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.
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.
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.