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The Biblical Kings Part 1: King Saul

It may feel that in the modern world the troubles we face are unprecedented, and a descent into anarchy is inevitable, and once we descend into chaos, there is no coming back. However, the Bible and other works of ancient literature reveal that the rise and fall of Kingdoms is an inevitability. Regardless of religious beliefs, there is something to take away from the mythologies and histories.

As students of history, we should learn from these past events to apply them to modern day. As students of literature, we should learn from these ancient stories to see what wisdom the authors were trying to convey. So therefore, regardless of whether these events happened or not (which I firmly believe they did), we can all take away something as a lesson. As someone who enjoys learning about different cultures and historical rulers, I find ways to implement the teachings of the ancients into my own life.

In the book of Judges, the people of Israel continually fall into anarchy and disobedience: “And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the LORD and served the Baals. And they abandoned the LORD, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt” (Judg. 2:11-12 English Standard Version). Prophets who are chosen by God anointed Judges who were usually less than savory, and ended up being more trouble than good. A famous example of this would be Samson, an anti-hero whose savage actions caused suffering and was mostly injust. Nonetheless, according to the Bible, God uses these Judges to move history forward in a meaningful manner. In a particularly egregious case, Samson bets 30 pieces of clothing on an unfair bet with the Philistines, when the Philistines force an answer out of his wife, Samson goes out to kill 30 men in his wrath to pay off his debt of 30 clothes (Judg. 14:8-20). However, Samson was a powerful force for defeating God’s enemies and performed incredible feats of nature such as killing 1000 men with the jawbone of a donkey (Judg. 15:16).

The phrase “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” can summarize most of the book of Judges (Judg. 21:25 English Standard Version). This verse comes after the men of Benjamin ambushed a group of the daughters of Shiloh to take home wives. It probably sounds like by now the people of Israel had enough of wandering aimlessly with no concrete human leader, and God recognized their worries.

The people demanded a King, but for all the wrong reasons, they had essentially betrayed God as their King. They so desperately wanted a King because they wanted to be like other nations, the same nations that upheld child sacrifice and other wicked practices. God is understandably displeased with their demands and, above all, their reasoning so has Samuel, who was prophet over Israel at the time, deliver a proclamation on the King’s rights (1 Samuel 8:6-17). Most curiously, the King’s rights end with “When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, but the Lord will not answer you in that day” (1 Samuel 8:18).

1878 oil painting of King Saul by Ernst Josephson

The strong, tall, and handsome Saul is anointed by Samuel as King and later selected by lot (1 Samuel 10). King Saul is obviously popular with people, as they are superficial and see only that Saul seems like he is strong and intelligent.

The downfall of King Saul, according to biblical accounts, was a significant turning point in the history of Israel and ultimately led to his tragic end. Saul was the first king of Israel, chosen by God and anointed by the prophet Samuel. At the beginning of his reign, Saul showed promise and led the Israelites to several military victories. However, over time, his disobedience, insecurity, and lack of trust in God caused his downfall.

One of the pivotal events that marked the beginning of Saul's downfall was his impatience and disregard for God's instructions. In 1 Samuel 13, Saul found himself in a precarious situation as he faced the Philistine army. Samuel, who was supposed to offer sacrifices before the battle, was delayed in arriving. Fearing the Philistines and the wavering loyalty of his own troops, Saul took it upon himself to offer the burnt offering, a duty reserved for Samuel alone. This act of disobedience displeased God and demonstrated Saul's lack of trust and reliance on divine guidance.

Another significant incident occurred in 1 Samuel 15 when God commanded Saul to completely destroy the Amalekites and all their possessions as a form of divine judgment. However, Saul spared King Agag and the best of the Amalekite livestock, contrary to God's explicit command. When confronted by Samuel, Saul attempted to justify his actions, claiming he had saved the livestock to offer as sacrifices to God. Samuel rebuked him, emphasizing that obedience was far more important than outward displays of religious devotion. God, through Samuel, declared that He had rejected Saul as king, signaling the irreversible decline of his reign.

As Saul's reign continued, he became plagued by jealousy and paranoia, particularly towards David, who gained popularity and favor among the Israelites. Saul's insecurities led him to relentlessly pursue David, seeking to kill him out of fear that he would usurp the throne. Despite numerous opportunities to end David's life, Saul's pursuit only intensified his downfall and highlighted his increasing distance from God's favor.

The final tragic event in Saul's life unfolded on Mount Gilboa during a battle against the Philistines. Having been anointed as the future king, David had formed his own loyal band of warriors. Saul and his sons, including Jonathan, were gravely wounded as the battle ensued. Sensing imminent capture and dishonor at the hands of the Philistines, Saul took his own life by falling on his own sword.

The downfall of King Saul serves as a cautionary tale about the consequences of disobedience, insecurity, and a lack of trust in God's guidance. It highlights the importance of humility, obedience, and faithfulness for leaders entrusted with power and authority.


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