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 Godâ€™s favor and promises. Last week we saw Peterâ€™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 Saulâ€™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 â€™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.Â Fenner cites the Dominican scholar Paginusâ€™ (1471-1541) rendering he confirmed himself to say, â€œHe thrust himself upon doing itâ€ i.e. he went ahead anyway despite Godâ€™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 â€¦ 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 Godâ€™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 â€¦ Thus they will not meditate, or if they do, they break it off before it comes to any strength or perfection.