Saul had it all. He was handsome, the most handsome man in all of Israel. He was tall, a full head taller than anyone else in Israel. He was God’s chosen one, anointed by Samuel to be the first king of Israel. Yes, Saul had it all until he lost it all.
Saul started out very well. After being anointed by Samuel, God gave Saul a new heart. The Spirit of God came upon him and he began to prophesy. When it was publicly revealed that he was God’s chosen king for Israel, he was found hiding amongst the baggage. Perhaps the significance of the moment overwhelmed him, humbled him. Then his first act as king was to lead Israel in a great military victory over Ammonites, saving the Israelite town Jabesh-gilead from the violent oppression of king Nahash. When the people shouted for him to take revenge on his doubters within Israel, Saul responded with forgiveness. “No one will be executed today, for today the Lord has rescued Israel!” Yes, Saul started out very well, but then something changed.
Saul ruled Israel for 42 years. Somewhere along the way that old enemy pride must have crawled into his heart. Perhaps he started thinking it was his leadership, his skill, his strength, his charisma that was leading Israel to all these great victories. Maybe he started thinking that God chose him because he had the right stuff. Whatever it was, it came to fruition in Gigal. Samuel didn’t show up when he said he would. No problem thought Saul - I can sacrifice to the Lord, I can do what is preserved only for God’s priests, I can please God, I can manipulate God for his help, I’ve got the right stuff. So Saul demanded the offerings, disobeyed God’s commands revealed will through Samuel, and then everything changed.
Isn’t this the same old problem that started in the garden? Our hearts are wicked and deceitful. When things are going well, my heart says “I don’t need God, I’m strong, I’m happy.” And that leads to disobedience, sin and consequences. Although Saul’s kingship continues for 42 years and he was victorious over Israel’s enemies, the die was cast. His kingdom would end. The Lord had already appointed a new king, a man after his own heart.
Proverbs 3:5 says “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” This scripture is so counter-cultural. Modern wisdom tells us to follow our heart, be true to yourself, chase your dreams – but scripture warns us that our hearts are deceitful, and sometimes following your heart can result in dire consequences.
Saul’s story reads like a Greek tragedy, a morality play. He started out so well, but then something changed in his heart. This led to foolish decisions, disobedience and ultimately to the end of his kingdom. My heart is not much different than Saul’s. It is prone to wander, vulnerable to pride. Fortunately, the gospel gives us a much better ending than a Greek tragedy. 1 John 1:3 reminds us that if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. Hebrews 4:15-16 says we have a high priest (Jesus) who is able to empathize with our weakness, because he was tempted in every way just as we are – yet he didn’t sin. So we can approach God’s throne of grace with confidence. This is beyond amazing, and gives me great hope that a sinner like me will receive grace and mercy. Thanks be to God!