Saul: Success Story. Victorious King. Godless Leader?
I’ve been preaching on antiheroes as a lead up to VBS, where the theme will be heroes. An antihero is the main character of the story, but they are the opposite of what a hero is supposed to be. Sometimes these antiheroes are mislabeled for no good reason. Eve, the mother of all creation, is called the first sinner, because she was deceived into eating the forbidden fruit. She doesn’t deserve that because the man was just as guilty. The next week we looked at Rahab a prostitute. She is vilified because of her occupation, although she was a victim of societal injustice and a model of faith. Last week we looked at Samson. He was not a godly man: he was a womanizer, and was short tempered and violent.
All of these are antiheroes: they are main characters that lack heroic qualities. They are cautionary tales, we don’t want to repeat their mistakes. But they also show us that God’s plan unstoppable, despite the deeply flawed people who are a part of that plan.
Today we’re going to focus on Saul, the first king of Israel.
Today we’re going to focus on the antihero Saul, the first king of Israel.
Sermon Introduction - historical context
Sermon Introduction - historical context
Remember that Rahab lives in the period of biblical history called the Conquest, when Israel is entering the promised land. Samson appears during the next period of biblical history called the Judges, where Israel had settled in the land and God raised up local leaders / Judges to help deliver them from rival nations. Samson was one of those.
This morning we’re in that period of biblical history known as the Kings. Israel wanted to be like other nations and wanted a king. God, warned them not to do it, but Israel persisted so God said, “Fine, but here’s what’s going to happen: He’s going to make you pay taxes, take a portion of your property when he sees something he likes, he will take your daughters as wives and take your sons so he can go to war.
Can you imagine those being the themes of your election campaign?
But they wanted a king, so they get Saul.
Saul’s story takes the form of a tragedy - we categorize stories, plays and musicals into this category. These stories begin on a happy note but things get worse from there. You might think of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet - a starry eyed couple in love eventually commits suicide. King Saul’s story begins on a happy note and ends badly. But, we can still see God’s redemptive work.
King Saul example of tragedy
Like a good tragic story, we read in Saul’s story that God begins small.
Saul answered, “But am I not a Benjamite, from the smallest tribe of Israel, and is not my clan the least of all the clans of the tribe of Benjamin? Why do you say such a thing to me?”
Saul is a success story with humble beginnings. There were 12 tribes of Israel, and his was the smallest, the poorest and had the worst reputation. You might think of modern politics here. People born into poverty do not become president. People whose family name is associated with crime have a hard time getting elected to public office. The tribe of Benjamin was the poorest, and Gibeah, Saul’s hometown had a reputation for extreme sexual perversion. It was so bad that God nearly wiped them off the map. But God finds his king there. Saul is a reminder that God does not make the social distinctions we make. Poor, rich or middle class. White, black or hispanic. White collar or blue collar. Educated or uneducated. Experienced or inexperienced. Sinner or saint. We make these distinctions, but when God calls a person, these labels disappear. With King Saul, God begins small.
Saul, like many people who are excited about a new ministry hits the ground running.
Even before he takes his oath of office, God demonstrates his power through Saul:
When he and his servant arrived at Gibeah, a procession of prophets met him; the Spirit of God came powerfully upon him, and he joined in their prophesying.
Saul is given the gift of prophecy. In 1 Corinthians, the apostle Paul describes prophecy has the greatest spiritual gift, and we all should all desire. God, wants to make it clear to everyone else that Saul is God’s chosen king, so he pours out his Spirit. He’s off to a good start. Saul’s inner experience of the Holy Spirit translates into military success:
Samuel said to all the people, “Do you see the man the Lord has chosen? There is no one like him among all the people.” Then the people shouted, “Long live the king!”
chosen by God
When Saul heard their words, the Spirit of God came powerfully upon him, and he burned with anger.
God pours out his Spirit on Saul so he can lead Israel to victorious battle. Keep in mind that Saul was not militarily trained, uneducated and from a bad part of town. But God qualifies Saul in a way that only God can. As a result, Saul is victorious and Israel is blessed.
Whether it be a king, a spouse or a Sunday School teacher, It’s not enough to get off to a good start. We have our honeymoon period in leadership, marriage and ministry. Saul is like that college roommate who seemed like a really cool guy, but give it time and his flaws begin to emerge. This happens with Saul, and it happens with our faith in Christ.
People who go to a summer camp, or a mission trip or a spiritual retreat and have powerful, spiritual experiences. There’s this excitement over this new work that Christ is doing. but it doesn’t last. People who have these experiences often become disillusioned: “I thought I experienced God, but it was just emotions.” or “The preacher got us all worked up, but it was just emotions.” These might be true, but I think that when someone comes home from a retreat or mission trip excited about Jesus, it is God’s way of putting them on the path to discipleship, but we still have to walk it. Which means there will be hard times on that walk. This is where we come to the main passage that we’re dealing with.
Saul has experienced the Spirit of God in powerful ways, but now comes the hard stuff. Now comes the test to see what he’s really made up of:
Saul was thirty years old when he became king, and he reigned over Israel forty- two years. Saul chose three thousand men from Israel; two thousand were with him at Mikmash and in the hill country of Bethel, and a thousand were with Jonathan at Gibeah in Benjamin. The rest of the men he sent back to their homes. Jonathan attacked the Philistine outpost at Geba, and the Philistines heard about it. Then Saul had the trumpet blown throughout the land and said, “Let the Hebrews hear!” So all Israel heard the news: “Saul has attacked the Philistine outpost, and now Israel has become obnoxious to the Philistines.” And the people were summoned to join Saul at Gilgal. The Philistines assembled to fight Israel, with three thousand chariots, six thousand charioteers, and soldiers as numerous as the sand on the seashore. They went up and camped at Mikmash, east of Beth Aven. When the Israelites saw that their situation was critical and that their army was hard pressed, they hid in caves and thickets, among the rocks, and in pits and cisterns. Some Hebrews even crossed the Jordan to the land of Gad and Gilead. Saul remained at Gilgal, and all the troops with him were quaking with fear. He waited seven days, the time set by Samuel; but Samuel did not come to Gilgal, and Saul’s men began to scatter. So he said, “Bring me the burnt offering and the fellowship offerings.” And Saul offered up the burnt offering. Just as he finished making the offering, Samuel arrived, and Saul went out to greet him. “What have you done?” asked Samuel. Saul replied, “When I saw that the men were scattering, and that you did not come at the set time, and that the Philistines were assembling at Mikmash, I thought, ‘Now the Philistines will come down against me at Gilgal, and I have not sought the Lord’s favor.’ So I felt compelled to offer the burnt offering.” “You have done a foolish thing,” Samuel said. “You have not kept the command the Lord your God gave you; if you had, he would have established your kingdom over Israel for all time. But now your kingdom will not endure; the Lord has sought out a man after his own heart and appointed him ruler of his people, because you have not kept the Lord’s command.”
The once great King Saul is a perfect example of...
What we’ve just read in is a failure of obedience. Saul was supposed to wait for 7 days for the prophet Samuel to join him. They would offer a sacrifice to God and go into battle. Saul gets impatient and prepares the sacrifice without Samuel. As punishment his kingdom will be taken away.
I can understand why Saul disobeyed God. His army is demoralized. His soldiers are running and hiding. A crisis is developing so he wants to act now. Obedience is not always easy. Obedience doesn’t always make sense.
This may not sound like a fair punishment, but this isn’t the only time Saul directly disobeys God, and each time the disobedience becomes more severe. Saul has started strong and now is falling hard.
It’s one thing to have an uplifting spiritual experience - it’s another thing to obey. Obedience is easy when there is no personal cost involved. Obedience is easy when it is convenient. Obedience is easy when it doesn’t create discomfort or fear.
Sharing the Gospel when you’re not sure what to say. Practicing your discipleship in a new way (preparing a meal, serving the poor, the local schools). Sometimes we shy away from things because they are not inconvenient or too costly.
But the obedience God requires can make us uncomfortable, nervous and scared. Saul puts a limit on his obedience, and that’s the tragedy of his life:
Here’s the tragedy of Saul’s life:
Now the Spirit of the Lord had departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord tormented him.
Saul, whose ministry begins with generous outpourings of the Holy Spirit, ends with that same Spirit being taken away from him. I don’t like bumper sticker theology, but I read one that was profound: If God feels far away, guess who has moved?” Saul’s continual disobedience, pursuing his own interests has led him to ruin. He dies in battle, and loses his kingdom.
It’s hard to look at Saul’s life and find...
God’s Redemptive Purpose
God’s Redemptive Purpose
For you, God, tested us; you refined us like silver. You brought us into prison and laid burdens on our backs. You let people ride over our heads; we went through fire and water, but you brought us to a place of abundance.
10 For you, God, tested us;
you refined us like silver.
11 You brought us into prison
and laid burdens on our backs.
12 You let people ride over our heads;
we went through fire and water,
but you brought us to a place of abundance.
There is no sign of repentance from Saul; spends the latter part of his life chasing God’s replacement, trying to kill him; Was he beyond hope? Scripture tells us of a God who pursues the lost; who forgives the unforgivable. Who restores the fallen. I believe that if Saul had repented his life would not have ended in such a tragic way. So where can we find God’s redemptive purpose in Saul’s tragic life? (read PS)
no sign of repentance from Saul; spends the latter part of his life chasing God’s replacement; was he beyond hope? Scripture tells us of a God who pursues the lost;
God uses King Saul’s decline and fall as a means for preparing their next king: David. Much of the Psalms David wrote while he was running away from Saul. David had to survive in the wilderness. He fought hunger and he had to deal with an angry king and enemy nations. David had to build coalitions in order to survive. He had to rely on God. Can you imagine sitting down and writing music while being in David’s situation?
God’s redemptive purposes: God used human cruelty to shape David, Israel’s future king.
I think Saul’s story does 2 things: 1) It is a cautionary tale. Just because we begin strong doesn’t mean we will end strong. Tough obedience is necessary. 2) It is an example of how God uses godless cruelty as a means to shape his people.
How does cruelty, injustice