Why was Saul a bad king? Some early hints…

From our daily Bible reading: 1 Samuel 9-12
March 30, 2019

 

In 2 Samuel the eight chapter, Israel demanded a king, partly because of the corruption that had crept into the rulership as a result of Samuel’s sons, but partly so that Israel would be more like all the nations around them.

As a result, God instructed Samuel to anoint a man to lead the people. And we read this story beginning in chapter 9, where we are introduced to Saul, the Benjamite. Saul in many ways is the ideal king candidate from a superficial standpoint; the scripture says he was handsome and taller by head and shoulders than everyone around him. But what’s striking about him initially is his humility, or more accurately his acute lack of confidence.

Saul’s initial reaction to the news from Samuel is to resist – just as we read about men like Moses, who saw himself as unworthy and inadequate for the task at hand. In Saul’s case, he was from a small clan in the smallest tribe of Israel, and he saw no reason why anyone would want to follow him. But Samuel reassures him in chapter 10 that he has been chosen by God, and offers proof through prophecy, saying in verse 6, ” Then the Spirit of the Lord will rush upon you, and you will prophesy with them and be turned into another man.”

This sounds a lot like what God often promises to those He chooses, such as the apostles in the first century, who were told not to worry about what they would say when brought before magistrates for the cause of Christ (example: Matthew 10:19.) We see an example here of the same Holy Spirit interaction with man that we see in the New Testament with men such as the apostles in Acts 2 and Stephen in Acts 7. And we read here that God gave Saul “another heart.”

I believe the idea is much the same as what we see in other passages where God hardens hearts or changes hearts. This passage does not require that God miraculously did anything to Saul, but could simply mean that because of God’s message through Samuel, Saul’s attitude about himself and his position in the kingdom would (and did) change. Where at first he saw himself as inadequate and unfit because of his station, he became convinced to move forward under Samuel’s directions.

But even this change of heart doesn’t last, which I think shows it wasn’t a miraculous act wherein God transformed Saul into literally a new man with a literally new heart. Even after this change takes place and all Samuel’s prophecies come true, Saul still shows fear and doubt, even hiding among the baggage from his own public selection later in the chapter.

That spirit of doubt, fearfulness, and lack of initiative seemed to follow Saul throughout his kingship. After his public crowning at the end of chapter 10, he simply goes back home and apparently goes back to work in his fields, rather than concerning himself with affairs of the kingdom. Maybe he simply didn’t know what was expected of him, but there certainly doesn’t seem to be a zeal or a desire to lead God’s people. It’s not until the Ammonites invade that Saul begins to act like a king, and even then, it happens because the Spirit of the Lord once again comes upon him and moves him to rally Israel to his banner and defeat the enemy.

Ultimately, Saul never seemed to place his faith in God, or even display an active zeal to serve God. He simply reacted to situations in the moment, and we’ll see in future chapters how that characteristic made him not only a bad king, but also one in opposition to God’s will, forcing God to choose a new king, who would be a man after God’s heart.

Next reading: 1 Samuel 13-16

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