The Pathway to Slow Decline, part 2

This continues a post from yesterday looking at the slow decline of Saul the Benjamite, the first king of Israel. As I recently read through Saul’s story again, I was struck by the pattern of Saul’s slow decline. Here are a few reflections on that for us today.

Tormented and Angry Saul
It is shortly after Saul’s disobedience that David appears on the scene. Samuel secretly anoints David as the next king at God’s request (16:13). Concurrently, God’s Spirit departs from Saul and he turns into a tormented and angry man. He is still king but he knows that he is on the way out. What is it that leads to Saul’s torment? Is it fear of what will come? Is it regret over his foolishness? Is it a sense of guilt before God? Regardless of where we point our finger, we know that Saul’s decline is leading him into terrible places.

Defensive Saul
Time rolls on and David rises to prominence as a result of his military conquests. As David’s star rises, Saul becomes jealous and defensive. He does all he can to keep control of David both behind the scenes and in plain sight. He tries to pin David to the wall with a spear twice (18:10-11). He cannot sleep for fear of David (18:12). He promises David his daughter in hopes that David will die fulfilling the tasks he outlines (18:24-25). Eventually, after so much opposition, David runs away and hides out in the hill country of Israel. Saul pursues him multiple times, but even in the midst of this hot pursuit David spares Saul’s life twice (24; 26).

Saul Grasping for Evil Straws
Saul can no longer hear from the Lord. No matter what attempts he makes to hear from God, God will not speak to him (28:1-3). It is no wonder that this is the case after all of Saul’s direct disobedience to God. A steady diet of wrongdoing will cut us off from hearing God’s voice. Finally, in a doomed attempt to save himself, Saul disobeys his own edicts (28:9) in order to consult a spirit medium (28:3-24). He asks the woman to call Samuel from the realm of the dead in order to hear from him. Interestingly enough, the message that Saul receives simply confirms what he already knew: God has taken the kingdom from him because of his disobedience. More than that, Saul hears that the next day he will face death in battle against the Philistines.

Eventual Death
And so, as you would expect, the very next day Saul loses his life in battle against the Philistines. He does not die at the hands of the Philistine, however, but takes his own life as the enemy closes in around him. This is an appropriate, though unfortunate, picture of Saul’s life: choices, fear, and failure closing in around him until it is all over. Saul’s slow decline is complete. Although he was selected by God as Israel’s first king, his life ends with ignominious death, disgrace before his people, and distance from God.

What of Us?
Watching Saul’s decline is a painful experience. In one way, it appears that Saul is doomed from the start. That being said, I think we read it that way because of the twenty-twenty hindsight displayed by the author of the story. In truth, Saul could have been an amazing king, but he chose a different way. What of us? Here are a few questions we should consider as we reflect on the slow decline of Saul:

  • What fears or trepidation do we have in obeying what God clearly speaks to us? Does it hinder us from fully following God? Are we “hiding among the baggage” like Saul?
  • Saul stands out for his partial obedience – or slight disobedience – to God’s call. If God is more pleased with total obedience than sacrifices, would we say our lives are characterized by total – or partial – obedience?
  • When he disobeyed God, Saul did not repent but actually became hardened in his anger and frustration with God. It affected his ability to hear God, his ability to relate well with others, and led him into further sin. What sin in our life do we need to fully turn from so that we can fully relate to God and others in a way honoring to Him?
  • How do we want to end our lives? Do we want to let our slow decline end in self-destruction like Saul, or would we rather have it another way? What we do today impacts the end of our days.

5 thoughts on “The Pathway to Slow Decline, part 2

  1. Hi Matt! I was struck by your post and it took me back to several time in my life where the Lord has used Saul as an example to explain the distancing of people I know from God. People who I know have had an impact on the lives of others for Christ. Some have impacted me. Satan’s seduction is so manipulative and subtle that letting even small things come between us and our relationship with God is fuel for the enemy. Thank you for the reminder of Saul and his gradual decline into self destruction. We miss you and hope you and Kelly are WELL!

    • Thanks for the response, Anita. We miss you and Tony, too! It is a very painful thing to watch people who have carried on strong with the Lord walk away in some way. Satan is very steady in his attacks and sly in his cunning. We must be aware and on our guard.

  2. Hi Matt. These posts caught my eye today, specifically because you’re talking about Saul. Right now at Blackhawk in Madison, they’re doing a series on Saul’s life. I can’t take it as a coincidence, God is trying to show me something now through Saul’s life. At times like this, when it’s obvious to see, there is something important to see and I look forward to see what it is as I look deeper into this part of the Bible and see what else comes out in the next few weeks.

    • Glad to see how what I’m writing connects with what you are learning at Blackhawk, Jason. What a great church that is with a powerful ministry. Good to hear from you again.

  3. Matt,

    Thanks for tracing Saul’s progression, some of his actions and emotions remind me of Jonah’s ‘flight’ from God. Through today’s reading in 2 Samuel 2 I have been reminded and challenged to think about David’s response to Saul, his king, who relentlessly pursued and tried to kill him. In his eulogy to Saul, David writes, “Your pride and joy, O Israel, lies dead on the hills! Oh, how the mighty heroes have fallen!” (v.19) A humbling reminder of how we are to treat leaders that God has put over us.

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