Why Did Saul Fail?
If we struggle with human authority, we will struggle with spiritual authority. Smart people do dumb things when they develop a spirit of arrogance, when they ignore the authority of those over them, when they become disconnected from real life. Smart people do dumb things when they surround themselves with people who love them because they are on top, when they advance in their position, but not in their character. Smart people do dumb things when they strive for success in one area by losing balance in another, when they place their interests above the interest of others, and when they fail to see the big picture.
Saul was a smart man, but he did some awfully dumb things. He didn’t take long to begin his downward spiral (1 Sam. 10:23-24). Notice the traps he fell into that led to his failure. First, he made rash decisions and promises. He once made a decree that anyone who touched any food before a certain time should be killed on the spot (1 Sam. 14:24). But when it came time to enforce that rule, he did not (14:45). Years later Saul, often promised to stop trying to kill David only later to go back on his promises (24:16-22; 26:25). As someone has said, “Men are alike in their promises, it is only in their deeds that they differ.” Solomon said, “Many a man claims to be unfailing in love, but a faithful man, who can find?” (Prov. 20:6) Saul’s rash decisions and promise were made during highly emotional moments.
Saul also failed because he was overly influenced by the opinion of others. To keep his army happy, Saul usurped Samuel’s position as priest (1 Sam. 13:8-9). He allowed his men to convince him to go back on the severest of vows (13:44-45) and to disobey the explicit command of God (15:24). For fear of appearing dishonest before the people, Saul literally begged Samuel to accompany him on a certain trip (15: 27, 30).
Further, Saul failed because he vacillated between self-deprecation and self-glorification. Acutely aware of his humble origins (1 Sam. 9:21) when Israel had convened to proclaim him king, Saul hid among the baggage rather than face the imagined scorn (10:22-23). Not long after this, Samuel finds Saul building a monument in his own honor (15:12). Humility is facing the truth. The word itself comes from humus, earth, and in the end simply means that I allow myself to be earthed in the truth that lets God be God, and myself His creature. If I hold on to this it helps prevent me for putting myself at the center, and instead allows me to put God and other people at the center. Regarding self-glorification T.S. Elliot said, “Half of the harm that is done in this world is due to people who want to feel important…they do not mean to do harm…they are absorbed in the endless struggle to think well of themselves.”
Additionally, Saul failed because he often showed little or no interest in the things of God. Aside from moments when Saul is overpowered by a spirit of prophecy (1 Sam. 10:10, 19:23), or when a trip to a place of worship would secure the people’s favor (15:30), Saul is never said to have anything resembling a personal relationship with God. Perhaps the most notable of Saul’s visits to a house of Jehovah worship was at Nob where he gave orders for all the priests to be executed because they had aided David (22:17-18).
Moreover, Saul failed because he could not handle anyone receiving more praise than he. After David’s victory with Goliath (which David attributed to God) the rest of Saul’s reign was consumed with efforts to destroy David. The women of Jerusalem ascribed to David the defeat of tens of thousands of enemies, while to Saul they ascribed thousands (1 Sam. 18:7). Here was someone who had pleased the people more than Saul. To Saul’s mind, that made David the virtual king. He immediately said, “What more can he get but the kingdom?” (1 Sam. 18:8). He devoted the rest of his life to destroying this challenger. If only he could remove this rival, Saul seemed to have reasoned, then the people’s affection would swing back to him and he would once again be their king in earnest.
Finally, Saul failed because he doubted the loyalty of those closest to him, and this paranoia eventually drove them away. The presence of a rival drove Saul beyond the breaking point. He tried to kill David (1 Sam. 18:11) and even his own son, Jonathan, with his spear (20:33). His hatred had the backfire of pushing both Jonathan and his daughter, Michal closer to David (1 Sam. 18:1; 19:11).
Saul would have succeeded if he had been open to sharing in his life, if he had been loyal to those closest to him, if he had lived a life that justified their loyalty. Saul would have succeeded if he had considered their best interests above his own, if he had taken the high road in all relationships. Saul would have succeeded if he had remained humble and loyal to God.
by Rickie Jenkins