Saul, King of Fear

Saul was one messed up king. That’s my conclusion as I read through 1 Samuel, and it’s easy to see why. He screwed up, royally (sorry). From disobeying God’s specific orders (see 1 Samuel 13 and 15) to years of trying to murder his most valuable and devoted subject, David, he seemed to have a hard time getting anything right. I’ve been wondering why God picked him in the first place.

Chapter 9 explains one possible reason:

Kish had a son named Saul, as handsome a young man as could be found anywhere in Israel, and he was a head taller than anyone else.

Could God have chosen him for his height and good looks? It’s apparent that Samuel thought so, because when he went looking for Saul’s successor, a son of Jesse, he assumed it would be Eliab. Apparently, he too was tall and handsome. But God replied,

Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart. (1 Samuel 16:6-7)

So why did God pick an eventual failure? I’ve finally decided that God chose Saul as an example of how fear can ruin our lives. Let me explain.

When Saul is first told he is to be king, he isn’t exactly thrilled. At first he protests that he’s from the smallest clan of the smallest tribe—and therefore unworthy. Then, when all the tribes gather to see which man God had chosen, Saul goes and hides among the supplies! (See 1 Samuel 9 and 10.)

God points him out to the crowd, and he becomes king anyway. At first, Saul does well. He displays humility. God changes his heart, presumably to make him more able to govern. And the Spirit of God comes powerfully upon him and he prophesies. (1 Samuel 10:9-11) In 1 Samuel 11, he displays initiative and bravery in saving the town of Jabesh, and then demonstrates mercy by sparing his detractors.

Unfortunately, it’s downhill from there. We’ve already had a glimpse of the problem back in chapter 10, when Saul hides so he won’t be made king. What would cause a man to hide, especially from such an honor? Fear. He’s afraid of being king.

His fear resurfaces in chapter 13. The Israelites are outnumbered by the Philistines, so “they hid in caves and thickets, among rocks, and in pits and cisterns. Some Hebrews even crossed the Jordan to the land of Gad and Gilead.” (verses 6-7)

So far, Saul is obeying Samuel. He waits for the agreed upon seven days before acting. Yet, verse 7 continues, “… all the troops with him were quaking with fear.” Does Saul set a brave example? No. We can guess that he too is afraid of the Philistines.

In chapter 15, Saul demonstrates that he’s not just afraid of his enemies, he’s also afraid of his own troops. God tells him to totally wipe out the Amalekites and everything that belongs to them. (God has his reasons.) But Saul disobeys and spares all the “good stuff”—the best of the sheep and cattle, the fat calves and lambs—and he spares the Amalekite king. Why?

Saul tries to explain that he spared all the animals in order to sacrifice them to the Lord. That sounds nice and spiritual, right? But God didn’t tell him to do that. And under further questioning by Samuel, the truth comes out. Verse 24 reads:

Then Saul said to Samuel, “I have sinned. I violated the Lord’s command and your instructions. I was afraid of the men and so I gave in to them. (bold type mine)

Even now, as Samuel explains that God has taken the kingdom away from Saul to give to someone else, Saul’s primary concern is for his image:

Saul replied, “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.” (verse 30)

How pathetic. It’s clear that Saul fears man rather than God. How will his overwhelming fear continue to impact his future? Come back next Friday and we’ll find out!

To be continued…

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