THE STORY OF SAUL – 1 Samuel 15:1–3a, 7, 9, 17, 19, 23b – And Samuel said to Saul, “The LORD sent me to anoint you king over his people Israel; now therefore listen to the words of the LORD. Thus says the LORD of hosts, ‘I have noted what Amalek did to Israel in opposing them on the way when they came up out of Egypt. Now go and strike Amalek and devote to destruction all that they have.’”
And Saul defeated the Amalekites from Havilah as far as Shur, which is east of Egypt. … But Saul and the people spared Agag and the best of the sheep and of the oxen and of the fattened calves and the lambs, and all that was good, and would not utterly destroy them. …
And Samuel said, “Though you are little in your own eyes, are you not the head of the tribes of Israel? The LORD anointed you king over Israel. … Why then did you not obey the voice of the LORD? Why did you pounce on the spoil and do what was evil in the sight of the LORD? … Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, he has also rejected you from being king.
King Saul was an American.
Okay, not literally. Literally, Saul was the first king of the nation of Israel. God had anointed him to be king a few centuries after Joshua. Sadly, those centuries (recorded mostly in the book of Judges) were often characterized by idolatry and injustice among God’s people. So when God led the prophet Samuel to anoint Saul, he said of Saul, “He shall save my people from the hand of the Philistines”— protecting them from external threats—and “He shall restrain my people”—protecting them from the internal threat of sin (1 Samuel 9:16–17).
Saul found the first task much easier than the second, in large part because he never learned to restrain himself. This is why King Saul feels like such an American leader. Our national culture prizes confidence, capability, and authority. We think of ourselves as people who, when presented with a challenge, can get things done. And undoubtedly, this spirit has led to a great deal of good, not only in our country, but in our world.
Like Saul, however, we find it much more difficult to pursue humility, restraint, and obedience.
Saul had aspects of leadership that would make him a perfect candidate for CEO of most Fortune 500 companies. He was confident. He was capable. He exuded authority and strength. He got things done.
But when it counted most—when presented with a specific command from God—Saul trusted his natural abilities more than the Word of God. Where Joshua responded to God with a simple, “Yes,” Saul responded with, “I’ll take that into consideration.”
Saul had tremendous strengths. He looked and acted like a king. But his strengths were never the point. In fact, the more Saul leaned on his strengths, the more he lost God’s strength. Saul learned the hard way that we are not strong when we have control, authority, or power. We are strong when we trust God.
Centuries after King Saul, another man named Saul would write, in quite a different spirit, “[God] said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ … For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9–10). This Saul, also known as the Apostle Paul, understood that the only power that matters is the power of Jesus.
Jesus was born into a world much like King Saul’s. That world was dominated by strong, confident, capable kings. And yet, God was not to be found in the powerful kings of the first century. He is not to be found in the people of power today
God is found in a carpenter’s workshop, in a lonely garden, on a bloody cross. He is found on a silent night, in a “holy infant, so tender and mild.”1 He is found in the person of Jesus Christ.
List your capabilities—at least five areas in your life where you consider yourself most confident and talented.
These capabilities came from God, but they can also prevent you from trusting and seeing God. Pray to God, offering these capabilities back to him so that you would live in his strength, not your own.