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For most of my walk, I’ve simply been annoyed when I get to the beginning of 1 Samuel. Saul, this tall, handsome, promising, young man, gets his first job opportunity and it just so happens to be the first king of Israel. He then goes out, gets the nation fired up, and promptly trounces the Ammonites for a major victory in his first battle. Saul then shows some class by not putting to death his initial doubters even with the people clamoring for it. What doesn’t this guy have going for him? He sounds a little like Barack Obama, only if the pres had been a part of catching Bin Laden in his first week in office, then forgiving Rush Limbaugh in a live public address soon after!

The Good Times Just Don’t Last

Saul is riding high, seems set to lead Israel to freedom over the powerful and oppressing Philistines, and then he starts to throw it all away…

Samuel said, “What have you done?” And Saul said, “When I saw that the people were scattering from me, and that you did not come within the days appointed, and that the Philistines had mustered at Michmash, I said, ‘Now the Philistines will come down against me at Gilgal, and I have not sought the favor of the LORD.’ So I forced myself, and offered the burnt offering.” And Samuel said to Saul, “You have done foolishly. You have not kept the command of the LORD your God, with which he commanded you. For then the LORD would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. (1 Samuel 13:11-13 ESV)

Soon after that, he starts to get full of himself.

And the men of Israel had been hard pressed that day, so Saul had laid an oath on the people, saying, “Cursed be the man who eats food until it is evening and I am avenged on my enemies.” So none of the people had tasted food. (1 Samuel 14:24 ESV)

Even as he descends into self-aggrandizement, he’s still laying down the wood on Israel’s enemies. God has not abandoned him but Saul still does not get it.

When Saul had taken the kingship over Israel, he fought against all his enemies on every side, against Moab, against the Ammonites, against Edom, against the kings of Zobah, and against the Philistines. Wherever he turned he routed them. And he did valiantly and struck the Amalekites and delivered Israel out of the hands of those who plundered them. (1 Samuel 14:47-48 ESV)

Finally, he gets exposed and the kingdom is essentially taken away when he blatantly disobeys a straightforward albeit difficult command.

“Now go and strike Amalek and devote to destruction all that they have. Do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.'” (1 Samuel 15:3 ESV)

And Samuel came to Saul, and Saul said to him, “Blessed be you to the LORD. I have performed the commandment of the LORD.” And Samuel said, “What then is this bleating of the sheep in my ears and the lowing of the oxen that I hear?” Saul said, “They have brought them from the Amalekites, for the people spared the best of the sheep and of the oxen to sacrifice to the LORD your God, and the rest we have devoted to destruction.” (1 Samuel 15:13-15 ESV)

From this point forward in the text, Saul grows angry and paranoid, descending into darkness as he fights tooth and nail to keep HIS kingdom intact. Saul becomes a little more like Kim Jong Il in his leadership style, entering the “Tyson Zone,” killing priests and turning against even his own son. We can take 2 views of Saul at this point both of which reveal the lurking Pharisee in our hearts.

View #1: Saul’s mistakes through 1 Samuel 15 weren’t that bad! David did much worse!

Do you realize that David actually has more outward sin, bigger national mistakes, and more severe worldly consequences for his sin than Saul? Think about it: the census, Bathsheba, killing Uriah, and the number of concubines he took. What did Saul do in comparison? He didn’t wait for Samuel to come make the sacrifice. He didn’t kill all the livestock after a victory. This was prior to the kingdom being deeded over to David! Once God’s Spirit is withdrawn, Saul heads into darkness fully given over to his flesh, fighting to keep the crown for himself and his legacy, going against anyone and everyone (including Levite priests and his own son, Jonathan) who would get in his way. This is without the Spirit though! So why is Saul hammered more than David? Why is Saul’s kingdom taken away while David’s leads to Jesus?

David practically has the perfect balance of understanding the weight of sin and yet never losing sight of his acceptance by God the Father. David rarely loses sight of his own sin and his own unworthiness. When he does lose sight, he immediately reroutes back to humility and to the ground. This gives David a lot of compassion for those who follow him, for even those who would be his enemies. David can do this because he pursues God, is honest with God, loves God, and understands closeness with Him. Saul is completely out of touch with the root of his sin and how his sin is against God. It’s an utter blind spot for him. He never seems to pursue God in relationship. He views the Lord as an ambivalent god who has delegated power to him to lead Israel. Samuel attempts to point this out to him:

And Samuel said, “Though you are little in your own eyes, are you not the head of the tribes of Israel? The LORD anointed you king over Israel. (1 Samuel 15:17 ESV)

Saul never rests in God’s acceptance of him. He lives to please others, not God. As a result, as king, he constantly swings from a rash, harsh, prideful leader to a soft, disobedient to God, people pleaser.

In my own struggles, I can identify much more with Saul than David. Saul does not see his sin in light of God. He justifies and simply sees thing horizontally. Just like him, I tend to view sin in levels, I judge myself by comparison to others. At least I’m not like that dad who yells at his kid at the grocery store. At least I read my Bible more consistently than that brother over there. When I do this, I downplay my sin and I’m attempting to establish a righteousness of my own. I see people as for me or against me, not for God or against Him. There’s no freedom there. I don’t know how many people I’ve hurt battling this area of sin in my life. Now make me king of Israel and give me success. Would I handle it differently than Saul?

View #2: Saul was a lunatic, I would never do the dumb things he did!

Saul, the first king of Israel, was a man who practically appeared to be a product of our 21st Century American culture. He was impatient, rash, and people pleasing. He gets jealous of David, and plots many times to kill him, at times just trying to manipulate David to walk into his own death. He tries to kill his own son, Jonathan. He kills the priests of Nob after they innocently aid David. Near the end of his life, he goes to a medium to seek answers as opposed to pursuing God. His life seems to be a wreck by the end and he is disconnected from the God who elevated him and entrusted the kingship to him. He acts like a lunatic at times in moments of rashness.

Put yourself in his shoes. You struggle with the source of your self-worth; even hiding behind some luggage on the day it is announced you are to be king. Yet you are tall and handsome and having everything going for you but you have not known closeness with God. You then get thrown into becoming the king out of no prior experience and no rise up the ladder. You love the praise of men and here you are in the most important position ever in the kingdom of Israel. Would that go to your head? If you live for the praise of men and secure an early victory turning hearts to you, do you think you could just flip a switch and just start living for the praise of God? Not apart from the grace of God, that is for certain. Saul is almost set up for failure and does fail.

Rest in God’s Acceptance of you and repent vertically!

After Saul is exposed when he doesn’t have the livestock killed in 1 Samuel 15, he is broken but only horizontally.

Saul said to Samuel, “I have sinned, for I have transgressed the commandment of the LORD and your words, because I feared the people and obeyed their voice. Now therefore, please pardon my sin and return with me that I may worship the LORD.” And Samuel said to Saul, “I will not return with you. For you have rejected the word of the LORD, and the LORD has rejected you from being king over Israel.” As Samuel turned to go away, Saul seized the skirt of his robe, and it tore. (1 Samuel 15:24-27 ESV)

Half-hearted is not even the right word for his repentance here – I think he really feels like he is repenting but what is he repenting of? He seems to be repenting of being exposed and being embarrassed. This is why he still wants Samuel to come with him, and make an appearance with him despite all that has happened. I do this all the time. I deal with sin because I have been exposed. I am embarrassed. I seek forgiveness from my kids or my wife, and completely ignore how I have ultimately sinned against God. I inadvertently downplay my sin. I miss out on true repentance.

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:1 ESV)

The lesson of Saul’s life is that we must rest in the fact that God has adopted us and that he is pleased with us as our Eternal Father. God is not satisfied with us but He is pleased with us. He will never leave us nor forsake us. There is no need to downplay or disregard or hide sin. Jesus paid for it all. We can view sin as it truly is, in us, and hate it and not fear rejection! Saul’s life is a tragedy because he never connected with this like David did. In Jesus, I can reject the way of Saul, the Pharisees, and myself because I am not condemned! I can hate sin and walk in freedom in the love of my Father.

The Rest of the Series:

Learning to Stop Reading the Bible like a Pharisee

Learning to Stop Reading the Bible like a Pharisee: Jacob – Part 1

Learning to Stop Reading the Bible like a Pharisee: Jacob – Part 2

Learning to Stop Reading the Bible like a Pharisee: Ahab

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