After the Devastation of the ark, the Tabernacle, and the priesthood of Eli, Israel repents. God has His victory over Dagon, the god of the Philistines and now Israel follows her victory at the battle of Ebenezer (1 Samuel 4:1–10).
Samuel led a fairly steady life and spoke a steady message to God’s people. Sin is sin, stop it.
But Samuel grew old and since his sons were faithless Israel’s elders come asking for a king.
Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah and said to him, “Behold, you are old and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now appoint for us a king to judge us like all the nations.” (1 Samuel 8:4-5)
This was not bad in itself (Deuteronomy 17:14-20). The problem was with their motives which are outlined for us in 1 Samuel 8:7-8). They had rejected God.
They are fearful of Nahash and the Ammonites and they want someone to fight their Battles. They want to be like the nations. (1 Samuel 8:5). Essentially they want a local king of Divine origin. They want a divine representative. In other words, God incarnate.
God then tells Samuel what such a king, chosen by the people, will be like. He said, “These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you….”
…he will take your sons… to run before his chariots. …he will appoint for himself commanders, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war… He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards. He will take the tenth of your grain and of your vineyards. He will take your male servants and female servants and the best of your young men and your donkeys, and put them to his work. He will take the tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves. (1 Samuel 8:11-17)
Take, take, take, take… Six times the word is used in as many verses.
In other words, He would be a king a lot like themselves.
In time, a man named Saul is chosen to be King. He is handsome, honourable toward his parents, and humble. The Spirit of God is upon him and when given the option of taking vengeance, he doesn’t feel inclined to do it. He’s not that kind of guy.
In many ways, Saul reminds us of Gideon. He’s from a small house, chosen to lead God’s people and given a sign that God has called him. Gideon had his 300 men and Saul has his 330,000 men.
Both embark on night-time raids and both have great victories.
Both also show humility after their victory. Gideon refuses the accolades of the people (initially) and Saul refuses to be tempted to swing his axe at every disagreeable individual in Israel.
Also like Gideon, he sins, and his fall is one of the saddest in scripture.
Saul sins in three ways and these three sins are not unlike the sins we see in the opening chapters of Genesis.
First, Saul sins at the dinner table, the Table of the Lord. Like Adam, He lays hold of forbidden food. He does this by offering up the Ascension Offering in Samuel’s absence. Secondly, when busted, like Adam, he blames someone else.
Thirdly he begins, like Cain, to pursue the death of his kindred.
At the battle of Michmash (1 Samuel 13-14), Saul starves his army. Again, like Gideon, the Israelites are hiding in a cave for fear. But Jonathan, Saul’s son, is becoming more like Gideon while Saul is now becoming more like Gideon’s Son, Abimelech.
Saul panics and demands a fast which Jonathan doesn’t hear about. Why? Because Jonathan remembers Gideon. He remembers that the Lord is able to save by many or by few (1 Samuel 14:6).
Finally, like Gideon’s son Abimelech, who slaughtered all his family leaving only one to escape, so Saul would later go and kill all the priests of Nob who supported David – also leaving only one to escape.
Then, when Saul goes to fight against the Amelekites he does not carry out the Ban (complete destruction commanded by God) but saves flocks and herds and King Agag.
And so the sin of Saul is complete, and from it, he does not return.
The whole thing is awful and it should sadden us sad to watch this simple farmer’s son go down the way he does.
This sadness is right. Samuel responds to Saul’s fall from grace by tearing his robe and going into mourning (1 Samuel 16:1).
Saul starts like Gideon, but becomes like Gideon’s hideous son and asks his mates to finish him off to avoid further disgrace (Judges 9:54). He starts out a Hebrew king but becomes like the Philistine, like Goliath, a man of the spear (1 Samuel 19:10-12).
What are some of the things we can learn from the tragedy of Saul?
First, we should take to heart that concealing sin leads to concealing Christ. The Spirit that was so prominent and evident in Saul’s early life is absent in his later life. In concealing his sin he suppressed a knowledge of the truth, which is to say, he suppressed the knowledge of God. He quenched the Spirit and so the Spirit left him. A frightening thought.
Secondly, sin is sad. Not only is sin sinful, horrific, destructive, divisive, and rebellious, sin is also devastatingly sad. Something David came to understand, and perhaps even reflecting on the life of Saul during his own sinful moments (Psalm 51:7-8, 11-12).
Never forget, Jesus wept over Jerusalem.
Thirdly, rejecting God is rejecting God, no matter how we sugar coat it. And that rejection has consequences. Israel rejected King Jesus in the days of Saul, just as they rejected Jesus in His own day. And, it is perfectly just for God to hold us accountable for this rejection. It is perfectly just for God to hold us accountable for every secret and openly rebellious sin we commit in our own rejection of King Jesus.
If you walk away then it is perfectly right for God to let you go.
And the end result is always the same. Sadness.
Samuel mourned the downfall of Saul. Why? Because our downfalls are sad stories. They are the sad stories of sins power to destroy.
Saul was a promising young man. Handsome, tall, well-mannered, and well-liked. But his end was tragic and like all sin, a great grief; too great to bear. Which is why Christ came to bear it for us.