Samuel and Spiritual Growth
by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 7 - God's Sovereign Use of the Enemy's Work

Reading: 1 Sam. 8:1-22.

A low spiritual state gives Satan an opportunity to anticipate God. At this point, kingship in Israel definitely arises and comes into view. The first thing to note is this, that when spiritual life is low, Satan has his opportunity; and in this particular connection we see one of those times. When the state of things provides him with the opportunity for which he is looking and waiting, Satan anticipates God. That is, he anticipates a true Divine thought by bringing in a false expression of that Divine thought.

Kingship was a Divine thought; sooner or later, kingship would have come in. We do not know whether monarchy in Israel was fully intended by the Lord, but we do know that absolute dominion from eternity was vested in God's Son, and that sooner or later it would come out in relation to Him to whom all kingship pointed. As we know, the Old Testament in this connection of kingship is always pointing on to the Lord Jesus, but whether it would have been developed in this way of types and figures, or would have come in eventually in fulness in Christ only, does not matter. For the moment, the point is that kingship is a Divine thought and intention, and every Divine thought and intention is counterfeited by the enemy at some time or another, and Satan is always trying to anticipate God's thoughts by bringing in something which falsely represents that thought, and putting it in the way so that it hinders God's work. The enemy must have opportunity, must have ground for doing that, and he always finds out when there is a low spiritual state among the Lord's people. So here we see, because of this bad condition spiritually, Satan found just the opportunity and the occasion that he was waiting for and watching for, to precipitate this matter of kingship, to anticipate God's intention and bring in a false and wrong expression of the Divine thought; kingship in the wrong person and of the wrong kind, but kingship to hold the position for a time and obstruct as far as possible the purpose of God.

This is quite clear in Saul's case. You have only to recollect what connection Saul had with the satanic kingdom. It was not long before his deep-rooted pride and jealousy blazed out. When the women sang the song about Saul having slain his thousands, but David his tens of thousands, then that pride and jealousy blazed up and out from Saul, and an evil spirit took possession of him. Here is the satanic relationship in the very nature of the man; that is the beginning. The end of Saul is that he goes to the witch of Endor and has direct communion with the spiritual world, with spiritism. That is the background of this man and of things here, and it clearly indicates that Satan has a very great interest in this whole matter, and he has found suitable ground for doing the thing that he is always trying to do.

When God is going to do something, or when God has a thought in mind, Satan will try to caricature that thought, try to anticipate God and get something which seems to be God's thought but is quite a false thing. It is a thing which in name is what God is after, but in nature is very different. That is a very solemn lesson for us, that a low state of spiritual life is the playground for the enemy and an occasion to bring up something which is not easily done away with and which becomes a menace. We find instance after instance of that in the Bible, where Satan has got in first, so to speak, and he has his advantage because of a state of things at that time. He has introduced something, and that thing is a positive menace, and very difficult to get rid of. There is a lot of trouble and a lot of sad and tragic history bound up with that thing before it is finally rooted out.

Spiritual growth, then, does demand a going on in strength with the Lord. We must seek the Lord always to be on the positive line spiritually and never on the negative, and to be very guarded against spiritual decline which gives the enemy what he wants: to be able to bring in something that will be a lot of trouble to us.

God's Apparent Facilitating of the Work of the Enemy

The next thing is that at such times God does not frustrate the enemy, and He does not frustrate the people in their desire. He seems to facilitate it. This is an extraordinarily mysterious bit of history, this selecting of Saul and Samuel kissing Saul and Samuel seeming to bless Saul. You know all the time in his heart Samuel has not accepted Saul, and is only waiting for the day when the whole thing will be exposed. All this looks like play-acting when you know what has gone on between Samuel and God in the secret, what Samuel said to the Lord and the Lord said to Samuel, and then their coming to this arrangement, so to speak, that they are going to carry this out and seem to give favour to it and to encourage it.

It is strange when you know the real background. But when there is a situation such as this, God knows it is no use trying to frustrate. There is no compulsion on God's part. It would have been quite unwise to have stood right in the way of the people and refuse them their request; there would have been rebellion. God has wisdom, and even in a situation like this He did not frustrate, but He did take hold of this thing and seem to facilitate the false thing with a view to exposing its true nature to begin with, so that the people came to His side eventually. Sometimes the only thing that will do that will be by seeming to help them along their own line so that they discover how false that way was and how wrong and mistaken their course was.

God's Object: to Expose the True Nature of Satan's Work

God comes in with a view firstly to exposing the true nature, and what an exposure there is of Saul as he goes on. He seems so good and fair in every way to begin with. Everybody says, 'God save the king!' There is a great influence about this wonderful fellow. But you wait a bit. What is really there is going to be uncovered; that is necessary. God takes pains and time to expose the true nature of that which Satan has brought in, which looks so fair and satisfactory, and seems to be God's provision. He takes time to expose, but as He is doing that, He is preparing His way for the true thing. He is preparing His way for David.

The exposure of one thing prepares the way for the other, and that is one of the ways of God's wisdom. Saul was tested under the most favourable conditions. It was not that Saul could ever say, 'God was against me, God did not help me; He hindered me continually', that everything was to his disadvantage. No, Samuel seemed to be helping and encouraging in every way, and the very best conditions were provided for Saul, and he was tested like that. But what came out, even under the best conditions? Can we see that God acts positively even when it looks as though He is for something that does not really answer to His thought, to His mind? God is very patient, and takes His time. Eventually people will begin to get tired of that, begin to sense the hollowness, the emptiness, begin to feel, 'This is not it; this does not really meet our need.' Dissatisfaction begins slowly, deep down, to work in hearts.

God's Secret Preparation of His Own Instrument

But God is moving on the other side. Secretly He has a lad out there in the field looking after some sheep, and secretly He is building up a spiritual history with that lad, that little instrument - out of the way, unseen, unrecognised, with no place in the public eye or in official circles. God is secretly doing something there, looking upon the heart and developing, and He is going to bring that slowly in, along the parallel course with this growing sense that this other does not meet the need, "We need something more; this is not it." You find these two things very slowly moving towards each other, until the day comes when, on the one hand the discontent breaks out and shows itself in a secession, and on the other hand, the man is there to meet the need - the need is provided for. The wonderful ways of God in securing His end!

Samuel's Faith in God Even in His Strange Ways

Another thing here is that Samuel's personal spiritual measure is seen in his obedience to God, and his compliance even when he does not understand God's ways. This was a very difficult situation for Samuel; God was acting so mysteriously. Samuel might well have thought that God was contradicting Himself. God had said that He had not chosen and accepted Saul as representing His own heart's desire; He had said that this very movement was against Himself, and yet He said, "Go and anoint him!" He gave all the details, as the next chapter shows - wonderful sovereign acts by which Saul was brought in.

Samuel might have thought, "This is strange, what is the Lord doing? He has made it perfectly clear to me that He does not agree with this whole thing, and yet He is telling me to work for it, to take notice of it." But Samuel was implicitly obedient to the Lord; He complied with the Lord's requests in this very difficult time, even when he did not understand the Lord in a time of seeming contradiction. He evidently believed that, strange as the ways of the Lord were, seemingly contradictory and mysterious, God knew what He was after, and God would get His end at last; and that is always a mark of spiritual measure. It is a most testing thing to faith when it seems to us that God is supporting the very thing that we know is not according to His mind at all, when it seems that God is blessing that which we know does not represent His full thought. Yet we should be patient and obedient to the Lord, and we should stand with the Lord and help Him to work out His purpose, even though we cannot see why He should do it in this way.

That has many applications. You may not see how it applies practically in your own case, but the point is that we must have such implicit faith in the Lord that when it seems that He is even contradicting Himself, going against Himself and what we know of Him, we must believe that He knows what He is doing and that He will achieve His purpose. He is not telling us everything about it, but we know that when the end comes, God will not have been defeated and God will not have made any compromise. He will not have sacrificed one bit of His full intention; He will achieve His full end. We, like Samuel, have to be patient, compliant, and trusting in the time when we do not understand God at all.

God's Reaction to a Low Spiritual State

That brings us to the end for the moment. God's full thought does require, firstly, spiritual dissatisfaction wrought in His people, and that can only be brought about by experience. You cannot implant spiritual dissatisfaction in the Lord's people. We cannot give them that discontentedness with anything less than the Lord's full purpose. They can only come to that by experience. They have got to experience the thing that is not wholly the Lord's mind, and come to their own knowledge inwardly and realise this is not really what the Lord is after. That takes time, and we find in Israel that it was not very long, but long enough to have given them a real good taste of Saul, long enough to have given them some experience. It was not very long before one here and one there began to feel that there was something wrong with all this. That sense grew until God had a nucleus. For the time being it would be a hidden nucleus.

God cannot realise His full thought in His people except as through experience His children come to the place where they cannot be satisfied with anything less than all God's intention. It is the only safe way, and God takes that way and takes very great pains about the safeguarding of His full thought. That must be considered more fully. When it did come to the time when, on the one hand, there was sufficient disappointment and disillusionment to create in the heart of a few that determination to go on no longer with the false, with the imperfect, but that they must have something other and something more, when that time came and God had got His man, His vessel, His means to meet that situation in David, He put David in a place of absolute unpopularity with all the existing order and system of things. He allowed David to go through years of exclusion, ostracism and utter unpopularity with the existing, reigning order of things. That is making things safe.

This was going to be no popular movement, no swing over of a mixed crowd from one thing to another, "We have tried that, it does not do; we will try this now!" No! God is going to make it safe, and so He puts His provision in the form of David into a situation where only those who really do mean business will go on. They are not after popularity, they are not after a name; they are not after the things they went after with Saul. In spite of all Samuel said, they thought they were getting benefits from Saul's reign, but they are not out for benefits for themselves now. There is something deeper now. God takes pains, when He is after realising His full thought, to see that it is in such a situation, under such conditions, that it will not be a popular movement; it does not provide any prizes for the flesh, any gratification for worldly-mindedness. This is wholly the Lord, or it is nothing; wholly the Lord and only the Lord. When they did go out to David in the wilderness, it was a fairly sound and solid company that circled round him there. God sifted by the very condition in which He placed those who represented His full thought.

Note again, this is God's reaction to a bad spiritual state of weakness and smallness of spiritual life. He is going to find out whether we really do mean business, what we are after, and spiritual growth and progress does mean that we have no thoughts in our minds of something here in this world such as gratification, glory, popularity, success or prizes, but it is the Lord Himself. This is a test of our spiritual measure.

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