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The Fall of King Saul

by Stephen Davey Scripture Reference: 1 Samuel 13–15

Impatience with God’s timing leads to disobeying God. And disobedience, without genuine repentance, leads to more disobedience and arrogant self-exaltation. This was the course King Saul followed, and he never recovered from it.


You might remember that King Saul began his reign with humility and modesty and trust, and God gave him a great military victory. However, Saul will become arrogant and defiant; and as a result, we are about to witness the fall of King Saul.

Chapter 13 introduces us to Saul’s son, Jonathan. And let me tell you, Jonathan is nothing like his father. In fact, we read here in verse 3 that “Jonathan defeated the garrison of the Philistines that was at Geba.” In response, verse 5 tells us the Philistines gather a massive army to fight Israel— “thirty thousand chariots and six thousand horsemen and troops.”

That is a long way of telling us the Israelites are greatly outnumbered. They have inferior weapons as well, as verses 19-22 explain. Consequently, many of the Israelite soldiers fear for their lives and go into hiding, deserting the army. 

So, Saul is here at Gilgal with his dwindling army, waiting for Samuel to arrive. Saul has been told to wait for seven days; and then, only after Samuel offers sacrifices and blessings, is Saul to go into battle (see 1 Samuel 10:8). 

Seven days is a long time to wait. You see, Saul is being tested here by the Lord. Someone has said that PQ a test doesn’t make you; it exposes you—it reveals who you are. Well, Saul is not about to wait on God’s timing, so he offers the sacrifices himself in defiance of the divine instruction through the prophet Samuel. 

And as soon as Saul finishes, guess who shows up. Samuel. And he asks Saul a simple question: “What have you done?” (verse 11).

Saul responds in verse 12:

I said [to myself], ‘Now the Philistines will come down against me at Gilgal, and I have not sought the favor of the Lord.’ So I forced myself, and offered the burnt offering.”

“I forced myself!” In other words, he is saying, “I knew it was wrong, but I just couldn’t help it.” Well, Samuel doesn’t buy it. He delivers this stunning rebuke: “You have done foolishly.” Then he adds, “The Lord would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. But now your kingdom shall not continue” (verses 13-14). With that Samuel leaves, and Saul prepares for battle against the Philistines.

Now chapter 14 is going to emphasize the differences between Jonathan and his father, Saul. For one thing, Saul is afraid to trust the Lord and actually go into battle. But Jonathan steps out in courageous faith. With only his armor bearer with him, Jonathan attacks a Philistine garrison of some twenty enemy soldiers—and defeats them! As a result, God throws the entire Philistine army into a panic, and they begin to flee.

There is a principle here that is true to this very day, beloved: there’s no telling what God will do when someone steps out in courageous faith. Saul is unwilling to move forward, while Jonathan moves out in faith. Let me tell you, even God cannot steer a parked car. He is looking for people who will put it into drive and take a step of faith.

Now, with the Philistines on the run, Saul and his men chase after them. With his army in pursuit of the Philistines, Saul gives a ridiculous command recorded in verse 24: he “laid an oath on the people, saying, ‘Cursed be the man who eats food until it is evening and I am avenged on my enemies.’” 

The Philistines are on the run, and the Israelites are going to spend the entire day chasing them down, and Saul foolishly forbids anyone to eat anything until that evening. What he’s doing here is attempting to look spiritual. He orders this fast (verse 24); he builds an altar (verse 35); he makes a vow (verse 39), and he even attempts to consult the Lord (verse 41). Is God impressed? Not on your life. God is not impressed by people making a show of looking spiritual.

In fact, the man impressing God here is Jonathan, even though he breaks his father’s oath when he comes across a beehive. 

Jonathan had not heard his father charge the people with the oath, so he put out the tip of the staff that was in his hand and dipped it in the honeycomb and put his hand to his mouth, and his eyes became bright. (verse 27)

Only then is he told of his father’s foolish command.

That evening Saul determines that someone has violated his command. And when Jonathan is revealed to be that person, Saul says to him, “You shall surely die” (verse 44). How foolish and thickheaded can you be?

Fortunately, the people intervene and save Jonathan’s life. But in the process, Saul loses his credibility before the nation. And from this point on, Saul digresses even faster into a paranoid, suspicious, angry, jealous man. 

The final nail in the coffin, so to speak, takes place in chapter 15. God issues a command to Saul to carry out His judgment by utterly destroying the king and nation of the Amalekites (verse 3). 

The Amalekites, an extremely wicked people, had ruthlessly attacked Israel in the past. In fact, God already had told Moses years earlier, in Exodus 17:14, “I will utterly blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven.” That day has arrived. Saul is not to take any possessions belonging to the Amalekites and is to put to death every member of this evil tribe as an act of divine judgment. 

So, what does Saul do? He defeats the Amalekites, but then verse 9 says: 

But Saul and the people spared Agag [the king] and the best of the sheep and of the oxen and of the fattened calves and the lambs, and all that was good, and would not utterly destroy them.

When they return home, Saul meets up with Samuel and says to him in verse 13, “I have performed the commandment of the Lord.” Well, that’s a big fat lie. This is saying something with your lips that you are not doing in your life. And Samuel’s response essentially is, “Oh really?” He says, “What then is this bleating of the sheep in my ears and the lowing of the oxen that I hear?” (verse 14).

Now notice this: Saul admits to only partial obedience, but he then places the blame on his people. Look at verses 20-21: 

“I have obeyed the voice of the Lord. . . . I have brought Agag the king [alive], but the people took of the spoil, sheep and oxen . . . to sacrifice to the Lord.”

He is saying, “Why kill their king? Why not let the people keep these animals? I’m sure they’re going to sacrifice them to the Lord. Come on, Samuel, lighten up! What’s the big deal?”

Well, Samuel tells him what the big deal is: 

“Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice . . . rebellion is as the sin of divination, and presumption is as iniquity and idolatry.” (verses 22-23)

In other words, making sacrifices to God while disobeying God is false worship. And disobedience is as wicked as idolatry. 

And with that Samuel delivers the verdict in verse 23: “Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, he has also rejected you from being king.”

The chapter ends on a sad note in verse 35, as Samuel leaves Saul and grieves over him. Though Saul will continue as king for some time, his fall is established.

Beloved, the same things that brought about his fall will bring failure in your life: lip service instead of genuine service, partial obedience instead of total obedience, and unwillingness to obey the word of the Lord.


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