A King and a Poor Beginning

The One Year® Chronological Bible, NKJV (Tyndale, 2013), April 11 

Tall stature and good looks don’t make for a good leader. Little men often reside in handsome and large bodies. Such is Israel’s first king.

Samuel anoints Saul as Israel’s first king and warns him and the people of Israel about Bible literacy and obedience, “If you fear the LORD and serve Him and obey His voice, and do not rebel against the commandment of the LORD, then both you and the king who reigns over you will continue following the LORD your God. However, if you do not obey the voice of the LORD, but rebel against the commandment of the LORD, then the hand of the LORD will be against you, as it was against your fathers” (1 Sam. 12:14-15). God further promises, after sending a raging thunderstorm, “But if you still do wickedly, you shall be swept away, both you and your king” (12:25).

The Philistines assemble against Israel, and Israel responds in fear and hides in caves. And King Saul isn’t far behind! Saul panics as he waits for Samuel to show up and presumptuously steps into the role of the priest, “And he offered the burnt offering” (13:9). Had Saul waited a few more minutes for Samuel, he would not have heard these words, “You have not kept the commandment of the LORD your God, which He commanded you. For now the LORD would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. But now your kingdom shall not continue” (1 Samuel 13:13-14).

King Saul errs on a number of points:

  • Saul assumes that his reign over Israel as their king also includes the priesthood. Only the Levities are permitted to offer burnt offerings to the LORD. Saul overreaches his position.
  • Saul is not a man of faith. He, like so many, bases his decision on what he sees instead of what God has said, “When I saw that the people were scattered from me, and that you did not come within the days appointed, and that the Philistines gathered together at Michmash . . .” (13:11). Saul relies on his own understanding instead of trusting God. 
  • Saul allows his interpretation of the situation to determine his response instead of God’s word, “Then I said, ‘The Philistines will now come down on me at Gilgal’” (13:12). Saul entertains a high view of the enemy and a low view of God.
  • Saul excuses his disobedience by claiming spirituality, “I have not made supplication to the LORD” (13:12) Saul hides behind religion.
  • Saul blames his disobedience on his emotions, “Therefore I felt compelled, and offered a burnt offering” (13:12). Saul avoids taking personal responsibility for his actions.

Saul has what the people want in a king externally, but he isn’t the man God looks internally. Often, churches and religious institutions choose leaders based on height rather than heart. God is not looking for someone who’ll fill a suit well; rather, He is seeking the person after His own heart, whose delight is to fulfill all His will.

Questions from today’s reading (1 Samuel 9:1-12:25):

  • Describe the spiritual life of Israel under Samuel’s leadership.
  • What had occurred to the tribe of Benjamin years earlier in Judges 19-20? Why does the LORD choose a man from Gibeah to become Israel’s first king?
  • How does Israel respond to the presentation of Saul as their king? What does this reveal about human nature?
  • How does the LORD use the attack of the Ammonites against Jabesh Gilead to unify Israel?
  • How does the LORD reveal His displeasure in Israel’s request for a king?
  • What warning accompanies Samuel’s farewell speech to Israel?