Posts Tagged 'Saul'



God Chooses the King

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Life never just happens. It may seem like random events occurring randomly, but there is nothing random about life. The Bible tells us that God is intimately involved in the lives of His people.

The steps of good men are directed by the Lord. He delights in each step they take. If they fall, it isn’t fatal, for the Lord holds them with his hand. (Psalm 37:23, 24 TLB)

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. (Romans 8:14 TLB)

God’s ways of leading are as numerous as the number of people He leads. Sometimes His guidance is obvious, other times He speaks in a “still, small voice.” But lead His people God always does.

This is even true in our civic and spiritual leaders. We hold elections, of course, but the Bible decrees we get the leaders we deserve. That’s not to say our vote isn’t important, but God has a plan and He knows what, or who, is best for us. Sometimes it’s hard to understand why a certain person has been called by God to pastor a church or why another has been called to be a mechanic. For reasons and purposes known only to God, He puts the right people in the right place for the good of His people and the advancement of His plan on earth.

During Samuel’s time as Israel’s judge and prophet, the people clamored for a king. God Himself was to be Israel’s king, but He relented, gave them one, and the people chose Saul. Saul looked like he walked right out Central Casting. He looked like a king. His heart, though, was the heart of coward and a scoundrel. Saul was a disaster. Israel’s next king was chosen specifically by God Himself. David, apparently, didn’t look like a king at all. But David had one quality Saul never possessed: He met God’s spiritual standard.

Sadness leads to an opportunity

Samuel never saw Saul again, but he mourned constantly for him; and the Lord was sorry that he had ever made Saul king of Israel. (1 Samuel 15:35 TLB)

Saul was an unmitigated disaster as a king, but his sad state broke both the hearts of Samuel and the Lord. It no doubt sickened the Lord to see the damage one, rebellious man could inflict upon His people. Because of Saul’s stubborn refusal to do what he was told, Israel’s very future as a nation would be put in jeopardy. The unintended consequences of our disobedience to God can be equally as devastating. No wonder God and Samuel were so mournful.

Saul’s failure became an opportunity for God to act; for God to do something great for His people. He was fair. God gave the people a chance to choose their own king. Now He would choose one for them. God’s king would have a big job to do. He would not only have to lead a spiritually dull people, but he would have to clean up Saul’s mess.

Finally the Lord said to Samuel, “You have mourned long enough for Saul, for I have rejected him as king of Israel. Now take a vial of olive oil and go to Bethlehem and find a man named Jesse, for I have selected one of his sons to be the new king.”

But Samuel asked, “How can I do that? If Saul hears about it, he will kill me.”

“Take a heifer with you,” the Lord replied, “and say that you have come to make a sacrifice to the Lord. Then call Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you which of his sons to anoint.” (1 Samuel 16:1 – 3 TLB)

The Bible doesn’t tell us how long Samuel mourned for Saul; how long his bitter disappointment and depression lasted, but it had to come to an end. It ended with a new plan. This time, God Himself would choose Israel’s new king. The Lord didn’t intend to give Saul yet another chance to get it right. In fact, God had given Saul many chances, yet each time Saul acted in a rebellious manner. God was finished with Saul and it was time for Saul’s tenure on the throne to wind down. In chapter 16, we see God finding a way to slip His man into the royal house. God will brilliantly contrast David and Saul so that even the people will see the difference. The people needed to see how they failed in choosing a man based on something as slim as appearance, and Saul needed to see what God’s man really looked like.

It would be an awkward time, and Samuel was concerned for his life. Saul was, at best, highly unstable. He couldn’t be trusted. But Samuel had to trust God. His anointing of one of Jesse’s sons would take place in public, so the Lord concocted a stealth plan. B.B. Warfield observed,

Nothing, however small, however strange, occurs without God’s ordering, or without its particular fitness for it place in the working out of His purpose; and the end of all shall be the manifestation of His glory, and the accumulation of His praise.

God’s clever plan

Like it or not, Samuel was a sort of celebrity in his time, and his arrival in the little town caused quite a ruckus.

So Samuel did as the Lord had told him to. When he arrived at Bethlehem, the elders of the city came trembling to meet him.

“What is wrong?” they asked. “Why have you come?”

But he replied, “All is well. I have come to sacrifice to the Lord. Purify yourselves and come with me to the sacrifice.”

And he performed the purification rite on Jesse and his sons, and invited them too. (1 Samuel 16:4, 5 TLB)

Jesse and his family lived in Bethlehem. Jesse, as it turned out, was the grandson of Boaz and Ruth, the Moabitess. In an ironic twist, the mother of Boaz was also not an Israelite. She was a prostitute from Jericho named Rahab, a point not missed by Matthew, who mentions it in his genealogy of Jesus.

Samuel knew that the next king would be one of Jesse’s boys, and he was pretty sure he knew which one it would be. He was wrong. As spiritual as he was, he was still not living by faith. He was undoubtedly obedient to God, but slightly carnal in his thinking. God set him straight, though.

But the Lord said to Samuel, “Don’t judge by a man’s face or height, for this is not the one. I don’t make decisions the way you do! Men judge by outward appearance, but I look at a man’s thoughts and intentions.” (1 Samuel 16:7 TLB)

This is a classic verse that explains the inner workings of God’s reasoning mind. In this chapter we are given some powerful spiritual principles. In the previous chapter, we were given another classic verse:

“Has the Lord as much pleasure in your burnt offerings and sacrifices as in your obedience? Obedience is far better than sacrifice. He is much more interested in your listening to him than in your offering the fat of rams to him.” (1 Samuel 15:22 TLB)

Our love for Jesus Christ is measurable. We demonstrate our love for Him by being obedient to Him. There are lots of people, even Christians, who don’t understand this simple, yet profound principle. Telling Jesus that you love Him doesn’t count for a lot. You can say anything, but that proves nothing. What Jesus wants is precisely what Samuel told Saul. It not what we say about Jesus, it’s what we do. We manifest our love for Him by being obedient. The Christian life is reality, nothing else.

We learn something about God, too. He looks at us from the inside. He sees us as we really are, not as we appear to be. Character is vitally important to God. Samuel thought he knew whom God would choose, but Samuel couldn’t see inside Eliab, David’s older brother. Perhaps Eliab looked kingly, but he obviously didn’t have the heart for the job. It’s not that Eliab was a bad person, he just wasn’t God’s person.

God sees the heart. We human beings aren’t terribly good at doing that. Even Samuel, as close to God as he was, made the same mistake the people Israel did.

John Newton’s words are worth remembering:

God often takes a course for accomplishing His purposes directly contrary to what our narrow views would prescribe.

God makes His choice – the right choice

So Jesse sent for him. He was a fine looking boy, ruddy-faced, and with pleasant eyes. And the Lord said, “This is the one; anoint him.” (1 Samuel 16:12 TLB)

Given the fact that God looks at the heart and isn’t concerned with appearance, this is a very curious verse. After what we were told, it seems as though God would choose a homely, unattractive man to be king. But we are told David was a “fine looking boy.” God doesn’t despise beauty. He can use anybody, and obviously there was a quality or qualities in David that nobody else saw, save the Lord. David may have been handsome, but that is not why God chose him. David is an interesting character. Of course we know that he failed God a number of times. Yet David possessed a faith that never failed.

So as David stood there among his brothers, Samuel took the olive oil he had brought and poured it upon David’s head; and the Spirit of Jehovah came upon him and gave him great power from that day onward. Then Samuel returned to Ramah. (1 Samuel 16:13 TLB)

At the moment God’s Spirit came upon David, He left Saul. It seems as though David’s brothers were unaware of what this anointing ceremony was all about. Why would they even suspect that their younger brother had just been anointed king? He’s not the type they would have chosen.

But when David’s oldest brother, Eliab, heard David talking like that, he was angry. “What are you doing around here, anyway?” he demanded. “What about the sheep you’re supposed to be taking care of? I know what a cocky brat you are; you just want to see the battle!” (1 Samuel 17:28 TLB)

God more than qualified David for the job to which he had been called.

Saul’s decline

Even though David had been anointed king, Saul was still on the throne. It wasn’t yet time for David to succeed him. Saul’s days were numbered, and he was in decline.

David continued to succeed in everything he undertook, for the Lord was with him. When King Saul saw this, he became even more afraid of him; but all Israel and Judah loved him, for he was as one of them. (1 Samuel 18:14 – 16 TLB)

As was noted earlier, it was important in God’s scheme of things for the people to see a clear difference between Saul and David; between their choice and His, between a man overcome by his passions and one full of the Spirit of God. After the Lord’s presence left Saul, his decline seemed to speed up. Saul was now completely forsaken of God, a choice Saul made and God honored. David was brought in the palace to play his harp. The people don’t know it yet, but they were listening to their new king.

The Fruit of Disobedience

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Obedience to the will of God is an absolutely essential component of the Christian faith. Yet there is always a tension between obedience – how we live and what we do – and grace. In Ephesians, Paul wrote this:

Because of his kindness, you have been saved through trusting Christ. And even trusting is not of yourselves; it too is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good we have done, so none of us can take any credit for it. (Ephesians 2:8, 9 TLB)

Our salvation isn’t dependent on how closely we align ourselves to God’s will, yet as Christians God expects us to do just that. We can look the basics of salvation in the way God dealt with Israel. Very shortly after He delivered the Israelites from Egypt, God gave them His Ten Commandments, which began like this:

“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. “You shall have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:2, 3 NIV)

Their deliverance – their salvation – came first, followed almost immediately by a call for absolute obedience and faithfulness. In terms of their deliverance, God did all the work. But after that, the Lord expected His people to live their lives according to His terms.

“Obedience” is a characteristic that is the hallmark of true believers and disciples of Jesus Christ. Think of how many times the great apostle Paul referred to himself as a “servant” of Christ. What does a servant do if not obey his master? Christians are also referred to as “servants” who serve the Lord Jesus Christ.

Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God… (Romans 1:1 NIV)

But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. (Romans 6:22 NIV)

It is the Lord Christ you are serving. (Colossians 3:24b NIV)

We can learn a lot about obedience by looking at someone who wasn’t very obedient, King Saul.

1 Samuel 13:1 – 14

When the men of Israel saw the vast mass of enemy troops, they lost their nerve entirely and tried to hide in caves, thickets, coverts, among the rocks, and even in tombs and cisterns. Some of them crossed the Jordan River and escaped to the land of Gad and Gilead. Meanwhile, Saul stayed at Gilgal, and those who were with him trembled with fear at what awaited them. (1 Samuel 13:6, 7 TLB)

We aren’t told how old Saul was at this point in his life, but we can make an educated guess. His son, Jonathan, was by now a great warrior in his own right, so with a grown son, Saul was likely in his forties.

Jonathan’s attack on the Philistine garrison at Geba triggered the events that led to the men of Israel acting like a bunch of scared school girls. Saul, the man who looked like a king, didn’t really act like one. He cooled his heels at Gilgal, the very place he had been proclaimed king. Samuel hadn’t forgotten about him.

Samuel had told Saul earlier to wait seven days for his arrival… (1 Samuel 13:8a TLB)

Saul had to do one thing: wait a week at Gilgal. That’s all. One week. We aren’t given the reason why; perhaps he was. From the story, we know he had to wait for Samuel to arrive to offer some sacrifices for some reason. However, things had deteriorated quickly, and the king decided to take matters into his own hands. It is here that the true character and temperament of Saul begins to surface. Saul was an impatient man and he was a presumptuous man. As far he was concerned, he had three valid reasons for disregarding his instructions: the people were leaving, the Philistines were coming, and Samuel was nowhere in sight. Saul was behaving like a lot of Christians behave today; he was rationalizing his disobedience. Christians are a funny bunch. They instinctively know God’s will in a given situation, yet believe they are the sole exception to it. As Saul did, they rationalize and justify their disobedience, as if God’s rules applies to everybody else, but this time, not to them. It’s a foolish way to think and has the potential of being a dangerous way to live.

Here was the king’s big mistake:

…he decided to sacrifice the burnt offering and the peace offerings himself. (1 Samuel 13:9 TLB)

Eventually, Samuel showed up and he was not happy. Saul’s response to the prophet also shows us what this first king’s character was really like. To put it in way modern man would understand, the buck never stopped at Saul.

Samuel said, “What is this you have done?”

“Well,” Saul replied, “when I saw that my men were scattering from me, and that you hadn’t arrived by the time you said you would, and that the Philistines were at Michmash, ready for battle, I said, ‘The Philistines are ready to march against us and I haven’t even asked for the Lord’s help!’ So I reluctantly offered the burnt offering without waiting for you to arrive.” (1 Samuel 13:11, 12 TLB)

Saul did wrong and he knew it. But instead of owning up to his disobedience, he deflected any blame onto: the people scattering; Saul arriving late; the Philistines; and even God! So it was everybody’s fault that he had to offer that darn sacrifice; everybody’s but his.

Samuel had to break some very bad news to Saul. The consequences for his arrogant presumption would be dire and far reaching.

“You fool!” Samuel exclaimed. “You have disobeyed the commandment of the Lord your God. He was planning to make you and your descendants kings of Israel forever, but now your dynasty must end; for the Lord wants a man who will obey him. And he has discovered the man he wants and has already appointed him as king over his people; for you have not obeyed the Lord’s commandment.” (1 Samuel 13:13, 14 TLB)

In the very first test of his kingship, Saul failed miserably. However urgent the circumstances may have been they were no justification for disobedience. It’s interesting that, at least in the beginning, Saul’s kingship would become a dynasty had be been obedient to God’s commands. It was never God’s will for Israel to have a king, but God allowed them to have one with one big stipulation: the ruler must obey Him. In other words, the king would himself be subject to Heaven’s King.

This is the kind leader our nation is in dire need of today; one who is governed by the Lord. All our problems as a nation stem from the fact that we are being led by a political class that has never been further from God. Naturally, the world will not see such a leader until our Lord returns, which is God’s ultimate will for our planet.

1 Samuel 15:1 – 11

Even though Saul was informed that he would have no dynasty and that his days as king were numbered, he was still king, and would be for while to come. He had his hands full and was most definitely “in over his head.” He battled the Moabites to the southeast, the Ammonites to the east, the Edomites to the south and east, the kings of Zobah to the north, and the Philistines to the west. But it was his Amalekite campaign that caused him the most grief. To keep his army strong, Saul instituted conscription, which Samuel had predicted.

If you insist on having a king, he will conscript your sons and make them run before his chariots… (1 Samuel 8:11 TLB)

God’s urgent command to Saul regarding the Amalekites couldn’t have been more clear. Not even Saul could misunderstand what God was requiring of him!

Here is his commandment to you: ‘I have decided to settle accounts with the nation of Amalek for refusing to allow my people to cross their territory when Israel came from Egypt. Now go and completely destroy the entire Amalek nation—men, women, babies, little children, oxen, sheep, camels, and donkeys. (1 Samuel 15:2, 3 TLB)

If this seems a little extreme to you, you might have forgotten what the Amalekites did to Moses and Israel generations earlier.

Remember what the Amalekites did to you along the way when you came out of Egypt. When you were weary and worn out, they met you on your journey and attacked all who were lagging behind; they had no fear of God. When the Lord your God gives you rest from all the enemies around you in the land he is giving you to possess as an inheritance, you shall blot out the name of Amalek from under heaven. Do not forget! (Deuteronomy 25:17 – 19 NIV)

Had the Amalekites lived, they would have been just as bad, if not worse, than the Philistines. Saul actually spared some of the Amalekites. In the book of Esther we meet one of them, a nasty gentleman named Haman, who attempted to exterminate the entire Hebrew race. Had it not been for God’s timely and imaginative intervention, Haman would have succeeded. When human history is viewed from God’s perspective, God’s actions and commands make sense.

The Amalekites were an evil, war-like people. Their fate was sealed. The Israelites would be God’s hand of judgment upon them. In this world or the next, God’s judgment are righteous and true. R.C. Sproul observed:

God is not obligated to save anybody, to make any special act of grace, to draw anyone to Himself. He cold leave the whole world to perish, and such would be a righteous judgment.

The root of disobedience ran deep in King Saul.

Then Saul butchered the Amalekites from Havilah all the way to Shur, east of Egypt. He captured Agag, the king of the Amalekites, but killed everyone else. However, Saul and his men kept the best of the sheep and oxen and the fattest of the lambs—everything, in fact, that appealed to them. They destroyed only what was worthless or of poor quality. (1 Samuel 15:7 – 9 TLB)

Apparently, Saul had learned nothing. Habits are hard to break, especially sinful ones. Saul and his men rebelled against the expressed will of God. They spared Agag, perhaps for the purpose of killing him later. But they also kept a lot of good Amalekite stuff. It would appear that for Saul, the only reason for attacking the Amalekites was to get his hands on their “stuff.”

Verses 10 and 11 are just pathetic.

Then the Lord said to Samuel, “I am sorry that I ever made Saul king, for he has again refused to obey me.” Samuel was so deeply moved when he heard what God was saying, that he cried to the Lord all night.

Some people wonder about God “being sorry” that He made Saul Israel’s king. Such a statement seems to go against what we know about God’s character. John Goldingay offers an interesting analysis:

To speak of God changing his mind about an act or regretting it suggests the reality of his interacting with people in the world…His reactions to the deeds of others reflect a coherent pattern rather than randomness. Further, whereas human beings make their decisions unaware of all their consequences, so that those consequences catch them out, God can foresee not only the consequences of his own actions but also the nature of the responses they will meet with and the nature of other human acts, so that he can in turn formulate his response to these in advance.

Goldingay takes a roundabout way to get to the point that nothing catches God off-guard, so He never needs to change His mind about anything. When God says that He “regrets” something, it’s a way saying the ways of man sicken Him; they don’t surprise Him, but they create a feeling akin to regret.

1 Samuel 15:12 – 29

Samuel replied, “Has the Lord as much pleasure in your burnt offerings and sacrifices as in your obedience? Obedience is far better than sacrifice. He is much more interested in your listening to him than in your offering the fat of rams to him. For rebellion is as bad as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as bad as worshiping idols. And now because you have rejected the word of Jehovah, he has rejected you from being king.” (1 Kings 15:22, 23 TLB)

When confronted with what he did, Saul once again passed the buck, but Samuel would have none of it. These two verses are among the most well-known passages on the importance of obedience and moral conduct. God rejected Saul as king because he is habitually rebellious and disobedient. Verse 22 has an interesting parallel in Egyptian writings: “More acceptable is the character of one upright of heart than the ox of the evildoer.”

But more is at play here than just Saul’s low character. The point of these two verses is this: any sacrifice made to God must be offered on HIS terms, not ours. Saul postponement of the complete destruction of the Amalekites, regardless of why he did it, was an obvious violation of God’s will.

There is a great lesson here for us. Many Christians today are doing just what Saul did. They do their best to serve and worship God on their terms; when they want to and how they want to. Rather than bend their wills to God’s, they try to bend His to theirs. God doesn’t work like that. If the Lord rejected Saul because of his continual disobedience, why do we think we’ll get away with it?

Getting Who We Deserve

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Israel’s stubborn desire

Perhaps the greatest commentary ever written about the post-judges period of Israel’s history is a single verse of Scripture:

So in my anger I gave you a king, and in my wrath I took him away. (Hosea 13:11 NIV)

Samuel was a great man, of that there is no debate. You’ll recall that his birth was an answer to his mother’s prayer, much like the birth of John the Baptist. He was raised in and around the Temple by the priest, Eli. He was called by God – personally – to the prophetic ministry and to the career of a judge, a leader of Israel.

In his old age, Samuel retired and appointed his sons as judges in his place. Joel and Abijah, his oldest sons, held court in Beersheba; but they were not like their father, for they were greedy for money. They accepted bribes and were very corrupt in the administration of justice. (1 Samuel 8:1 – 2 TLB)

He may have been a man of God, a great prophet of God, and an anointed leader of men, but his child-rearing skills were about as bad as Eli’s were. He raised two sons who couldn’t have been more different from himself. He learned nothing from Eli’s mistakes. Samuel’s big mistake was appointing his sons as judges. And that mistake led to Israel’s eventual downfall because of this unintended consequence:

“Give us a king like all the other nations have,” they pleaded. (1 Samuel 8:5b NIV)

Why did God’s people want a king? God was supposed to be their king, working through His surrogates, the judges. The problem was, Israel had many scurrilous judges over the years and the people became disenchanted with God’s way when they looked around at all the nations that, in their view, had it made because they had a strong, central leader: a king.

Samuel made a mistake in how he raised his sons and he made a bigger mistake in appointing them as judges. The people now had the perfect excuse to ask for a king, something God never intended for them to have. Samuel knew once they had a king, it would be downhill all the way.

“If you insist on having a king, he will conscript your sons and make them run before his chariots; some will be made to lead his troops into battle, while others will be slave laborers; they will be forced to plow in the royal fields and harvest his crops without pay, and make his weapons and chariot equipment. He will take your daughters from you and force them to cook and bake and make perfumes for him. He will take away the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his friends. He will take a tenth of your harvest and distribute it to his favorites. He will demand your slaves and the finest of your youth and will use your animals for his personal gain. He will demand a tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves. You will shed bitter tears because of this king you are demanding, but the Lord will not help you.” (1 Samuel 8:11 – 18 TLB)

Chapter 8 might well be one of the saddest chapters in the Bible because it represents the absolute end of the theocracy that was Israel. The people of God wanted to be like everybody else. The problem was, everybody else was godless.

But they wanted a king, and God would give them one.

… the Lord replied again, “Then do as they say and give them a king.” So Samuel agreed and sent the men home again. (1 Samuel 8:22 TLB)

Israel’s first checkered king

From 1 Samuel 9, we leave the history of Samuel to begin the history of Saul, Israel’s first king. Saul is one of the strangest characters in Scripture. He’s strange for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the fact that God specifically chose him to Israel’s first king and he would quickly become a disaster and a national embarrassment.

Kish was a rich, influential man from the tribe of Benjamin. He was the son of Abiel, grandson of Zeror, great-grandson of Becorath, and great-great-grandson of Aphiah. His son Saul was the most handsome man in Israel. And he was head and shoulders taller than anyone else in the land! (2 Samuel 9:1, 2 TLB)

This is a brief history of Saul’s genealogy. He came from the tribe of Benjamin. Benjamin was one the twelve sons of Jacob. His mother died when he was born and just before she died, she named this new-born child Benoni, which means “son of my sorrow.” Why did she name him that? She named him “son of my sorrow” because, in essence, his birth meant her death. Jacob, though, quickly changed Benoni (“son of my sorrow”) to Benjamin, which means, “son of my right hand.” He was Jacob’s favorite son and he had it made; even his brothers protected him. Eventually, though, Benjamin the tribe was decimated because of a horrible sin. From the ruins of this tribe came Saul.

When we first meet Saul, we are struck with his physical attributes. The man looked like a king. If you were to go looking for a king, you’d chose somebody who looks like Saul: tall, well-built and handsome. But in reality, Saul may have looked like a king but he didn’t have the character or the heart of a king. But the people who chose Saul chose him based on what they could see with their eyes. Yet in behind the people’s ignorance and arrogance, God was working out His plan.

When Samuel saw Saul, the Lord said, “That’s the man I told you about! He will rule my people.” (1 Samuel 9:17 TLB)

God gave the people exactly what they wanted; a king like everybody else had. They saw Saul and Saul fit the bill.

Saul becomes king

The process of making Saul king took three steps. First, there was a private ceremony, which is recounted in the early verses of chapter 10.

Then Samuel took a flask of olive oil and poured it over Saul’s head, and kissed him on the cheek and said, “I am doing this because the Lord has appointed you to be the king of his people, Israel!” (1 Samuel 10:1 TLB)

The second step involved the public choice.

Samuel now called a convocation of all Israel at Mizpah. (1 Samuel 10:17 TLB)

And finally the sacred lot selected Saul, the son of Kish. But when they looked for him, he had disappeared!

So they asked the Lord, “Where is he? Is he here among us?”

And the Lord replied, “He is hiding in the baggage.”

So they found him and brought him out, and he stood head and shoulders above anyone else.

Then Samuel said to all the people, “This is the man the Lord has chosen as your king. There isn’t his equal in all of Israel!” (1Samuel 10:21 – 24 TLB)

And at last, the final coronation would take place:

Then Samuel said to the people, “Come, let us all go to Gilgal and reconfirm Saul as our king.”

So they went to Gilgal and in a solemn ceremony before the Lord they crowned him king. Then they offered peace offerings to the Lord, and Saul and all Israel were very happy. (1 Samuel 11:14 – 15 TLB)

History from the lens of prophecy

I began this study of Saul with a verse from the minor prophetic book called Hosea. In Hosea 13, the prophet is preaching against Israel’s unfaithfulness but using its history. Hosea often referred to the nation of Israel as “Ephraim,” and in verse 1 he makes a sad statement.

When Ephraim spoke, people trembled; he was exalted in Israel. But he became guilty of Baal worship and died. (Hosea 13:1 NIV)

That’s the history of Israel almost from their inception. When Israel served God, God exalted it, but when Israel began to chase after and worship Baal – false gods – Israel died. Their idol worship began very early in their history, so their death was a lingering one; it took generations for their spiritual death to actually kill the nation in reality.

Just how bad had things become is Israel? The people piled sin upon sin upon awful sin:

Now they sin more and more; they make idols for themselves from their silver, cleverly fashioned images, all of them the work of craftsmen. It is said of these people, “They offer human sacrifices! They kiss calf-idols!” (Hosea 13:2 NIV)

Back in Samuel’s day, things hadn’t gotten nearly that bad. But the root of Israel’s idolatry can be traced back its desire for a king. God never intended for Israel to be ruled a human king. He alone was to be their king. Saul became their first king, but his was a disastrous reign. David came along and was an imperfect man of God. His son Solomon followed, and while he was a wise man and a good king, the spiritual decline of the nation sped up.

Thus Solomon did what was clearly wrong and refused to follow the Lord as his father David did. He even built a temple on the Mount of Olives, across the valley from Jerusalem, for Chemosh, the depraved god of Moab, and another for Molech, the unutterably vile god of the Ammonites. Solomon built temples for these foreign wives to use for burning incense and sacrificing to their gods. (1 Kings 11:6 – 8 TLB)

Rarely does a nation rise above the moral, ethical, and spiritual level of its leaders. Still, there was no one to blame for their sin but themselves:

You are destroyed, Israel, because you are against me, against your helper. (Hosea 13:9 NIV)

This verse can be translated a couple of different ways, but no matter which version you prefer, it’s a pathetic one.

It destroys you, O Israel, that you are against me, against your helper.

If I destroy you, O Israel, who will be your helper.

Hosea’s thought is that Israel would suffer destruction because it lived in continual opposition to God’s will. Nobody, not even a king, could help them. And that brings us to the Lord’s stunning declaration:

So in my anger I gave you a king, and in my wrath I took him away. (Hosea 13:11 NIV)

Israel demanded a king, and the Lord gave them what they wanted. It all started with Saul. This verse is chock-full of theological significance for us today. God allowed – allowed – each and every king, good or evil, to rule over His people. This fact illuminates the old saying,

We get the government we deserve.

When we go to vote every so many years, most of us think that our vote will help determine who will be our next president, for example. However, from the Biblical perspective, that’s not entirely correct. In addition to what Hosea said, Proverbs tells us this:

In the Lord’s hand the king’s heart is a stream of water that he channels toward all who please him. (Proverbs 21:1 NIV)

Or, as we might say in a less poetic way, whether the king or president is good or evil, his heart is in God’s hands. Paul in the New Testament echoes what was taught throughout the Old:

Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. (Romans 13:1 NIV)

When you accept the truth of what the Scriptures teach on this issue, you’ll realize two things.  First, regardless of the outcome of an election, the Christian has an obligation to obedient to God, first and foremost, and then to the elected authorities.  Romans 13:1 makes this painfully clear.  But, there is a caveat –  a qualifier.  Note carefully what Paul wrote a couple of verses earlier, in chapter 12:

Be at peace with everyone, just as much as possible.  (Romans 12:18  TLB)

There may be times when, as a Christian, you can’t be at peace with your government.  Then you must “obey God, rather than man” and face the consequences, if there are any.

Second, our sovereign God is in control, and in spite of all the millions of dollars spent on campaigning, we get the leader(s) God wants us to have; the leader(s) we deserve.

The people of Old Testament Israel went to Samuel demanding he give them a king like all the other nations had. When Samuel took their request to God,  he was rightfully upset, but God told him the people weren’t rejecting him, Samuel; they were rejecting Him.

So God honored their request and gave them Saul as king. Saul looked the part physically, but he lacked moral clarity. His first loyalty wasn’t to God. Rather he was constantly trying to please the people instead. Eventually, he became so spiritually blinded by his own inner demons and ambition that the people truly got exactly what every other nation had – a king.

Israel certainly got the very leader they deserved.

Today, our country is a morally, ethically, and spiritually confused one. On the one hand, some of the largest churches and seemingly influential churches in the world are here. The Christian sub-culture in America is billion dollar a year business. Americans are interested in spirituality and in the things of God. Our political leaders often quote Scripture, host prayer breakfasts, and invoke God’s blessings on the country.

Yet on the other hand, many of our largest churches and “Christian” ministries are built on greed and pop-psychology, not on Scripture. Our governments routinely break “the law of the land” while imposing illogical and unconstitutional laws and regulations on its citizens, all the while exempting themselves from those laws and regulations. Our families think nothing of handing over their children to government agents at younger and younger ages to be indoctrinated in politically-correct thinking, government-approved thinking.

As a society, we reward sloth and laziness.

As a society we have murdered over 50 million American citizens since 1973.  Abortion is as commonplace in America as today as getting a tooth pulled.

Islamic radicals have declared war on the West, yet many Americans have bought the lie our former president told us that we’re all worshipping the same God. Ironically enough, our current president, who has a Muslim-sounding name, famously declared that America “is not a Christian nation” but is “one of the largest Muslim countries in the world.”  Huh?

About 86% of Americans claim to be Christian, yet many of our churches are empty and those that are full have virtually no influence in the public square.  Abortion is out of control. Over half of all Christian marriages end in divorce. Christians are easily led astray because they don’t know what they believe.  Sadly, most of those 86% of Americans can’t even read well enough to understand the NIV, a translation of the Bible eighth graders should be able to understand.

And now we have the leader we deserve.

The Imperative of Integrity

Blog-G650_ImagefromGulfstrema

The preferred way to fly for some preachers.

 

Since the church of Jesus Christ is supposed to be full of Christians, you’d think “integrity” would be commonplace. You’d think that, but you’d be wrong. In recent years, the church has had to deal with one scandal after another, each involving a distinct lack of integrity. Sometimes a church leader was caught in some sexual scandal. For others it was greed. And some Christian ministries do just dumb things. Take the case of Creflo Dollar, an unfortunately named Christian minister, head of World Changers Church International, who recently begged his congregation for enough money to purchase a new Gulfstream G650 airplane so he and his wife could travel in style, preaching the Gospel.

Dollar’s people wrote: “We believe it is time to replace this aircraft so that our Pastors and staff can continue to safely and swiftly share the Good News of the Gospel worldwide. Therefore, we are asking members, partners, and supporters of this ministry to assist us in acquiring a Gulfstream G650 airplane so that Pastors Creflo and Taffi and World Changers Church International can continue to blanket the globe with the Gospel of grace.” (http://www.examiner.com/article/creflo-dollar-s-plane-televangelist-creflo-dollar-wants-you-to-buy-him-a-plane)

While Rev Dollar didn’t fall completely from grace with this stunt, he has damaged his reputation, and worse, he has brought the integrity of the whole church into question. Church leaders would do well to read, memorize, and especially practice the words of Paul in 1 Timothy 4:12 –

Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity. (NIV)

Apparently, this is very difficult for the modern minister to do. But it wasn’t something Samuel had to think twice about. Samuel was a man of integrity his whole life. He maintained his powerful witness for God, in both word and deed, until the day he died. There was no falling from grace for Samuel.

An example of integrity

It wasn’t long after Saul was anointed Israel’s first king that his leadership skills would be tested.

At this time Nahash led the army of the Ammonites against the Israeli city of Jabesh-gilead. But the citizens of Jabesh asked for peace. “Leave us alone and we will be your servants,” they pleaded.

“All right,” Nahash said, “but only on one condition: I will gouge out the right eye of every one of you as a disgrace upon all Israel!” (1 Samuel 11:1, 2 TLB)

According to the Septuagint, this happened barely a month after Saul’s public selection at Mizpah. Talk about a “baptism by fire!” It’s telling that the defenseless citizens of Jabesh would be willing to capitulate under any reasonable terms. But Nahash refused and made them an offer that would bring disgrace upon all Israel.

Saul was plowing in the field, and when he returned to town he asked, “What’s the matter? Why is everyone crying?” (1 Samuel 11:5 TLB)

You might be wondering why King Saul was plowing a field. He wasn’t king just yet. He was almost king, but as of right now, he was just a man chosen to be king. The people of Jabesh needed help – they needed a miraculous deliverance, and when Saul learned about their situation, this happened:

Then the Spirit of God came strongly upon Saul and he became very angry. (1 Samuel 11:6 TLB)

Hold on a second! Wasn’t Saul crazy? Wasn’t he a man who went against God’s will? Those things are true of Saul later on. For now, though, he’s like a blank slate. The way God’s action is describe here (God came upon Saul) is the way He commonly worked through men of the Old Testament era. God’s Spirit would “come upon” a man and give him supernatural insight, wisdom, and even power, enabling him to act on behalf of the people of God.

The anger Saul experienced is best described as a “holy anger.” It’s really God’s reaction to injustice and evil and is a perfect counterpart to God’s love and His holiness.  Notice what Saul exclaimed; what got the people’s attention and support:

“This is what will happen to the oxen of anyone who refuses to follow Saul and Samuel to battle!” (1Samel 11:7 TLB)

Saul made sure to link his name to that of Samuel. He wasn’t just being a name dropper here. Saul may have been on the verge of becoming a crazed nut, but he was savvy enough to know that Samuel, not he, held the esteem of the people.

Ultimately, Saul prevailed over Nahash and his Ammorites, prompting Samuel to say:

“Come, let us all go to Gilgal and reconfirm Saul as our king.” (1 Samuel 11:14 TLB)

Saul certainly started off on the right foot, to be sure. He had been anointed king, but now, after this great victory, Saul would become king over Israel in fact.

So they went to Gilgal and in a solemn ceremony before the Lord they crowned him king. Then they offered peace offerings to the Lord, and Saul and all Israel were very happy. (1 Samuel 11:15 TLB)

Of course the people were happy. They finally got what they wanted for so long: a king just like everybody else had.  Chapter 12 begins with Samuel’s farewell speech before the people of Israel. In it, he led them to a recognition of his integrity.

“No,” they replied, “you have never defrauded or oppressed us in any way and you have never taken even one single bribe.”

“The Lord and his anointed king are my witnesses,” Samuel declared, “that you can never accuse me of robbing you.” (1 Samuel 12:4, 5 TLB)

It was important to Samuel that his people acknowledge his sterling character. It wouldn’t be long before the people’s excitement about having a king would dissipate and turn into regret and Samuel needed the people to know that it wasn’t his fault. In spite of everything, Samuel maintained his integrity, his whole life.

What’s interesting about what Samuel said was that he did essentially the same thing Saul did. Saul bolstered his “street cred” with the people by linking himself to Saul, and here Saul is linking himself to God. Samuel’s integrity is based, not on how he was raised or on the education he received or where he lived, but on the integrity of God Himself. Samuel’s life of integrity was irrevocably linking to that of God.

From integrity to faithfulness

Because of Samuel’s integrity, he could say this to the people:

All right, here is the king you have chosen. Look him over. You have asked for him, and the Lord has answered your request. (1 Samuel 12:13 TLB)

Samuel makes it as clear as he could that Saul was the people’s choice. God allowed them to choose. There are many people who believe that the will of the majority is like the voice of God. In fact, the Bible teaches the opposite. Most of the time it is the minority that is closer to discerning the will of God. The people chose Saul, but it was God who chose David. Who made the wiser choice?

From his integrity, Saul turns to the people’s faithfulness. Even though they were out of His will, God still required faithfulness on the part of His wavering people.

Now if you will fear and worship the Lord, and listen to his commandments and not rebel against the Lord, and if both you and your king follow the Lord your God, then all will be well. (1 Samuel 12:14 TLB)

A key phrase in this verse is “if you and your king.” Without pressing the point too far, there is a lesson here for the modern believer. The majority of Israel wanted a king, and they wanted Saul. He was not elected, but God gave the people the king they wanted. We don’t have a king today, we have an elected president. We have had some presidents who thought there were kings and acted like one, but we vote for our head of state and, if you believe the Bible, we get the elected official(s) we deserve. Just as Israel got. That’s why God declares that He will bless the people if THEY and their KING follow God’s will. The king is seen by God as an extension of the people. Our political leaders are extensions of us. That’s why the national blessings or curses of God are dependent on both the faithfulness of the people and their leader(s). That doesn’t mean we should only elect “Christians” to lead us, but we should elect leaders who at the very least hold a Bible-centered view of the world. It would be nice if that view was also Christ-centered, but we’re holding out for the Millennium for that to happen!

So God expects faithfulness from His people, and He expects His people’s first loyalty to be to Him, not to their king. In many respects, today the government is trying its best to take God’s place in the hearts of its citizens. Need health care? Don’t pray to God for a miracle, the government will provide it. Have other needs, who needs God to supply them! Your benevolent, all knowing and all-seeing government has you covered. Don’t have a father for your child? What a coincidence! The government is in the child-raising business now.  This is a dangerous direction our country has taken.

John MacArthur has written:

Our need is not to prove God’s faithfulness but to demonstrate our own, by trusting Him both to determine and to supply our needs according to His will.

You have to give the people of Israel some credit. After Samuel’s preaching, the Lord gave some signs and the people got the message:

“Pray for us lest we die!” they cried out to Samuel. “For now we have added to all our other sins by asking for a king.” (1 Samuel 12:19 TLB)

It’s worth looking at how the NIV translates verse 19 because it gives us a clue to how the people viewed themselves in relation to their God:

The people all said to Samuel, “Pray to the Lord your God for your servants so that we will not die, for we have added to all our other sins the evil of asking for a king.” (NIV)

They said to Samuel, “pray to the Lord YOUR God,” not “our God.” The people seemed to know the extent of their apostasy even at this relatively early period of their history. But God offers a stunning statement to reassure them of His continued love for them in spite of their periods of faithlessness:

Don’t be frightened,” Samuel reassured them. “You have certainly done wrong, but make sure now that you worship the Lord with true enthusiasm, and that you don’t turn your back on him in any way. Other gods can’t help you. The Lord will not abandon his chosen people, for that would dishonor his great name. He made you a special nation for himself—just because he wanted to!” (1 Samuel 11:20 – 22 TLB)

Because of His integrity, God would not forsake or abandon His people. According to these verses, God loved and continues to love Israel because to stop loving them would dishonor His name. It’s a word of encouragement but also a word of perspective. It’s never “all about us,” it’s always “all about God.” How we treat others, the attitudes we adopt as we go about daily lives, speak to our integrity, which ultimately speaks to God’s.


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