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Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. II:
City of God: Chapter 7

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter 7.—Of the Disruption of the Kingdom of Israel, by Which the Perpetual Division of the Spiritual from the Carnal Israel Was Prefigured.

Again Saul sinned through disobedience, and again Samuel says to him in the word of the Lord, “Because thou hast despised the word of the Lord, the Lord hath despised thee, that thou mayest not be king over Israel.” 1033   And again for the same sin, when Saul confessed it, and prayed for pardon, and besought Samuel to return with him to appease the Lord, he said, “I will not return with thee:  for thou hast despised the word of the Lord, and the Lord will despise thee that thou mayest not be king over Israel.  And Samuel turned his face to go away, and Saul laid hold upon the skirt of his mantle, and rent it.  And Samuel said unto him, The Lord hath rent the kingdom from Israel out of thine hand this day, and will give it to thy neighbor, who is good above thee, and will divide Israel in twain.  And He will not be changed, neither will He repent:  for He is not as a man, that He should repent; who threatens and does not persist.” 1034   He to whom it is said, “The Lord will despise thee that thou mayest not be king over Israel,” and “The Lord hath rent the kingdom from Israel out of thine hand this day,” reigned forty years over Israel,—that is, just as long a time as David himself,—yet heard this in the first period of his reign, that we may understand it was said because none of his race was to reign, and that we may look to the p. 347 race of David, whence also is sprung, according to the flesh, 1035 the Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus. 1036

But the Scripture has not what is read in most Latin copies, “The Lord hath rent the kingdom of Israel out of thine hand this day,” but just as we have set it down it is found in the Greek copies, “The Lord hath rent the kingdom from Israel out of thine hand;” that the words “out of thine hand” may be understood to mean “from Israel.”  Therefore this man figuratively represented the people of Israel, which was to lose the kingdom, Christ Jesus our Lord being about to reign, not carnally, but spiritually.  And when it is said of Him, “And will give it to thy neighbor,” that is to be referred to the fleshly kinship, for Christ, according to the flesh, was of Israel, whence also Saul sprang.  But what is added, “Good above thee,” may indeed be understood, “Better than thee,” and indeed some have thus translated it; but it is better taken thus, “Good above thee,” as meaning that because He is good, therefore He must be above thee, according to that other prophetic saying, “Till I put all Thine enemies under Thy feet.” 1037   And among them is Israel, from whom, as His persecutor, Christ took away the kingdom; although the Israel in whom there was no guile may have been there too, a sort of grain, as it were, of that chaff.  For certainly thence came the apostles, thence so many martyrs, of whom Stephen is the first, thence so many churches, which the Apostle Paul names, magnifying God in their conversion.

Of which thing I do not doubt what follows is to be understood, “And will divide Israel in twain,” to wit, into Israel pertaining to the bond woman, and Israel pertaining to the free.  For these two kinds were at first together, as Abraham still clave to the bond woman, until the barren, made fruitful by the grace of God, cried, “Cast out the bond woman and her son.” 1038   We know, indeed, that on account of the sin of Solomon, in the reign of his son Rehoboam, Israel was divided in two, and continued so, the separate parts having their own kings, until that whole nation was overthrown with a great destruction, and carried away by the Chaldeans.  But what was this to Saul, when, if any such thing was threatened, it would be threatened against David himself, whose son Solomon was?  Finally, the Hebrew nation is not now divided internally, but is dispersed through the earth indiscriminately, in the fellowship of the same error.  But that division with which God threatened the kingdom and people in the person of Saul, who represented them, is shown to be eternal and unchangeable by this which is added, “And He will not be changed, neither will He repent:  for He is not as a man, that He should repent; who threatens and does not persist,”—that is, a man threatens and does not persist, but not God, who does not repent like man.  For when we read that He repents, a change of circumstance is meant, flowing from the divine immutable foreknowledge.  Therefore, when God is said not to repent, it is to be understood that He does not change.

We see that this sentence concerning this division of the people of Israel, divinely uttered in these words, has been altogether irremediable and quite perpetual.  For whoever have turned, or are turning, or shall turn thence to Christ, it has been according to the foreknowledge of God, not according to the one and the same nature of the human race.  Certainly none of the Israelites, who, cleaving to Christ, have continued in Him, shall ever be among those Israelites who persist in being His enemies even to the end of this life, but shall for ever remain in the separation which is here foretold.  For the Old Testament, from the Mount Sinai, which gendereth to bondage, 1039 profiteth nothing, unless because it bears witness to the New Testament.  Otherwise, however long Moses is read, the veil is put over their heart; but when any one shall turn thence to Christ, the veil shall be taken away. 1040   For the very desire of those who turn is changed from the old to the new, so that each no longer desires to obtain carnal but spiritual felicity.  Wherefore that great prophet Samuel himself, before he had anointed Saul, when he had cried to the Lord for Israel, and He had heard him, and when he had offered a whole burnt-offering, as the aliens were coming to battle against the people of God, and the Lord thundered above them and they were confused, and fell before Israel and were overcome; [then] he took one stone and set it up between the old and new Massephat [Mizpeh], and called its name Ebenezer, which means “the stone of the helper,” and said, “Hitherto hath the Lord helped us.” 1041   Massephat is interpreted “desire.”  That stone of the helper is the mediation of the Saviour, by which we go from the old Massephat to the new,—that is, from the desire with which carnal happiness was expected in the carnal kingdom to the desire with which the truest spiritual happiness is expected in the kingdom of heaven; and since p. 348 nothing is better than that, the Lord helpeth us hitherto.



1 Sam. 15.23.


1 Sam. 15.26-29.


Rom. 1.3.


1 Tim. 2.5.


Ps. 110.1.


Gen. 21.10.


Gal. 4.25.


2 Cor. 3:15, 16.


1 Sam. 7.9-12.

Next: Chapter 8

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