The opposite of courage, part 2 - Saul

Eighth in the COURAGE series

Like Cain in our previous post, Saul was a firstling who did not set a good example. As Israel's first king, much would be required of him, but in two of three initiating missions, he failed.

To Saul, as he did to Cain, the Lord could have said: If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it. (Gen 4:7) But after 2500 years of human history perhaps God thought that Saul should know the basics.

Saul was a courageous leader, chosen to lead the Israelites in battle against their enemies. His stature fit him for his role (1 Sam 9:2), and he received a special anointing by Samuel to signify and seal his election by God. (1 Sam 10:1) What went wrong?

As we look at the three challenges, let's also apply the lessons to our own lives, for this is the Bible's gift to us. (Rom 15:4)

When Samuel was old and it was plain that his sons could not succeed him, the people cried out for a king to be their judge and to lead them in battle (1 Sam 8:5, 20).

After some events and discussions, Saul was anointed and Samuel prophesied to him to grant him assurance of his kingship. He prophesied certain things that came true quickly (1 Sam 10:9); however, one prophecy was of a more cryptic nature, that is, Samuel said that Saul would go to Gilgal, preceding Samuel's arrival there, and wait for Samuel seven days; then he would come to show him what to do. This word was to test Saul.

Saul was accepted by nearly all his subjects (1 Sam 10:27) before his first challenge arose: the Ammonite king threatened the Hebrews in Jabesh, cruelly promising to gouge out their right eyes if they would not submit to him. They asked for seven days' respite, using this time to call for help, and Saul courageously took the initiative to rally 300,000 troops who wiped out the Ammonites. In celebration, Saul refused to take revenge on any who had not approved of his appointment as king, and credited the victory to the Lord. (1 Sam 11:13) Success! He had fulfilled his first mission! The people then went to Gilgal and made Saul their king before the Lord (1 Sam 11:15).

After a year, Saul was still in Gilgal. His son caused a stir with the Philistines, and the people were afraid for their lives. And he tarried seven days, according to the set time that Samuel had appointed: but Samuel came not to Gilgal; and the people were scattered from him. (1 Sam 13:8)

In his distress he sacrificed burnt offerings rather than waiting for Samuel to tell him what to do next. Some commentators state that Saul sinned by upbraiding the constitution of Israel that divided roles to kings, priests and prophets, but others say Saul's sin was to act precipitously instead of practicing patience and endurance. Thus, he failed his second test, and Samuel prophesied that his kingdom would not continue (1 Sam 13:14).

For the latter cause, I confess I have often failed in this test of faith. But is it cowardly not to wait on the Lord? Perhaps in some instances it is merely foolish, but if due to fear in a circumstance, then it is.

Saul's third test was of a final nature, and perhaps this was because he was the leader of God's people. Others may err and not suffer drastic consequences, but a leader is measured by a different standard.

Samuel charged Saul to annihilate the Amalekites, the ancient enemy of the Israelites who had been first to come against them after their exodus from Egypt. (1 Sam 15:1-2) The instruction was to utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass. (vs 3)

In partial obedience, Saul did not kill Agag, king of Amalek, nor the best of the sheep, oxen, fatlings or lambs. It was his idea to use the livestock for sacrifices, and perhaps his kindness to Agag was as a peer to peer favor. We do not know.

He would soon learn that to obey is better than sacrifice (1 Sam 15:22), and that he had been rejected as king over Israel (1 Sam 15:26). After this incident we read of Saul's cowardice as he would attempt to kill David. The coward is afraid to lose his own life. (John 12:25)

The third test of his faith required that he be fully obedient to God's Word without questioning its mandates, and that there would be no enjoyment of a spoil for this obedience.

For us, too, though we may not fully comprehend what the Lord requires of us, it is our duty to obey his Word, and not anticipate a payment for that. In a general sense, the spoils of war are for victors, but to apply the lesson of this Scripture, some wars are for the honor of God alone.

To consider that we ought to be rewarded for our courage in battling our worst enemies-- attitudes, predispositions, behaviors, sinful ways-- misses the point that it is God's will for our lives that we be delivered from evil. To live victoriously in Christ having defeated many major provocations of our flesh is a reward in itself and glorifies God. Full victory is not possible till after death.

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