Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Saul and the Spirit

An interesting question arises with connection to Saul, Israel's first king. Namely, what to make of passages that describe Saul being in the Spirit? Consider the following:
Then the Spirit of the LORD will rush upon you [Saul], and you will prophesy with them and be turned into another man. (1 Sam 10:6)

Then Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the midst of his brothers. And the Spirit of the LORD rushed upon David from that day forward. And Samuel rose up and went to Ramah. (1 Sam 16:13)

But the Spirit of the LORD clothed Gideon, and he sounded the trumpet, and the Abiezrites were called out to follow him. (Judges 6:34)

Then the Spirit of the LORD was upon Jephthah, and he passed through Gilead and Manasseh and passed on to Mizpah of Gilead, and from Mizpah of Gilead he passed on to the Ammonites. (Judges 11:29)

Then the Spirit of the LORD rushed upon him [Samson], and although he had nothing in his hand, he tore the lion in pieces as one tears a young goat. But he did not tell his father or his mother what he had done. (Judges 14:6)

When he came to Lehi, the Philistines came shouting to meet him. Then the Spirit of the LORD rushed upon him [Samson], and the ropes that were on his arms became as flax that has caught fire, and his bonds melted off his hands. (Judges 15:14)
Remarkably similar language is used to describe the Spirit coming upon Saul, David, Gideon, Jephthah and Samson. Yet only four, we believe, were saved. Presbyterian pastor Steve Wilkins (in a vastly different context, but apropos nonetheless) comments on this in terms of covenant theology. What he is addressing is quite important—the idea of whether or not those non-elect members of the visible church receive some blessings from God, but not the blessing of salvation:

God certainly knows (and has decreed) the difference between the elect and the non-elect, but from our creaturely, covenantal point of view there is often no perceptible difference (e.g., Saul and David were indistinguishable from one another to all outward appearances in the early phases of their careers; Judas looked like the other disciples for a time). It is only as history goes forward, as God’s plan unfolds, that we come to know who will persevere and who won’t. In the meanwhile, we are to view and treat all faithful members of the covenant community in the way we see them treated throughout the New Testament epistles — i.e., all covenant members are viewed and treated as elect, but also warned of the dangers of apostasy.

The language of the Bible forces us to acknowledge a great deal of mystery here. For example, the same terminology that describes the Spirit coming upon Saul in 1 Sam. 10:6 is used when the Spirit comes upon David (1 Sam. 16:13), Gideon (Jdg. 6:34), Jephthah (Jdg. 11:29), and Samson (Jdg. 14:6, 9; 15:14). But in four of these five cases (David, Gideon, Jephthah, and Samson), the man in question was clearly regenerated and saved by the Spirit’s work (cf. Heb. 11:32). This means that at the outset of Saul’s career, the biblical narrative itself draws no distinction between his initial experience of the Spirit and the experience of those who would obtain final salvation. Saul appears to receive the same initial covenantal grace that David, Gideon, and other saved men received, even though God did not enable him to persevere in that grace. While God no doubt predestined Saul’s apostasy (since he foreordains all that comes to pass), God was not the Author of Saul’s apostasy (cf. WCF 3.1). His failure to persevere was due to his own rebellion. Herein lies the great mystery of God’s sovereignty and human responsibility (cf. WCF 3.1, 8).

What do see as the implications for the New Testament church? It seems to me that it serves as a reminder that while in eternity there are only the saved and the reprobate, on earth there are three groups: the utterly lost and rebellious, the saved or elect, and a third group: those in the visible but not the invisible church. While the latter group receives not the blessing of salvation, they do receive some blessings. Saul represents the Old Testament version of this third group.

The New Testament does mention this "third group" in the subtext of a number of passages, none of them very pleasant to contemplate. Here are two that are straightforward reminders that all who are part of the visible church are not adopted:
They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us. (1 John 2:19)

"And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.' (Matt 7:23)
A couple more that are more subtle, and speak to the ideas behind covenant theology, are:
For the unbelieving husband is sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified through her believing husband; for otherwise your children are unclean, but now they are holy. (1 Cor 7:14)

4For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, 5and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, 6and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame. (Heb 6:4-6)
In these two passages we see distinctions made that point to this third group. We know from the teaching of all scripture that children of believers are not automatically saved. However, 1 Cor 7:14 clearly indicates that there is something different between the children of believers and the children of unbelievers—one being described as unclean and the other as holy.

And in the case of the passage from Hebrews, again in light of the bulk of scripture, it is not unreasonable to take "For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit" to refer to people like King Saul.

The question that immediately arises is why? Why are there those in the church, those who receive blessings not given to the garden-variety atheist who scorns the things of God, but are not of the elect? Those who will not persevere?

I'm sure I don't know. Obviously part of it is to demonstrate the inevitability of apostasy apart from the saving power of the Holy Spirit. And the visible church surely provides comfort and security to the invisible church--so there may be a practical aspect to consider. But it's always a subject that brings with it a certain uneasiness.

On the other hand, there is no indication that the elect are chosen randomly—and so there is every reason to expect strong family correlations.

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