About 400 years after Israel left Egypt and settled in the land that God had promised His people, the nation was ruled by God’s appointed judges. The last judge, Samuel, was also a prophet. Samuel judged Israel successfully and faithfully all the days of his life. When he grew old and his sons started to judge Israel, the people became dissatisfied. They looked around and saw that all the neighboring nations like the Ammonites, Philistines, and Moabites had kings to fight their battles. They wanted a king as well. Samuel, distressed about their request, prayed to God. He directed Samuel to tell Israel all the troubles that would come upon them if they had a king. Israel still insisted that they wanted a king. God told Samuel it was not his fault they wanted a King, but that the people had turned from the ways of the Lord and forgotten all the wonders and miracles He had done for them since leaving Egypt. (1 Samuel 4-8; Acts 13:17-20)
God instructed Samuel to go to the house of a powerful man from the tribe of Benjamin named Kish. There he was to find his son Saul, who God had chosen to be the anointed king. The king, God said, would be the one to save Israel out of the hands of the Philistines. Samuel anoints Saul, and it is a great beginning. He is the tallest and handsomest man in the kingdom. The people rejoice over him and think of him as a prophet. He is surrounded by a group of men whose hearts God has touched. God promises to give him His spirit and be with him. He also promises to give him a new heart. Saul begins to reign and has a successful victory against the Ammonites early in his reign. In the second year of his reign, Saul chooses three thousand valiant men of Israel to be in his army. Shortly after, there are some problems with the Philistines. Saul chooses not to bother with a garrison of Philistines stationed in the land, but his son Jonathan does. Jonathan has a decisive battle and wipes out all in the garrison. Oddly, when he hears about it, Saul takes the credit for it without mentioning Jonathan. He announces to all of Israel, it was he who won the battle. There is a great celebration honoring Saul. Unfortunately, Jonathan has caused a massive counterattack, and Saul has no choice but to go to war. (1 Samuel 9-13:1-5)
Samuel instructed Saul and his army who were greatly outnumbered, and literally trembling, to wait at Gilgal for him. When Samuel didn’t arrive at the appointed time agreed upon, Saul disobeyed a commandment of God. He took it upon himself to offer a burnt offering and peace offering. As the last ember went out, Samuel arrived. When Samuel asked him what he had done, Saul blamed it on his army. He said it was because the people were afraid and some were even deserting that he had to act immediately before the Philistines attacked. Samuel told Saul he had not obeyed the commandments of the Lord and had acted foolishly. He also told him that the Lord would no longer establish his Kingdom forever. Another man after God’s own heart would. Saul continued on and off fighting the Philistines erratically for the rest of his reign, winning some battles, losing others. He also battled with Moab, Ammon, and Edom. He never fulfilled the main desire of God that he as King would finally rid Israel of the domination of the Philistines in their land. (1 Samuel 13, 14)
One of Israel’s most vicious enemies were the Amalekites. God hated the Amalekites because when Israel wandered in the desert, the Amalekites attacked them by surprise when they were faint and weary. They also concentrated their attack on those that lagged behind, like the children and the older frail people. Samuel went to Saul with a message from God. Since he was king, it was up to him to finally rid Israel of their worst enemy. He was told to destroy both men, women, children, and all they had. Saul gathered a mighty army of over ten thousand. He was victorious over them. He did not destroy them all as he was commanded. He spared the animals, the best of the spoils, and the Amalekite king. God revealed to Samuel the night of the battle that He repented of making Saul king. It hurt Samuel so much he cried about Saul to God all night. The next morning when Samuel arrived, he discovered Saul had already left to go to Carmel to set up a monument to his successful victory. When Samuel found him, Saul greeted him by saying he had carried out the commandments of the Lord. Samuel then asked him why he heard the sound of animals if everything had been destroyed. Saul refused to admit he was in the wrong and blamed saving the animals on his men. He said they wanted to save the best animals to sacrifice to the Lord, and everything else was destroyed. Samuel tells Saul about his conversation with the Lord from the night before. When he is confronted with his lies, he continued to make excuses and lies in front of his whole army. Saul kept the Amalekite King alive for a trophy of his conquests. He saved the best of the spoils and lied about saving the best of the animals for sacrifices. When he finally confessed and admitted his sin, he still tried to pass the responsibility for his wrongdoing on to others. When Samuel told Saul God had rejected him from being king, his main concern was to still look good in front of the elders and all of Israel. As one last merciful act Samuel showed Saul, he went with him to worship. Then he asked for the King of the Amalekites and a sword. In front of Saul and everyone else gathered, he chopped the Amalekite king to pieces. Samuel, having nothing more to say to Saul, left to go home. He never visited or saw Saul again. Samuel, however, mourned for Saul the rest of his life. (1 Samuel 15)
What happened to Saul after Samuel left him? He lost his spiritual connection and the love of God. He had his kingdom ripped from him. An evil spirit entered him, and he became a murdering mad man intent on revenge. He engaged in witchcraft in spite of ruling against it. He lost all his sons in battle and eventually committed suicide. For a man whose life had such an auspicious beginning, his life really ended very sadly. What was his downfall? His pride and arrogance fractured his relationship with God. His self-righteousness and ability to blame others for his shortcomings further separated him from God’s goodness. Finally, his disobedience and rebellious nature lost him God’s love and protection. I think when we reflect on the truths learned from the record of Saul’s life, they are just as relevant to us today, as they were all those thousands of years ago.