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Scriptures are cited from the King James (Authorized) Version, unless stated otherwise.

“Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams.”

1 Samuel 15: 22

Saul, the son of Kish from the tribe of Benjamin, became the first king of Israel. The account of his life is primarily recorded in 1 Samuel, chapters nine through thirty-one. When the people desired a king, the Lord directed Samuel to anoint Saul as king. His anointing was kept secret at first, but in due time Samuel gathered the people to present Saul to them. Saul was so humble that he hid himself, but when they fetched him and he stood before the people, he immediately made a favorable impression, for he stood head and shoulders above all of them (1 Samuel 10: 23, 24). When Samuel sent the people home, a band of loyal men “whose hearts God had touched” attached themselves to Saul. Shortly thereafter, Saul won a great military victory over the Ammonites.

Saul’s First Test

The first few years of Saul’s reign were prosperous for himself and the people. The Philistines, however, viewed him as a threat, and assembled a large army to overthrow the new kingdom. They marched into Palestine and a battle ensued between them and the Israelites. Saul recognized that he needed the Lord’s strength to gain victory, so he communicated with Samuel who promised to come within seven days to offer sacrifice to God on Israel’s behalf. Saul waited until the seventh day, but when Samuel had not yet arrived, he offered the sacrifice himself, contrary to the Divine arrangement. Immediately Samuel appeared and declared to Saul that his disobedience was such that God would not permit him and his kingdom to be perpetuated (1 Samuel 13: 13, 14).

Saul’s Second Test

Evidently quite a number of years intervened between Saul’s first and second test. He had organized the kingdom, and had assembled a large army. The Lord had declared through Moses that the Amalekites should be utterly destroyed, and had given Israel this command (Deuteronomy 25: 17-19). Although the execution of that command had been deferred, the message came to Saul that the due time had come to utterly destroy all of them, and all of their sheep, cattle, horses – everything. All the Amalekites were slaughtered except their king, whom Saul spared. The animals were also all destroyed, except the choicest of the flocks and herds. When the Prophet Samuel came to Saul, the latter saluted him as God’s representative and reported that he had carried out the divine command. But Samuel replied, “What meaneth then this bleating of the sheep in mine ears, and the lowing of the oxen” (1 Samuel 15: 14). Although Saul attempted to defend his actions, Samuel spoke the words of our text, and then declared, “Because thou hast rejected the word of the LORD, he hath also rejected thee from being king” (1 Samuel 15: 23).

Saul’s Final Years

Saul had lost the Lord’s favor, and though he was not removed from office for many years, his prosperous reign progressively deteriorated. Having lost the Lord’s spirit, Saul experienced periods of depression. David was called upon to play his harp before Saul, and his music refreshed the king. But after David killed Goliath, and was viewed as a military hero, Saul became jealous and fearful of him, and made several attempts to take David’s life during the closing years of his reign. Toward the end of Saul’s reign, the Philistines invaded the land, and in desperation, he consulted with the witch at Endor. In the battle which followed, Saul was wounded and took his own life by falling on his sword.

Lessons from Saul’s Life

Saul’s difficulties and tests represent some of those facing the Lord’s people today:

(1.) A selfish spirit, a desire for some of the best of the things which the Lord has condemned.

(2.) A man-fearing spirit. As Saul feared to displease the people, so the Lord’s people are tempted to guide their course not entirely by the Lord’s Word, but with a deference to the sentiments of others. This is the fear of man which brings a snare (Proverbs 29: 25).

(3.) Saul did not fully appreciate, nor did he exercise obedience to the Lord’s Word. Acceptable sacrifice in the Lord’s service must come from the heart and the will. Of this class the Scriptures declare, “Thy words were found, and I did eat them” (Jeremiah 15: 16).