his sin, but without the vision of mercy, and he sank to rise no more. But God in His infinite mercy gave David the faith to realize the divine love, so he rose from the abyss of sin to the heights of salvation. We have a similar incident in the story of the woman of Canaan, to whom Jesus gave the fearful words, “It is not meet to take the children’s bread and to cast it to the dogs.” That expression, “dogs,” meant the very depths of sin and unnatural crime. She did not deny it; she accepted it with lowly heart. Then she leaped from the depths of her unworthiness and penitence to the highest place in His love, and claimed, even as a dog, a crumb of her Master’s bread. Jesus looked upon her with wonder, because she had been able to see her own unworthiness and yet to accept His mercy and grace.

This was the spirit that enabled David to trust God even in the darkest hour, and doubtless it brought David nearer to God than he had ever been before.

There is a third designation of the Holy Spirit here, “Uphold me with thy free spirit.” There was danger that, in coming back to God from such an awful state, he should come in the spirit of servile fear.

And so he asks that God would give him the spirit of love and holy liberty. David is the prodigal coming back to take the highest place, to wear the best robe, the royal ring, and to sit at the heavenly banquet. God wants us all to have this spirit. It is the spirit of sonship; it is the spirit of confidence; it is the new-born spirit; it is the princely spirit.

God takes us in Jesus Christ “even as He.” He has made us accepted in the Beloved, and we cannot honor Him so much in any other way as by accepting the place He gives us and counting ourselves the objects of His perfect complacency and infinite love through Jesus Christ our Lord.

This is the spirit of power, the spirit of love, the spirit that has spring in it and force in it, and leads us out to self-sacrifice and unselfish love. And so He adds, “Then will I teach transgressors thy ways; and sinners shall be converted unto thee . . . and my tongue shall sing aloud of thy righteousness.”

Was it with reference to this experience that he wrote the wondrous twenty-third Psalm? Surely we find here the same progression of thought and experience. First we see the restored sheep under the Shepherd’s care, rejoicing in the green pastures and lying down by the waters of rest. Next we see a different picture. It is t he wandering sheep, but the wandering sheep is not remembered except in the song of restoration. He restoreth my soul, He maketh me to walk in the right paths, for His name’s sake.

It is here that the crisis comes, “The valley of the shadow of death.” This is not literal death, but that deeper death to self and sin through which every true life must pass, and through which, perhaps, David passed after the tragedy of Uriah and Bathsheba.

Although it is a very dark valley, there is one bright thing through it all — the presence of the Lord. “Thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me”; “Iwill fear no evil.”

You will notice that here He speaks of the second person. It is no longer He but Thou. God is now by his side and in his very heart. Now, how all has changed! Instead of the Shepherd, it is the Father; and instead of the fold, it is the banqueting house and the home circle. Instead of the painful returning of the prodigal, it is the table spread in the presence of his enemies, the head anointed with oil, and the overflowing cup. This is “THE FREE SPIRIT.” This is the blessing that there is not room enough to receive. Before him all is brighter still. As he looks out into the coming vista he cries, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

Beloved, these are “the sure mercies of David.” The Lord is waiting to give the same right spirit, the same Holy Spirit, the same free spirit, the same fullness of blessing for spirit, soul, and body. Oh, it may be that some of us, like David, have sunk with him into sin and despair! Do not yield to discouragement, but recognize the hand of mercy in the fall. Perhaps it was divine love, showing you that you were not strong enough to stand alone, and bringing you back, not to the old place of blessing, but to a place where He is able to keep you from stumbling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy.

That blessed Holy Spirit is ready to come to you and to “cause you to walk in his statutes, so that you shall keep his judgments and do them.” That “Free Spirit” is longing so to fill you that “the water that he shall give you shall be in you a well of water, springing up into everlasting life”; nay, more, that drinking of His fullness you shall not be able to hold the blessing, and out of your inmost being shall go forth to others rivers of living water; and your blessing shall reach its consummation in David’s closing song, “Then will I teach transgressors thy way; and sinners shall be converted unto thee.” “O Lord, open thou my lips; and my mouth shall shew forth thy praise.”