When most of us think about Saul, there’s really only one word that comes to mind: failure. And with good reason. Saul was, to put it delicately, a hot mess. But he seemed to start out well, didn’t he?
After Saul was anointed king, God’s Spirit filled him (1 Samuel 10:10), so it’s not as if God wasn’t invested in him. After Saul was presented as king, Samuel declared there was “no one like him among the entire population” (v.24). Saul accomplished a great deal of good early on; he won many battles for his people, leading his army into victory over Israel’s enemies. He had all this going for him—not to mention that he was apparently very handsome, a solid head taller than everyone else in Israel, and charismatic to boot. Yet, he was a complete and total failure.
Why? There are many reasons, but ultimately, it boils down to one thing: Saul was the king the people wanted. When Israel demanded a king, they wanted one like the kings of the other nations (1 Samuel 8:20), one who would fight their battles for them, rule over them, and act as their judge. But a king like those of the other nations would also be afraid of losing the authority and favor he had with his people.
And that’s what Saul was more than anything: afraid to lose his power. He may have hidden among the supplies when he was named king (vv.21–22), but once he was in power, he did anything and everything to keep it—even violating God’s commands by offering a priestly sacrifice (1 Samuel 13:9; Numbers 18:7). As a result, the kingdom he hoped to keep forever was stripped away from him and handed over to another (1 Samuel 13:14).
There’s probably a warning for us in there, isn’t there? Saul’s failures were big, yes, but we’re no better than him. We can distort the things God has given us to steward. We can become proud and overconfident, fearful of losing our (real or perceived) influence. If we are unaware of our fear and pride, we can easily compromise the way Saul did, doing what is right in our own eyes in the name of serving Christ.
But Saul’s story is more than a “do better” morality tale with a message that simply says, “Don’t be like Saul.” We need to see his failures for what they are and be honest about our own temptations to do the same. Our failures should make us see our need for Jesus, the King who is better than all the kings of the nations. He is the King who is better than the best humanity has to offer. His kingdom will never fail and never end, because He is seated on His throne forever.
Written by Aaron Armstrong