(Reading List Theme 2.3)

James 1:13-15   “When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.”

THE LIFE OF SAUL

James 1, which I posted about a month ago, talks about wisdom – which I explored in my last two posts – and also about standing up to temptation… King Saul, Israel’s first King, is a good example of how NOT to stand up to temptation. Because he didn’t stand. When under pressure, he caved. He gave in to the crowd. King Saul is also a good example of what happens when you don’t seek wisdom – as is pretty evident if you read about his life in 1 Samuel 9-31. He had some high points, but he also had some pretty low points. He didn’t seem to be a man of courage, he didn’t seem to fully embrace the call of God on his life, and he was consumed by jealousy, literally to the point of madness.

Really, reading about his life makes me wonder, why did God choose him to be king anyway? Was it to teach a lesson to Israel that kings aren’t all they are idealized to be (1 Sam 10:19)? Or to show how much outward appearance is not an indicator of future success (1 Sam 10:23-24)? Or just to be part of David’s training, and reveal how great King David was by comparison? I don’t know… but I do know there is a lot to learn from reading about Saul… I do not believe that God makes mistakes, and I do believe God sees us for what we can be, not for what we are. I also believe we have free will to decide to submit to God’s plans and ways, or to just do the best (or worst) we can on our own. Perhaps God saw a potential for greatness in Saul, but Saul was unable to give himself fully to the Lord, so he was unable to ever fulfill that potential for greatness.

SAUL’S CRUCIAL MOMENT

The prophet Samuel was the spiritual leader of Israel, and anointed Saul as King in chapter 10. Chapters 11-14 show Saul having some military victories, but also making some foolish, impatient decisions. When we come to 1 Samuel 15,  it is not his first failure to obey all the Lord had spoken.

When Samuel comes to confront Saul’s failure to obey, it is because God says Saul has “turned back from following me and has not performed my commandments” (15:11). Yet when confronted, Saul tries to excuse his sin and convince himself and Samuel that what he did was okay. Once we have given in to temptation, it is hard to admit later that what you did was wrong! This is not just Saul’s problem, it is a human problem, going all the way back to Adam and Eve. When confronted with my sins, what do I do? My husband is probably the one who most often points out my sins to me,  and I don’t always respond with grace and immediate repentance. I more likely say, “Well, yeah, but you do it too!” or point out some other sin of his. Don’t get me wrong, I am very grateful for a spouse who also wants to follow God, and who is honest enough to help me grow. A friend who loves God and loves us enough to confront us is a gift… Samuel did love Saul, and grieved at his failures (15:11, 16:1). But his loyalty was to God first, and he had the courage to confront Saul, though Saul didn’t like what he heard.

What God desires is not that we do great works for him or give sacrifices (OT: burnt offerings, now: religious acts)… God desires obedience and that we listen to him (15:22). Rebellion and presumption – instead of seeking and following his counsel – land us in trouble, and remove us from a place of receiving the fulness of God’s blessing on our lives. For Saul, it cost him God’s blessing as Israel’s leader (15:23).

When Saul repented (15:24-31), he was able to again enter relationship with God. There are not many formulas in scripture, but repentance and forgiveness is something we can count on – though we may still face consequences of our actions, just as Saul’s consequence was the loss of his kingdom.

THE CONFLICT OF PAST AND PRESENT

Because our time and culture is so different, to us it may seem cruel to kill all the Amalekite people.  From God’s perspective, he knew they would keep on sinning, cruelly killing innocent people, both snaring Israel away from following God and leading their own people to a life of sin. God did not want another person to ever be born into such a sinful place, where they would have such a small chance to ever know him. Only God has the right to make such judgments.

We can see from Jesus’ statements and his life that he brought us into an era when God’s presence and his will are no longer manifested through a particular nation or king. God’s kingdom is now something that is in the hearts and lives of people, not in a physical location.

Though he does not give such commands now, as he gave the nation of Israel, when he does give a command, we must follow through without fear, without selfish ambition, and without turning from that command.  God removed the anointing from Saul’s life to lead, because someone who will not submit to God’s leadership is not fit to lead others.

EMBRACING GOD’S WAY FOR ME

Saul was tempted to do things his own way. He was tempted to follow what the people wanted to do instead of what God had commanded. He gave in. He did not obey.

I think one of Saul’s biggest problems was that he failed to embrace the call of God on his life. He was reluctant to be anointed, to stand up before the people, and to take his place as King (9:21, 10:15, 10:22, 15:17). By not embracing the call to lead, he succumbed also to fear of what the people did and thought, and fear of failure in their eyes (13:11, 15:21). The only thing the Bible tells us to fear is God, and that to fear God alone is to find wisdom.

So, the question today is… what do I fear? Am I embracing the call of God on my life, or worrying about worldly desires and people’s opinions? Lord, help me to follow and fear only you, and to not miss out on the greatness in me that can only be fulfilled by following you. 

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