One of the most dynamic and terrifying stories in Scripture is that of Saul, the first King of Israel. God had established His own reign as king over Israel, but after living in Canaan (present day Israel), the people saw the nations around them and desired to have a king as they did. Therefore they sinned and asked God for a king (1 Sam 8). This began the downfall of Israel into exile and slavery in foreign lands. But God chose to allow them to have a king, and the first one was Saul. Samuel was a prophet in the land and the one through whom God chose to speak regarding the throne.
When Samuel saw Saul, the Lord said to him, “Behold, the man of whom I spoke to you! This one shall rule over My people.”
– 1 Sam 9.17
God spoke to Samuel and told him about Saul, and when Saul came to Samuel seeking his lost donkeys, God revealed that he was the one who had been chosen to be king. Saul was confused, as he was from the smallest of the clans and not of great name, but Samuel encouraged him that this was indeed God’s plan. He prophesied about the events of the day to come and promised the anointing of the Spirit of God:
“Then the Spirit of the LORD will come upon you mightily, and you shall prophesy with them and be changed into another man.”
– 1 Sam 10.6
As Saul left Samuel to go home, God did a mighty work in his heart:
Then it happened when he turned his back to leave Samuel, God changed his heart; and all those signs came about on that day.
– 1 Sam 10.9
Then the Hebrew people were attacked by the Ammonites. By the prompting of the Spirit Saul became angry and recruited the Israelites to come out with him and fight. Many people scoffed and said, “Who does Saul think he is that he will reign over us?”. But the people came out and Saul led them to victory. At the end of the battle, Saul’s supporters made a bold claim:
Then the people said to Samuel, “Who is he that said, ‘Shall Saul reign over us?’ Bring the men, that we may put them to death.” But Saul said, “Not a man shall be put to death this day, for today the Lord has accomplished deliverance in Israel.”
– 1 Sam 11.12-13
The people wanted to kill those who had spoken out against Saul, but Saul had great humility and mercy and united the Hebrew people by giving glory to God for the victory. Saul’s supporters sought to glorify Saul for the victory, but Saul knew that it was not him – that it was God alone who defeated the Ammonites. And he wanted the people to remember the same. Then Saul was declared king and he began his rule.
Almost immediately another battle broke out with the Philistines. Samuel delayed in coming to make an offering to the Lord over the battle so Saul stepped in and did it himself, even though he was not a priest and was not to do so. This was a great sin.
Samuel said to Saul, “You have acted foolishly; you have not kept the commandment of the Lord your God, which He commanded you, for now the Lord would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. But now your kingdom shall not endure. The Lord has sought out for Himself a man after His own heart, and the Lord has appointed him as ruler over His people, because you have not kept what the Lord commanded you.”
– 1 Sam 13.13-14
One of the first things that Saul did as king was to disobey and remove himself from God’s favor. Samuel confronted Saul, and Saul repented, but only to the extent that he did not want to lose his position as king – not on the heart level. And because of that, God regretted having made Saul king and removed His spirit from Saul.
“I regret that I have made Saul king, for he has turned back from following Me and has not carried out My commands.” And Samuel was distressed and cried out to the Lord all night.
– 1 Sam 15.11
Then [Saul] said, “I have sinned; but please honor me now before the elders of my people and before Israel, and go back with me, that I may worship the Lord your God.”
– 1 Sam 15.30
“Now the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord terrorized him.”
– 1 Sam 16.14
God chose David to take Saul’s place, and even though Saul reigned for years after the Spirit left him, it was a reign of chaos and sin. Saul spent years of his life hunting David to kill him, and trying to hold on to the kingdom by his own power. And he was terrorized by an evil spirit from the Lord.
So what is the take home from this story?
In short it is the fact that we can start out so strong, with the anointing of the Spirit, with a humble attitude and godly focus, and then fail miserably, under the curse of God. Saul knew his position as a Benjamanite (the smallest of the twelve tribes of Israel). He was the low man on the totem pole and he knew it. He was humble and he was timid. So much so that when God chose him and set him apart, he doubted it and did not see how this was possible. Then, after God worked only one victory through him and appointed him as king, he got cocky and power hungry. He thought he could do things his own way, and he failed miserably.
Has God ever asked something of you that you thought you were incapable of doing? Has He ever provided the strength and ability that you thought was not in you? Have you ever become comfortable in a position of leadership or authority and taken the credit within yourself?
Jesus came as our great example, and he profoundly changed the Christian concept of leadership and love by being a servant. He washed the disciples feet – the job of a servant – and he taught that in order to become great in the kingdom of God we must become servants of all.
“It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”
– Matt 20.26-28
We also learn that the responsibility and expectation of the Christian is to fight against the desires of the flesh and seek to be humble, living godly lifestyles. We see terrifying examples of New Testament Sauls like Demas.
Demas was a partner missionary of Paul. Not much is said about him, but we know that he was working alongside Luke (the author of Luke and Acts), and Paul, but at some point he proved himself to not be a believer by falling in love with the world and abandoning the work:
“…for Demas, having loved this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica…”
– 2 Tim 4.10
We learn by revelation of the Spirit that this can only happen because these people were never truly saved. They never had a heart transformation by which they fell in love with God and were made into a new creature:
“They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us.”
– 1 John 2.19
God is sovereign over every event. He is sovereign over appointing a man who would be self-righteous and a wicked leader, just as He was sovereign over appointing David – “a man after His own heart” as the next king. He had His own reasons for doing just that. God was also sovereign over utilizing Demas who was never a true believer in the ministry and then in abandoning the ministry. Saul and Demas are warnings for us. We know that all that God has given to Christ will be saved – not one will be lost (John 6.37). Nothing can separate us from the love of God, if we are children of God (Rom 8.35). But let us take warning of these examples of people who appeared to be of God and ultimately proved themselves to not be of God. Those who persevere to the end are those who will be saved (Matt 24.13), and that not by their persevering, but their perseverance to the end proves them to have been saved at the beginning.
Therefore, let us be intentional to die to ourselves and to remain humble. Let us follow the example of Jesus to be a servant and establish ourselves at the seat with least honor at the table. Let us remain in the Spirit and allow God to do mighty works through us without taking the credit ourselves. Let us always give glory to God and be ready and willing to serve God in whatever capacity He calls. And let us fight the temptation to glory in any position or role with which He would bless us, and let us be quick to surrender that role should He ask. Everything is a gift, and we should not boast as though it were our own strength.
“For who regards you as superior? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?”
– 1 Cor 4.7