13 And Samuel said to Saul, “You have done foolishly. You have not kept the command of the Lord your God, with which he commanded you. For then the Lord would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. 14 But now your kingdom shall not continue. The Lord has sought out a man after his own heart, and the Lord has commanded him to be prince[b] over his people, because you have not kept what the Lord commanded you.” (1 Samuel 13:13-14)
I struggle a lot with insecurity as a leader, so the story of Saul resonates with me on so many levels. While my own shortcomings give me a lot of empathy for Saul, they also make me aware of the lessons God has for me from this cautionary tale.
In 1 Samuel 13, Saul performs a religious rite that was not his to perform. Rather than wait on Samuel, a Levite, to offer the sacrifice; Saul, a Benjamite, offered it himself. His rationale for this disobedience was that Samuel was late, and the people were scattering (1 Samuel 13:8).
Lesson One: It is not up to me to hold the people together. An insecure leader believes that he or she has to be the one at every event, giving direction, rallying the troops, keeping the ball rolling. In truth, God is the one who holds everything and everyone together. Hebrews 1:3 tells us that He “upholds the Universe by the word of His power.” Beloved, do you really think it’s up to you to be the glue?
So Samuel tells Saul that the kingdom will be taken away from him. From that point on, Saul tries to perform at a level that will make God change His mind. He leads well. He fights valiantly. He takes the ark–the visible, tangible symbol of God’s presence, into battle with him.
And he makes an impressive sounding vow that none of his men will eat or drink until the enemy has been defeated. It sounds pretty righteous– as though he is saying “God will sustain us, and cursed is any man who trusts in food instead of God for strength.”
Saul’s son Jonathan wasn’t around to hear Saul’s vow, so he eats some honey that falls on the ground. Later, after the enemy has been defeated, the starving soldiers of Israel tear into the plundered sheep and cattle, devouring the meat with the blood still in it, and sinning against the Lord because of Saul’s dumb vow (1 Samuel 14:31-34). Once again, Saul tries to do retroactive damage control. He builds an altar to the Lord for the first time in his life (verse 35), and inquires of God what they should do next.
But when God doesn’t answer him, Saul looks for anyone to blame other than himself. He seems to have forgotten that Samuel has already told him God would take the kingdom away from him. He’s forgotten that it was his disobedience that started this downward slide. Instead, he nearly puts his own son to death for breaking a vow he never should have made in the first place.
Lesson Two: When God seems silent, the first question for to ask is, “Where is my own heart? Are there areas of disobedience in my own life?” Before I blame the deacons, or other staff members, or sin in the congregation, or any other outside factor, I need to check myself.
What about you? What lessons does God have for you in the cautionary tale of King Saul?