The Puritan Exegesis Project: William Fenner on 1 Sam. 13:12

The great blessing and curse in our time is technology which enables us to work round the clock. Negatively this tends to marginalize time for self-reflection which can tend to depression or create problems in decision making. For Puritans like William Fenner the lack of self-reflection is a deeply rooted spiritual problem that even hinders salvation: it stunts growth in sanctification and loses sight of God’s favor and promises. Last week we saw Peter’s self-reflection melt into repentance and forgiveness. Here we face another difficult passage with grave results.

In The Use and Benefit of Divine Meditation, a sermon on Hag. 1:5, addresses what it means to meditate on life and scripture. Life is full of busyness even for pre-moderns. So it is an essential part of repentance, says Fenner to meditate on sin in light of scripture (e.g. Psalm 119:59; Ex. 38:33; 1 Jh. 2:14). Conversely unbelievers consider their actions materially ; their attention is spent meditating on daily business or pleasure which actually suppresses the conscience, forcing disobedience to God. At length Fenner arrives at Saul’s example in 1 Samuel 13; Saul willfully disobeyed the Word of God and made sacrifice himself rather than wait for Samuel.

Saul forced himself to disobey and perform the sacrifice. The Hebrew verb ’apeq is uncertain. It may be translated I took the risk, I compelled, I restrained (or (2) refrained) myself. The ambiguity in the text is fairly self-evident: Saul felt compelled to disobey, or he had no choice given the uncertainty of the moment.  Fenner cites the Dominican scholar Paginus’ (1471-1541) rendering he confirmed himself to say, “He thrust himself upon doing it” i.e. he went ahead anyway despite God’s command. Having finished the hard part of exegesis all that is left to do is take the passage and apply it to his audience:

God urged [Saul] in his conscience not to do it, yet he would do it: God again whispered to him not to do it, yet he forced himself to do it; as if he should say, I hope I may do it, I have stayed seven days … and a little piece breaks no square: No? God rejected Saul for that venture; God would have forced him by meditation, O no! do it not by no means: [God] made him think, Oh, it is against God’s commandments, I may not do it. Thus God deals with thousands and millions in the world. Be not a drunkard, God flings the meditation into the conscience, yet a drunkard thou wilt be. Be not a drunkard again, a drunkard notwithstanding thou wilt be. Be not again; they force themselves, they will go to the Ale-house. And so of all other sins … Thus they will not meditate, or if they do, they break it off before it comes to any strength or perfection.

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