I’ve been thinking a lot about King Saul lately.
He was ancient Israel’s first king. Before Saul, the people of Israel were lead by prophets and judges, but the rule of government was spotty at best. The Bible says, “Everyone did what was right in their own eyes.” And boy, was it a disaster. The last judge was the priest/prophet Samuel.
Samuel was getting along in years and had served the Lord and Israel faithfully for his entire life. But the people started itching for something different. They wanted to be like the nations around them who all had real kings. For Israel, God was supposed to be their King. But the people decided they didn’t want God for King nor Samuel’s sons as judges, they wanted to be like their neighbors. They rejected God and demanded a king.
So God said, “Fine, I’ll give you a King, but you won’t be happy with the situation.” God told Samuel to anoint Saul as King.
Now Saul was a nobody from a nobody family with nothing going for him except his good looks. He was taller than everyone else and had a handsome face. But his character was far from Princely. As a matter of fact, on the day that Samuel anointed Saul to be king, he told him that later on he would come across a band of prophets. Sure enough, later in the day Saul ran into the group and they were prophesying. The Bible says the Spirit of the Lord came over Saul, changed his personality, and he began to prophesy too. This was such a dramatic departure from his normal character that it became an expression of shock to say, “What? Is Saul among the prophets?” It became their version of “when pigs fly!”
But Saul’s change of character just didn’t stick because he had a hard time obeying God. His new power went right to his head and he felt like he was exempt from rules. Saul’s heart became harder and harder until the Bible says God’s Spirit departed from him… and he never noticed the difference. Saul was so self absorbed that he only followed his own heart and didn’t seek after God’s heart.
So God told Samuel to go anoint David as Saul’s successor. David was “a man after God’s own heart.” Meanwhile, Saul remained king and his hard heart lead to desperate, horrible things. Saul even stooped so low as to consult a witch for advice about the future! Eventually Saul committed suicide by falling on his own sword. His reign ended in misery and heartache for everyone around him.
Now my thoughts turn to you and I. Have we “clamored for a king” like the Israelites because we don’t like the idea of God ruling over us? Have we gone in for the pretty face of a sin without considering the content or character beneath the surface? If God’s Spirit left us, would we even notice the difference? These are all questions that we can ask ourselves both individually and as a community. As for me, I pray along with David who wrote, “Create in me a clean heart, O God… and take not your Holy Spirit from me.” (Psalm 51)