The service and testimony of Saul
We must not think that when God chose Saul to be the first king of Israel He preordained him to failure. He was chosen and prepared by God to be a successful king.
Saul was "a choice young man and a goodly: and there was not among the children of Israel a goodlier person than he" (1 Sam 9.2). He was commendable in every way: appearance, personality and conduct. He was also a humble young man. When Samuel invited Saul to attend the sacrifice and placed him with his servant in the chief place, his response was: "Am not I a Benjamite, of the smallest of the tribes of Israel? and my family the least of all the families of the tribe of Benjamin? Wherefore then speakest thou so to me?" (v.21).
The early years of Saul's reign were blessed by God. His success is recorded in 1 Samuel 14.47-48 where, after reference to the nations that oppressed God's people, we read that Saul "delivered Israel out of the hands of them that spoiled them". God had prepared Saul and directed him into important service as king and leader of His people. While he chose to walk in God's way he was blessed.
This, however, was not to continue. Saul fell into the trap of thinking, as did many of the kings of Israel, that because God blessed him with success he could do according to his own desire. He decided his way was better than God's way. This led to his rejection and sad testimony of a life that ended in disaster and dishonour.
1 Samuel 13 records the occasion when Samuel arranged to meet Saul before the battle against the Philistines. Samuel was of the tribe of Levi so was a priest as well as a prophet. It was custom that he should lead the people in seeking the Lord's guidance and help before battle by offering appropriate sacrifices. On this occasion Samuel was delayed, so Saul improperly took upon himself the role of a priest. The response of the Lord through Samuel foreshadowed Saul's final rejection: "Thou hast not kept the commandment of the Lord thy God, which he commanded thee: for now would the Lord have established thy kingdom upon Israel for ever. But now thy kingdom shall not continue" (vv.13-14).
In 1 Samuel 14.24 we read of Saul's inexplicable order to his army: "Cursed be the man that eateth any food until evening that I may be avenged on mine enemies". Consequently "none of the people tasted any food". Jonathan, unaware of his father's command, ate some honey that dripped from a tree in the forest (v.27). When Saul learned that Jonathan had disobeyed him, albeit innocently, he persisted in pursuit of his own purposes and ideas and declared his intention to put his son to death (v.44). The people saw the waywardness of this conduct and bravely defended Jonathan. They said, "God forbid: as the Lord liveth, there shall not one hair of his head fall to the ground; for he hath wrought with God this day. So the people rescued Jonathan, that he died not" (v.45). In this way Jonathan was saved from certain death at the hand of his father.
Saul was given opportunity to repent but only gave the matter lip service. His heart remained unchanged; he continued to place his own will and way above those of the Lord. The ultimate example of this was his defiance and disobedience in the battle against the Amalekites. When confronted by Samuel after the battle, he lied and blamed the people: "I have performed the commandment of the Lord" (1 Sam 15.13); "the people spared the best of the sheep and of the oxen, to sacrifice unto the Lord thy God; and the rest we have utterly destroyed" (v.15). God's reply through Samuel was summary: "Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams" (v.22). God's word was final, so "Samuel came no more to see Saul until the day of his death: nevertheless Samuel mourned for Saul: and the Lord repented that he had made Saul king over Israel" (v.35).
The testimony of Saul, whom God prepared for unique service and who commenced that service so well, is that of a self-seeking, disobedient and reprobate man. His turning to seek assistance from the witch of Endor (1 Sam 28.7-8) reveals how far it is possible to wander from the Lord when His ways are consciously rejected.
The service and testimony of David
God similarly prepared and equipped David for His service. As he kept his father's sheep on the Judean hills around Bethlehem, he was soon to learn that the dangers were great and that the task was beyond the ability of a young lad. His only hope was the God of Israel of whom he had learned from his godly parents. During the lonely watches of the day and night his trust in God became a necessity as well as a reality. He learned how to make and use both sling and harp, and his heart responded in grateful song and praise to his God as he increasingly came to appreciate what God was doing for him.
It was his ability to play the harp and to use his sling that brought David to the attention of Saul. Saul was troubled by an evil spirit and sought a musician to sooth him in his distress. One of his servants informed him, "Lo, I have seen a son of Jesse the Bethlehemite, skilful in playing, and a mighty virtuous man, and a man of battle, and intelligent in word, and a man of form, and Jehovah is with him" (1 Sam 16.18, YLT). David continued to care for his father's sheep, but also spent some time as a minstrel in Saul's court. There he met Jonathan and their friendship was established and grew.
One day, under instruction from his father, David visited Saul's court when the army was preparing for battle against the Philistines (1 Sam 17). He heard and was distressed by the defiance offered by Goliath to the army and the God of Israel. It was the responsibility of Saul or his son Jonathan to respond but they were not able to accept the challenge. God had prepared David for such a situation and one stone from his sling was enough to slay the giant and bring about a notable triumph over the Philistines (vv.49-50). The people recognised the greatness of this victory. David's friendship with Jonathan deepened as he (Jonathan) realised that David had willingly risked his own life and had taken his place in the conflict with Goliath. The effect upon Saul was different. It stimulated envy that developed into hatred which in turn generated an obsession to kill David which remained with Saul for the rest of his life. The final result of this was that David was forced to flee from Saul's court.
For the purpose of our study we note the conduct of David under these difficult circumstances. On three occasions we read that he "behaved himself wisely" (1 Sam 18.5,14,30). There were also at least two occasions when David had opportunity to take Saul's life and thereby become king. David honoured the word of the Lord and refused to harm God's chosen leader.
At Engedi when Saul with 3,000 soldiers was returning from battle against the Philistines it was told him that David was in the area. He rested for a while in the cave where David was hiding. The advice from David's followers was: "Behold the day of which the Lord said unto thee, Behold, I will deliver thine enemy into thine hand" (1 Sam 24.4). David's response, after cutting off the fringe of Saul's cloak, was: "The Lord forbid that I should do this thing unto my master, the Lord's anointed, to stretch forth mine hand against him, seeing he is the anointed of the Lord (v.6).
At Ziph where Saul sought David with 3,000 soldiers David again had opportunity to kill Saul. During the night, David, accompanied by Abishai, entered the camp of Saul and found him, Abner his general, and the rest of the army asleep. Abishai's request was, "Let me smite him, I pray thee, with the spear even to the earth at once, and I will not smite him the second time" (1 Sam 26.8). David replied, "Destroy him not: for who can stretch forth his hand against the Lord's anointed, and be guiltless?" (v.9).
In both these incidents David set aside that which would have benefited him in favour of that which was honouring to God. He is shown to be a man committed to the way of the Lord; a man who behaved himself wisely.
To be continued.