One of the most tragic stories in the Bible is the story of Saul. He was a man who had everything going for him. The son of a rich and influential father, handsome, tall and strongly built, Saul had been well endowed by God for the position of king. We are told that there was no one like him in all of Israel and that in stature, he was taller than all the people from his shoulders upward. Not only was he favored by the people, God Himself singled Saul out choosing him to be king and commander of His people, empowering him with the Holy Spirit, and assuring him through Samuel and many confirming signs that God was with him to enable him to accomplish whatever his hand found to do. Not only did Saul have everything going for him, he did well as king. Scripture tells us: “When Saul had taken the kingship over Israel, he fought against all his enemies on every side, against Moab, against the Ammonites, against Edom, against the kings of Zobah, and against the Philistines. Wherever he turned he routed them. And he did valiantly and struck the Amalekites and delivered Israel out of the hands of those who plundered them.” (1 Samuel 14:47–48, ESV)
Tragically, Saul’s reign did not end well and it is not his heroic deeds that are remembered now, but his disobedience to God, treachery toward David and his eventual suicide. What went wrong? Like the story of the airplane crash in the previous blog, Saul’s life and kingship came to a crashing end, an end that not only claimed his life but the life of his three sons. Like the propeller blade breaking off the airplane, we can point to the turning point in Saul’s life when his kingdom began to spiral toward destruction. However just as the corrosion and fatal flaw were building in that propeller blade long before it’s obvious failure, there were problems in Saul’s life that set him up for his ultimate failure. Some people don’t care and don’t try to get things right, but this was not Saul. Saul did attempt to do what God commanded, but something consistently caused him to sabotage himself. God Himself gives us the clues to Saul’s problem in Scripture. “And Samuel said, “Though you are little in your own eyes, are you not the head of the tribes of Israel? The Lord anointed you king over Israel.” (1 Samuel 15:17, ESV)
Saul saw himself as a little man. As innocuous as this might seem, his view of himself had a deep impact on how he lived. Where did this belief come from? Surely not from the fact that he was the tallest and most handsome man in Israel, nor from the fact that God picked him out of all of Israel and anointed him king. Did it come from his stunning defeat over the Ammonites, the first act of his reign? Not likely. Did it come from the fact that he was filled with the Holy Spirit, had prophesied words from God and been prophesied to by Samuel? Did it come from the fact that his father was wealthy and influential? This belief of Saul was surely not a logical or well thought out belief, perhaps not even an entirely conscious belief, but it was how he felt about himself, how he saw himself and how he lived. It was a belief he fought all his life. While we don’t know how this deep seated belief originated, it likely developed early in his life and it plagued him his whole life. He lived and behaved as a little man would. He never possessed confidence in who God had made him or the position God had put him in. Before he was even anointed as king he declared that his family was the least in his tribe and that he was least in his family even though Scripture tells us that his father was influential and that there was no one like him in all of Israel.
How does a belief like this affect someone in their life? What is a man who perceives himself as little to do in a big position? Try to be what he is certain he isn’t? Try to prove himself to demonstrate to himself and others that he is what he doesn’t feel that he is? Saul set up monuments to himself to make up for how small he felt about himself. Lacking security, fear was an ever-present problem for Saul, fear that the people would leave him, fear that others would usurp his position, and at the end of his life, fear of defeat. How was a little man to maintain himself in a big position when he was sure that others would see his littleness and count him unworthy of his position? Saul didn’t feel that who God had made him or how God had empowered him was enough.
At the same time that Saul tried to obey God, he felt he needed to make the people happy so that they would see him as a big man, and so he gave into their desires to take spoil when God had commanded that no spoil be taken. Trying to earn points with God and make God happy too, he promised sacrifices to God to make up for the disobedience. Looking bad was the end of the world for Saul. He became physically violent with Samuel to force Samuel to make him look good. When the women sang more flatteringly of David than him, he immediately felt his own perceived smallness and sought to kill David. When his son tried to speak up for David, Saul enraged tried to kill his own son. Anyone who outperformed Saul threatened his fragile image of self.
The bottom line is that Saul was not a small man. God had not shortchanged Saul in any way for what he had called Saul to do. This is what God was pointing out to Saul, “Though you are little in your own eyes, are you not the head of the tribes of Israel? The Lord anointed you king over Israel.” (1 Samuel 15:17, ESV). God was saying, “Even if you see yourself as small, look at how I see you and where I put you. I made you head of the tribes of Israel and anointed you as King.” Not only did God not shortchange Saul in any way for what He had called Saul to do, He hasn’t short change any of us what we need to fulfill our destiny. While we all have a different destiny, we have been given what we need to fulfill that destiny. Even though Saul was not a small man, he lived the life of a small man characterized by fear, insecurity, petty jealousy, eventually leading to treachery, murder, witchcraft and suicide. It has been said that the results of believing lies often aren’t that different than if the lies are true. This is certainly true when a lie causes us to reject who God created us and live as if we are so much less.
The bottom of almost every problem we face lies in a false or defective belief systems. When Satan wanted mankind to fall, he began by working to change Eve’s belief about herself before suggesting that she disobey God. He suggested to her that she was deficient, that she didn’t have all she needed, that God had shortchanged her. Once she believed this, then she was ready to disobey God, but not before. Just as Saul’s disobedience to God stemmed from his false belief system, Eve’s disobedience resulted from the lie about herself that she believed. When we believe lies about ourselves, God or others, those lies become like cancer cells within that may hide but which will eventually take us down if we do not identify them and replace them with the truth.