Most of us Christians are familiar with King Saul in the Bible. As the Israelites rejected God as their true King, God gave them Saul as the first king of Israel. King Saul’s reign shows how some of us are not so different than him. The Israelites desired a human king in order to be like the nations (1 Samuel 8:20)—that is, they wanted a human king like the other nations so they could manipulate the king to do their will. We are hardly any different today. Today, in America, we manipulate our President and Supreme Court to pass the laws we want that are contrary to God’s will—gay marriage, transgender bathrooms, taking away 1st and 2nd Amendment rights, and so on. God warned the Israelites what they can expect from kings, which were not good things (1 Samuel 8:10-18). Basically, kings—no matter the title, such as president—will inevitably be unjust because of the nature of sin in human beings. But the Israelites didn’t care because they wanted to manipulate a leader to get what they want. Today’s idolatry is no different than the idolatry of the Old Testament Israelites—seeking to do what is right in our eyes supported by idols that will not disagree. Like the ancient Israelites, we want a leader, so long as it’s not the Living God.
The narrative of King Saul’s reign shows what happens to humanity when one is disconnected from God, our true Ruler. There are four points to King Saul’s narrative: cause of failure, confirmation of failure, rejection by God, and God’s desire for people.
Cause of Failure
The cause of Saul’s failure is actually common for all of mankind: failing to abide in God’s Word. When one leaves separated from God’s Word, a spiritual downfall is inevitable. Just look at Saul’s lack of confidence when he, rather than a priest, offered a sacrifice because he was afraid the people would abandon him (1 Samuel 13:8-14). How very human of him. How often do we, when we lack confidence in God, react by taking matters into our own hands? Saul was supposed to wait for the prophet Samuel to come and perform the sacrifice before battle, but becoming impatient and losing confidence as a result, he took matters into his own hands and did the sacrifice himself. Have you ever tried taking matters into your own hands when you grew impatient with God, and then it failed miserably? Saul, a king, did the same thing. This is a human condition—failing to fear and trust God in all things (breaking the first commandment) and instead choosing to trust in our own measures or other things to receive the outcome we want.
Confirmation of Failure
Saul’s failure is confirmed by a second chance in 1 Samuel 15:3. Only a gracious God would give a second chance. God gives these second chances because He’s forever patient. God’s desire is that people turn from their wicked ways and live (Ezekiel 18:23; 33:11; 2 Peter 3:9). However, Saul failed this second chance. God commanded him not to spare the Amalekites, but he spared the women and children including their king, Agag. Saul rejected God’s command in order to retain the support of the people. We do this a lot today. In an effort to not upset the American people, the U.S. Supreme Court passes ungodly laws that have legalised gay marriage and instituted transgender bathrooms—both perversions of God’s creation. They even create these laws at the expense of ignoring Christian institutions’ 1st Amendment rights. Apart from politics, we even commit this pattern in our personal lives. In the effort to maintain our boyfriend or girlfriend’s affection, for example, we give in to premarital sex despite God’s command against it. Saul admits his actions were because he feared man rather than God (1 Samuel 15:24). In the same way, when SCOTUS passes ungodly laws, or when we give in to human desires against God’s will, it is because we fear man more than we fear God. Again, this is breaking the first commandment—failing to fear and trust God in all things.
Thankfully, however, as Christians we are not under law but grace (Romans 6:14). When we fail to obey God’s Word, our relationship with God is not contingent upon second chances. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1) and nothing can snatch us from Jesus hands (John 10:28). However, we still suffer temporal consequences for our sins. The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23), which for the Christian means we will not suffer eternal death, but we still suffer temporal death. That is, Christians will experience death in their bodies, but not in their spirits. In the same way, when we sin, we don’t suffer the eternal consequences of sin, but we still have to suffer the temporal consequences of sin. For example, the Christian who commits premarital sex may suffer the temporal consequence of syphilis, shame, or guilt, whatever the case may be; but because he or she is justified by faith in Christ, they will not suffer the eternal consequences of that sin for the sake of Christ. Or, when we lie to a friend, we suffer the temporal consequences of losing that friend and being seen as untrustworthy to others; but as a Christian justified by Christ we do not suffer the eternal consequences of that lie. The confirmation of our failure as Christians is seen in the temporal consequences of our sin, but we do not suffer its eternal consequences.
Rejection by God
God rejects Saul in Samuel’s prophetic words, “You have done foolishly. You have not kept the command of the LORD your God, with which He commanded you. For then the LORD would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. But now your kingdom shall not continue. The LORD has sought out a man after His own heart, and the LORD has commanded him to be prince over His people, because you have not kept what the LORD commanded you” (1 Samuel 13:13-14). Because Saul rejected God, God rejected him as king. So, God sought to replace him with “a man after His own heart,” who would later be known as King David.
Thankfully, Christians don’t have to worry about God’s rejection (John 10:28). However, if we reject Jesus, He will reject us before God. Jesus said, “So everyone who acknowledges Me before men, I also will acknowledge before My Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies Me before men, I also will deny before My Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 10:32-33). Of course, this does not mean if you fail to acknowledge Him before man once in your life, you’re doomed to Hell for all eternity, for Peter denied Jesus three times in one day before man and became an apostle! The key is that Peter sought repentance. If one should deny Jesus before man and not seek repentance, then Jesus will deny that person before the Father. Rejection from God is not something anyone should want to experience, but there will be many who will experience it. There are debates among theologians on whether Hell is a fiery place or just eternal separation from God, but Scripture describes Hell as being both. Hell is a fiery place in which there is eternal separation from God; those are the repercussions of His rejection. It is not something anyone wants to experience, but many will.
God’s Desire for People
Again, God’s desire is for people to turn from their wicked ways and live in Him (Ezekiel 18:23; 33:11; 2 Peter 3:9). Samuel emphasises God desires obedience over sacrifices. “Has the LORD as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams” (1 Samuel 15:22). Samuel is not saying the Old Testament sacrifices didn’t matter, but that they should be followed with obedience in coherence with saving faith. Luther said, “In Scripture, faith is called obedience” (Luther’s Works, 30:30). We obey God because of the faith that flows from it. “[God] does not need humanly devised sacrifices, but instead, desires obedience that flows from a heart that is thankful to God for what He has done to rescue us from sin and death” (Steinmann, 273). God, then, desires our repentance, which is to turn from our wicked ways so that we may live.
God desires to make us living stones capable of making right sacrifices acceptable before Him. “As you come to Him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:4-5). As “living stones,” we are each a temple of God in which God dwells in His Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19), for He chose us for this purpose; it is not something we choose. God’s Church—or spiritual house—is the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 3:16), which the Church is us (1 Corinthians 12:12-27). Furthermore, we are God’s “holy priesthood,” all of us priests before God able to make acceptable sacrifices before God. This is why we are able to come to God for forgiveness in prayer without the mandatory intercession of a priest. These sacrifices are acceptable to God because of Jesus Christ as the greatest sacrifice. This priestly relationship is one which God desires for all people.
Therefore, don’t be like Saul. God’s desire is that we should turn from our wicked ways and live, and His will for us as Christians is our sanctification (1 Thessalonians 4:3-7). Don’t be like Saul by ignoring the commands of God’s Word. While as Christians we can rest assured nothing can snatch us from Jesus’ hands, Jesus warns us, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of Heaven, but the one who does the will of My Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21). Saying the right words does not guarantee entrance into eternal life, but only those who believe in the Son. “For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in Him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:40). Merely saying you believe and having saving faith are entirely different things, and it is the latter that saves, which is what God desires for all people. If anyone should reject this love He offers, what is left for them but disaster? It is not a reality God desires, but rather that we should turn from our wicked ways and live in Him.
Andrew E. Steinmann, Various Editors. Called to Be God’s People: An Introduction to the Old Testament. (Eugene: Wipf & Stock, 2006.)