Author: Ron Graham
Saul a King for Israel
—And this first king’s failure
Time ~ 5. Kingdom of David
Span ~ 120 years
Books ~ 2Samuel, 1Kings, 1Chronicles, Poetry
Figures ~ Saul, David, Solomon
Begins with ~ The people of Israel seek a king
The Old Testament dwells at length on the fifth period of Israel's history —the Kingdom of David— which spans the reigns of the first three kings of Israel: Saul, David, and Solomon.
As the Israelites in Canaan multiplied, the people asked for a king, not being satisfied to have God alone as their ruler. The first king was Saul from the tribe of Benjamin.
1 The Background
The work of Samuel, as judge, prophet, and priest, continued well into the reign of Saul. One of Saul's great failures was his arrogance in usurping Samuel's role as priest by offering a sacrifice at Gilgal (1Samuel 13:8-9). Samuel was a Levite (being the son of Elkanah descended from Levi (1Samuel 1:1, 1Chronicles 6:33-38). Samuel was therefore qualified to do priestly duties. Saul was of the tribe of Benjamin (1Samuel 9:1-2) and had no such right. He was given the right to rule in place of Samuel. He was even given the power to prophesy. Not satisfied, he presumed to take also the duties of a priest. Saul was wilful and disobedient in other ways too, instead of allowing God's Spirit to rule him.
The second king was David from the tribe of Judah. The house of David was established as the royal family, and after David, his son Solomon reigned. Solomon built a great temple in Jerusalem. Israel as a nation stretched from Daniel to Beersheba and saw great power, but her glory was short-lived.
2 Bible Summary (1 Samuel 8-15)
- When Samuel is old he appoints his sons as judges but they accepted bribes and perverted justice (8)
- Samuel is asked to appoint a king for Israel. Samuel dislikes the idea and so does God (8)
- "Listen to their voice and appoint them a king" (8)
- Tall Saul, in search of lost donkeys, visits Samuel (9)
- From the least of all tribes, a king is chosen (9)
- Samuel anoints Saul, and predicts signs for that day (10)
- God gives Saul his Spirit and a heart for prophecy (10)
- Samuel assembles Israel to choose a king by lot (10)
- Saul is chosen, but he is hiding among the baggage (10)
- Saul's leads Israel victorious against the Ammonites (11)
- The people gather at Gilgal to make Saul their king (11)
- Old Samuel rebukes Israel, undertakes to pray for them (12)
- Saul's sin at Gilgal by doing what only a priest should do (13)
- Israel has no swords -the Philistines took their blacksmiths (13)
- By faith in God, Saul's son Jonathan and his armour bearer put the Philistines to flight (14)
- Jonathan eats honey breaking Saul's rash oath (14)
- Saul's victories and his family tree (14)
- Saul destroys the Amalekites but disobeys God by sparing Agag their king and some cattle (15)
- Samuel rebukes Saul: "To obey is better than sacrifice" (15)
- Samuel executes Agag (15)
- Samuel sent to Bethlehem to anoint a new king (16)
- Jesse's sons are paraded before Samuel unsuccessfully (16)
- David is fetched from tending sheep. "He is the one, anoint him" (16)
- David enters Saul's service, plays the harp to soothe Saul (16)
3 The Main Point
Behind this story is the tension between the will of God and the will of man. God would rather that he alone be Israel's king, but they wanted a human king so God yielded. The king they chose could have been what God wanted him to be, but the king had his own ideas. In choosing a new king, there was a tendency to choose as man chooses. However, "The Lord does not see as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but God looks on the heart".
4 The Way God Sees Things
God has a different way of looking at things than the way we humans commonly see them. God's way is right, however, and we need to learn to see things through God's eyes.
1. Anything but God's way is futile
The Israelites were always turning aside from God's way to things which seemed better to them. Perhaps these things seemed easier than God's way, or more fun. Perhaps they seemed more popular, more immediately gratifying. Perhaps these things gave them status in their neighbours' eyes. But Samuel warns that these things, to which they often turned aside, were futile things with no eternal value (1Samuel 12:19-25).
2. Obedience is better than sacrifice
Saul's effort to justify his disobedience by trying to impart some religious value to it, seems so foolish as the story is told. However we often try to dignify our own behaviour by wrapping it in religion. When will we learn that the only religion and worship God recognises, is that which strictly adheres to his commandments. When we modify God's commandments to suit ourselves, God sees sacrilege, not worship (1Samuel 15:20-31).
3. God looks on the heart
We often judge people by their winning personality, handsome or powerful appearance, their skills and talents, the status symbols they exhibit, their educational or sporting achievements, or high standing in the community. However, God sees none of that. He "looks on the heart" and that's what he judges a person by (1Samuel 16:4-12). "A broken spirit and a contrite heart, O God, you will not despise" (Psalms 51:17).