Series: King David: Man of Passions & God of Grace
Family Devotional, Week 3: King Saul: God’s Throne but Not God’s Eyes
[DISCLAIMER]: The Excursus below is just that. It is not part of the study itself. Read at your leisure.
Last week we saw that in Saul the people were given the very kind of king they thought they needed–talk, dark, and handsome on the outside, but on the inside only dark, it seems. I don’t think he started out that way, though.
Most commentators on Saul rightly point out that Saul’s downward spiral began with an unlawful sacrifice in 1 Samuel 13, when Saul started to panic after Samuel didn’t show up at the appointed time during a battle with the Philistines. So Saul took matters into his own hands and tried to twist God’s arm by offering a sacrifice, as though he could manipulate God in the same way the other nations manipulated their gods. But God would not give himself to this type of economy, where he would exist merely to supply the demands of the people. Though popular in many churches today, God is not a felt-needs God, not because he doesn’t want to meet our needs, but because he knows that the distance between what we feel and what we need is as great as the distance between sin and holiness. The most damning thing God can do is never not answer the felt-needs prayer “My kingdom come, my will be done…” But God is not into damning anymore people than he must. So God insisted on building his kingdom in spite of Saul trying to build his own. If Saul would be the surrogate king given God’s rightful throne, he just needed to sit down and shut up. In other words, Saul just needed to trust, obey, and let God do what God said he would do.
That is where the downward spiral began, no doubt, but his fall from grace, so to speak, happened in chapter 15, when he failed to complete God’s command to annihilate the Amalekites. This is one of those impossibly difficult passages in the Bibles that speaks of total destruction of a people, but the fact is, this was a solemn and holy act of judgment that God had promised Joshua he would carry out in Exodus (Exod. 17:14; cf. excursus below), because the Amalekites had stood against God’s covenant purposes for global restoration by standing against his elect people. But Saul again thought he’d get creative and take some initiative by sparing some of the choice sheep and oxen “to sacrifice to the Lord your God” (1 Sam. 15:15), to which Samuel responds rather abruptly and embarrassingly, “Stop!” He then points out Saul’s insecurity–though you are little in your own eyes–and continues by reorienting his perspective–are you not the head of the tribes of Israel…[whom] the Lord anointed [to be] king?! But Saul protested: “I have obeyed the voice of the Lord!” (1 Sam. 15:20). It was at that point that Samuel called Saul’s sin for what it truly was: his rebellion was idolatry and his presumption divination (cf. 1 Sam. 15:17-23).
Idolatry and divination? Saul wasn’t doing anything overtly idolatrous, was he? In fact, it seems that he was just doing what was right in his own eyes…which was precisely his problem. That line is virtually the chorus of the book of Judges (that there was no king in Israel in those days, so everyone did what was right in their own eyes). Now there was a king, and he did the same. The problem with what is right in human eyes is that humans are inherently blind to what is right, because humans can’t see God (cf. Jn. 1). So unless God himself enlightens us, telling us what to do, what is right, what is good and what is evil, “right” will always only be “right enough,” “good” will always only be “good enough” or more likely a “lesser evil,” and “righteousness” will always be “righteous enough” (re: “self-righteousness”) because it will always be established by comparing oneself to others and not to God. So it is one thing to disobey God, but it is another to disobey God and insist that it was right to do so. That, I believe, is what Saul’s greatest evil was. It was one thing to what was evil, quite another to try to call what was evil good. That is darn near what is perhaps at the root of every great sin. It was indeed near the root of that first sin, which hanged from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, which, it turns out, was more about wanting to judge for ourselves what was good and evil than to know objectively the difference between good and evil–i.e., to be as gods!
Reflection Questions / Challenges:
- God’s leadership is not something we tend to think about, even though it is a pervasive theme throughout Scripture. In leading Saul, one thing that is evident is that he doesn’t let Saul lead him. He doesn’t give in to the supply-demand economy prevalent in virtually every other world religion.
- Why not?
- If Jesus said whatever we asked for believing, we would receive, then is God not there to meet our every need?
- Consider for discussion: Are there potentially ‘felt-needs’ (i.e., our felt-need for popularity, power, possessions, etc.) that might numb us to our real needs? If so, are there any ‘felt-needs’ in your life that you may need to give over to God for him to reveal your true need (if popularity, acceptance from him? if power, humility, trust, security, humility? if possessions, joy, peace? and so forth…)
- Newsflash: Humans screw up–just like Saul screwed up. While I do think God has a high standard of righteousness for us, I don’t think he expects (given his inconvenient omniscience) that we will live up to it. So just as important in our spiritual growth is how we deal with screw-ups.
- Saul tried to justify himself, just like Adam and Eve, and just like every one of us have the tendency to do. There’s a reason Jesus’ first words were, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Humans are not innocent until proven guilty, nor are we even guilty until proven innocent. We are guilty until we receive a pardon from the Governor.
- That said, in what ways can we make sure we don’t fall into traps of self-justification–in arguments with husband or wife, daughter or son, mom or dad, brother or sister–and learn to say the most important seven words in the English language: “I am sorry. Will you forgive me?Those very words can save your soul.
- Psalm 118
- Gracious God, give us eyes to see as you see, ears to hear what you say, strength to obey your commands, and humility to repent when we fail.
Excursus: We should be reminded in an age of compromise in the name of tolerance that “Jesus-meek-and-mild” is not in disagreement with the God who reveals himself throughout the Old Testament in salvation, yes, but also in judgment. In fact, it is more the case that the “Jesus-meek-and-mild” we meet in our world today is in disagreement with the “Jesus-‘better-to-have-a-millstone-tied-around-your-neck-and-thrown-into-the-sea-than-to-cause-one-of-these-little-ones-to-stumble.‘,” the “Jesus-‘casting-law-breakers-into-a-fiery-furnace-where-there-will-be-weeping-and-gnashing-of-teeth’,” the Jesus who in Revelation is imaged wearing a golden crown and holding a sharp sickle, whereupon swinging it over the entire earth the winepress of God’s wrath is filled and from that press flows a river 184 miles long…of blood (cf. Rev. 14). Paul said, “Where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more” (Rom. 5:20), indeed, but where the rejection of such grace abounds–the grace of the Creator who suspended his wrath because of his impossibly awesome love while his creation drove spikes through his extremities and smeared their profaned saliva on his face–where the rejection of that grace abounds, so too does wrath. God loves us enough to give us life through the death of his Son, but God does not love us more than he loves his Son. God does not excuse human rejection for his beloved Son in whom alone is he well pleased. In the end, the New Testament is both the climax and the intensification of all that we’re introduced to in the Old Testament, both the beauty of God’s grace and the terror of his wrath.