by T. Austin-Sparks
I have been very strongly exercised in regard to the message which lies spiritually at the heart of the first book of Samuel. When we come to an Old Testament book such as this one, we must remind ourselves that it is not just a matter of history or a record of things which happened long ago, but rather in our coming to principles wrapped up in that history, principles which abide for all time and are as important and essential in this age as in any age. We see that the Word of God is always up-to-date, living, and filled with a challenge. I am quite sure we shall see how true that is as we go on. But let me repeat, it is important to remind ourselves of that, and that we are not just reading or studying Old Testament history. We are being confronted by living and abiding principles which God Himself has established in relation to His purpose which runs from eternity to eternity.
The inclusive thing is the testimony of Jesus, and again, it is not bound to the New Testament, to say nothing of being bound to the last book of the New Testament; it is true that the phrase occurs more often in the book of the Revelation than anywhere in the Scriptures, but the significance of this is that at the end the consummate issue is the testimony of Jesus. There you have reached the consummation of everything that has been going on through the ages, and it becomes the one clear, definite, positive issue. The testimony of Jesus runs from the beginning of the Word of God to the end. It is everywhere in the Old Testament as it is in the New, and in a very emphatic way here in this first book of Samuel.
In Revelation 19:10 we read, "The testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy." In Acts 3:24 we read: "All the prophets from Samuel and them that followed after, as many as have spoken, they also told of these days." The point is that the passage in Acts would begin the prophetic office with Samuel, and make Samuel the first of the prophets. Since the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy, then the testimony of Jesus is with Samuel, and that is the inclusive matter in this Divine revelation.
In the book of Samuel the testimony is represented by the ark called "the Ark of the Testimony". The deepest truth of the ark being the testimony, is God manifest in the flesh. It is God who has come in the flesh, and the ultimate meaning in God having come, is God against the gods, all of which are gathered up into one god: the god of this world. Now that comes out in a very definite way in this book, as it does in other parts of the Scripture. But I want you to recognise the innermost thing in the testimony of Jesus: God manifest in the flesh for redemption and much more, but supremely the establishment of God over all gods, over everything that opposes and calls itself "god". Presently we shall see the testimony as represented in the ark in the presence of David, and we know the issue here, but for the moment I mention the fact that the deepest and innermost truth of the testimony of Jesus is God revealed, God present, and God active in relation to His eternal purpose: Emmanuel, God with us.
This first book of Samuel gathers around the testimony in three phases: first, Samuel; second, Saul; third, David. A fourth is an ever-present element: the Philistines. They seem to me to form the background of the rest. In Samuel and David we have that which is bound up with the preserving and the advancing of the testimony to its final establishment in the heavenly kingdom and temple of God. The issue of this book finds the ark in the temple in Jerusalem. That is the end of David's life, and it is that which gives the life of David its significance: the ark at rest, the kingdom come, the temple with the testimony established in it and Solomon bringing in the reign of peace. It is with that end in view that both Samuel and David are brought in. On the other hand, in Saul and the Philistines, we have that which is inimical to the testimony, which is the principle of antichrist.
We need to make a basic statement, that in Samuel and David we have that which in principle is meant by the man-child. I wonder how many of you have as yet been really gripped and impressed by the meaning of that title, "the man-child". You have heard it often, but perhaps it has not conveyed very much to you. Let me say at once that in that name we have something which is right at the heart of God's purpose through the ages. It is around that that the warfare has gone on, and will intensify to the end.
Perhaps to get the significance of the man-child, we ought to read one or two passages. We will look first at familiar words in Psalm 2:7-9: "I will tell of the decree: The Lord said unto Me, Thou art My son; this day have I begotten Thee. Ask of Me, and I will give Thee the nations for Thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for Thy possession. Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; Thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel." And then Rev. 2:26-27: "And he that overcometh, and he that keepeth My works unto the end, to him will I give authority over the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron, as the vessels of the potter are broken to shivers; as I also have received of My Father", the last clause of which takes us back to Psalm 2, "As I have received of My Father". Psalm 2 refers to the Lord Jesus, as the book of Acts makes perfectly clear when it says, "God ... raised up Jesus again; as it is also written in the second psalm, Thou art My Son, this day have I begotten Thee" (Acts 13:33). He received of the Father this authority over the nations, to rule them with a rod of iron and break them in shivers as a potter's vessel. Now this is passed on by Him to others who are brought in, called overcomers - "He that overcomes". The same words are used in connection with the Son.
Then you pass to Rev. 12:5: "She was delivered of a son, a man-child, who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron . And there was war in heaven; Michael and his angels going forth to war with the dragon; and the dragon warred and his angels; and they prevailed not, neither was their place found any more in heaven. And the great dragon was cast down. And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb." (Rev. 12:5-11). Now you notice the same words, "a man-child", plural "they overcame because of the blood of the Lamb." Ephesians 6 says that the warfare is still with principalities and powers in the heavenlies, therefore Revelation 12:8-9 must be subsequent to Ephesians. That is, it must be prophecy and not history. History is that which has taken place; prophecy is that which is to come. The book of the Revelation is a book of prophecy, not history. This man-child is, by a great many, (I do not want to call into question their accuracy, or their Bible knowledge) said to relate to the Lord Jesus, as Israel being the mother, and Jesus being the man-child. Now, I say this is not history, this is prophecy, and the warfare, if we are still in Ephesians, is still in the heavens, Satan is not yet cast down. This has yet to be. The point for the moment is that the man child is bound up with that, the man-child is connected with the dethronement, the overthrowing, of another spiritual order which has arisen to destroy the testimony of Jesus. So the man-child is very closely bound up with the testimony of Jesus in its final issue, in its consummation.
Now we will stay with that for just a minute to broaden out. God's eternal purpose concerning His Son, as we have often heard, is peculiarly related to man and to man according to God's mind, man being a very great factor in God's purpose. Man is not only something which God has created, some order of creation called "man", but in God's thought man is a very special order of creation, intended to be in a vital union with God Himself, sharing God's own life and doing God's own work, or being instrumental in God's hands for the doing of His work. Man as a whole has broken down, missed the way, and failed to be what God intended him to be. He has ceased to be in the line of God's purpose in his present natural state. But then God has called out of the nations a people in His Son to be His own people. In the old dispensation they are typified by Israel, taken out from among the nations and constituting the Lord's own people, brought into a living relationship with Himself to be the instrument for the fulfillment of His purposes. But that people as a whole has not gone on in the way of the purpose of God. They have fallen far short of His purpose.
The Lord's people today - and I am speaking quite generally now - are missing the mark, they are not in that living union and fellowship with Him, moving on in progressive spiritual development, and being His means of accomplishing His everlasting purposes. They are not. If that were so, then why over the last century or more has there been such a tremendous uprising of a movement which is for the deepening of the spiritual life of God's people? Is not that the result of a discerned weakness and failure which is fatal? A worldwide convention movement; meetings unceasing for the improvement of the spiritual life of the Lord's people, not the normal course of things, but something extra, something special, an effort which has become demanded. And one feature of that great movement is this, it is not always because there is a direct perception of spiritual weakness and failure and declension, but a deduced failure because of certain symptoms. The symptoms being: fewness of conversions, fewness of workers, shortage of funds, a general lack of zeal and worker's wholeheartedness. These are symptoms, and because in the undertaking of great enterprises and in the perception of work needing to be done there are all these deficiencies, the deduction is that the spiritual life is wrong. Of course it is a true deduction and so we must move to rectify that spiritual condition in order to get rid of these grievous symptoms. And so today the movement goes on and grows. The tragedy is that it makes little difference. It has got to grow, to be increased, to be built up more and more. Instead of lessening the need, the thing itself as a means is being developed to tremendous dimensions.
As a rule, when you give medicine to a complaint, you expect to have to give less and less medicine because the complaint is yielding. If you have to give more and more and ever more medicine, it is rather a bad sign. Now, you see the point. I cannot stay at the moment, it comes perhaps later on. I cannot stay at the moment to say what the trouble is, why it is so. My own conviction is that the wrong thing is being done. Symptoms are being dealt with rather than the basic trouble. However, we will leave that. We will see all about that when we come to Israel and the Philistines.
At the moment God has called out a people for Himself and that people has failed to go right on in full growth to the accomplishment of His purposes. God, viewing the whole as unsatisfactory and as disappointing, and failing in so large a degree, does not abandon nor surrender His original intention, but again and again comes back to it, and concentrates His main and supreme attention upon the full thing. While He may not be casting off His people or abandoning them in their state, (He will not do that; they are His people) from the inside of His people He will move to have that in the midst of them which is according to His own mind, and that is the man-child. It is because His testimony is at stake, and His people on the whole (see the first book of Samuel) are not in a place of spiritual power. The testimony is not functioning among them; not because of the Lord, but because of themselves. In light of their relationship to the Lord and because of their low spiritual condition, God moves to have that which will bring His testimony on to its final rest and fulness and establishment, and that is the man-child represented by Samuel and David. There is a step before we reach them, and that step is seen in Hannah.
At the beginning of the first chapter of the first book of Samuel we see Hannah's natural condition. Always remember that is a condition which is not accidental, but determined by God when God is going to do a special thing. Sarah was in the same condition with Isaac in view, a condition which is one of impossibility, speaking naturally. In the earlier verses of this chapter, you see what I mean. Apparently it went on year after year; that is the statement. There was something unyielding which brought Hannah to despair, to an end of everything outside of God, so that God alone was her hope. This position was not accepted as final with God in view. So you find her in bitterness and anguish of soul.
Then we observe a strange thing, (and to me the most beautiful thing in the whole story) something so contrary to nature. Here is a woman having suffered all these years by reason of her privation, by reason of the persecution from the other wife of her husband who had plenty of children, at last having her life-long desire satisfied, and then by a vow and an act of her own to hasten the thing, yielding up that gift to the Lord. It was her own voluntary act. She is not clinging; she is not holding him as long as she can. To me that suggests not only the faithful fulfillment of a vow, but a deep concern for the Lord's interests. In principle it is recognising that the Lord needed a man-child for His testimony's sake, and that man-child was in her spirit, in her heart for the Lord, before ever the man-child was an actuality. A man-child!
We may truly say that with Hannah there was a real exercise of soul in relation to the Lord's interests because the dearest thing in her life was dedicated to those very interests. This is not natural. No, having desired so long and suffered so much, you would expect that when the man-child was born, she would hold onto him and laugh at her rival and rejoice in her vindication, and never see the child out of her sight, lest again she should be childless. That is human nature, and who would blame her? But no, just the opposite occurred. Before he is born she vows him to God and when he is born, she weans him as soon as she can that God may have him. She takes him to the temple and leaves him there and goes to see him every year.
But there is more than that. Read Hannah's prayer and song in Chapter 2. There is no sorrow, grief, or pity for herself, but a great burst of praise. It is an exulting in the Lord, but it contains much more than that. Verse 10 says, "They that strive with the Lord shall be broken to pieces... And He will give strength unto His king, and exalt the horn of His anointed." Where does that lead you? It takes you away from a little, sentimental, domestic affair. It gets you right into the ultimate purpose of God. It brings you into Psalm 2; it brings you over into Revelation 19. The king exalted! The enemies broken to shivers like a potter's vessel! The full vision of the Anointed in power is before us when Samuel is born. That is Hannah. So Samuel comes in.
A child of soul travail - that is the man-child always. He is a truly spiritual child, not a child of nature; a work of God, an act of God, the result of an intervention of God; he comes from the hand of God. Samuel was a child who knows the Lord and is seen in such striking contrast to Eli and what Eli represents; Eli, with his dim sight, dull hearing and feeble movement. That is the spiritual state of the Lord's people as gathered up in the representative priest. There was no open vision in those days; no hearing of what God was saying, dullness of ear; and no steady strong movement in the direction of God's revealed will, but rather, feebleness. So it was with all the Lord's people, but Samuel stands out in such striking contrast; he was quick to hear, although for the moment he did not grasp the significance or know who he heard. The point is the first time God spoke, Samuel heard, and he heard again, and he heard again. He had an ear to hear. He heard the Lord, he was quick to respond, quick of action, movement, in relation to the speaking of God. That is the man-child, always like that.
These are essential features of the man-child, that which is going to be bound up with God's full purpose concerning His Son. That which is going to be instrumental in relation to the testimony of Jesus in its consummation, must be quick to hear what the Spirit says, quick to move in relation to what the Spirit says, must from childhood know the Lord, and must stand in living contrast to the state of spiritual declension which is all around.
So Samuel becomes a link between that declension and the ultimate fullness. This first book of Samuel is the book of transition, the passing from one state to another, and Samuel is the link in the transition between the two: the spiritually bad one, and the one that God is going to have ultimately in David and Samuel. Samuel is the link. What is that link? What is the chief element in that link? What is it that bridges the gap, that effects the transition? One word - you know it so well in connection with Samuel - it is prayer. That is the functioning principle of the man-child.
Look again at Psalm 99:6: "Samuel, among them that call upon His name". Or a still more striking passage in Jeremiah 15:1: "Then said the Lord unto me, Though Moses and Samuel stood before Me, yet My mind would not be towards this people." "Though Moses and Samuel" - and Moses had, more than once, effected a change in the attitude and procedure of God. Having stood in the breach, speaking humanly, he had caused God to repent of His decisions and determined course, and Samuel is classed with Moses as one of the two great representative intercessors. It means this, that if any man could make God change His mind, it would be Moses or Samuel. If any man's prayers could prevail with God, it would be Moses or Samuel. That is the point. So Samuel is brought up into this place of tremendous power with God by prayer. How true it is as you read through this first book which goes by his name. How the people on one occasion cried to him, and said, "Cease not to pray to the Lord for us!" That is the deepest factor and element in the man-child ministry: the power of intercession, of prayer. It is out of that that all the rest comes.
In a sense, the testimony of Jesus rests upon the prevailing prayer of those who stand in this spiritual position represented by Samuel. Is that not a challenge? There is no mere historic narrative about that. That comes home to us. For those of us who are really burdened concerning the testimony of Jesus, who have seen something - little it may be, but something - of the significance of the man-child, the necessity of the man-child to God, our hearts ache that there is so little real prayer after this kind, that prayer can be so ordinary, that there is so little of this soul-travail of Hannah to produce and to bring in the man-child, that there is so little of this ministry of intercession, as in Samuel, concerning the testimony. Will you take this to heart?