9. Saul – not always glory

Glory Out of Failure Meditations: 9. Saul – not always glory.

1 Sam 9:17   When Samuel caught sight of Saul, the Lord said to him, “This is the man I spoke to you about; he will govern my people.”

2 Sam 15:26   You have rejected the word of the Lord, and the Lord has rejected you as king over Israel!”

Why Saul?  As we work our way through the Bible, picking up illustrations of those who were taken from failure to glory, when we come to Saul we have to realise that it doesn’t always work like this. The truth is that people only end up transformed when they have encountered God and responded positively to Him. It may sound too obvious to mention but it applies to all of us all of the time – if we do not respond to the Lord we will not be changed in the ways He wants to change us. And remember, what we said, He doesn’t want to change us because He is fed up with us, but simply because He loves us and wants better for us than we have at the present. Saul demonstrates this, demonstrates that the end is not always glorious.   

Saul’s Background: In many ways Saul has everything going for him. His father is “a man of standing” (1 Sam 9:1) and Saul himself is described as, a handsome a young man as could be found anywhere in Israel, and he was a head taller than anyone else.” (v.2) He lives in the time of the judges while Samul the prophet is judging (ruling) the nation but the nation has asked to be given a king. God has told Samuel about Saul (v.15,16) so when Saul comes looking for his father’s lost donkeys, he encounters Samuel who invites him to a meal and then, next morning, Samuel anoints him and prophesies over him. (1 Sam 10:1-7). As he left Samuel, “God changed Saul’s heart,” (v.9). Now we are not told what that actually means but we may take it that Saul feels differently about himself.  On his way home he finds himself caught up in prophesying (v.10). Subsequently Samuel calls Israel together and Saul is chosen by lot to be king (see v.17-24). Now we should note that while that process was going on, Saul had hidden himself away. Despite what had happened to him so far, he was indicating his desire to reject his destiny. Nevertheless, he is exactly the sort of man – big and tough – that Israel wanted for their king. He is chosen as king.

Failure No.1: He continues working for his father (see 1 Sam 11:5) until there is an enemy attack and when he hears of it, “the Spirit of God came powerfully upon him, and he burned with anger.” (v.6) He calls Israel together and delivers them from their invader (v.7-11). Consequently he is confirmed as king of Israel (v.12-15). Now this had all happened quickly and then when Saul’s son, Jonathan, provoked the Philistines to come against them with a mighty force, Saul took it upon himself to act as priest and present offerings to God, obviously to get God on their side (as if He wasn’t already!), a role that should only be taken by God’s spiritual representative. For this he is rebuked by Samuel (v.13,14) and is told his reign will not endure and God will look for a man after his own heart (v.14).

Failure No.2: Later Saul is told by Samuel to destroy their enemy, the Amalekites, but this he fails to do. (see 1 Sam 15:1-9) and is again rebuked by Samuel (see esp. v.28) saying He will be taking the kingdom from him. When Saul says, “I have sinned. But please honor me before the elders of my people and before Israel; come back with me, so that I may worship the Lord your God,” (v.30) that doesn’t have any sense of repentance about it, more of manipulation for his own sake.

The End for Saul: There is much more in 1 Samuel that involves both Saul and David but tragically at the end of it, Saul is killed in a battle with the Philistines (1 Sam 31:1-6) but ironically it is an Amalekite who claims his death (2 Sam 1:8). David graciously laments the deaths of Saul and Jonathan, despite all the tribulation Saul had brought on David’s life (see second half of 1 Sam) but however you look at it, it is not a glorious end.

Lessons: It is a strange story. Behind it all the Lord chooses Saul because he fits exactly what Israel are asking for, a good looking, tall and strong guy. It is almost as if the lesson is being conveyed that outward appearance is not what counts – as He reiterates when He has Samuel anointing David (1 Sam 16). The fact that the Lord chooses him to serve, gives him prophecy and then fulfils it and twice fills hm with the Spirit, shows us that this too is not enough. God can do all He will on His part but the outcome is dependent on our heart. If it is a heart that is obedient to God’s Law, His calling, and His instructions, then there is hope, but in the absence of these, there is no hope. The transformations that we have been talking about will simply not come about. Perhaps more than any other Old Testament story, this one reveals the truth that the all-important issue is the issue of the heart, the inclination towards God – or not.  Jesus taught, “Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me,” (Jn 14:21)  The apostle John obviously understood this when he wrote, “Whoever says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person,” (1 Jn 2:4) and much of his letter is about obedience being the sign of love for God. Obedience and allowing God to change us is crucial if we are to be transformed from being failures to glorious children of God. May it be so.  

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