By Raymond Harris
Regarding Scripture: I Samuel 24.16-20; 26.21-25
Note to the Reader – I encourage you to invest additional time reading the Books of Samuel in conjunction with this article.
Hope in the Midst of Failure
This month we have been looking at the book of I Samuel and specifically looking at Saul (Sha’ul). He seems to be a man who can represent the best and worst in all of us. He was taken from an insignificant place in life, given the grandeur of kingship and lost it all. But in the midst of tragedy, there are moments that seem to show that there is hope. While it is tempting to relegate Saul to history and judge him as lost for all eternity, it is interesting to note that within his fallen condition he demonstrates moments of genuineness. As far as I can tell, the Scriptures say nothing regarding the eternal destination of Sha’ul. We all blunder. We all sin. Yet, we all want hope.
Saul began as a very humble man.1 He knew who he was and where he came from. But the allure of the fame and power that accompanies kingship clouded his mind, and his judgment. Those things along with his disregard (disobedience) ultimately removed any hope of future possibilities as king. Through the previous articles we traced his decline and paranoia, but in the midst of trying to take David’s life, Saul does demonstrate moments of genuine humility. Consider how the CJB2 renders I Samuel 24.16-20:
After David had finished speaking to Sha’ul, Sha’ul said, “Is that your voice, my son David?”
Then Sha’ul cried out and wept; and he said to David, “You are more righteous than I, because you have treated me well, while I have been treating you badly. You have made it clear to me today that you have done me good; for when [the LORD] put my fate in your hands, you didn’t kill me. A man finds his enemy and lets him go unharmed?! May [the LORD] reward you well for what you did to me today. Now I’m certain that you will indeed become king, and that the kingship of Isra’el will be established in your hands.”
We clearly see that Saul cried. Only a man cut to his heart can openly weep. In that moment we see a Saul who recognized his failures and rightly claimed David as more righteous. But carefully note that the Scriptures do not call Saul unrighteous, just simply less righteous than David. More importantly, in that same moment of humility Saul acknowledged that David would be king and asked for the future king’s mercy. That my friends in a humbled man. As that exchange concluded, Saul went home3 – the hunt was over.
Sha’ul’s Confession and Repentance
I Samuel 26 records an interesting set of events. Saul was informed of David’s location and set out to get him. While Saul was sleeping in the midst of his army, David took Saul’s water bottle and spear, but did not take Saul’s life. Later, David awoke Saul’s encampment and David and Saul had a dialogue. David pled before Saul questioning why Saul was there. While much could be learned from how David interacts with his adversary, it is Saul’s response that is at hand. How Saul answered David reveals much about Saul’s character. Again, consider how the CJB translation renders I Samuel 26.21-25:
Then Sha’ul said, “I have sinned. Come back, my son David. I won’t harm you any longer, because you regarded my life as precious today. Yes, I have behaved like a fool. I was altogether in the wrong.”
David answered, “Here is the king’s spear. Send one of the men over to bring it back. [The LORD] will give every person a reward suited to his uprightness and faithfulness. [The LORD] put you in my power today, but I would not raise my hand against [The LORD’s] anointed. Look: just as I put great value on your life today, so may my life be given great value by ADONAI. May he deliver me from every kind of trouble!”
Sha’ul answered David, “Blessings on you, my son David! No question that you will accomplish everything you set out to do!”
It is very important for us to see Saul’s reaction. Read the first six words again. He confessed.4 What more does any son or daughter of God want from their brother? Again, Saul demonstrated humility. While his confession did not restore his kingdom or allow his sons to become king(s), his confession reveals honesty – he is a broken man. Only a broken spirited man admits his sin and failure. How interesting it is that David is ascribed to have said that God wants a broken spirit and broken contrite heart, neither of which are despised by God.5 But not only did Saul confess his sin, he repented because as this episode closes, Saul is shown returning home. The torturous tension between Saul and David was truly over.
Sometimes we desperately want to know the “fate” of the soul – acting as and believing that if we could somehow ascertain the soul’s eternal judgment we would be given temporal peace. How “peaceful” would it be if you really knew your friend’s or your family’s destiny? While we know Saul lost his kingship, lost his family’s future kingdom, because of disobedience; and eventually fell by his own sword, we simply do not have enough information to know his eternal destiny. What’s more, we do not truly know Saul’s heart; only Jehovah above knows. Did Saul repent? Did he change? Sometimes, we gain only by losing.
Just because one loses temporally does not automatically indicate they have lost eternally. One thing that we can tell from Scripture is that it seems to reveal that Sha’ul never, never, became a Baal worshipper. Yes, Saul used a witch to speak to God’s representative,6 but this does not equal the serving of Baal. Additionally, Scripture does not seem to reveal Saul completely turning his back on Jehovah and thereby truly treading on God’s covenant with Israel. These are critical truths if we want to have hope. We all fail. We all “disobey”. But do we tread on God’s Covenant? Failure and sin does not remove hope. May the Lord bless us and may we continue to have hope.
1. “Saul’s humble beginnings” – I Samuel 9.21; 10.26-27.
2. “CJB.” Abbreviation for Complete Jewish Bible.
3. “Saul went home.” I Samuel 24.22.
4. “confessed.” I John 1.8-10.
5. “broken heart.” Psalm 51.17.
6. “God’s representative.” Is the Judge and Prophet: Samuel, I Samuel 28.1-25