First Reading Samuel 15:34 – 16:13
Second Reading 2 Corinthians 5:6-10, 14-17
Gospel Reading Mark 4:26-34
Sermon: “Saul: A Good Man, But …”
It all started when my Dad’s prized donkey’s ran off. He asked me to take a servant and go find them. Little did I know where that journey was going to take me. We hunted all over the hill country of Benjamin and couldn’t find those donkeys anywhere. We had been gone three days and I told the servant that we had better get back home soon or dad would be more worried about us than the donkeys!
But dad’s servant had another idea, it seems he had heard of an old prophet of God that lives around here. I was nervous about going to ask for favors, we didn’t have much to offer him, even our food was about gone. But the servant said he had a silver coin so I agreed to give his plan a try. I should have run home as fast as I could right then. If I had only known what was about to happen. Anyway, when we got to the town we asked for the prophet (we called them seers back then). They told us he had just arrived and was getting ready to preside at a sacrifice on top of the hill nearby. We met him just as he was getting ready to head up. It was the strangest thing – it seemed like he was expecting us. He invited us to stay and in the morning, he would tell us what we wanted to know. He sat us down at the place of honor at the head of the table, served me the choicest portion of the meat and said that I and my family were the focus of all of Israel’s hopes! Imagine that, my tribe is the smallest of the 12 tribes and our family isn’t particularly prominent even among them. What could it mean?
We went to the worship service with them and they put us up for the night. The next morning they prepared to send us on our way but the Prophet, a guy named Samuel, asked me to stay back for a moment. Oh, excuse me, I should have introduced myself – I am Saul, son of Kish from the tribe of Benjamin. Imagine my surprise when he pulls out a flask of olive oil and poured it out over my head and then told me so many things at once my head was left spinning: (1 Samuel 10:1-7) “I am doing this, he said, because the LORD has appointed you to be the ruler over Israel, his special possession.  When you leave me today, you will see two men beside Rachel’s tomb at Zelzah, on the border of Benjamin. They will tell you that the donkeys have been found and that your father has stopped worrying about them and is now worried about you. He is asking, ‘Have you seen my son?’  “When you get to the oak of Tabor, you will see three men coming toward you who are on their way to worship God at Bethel. One will be bringing three young goats, another will have three loaves of bread, and the third will be carrying a wineskin full of wine.  They will greet you and offer you two of the loaves, which you are to accept.  “When you arrive at Gibeah of God, where the garrison of the Philistines is located, you will meet a band of prophets coming down from the place of worship. They will be playing a harp, a tambourine, a flute, and a lyre, and they will be prophesying.  At that time the Spirit of the LORD will come powerfully upon you, and you will prophesy with them. You will be changed into a different person.  After these signs take place, do what must be done, for God is with you.
And you know what? It all happened, in just that order too. We met the men, the donkeys had been found, more men brought us bread, and then we met those prophets and something I had never felt before came over me! Suddenly I was singing and speaking words from God, it felt wonderful! But I kept all of that to myself, I didn’t want people to think I was crazy or something!
It was later that week when Samuel called all the people of Israel together at Mizpah. He said he was going to honor Israel’s request for a king – even though he didn’t think they were being very loyal to God. He started casting lots to see who it was going to be, and I got this terrible sinking feeling who those lots were going to point to. The first set of lots chose the tribe of Benjamin, the next selected my clan – I started to back out of there. The next lot narrowed the choice all the way down to me! I tried to hid among the baggage, but the prophet ratted me out – God told him right where I was. Besides, its hard to hide when you’re a foot taller than anyone else around. Most everyone started shouting Long live the King! and saying how tall and handsome I was. O yeah, there were some scoffers of course. But Samuel meant every bit of it and laid out my rights and my duties. I probably should have listened closer to the duties part as it turns out. Anyway we all went home to Gibeah and wondered what we should do next.
That cruel old Ammonite, King Nahash soon gave me lots to worry about. He had terrorized the people living on the east side of the Jordan river and even gouged out an eye on many of them – 7000 had escaped though and settled in Jabesh Gilead. It didn’t take him long to find them there though. They asked for peace, but he said only if he could put out their right eyes too. He was a terrible man. Well the town sent out frantic pleas for help to the rest of Israel. I heard about it while I was out ploughing a field with a team of oxen – not a very kingly task I admit, but we were all still trying to figure out what this king thing meant. Well, when I heard the news, that same Spirit came over me again. I cut up those oxen and sent them out all over Israel as a not so subtle threat to any one who would not come to help. I was astounded when over 300,000 men showed up. God guided me to split the men up into three groups. We caught the Ammonites just as they were getting ready to attack the town. We defeated them so completely that there weren’t even two of them left together anywhere!
Well, after that, there was no more questions about me being king – we all gathered at Gilgal and Samuel made it official in a solemn ceremony. Samuel bowed out of public life at that point and urged the people to be faithful to God. I was 30 years old at that point and would rule for 42 years. A good long run as a king. I would have 3 sons and 2 daughters. The account of my early years in 1st Samuel sums it up pretty well. I was figuring out how to be a king and Israel was figuring out how to live with one. We both had a lot to learn:
(1 Samuel 14:47-48, 52)  “Now when Saul had secured his grasp on Israel’s throne, he fought against his enemies in every direction-against Moab, Ammon, Edom, the kings of Zobah, and the Philistines. And wherever he turned, he was victorious.  He performed great deeds and conquered the Amalekites, saving Israel from all those who had plundered them…  The Israelites fought constantly with the Philistines throughout Saul’s lifetime. So whenever Saul observed a young man who was brave and strong, he drafted him into his army.” That’s how David came to my attention after he killed Goliath.
My 1st bad mistake was one time when we were facing a huge army of Philistines. I was trying to keep things together, Samuel had promised to come and offer sacrifices to God in seven days, but my men were really scared and they were starting to desert me. I waited as long as I thought I could and when the 7th day came and still no Samuel, I decided to go ahead and offer the sacrifices myself, so we could meet the Philistine attack while I still had an army. Wouldn’t you know – Just as I finished the offering, THEN Samuel shows up. Man was he sore at me. He said “What is this you have done?”, “How foolish!” Samuel told me. “You have not kept the command the LORD your God gave you. Had you kept it, the LORD would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. But now your kingdom must end, for the LORD has sought out a man after his own heart. The LORD has already appointed him to be the leader of his people, because you have not kept the LORD’s command.”
I wish the story could say that was the only time I forgot God and tried to do it my way. I wish I could, but I can’t. I really fouled up with the Amalekites. Old Samuel came and told me that God had decided to pay those Amalekites back for all the evil they had done. Their evil started back during the Exodus, when they attacked us on the road to the promised land. Old Moses had even command destruction against them once we were established in the land. Samuel ordered me to wipe them out totally – everything: people, property, everything. So I got together a huge army – 210,000 men. And after warning our friends the Kenites to get out of the way, we attacked them. I guess God was one our side because we totally defeated them, we spared King Agag and kept all the good stuff. I mean why waste the spoils of war?
We had just finished setting up a really nice monument to my victory when Samuel came storming in. We had won a great victory, but he said we disobeyed God by keeping all the good stuff rather than destroying it as God had commanded. I even tried to pacify him by telling him we intended to use the best of the best as sacrifices to God! You know what he said? (1 Samuel 15:22-24) ”What is more pleasing to the LORD: your burnt offerings and sacrifices or your obedience to his voice? Listen! Obedience is better than sacrifice, and submission is better than offering the fat of rams. Rebellion is as sinful as witchcraft, and stubbornness as bad as worshiping idols. So because you have rejected the command of the LORD, he has rejected you as king.”
I confessed “Yes, I have sinned. I have disobeyed your instructions and the LORD’s command, for I was afraid of the people and did what they demanded.” I begged Samuel to at least make a good show of it in front of the crowd but he turned his back on me! and said “I will not go back with you! Since you have rejected the LORD’s command, he has rejected you as king of Israel.” I tried to hold him back and ended up tearing the hem of his robe. Samuel said “The LORD has torn the kingdom of Israel from you today and has given it to someone else-one who is better than you.
I think that’s when he went and anointed that little showoff David that I can never seem to catch no matter hard I try. Yes – I should have known better, but I’m a practical guy. I mean surely God isn’t that strict? I get these terrible headaches, for a while David would come and play his harp for me, I even appointed him a commander in the army with my son Johnathan, but everyone started thinking more of him than me. I’m the king, not David! Even my wonderful, brave son, Johnathan, even he, seemed to like David over me. Once I offered to give David my daughter to marry, if he would go and kill 100 Philistines. I hoped they would kill him for me, but no, he did it, and more besides. I have come to hate him with a jealous rage! Though I must admit, he has never harmed me, even when he had the chance. He’s on the run now, but I’ll catch him one of these days! Samuel is dead and gone, and the priests never can get an answer from God. Right now, I’ve got to figure out how to deal with those Philistines. They are massing for battle again. I’ve asked God for help and advice, but I never get an answer. Even though he was tough on me, I miss old Samuel. I’m old and desperate. I’ve got to get some help from somewhere. I hear there is a Medium over at Endor. If God won’t answer, maybe she can call up Samuel from the dead and make him answer me….
The next day Saul and Johnathan were killed in battle with the Philistines. I can’t help but feel a bit sorry for him. He didn’t want the job; he had no role model, just rough on the job training. He was the first King Israel ever had. No fortress, no army, no revenue structure, he had to build it all. He started out pretty well and grew to be a decent military leader. But… (there is that nasty word) He relied on his own wits and his own strength, succumbing to hatred, jealousy and the even the occult at the end, instead of on the wonderful grace God offered him. It leaves me wondering what could have been. So what about you? Are you willing to obey God, even if those around you think it’s silly? Will you trust God to do as God promises even when God seems late? Or will you substitute your own strength and wits? The choice is pretty clear.