Saul’s reign as king begins with some donkeys.
In first Samuel 9 we see that Saul is looking for his father’s donkeys and out of God’s sheer grace He shows Samuel that Saul would be the first king of Israel.
From there Saul is anointed by Samuel and received by Israel as their first king (1 Samuel 10).
So things start well.
It pretty much always starts well, right? Whether it’s a job, a new coach or general manager for your favorite sports team, that new business venture or the new pastor that comes to lead a church, things for the most part start well.
Saul’s early years are marked by courage and generosity, but very quickly we learn that the decisions he makes leads to a downward spiral in his leadership and character as the man leading Israel.
Here are three things Saul did to ruin his life:
There are two instances early on where Saul flat out disobeys what God says.
In 1 Samuel 13 we see that Saul is leading Israel against the Philistines in battle. Israel is under it and are beginning to scatter. Saul seems to be losing control.
Not only that, In 1 Samuel 10 we see Samuel tell Saul to go Gilgal where he would meet him after seven days to make sacrifices.
As things begin to get out of control with his army Saul gets antsy and decides to do the sacrifices himself. This disobedience did not sit well with Samuel.
13 “You have done a foolish thing,” Samuel said. “You have not kept the command the Lord your God gave you; if you had, he would have established your kingdom over Israel for all time. 14 But now your kingdom will not endure; the Lord has sought out a man after his own heart and appointed him ruler of his people, because you have not kept the Lord’s command.” 1 Samuel 13:13-14
As quickly as Saul’s reign had started it seemed to be ending. Only two chapters latter Saul partakes in another blunder. God clearly asks him to destroy the Amalekites and to spare nothing or no one.
1 Samuel 15:9 says, 9 But Saul and the army spared Agag and the best of the sheep and cattle, the fat calves and lambs—everything that was good. These they were unwilling to destroy completely, but everything that was despised and weak they totally destroyed.”
This certainly poses the question for us as to whether or not obedience actually matters. Remember, Saul was chosen in a field looking for some donkeys. He did nothing to deserve his kingship but it appears that disobedience led to its demise.
Obedience mattered for Israel. In Deuteronomy 6 God says that Israel will be blessed and enjoy long life if they obey. In Deuteronomy 28 we also see that God says to Israel that if they do not obey they could be led into exile and under foreign kids.
Obedience mattered for Israel, it mattered for Saul and ultimately it matters for the church. We are accepted out of sheer grace and then called to obey.
With Saul’s kingship slipping we see a young shepherd boy named David enter the scene in 1 Samuel 16. Samuel anoints him king and the irony is that David is actually playing music in the courts of Saul to sooth his wayward mind.
1 Samuel 17 is the epic story of the young shepherd boy defeating the mammoth Goliath and in in 1 Samuel 18 we get a snapshot of Saul returning home from battle.
It says in 1 Samuel 18:6:
6 When the men were returning home after David had killed the Philistine, the women came out from all the towns of Israel to meet King Saul with singing and dancing, with joyful songs and with timbrels and lyres. 7 As they danced, they sang:
“Saul has slain his thousands,
and David his tens of thousands.”
This set Saul off! He became jealous and violent towards David.
What if Saul was secure in himself and his kingship? Oh how the story would be different.
3. Anger and Bitterness
Ultimately, Saul’s jealousy led to the remainder of his life being filled with anger and bitterness.
In 1 Samuel 19 Saul orders his son and his men to kill David. In 1 Samuel 22 eighty-five priests were killed and an entire town was destroyed because Saul was mad that others were taking David’s side.
We have to be honest that bitterness and anger effect other people.
In 1 Samuel 31 it all comes to an end. With the Philistines taking ground Saul turns the sword on himself. The story not only starts with donkeys, it ends with a donkey. Saul cowardly takes his life instead of fighting to the end.
There are a ton of things here for us to wrestle through. Our own character and integrity comes to the forefront when we read a story like this. Disobedience, jealousy, bitterness and anger can and no doubt will ruin our lives.
It also speaks to our sanctification. Following Jesus is not just about how we start, it is about how we live and ultimately about how we finish.
Saul was made king out of sheer grace but he had to live as king every day. We on the other hand are saved simply through faith and out of that we faith we are called to obey and serve the king everyday.