SAUL: The man with the most potential

1 Samuel 9

When I was a child in elementary school, without exception, all of my teachers wrote on my Report Card:  “Michael has so much potential, if only he would apply himself.”  I was never sure what they wanted me to do; I showed up on time, did all my work; could I help it if I hated school and was bored?  It wasn’t until I entered college that I met and surpassed my “potential.”  What made the difference?  As I look back, there were two factors:  first, the money factor.  I was now invested in my education through the tuition I was paying.  I certainly didn’t want to waste my money!  Second, by the time I got to college, I knew what I wanted to do and knew what I needed learn to make what I wanted to do a reality.   It’s amazing what a human being can achieve when they are focused and invested in their lives.   The Greek stoic philosopher Epictetus put it best when he said this:

First say to yourself what you would be; and then do what you have to do.

As I have observed Christians over the years, it has occurred to me that they would do well to understand Epictetus’ propound words.  Unfortunately, far too many Christians live directionless lives; preferring to react to things happening around them rather than walking in faith, focused on God, and living above the circumstances instead of under them.  When we live like that, we seldom rise above a mediocre level and we are of little use to God.  Epictetus once again:

We are disturbed not by events, but by the views which we take of them.

Our faith gets derailed by what we see around us instead of what we see ahead of us.  Or, as the great Apostle wrote while Epictetus was a toddler—

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.  Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.  (Philippians 3:11—14)

Paul:  a man who knew where he wanted to go and what he had to do to get there.  There was a call of God on his life; a call to take the Gospel to lost humanity.  God’s part was in calling Paul, Paul’s part was in living a determined and focused life while following the path God had drawn out in front of him.  Paul was a man full of potential at the time of his calling and at the time of his death he was able to write this—

For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.  (2 Timothy 4:6—8)

Can you say that?  Or are you like young, immature Michael, who had so much potential but failed to apply himself?

Saul was like that.   He was full of promise and potential early in his life.  His life began with the call of God, full of grace and full of hope.  His life would end in violence, loneliness, and despair.  He died a lost and ruined man.  What happened to him?   It’s important to understand what happened to Saul because it could be happening to you even now, and you may not even be aware of it.  Sin is like that; it overtakes you before you know it and by then it’s often too late to do anything about it.

Saul was described as “an impressive young man” and “without equal.”   How was he impressive?

1.  He was physically attractive, verse 2

He had a son named Saul, an impressive young man without equal among the Israelites—a head taller than any of the others.

Ronald Youngblood had listed the common depiction of Saul among Bible scholars:

Saul [was a] villain, tragic figure, flawed ruler, naïve farm-boy, degenerate madman, fate-driven pawn, reluctant king—the list goes on and on.  Saul was surely one of the most complex persons described in Scripture.

Despite Saul’s checkered career, it is noteworthy that the career of Israel’s very first king was given more time and attention than any other king with the exception of David.

We first meet Saul in the prime of his life.  The text says he was a “young man,” but not too young because we know he had at least one son at the time he was chosen to be king.  In the KJV, we read verse 2 this way—

And he had a son, whose name was Saul, a choice young man, and a goodly: and there was not among the children of Israel a goodlier person than he…

Those words, “goodly” and “goodlier” are taken from a Hebrew term which describes the kind of person who makes a good first impression.  This kind of person could be described as “handsome, fair, well-built, and stalwart” (John Bright).   In other words, here was a young man that had what all young men want:  an attractive physical presence and a commanding personality.   He was “without equal,” although in time there would be one greater than Saul who would be given the kingdom.

Americans know, firsthand now, that you cannot depend of man’s persona or charisma or his ability to turn a phrase to make him a good leader.  Such a man, like Saul, can be so attractive and so full of potential, yet not do anything worth while.

2.  He was obedient, verses 3, 4

Now the donkeys belonging to Saul’s father Kish were lost, and Kish said to his son Saul, “Take one of the servants with you and go and look for the donkeys.”  So he passed through the hill country of Ephraim and through the area around Shalisha, but they did not find them. They went on into the district of Shaalim, but the donkeys were not there. Then he passed through the territory of Benjamin, but they did not find them.

Saul, though not a child, was still obedient to his father’s wishes.  He may have been a head taller than everybody else, he was not too big for his father.  In fact, though God used the straying of Kish’s donkeys as the means to place Samuel in Saul’s life, it was really Saul’s obedient nature that made that fateful meeting possible.   Obedience really is the key that unlocks the door to God’s activity in our lives.  Sometimes we may be prone to wonder where God is; we feel like he is afar off someplace.  It may very well be a problem of our lack of obedience.

3.  He was thoughtful, verse 5

When they reached the district of Zuph, Saul said to the servant who was with him, “Come, let’s go back, or my father will stop thinking about the donkeys and start worrying about us.”

It had been three days since Saul set out to find the lost donkeys and Saul concluded that his father, after all this time, would have stopped worrying about the animals and started worrying about him.   Saul was more anxious about his father than he was about his father’s donkeys.  This is another trait missing is the Church today:  thoughtfulness.  How much would all of us benefit if we were all just a little more thoughtful?  I’m not sure who said this, but it bears repeating:

Don’t be yourself – be someone a little nicer.

Self-centered people are never thoughtful, and Christians of all people should never be self-centered; we should always be looking for a way bless other people.  Basketball Hall of Famer John Wooden once said,

You can’t live a perfect day without doing something for someone who will never be able to repay you.

4.  He was generous, verses 6, 7

But the servant replied, “Look, in this town there is a man of God; he is highly respected, and everything he says comes true. Let’s go there now. Perhaps he will tell us what way to take.”

Saul said to his servant, “If we go, what can we give the man? The food in our sacks is gone. We have no gift to take to the man of God. What do we have?”

These two verses show us a side to Saul we don’t see much beyond this once incident.  The servant suggested they “get directions” from a local man of God.  Many of us, if we would care to admit it, have been lost and had to ask for directions before, usually from some gas station attendant; but how many of us wanted to pay him for the directions?  Saul did!  He actually felt that he should pay the man of God for his help.   We see here an inkling of what the people of Israel must have seen in Saul.  Bismarck, commenting on the signs of great men, said this:

The three signs of great men are — generosity in the design, humanity in the execution, moderation in success.

At least at this early time in Saul’s life, we see Bismarck’s signs of great men present in Saul.

Curiously, Saul did not seem to know who Samuel was.  This gives us a further, if minor, insight into Saul’s character.  He was shy and he was retiring, keeping to himself, and perhaps so busy with the family farm that he didn’t have time to be bothered with local political news.

5.  He knew God, verse 17

When Samuel caught sight of Saul, the LORD said to him, “This is the man I spoke to you about; he will govern my people.”

It may be more accurate to say that God knew Saul!  It was an act of God’s gracious condescension to accede to His people’s desire for a king.  Remember, this was never God’s idea for His people; their want for a king to rule over them was a result of their rebellion against God.  But God knew where the desires of His people’s heart lay, and He sent an unknown man from the small tribe of Benjamin to Samuel, but this was the man God allow to ascend to the throne as Israel’s first king.

The question often asked is why God chose Saul when He knew how Saul would end up.  The fact is Saul was not God’s choice; He gave to Israel the kind of man He knew they wanted.  Israel was moved, not by the Spirit of God, but by their own wants and desires.  They were a sensual people, paying more attention to what they saw and felt than to the will of God.  Remember what Moses said back in Deuteronomy 7:14—

When you enter the land the LORD your God is giving you and have taken possession of it and settled in it, and you say, “Let us set a king over us like all the nations around us.”

Rather than being different, as they were called to be, Israel saw how everybody around them was and had and wanted to be just like them.  So God gave them the kind of leader they deserved; as He does to this very day.  We generally get the kind political leaders we deserve.

What do we learn from Saul’s potential?

God wanted Israel to remain a Theocracy, with God Himself as their King and Ruler.  Samuel knew this; 1 Samuel 12:12 is an enlightening verse—

“But when you saw that Nahash king of the Ammonites was moving against you, you said to me, ‘No, we want a king to rule over us’-even though the LORD your God was your king.”

Time and time again, God fought for Israel and gave them victory, yet the people continually jammed their thumb in His eye, forgetting all He had done for them, and making demands like this one; having God as their King wasn’t good enough for the people.  Their demand for a human king was wrong and it was shortsighted.  So why did God grant their request?   Larry Richards suggests there are two:

  • There were three institutions in the Old Testament and each one speaks of Jesus Christ—

1.  The priesthood was established to make a relationship possible between God and His people.  Jesus is our great High Priest and He makes it possible for us to have a relationship with God.

2.  The prophet was to speak God’s word to the people; He was to be God’s spokesman, communicating to His people during times need.  Jesus Christ is the “prophet” spoken of by Moses in Deuteronomy 18, whose message, the Gospel, fulfills and supersedes the messages of Moses.

3.  The king was established in Israel to be their earthly leader.  Jesus Christ is our present and coming King, who will establish an earthly kingdom, rule over the earth and the universe.

Understanding the work of Jesus means understanding the historic significance and purpose of Israel’s three institutions; each office—priest, prophet, and king—was designed to help Israel and us grasp more of the role of Jesus in God’s plan for His creation and for our lives.  He is our Priest, our Prophet, and our King.

  • Throughout human history, the prevailing attitude was that if society could just create the right form of government, then society would become just; poverty would be eliminated; utopia would be established on earth.  Plato dreamed about his republic, Karl Marx had his idea, President Obama has his idea.  But the Bible makes it clear that man’s problems are not rooted in his forms of government, but in the human heart.  It is corrupted beyond help, and therefore no form of human government can deliver the utopia they promise.

But man continues to dream.  “Hope springs eternal in the human breast,” wrote Pope.  But Solomon wrote this—

Much dreaming and many words are meaningless. Therefore stand in awe of God.  (Ecclesiastes 5:7)

Man’s dreams of achieving justice and righteousness and equity through government interference is false.  Israel sinned under Moses, the man of God.  Israel sinned under the monarchy they wanted so badly.  Israel sinned under Nehemiah.  Israel sinned as Rome’s state.  And when Jesus Christ returns as King of Kings, establishing His Millennial Kingdom on earth, personally reigning from Jerusalem, a world under His completely just, righteous and equitable rule will once again, true to form, choose to follow Satan.

The problem is inside man.  The problem is sin.  One who reads the Bible critically and with “half a brain,” understands that the problem with mankind is not political, or economic, but personal.  Society does not need some new political messiah to solve all our problems and make us right.  What man needs is Jesus Christ.  Man needs to have his sins forgiven and he needs to submit to almighty God.

This is why God allowed Israel to have a king like Saul.  He seemed so good; he seemed so right, he was so attractive, yet he had sin in his life like all of us.

Where is your hope today?  Do you trust in your government to look after you and care for you?  Are you expecting your government leaders solve all your problems?  Are you hoping they’ll keep healthy and safe and fix the economy?  Do you think they really care about you?  According to the Bible, your hope should be in Jesus Christ.

Cast your cares on the LORD and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall.  (Psalm 55:22)

The righteous will never be uprooted, but the wicked will not remain in the land.  (Proverbs 10:30)

If you believe the Bible, start living like you do.

(c)  2009 WitzEnd

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