“But Saul and the people spared Agag, and the best of the sheep, and of the oxen, and of the fatlings, and the lambs, and all that was good, and would not utterly destroy them: but every thing that was vile and refuse, that they destroyed utterly” (1 Sam. 15:9).
Saul is one of the most tragic figures in the Old Testament. Head and shoulders above all the other men in Israel, he began his reign with great promise but ended it in shame.
“And he (Kish) had a son, whose name was Saul, a choice young man, and a goodly: and there was not among the children of Israel a goodlier person than he: from his shoulders and upward he was higher than any of the people” (1 Sam. 9:2).
As Israel’s first king, Saul had the opportunity to be an example for all future rulers, but his covetousness for the praise of men and for power over them, was his downfall.
Saul had other admirable physical qualities that made him fit to be received by Israel during the period immediately after the last judge. Because of his stature, he was quickly accepted by the people. Furthermore, the Lord used him as a good military leader, as shown by his victories early in his reign. Here we have a king who was not only is a warrior himself, but a man whose sons were also warriors. Note that his son Jonathan’s victory over the Philistines comes the first year after King Saul was anointed (1 Sam. 14:6-16).
One of Saul’s first sins was his failure to wait for Samuel at Gilgal (1 Sam. 13:8-9). The Philistines had gathered together against Israel with a large army and the Israelites had fled to hide themselves. Saul had to know if God wanted him to go to battle or not, and in order to approach God, he had to offer a sacrifice. There he assumed the role of a priest by making a sacrifice to ask for God’s blessing and to seek God’s counsel. His excuse for acting as a priest was totally unacceptable:
And Samuel said, What hast thou done? And Saul said, Because I saw that the people were scattered from me, and that thou camest not within the days appointed, and that the Philistines gathered themselves together at Michmash; 12 Therefore said I, The Philistines will come down now upon me to Gilgal, and I have not made supplication unto the LORD: I forced myself therefore, and offered a burnt offering” (1 Sam. 13:11-12).
He was willing to force himself to disobey God so he could win the people’s favor. Strangely, he determined to disobey God in order to persuade God to help him. Saul knew he had done wrong, but he justified his sin instead of following the law exactly (Lev. 3:5 and Lev. 6:9-13). There is no doubt in this incident that he knew that only the priests of God (descendants of Aaron) were to offer a sacrifice, and he knew Samuel’s purpose and promise was to do just that. So why is he so faithless in following a command of God he knows to do? He feared losing the people! He coveted their allegiance.
Another sin followed soon afterward. After defeating Moab, Ammon, and Edom, Saul was told by Samuel to go to war against the Amalekites and to “…slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass” (1 Sam. 15:3). Saul carried out his instructions well except for two things: he spared the life of Agag, the king, and saved the best of the animals. When he returned from the battle, he lied to himself and to Samuel and told Samuel that he had “performed the commandment of the Lord.” He imagined that disobedience to some of God’s commands was acceptable. Samuel approached Saul that day with a heavy burden on his heart. King Saul’s problem was that he had turned back from following God. During the night of the battle, God had spoken to Samuel and said, “It repenteth me that I have set up Saul to be king: for he is turned back from following me, and hath not performed my commandments” (1 Sam. 15:11).
At the end of verse 15 we see that Samuel was grieved and cried all night to the Lord—interceding for Saul that he might remain Israel’s king. Saul was a mighty man of valor and a great military leader, but his covetousness of the people’s praise and allegiance had overtaken him, causing him to sin greatly. Was being a military leader enough? Was having a handsome well-liked king the plan God had in mind for Israel? No, God was seeking a man who would obey all His commands—a spiritual leader whose thought was not for himself, but for serving God by training the people in righteousness. King Saul had not remembered the one who had set him up as king, given him his power nor why. God had called King Saul to do His (God’s) work, not his own. King Saul’s first and foremost thought should have been, “What shall I render unto the LORD for all his benefits toward me? I will take the cup of salvation, and call upon the name of the LORD. I will pay my vows unto the LORD now in the presence of all his people (Psa. 116:12-14).
From that time forward, Saul exhausted his total strength and power to pursue one whom he perceived to be his enemy, when his greatest enemy was actually himself. He wasted all his time and energy in fruitless attempts on David’s life because he could not accept that God had removed him from being King over Israel.
- Was it natural for King Saul to be afraid of the Philistine’s great and strong army and to seek God’s help?
- Did King Saul try to do what was right in God’s sight by asking God if he should go against the Philistines?
- Who were the only ones that God allowed to offer sacrifices to him? (Lev. 1:7-9; Lev. 3:5 and Lev. 6:9-13)?
- Was King Saul a descendent of Levi or Aaron? Give specific BCV here.
- Why was King Saul wrong to offer the sacrifice?
- Was King Saul justified in doing evil that good may come (Rom 3:8)?
- Even though King Saul had the right desire to draw near to God, did he approach God according to God’s law?
- What does God say must happen when someone draws near to him (Lev. 10:1-3)?
- Had King Saul turned back from following God (1 Sam 15:11)?
- If King Saul was not fighting Israel’s battles for the Lord, for whom was he fighting them (1 Sam 15:24)?
- Whose voice did King Saul obey: God’s or the people’s (1 Sam 15:24-26)?
- How many of God’s commands did King Saul obey when he killed all the Amalekites?
- How many commands did King Saul disobey (1 Sam. 15:8-9)?
- Whose will did King Saul do when he feared the people and obeyed their voice?
- How many commands did King Saul tell Samuel that he obeyed?
- Does God accept man’s obedience when they are not willing to obey all of his commands (James 2:9-10)?
- When God told Saul that He had rejected him from being king, did King Saul listen to God’s correction?
- When God told King Saul that he had appointed another man to be king over Israel, what should King Saul have done?
- When King Saul refused to obey God to give the kingdom to God’s chosen man, was he justified in seeking God to know if he should fight against the Philistines as king of Israel?
- What did King Saul spend most of his time doing, instead of obeying God?