Then Saul said, “I have sinned. Return, my son David. For I will harm you no more, because my life was precious in your eyes this day. Indeed I have played the fool and erred exceedingly” (I Sam. 26:21).
These bitter words are the self-proclaimed epitaph of King Saul. He had it all and lost it all. He had God’s blessing and lost it. He had power and authority, but lost that too. He had the love and admiration of thousands but, in the end, died ashamed and alone.
Starting out with such great natural abilities and even God’s approval, he showed much promise and climbed high with remarkable speed and grace. Then, while he was balancing ever so gingerly on the pinnacle of success, a wind of pride and jealousy toppled him and down he fell.
Why? What brought this about? More importantly, how can we avoid such a slide ourselves?
Due to the clamor of Israel to have a king, like all other nations around them, God chose Saul to be the first king of Israel. From a human perspective, he was the best man for the job. He had the image, the style, and the good looks (9:2). Not only that, he was genuinely modest. When Samuel first met Saul and began telling him that God had chosen him to be the leader of the nations, Saul was very self effacing (9:21). Best of all, in the beginning, he was in tune with God. He was generous and merciful (10:6-7). He did not boast of his anointed position. In fact, he was no where to be found (10:22). When the people asked God to help them find him, they ran to his hiding place and grabbed their new –reluctant – hero, proclaiming him king (10:23-24). When he defeated public enemy number one, Nahash, the ammonite, the whole nation united in support of her new celebrity.
But in the midst of the cheers and backslapping, his humility gave way to pride. As a result, he allows the poison of jealousy, impatience, and stubborn rebellion to eat away at his trust in the Lord. His foot started slipping and he did not even notice.
When we look at Saul’s erosion of his character we see at least three things: his impatient offering (1 Sam. 13); his rash vow (I Sam. 14), and his disobedience (I Sam. 15). First, Saul could not wait on Samuel to come to Gilgal. With his army deserting him, he offers a sacrifice he had no right to offer. In the stress of the moment his impatience cracks and we see an underlying irreverence and panic. Saul does not understand it’s always better to wait on the Lord for guidance than to brashly forge ahead without Him. As a result of this act, God takes the royal line away from Saul.
Second, after impudently offering the sacrifice, Saul leads what is left of his rag-tag army of 600 from Gilgal to the hill country where he plans to make his last Custer-like stand. The Philistines have rallied at a strategic pass and the upcoming battle looked hopeless for Israel (I Sam. 13:15-23). After Jonathan and his armor-bearer kill 20 of the Philistine soldiers, the Philistines scatter in all directions. Following that victory, Saul makes a rash and foolish vow that dampens the enthusiasm of the people. “… Saul had placed the people under oath, saying, ‘Cursed is the man who eats any food until evening, before I have taken vengeance on my enemies.’ ” So none of the people tasted food (1 Sam. 14:24). OOPS! Unaware of the oath, Jonathan finds some honey and eats it. But Saul has spun around himself a complicated web of fear, and paranoia and will not recant his frivolous command. How much better it would have been for him to admit the rashness of his vow. That would have won him the respect and support of the people.
Third, although the Lord has removed the royal line from Saul, in His mercy He gives Saul another chance to regain favor. “Go slay the Amalekites and utterly destroy all that he had and do not spare him, but put to death both man and woman, child, and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey” (I Sam. 15:3). Saul wins the battle, but disobeys God. He then tells Samuel he did what God told him to do. He has convinced himself that he has done the right thing but really reveals his sinful heart in doing so. This is the final step on the slippery slope for Saul. He tumbles hard. He was now blind to his own sin. The rest of his years are spent floundering in paranoia, despair, and regret and in the end, he takes his own life. What a tragedy!
First, to assume we will end strong because we began strong is foolish. The truest test of character is time. In order to end well, it is important not to allow little faults in the beginning to grow.
Second, to reason from emotion is always dangerous. When the heat is on, sometimes we make mistakes we never would have otherwise. Watch and pray in those moments.
Third, to jeopardize the well-being of another because you are unwilling to alter an unwise decision is unfair. Poor decisions have a domino affect; they tend to trigger a series of foolish actions that will eventually affect others. Admit wrong and change.
Fourth, to rationalize our disobedience because we wanted our way is rebellion. Rebellion against God is most pitiable when, through rationalization of wrong, rebels think they are doing right. We must always be sensitive to what is right and wrong and willing to face the truth. That is hard in moments of rebellion.
The decline of King Saul is one of listening to the people instead of listening to God. May it never be said of us, “I have played the part of the fool.”
by Rickie Jenkins