A Holy Nation
After creating the world, a paradise for human kind, God is forced to banish Adam and Eve because they disobey His orders to not eat fruit from the tree of wisdom. This results ultimately in the fall of man to earth. Immediately from the beginning of his time on Earth, man chooses not to follow the path set before him by God but instead spreads evil throughout the world. Therefore, the inherent problem humans face is the pressure to judge between good and evil, the need to aspire to be like God. God’s first solution to this problem was to flood the world killing everyone, but those on Noah’s arch. God realizes, however, that this is not an answer to the problem that humans are, and decides upon a second solution, that being the Holy Nation of Israel.
God creates Israel, so that the Holy Nation and its history can serve as a guiding-light to the world. Israel is therefore an example in which the world can look upon and learn from. A pivotal character within the great history of Israel, is the Holy Nation’s first king, King Saul. Saul epitomizes the problematic human being, and his character fully illustrates human pride, the need to rise up and be like God in judging what is right and wrong. This pride is ultimately the central source of all other sins.
The rule of Saul over the people of Israel is a major turning point for the Holy Nation, for it marks the end of a line of Judges and begins a line of Kings. Saul is anointed king of Israel due to the sin of the people of Israel. The citizens of Israel, notice not only that Samuel, the Judge, was growing old, but also that his sons, whom he appointed to succeed him as Judge, “did not follow their father’s ways but were intent on their own profit, taking bribes, and perverting the course of justice”(8:3). As a result the people demanded a king be appointed to rule over them, even after they were given a solemn warning of the future king’s tyranny (8:10-8:18). Because the Israelites reject the order of Judges, they thereby reject God’s word that He will save them, and have, as a result, lost faith in God. God states to Samuel, “Listen to the people and all that they are saying; they have not rejected you, it is I whom they have rejected, I whom they will not have be their King”(8:7). In spite of His people’s sin against Him, however, God finds a king to rule over Israel, and chooses Saul.
In the beginning Saul is a strong and humble leader to his people. When is uncle questions him about Samuel’s remarks, Saul replies, ” ‘He told us that the donkeys had been found’… but he did not repeat what Samuel had said about his being king”(10:16). He does not tell his uncle that he is to become king of Israel because he is not overconfident and prideful in his position as ruler over God’s chosen ones. Moreover, Saul becomes very zealous and effective leader when he chooses to “[take] a pair of oxen, cut them in pieces, and [send] messenger with the pieces all through Israel to proclaim that the same would be done to the oxen of any man who did not follow [Samuel and himself] to battle”(11:5). Saul’s first acts and first successes as king prove not only that he possesses the qualities of a good leader, but also reinforces in the mind of the people that he is God’s chosen.
Saul’s first victories against the nation’s enemies cause great joy and excitement amongst the Israelites. During this moment of rejoicing, Samuel gives a warning to the people of Israel that is more directed towards Saul himself. Samuel states, “If you will revere the Lord and give true and loyal service, if you do not rebel against his commands, and if you and the king who reigns over you are faithful to the Lord you God, well and good, but if you do not obey the Lord, and if you rebel against his commands, then his hands will be against you and against your king”(12:14-15). Here, Samuel is effectually warning against the inherent human problem, telling the people not ever to substitute God’s judgement for one’s own judgement. Although this is only a warning, it comes at a very unexpected time and foreshadows Saul’s perpetual fall form God’s good favor.
Saul’s mistakes and sins toward God begin in his very next campaign against the Philistines. “The Philistines mustered to attack Israel; they had thirty thousand chariots and six thousand horse, with infantry as countless as the sand on the seashore. The Israelites found themselves in sore straits, for the army was hard pressed, so they hid themselves in caves and holes and among the rocks, in pits and cisterns”(13:5-6). Upon this pathetic image of his countrymen Saul begins to doubt God’s promise to save His people, therein lies Saul’s fatal mistake, and man’s basis for sin. As a result Saul chooses to acting in the manner of pagans, make whole-sacrifices in order to “ensure the Lord’s favor”. Although sacrificing to God may seem slight and excusable, the reason for which Saul chooses to act in this manner is not. Saul has shown that he has lost his confidence in God, and that his actions no longer correspond to God’s wishes because he can some how judge between right and wrong for himself. At this point Saul’s downfall is not fully apparent to the reader, but Samuel is able to see through to Saul’s deadly sin. Samuel states, “You have acted foolishly! You have not kept the command laid on you by the Lord your God; if you had he would have established your dynasty over Israel for all time. But now your line will not endure; the Lord will seek out a man after his own heart, appoint him prince over his people, because you have not kept the Lord’s command”(13:13-14). Samuel’s words at this point seem far too drastic, but Samuel makes this statement because he is able to recognize that Saul’s broken reasoning can only lead to more extreme sins against God.
During Saul’s next campaign against the Amalekites, Samuel’s warning comes to fruition, and now not only is God and Samuel able to see Saul’s apparent flaws, but so can the reader. God directly commands Saul during a time in which “the word of the Lord was rarely heard, and there was no outpouring of vision”(3:1), stating, “Go now, fall upon the Amalekites, destroy them, and put their property under ban. Spare no one, put them to death, men and women, children and babies in arms, herds and flocks, camels and donkey”(15:3). Fully understanding the commands that God gave him, Saul goes directly into battle with the Amalekites, yet he chooses not to obey God’s word, in spite of the strong emphasis that was put on the correct course of acts he should have taken due to God’s rare direct instruction. “Saul inflicted defeat on the Amalekites…but Agag king of the Amalekites he took alive …and his army spared the best of the sheep and cattle, the fat beasts and the lambs, and everything worth keeping; these they were unwilling to destroy, but anything that was useless and of no value they destroyed”(15:7). Therefore Saul as acted out in total defiance of God. He no longer follows the word of God, but instead has acted out of his own volition. His rejection of the word of the Lord results in his loss of the Kingdom of Israel as prophesized by Samuel who took Agag and “hewed [him] in pieces”.
Saul’s actions at Amalek become a pivotal point in Saul’s life because God does not support him any longer; he has loss his anointment as King of Israel. The argument that ensues between Saul and Samuel is a most powerful piece of symbolism. “As [Samuel] turned to go, Saul caught the corner of his cloak and it tore.”(15:27). At this point Saul is standing like a guilty child, pathetically holding onto a shred of cloth. This image marks the start of Saul’s drastic downfall.
A new king is revealed to Samuel, by God, as being David. God also anoints David as King of Israel, presenting a major conflict since there are now two kings of Israel. David is also appointed commander of Israel’s army and succeeds in battle, routing his enemies a number of times. As a result Israelites begin saying, “Saul struck down Thousands, but David tens of thousands”(18:7). This causes Saul to become thick with jealousy of David, and soon Saul is seen hurling spears trying to murder David, yet David amazingly is able to dodge certain death. “After this Saul was afraid of David because he saw that God had forsaken him and was with David, [who] led his men into action and succeeded in everything that he undertook”(18:12). Yet Saul continues to pursue and try to murder David, a clear agent of God.
Therefore, Saul has ultimately developed on three separate levels. On the first of these levels, he first begins to doubt God’s power and word when he sees the massive Philistine army and makes a sacrifice to ensure God’s support. This first sin slowly progresses onto a second level, when Saul chooses to openly defy God and decides to spare Agag. In his final level of development, Saul has deteriorated into an evil person searching for a way to destroy God’s good work. Although it is perfectly clear that God protects David, Saul continues to try and kill him. At this junction Saul finds himself alone; his son is on David’s side, his daughter is on David’s side, his people are on David’s side, and most importantly God is on David’s side. Therefore, Saul must die and give way to David, yet David is unwilling to kill God’s anointed one, and the Philistines are kept from kill Saul because they are all uncircumcised. The final solution presents itself when Saul is injured and “thereupon [he] took his own sword and fell on it. Once Saul is dead as a result of his own hand, David is king and he is not stained with the blood of another anointed king.
Saul’s progression from God’s chosen king to king against God comes full circle. He came from the sin of the people and therefore he must die when he returns to that sin. Saul’s story serves as an example of human nature’s need to judge for itself in its purest form. This need is very problematic, as we have seen, because humans can only see the obvious cause and effects that present themselves throughout life. “The Lord does not see as a mortal sees; mortals see only appearances but the Lord sees into the heart”(16:7). As humans our perceptions are imperfect, and as a result we cannot possibly judge what is right and what is wrong. Therefore, the most basic human sin is then need to become like God in making these judgements that we cannot possibly make with any accuracy what so ever. Saul embodies pure pride and is apart of Israel’s development into a nation that will ultimately serve as a guide to the world because he is a model of what humans must restrain themselves form doing and being.