Category: King Saul

People have long puzzled over the question of whether or not King Saul was saved; that is, whether or not Saul was forgiven and justified by God and is in heaven today. It’s not possible to give a definitive answer because, of course, Saul’s salvation rests with God, not with us. We have no certain knowledge of the condition of Saul’s heart. As Scripture says, only God sees the heart (1 Samuel 16:7).

The Bible does indicate that a person’s spiritual transformation will be evidenced by his or her “fruit” (Matthew 7:16–20). If a person continually produces “bad fruit,” then it is unlikely that he is a true believer.

Arguing against Saul’s salvation is his record of jealousy, hatred, and murder. Saul’s rule as king was characterized by failure and rebellion. He directly disobeyed God (1 Samuel 15:1–35) and broke God’s law by offering a sacrifice that only priests were to offer (1 Samuel 13:1–14). Saul was visited by evil spirits on several occasions (1 Samuel 16:14; 18:10; 19:9). Saul spent much time and energy trying to murder David (1 Samuel 18:10; 19:10; 23:14); he even tried to murder his son Jonathan once (1 Samuel 20:33). Incredibly, King Saul ordered the slaughter of eighty-five innocent priests and their families (1 Samuel 22:18–19). He consulted a witch and asked her to conjure Samuel up from the dead—another direct violation of God’s Law (1 Samuel 28:1–20). Saul ended his life by committing suicide (1 Samuel 31:4).

There is the tendency to look at the above facts and say, “Saul didn’t obey the Lord much at all, so that means he wasn’t saved.” But that is not quite fair, for there is more to the story.

Saul was God’s choice to lead Israel (1 Samuel 9:15–16). Before Saul was made king, Samuel told him to visit some prophets (1 Samuel 10:5). At that time, Saul was told, “The Spirit of the Lord will come powerfully upon you, and you will prophesy with them; and you will be changed into a different person. . . . God is with you” (verses 6–7). The promise that Saul would be “changed into a different person” sounds very much like the born-again statements in the New Testament (see 2 Corinthians 5:17). This description, plus the statement in verse 9 that “God changed Saul’s heart,” leads some to believe that Saul was saved.

Just as Samuel had said, Saul was filled with the Spirit and prophesied with the other prophets (1 Samuel 10:10–13). The question remains how exactly Saul was changed. Was his new heart evidence that the Lord had forgiven his sin and saved him for eternity, or was the Lord simply overcoming Saul’s reluctance to be king (see 1 Samuel 9:21)? The Bible does not say.

Those who believe that Saul was not saved point to the litany of abuses, missteps, and outrages that Saul committed, reasoning that no true follower of God could behave in such a way.

Those who believe that Saul was saved point to the fact that he was chosen by God and then used by God to prophesy and to defeat the Philistines. Saul made mistakes in his struggle against the flesh, but so do we all (Romans 7:21–23). Saul walked in the flesh for most of his life and therefore disobeyed the Lord. It doesn`t make him unsaved. It just makes him a disobedient believer, some say, and the Lord disciplined His child in the way He saw fit.

Saul’s tragic choice to live according to the flesh caused him much sorrow. Saul started out so well, but his disobedience derailed what could have been a stellar kingship and the beginning of a dynasty. By his sin, King Saul lost everything: his relationship with his son, his leadership role in Israel, the love of his people, and finally his life.

Again, it is not our place to judge another person’s salvation. Only God truly knows whether or not Saul was saved. Did Saul begin his career with a humble, God-fearing heart? Yes. Did he commit egregious sins later in life? Yes. The matter of his salvation is between God and Saul.

The life of King Saul could be summed up in a modern cliché: It’s  not how you start; It’s how you finish. Saul started out very well only to  see his subsequent disobedient actions derail what could have been a stellar,  God-honoring rule over the nation of Israel. How could someone so close to God  at the start spiral out of control and out of favor with God? To understand how  things in Saul’s life got so mixed up, we need to know something about the man  himself. Who was King Saul, and what should learn from his life?

The  name “Saul,” from the Hebrew word pronounced shaw-ool, means “asked.”  Saul was the son of Kish from the tribe of Benjamin. Saul came from a well-to-do  family (1 Samuel  9:1) and was tall, dark and handsome in appearance. Scripture states that  “there was not a man among the sons of Israel more handsome than he, being  taller than any of the people from his shoulder and upward” (1 Samuel 9:2). He was God’s  chosen one to lead the scattered nation of Israel, a collection of tribes that  did not have a central leader other than God and no formal government. In times  of trouble, leaders would arise but never consolidated power of the twelve  tribes into one nation. Years before Saul’s rule, Samuel the prophet was  Israel’s religious leader but not a king. In fact, Israel was loosely ruled by  judges who presided over domestic squabbles (1 Samuel 8). They were not,  however, equipped to rule in times of war. It is no exaggeration to say that  Samuel and Saul lived in turbulent times. The Philistines were Israel’s sworn  enemies, and war broke out between the two on a fairly regular basis (1 Samuel  4). Because of the constant threat of war, the people pressed Samuel to appoint  a king to rule over them (1 Samuel  8:5).

Of course, we know that it was the Lord who brought all of  this about because the people had forsaken Him and served other gods (1 Samuel 8:7-9). It  became Samuel’s task to anoint a king from among the people. Saul was secretly  anointed the first king of all the tribes of Israel (1 Samuel 10:1) before  being publicly selected by the general population (1 Samuel  10:17-24). Saul’s reign over Israel started peacefully around 1010 B.C., but  the peace was not to last. One of the most famous events in Saul’s life was the  stand-off with the Philistines in the valley of Elah. Here Goliath taunted the  Israelites for 40 days until a shepherd boy named David slew him (1 Samuel 17).  Aside from that incident of fear and uncertainty, Saul was a competent military  leader. He was good enough that his rule was solidified by his victory at  Jabesh-Gilead. As part of the triumph, he was again proclaimed king at Gilgal  (1 Samuel  11:1-15). He went on to lead the nation through several more military  victories as his popularity reached its zenith. However, a series of very  serious blunders, beginning with an unauthorized sacrificial offering (1 Samuel 13:9-12),  started Saul’s downfall from his kingship. Saul’s downward spiral continued as  he failed to eliminate all of the Amalekites and their livestock as commanded by  God (1 Samuel  15:3). Disregarding a direct order from God, he decided to spare the life of  King Agag along with some of the choice livestock. He tried to cover up his  transgression by lying to Samuel and, in essence, lying to God. This  disobedience was the last straw, as God would withdraw His Spirit from Saul. The  break between God and Saul is arguably one of the saddest occurrences in  Scripture.

While Saul would be allowed to serve out the rest of his life  as king, he was plagued by an evil spirit that tormented him and brought about  waves of madness. Saul’s final years were profoundly tragic as he endured  periods of deep manic depression. However, it was a young man brought into the  king’s court named David who became the soothing influence on the troubled king  by playing music which temporarily restored the king’s sanity. The king embraced  David as one of his own, but all of this changed as David became a fine military  leader in his own right. In fact, a popular song of the day was “Saul has slain  his thousands, and David his tens of thousands” (1 Samuel  18:7). When Saul realized that God was with David, the king sought to kill  David at every opportunity. David succeeded in evading the countless attempts on  his life with the help of the king’s son, Jonathan, and the king’s daughter,  Michal. The final years of King Saul’s life brought a general decline in his  service to the nation and in his personal fortunes. He spent much time, energy  and expense trying to kill David rather than consolidating the gains of his  earlier victories, and because of this the Philistines sensed an opening for a  major victory over Israel. With a large army they crushed Saul’s troops, killing  all of his sons including Jonathan. In one final act of disobedience Saul takes  his own life by falling on his sword, thus ending a promising life on a final  note of shame.

There are three lessons we can learn from the life of  King Saul. First, obey the Lord and seek to do His will. From the very start of  his reign, Saul had the perfect opportunity to be the benchmark by which all  future kings could be measured. All he had to do was to seek the Lord  wholeheartedly, obey His commandments and align his will with that of God’s, and  his rule would have been a God-honoring one. However, like so many others, Saul  chose a different path and strayed away from God. We find a perfect example of  his disobedience in the incident where God commanded him to kill all the  Amalekites, but Saul kept the king and some of the spoils of war. Saul  compounded his troubles by lying to Samuel over the incident. He claimed that it  was the people that saved all of the animals (1 Samuel 15). This act, plus many  others over the course of his rule, emphasized the fact that he could not be  trusted to be an instrument of God’s will.

The second lesson we learn  is not to misuse the power given to us. There is no question that King Saul  abused the power God had entrusted to him. The over-riding reason for this is  the pride often creeps into our hearts when people are serving and honoring us.  In time, this type of “star treatment” can make us believe that we really are  something special and worthy of praise. When this happens, we forget that God is  the one who is really in control and that He alone rules over all. God may have  chosen Saul because he was humble, but over time that humility was replaced by a  self-serving and destructive pride that destroyed his rule.

Another  lesson for us is to lead the way God wants us to lead. First Peter 5:2-10 is  the ultimate guide for leading the people that God has placed in our charge: “Be  shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers—not  because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not  greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to  you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you  will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away. Young men, in the  same way be submissive to those who are older. All of you, clothe yourselves  with humility toward one another, because, ‘God opposes the proud but gives  grace to the humble.’ Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand,  that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he  cares for you. Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around  like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in  the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are  undergoing the same kind of sufferings. And the God of all grace, who called you  to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will  himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.” How much different  Saul’s life would have turned out had he obeyed these principles. King Saul  would have had no shortage of wise counsel available to him. By ignoring God and  His wise counsel, Saul allowed the spiritual health of his people to deteriorate  further, alienating them from God.