IT’S NOT (just) HOW YOU START, IT’S HOW YOU FINISH!
1 Samuel 13 and 15 (The reasons for Saul’s downfall)
ILLUS.: When I was younger 100 – 400 m runner – Sprinter.
Comrade’s Marathon 50 miles – from sea-level to 2000 feet – a grueling race run each year between Durban and Pietermaritzburg. ~ approx. 20,000 athletes. Many train well and pace themselves but there are always some you steam off and a great pace and with draw not long into the race.
Life is like a marathon rather than a sprint – that is equally true if not more true for the Christian life. NT tells us that we are to “run the race set before us” – to “train like good athletes” – not to get “weary in doing good” – to “perserve to the end”.
God doesn’t want people who dip into spiritual things occassionally with a short burst of enthusiasm that don’t last – he is not against enthusiasm so long as it is part of a long-haul life and not a here-today-gone-tomorrow spirituality.
In so many areas of life people start well – but sadly they finish badly or not at all.
As the song goes “It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish”
Saul is a prime example of a man who starts well and has great promise but who fails to reach his God-given potential. It is one of the most dismal stories in the Bible. I believe God placed it in the Bible as a stark warning to us as to how NOT to live our lives.
1. SAUL’S WONDERFUL EARLY PROSPECTS.
When we first meet Saul in the pages of scripture he is tall, handsome and strong – he is humble and has a servant heart.
He was approved by God and accepted by the people.
a) Chosen .
1 Samuel 10:24 24 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!” (NIV)
He led the people well – he was successful on the battlefield – he was compassionate in his treatment of his fellow Israelites and didn’t allow his power to go to his head.
It was God’s purpose to use Saul as a responsible leader for Israel.
1 Samuel 10:1 1 Then Samuel took a flask of oil and poured it on Saul’s head and kissed him, saying, “Has not the LORD anointed you leader over his inheritance? (NIV)
The tragedy of Saul is while he knew God had great plans for him, he allowed his own selfishness to rob him of the greater joy of pleasing God. We will see why is a moment!!
Saul’s life had great possibilities – useful possibilities for God but it was spoiled by the pursuit of uslelsss things.
God’s plan is that every one of us can be useful in his kingdom but self-centredness and disobedience rob us of that privelege.
Saul never failed because God asked him to do something that was beyond him. God never asks us to do anything without supplying us with the where-with-all to do it. The provision is not always given in advance nor do we have reserve supplies.
ILLUS.: Contact principle – in Lisbon where we lived – 1989/90 – electric trams – ocassionally a contact would come loose from the over-head cables – the tram driver would use a long pole to retrun the contact pole to the cable – no power without contact.
So too spiritual life – on the contact principle – with God through the Spirit – NOT the storage principle
1 Samuel 9:2 2 He had a son named Saul, an impressive young man without equal among the Israelites — a head taller than any of the others. (NIV)
He was physically equipped for the task….
1 Samuel 9:27 27 As they were going down to the edge of the town, Samuel said to Saul, “Tell the servant to go on ahead of us” — and the servant did so — “but you stay here awhile, so that I may give you a message from God.” (NIV)
He was spiritually equipped — and disciplined to hear the word of God!
1 Samuel 10:6&10 (Samuel speaking) 6 The Spirit of the LORD will come upon you in power, and you will prophesy with them; and you will be changed …….. 10 When they arrived at Gibeah, a procession of prophets met him; the Spirit of God came upon him in power, and he joined in their prophesying. (NIV)
Why did Saul have this dramatic experience – firstly to show him prove to him that God was with him and secondly, to authenticate his kingship to the people – remember that they had never had a king before.
In the beginning Saul concerned himself with spiritual things and listening to the word of God – mainly through Samuel the prophet – but sadly things started to go wrong when Saul thought his views were more important than God’s instruction.
What was it that caused Saul to fail – after all David sinned as we know – he was a ‘man after God’s heart’ – what was it about Saul’s sin that was so different as to cause God to reject him.
2. SAUL’S WILFUL CHARACTER TRAITS
Following the story from 13v8ff – we see a number of Saul’s characteristics that got out of hand and caused his downfall as King.
Samuel tha prophet had told Saul to wait for him at Gilgal – and Samuel would come and offer sacrifices to the Lord.
1 Samuel 13:7-12 …..
Saul remained at Gilgal, and all the troops with him were quaking with fear. 8 He waited for seven days, the time set by Samuel; but Samuel did not come to Gilgal, and Saul’s men began to scatter. 9 So he said, “Bring me the burnt offering and the fellowship offerings.” And Saul offered up the burnt offering. 10 Just as he finished making the offering, Samuel arrived, and Saul went out to greet him.
11 “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 Michmash, 12 I thought, ‘Now the Philistines will come down against me at Gilgal, and I have not sought the LORD’s favour.’ So I felt compelled to offer the burnt offering.”
Saul could not wait – he took matters into his own hands – he offered a sacrifice which was not his right to do – that was the exclusive right of the Priests.
When we run ahead of God and try to force his hand we always make matters difficult for ourselvs and others and we dishonour God.
Remember how the story of the church begins “ Wait in Jerusalem for what my father has promised” Jesus said.
1 Samuel 13:13-14
13 “You acted foolishly,” 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. 14 But now your kingdom will not endure; the LORD has sought out a man after his own heart and appointed him leader of his people, because you have not kept the LORD’s command.” (NIV)
When as God’s people we insist on our own way – plotting our own course – and not being sensitive to what is right and wrong before God THEN we are like Saul – presumptuous. The Bible tells us to come to God with boldness and confidence BUT that can easily degenerate in irreverance and presumption.
Saul got too big for his boot – he lost the sense of awe and worship
Already noted 1 Samuel 13:13. “You have not kept the command the LORD your God gave you ..
This disobedience occurs again in Ch.15 – he is told to destroy the Amalekites and all their possessions – this was God’s punishment on them.
Samuel even reminds Saul to be obedient 1 Samuel 15:1 1 Samuel said to Saul, “I am the one the LORD sent to anoint you king over his people Israel; so listen now to the message from the LORD. (NIV)
But as the day worn on he saw the plunder and he kept some of it back and spared the life of King Agag.
He had heard the warning but as the day passed what he SAW meant more to him than what he HEARD from God.
Both occasions of disobedience – in ch.13 Saul offered sacrifices in order to keep the people together and ready for battle. In the case of the Amalekites he kept the best animals back because it was what the people wanted. Saul was quite ready to side with the people in letting the people decide the terms on which they would worship God. The people loomed large in Saul’s considerations, far larger than God. He simply brought God in as a way of doing good work. BUT God will not be used.
By allowing himself to be influenced by the people – to be a people-pleaser – he tries to pass the buck 1 Samuel 15:15 15 Saul answered, “The soldiers brought them from the Amalekites; they spared the best of the sheep and cattle to sacrifice to the Lord your God, but we totally destroyed the rest.” (NIV)
– he showed himself to have no spiritual backbone.
1 Samuel 15:24 24 Then Saul said to Samuel, “I have sinned. I violated the Lord’s command and your instructions. I was afraid of the people and so I gave in to them. (NIV)
He wanted the honour for himself – 1 Samuel 15:12 12 Early in the morning Samuel got up and went to meet Saul, but he was told, “Saul has gone to Carmel. There he has set up a monument in his own honour and has turned and gone on down to Gilgal.” (NIV)
Saul was happy to worship God – BUT he wanted to make sure that he received glory for himself –
We are so subtle at grabbing the limelight for ourselves. We want people to notice us !!
If one of these traits is worse than another then maybe this is at the top of the list. It is bad enough when someone is proud and impatient and disobedient BUT to try and pretend to God very foolish.
1 Samuel 15:13-14 13 When Samuel reached him, Saul said, “The LORD bless you! I have carried out the LORD’s instructions.” 14 But Samuel said, “What then is this bleating of sheep in my ears? What is this lowing of cattle that I hear?” (NIV)
Word ‘hypocrite comes from Greek theatrical circles – describes someone who wears a mask – pretending to be what they are not!
Saul was trying to convince Samuel that he was godly – he didn’t fool Samuel – but even if he had he would not have fooled God!!
We could go on looking at Saul weaknesses but the pattern is clear – he was more concerned about his honour than God’s — and he was more concerned about saving face before the nation’s leaders and people than about honest repentance before God!!
3.SAUL’S WOEFUL TRAGIC DOWNFALL.
Saul was called to lead Israel – their first king. He could not lead them in the end because God wanted a man after his heart BUT Saul proved himself NOT to be that man.
Saul proved himself to be UNSUITABLE for leaderhip – he was disqualified from leadership because he was hard-hearted! He became UNUSABLE in God’s hands. Because he was immovable / unrepentant.
God was patient with Saul and gave him every opportunity to turn back but instead he turned away.
a) lack of repentance.
Saul ruled for 42 years – for thirty of those years he knew his kingdom would be given to another. Why did God allow these 30 years? to give the opportunity to repent. He gave him David a man after his own heart to be in close fellowship with him. Isn’t God gracious?
We often fail to understand God’s grace – his goodness is designed to lead us to repentance – not to support us in our sin. When we sin and God doesn’t zap us immediately it is not because he approves of our sin BUT he is patient and gives opportunity to repent.
Nothing but repentance will change an hard, independent, self-centred, arrogant, disobedient heart!
BUT didn’t Saul repent??
1 Samuel 15:24-31 24 Then Saul said to Samuel, “I have sinned. I violated the Lord’s command and your instructions. I was afraid of the people and so I gave in to them. 25 Now I beg you, forgive my sin and come back with me, so that I may worship the LORD.”
30 Saul replied, “I have sinned. But please honour me before the elders of my people and before Israel; come back with me, so that I may worship the LORD your God………. (NIV)
True repentance is being broken hearted over sin – Saul is embarrassed because he was caught out – this is a face saving excercise.
Repentence works godly sorrow in our hearts – it is not just sorry for the consequences, that we have been caught and everyone knows. BUT deep sorrow for the sin itself and turning away from it.
Saul is not ready for the change of heart that repentance requires.
b) lost of God’s presence.
Possibly some of the most fearful word s in the Bible appear in 1 Samuel 16:14
14 Now the Spirit of the LORD had departed from Saul…….
If this is difficult to accept, then what comes next is worse still … , and an evil spirit from the LORD tormented him. (NIV)
However hard it may be for us to understand this – we must accept that God has power over evil spirits and he can command them. He is sovereign over all things.
What Saul experienced was not simply depression because he was rejected as king – no there was demonic activity involved in Saul’s problem.
What began to control him was not the Spirit of God but and evil spirit which not only deprived him of peace of mind, but stirred up feelings and thoughts and imaginations to such an extent that at times it drove him into madness.
When the Spirit of God departed he had what today would be called psychological illnesses. If we sent Saul to a modern day psychologist he would be diagnosed with melancholia, paranoia, bizzare emotional instability and homocidal tendencies. His behaviour had become irrational — basically he had fallen apart. We know he had dealings with the occult later in life – we don’t know about earlier in his life.
NB .. dabbling with the occult – at whatever level is playing with black fire!!! Anyone involved in horoscopes, palm reading, tarot cards, ouija board is is opening themselves up to all kinds of satanic activity.
Are we saying that the Lord allows satanic activity?
… that God allows spiritual misbehaviour to have psychological implications? YES!!
Satan is alive and well. Never underestimate his power.
In places where Satan himself is worshipped people live in the pit of hell.
ILLUS.: in RSA I have seen – Muslim / Hindu festivals…
In the West where people turn away more and more from the Word of God and the Church of God and the Spirit of God the possibility of demonic activity increases. That is bore out in our society by the obession with witches, and the paranormal.
c) lost his peace of mind and heart
Saul lost the presence of God because he turned away from God. Spiritual misbehaviour will have all kinds of psychological ramifications.
Often there is psychological disturbance and emotional instability caused because people are screwed up spiritually!
It was an evil spirit that came upon Saul from the LORD and psychological disintergration was certainly a result.
4. SAUL’S WASTEFUL LIFE: OUR WARNING!
We can’t be certain of Saul’s eternal destiny BUT we do know that he failed to be what God intented for him. He missed out on God’s best for him because of his wilful disobedience and unrepentent heart.
The lesson is clear, if I harden my heart and GO ON HARDENING my heart I will not remain emotionally and spiritually unscathed. On of the greatest abuses of God’s grace and God’s love is when we think we can continue disobeying him with impunity – flaunting his laws over and over again without suffering ill effects.
If we flagrantly disobey and persistently harden our hearts we cannot come out unscathed.
When we diliberately and persistently go our own way – when we choose a path that leads us away from God he doesn’t stike us with lightening. A person can go that way – and stifle the conscience – and can think that he/she got away with it – “God didn’t zap me” – BUT you know what is frightening – if someone wants to deliberately go their own way God will let them go… ROMANS 1 – when people wilfully set a course away from God he lets them go “God gave them over ..” x2 –
As we look at David’s life in the weeks to come we will see that David sinned – grossly – and we may consider that David’s sins were worse than Saul’s . The difference is that David had a heart for God and when he realised his sin his heart broke before God in humility and repentence – Saul made excuses and tried to save face.
As we look at Saul and David – both started well – chosen and anointed by God – well equipped for the task both physically and spiritually – BUT Saul’s heart became hard and stubborn.
A good start is important – a good finish is equally important – just like in a marathon – we can’t live on past spiritual experience – “I was saved 30 years ago” “I did so-and-so for God 5 years ago”
– What about today? Is your heart soft towards God today? Are you walking with him today?
OR is there some hardness — some unconfessed sin that is hindering your spiritual development. Are you wearing a mask? Everyone may think you are a wonderful Christian BUT God knows your heart!
We need to hear with spiritual ears Samuel word to Saul
1 Samuel 15:22
22 But Samuel replied:
“Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices
as much as in obeying the voice of the LORD?
To obey is better than sacrifice,
and to heed is better than the fat of rams. (NIV)
IT’S NOT (just) HOW YOU START,
IT’S HOW YOU FINISH!
1 Samuel 13 & 15
1. SAUL’S WONDERFUL EARLY PROSPECTS.
2. SAUL’S WILFUL CHARACTER TRAITS.
3. SAUL’S WOEFUL TRAGIC DOWNFALL.
4. SAUL’S WASTEFUL LIFE: OUR WARNING.
…always leads to spiritual and/or emotional and/or physical harm