Saul has to be one of the most tragic stories in human history. The man blew it big time. He had such a promising start but came to a tragic end. But we seem to be getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s back up a little.
King Nahash, king of the Ammonites was a brutal and horrid sort of fellow. Extremely sadistic, he specialised in gouging out the right eyes of conquered people. That was his gory signature flourish. Something about it gave him fulfilment about conquest. Everyone feared him, which was what he wanted to achieve in the first place.
The Ammonites occupied what is present day Jordan. They’re actually descendants of Lot. They’re the products of Lot’s daughters’ incest with their father. They got him drunk and slept with him. The first daughter gave birth to Moab (from father); the second daughter gave birth to Ben Ammi (son of my people). The Ammonites descended from Ben Ammi. These two sons/grandsons of Lot would bitterly oppress the Israelites, which is surprising considering Lot was Abraham’s nephew and Abraham was good to him.
When the Israelites saw that the attack of Nahash was imminent they promptly asked for a new constitutional order. They asked for a king. Samuel the spiritual leader was a man unschooled in the art of war, and the de facto leader was unseen. God was the de facto Governor. Recall Samuel’s statement: “But when you saw Nahash, king of the Ammonites, preparing to attack you, you said to me, ‘No more of this. We want a king to lead us.’ And God was already your king!” (1 Samuel 12:12 MSG) A popular movement arose for the replacement of theocracy with monarchy.
Because God is omniscient he was however ahead of the people. He knew they’d demand a king so orchestrated a series of events to get Samuel to anoint Saul, well in advance. Saul’s father’s donkeys suddenly decided to go sightseeing. They went AWOL. Saul’s dad tells Saul to go look for them. Saul took a servant with him. They went everywhere but found no donkey. The servant then prods Saul to consult a “seer”. Well, the seer turned out to be Prophet Samuel, who 24 hours prior had been instructed by God he was sending Saul to him. God sometimes orchestrates the supernatural through natural process. That takes art form. Guess who was behind those wonderful coincidences in your life! As well as some of those things you thought you got through merit and hard work. Grace many times wears a natural garb. These “natural supernaturals” of God are more prevalent than his spectacular displays of power. God’s favour wears disguise. God can be that self-effacing, and humble. He even cedes the credit to men in these circumstances.
Samuel anointed Saul with a very specific instruction. Disobedience of that instruction would haunt Saul and eventually cost his lineage: “Whatever job you’re given to do, do it. God is with you!” (1 Samuel 10:7 MSG) Seems so simple. It implies avoiding doing what he’s not been given to do. God won’t be with him in such a situation. In effect Saul was God’s agent.
Samuel does private ceremony anointing for Saul but the whole thing still had to go through due process. The People’s Assembly was convened and by oracular tradition Saul was selected king. But not everyone believed he could do the job. They rejected an old man and now an inexperienced youth? The guy had no military experience. How’s he going to deliver them from Nahash? ‘But the riffraff went off muttering, “Deliverer? Don’t make me laugh!” They held him in contempt and refused to congratulate him.’ (1 Samuel 10:26-27 MSG) Well, Saul dealt with Nahash, destroyed his army and ended his reign of terror. Only then did the people troop to Gilgal to formally acclaim him king. Think of Gilgal as sort of Washington DC. So Saul did start well. What went wrong? How did Saul end up in infamy?
It has to do with the Philistines. They were a major thorn in the flesh of Israel. They were actually Israel’s most dangerous enemy. They had a long history. The name “Philistine” comes from the Hebrew word “Philistia.” The Greek rendering of the name is “Palaistinei,” from which we got “Palestine.”
You see, the Isreali army was divided into three companies. Two of the companies were under the command of Saul, the third under his son, Jonathan. Well, Jonathan attacked the Philistines and killed a Philistine governor at Geba. The Philistines were outraged and mobilised against Israel. They were mad like hornets. The sheer size of the Philistine army intimidated the Isrealites. The Israelites had a national army of three companies of soldiers, but the chariot unit of the Philistine army alone was three companies. There was still the cavalry division and the infantry division. Just the fact the Philistines mobilised their army created a refugee crisis. The Israelites were hopelessly outnumbered so they decided to bring in the big gun – God! But getting God required Samuel. He had to do the sacrifice. Unfortunately, Samuel was held up. Seven days and he hadn’t showed up. Meanwhile, the soldiers were losing their nerve, the army was disintegrating. Soldiers were slipping away, right and left. (1 Samuel 13:8) So Saul decided to take charge. He went ahead and sacrificed the burnt offering. No sooner had he done it than Samuel showed up! You see, there was separation of church and state. Saul breached the middle wall of partition. It was a foolish thing to do. He wasn’t a priest-king and God takes such things very seriously. You don’t trivialise or commonise God. Another king who tried it was Uzziah. He was afflicted with leprosy. He had to cede governance to his son. (2 Chronicles 26:21) You don’t mess around with sacred stuff. ‘“That was a fool thing to do,” Samuel said to Saul. “If you had kept the appointment that your God commanded, by now God would have set a firm and lasting foundation under your kingly rule over Israel. As it is, your kingly rule is already falling to pieces. God is out looking for your replacement right now. This time he’ll do the choosing. When he finds him, he’ll appoint him leader of his people. And all because you didn’t keep your appointment with God!”’ (1 Samuel 13:13-14 MSG) And there’s our answer. What if Saul had not done the sacrifice? God would have established his dynasty. He lost the throne. And that was how David entered the picture.
King Saul would go on to do more egregious stuff. There was the Agag scandal. He spared King Agag and interned Amalekite livestock contrary to God’s command. (1 Samuel 15) This guy was a nobody. God made him who he was. Yet he kept disobeying God. And he was full of baloney. Always trying to justify disobedience. He would spiral into mental disorder – had a major case of depression. At the end of the day he committed suicide on the battlefield – and yes, it was a battle against those same Philistines! His first three sons died with him. (1 Samuel 31) Two other sons as well as five of his grandchildren (from his daughter Merab) were also executed to placate the Gibeonites. (2 Samuel 21:8-9) His second daughter, Michal was barren. The last of his six sons, Ishbosheth who took over the throne was murdered on his bed by two of his captains. They cut off his head. (2 Samuel 4:5) His surviving grandson became a cripple. His name was Mephibosheth. (2 Samuel 4:4) He would end up losing a substantial portion of his inheritance. Had to share it with his servant, Ziba. (2 Samuel 19:29) The whole thing is so tragic.
The enduring lesson is, take the things of God seriously. Respect sacred boundaries.
If you’ll like to give your life to Jesus, please pray this prayer: Father I acknowledge that I am a sinner, that Jesus Christ died for me, that you raised him from the dead. Please forgive me Father. I accept Jesus today as my Lord and my Saviour. Amen.God sometimes orchestrates the supernatural through natural process. Click To Tweet