Saul was a young man dutifully searching for his father’s stray donkeys. Samuel was the renowned prophet, priest, and judge of Israel reluctantly searching for his nation’s first king. When their paths crossed, the course of Israel’s history changed dramatically.
Samuel had served as the Lord’s representative leader of Israel for decades, but he was growing old. When his sons proved to be unfit to succeed him, the people of Israel demanded that a king be appointed to rule over them. They were envious of the monarchies common in surrounding nations.
God warned the people that a king would take their sons to serve in his military and take their land, crops, flocks, and livestock for his own use. The Israelites were unmoved. They wanted a king, regardless of the consequences. So God obliged them.
God told Samuel that he would encounter Saul, whose only apparent qualification for kingship seems to have been that he was a head taller than most people. When Samuel anointed Saul as king, the people of Israel got what they wanted-for better or worse.
For someone with no previous experience-and no inkling that he would ever become royalty-Saul started strong. When the city of Jabesh-gilead came under siege by the Ammonites, Saul raised an army of 330,000 men and led them to victory (read 1 Sam 11).
Unfortunately, that example of heroic leadership proved the exception rather than the rule of Saul’s reign. Instead of wrestling with the problems facing the nation of Israel, Saul spent most of his time wrestling with his own personal problems.
He wrestling first with insecurity. Despite the fact that he stood head and shoulders above most people, Saul struggled with self-esteem issues. When the time came for Samuel to introduce him publicly as God’s choice for Israel’s first king, Saul was nowhere to be found. Searchers eventually discovered him hiding behind some supplies (read 1 Sam 10:21-23). Rather than embrace his calling, Saul ran from it.
Saul also wrestling with jealousy-specifically, jealousy of David. The tone was set early in their relationship. Saul wasn’t on the battlefield the day David killed the giant goliath. It could be argued that David did Saul’s job for him that day. As the tall commander in chief of Israel’s army. Saul should have been the one to face Goliath.
When the victorious Israelite army returned home from the battle, people gathered beside the road to cheer them. Some of the more boisterous ones sang, “Saul has killed his thousands, but David his tens of thousands” (1 Sam 18:7). Those words triggered something in the king, and he became obsessed with destroying David.
Saul appointed David to be his court musician, to play his harp when Saul’s spirit needed soothing. He gave David his daughter’s hand in marriage. Yet Saul also lived with the knowledge that he was a lame-duke monarch. Shortly into his reign, God effectively took the kingdom for him because of his disobedience.
Saul also suspected that David would be his eventual successor. And though David showed nothing but complete loyalty to the king, Saul despised him. In fact, on more than one occasion, his jealousy reached such a fever pitch that Saul tried to murder David personally.
Finally, and most devastatingly, Saul wrestled with depression. His relationship with the Lord had deteriorated over the years as a result of his many harmful and destructive decisions as king. When his own personal darkness began to envelop him, he found himself unable to turn to the only One who could help.
In desperation, he visited a medium, a practitioner of dark arts (read 1 Sam 28). He asked her to bring forth the spirit of Samuel, who had recently died. Samuel’s spirit made it clear that
- The kingdom of Israel had taken from Saul for good;
- the Israelites would fall to the Philistines in battle the next day; and
- neither Saul nor his sons would live to see the end of that battle.
Even from beyond the grave, Samuel’s prophecies proved unassailable. The next day, after watching his sons die in battle, Saul was gravely wounded by Philistine archers. Rather than allowing his injuries to run their course, Saul chose to take matters into his own hands one last time. He threw himself on his owns sword and died (read 1 Sam 31).
With this final desperate act, Saul secured his legacy of squandered potential. In his insecurity, jealousy, and depression, he lashed out at the people closet to him and alienated those committed to helping him succeed and thrived as king of Israel, including God himself.