At the track meet, I watched in dismay as the front runner for our team lost his footing and fell. The cheers of the crowd quickly turned to groans. We all know that a strong start does not always guarantee a good finish.
In today’s reading, Saul’s future seemed promising. The handsome king would reign over Israel from age 30 to 72. But while Saul’s victory over the Ammonites at the beginning of his reign seemed like an omen of good things to come, it would turn out to be a false start.
Saul divided his troops between himself and his son Jonathan. Jonathan’s victory in Geba provoked a strong reaction when the Philistines responded with overwhelming force (v. 5). Not only their vast numbers but also their ability to deploy chariots gave the Philistines a significant advantage over the Israelite troops. Terrified by this disparity in force, many in Saul’s army began to desert. Some took refuge in caves while others fled across the Jordan. Those troops who remained “were quaking with fear” (v. 7).
Samuel had commanded Saul to wait at Gilgal for direction (1 Sam. 10:8). Instead, affected by the fear of his troops and anxious about the number of deserters, Saul attempted to force God’s hand by fulfilling Samuel’s role (v. 9). In his rebuke, Samuel revealed what would have happened had Saul obeyed, along with the tragic outcome of his disobedience (vv. 10–14).
Here and later, we find that Saul is a tragic figure. We are tempted to feel sorry for him. But there was more to Saul’s failure than inept leadership. His refusal to wait and the decision to sacrifice sprang from a desire to manipulate God. This proved to be Saul’s pattern, and, sadly, it would ultimately cost him the kingdom.
>> What’s the difference between praying in faith and attempting to manipulate God? Ultimately it is our attitude of submission. We pray, but God controls the outcome. God is sympathetic to our cry, but He is not under our control.
Saul’s life teaches us a great deal about the lack of faith and failure. If you have made similar mistakes in your own life, ask God to make you a stronger, more committed follower of Christ.