St Paul the Apostle Orthodox Church
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/ Weekly Message / Weekly Message 04-26-09: Saul


As Israel's first king, his role and vocation was to unite the tribes of Israel against their enemies in the world, which primarily were those of the soul and spirit. He was to begin the process of establishing Israel as a monarchy whose true Lord and God was actual ruler. Though his reign began well, Saul failed to live up to his calling, trusting more in himself than he trusted and had faith in God. Showing himself to be mentally unstable, he became so jealous of David that he tried to kill him. His last battle with the Philistines ended in his suicide and in the death of his oldest and most beloved son, Jonathan.

To become so alienated from our heavenly Father that he could no longer hear the Lord's voice or receive his help; to have the kingdom torn form him and his heirs because of his unfaithfulness is his greatest sorrow. His triumph was in military victory and conquest, including victories over the surrounding Moabites, Ammonites, Philistines and Amalekites.

His name means "The one asked for, the one requested" because the recalcitrant Israelites insisted God give them a king so they would not feel inferior to the surrounding neighbors who had purely earthly ruler-kings of their own.

It was the seventh day and still there was no sign of Samuel. The prophet's instructions to the new king had seemed simple enough at the time: "Go ahead of me to Gilgal and I will come down to sacrifice burnt offerings and fellowship offerings. Wait seven days until I come to you and tell you what you are to do." But Saul had begun to wonder if Samuel really intended him to wait so long, especially in light of the circumstances. Many of his own troops were beginning to desert him, terrified by the great horde of Philistines gathering at Micmash, just a few miles away. Those who remained were not much better, hiding in caves and thickets among the rocks and in pits and cisterns. How could he rally his men if he could not act? What good was it being a king if he could not make a move if he needed to?

So Saul made a decision that would destroy the promise his future held. In preparation for battle, he offered the sacrifice with his own hands, foolishly thinking he could win God's favor by disregarding the explicit command of the Lord's prophet. Just as he finished, Samuel arrived. "What have you done?" the prophet asked.

Saul attempted to excuse himself. "When I saw that the men were scattering and that you did not come at the set time, and that the Philistines were assembling at Micmash, I thought, 'Now the Philistines will come down against me and I have not sought the favor of the Lord. So I felt compelled to offer the burnt offering."'

"You acted foolishly," Samuel told him. "You have not kept the command of the Lord our God gave you; if you had, He would have established your kingdom over Israel for all time. But now your kingdom will not endure; the Lord has sought out man after his own heart and appointed him leader of his people, because you have not honored the Lord's command."

So the spirit of God departed from Saul and he fell prey to periods of intense depression and prolonged melancholia brought about by an evil spirit. Eager to relieve his suffering, Saul's attendants advised him to search for a harpist whose music would soothe and uplift him. Desperate for any kind of relief, Saul listened carefully as one of the servants told him about a man who could help. "I have seen a son of Jesse of Bethlehem who knows how to play the harp. He is a brave man and a warrior. He can play the harp. He speaks well and is a fine looking young man and the Lord is with him."

So without knowing it, Saul invited the man who would become his rival for the throne to join his inner circle. From then on whenever Saul felt tormented, David would take up his harp and play and relief would come to Saul.

Saul rewarded David by promoting him within the ranks of his army. But the young warrior was so good at fighting that women from all over the land began greeting Saul's army by dancing and singing a refrain that angered the king more every time he heard it. "Saul has slain thousands, but David his tens of thousands." He thought within himself and made his envy known, "They have credited David with tens of thousands, but me with only thousands,"

A well-known adage indicates how difficult it can be to get things right the first time around, reminding us that "...the first pickle is always the hardest to get out of the jar." That bit of folk wisdom could certainly apply to Israel's first attempt at transforming itself into a monarchy.

A head taller than most other men, Saul must have seemed an excellent choice as ruler. God, after all, had selected him, the prophet anointed him, and the people all shouted, "Long live the king!" But even divine affirmation and popular support were not enough to insure Saul's success. Only Saul could guarantee it by responding faithfully to what God was asking.

But time after time, Saul prevaricated. Told to wait, he took matters into his own hands. Commanded to kill the Amalekites and destroy everything they owned, he spared their king and

preserved the best of their livestock. Though fortune-telling was forbidden, he consulted a medium. Whenever he was confronted with his disobedience, he made excuses:

"You didn't come."

"The Philistines were about o destroy us." "I felt compelled to offer the sacrifice."

"We saved the best of the sheep and cattle to sacrifice to the Lord, but we totally destroyed the rest."

"God won't talk to me and I need to know what to do."

The excuses kept coming, just like a bad penny, one after another. Centuries later they seem so plausible, so familiar, so understandable, at least to us who are separated in time and faith from them. But not to our God who reads our hearts by how we act or fail to act, by our sins of commission as well as omission.

So Saul's life and his rule as king gradually disintegrated. His mind became poisoned by jealousy and fear, underpinned by lack of faith. A son and a daughter were estranged from him because of their love for David. Paranoia finally drove him to attempt an impossible task - to kill a man God himself was determined to protect. In the end, he lost more than a kingdom, forfeiting everything that matters in life: his family, his future, his own integrity.

Saul's encounter with the medium Witch of Endor is one of the strangest and saddest passages in Scripture because it displays the disintegration of a man whom God intended for greatness. But Saul's inclination to trust himself rather than trust God undermined the Lord's plan for his life. Instead of becoming a strong and able leader, Saul became morally and emotionally weak, a man whose judgment consistently failed him and others. What does this story imply about the connection between obedience and our mental and spiritual health? What does it say about our ability to concentrate on the purpose of God in our life?

Saul is the perfect example of how a man can foil God's promises and plans for a good life. Chosen to be Israel's first king, he had the opportunity to destroy Israel's enemies completely and secure the kingdom for his heirs as a singularly outstanding nation of faith responsive people devoted to their Creator. Because of his half heartedness and his blatant disobedience, his own children, his daughter Michal and his sons Jonathan, Abinadab, Malkishua, Armoni, and Mephibosheth suffered greatly. Tormented by feelings of depression, anger, ;jealousy and fear, he finally killed himself before his enemies could destroy him in battle. When the Philistines found his body, they cut off his head and tacked the corpse onto a city wall as a trophy of victory. Meant to be a great ruler, he instead became a pitiable victim, undermined by his own tendency to trust his own impulses more than he trusted his Maker. A life of exceptional promise devolved into a life of profound disappointment.

At the end of his life, Saul despaired because he could no longer hear God which meant he no longer had access to divine wisdom for governing his people and defeating the enemy. Like the man whose hearing is destroyed by a steady supply of loud and infernal noise/music, his spiritual hearing was done away with by a steady habit of disobedience. Saul's negative example is a useful one. Trust and obedience will sharpen our spiritual ears so that we will experience the blessing of being connected to God who loves us and desires to guide us.

He apparently ignored and never heeded the admonitions of our heavenly Father:

The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and I am helped Psalms 28: 7; Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path Psalms 119: 105;

Now then, my sons, listen to me; blessed are those who keep my ways, listen to my instruction and be wise; do not ignore it. Blessed is the man who listens to me, for whoever finds me finds life Proverbs 8: 32 - 35.

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