King Saul Pt 2
Picking up from last week where we learned that in the very first early years of Saul’s monarchy he wasn’t so bad, he wasn’t great but he wasn’t full of himself…yet. His fall from reality and humility came pretty quickly however…after his first victory over the Amorites his decline was quite quick and steep.
First battle against the Philistines
In 1 Samuel 13 we read about the Philistines gathering for battle against Israel and many of the Israelites were terrified of this formidable foe. The Philistines were particularly barbaric and cruel and Israel had no real weaponry for defence and a host of Jews fled and hid themselves. The Philistines had 30,000 chariots, 6,000 horsemen and soldiers in number like the sand on the seashore…to an unarmed people they were terrifying. Saul and his son Jonathan however managed to gather 3000 men to fight with them and Saul was feeling the pressure of leading this tiny band of men into battle against impossible odds…he needed to hear from God. He had contacted Samuel and received word back to wait for the Prophet’s arrival which would be in 7 days time, at which point Samuel would offer the burnt offering and then receive instruction from God as to how they were to proceed.
Verses 8-11 says, ‘Now he waited seven days, according to the appointed time set by Samuel, but Samuel did not come to Gilgal; and the people were scattering from him. So Saul said, “Bring to me the burnt offering and the peace offerings.” And he offered the burnt offering. As soon as he finished offering the burnt offering behold, Samuel came; and Saul went out to meet him and to greet him. But Samuel said, “What have you done?”…..’
God’s rules for the monarchy and the priesthood and for prophets were very different and the role of priest and king were not allowed to cross over. Kings were not allowed to perform the rituals of priests and priests were not allowed to assume the office and duties of kings.
Saul’s excuse for overstepping his bounds was that Samuel was late and the people were scattering from him out of fear…there was only 3000 of them to start with and when Saul went into battle there was only about 600. (1 Samuel 14:2) Saul said he didn’t want to move ahead with battle unless he had the Lord’s approval and so he ‘forced’ himself to offer the sacrifice.
Samuel immediately told him that he’d been foolish and the result of his reckless disobedience meant that ‘his’ kingdom wasn’t going to be an enduring one. ‘mam-la’xa’ is the Hebrew word for kingdom here and it’s speaking directly to Saul’s personal dynasty. At this point, the writing is on the wall for Saul. The next part of Samuel’s rebuke is that God has sought for Himself a man who has a heart for God to be the next ruler of Israel.
The lesson here is very clear…for those who are in positions of leadership there are serious consequences for disobedience. Why? Because leaders have serious potential to misrepresent God before the masses as well as having serious potential to lead people into error. Being a leader is serious and not to be taken lightly.
This battle then unfolded and we see Saul’s reckless impulsiveness come to the fore.
Jonathan had gone with his armour bearer (only Saul and Jonathan had weapons and armour) to a small camp of the Philistines and basically sent them into a tail spin and defeated them. Saul didn’t know that Jonathan had done this but when they heard the commotion, Saul immediately called for the priests to bring the ark of the Lord to him, and from this point they went onto the offensive to take down their enemies. 1 Samuel 14:23 says, ‘So the Lord delivered Israel that day and the battle spread beyond Beth-aven’…the battle was fierce but they were winning and when the men got tired, Saul put all the his soldiers under a stupid and dangerous oath saying, “cursed be the man who eats food before evening, and until I have avenged myself on my enemies.” (14:24)
When men are engaged in hard physical labour, what’s the most important thing to provide for them if you want them to continue on and complete their task? Food and drink to replenish, strengthen and energise them…Saul foolishly forbade this most basic of necessities…and for what reason…so that SAUL could avenge HIMSELF from HIS enemies. He himself became the primary motivation for this battle and the one who was meting out justice…at least in his own mind.
Jonathan had no idea of the foolish oath made by his father and during the course of the battle, he came across some honey and he helped himself to it. After he’d eaten it, one of the other soldiers told him about his father’s foolish oath. What was Jonathan’s response? “My father has troubled the land. See now, how my eyes have brightened because I tasted a little of this honey. How much more, if only the people had eaten freely today of the spoil of their enemies which they found! For now the slaughter among the Philistines has not been great.” (1 Samuel 14:29-30)
The people were simply to weary from the battle with no sustenance to actually destroy entirely their mortal enemies. Not only that, but they became so incredibly hungry from exhaustion, that when they finally were able to get to the spoil, they slaughtered some of the livestock and were eating it raw…this was absolutely against God’s laws…they were not to eat blood. (Deut 12:22-25)
When Saul heard what some of the soldiers were doing and how they were sinning, Saul was angry and immediately began an investigation to find out where the sin had originated – the process of casting lots – and then Saul impulsively again, said that even if the sin came from his own son Jonathan, he would be put to death.
The lot fell to Jonathan, he explained that he had eaten honey and didn’t know about his father’s oath and amazingly, Saul was actually going to kill his own son. Rather than admit to causing the situation through his own rash and foolish behaviour, he was going to execute Jonathan, it was only the protest of the people who saved Jonathan’s life. It was after all, Jonathan who went against the Philistines and in actual fact brought about their victory…not Saul. (1 Sam 14:45)
Over the next few years Saul continued to fight against their neighbouring enemies and defeat them, but it was from this point on that God rejected Saul. He had continual fighting with the Philistines and any time he discovered a valiant man, he brought him into his personal staff and it was these skilled men who really were responsible for these successes.
Battle against Amalek
Samuel told Saul that God wanted to wipe out the Amalekites (A’mal’aykee) because they were exceedingly wicked. (Perhaps one day we can take look at this part of Israel’s history to get a better understanding of why God wanted them wiped out) Saul was told to strike the Amalekites and destroy them all…no matter how old or young, male or female, human or animal…everything had to be destroyed.
Saul rallied his troops and went immediately to battle however Saul didn’t fulfil the exact instructions that God gave him. Firstly, he kept alive the king of the Amalekites…king Agag (A’gag) as well as the best of the sheep, oxen, fatlings, lambs and ‘all that was good’ and wasn’t willing to destroy them completely. He only destroyed what was weak or despised and worthless. (15:9)
Saul was euphoric…the victory was stunning and the booty was magnificent. His real prize however was king Agag whom he was able to parade throughout the land as proof of his own magnificence. He was seriously in celebration mode…but what he didn’t realise was that God spoke to Samuel on the night of the battle back in his home town of Ramah, and said that He regretted making Saul king, that Saul had turned back from following Him and had not carried out His instructions and Samuel was so distressed over this that he stayed up all night crying out to the Lord over Saul. What was it about this man Saul? He just wouldn’t follow instructions…he just wouldn’t do it!
When Samuel went to meet Saul the next day Samuel was told that Saul had gone to Carmel (Kar’mel) and set up a monument to himself and then was proceeding on down to Gilgal for a national tour of self-glorification. Now even on a horse, it would take some time to cover all these distances. This didn’t all happen in an afternoon but more likely over a period of days or even weeks.
When Samuel finally catches up with Saul, Saul goes out to meet him expecting Samuel to be in raptures over Saul’s military success and genius…Saul said to Samuel, “Blessed are you of the Lord! I have carried out the command of the Lord.” But Samuel said, “What then is this bleating of the sheep in my ears, and the lowing of the oxen which I hear?” (15:13-14)
Saul uses the excuse that he really did do what God instructed him he was just keeping the best for God…in fact in verses 15-21 Saul insists he obeyed God’s instructions and then he blames the people for sparing the best of the livestock. Samuel then reveals to Saul that God spoke to him and told him He regretted making Saul king and explains that God took him…a weak nobody from among the entire nation…and put him in a very important place of privilege and responsibility and he had exalted himself, disobeyed God, undermined the Word of the Lord, misrepresented God before the people through his disobedience, weakened their security by not destroying their enemy and stepped into the realm of witchcraft because God equates rebellion as being the same thing.
What is Saul’s response? Yes I sinned, I listened to the people instead of God…I shouldn’t have done it but….pardon my sin and let’s just get on with things. Come back with me so I can worship the Lord. (15:24-25)
Please understand that this isn’t repentance, it’s admission only after being caught out and not being able to convince Samuel that he really had done what he was supposed to do
Samuel is disgusted with Saul’s lying, his laying the blame at the feet of the people and he tells Saul that he will not return with him and he turned away to leave Saul, but Saul grabbed Samuel’s robe and tore it. Immediately, Samuel the PROPHET speaks up and uses this imagery to reveal to Saul that from that very day, God had torn the monarchy of Israel from Saul and had given it to his neighbour…”WHO IS BETTER THAN YOU”. (15:28) What a stunning rebuke to the most narcissistic man in the nation.
Later in this chapter we read that Samuel killed Agag, but what most people don’t realise is that between the time Agag was captured by Saul and executed by Samuel, Agag was able to continue his family line. Do you know who the descendent of Agag was? None other than Haman the Agagite (Esther 8:3) He plotted, through deceptive means, the utter annihilation of the Jewish people during the rule of king Ahasuerus (A’hash’verosh) when Esther was queen in Ancient Persia. If Saul had obeyed God and killed Agag as soon as he was caught, Haman would never have been born.
Again, Saul admits that he sinned…but all he really wants is for Samuel to accompany him on his ‘victorious’ return so he can stand before the elders and the people and make a pretence of worshipping the Lord.
Note…he never once REPENTED or felt grief or remorse over his sin and rebellion, he never once asked Samuel to intercede for him before God…he never once showed sorrow over his offences to God. Why? Because Saul didn’t love God, Saul had no desire to honour God or to do anything that would please or give God cause for joy or pleasure. Saul had a religious veneer to ‘keep up appearances’ but Saul really only wanted one thing…to be esteemed personally before the people, to look good, to have monuments made for him, to be seen as someone special. Saul loved Saul and cared only for appearances. His character was seriously flawed and shallow – about an inch deep!
We’ll look at David over the coming weeks and how he came to be part of Saul’s household, but for the sake of this study, David joined Saul’s household to serve Saul through music because Saul became God’s enemy and spirits troubled him and only David’s music could sooth his troubled soul, it was also through the David and Goliath encounter that Saul came to recognise David’s military genius and Saul always brought the most skilled soldiers into his own personal company.
Saul grew to hate David because David gained the reputation of being a greater soldier than Saul and David’s exploits in battle overshadowed his own, he became utterly consumed with jealousy, rage and hatred for David that it became Saul’s life goal to murder David…even going so far as using his own daughter as bait. (1 Samuel 18:25-27)
Now the end of Saul’s life truly miserable. He was tormented in spirit, he knew he was losing the kingdom, his actions had destroyed his daughters life, his son Jonathan’s alliance was with David his assumed enemy and the Philistines were marching against them and he was terrified. God had rejected him and refused to give him direction through visions or dreams or via the priests and Samuel was dead…even before Samuel died, Samuel never saw him or spoke to him again after the debacle with the Amalekites. He was surrounded by people within his court and household yet he was utterly alone.
In 1 Samuel 28, we find Saul desperate for guidance and advise and he really only trusted Samuel to tell him the truth, so he made enquiries to find someone who was a medium; (clairvoyant – witch – soothsayer – prognosticator – diviner – fortune teller) they had all been banished from Israel under Saul’s rule but some were still hanging about in secret. They found a witch who lived at Endor (Eyan-dor) and Saul disguised himself and went to see her.
He told her he wanted her to call up Samuel the prophet and when Samuel actually came forth the medium herself became terrified…perhaps this was the first genuine spiritual encounter she’d had and she realised that her ‘client’ was in fact King Saul who had declared that anyone involved in the occult as she was, was supposed to be put to death. Saul tells her not to fear for her life…and then proceeded to have a conversation with Samuel…basically the gist of the conversation was….Saul told Samuel that because God didn’t speak to him anymore, he needed to talk to him because he was seriously distressed about the impending battle with the Philistines.
He was so backed into a corner, he was so twisted up inside that he decided to participate in the forbidden occultic practice of talking to the dead.
Samuel goes on to give him the worst news of his life. God has abandoned you because of your rebellious, selfish, idolatrous heart…not only that, the thing you fear the most…defeat at the hands of the Philistines…is going to happen tomorrow…you and your sons are going to die in battle.
It’s a tragic story of what happens to a person who simply refuses to come to God with a repentant heart.
Saul’s progression went something like this…
|He knew his own weaknesses and limitations & had the potential to be a great kingbecause he had a very godly advisor (Samuel) & good solid men which hesurrounded himself with|
|Confident||His first military victory that God gave him|
|He kept the best of the spoils and tramped around the country to show off his greatness and then erected a monument to himself!|
|He had a religious veneer. He wanted Samuel to make a show of support so that the people would think everything was ok despite the fact that God had torn the kingdom away from him in favour of another|
Suspicious Conspiratorial Enraged
|He foolishly & groundlessly believed that David was trying to steal the throne from him;he believed that everything David did was to undermine him and embarked on acampaign to murder David. He literally became consumed with killing David, even tothe point ofleaving his borders vulnerable to attack from the Philistines (1 Samuel 23:24-29)|
|Occultic||He paid for the services of a witch to conjure up Samuel|
I can’t help but wonder how different Saul’s life may have been if he’d demonstrated genuine repentance and submission to the Word of God.Saul’s quest and hunger for self-protection, self-promotion and self-endorsement ended in the loss of all those things. It reminds me of the passages found in Matthew 16:25, Mark 8:35 and Luke 9:24 which say, “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.”
For example, what might have happened if Saul had gone before God and admitted his sin, guilt and failures and asked for forgiveness? What if he’d taken David under his wing and allowed him opportunity to become established within the royal court especially because he knew GOD has selected David to be Israel’s next king…Jonathan Saul’s son admitted to David that he knew David would be the next king of Israel and was thrilled about it! (1 Sam 23:17) What if Saul had confessed his sin before the people and endorsed David as their next and future Sovereign who was ‘in training’ so to speak, and stressed the importance of obeying God rather than fearing men? What if Saul had submitted to the words of Samuel and continued to seek his advice and guidance and obediently followed it?
I wonder if God would have been merciful and grant Saul a long life to enjoy seeing his son-in-law reach the throne, with his son Jonathan serving by his side and seeing his grandchildren being raised in the ways of the Lord? I believe it could have been possible because it’s God’s nature to forgive when a men when they sincerely repent.
Psalm 86:5 says, ‘For You Lord, are good and ready to forgive, and abundant in lovingkindness to all who call upon you.Daniel 9:9 says, ‘To the Lord our God belong compassion and forgiveness…’Psalm 86:15 says, ‘But You, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness and truth.’Psalm 111:4 says, ‘He has made His wonders to be remembered; the Lord is gracious and compassionate.’Psalm 25:6 says, ‘Remember, O Lord, Your compassion and Your lovingkindness, for they have been from of old.’
Psalm 78:35-38 says, ‘And they remembered that God was their rock, and the Most High God their Redeemer. But they deceived Him with their mouth and lied to Him with their tongue. For their heart was not steadfast toward Him, nor were they faithful to His covenant. But He, being compassionate, forgave their iniquity and did not destroy them; and often He restrained His anger and did not arouse His wrath.’