SAUL AND THE PROMISES (I Samuel 9-31; IDB)
Samuel’s god-fearing ministry came to an end when his sons perverted the religious office into personal gain. Israel began to cry out for a king. The elders said to Samuel, “You are old, and your sons do not walk in your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have.” The idea was not new. Under the Judges, whenever there was a problem, it was because Israel had no king (Jugdes 18:1; 19:1). The last statement in the Book of Judges was, “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit” (Judges 21:25). It should also have said, “Israel demanded a king and God does not go against the will of man.” Man is a free agent and God gives him the right to choose good or evil (Genesis 3:22). It is the universal law of cause and effect. His deeds decide his destiny.
Samuel expressed his displeasure to God and the reply was, Samuel was ordered to tell the people, “This is what the king who will reign over you will do, he will take your sons and make them serve with the chariots and horses, and they will run in front of his chariots. Some he will assign to be commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and others to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and still others to make weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves, and give them to his attendants. He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and give it to his officials and attendants. Your menservants and maidservants and the best of your cattle and donkeys he will take for his own use. He will take a tenth of your flock, and you yourselves will become his slaves. When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, and the Lord will not answer you in that day” (I Samuel 8:11-18).
The warning fell on deaf ears and Samuel had to bow to the wishes of the people. The Lord directed him to find Saul of the tribe of Benjamin and anoint him king over Israel. He was physically impressive by being a head taller and prophetically gifted. God’s Spirit came upon Saul and he rallied Israel to free Jabesh from the Ammonites. This heroic act gained him public favor and the kingship over all of Israel. To show his support, Samuel said to the people, “Come, let us gather at Gilgal and there confirm Saul as king. So all the people went to Gilgal and confirmed (or swore their loyalty to) Saul as king in the presence of the Lord. There they sacrificed fellowship offerings before the Lord, and Saul and all the Israelites held a great celebration.” There is no doubt that Samuel was apprehensive. That one celebration cost Israel more than Samuel’s service for all of his life. In fact, he rendered it without enumeration. He reminded the people, “I have listened to you to everything you said to me, and have set a king over you. Now you have a king as your leader. As for me, I am old and gray, and my sons are here with you. I have been your leader from my youth until this day. Here I stand. Testify against me in the presence of the Lord and his anointed. Whose ox have I taken? Whose donkey have I taken? Whom have I cheated? Whom have I oppressed? From whose hand have I accepted a bribe to make me shut my eyes? If I have done any of these, I will make it right” (I Samuel 11:12-12:3). The people could say nothing against Samuel’s flawless life and service.
On that day of Soul’s confirmation as king and his own farewell, Samuel had much more to share. The question was, can anyone measure up to a Moses and bail out Israel in trouble? Saul had proven himself by defeating the Ammonite King but will he be able to last without the support of the people like Moses did? In the past, Israel had disobeyed the Lord, how will they do with a king leading them? Will they move their trust in God to a man? Now, both king and people must obey the commands, “But if you do not obey the Lord, and if you rebel against his commandments, his hand will be against you, as it was against your fathers. You have done an evil thing in the eyes of the Lord when you asked for a king.” Even this evil, God would overlook if the people remained faithful to Yahweh and his laws. The people knew it and asked Samuel: “Pray to the Lord your God for your servants so that we will not die, for we have added to all our other sins the evil of asking for a king” (I Samuel 12:4-25).
In spite of Samuel’s admonition that Israel should remain faithful to God, the people broke their promise and began to put their trust in Saul. The smell of one victory led the king to attack another Philistine outpost and forced all Israel into war. When the Philistines did not yield to Saul’s tactics, the Israelites scattered and the king called for Samuel and made his own burnt offering to the Lord. Samuel arrived seven days late with a question and a severe reprimand, “What have you done? You have acted foolishly and you have not kept the command the Lord your God gave you. If you had, he would have established your kingdom over Israel for all time. But now your kingdom will not endure; the Lord has sought out a man after his own heart and appointed him leader of his people, because you have not kept the Lord’s command” (I Samuel 13:11-14).
Samuel’s message did not lead Saul to repent but to being more obstinate. His mind gave out and he began to make rules and seek ungodly counsel. A small detachment of Philistines had separated from their main army. Saul’s son Jonathan and his armor-bearer invaded their camp, overcame some of the guards and caused confusion and panic that spread like wildfire through the Philistine army. Saul with six hundred men pursued his enemies with a curse that no one should eat anything until sunset. Jonathan was not present and ate some honey. Without food the men were weakened and could not finish the chase and Jonathan was blamed for Saul’s wrong command. Like centuries before him when Jephthah made a similar mistake by promising to offer up his daughter, Saul was ready to offer up his son (Jug. 11:31). The people and the army disobeyed the king and Jonathan was not sacrificed. Jonathan himself realized that his father was making bad decisions and he befriended David who had become his father’s music maker to calm his nerves. At that time Saul or Jonathan did not know that Samuel had discreetly anointed the youngest son of Jesse as the next king. But when David took some food to his brothers in Saul’s army and heard Goliath the Philistine defying Jehovah and the army, he offered his service and took on the giant with his slingshot and a stone. He was a dead shut and so was Goliath and the Philistine army. Hereinafter, the people cheered much louder for David than for their king. The king was obligated to give him his daughter in marriage and provide a place at his table. It did not take long that this young hero was the heir apparent to his throne and Saul made him his mortal enemy.
The historian tells us that the Lord was grieved that He had made Saul king (I.Sam.14-16). The king’s disobedience to the Mandate of God led Samuel to speak these immortal words: “Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the Lord? To obey is better than sacrifice and to heed is better than the fat of rams. For rebellion is like the sin of divination and arrogance like the evil of idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, he has rejected you as king” (I.Sam. 15:22-23). Instead of taking Samuel’s message to heart and work with God’s plan to improve conditions for the nation, Saul set out to destroy the man God had chosen to lead his people. These were the Lord’s people and not Saul’s. The first opportunity the king had, he threw his javelin at David. David escaped and enlisted Jonathan to spy against his father for hating his brother-in-law? It was not difficult to determine what Saul wanted to do with David and Jonathan too was convinced that it was prudent not to go against what God had willed. All of Saul’s expeditions against David failed. In fact, David had several opportunities to dispose of the king but would not lay his hands on an anointed of God.
Saul became desperate and sought counsel from the witch of Endor. The king had expelled the mediums and spiritists from the land and now turned to one of them. He disguised himself and asked her to bring up Samuel. The horrified woman recognized the king and begged for her life. He had to swear that he would not kill her. The unbelievable reappearance of the dead Samuel changed nothing for the king. The dead man’s message was: “The Lord has torn the kingdom out of your hands and given it to one of your neighbors – David. Because you did not obey the Lord or carry out his fierce wrath against the Amalekites, the Lord has done this to you today. The Lord will hand over both Israel and you to the Philistines, and tomorrow you and your sons will be with me.” The witch ended up comforting and feeding the king. The following day, the Philistines routed the Israelis. They killed three of Saul’s sons and the king ended his own by falling on his sword (I Sam. 28, 31). They all went to rest with Samuel, for the dead in the realm of the dead were not dead but resting from their labors until the resurrection and judgment day (Rev. 14:13; 20:11-15; Lk. 16:19-31). King Saul reaped what he sowed.