King Saul Breaks His Own Rule

The most terrifying experience a person can have is to realize that God is no longer with them. That happened to King Saul. Such an experience during a comfortable routine existence is bad enough; it was horrifying for Saul. The Philistines were advancing, David had apparently joined them, the prophet Samuel was dead, and God was silent. It’s hard to imagine the intensity of Saul’s fear and despair. Under stress, he became frantic (1 Sam. 28:3-19).

Quite understandably, King Saul wanted to know what to do. He was a man of action. I find something of Saul in me. When I am faced with problems, I can resort to frenzied self-effort. An excessive workload drives me to put in longer hours. Confrontation with customers or vendors occasionally triggers inner scheming in preparation for an adversarial response. Some of us deal with stress by talking more, or less. We meet threats or wounds with rage or retreat, depending on our nature. None of these reactions is necessarily wrong, but they all fall short of the only solution to the restored presence of God. Saul went much further; he was so desperate that he chose witchcraft.

Stress has a way of reviving sins we thought were dead and buried. Surrounded by enemies and without his good friends King Saul was terrified. In desperation, he dug up a sin that he had earlier outlawed in Israel. The evil he had religiously railed against came back to haunt him because its root attraction had never been dealt with. Saul loved to be in control; he wanted things done in his way and in his time. He often snatched the reigns to steer events toward his objective. A necromancer who could summon a dead prophet was just what he needed, so he broke his own rule.

Then Samuel said to Saul, “Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?” And Saul answered, “I am greatly distressed; for the Philistines are waging war against me, and God has departed from me and no longer answers me, either through prophets or by dreams; therefore I have called you, that you may make known to me what I should do.” (1 Sam. 28:15)

What could King Saul want from a dead prophet? Other prophets had nothing to say. The Lord did not answer in any way. Perhaps Samuel would throw his heart a few tender tidbits: a morsel of comfort here, a crumb of encouragement there. But Saul knew Samuel spoke frankly. Saul hoped that Samuel would drop a clue as to how he could maneuver out of his latest predicament. It did not happen. Samuel was still under the Lord and spoke only His word: Saul’s life was about to end.

The story of the end of Saul’s life is extreme, but stark stories often highlight subtle lessons that apply to ordinary lives. There’s a saying: “If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.” Saul should have stopped getting into deeper problems. When we find ourselves in times of trouble, and we no longer sense God’s presence, there is only one solution—humility. Humility includes welcoming Holy Spirit to convict us of any sin and cut off its roots as we repent of it. God exalts the humble. He may still tell us to take action, but when our actions are God-directed, they are much more fruitful. Had King Saul ceased his frenzy and humbled himself before God his life might have ended differently.

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