Most are familiar with how Israel came to Samuel and asked for a king (1Samuel 8.4-5) and how this displeased both Samuel and the Lord (vss. 6-9). We also know that Saul, from the tribe of Benjamin, would be chosen as Israel’s first king. If Saul had proven faithful, the Lord would have established his kingdom. Tragically, we know that Saul was not faithful; he was not a man after God’s own heart (see 1Samuel 13.13). Where did Saul go wrong?
Saul looked the part of king.
Israel’s request for a king in 1Samuel 8 revealed several things they desired in their leader. They wanted a military leader (a man who would “fight our battles” vs. 20), they wanted a man who would give their nation prestige (“that we may be like other nations” vs. 20), and it would even seem that they were looking for a man who lead them in the ways of God (contrasted with the sons of Samuel who did not walk in his ways, vs. 5).
And at first, Saul looked to be the ideal king:
- He came from a wealthy family (1Samuel 9.1). The NASB says that Saul’s father, Kish, was a “mighty man of valor”. However, the better translation, as reflected both in the NASB notes and other translations, is “mighty man of wealth”.
- Saul looked the part. “there was not a more handsome person than he among the sons of Israel; from his shoulders and up he was taller than any of the people.” (1Samuel 9.2)
- He was a successful military leader, giving Israel victories over Moab, Ammon, Edom, the Philistines and others (1Samuel 14.47-48).
- Initially, he was a loyal worshipper of God. He rebuked the people when they violated God’s will (1Samuel 14.32-34), built altars to worship the Lord (1Samuel 14.35) and rid the land of “mediums and spiritists” (1Samuel 28.3).
Saul’s downfall, his pride
Pride manifests itself in many ways. It could be seen in a haughty demeanor, a hostile attitude regarding others or simple indifference. Regardless of how pride is manifest, the root problem of pride is that it focuses one’s gaze internally, thus there is little thought for others or for God. While I am not aware of Saul ever being explicitely charged with this vice, it seems evident that pride is what led to Saul’s downfall. It was because of pride that he failed to have a heart like God’s. Here are a few ways Saul’s pride was manifest…
- He took it upon himself to act as priest (1Samuel 13.8-14).
- He blatantly disobeyed a command from the Lord (1Samuel 15). Even though he sought to justify his disobedience by saying he purposed to sacrifice to the Lord, he still placed his will ahead of God’s.
- He was consumed with jealousy (1Samuel 18.6-9). Rather than rejoice in David’s victories as Jonathan had done (vss. 1-5), Saul could only see David as a threat.
- Rather than repent of his many wrongs and seek the help of the Lord, Saul sought guidance elsewhere (1Samuel 28).
We already know that Saul’s pride had tragic results for himself: his kingdom would not continue endure (1Samuel 13.14). But his pride also resulted in disaster for the people. While we know that he had military success early in his reign (1Samuel 14.47-48), by the end of his reign Saul had lost considerable territory to the Philistines and other nations. Consider that Saul was defeated at Mt Gilboa and his body was impaled on the wall at Beth-shan, both sites deep in the heart of Israel’s territory (1Samuel 28-31). Saul’s pride and jealousy toward David had severely weakened the defenses of Israel; his unfaithfulness toward God insured that the Lord would not aid them (cf. 1Samuel 12.14-15).
The problem of pride
There is a reason that God hates pride (Proverbs 6.16-17). As CS Lewis once wrote, “it was through Pride that the devil became the devil: Pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind.” (Mere Christianity). A proud man will reject God’s will every time it conflicts with his own desire. A proud man cannot love others more than himself, in fact he will only serve someone else if it feeds his own ego or ambition. Truly, “pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before stumbling” (Proverbs 16.18). Thus, the first step to being a person after God’s own heart is to “deny himself, and take up the cross and follow Me” (Matthew 16.24).
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