When the Israelites asked for a King, God warned them of the consequences through His prophet Samuel. Rather than heed God’s warning, the people insist on having a king and which God permits in an act of divine condescension. He instructed Samuel to anoint the man of His choosing as the first king of Israel.
God chose Saul, a man from the small tribe of Benjamin. He was tall, handsome, and skilled in combat; everything that the Israelites desired in a king. One day, when Saul was out finding his father’s donkeys, he sought out Samuel and was privately anointed as king. Then, in a gathering of all the tribes, Saul was proclaimed king in front of all of the people. When it became time for him to be announced, he was humbly hiding amongst the luggage. Some were not convinced that Saul would be a suitable leader, but after his first battle, everyone began to believe in him.
As Saul was able to defeat many of his enemies, he became confident and did not always listen to God’s instructions. On two occasions, Saul turned to his own judgment rather than waiting on God. The first occasion occurred when Saul was pinned down by the Philistines and his army was deserting him. He was waiting for Samuel to make a sacrifice to the Lord before battle, but Samuel was late. After a week of waiting, Saul took matters into his own hands and built an altar and offered sacrifice to God. No sooner had he done this than did Samuel arrive and admonish him for his disobedience and impatience.
The second occasion happened when Saul was told by God that he wanted to execute his justice on the Amalekites. He wanted a complete annihilation of the army and livestock, but Saul only got rid of the things that were bad and saved all of the things worth keeping. He also let the Amalekite king live. When Samuel confronted Saul, Saul claimed that he was saving all of the nice things to sacrifice to God, and that he had followed God’s commands. When Samuel told him obedience was greater than sacrifice, Saul admits his sin, saying that he listened to the advice of the people. Samuel informs him that God has rejected him as king and turns to leaves. As he is leaving, Saul grabs Samel’s garment and it tears. Samuel says that as the garment has been torn, so has the kingdom of Israel been torn from Saul.
In looking at Saul’s story, we can learn a couple things. The first is that power and arrogance have the tendency to corrupt. When Saul is first named king, he is so humble that he hides from his moment in the spotlight. Yet, as time goes on, Saul becomes too confident to the point that he does not follow all of God’s commands. In the instance where he builds an altar to sacrifice to God instead of waiting for Samuel to do it, the scriptures tell us that this was the first altar that Saul had built. He did so when defeat seemed inevitable. It was only when he could no longer trust in his strength that he turned to God instead of just relying on Him from the beginning. Thus, Saul was using God like a magical spell to get what he wanted.
In his second disobedience, Saul takes all of the good spoils from his conquest, and rather than get rid of them as God commanded, he keeps them. When confronted by Samuel, he claims that he always meant to sacrifice it to God. When Samuel pushes further, Saul places the blame on the people, saying that it was their idea. It seems like Saul was fibbing. We could imagine that he planned on keeping the spoils for himself and his men and only mentioned giving the spoils as a sacrifice to God when he was caught. However, even if he was telling the truth, and it was his intention to sacrifice them, he still was not able to choose God’s command over the peer pressure of his soldiers. Time and time again, throughout his kingship Saul proves that the people’s opinion of him affects how he acts. Thus, he turns into an unjust king who will pursue the life of his servant David.
As the Kingdom is taken away from Saul, Samuel will look for a new king to anoint. This king will have faults just like Saul. However, unlike Saul, he will care about following the will of God over the opinions of the people. This means that true repentance will be in his nature, and he will prepare the way for his ancestor who will also be his Lord as the true King of Kings.