Good morning! Today we continue of look back into the family album of our faith. We are studying the lives of some Bible personalities we rarely hear about. Today we take a look at Saul, first king of Israel. This Saul lived 1100 years before Jesus right at the end of the 400 period called Judges. Let’s open our Bibles to 1 Samuel 8.
I’ve described Saul as the incredible shrinking man. When we first see him, he is tall and strikingly handsome. He ends up shrunken and ugly. Saul began glorious, full of potential, he ends depraved and despicable. Like the fruitless branch Jesus described in John 15. He was cut off and thrown in the fire. That’s the inevitable end of a life that refuses God’s grace.
So how did all this happened and what can we learn from it for our own lives? Israel was a nation dedicated to the LORD. The LORD was the king of Israel. Israel was a theocracy, unique, different from every other nation on the face of the earth for the sake of becoming a blessing to the whole world. It was through Israel that the savior of the world would come.
But Israel continually rejected the LORD as their king and followed the ways and the idols of the world. Instead of being different, they wanted to fit in, be like everybody else. They begged their prophet Samuel for a human king, so they could be like all the other nations.
Samuel warned them, “If you rejected the LORD as your king and choose a human king, you will become slaves again.” But they refused to listen. Finally, the LORD let them have it their way. He chose a ‘looker’ for them. Everything they thought they wanted. Saul was a head taller than any other man in Israel. He was buff, smart, handsome, clearly a king to be proud of.
But it takes more than good looks to make a good king! It takes a heart that follows after the LORD. The LORD gave Saul every chance to succeed. He gave him Samuel, one of the best advisors and prophets in the history of Israel. He put his Spirit on Saul. He changed Saul’s heart to match his own, but instead of responding with humility and obedience, Saul allowed his heart to follow the way of pride, selfishness, rebellion.
Saul started his reign by leading his army to a great victory against the Philistines, but instead of realizing that it was the LORD who made this victory possible. Saul got puffed up and claimed it was his own strength and wisdom that brought about the victory.
Jeremiah 17:9 “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can understand it?" Proverbs 23:7 says that “As a man thinks in his heart, so he is.” A depraved heart always leads to a false and twisted self-image. Only God’s Word can reveal to us who we really are.
These verses should bring us all to our knees in humility before the LORD. David who followed Saul on the throne filled the Psalms with prayers of confession, thanksgiving, and submission to the Lord. For all his mistakes, the purpose of David’s heart was to put God first, to obey him, glorify him. The LORD was king of David’s life.
But not Saul! Saul was increasingly consumed with Saul. He was oblivious to the depravity in his own heart. Instead of deferring to God and obeying him, Saul did what he felt was right in his own heart at the time. As a result Saul’s reign quickly began to unravel.
First example is in 1 Sam 13. Saul, without direction from the LORD, had picked a fight with the Philistines. Now he had to defend Israel from their coming attack. Samuel, the prophet, gave Saul the word of the LORD. “Take the army down to Gilgal. Wait seven days for me to meet you there. Then I’ll tell you what to do and offer the sacrifice to the Lord.”
Samuel’s instructions were absolutely clear. It was a test to see if Saul would obey the LORD in the same way Joshua had done 400 years earlier at Jericho. He didn’t. Remember Israel had chosen Saul as king so they wouldn’t have to depend on the LORD to be their king. They didn’t need the LORD, they had King Saul! They thought they could detach themselves from the Vine of Israel and stand alone. How foolish!
Before Samuel arrived, the Philistines attacked. Israel’s soldiers began running for the hills. The army was in a panic. King Saul, who was supposed to provide leadership and courage was clueless what to do. Instead of encouraging his troops to stand firm and they would see the deliverance the LORD as Moses had done at the Red Sea, Saul, in direct disobedience, takes it on himself to offer the sacrifice to the LORD.
As soon as Saul had finished the sacrifice, Samuel arrives on the scene. “What have you done!” Samuel says. Instead of repenting, Saul begins to make excuses that it’s everybody else’s fault except his own. Samuel scolds him, “You have acted foolishly! You have not kept the commandment of the LORD your God … now your kingdom will not endure. The LORD will seek out a man after his own heart to replace you.” That man would be a young shepherd boy named David.
You would think such a strong rebuke would cause Saul to fall on his face in repentance, and ask the LORD for help, but that’s not what happened. Israel went on to defeat the Philistines, but not because of Saul, it was Saul’s son, Jonathan, who was the hero.
As Jonathan was cutting through the Philistines like a hot knife through butter, Saul, the king, was hiding back in the tents. He pompously gives an order. “Nobody eats until I have avenged myself on my enemy! Any soldier caught eating before sunset will be killed.”
Jonathan, out in front of the army, hadn’t heard his dad’s ridiculous order and grabbed a handful of honey comb as he raced by. When Saul heard what his son had done, instead of apologizing for such a ridiculous order, he gets his back up to defend his inflated ego and said, “Jonathan must die!” By God’s grace, the people rescued Jonathan from Saul.
The third episode seals Saul’s fate as the incredible shrinking man. It would be Saul’s third and final test. Who would be king in Saul’s heart, himself or the LORD?
Samuel confronts Saul. “I am the one the LORD sent to anoint you as king over his people Israel so listen now to the LORD! Go attack the Amalekites and destroy them completely for waylaying my people when they came up from Egypt. Destroy them and everything that belongs to them. Do not spare them.” 1 Sam 15
So King Saul took his army and headed south into the desert to carry out the LORD’s command. Except he didn’t - he took their king captive, maybe to ransom or extort him, and he kept the best of the sheep and cattle for himself and his men. He not only disobeyed the LORD, he taught his army to do the same! On the way home, Saul stopped to set up a monument, not to the LORD, but to himself! Saul, the incredible shrinking man!
A few days later, Samuel went out to greet the returning army. “When Saul saw Samuel he said, “The LORD bless you! I have carried out the LORD’s instructions!”
But Samuel replied, “What then is this bleating of sheep in my ears? What is the lowing of cattle that I hear!” Saul answered, “The soldiers brought them from the Amalekites. They spared the best of the sheep and cattle to sacrifice to the LORD your God, but we totally destroyed the rest.”
Did you pick that up? Saul says to Samuel, “The LORD, your God.” An argument followed in which Saul defends his decision by declaring that he disobeyed God’s order in order to bring a sacrifice to the LORD – all of it sadly bogus, deceitful, hypocritical!
Samuel responds, “Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the LORD? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams. For rebellion is like the sin of divination (witchcraft), and arrogance like the evil of idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, he has rejected you as king.” 1 Sam 15:22-23
You can’t buy God off. You can’t throw a dollar in the offering plate to get him off your back so you can do as you please. Jesus clearly taught us, our life flows from God and if we cut ourselves off from him in order to do things our own way; we cut ourselves off from the vine, the source of our life! We shrivel. Without the LORD, we’re dead - we just don’t know it yet.
The LORD gave Saul ample opportunity to repent, to come back, to get reconnected, but Saul refused. The more he disobeyed the LORD, the harder and more twisted his heart became. What began as beautiful became ugly. What began as full of potential became corrupt, depraved and empty. What a warning to us.
Saul spent the rest of his life in a mad obsession trying to murder David. He even tried to murder his own son Jonathan. The LORD left him and sent an evil spirit to torment him, still he would not repent. He disguised himself and tried to get a witch to call up Samuel from the dead. In the end, he killed himself. None of this had to happen, it was Saul’s choice.
We humans look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart. David, the second king of Israel wasn’t perfect. But he was a king who submitted his allegiance to the LORD, the King of kings. When he failed he repented and raced to the LORD for help.
Who is king in your heart this morning? Whose kingdom are you building? Are you growing graciousness, holiness, selflessness or shrinking into bitterness and selfishness? Is your life becoming more about you or less about you? David recognized the depravity in his own heart and he went to the LORD, for help. And the Lord forgave and cleansed and purified him so that unlike Saul, the incredible shrinking man, even as David’s body aged and shriveled, his spirit and influence grew and increased.
We still pray his prayers today. Psalm 51 is a prime example.
“Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; blot out my transgressions. Wash away my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you only have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight; so you are right in your verdict and justified when you judge…
Create in me a pure heart, O God, renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit."