Was King Saul ever a good man?

Obviously, we don’t know his heart, but I wonder if he was ever had a good heart. We know how he ended up. The people wanted a king instead of judges, so God, even though He did not want a king because He was their king, gave them a king. Jacob had predicted that the rightful kings of the nation to be (Israel) would come from the tribe of Judah, but Saul was from the tribe of Benjamin. God knew that, so why would God make him the first king? Maybe he knew Saul had a bad heart and would use Saul to show the people that their request for a king was bad. As if God gave them what they wanted, not what He wanted, to teach them a lesson. Has that ever happened to you? You pray for something you want without asking God if it is what He wants? You get it and feel good, only to realize later when it turns out bad that your request was not what God wanted. James 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask [c]with wrong motives, so that you may spend it[d]on your pleasures.

So God gave them what they wanted, and Saul, at least initially, sure fit the bill. 1 Samuel 9 Now there was a man of Benjamin whose name was Kish the son of Abiel, the son of Zeror, the son of Becorath, the son of Aphiah, the son of a Benjamite, a mighty man of [h]valor. He had a son whose name was Saul, a choice and handsome man, and there was not a more handsome person than he among the sons of Israel; from his shoulders and up he was taller than any of the people. Brave, tall, handsome. What more could you ask? He even seemed humble at first, 1 Samuel 9“Am I not a Benjamite, of the smallest of the tribes of Israel, and my family the least of all the families of the [l]tribe of Benjamin? Samuel gave him some signs (the finding of the lost donkeys). 1 Samuel 10 Then it happened when he turned his back to leave Samuel, God changed [u]his heart; and all those signs came about on that day. 10 When they came to [v]the hill there, behold, a group of prophets met him; and the Spirit of God came upon him mightily, so that he prophesied among them. 11 It came about, when all who knew him previously saw that he prophesied now with the prophets, that the people said to one another, “What has happened to the son of Kish? Is Saul also among the prophets?” God changed his heart! Whatever was lacking God changed his heart to accept being anointed king with all the responsibility involved in that. Plus, God gave him miraculous Spirit powers of prophecy! Whatever Saul might have been lacking initially, God gave him all he needed to succeed as the first king even though God did not want a king. It is not like God doomed him to failure before he even started. Maybe God knew how Saul would turn bad, but He gave him every chance to do good as king. Saul even seemed calm when certain worthless men did not want to accept him as king. 1 Samuel 10 27 But certain [z]worthless men said, “How can this one deliver us?” And they despised him and did not bring him any present. But he kept silent. Later, he tries to kill all his political enemies (mainly David), and does get Doeg to kill the 85 priests who gave David bread.

And God blessed him with a military victory at first. He gathered an army and defended the inhabitants of Jabesh-Gilead from the Ammonites who had threatened to put out the right eyes of all the men in the city. 1 Samuel 11 Then the Spirit of God came upon Saul mightily when he heard these words, and [ac]he became very angry. Bold leadership. Form an army to defend against enemies. This was the main reason they wanted a king to begin with. 1 Samuel 8 19 Nevertheless, the people refused to listen to the voice of Samuel, and they said, “No, but there shall be a king over us, 20 that we also may be like all the nations, that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles.” Saul even refused to allow his men to kill those who didn’t want him to be king. 1 Samuel 11 12 Then the people said to Samuel, “Who is he that said, ‘Shall Saul reign over us?’ [af]Bring the men, that we may put them to death.” 13 But Saul said, “Not a man shall be put to death this day, for today the Lord has accomplished deliverance in Israel.” Really a very good beginning. 1 Samuel 11 15 So all the people went to Gilgal, and there they made Saul king before the Lord in Gilgal. There they also offered sacrifices of peace offerings before the Lord; and there Saul and all the men of Israel rejoiced greatly.

I encourage you to read 1 Samuel 12 at this point. Samuel tells the people that they have a history of disobeying God, and they have committed a great evil by asking for a king. If they and their new king commit evil, God will punish them as he has done in their past. But he gives them a choice. If they and their king do good, God will bless them even though they committed this great evil by asking for a king. Samuel calls for what must have been a terrible storm of thunder and rain for a whole day. The peopled were terrified. They ask Samuel to not stop praying for them. Samuel replied, 1 Samuel 12 23 Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by ceasing to pray for you; but I will instruct you in the good and right way. We should never cease praying for people, even those who seem to be hopeless. Keep teaching people, sowing the seed, and leave the harvest to God.

So what went wrong with Saul’s good beginning? When did it start to go bad for him as king? It started in 1 Samuel 13. Jonathon smote a garrison of the Philistines, which caused the Philistines to mount a very large force to attack Israel. Saul only had a standing army of 3,000 men so he called for help from the tribes but was vastly outnumbered. Samuel had told Saul to wait 7 days for him to come offer a sacrifice to God for a victory, but Saul panicked when his men kept deserting him, terrified of the enemy. Did Saul not remember the story of Gideon? God sent all the fearful men home, and Gideon ended up with an army of 300 with which God defeated 130,000 Midianites! If Saul had just trusted God, He would have given him a victory no matter how many men he ended up with! But he had a panic attack! Samuel was delayed past the 7 days, and Saul offered the sacrifice himself. I can understand that. I am a fearful person. I often panic and just feel like I have got to do something fast to solve a problem instead of patiently trusting God, waiting for God to help me. So did Samuel consider what Saul did a big deal? Yes! 1 Samuel 1313 Samuel said to Saul, “You have acted foolishly; you have not kept the commandment of the Lord your God, which He commanded you, for now the Lord would have established your kingdom [au]over Israel forever. 14 But now your kingdom shall not endure. The Lord has sought out for Himself a man after His own heart, and the Lord has appointed him as ruler over His people, because you have not kept what the Lord commanded you.”

Back to our original question. Did Saul start out with a good heart and turn bad? Or was his heart proud and unbelieving all along and this is the first time we see how his heart really was? Does it matter if we can answer that question? Probably not. He had the freedom to choose and made his own choices. Some Calvinists say, “once saved, always saved”. According to Calvinistic TULIP, the P is perseverance of the saints (the elect can’t fall from grace no matter what they do). So, when a person is saved, they will tell them they are part of the elect, usually shown that by some working of the Spirit (like with Saul prophesying). But if that person, a year later, turns from faith in Jesus and returns to a life of sin, what do they say? Some of them will say that person is still saved because he can’t fall from grace. The New Testament clearly teaches that a saved person can fall from grace. Galataians 5 You have been severed from Christ, you who [b]are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace. 2 Peter 2 20 For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world by the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and are overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. 21 For it would be better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn away from the holy commandment handed on to them. 22 [h]It has happened to them according to the true proverb, “A dog returns to its own vomit,” and, “A sow, after washing, returns to wallowing in the mire.” But some of them will say, “Oh, that person never was really saved to begin with”, even though they assured that person that he/she was saved a year before! The “once saved, always saved” doctrine is a very dangerous doctrine that could leave someone living in sin and lost, yet thinking he/she is still saved. There would be no need to repent if they can’t fall from grace and they could end up being lost forever. But if some will at least say that a “backslider” (one who has totally forsaken faith in Christ and is practicing sin willfully) will not be saved by grace, then I guess it doesn’t really matter if he was 1) never really saved or 2) was once saved but fell from grace.

So I guess it doesn’t matter if Saul was good at first but turned bad, or never was really good in his heart. So why ask this question? Because he made bad choices that caused him to end up bad, and we might make those same choices even if we did start out with a good heart. The final straw in God rejecting Saul as king came when didn’t kill all the Amalekites as God had commanded him. He spared King Agag and some of the animals to offer as a sacrifice (according to him). He argued with Samuel that he had obeyed God, but Samuel took this very seriously. 1 Samuel 15 22 Samuel said, “Has the Lord as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices As in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice,  And to heed than the fat of rams. 23 “For rebellion is as the sin of divination, And insubordination is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, He has also rejected you from being king.” Why is this such a big sin? It must be because of Saul’s heart. David commits a lot worse sins and is forgiven, but Saul is punished severely for his sin. David repented and asked forgiveness for his sin, but Saul argued with Samuel that he hadn’t even sinned. He did say “I have sinned” but that was after Samuel told him God was taking the kingdom from him. We trust in God’s grace to forgive us from all our sins, but we should try to obey God as closely as we possibly can. Grace doesn’t mean we can just carelessly pick and choose which commands to obey.

It was all down hill after that. Saul is filled with envy because of the praise David was getting from the people. God sends an evil spirit on him and he tries to kill David (even threw a spear at his son Jonathon) in the palace. He chases David for 10 years in the wilderness. David could have killed him twice, and both times Saul said he was sorry for trying to kill David but he continued to try to kill him. He orders Doeg to kill Ahimelech and 85 priests when Ahimelech gave David the consecrated bread for his starving men. He goes to a witch at Endor to get her to call up Samuel to tell him his fate because God has quit talking to him. Samuel tells him he will die the next day in battle, and he does. The Philistines cut off his head and hand his body on a wall. The men of Jabesh-Gilead (the ones Saul rescued) come and take his body off the wall, burn it, and bury his bones. What a sad ending to the first king of Israel. Maybe Paul said it best in 1 Corinthians 10 12Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall.

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