Men Behaving Badly: Saul - The man afraid of God’s anointing

1 Samuel 9:15-10:27

Last Thursday I went up to London with Louise for the afternoon. Every five minutes on the train there was a reassuring message over the PA system to advise us that the rail company was doing everything it could to ensure our safety, that CCTV was operating in each carriage and could we please look out for suspicious packages and report them immediately. Travelling on various parts of the underground during the afternoon, the fear among many of the passengers was visible and palpable. Suspicious looks, apprehensive glances, people on edge. Any one with a Middle Eastern or Indian complexion was viewed with suspicion as were people wearing a rucksack. The combination of the two was enough to cause ostracism. On at least one occasion I saw people move seats to avoid being near someone of the wrong colour or religious persuasion. The presence of large numbers of heavily armed police at the railways stations and at the entrances to the tube stations was, I am sure, intended to reassure passengers more than intimidate would-be terrorists. On Waterloo station I counted at least 15 uniformed officers in just one small part of the station and that’s not counting those in plain clothes.

Fear is a healthy and instinctive reaction to danger and ensures our self preservation. So when is it legitimate and when does it become a destructive force? In Luke 12 Jesus offers some sobering advice:

“I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him.” (Luke 12:4-5).

Three times in one sentence Jesus urges us to fear the Lord God Almighty. I wonder how you rate this against the metropolitan police advice?  As with the threat from Islamist terrorism, there is a legitimate and an illegitimate fear of God. How are we to distinguish between the two? When is fear a sign of faith or unbelief? In our studies these Sunday evenings through the Summer we are considering ‘Men Behaving Badly’. Tonight we come to Saul - The man afraid of God’s anointing. Lets examine the consequences of God’s call of Saul to be the King of Israel, and learn to distinguish between a God-honouring fear and a God-denying unbelieving fear.


The Context (1 Samuel 8:1-9)

“When Samuel grew old, he appointed his sons as judges for Israel. 2 The name of his firstborn was Joel and the name of his second was Abijah, and they served at Beersheba. 3 But his sons did not walk in his ways. They turned aside after dishonest gain and accepted bribes and perverted justice. 4 So all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah. 5 They said to him, "You are old, and your sons do not walk in your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have." 6 But when they said, "Give us a king to lead us," this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the LORD. 7 And the LORD told him: "Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. 8 As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you. 9 Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will do." (1 Samuel 8:1-9)


The selection of Saul as king, after the Israelites’ rude rejection of Samuel the prophet, was greeted with suspicion and hostility.

Saul was a good choice though it was never popular. His was indeed a baptism of fire. Lets begin with the bad news:

“Although Saul became king chiefly through his striking appearance, he never won the inward battles. On the outside, he was tall, good-looking and well-built (1 Samuel 9:2).

On the inside, however, he amounted to little more than a shrimp. Lets make some observations about Saul’s leadership style:

  1. When the time arrives to anoint Saul as king, he hides among the baggage.
  2. When Samuel asks Saul to lead, he excuses himself as unable.
  3. When Saul’s soldiers begin to scatter, he panics and disobeys his divine orders.
  4. When confronted over his sin, he makes excuses for himself.
  5. When Saul attacks the Amalekites, he is afraid to trust God and destroy the enemy.
  6. When Saul fears losing the allegiance of the people, he builds a statue of himself.
  7. When David gains popularity, Saul’s insecurity drives him to attempted murder.

John Maxwell makes 7 observations about Saul’s lack of courage:

Seven Lessons in Courage from Saul

1. Courage and cowardice are both contagious.

When Goliath challenged Saul’s men, they fled to their tents; when David’s men faced vastly superior forces, they stood their ground, fought… and won. (2 Samuel 12:8-12)

2. Without courage, it doesn’t matter how good your intentions are.

Saul had good intentions when he presented burnt offerings to the Lord. But he let his fear that the people would desert him control his actions. (1 Samuel 13:13-14)


3. Only courage allows you to do what you are afraid of doing.

Saul showed his lack of courage from the beginning, when he hid among the baggage to  avoid becoming king (1 Samuel 10:22).

4. Without courage, we’re slaves of our own insecurity and possessiveness.

King Saul momentarily repented on several occasions when confronted about his repeated attempts to kill David. But later, captive to his fears and insecurities, he always resumed his evil pursuit.

5. When a leader lacks courage, the people will lack commitment.

Contrary to God’s command, Saul and the people spared the best of the livestock they captured from the Amalekites. Saul let it happen because, as he admitted, “I feared the people and obeyed their voice.” (1 Samuel 15:24)

6. A leader without courage will never let go of the familiar.

Saul employed a medium to ask counsel of Samuel’s departed spirit - in direct violation of God’s law (1 Samuel 28:5-20). He lacked the courage to trust God to help him step into an unknown future.

7. Lack of courage will eventually sabotage a leader.

Saul’s lack of courage eventually cost him not only the throne of Israel, but also his own life and the life of his faithful son, Jonathan (1 Samuel 31:1-6).

Why then did God choose Saul? How can a person overcome despite their faults and critics? There are three lessons we can learn from the story of Saul about how God can use us, like Saul, despite our failings.

1. God does the best evaluation of a person (1 Sam. 9:17-21)

“When Samuel caught sight of Saul, the LORD said to him, “This is the man I spoke to you about; he will govern my people.” Saul approached Samuel in the gateway and asked, “Would you please tell me where the seer’s house is?” “I am the seer,” Samuel replied. “Go up ahead of me to the high place, for today you are to eat with me, and in the morning I will let you go and will tell you all that is in your heart. As for the donkeys you lost three days ago, do not worry about them; they have been found. And to whom is all the desire of Israel turned, if not to you and all your father’s family?” Saul answered, “But am I not a Benjamite, from the smallest tribe of Israel, and is not my clan the least of all the clans of the tribe of Benjamin? Why do you say such a thing to me?” (1 Sam 9:17-21)

Most people could only dream of the background, privilege, and life Saul had. His family had standing (1 Sam 9:1), livestock, and servants, but he benefited little from it. Saul’s inferiority complex could be traced to the low standing of the Benjamites in Israel. His tribe, the tribe of Benjamin, was almost wiped out by other tribes that attacked them to punish them for a shameful, bizarre, and notorious rape incident in Gibeah, Saul’s hometown (Judg 20:46). Saul was not short of any qualities except self-esteem. Physically, he was big, tall, and handsome.

Relationally, he was well mannered, well liked, and well grounded. Although Saul was capable and charismatic, he was not confident. He was also clumsy and inattentive. Along the way to Zuph (1 Sam 9:5), his servant was the leader. Someone suggested the two even asked directions from girls (1 Sam 9:11).  Saul did not bring any money (1 Sam 9:7), and did not know who Samuel was (1 Sam 9:18) even when Samuel was speaking to him. Saul was more comfortable with donkeys than with people, in the country than in the palace, and as an adventurer than as a warrior. However, the lack of self-esteem and confidence does not diminish a person’s potential or disqualify him from leadership. It only serves to magnify God’s presence, work and grace in our life.  God saw the potential in Saul’s talents, character, and upbringing. He chose Saul for the man he was – his character, nature, and qualities. Saul was a man unlike any other in Israel. He was a good man (1 Sam 9:2), more so than anyone in Israel. The NIV chose the word “impressive” instead of “good.” The text clearly stated that Saul was a good-hearted and good-natured man. ‘Good’ was the quality that endeared him to God and defined him as a person. He was a good person and human being, a decent and outstanding citizen, and a responsible son and worker. The kind of person God uses is humble, modest, and unpretentious. God does the best evaluation of a person.

2. God is the best enabler of a person (1 Sam. 10:6-9)

“The Spirit of the LORD will come upon you in power, and you will prophesy with them; and you will be changed into a different person. Once these signs are fulfilled, do whatever your hand finds to do, for God is with you. “Go down ahead of me to Gilgal. I will surely come down to you to sacrifice burnt offerings and fellowship offerings, but you must wait seven days until I come to you and tell you what you are to do.” As Saul turned to leave Samuel, God changed Saul’s heart, and all these signs were fulfilled that day.” (1 Sam. 10:6-9)

Saul was shy, awkward, and unpolished, and so God sent Samuel, the most powerful, influential, and respected person in Israel, to assure Saul that his selection was of God. Samuel’s reputation for accuracy in prophesy was known to all (1 Sam 3:19), and he tried his best to bring out the royalty in Saul. The prophet gave the future king the best seat in the house (1 Sam 9:22), the best portion at the table (1 Sam 9:23), and a tour of the city (1 Sam 9:25). To make Saul look and feel important, Samuel even invited 30 guests (1 Sam 9:22) - probably the most important people in Israel - to meet him, chatted privately with him in their presence (1 Sam 9:25), and invited him to stay overnight at the prophet’s house (1 Sam 9:26). Samuel’s plans for Saul’s greatness did not succeed or fail; it sputtered. However, God changed Saul overnight. The moment Saul turned to leave Samuel, the Spirit of God came mightily upon him. He was a changed man and a new person – from a chicken to a captain, from a kid to a king, and from a rancher to a ruler. The change was more heartfelt than Samuel predicted.

1 Samuel 10:6 says, “You will be changed into a different person.” Verse 9 then records that “When he had turned his back to go from Samuel, God gave him another heart.” Saul was a new man because God gave him another heart. The choicest food does not make a person, unlimited wealth does not make a person, and the highest compliments do not make a person. It’s been said, “The heart of the matter is the matter of the heart.” The change in Saul was instantaneous. God changed his heart even before the predicted meeting with the prophets (1 Sam 10:6, 9). The spirit of God confirmed God’s presence with Saul (1 Sam 10:7). God was his assurance and company, not Samuel or the people. God does the best evaluation of a person. God is the best enabler of a person.


3. God does the best exaltation of a person
“When Samuel brought all the tribes of Israel near, the tribe of Benjamin was chosen. Then he brought forward the tribe of Benjamin, clan by clan, and Matri’s clan was chosen. Finally Saul son of Kish was chosen. But when they looked for him, he was not to be found. So they inquired further of the LORD, “Has the man come here yet?” And the LORD said, “Yes, he has hidden himself among the baggage.” They ran and brought him out, and as he stood among the people he was a head taller than any of the others. Samuel said to all the people, “Do you see the man the LORD has chosen? There is no one like him among all the people.” Then the people shouted, “Long live the king!” Samuel explained to the people the regulations of the kingship. He wrote them down on a scroll and deposited it before the LORD. Then Samuel dismissed the people, each to his own home. Saul also went to his home in Gibeah, accompanied by valiant men whose hearts God had touched. But some troublemakers said, “How can this fellow save us?” They despised him and brought him no gifts. But Saul kept silent.” (1 Sam 10:20-27)

There’s an old Egyptian saying that claims the three worst things in life are:
(1) to be in bed, and sleep not;
(2) to wait for one who comes not; and
(3) to try to please, and please not.

Saul’s critics were vocal, blunt, and impolite. John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, once said, “I am sick of opinions. Give me a humble, gentle lover of God and man – a man full or mercy and good fruits, without partiality or hypocrisy. Bigotry is too strong an attachment to our own creed of opinion. How unwilling men are to allow anything good in those who do not agree with them in all things. We must not narrow the cause of God to our own beliefs, but rejoice in goodness wherever it appears.”

Saul’s worst fears came true. People who knew him were critical of his actions. They mocked, jeered and taunted Saul, saying “Is Saul also among the prophets?” (v 11). From then on, Saul wisely learned to keep his mouth shut, even to close relatives (1 Sam 10:16). After things had died down, Saul’s worry resurfaced again. Samuel had assembled everyone for a public announcement on the appointment and coronation of a king. When Samuel lined-up Israel the excited tribes, clans and families, Saul did not want to take any chances. Again, he hid himself. He knew how fickle the public could be. When the people found Saul they gasped and sighed over his height and build. The crowd immediately hailed him as king.

Saul won some backers and admirers (1 Sam 10:26) but he also found some enemies and doubters. Some oohed and aahed but others said, “Nah, nah.” Troublemakers wanted to cut him down to size (1 Sam 10:26). They couldn’t wait for Saul to hear, for the ceremony to end, and for Samuel to leave. They questioned his legitimacy, qualifications, and upbringing. According to the Hebrew text, they despised (1 Sam 10:27) him with the same despise Goliath had for David (1 Sam 17:42). They brought nothing – no token, souvenir or respect, but criticism, vitriol, and unrest.  But Saul was not going to let others rain on his parade. He wasn’t about to get into a shouting match with them, pit his newfound supporters against the troublemakers, or even quit in protest for the lack of support. He held his peace. The verb for “kept silent” is from Hebrew for pottery. By implication, he refused to screech like a piece of pottery scratching. He did not want to make noise, cry foul, or get even. When the troublemakers’ chorus grew, Saul shut his mouth, turned a deaf ear, and close a blind eye to the their refrain. He did not bother to tell them and others his side of the story or cite the divine and prophetic mandate before others.

Despite his fears and insecurities, on this occasion at least, Saul knew that God does the best exaltation of a person.

True, Saul’s character was seriously flawed, yet God chose him for his glory. The check list of qualities the person God chooses to represent Him is really quite modest: He seeks those who are meek, who show humility and a willingness to learn.

God is sufficient when we feel inadequate and uncertain. When you think of Saul - the man afraid of God’s anointing, remember:

God does the best evaluation of a person.

God is the best enabler of a person.

God does the best exaltation of a person.

Let us pray.

With grateful thanks to John Maxwell’s notes on Samuel and Saul taken from The Leadership Bible and also a sermon on 1 Samuel 9-10 by Victor Yap, pastor of River Christian Alliance Church, Riverside, California available from