Better Not Call Saul
The life of Saul is one of the great tragedies of the Bible. A man who was once a humble youth of Godly reverence not unlike David later becomes a murdering tyrant. It serves as both a cautionary tale about pitfalls we should avoid in the Christian life as well as a hopeful lesson about God's enduring faithfulness to us.
1 Samuel 8 begins with the people of Israel approaching Samuel and demanding that a king be appointed over them. God and Samuel both warn the people that they are basically exchanging their freedom under God's kingship for something akin to slavery under a human ruler. This is a sin that we are still guilty of today every time we choose to put our hope in people and earthly things that we can visibly see rather than trusting the eternal God to be king over our lives. There is also a great deal of irony in this considering that God himself will one day come in human form to be Israel's king and they will hang him on a cross. They will also choose a violent man (Barabas) over God because he is more like the savior that they pictured in their heads.
God was and is wounded by this rejection, but promises the people that even though they have cast him off, he will still be with them if they continue to follow him. Our Father's love is even more obvious later in chapter 12 when God says that he will not abandon them because of "his name's sake" and because it was "his pleasure to make them his own." God is never any less faithful than he always is and he still wants us to be his children. However, he does state that they will cry out for deliverance one day from this king and he will not hear them. This is the danger for us:
Do NOT demand something of God if he has not seen fit to give it to you. Often we may make gods and kings out of people, careers, dreams, and passions. When we put something in God's place and demand it from him, sometimes he will let us have our way. Just like the parent who angrily gives in to the incessant whines of a child, God knows that sometimes our hearts will not be changed until we get what we yearn for and repent after we find that those things are black holes because they cannot possibly measure up to God. Check out Romans 1:21-25.
Moving ahead to chapter 13, Saul makes one of his first major blunders when preparing for a battle with the Phillistines. Samuel instructs him to wait 7 days for his arrival so that they can make an offering to the Lord before the battle. Saul waits 7 days and grows so impatient that burns the offerings himself. Samuel shows up about 5 minutes later and blasts him for it saying that God is going to take away his throne. It may seem like a harsh sentence, but Saul fails here in a number of severe ways. First, he does not wait patiently on Samuel and the Lord (something I think we struggle with daily). Second, Saul is taking the place of a prophet/slash priest as a mediator when he makes the offerings himself. This is sacrilege and oddly enough is showing the kind of king he is becoming. The people of Israel reject Samuel as a mediator and reject God is king. Now their new representative is acting just as blaspemous. To me, the worst part about this is that Saul is trying to win God's favor by offering the sacrifices. God's favor is already with him and all he has to do is wait and obey. His action shows a lack of understanding of God in every way.
Shortly before the anointing of David comes Saul's next great idea. In chapter 15 God orders Saul to completely wipe out the Amalekites including their king Agag, men, women, children, babies, and cattle. This is one of the rarest of times in which God seeks to wipe out an entire civilization of people. Such other times include the days of Noah and Sodom/ Gomorrah. It is likely that an ancient people of this kind were so disease-ridden that even the children and animals would be carrying deadly venereal diseases. They are described as "godless" people who attacked Israel as they were passing through to Canaan from Egypt. The Amalekites will continue to cause problems later in this book as well as in Esther when Haman, descendant of Agag, tries to wipe out the Hebrews.
Saul defeats them, but builds a momument to himself rather than a sacrifice to the Lord for this victory and spares the best of the cattle. He also spares King Agag, but has no problem slaughtering the men, women, and infants. When Samuel arrives, it seems that Saul lies when says he saved the best of the animals for a sacrifice. It would appear that he also spares Agag either because he wants to parade him around as a trophy or because they are both "important men" and Saul would hate to be executed himself. Saul claims that he has obeyed the Lord, but he has added his own conditions the Lord's demands, thus putting himself in Gods place again. His heart is revealed further when he begs Samuel to return with him and worship the Lord together so that the people and elders will not see Samuel rejecting him.
I can't help but think that when Saul saw David slay Goliath, he knew that his days as king were coming to an end which is when the fear and jealousy consumed his heart. I can sadly identify with this. There have been times in my life when I have been more in love with something than with God and been afraid of losing it because it was so precious to me. There have been people I have envied, jobs and ministries that I've desired, and girls that I've coveted. Only God can be God so worshipping anything else is pointless. We know the rest of the story as Saul tries to pin David to the wall with a spear and eventually chases him across the wilderness so that he can kill him and his mighty men. David consistently shows his patience and trust in the Lord by sparing Saul's life repeatedly. He leaves it up to God to decide when its time for Saul to die. One would think that God is also allowing Saul to continue to live so that he has opportunities to repent, but Saul soon pushes it to the limit and seals his own fate.
While on the run in chapter 21, David and his men go to see Ahimlech the priest asking for food. Ahimelech offers them the holy bread of the presence which revives David as he trusts in Gods favor, knowing that God will not punish him for eating consecrated bread. He also takes up the sword of Goliath which made David a legend in the first place. This is a sign that his time to become king is near as is the downfall of Saul. When Saul arrives at Ahimelech's to find David gone, Saul is suspicious of all those around him and furious that the priests have aided his target. Saul commits the ultimate sacrilege by slaying the priests of the Lord he once prophesied and worshipped with. He also destroys the entire community including men, women, children, and cattle. Saul is far more passionate about fighting for his image than he ever was about obeying God. Often when we replace God with something else in our hearts, we become suspicious of all around us and cut ourselves off from God's presence and God's people.
In chapter 28, Saul's madness continues to stretch when he visits a witch sometime after he himself cast out all sorcerers out of Israel. The Philistines are soon to attack and Saul hasn't heard anything from God, priests, or prophets about what to do or what will happen. Out of sheer panic, he asks the medium to call up the spirit of Samuel so he can talk to him. Some argue that this is a demon imitating Samuel, but I see no indication of this. I honestly think God allowed Samuel to speak to him so he could spit in Saul's face. Saul seems annoyed at being disturbed from his sleep and tells him that of course he is going to die after all of his unrepentant sins. It's almost comedic that Saul is turning to evil he himself got rid of in search of peace, but we often look for peace in evil things since we have shut God out of our lives.
Meanwhile, David and his men are horrified to find that their wives, children, cattle, and belongings have been raided and carried off by our old friends the Amalekites. David and his men pursue them and rescue all that they had lost, massacring the Amalekites in the process. Davids ascension to the throne climaxes where Saul's descent began. As foretold, Saul is losing the battle and has to watch his sons die. After stabbing himself, He is leaning against a spear when a man approaches him. Saul asks the man to put him out of his misery and the man obliges. The man is an Amalekite. Sometimes, God calls on us to make hard choices for our own good because he does not want us to be destroyed by potential idols.