The book of Judges records Israel’s spiral away from God, showing that without a sovereign leader, humanity moves away from God, not toward him. Eventually, the Israelites ask for a king so they can be like their neighbors. Saul is the first king of Israel. He looks like a king (1 Samuel 10:23), he is gifted for his position (1 Samuel 10:9), but he doesn’t connect with his identity as God’s chosen, and fails to live up to his calling or walk in obedience to God’s commands. It ruins his life.
Initially, Saul was victorious in battle. He fought against the enemies of Israel, defeating them wherever he turned. One day Samuel came to Saul and told him it was time to settle the score with the Amalekites. (For the background story, read Exodus 17:8-16). Saul is commanded to completely destroy them. He mobilizes his army, but fails to follow through. He captures King Agag and “kept the best of the cattle, the fat calves, and the lambs–everything, in fact, that appealed to them.”
After the battle, Samuel looks for Saul. Upon finding him, Saul greets Samuel cheerfully saying, “I have carried out the Lord’s command!” (1 Samuel 15:13) But the sound of animals bleating and lowing comes to Samuel’s ears. “What is this noise?” Samuel asked. Saul’s explanation goes like this:
15“It’s true that the army spared the best of the sheep, goats, and cattle,” Saul admitted. “But they are going to sacrifice them to the Lord your God. We have destroyed everything else.” 16Then Samuel said to Saul, “Stop! Listen to what the Lord told me last night!”
“What did he tell you?” Saul asked. 17And Samuel told him, “Although you may think little of yourself, are you not the leader of the tribes of Israel? The Lord has anointed you king of Israel. 18And the Lord sent you on a mission and told you, ‘Go and completely destroy the sinners, the Amalekites, until they are all dead.’ 19Why haven’t you obeyed the Lord? Why did you rush for the plunder and do what was evil in the Lord’s sight?”1 Samuel 15:15-19
Saul did not connect with his identity as God’s chosen, appointed leader. Even in his explanation to Samuel, he said he was going to sacrifice to the Lord YOUR God, not to OUR Lord or to the Lord OUR God. He excuses his disobedience by blaming others (1 Samuel 15:24). He wants the honor of the position without the responsibility. (1 Samuel 15:30)
Honestly, I wonder how often that has been true in my own life. Do I understand what it means to be chosen and appointed as a child of God and a friend of Jesus? Do I live out of that identity? Or do I, like Saul, think little of myself? Do I want honor without the responsibility of obedience?
The remainder of Saul’s life was miserable because he failed to connect with his identity, live up to his calling or walk in obedience. I don’t want to make that same mistake. What about you?