A few years ago we made a photo collage of all the members of our church. Everyone’s face was in it. For various reasons some of these people no longer come to our church. More would be missing if we had photos taken 10, 20, or 30 years ago. I wonder how many of these are still following Jesus today. Unfortunately some people who seem to start well in the Christian faith, don’t finish well. There is a danger of turning away from God. Today we are looking at two life lessons from king Saul. One is an example to follow and the other is an example to avoid.
Saul followed God
Until he met Samuel the prophet, Saul was an ordinary guy who worked for his father by doing jobs, like searching for lost donkeys. This changed when Samuel told Saul that he was chosen to be the first king of Israel (1 Sam. 9:27 – 10:1). Saul changed to follow God. The Bible says that he was changed into a different person because he received power from God; God was with him and changed his heart (1 Sam.10:6, 7, 9). He was now up with the prophets instead of down with the donkeys. The people were so amazed when he prophesied with the prophets, they exclaimed “Is Saul among the prophets” (1 Sam. 10:10).
After Saul was declared to be their king, the people celebrated and shouted, “Long live the king” (1 Sam. 10:17-24). Saul had many military victories. After they defeated the Ammonites, there was a great celebration and the people renewed their allegiance to God and confirmed Saul as their king (1 Sam. 11:14-15).
So Saul was called by God and he followed God’s leading. What a great example for those who have been called to trust in the salvation provided by Jesus Christ. The Bible says “each person should live as a believer in whatever situation the Lord has assigned to them, just as God has called them” (1 Cor. 7:17). We are not kings, but God has placed us in situations where we can serve Him daily.
God used Samuel to call Saul and He uses the Holy Spirit and the gospel message to call us to follow Him today (1 Th. 1:5; 2 Th. 2:14). During this period of his reign he served God faithfully. And faithfulness characterises those who follow the Lord as it is listed in the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22).
All is going well so far for Saul. But life is a marathon, not a sprint. We now turn to the next stage of Saul’s life.
Saul turned away from God
Samuel told Saul to wait for him at Gilgal and Samuel would come and offer sacrifices to God (1 Sam. 10:8; 13:7-15). When Saul became impatient, he disobeyed Samuel and God by offering the sacrifices himself and Samuel rebuked him. Only Levites were allowed to offer sacrifices and Saul was a Benjamite. It was the first of several sins that resulted in him being replaced by David as king of Israel.
Next Saul disobeyed God again by keeping the best animals and sparing the king when they defeated the Amalekites (1 Sam. 15:3, 9, 20). Then he proudly set up a monument in his own honor instead of acknowledging God (1 Sam. 15:12). The Bible says that he turned away from God (1 Sam. 15:10). He reverted. Instead of being up with the prophets, he was back down with the donkeys. Because he rejected God, God rejected him as king (1 Sam. 15:23).
After David defeated Goliath, Saul became extremely jealous of David and tried to kill him several times (1 Sam, 18:8-11, 28-29; 19:9-24). Then Saul chased him all around the land of Israel (1 Sam 18-26). During this time he had 85 priests killed, including the high Priest, because they helped David to escape (1 Sam. 22:6-23).
So Saul went from bad to worse. When he was afraid of the Philistines, he consulted the witch of Endor (1 Sam. 28:3-20). Finally when Saul was critically injured in battle he killed himself (1 Sam. 31:1-4). Saul didn’t finish well.
What does the Bible say about those who turn away from God?
The Galatians turned against the gospel by following Jewish legalism (Gal. 1:6; 4:9-11). They deserted God to follow a false gospel. False teaching and false teachers can deceive us. The Ephesians stopped loving the Lord and were told to repent and do the things they did at first (Rev. 2:4-5). The Corinthians tolerated sexual immorality (1 Cor. 5:1-13). They were not concerned and carried on as though it didn’t matter. The churches at Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis and Laodicea were urged to repent and turn around to follow God once again (Rev. 2:16, 21; 3:3, 19).
Paul wrote to Timothy, “Do your best to come to me quickly, for Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me and has gone to Thessalonica” (2 Ti. 4:9-10). It looks like Demas deserted Paul because he feared imprisonment and he loved this sinful world more.
The Bible says sin is the source of turning away from God. And the cure is confession of the sin and turning back towards God in repentance. David and Hezekiah and good examples of this.
Lessons for us
The two life lessons from king Saul correspond to the two stages of his reign. The first was faithful and fruitful, but the second was unfaithful and unfruitful. In the first he was godly and obedient, but in the second he was ungodly and wicked. In the first he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, but in the second he did what was evil in the eyes of the Lord. Although Saul’s reign started well, it didn’t finish well. Solomon followed the same pattern.
Let’s follow Saul’s good example. Let’s follow God faithfully like the first period of his reign. Let’s serve the Lord in the daily circumstances that He has given to us.
Also let’s choose to not follow his bad example. Don’t turn away from God like the second period of Saul’s reign. Keep living up here, not down there because turning away from God ruins our Christian testimony. If we have wandered from the Lord, it’s good to know there is a way back. We can always turn around to follow the Lord once again. We can be restored like the prodigal son.
When we sin we don’t have to turn away from God because He has provided a way to turn back to Him. Let’s be loyal to the Lord and finish well.
Written, September 2013
Encouragement for women
Despite living in a patriarchal society (Mt. 14:21; 15:38), the faithfulness of godly women was evident when Jesus was on earth, and in the early Church.
During Christ’s Ministry
When Jesus and His twelve apostles traveled from town to town in Galilee on a missionary trip, they were accompanied by some women who helped “to support them out of their own means” (Lk. 8:1-3; Mk. 15:40-41). There was Mary Magdalene; Joanna the wife of Cuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; Mary the mother of James and Joses; and Salome. They all followed Jesus and cared for His needs, probably providing food and accommodation in addition to encouragement. In return for being cured of evil spirits and diseases, they provided practical and financial support to those who were preaching and teaching about the kingdom of God.
Women from Bethany, near Jerusalem, also supported Jesus. For example, Martha “opened her home to Him” and served a dinner in His honor, and Mary honored Him by anointing Him with expensive perfume (Lk. 10:38; Jn. 12:1-3).
At Christ’s Death
These women continued to support Jesus when He faced death by crucifixion. They remained beside the cross when the male disciples ran for their lives (Lk. 23:27-28,49; Jn. 19:25). They had followed Jesus from Galilee to Jerusalem, a distance of about 150 km (95 miles), “to care for His needs” (Mt. 27:55-56). And “many other women who had come up with Him to Jerusalem were also there” (Mk. 15:40-41). This was a long journey for those times.
John wrote: “Near the cross of Jesus stood His mother (Mary), His mother’s sister (Salome, the mother of John), Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene” (Jn. 19:25). Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses followed the body of Jesus to the grave and observed His burial (Mt. 27:61; Mk. 15:47; Lk. 23:55-56).
At Christ’s Resurrection
When these women went to anoint His body, they were the first to see the empty tomb (Mt. 28:1-10; Mk. 16:1-11; Lk. 24:1-11; Jn. 20:1-2,10-18). Because of their faithfulness God allowed them to be the first to learn of the resurrection. An angel told them, “He is not here; He has risen!” and they had the privilege of telling the other disciples that Jesus was alive again. The women present on the morning of the resurrection included: Mary Magdalene, the one to whom He first appeared and spoke after the resurrection (Mk. 16:9); Mary, the mother of James and Joses; Salome; Zebedee’s wife and mother of James and John; and Joanna, wife of Cuza.
In The Early Church
Women were usually present with the apostles as they served God. After the resurrection they obeyed Christ’s instruction to wait in Jerusalem for the Holy Spirit: “They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers” (Acts 1:4,14).
In Romans 16, Paul listed those who helped him. These are heroes of the Christian faith in the first century. It is interesting to note that 31% (9 of 29) of those listed are women. The first one is Phoebe, who probably delivered Paul’s letter to Rome and is said to be a deacon (or servant) in her local church.
The Bible consistently recognizes the faithfulness of godly women. We should too.