Friday, May 25, 2007

Saul, Pt. 1: "You Cannot Win Them All" (1 Sam 9)

When Christian Herter was governor of Massachusetts, he was running hard for a second term in office. One day, after a busy morning chasing votes he arrived at a church barbecue. It was late afternoon and Herter was famished. As Herter moved down the serving line, he held out his plate to the woman serving chicken. She put a piece on his plate and turned to the next person in line.

“Excuse me,” Governor Herter said, “do you mind if I have another piece of chicken?” “Sorry,” the woman told him. “I’m supposed to give one piece of chicken to each person.”

“But I’m starved,” the governor said. “Sorry,” the woman said again. “Only one to a customer.”
Governor Herter was a modest and unassuming man, but he decided that this time he would throw a little weight around. “Do you know who I am?” he said. “I am the governor of this state.” “Do you know who I am?” the woman said. “I’m the lady in charge of the chicken. Move along, mister.”

The selection of Saul as king, upon the Israelites’ rude rejection of Samuel the prophet to rule over them, was greeted with suspicion and hostility. Saul was a good choice, but it was never popular. It was a baptism of fire and a candidate’s worst nightmare. The abilities of Saul were not obvious, the support for him was not unanimous and the start of his reign was not smooth.

How does one succeed when others are critical of him? How does a person seek to win over his critics? Do you stoop to their level or do you rise above the criticism?

God Does the Best Evaluation on a Person
17 When Samuel caught sight of Saul, the LORD said to him, “This is the man I spoke to you about; he will govern my people.” 18 Saul approached Samuel in the gateway and asked, “Would you please tell me where the seer’s house is?” 19 “I am the seer,” Samuel replied. “Go up ahead of me to the high place, for today you are to eat with me, and in the morning I will let you go and will tell you all that is in your heart. 20 As for the donkeys you lost three days ago, do not worry about them; they have been found. And to whom is all the desire of Israel turned, if not to you and all your father’s family?” 21 Saul answered, “But am I not a Benjamite, from the smallest tribe of Israel, and is not my clan the least of all the clans of the tribe of Benjamin? Why do you say such a thing to me?” (1 Sam 9:17-21)

A martial arts student was meeting with his master and teacher at a table, having tea. The student said to his master, “I’ve learned all you have to teach me about defending myself. I want to learn one thing more now. Please teach me the ways of God.”

The master took the teakettle and starting pouring the student’s cup full of tea. Soon the cup was full and began to spill over onto the saucer. But the master continued to pour the tea until it spilled over onto the saucer and then onto the floor.

The student finally said, “Stop, stop, the tea is spilling over. The cup can’t take any more.”

The master then looked at the student and said, “You are so full of yourself that there is no room in your life for God. It is not possible for you to learn the ways of God until you learn to empty yourself.” (R. Curtis Fassell, Deadly Sins and Living Virtues, CSS Pub. Co., Inc, 1997)

Most people could only dream of the background, privilege and life Saul had. His family had standing (1 Sam 9:1), livestock and servants, but he benefited little from it. Saul’s inferiority complex could be traced to the low standing of the Benjamites in Israel. His tribe, the tribe of Benjamin, was almost wiped out by other tribes to punish them for a shameful, bizarre and notorious rape incident in Gibeah, Saul’s hometown (Judg 20:46). Saul was not short of any qualities except self-esteem. Physically, he was big, tall and handsome. Relationally, he was well-mannered, well-liked and well-grounded. The servant who traveled with him loved nothing but spent time and sought adventure with him.

Although Saul was capable and charismatic, he was not confident or coordinated. He was also inattentive to detail. Along the way to Zuph (1 Sam 9:5), his servant was the real leader and not Saul. Someone suggested the two even asked directions from girls (1 Sam 9:11)! The inept Saul did not bring any money (1 Sam 9:7) and did not know who Samuel was (1 Sam 9:18) even when Samuel was right under his nose, checking him from head to toe. In some respect, Saul was more comfortable with donkeys than with people, in the country than in the palace, as an adventurer than as a warrior.

The lack of self-esteem and confidence, however, does not diminish a person’s potential or disqualify him from leadership. It only serves to magnify God’s presence, work and grace in the person’s life.

God saw the unlimited potential in Saul’s talents, character and upbringing. He chose Saul for the man he was – his character, nature and qualities. Saul was a man unlike any other in Israel. He was a good man (1 Sam 9:2), more so than anyone in Israel, according to the Hebrew text. NIV chose the word “impressive” instead of “good.” The text clearly stated that Saul was a good-hearted and good-natured man. Good was the quality that endeared him to God and defined him as a person. He was a good person, a decent human being, an outstanding citizen, a responsible son and a reliable worker. The kind of person God uses is humble, modest and unpretentious.

God is the Best Enabler of a Person
6 The Spirit of the LORD will come upon you in power, and you will prophesy with them; and you will be changed into a different person. 7 Once these signs are fulfilled, do whatever your hand finds to do, for God is with you. 8 “Go down ahead of me to Gilgal. I will surely come down to you to sacrifice burnt offerings and fellowship offerings, but you must wait seven days until I come to you and tell you what you are to do.” 9 As Saul turned to leave Samuel, God changed Saul’s heart, and all these signs were fulfilled that day. (1 Sam. 10:6-9)

A most unbelievable and dramatic turnaround stories is that of the transformation of boxer George Foreman from a surly, scowling boxer to a lovable teddy bear. He called himself the most destructive heavyweight champion ever. Anger and hunger shaped his youth. Foreman said he was a mugger whose only goal in life was to go to jail and come out with a scar to impress others. Foreman beat Joe Frazier for the title in 1973 but lost it to Muhammad Ali the next year.

In 1977, Foreman thought of quitting and dying after another defeat, when nothing short of a miracle changed him. He explained his conversion: “I saw the whole world crumble behind me, and all I had was nothing. I had to leave all of it in the world. I couldn’t even tell my mother ‘bye,’ I was dead! I was dead! And I started crying saying ‘Lord I don’t wanna die, I don’t wanna die, I can still box, I can still box!’ God said ‘I don’t want your money, I want you!’” He testified, “God took me all over the country fighting, and I was just trying to exalt George Foreman. Now I’m going all over to try and tell them about Jesus”

The world was equally shocked when Foreman regained the heavyweight title in 1995, at the age of 45. Today Foreman is an ordained minister, a prolific salesman and a boxing icon. In the word of promoter Bob Arum, the boxer had gone from “one who was so miserable to be around to a person everybody wants to be around.”

Saul was shy, awkward and unpolished, so God sent Samuel, the most powerful, most influential and respected person in Israel, to assure Saul that his selection was of God’s. Samuel’s reputation for accuracy in prophesy was known to all (1 Sam 3:19) and he tried his best to bring out the royalty and the regime in Saul. The prophet gave the future king the best seat in the house (1 Sam 9:22), the best portion at the table (1 Sam 9:23) and the best view of the city (1 Sam 9:25). To make Saul look and fell important, Samuel even invited 30 guests (1 Sam 9:22) - probably the most important people in Israel - to meet him, chatted privately with Saul in their presence (1 Sam 9:25) and invited him to stay overnight at the prophet’s house (1 Sam 9:26). Even then, the guests were nothing but unimpressed and Saul was anything but comfortable.

Samuel’s plans for Saul’s greatness in people’s eyes did not succeed; it sputtered tamely and failed miserably. God, however, changed Saul overnight. Nothing happened to Saul after dining with the prophet’s guest, sleeping at the prophet’s house and anointed with the prophet’s oil (1 Sam 10:1); ironically, the moment Saul turned to leave Samuel, the Spirit of God came mightily upon him. He was a changed man and a new person – from a “chicken” to a captain, from a kid to a king, from a rancher to a ruler. The change was more heartfelt than Samuel predicted. 1 Samuel 10:6 says, “You will be changed into a different person,” but verse 9 then records that God gave him “another heart.” Verse 6 emphasizes the person but verse 9 stresses the heart. Saul was a new man because God gave him another heart.

The choicest food does not make a man, the finest bed does not make a man and the highest compliments do not make a man. It’s been said, “The heart of the matter is the matter of the heart.” The change was instantaneous. God changed his heart even before the predicted meeting with the prophets (1 Sam 10:6, 9). The spirit of God confirmed God’s presence with Saul (1 Sam 10:7). God was his strength and company - not Samuel or the people. The Spirit of God transformed Saul the moment Samuel left the picture and scene. Saul no longer had to ride Samuel’s coattails, drop Samuel’s name or second-guessed Samuel’s words.

God Has the Best Exaltation for a Person
20 When Samuel brought all the tribes of Israel near, the tribe of Benjamin was chosen. 21 Then he brought forward the tribe of Benjamin, clan by clan, and Matri’s clan was chosen. Finally Saul son of Kish was chosen. But when they looked for him, he was not to be found. 22 So they inquired further of the LORD, “Has the man come here yet?” And the LORD said, “Yes, he has hidden himself among the baggage.” 23 They ran and brought him out, and as he stood among the people he was a head taller than any of the others. 24 Samuel said to all the people, “Do you see the man the LORD has chosen? There is no one like him among all the people.” Then the people shouted, “Long live the king!” 25 Samuel explained to the people the regulations of the kingship. He wrote them down on a scroll and deposited it before the LORD. Then Samuel dismissed the people, each to his own home. 26 Saul also went to his home in Gibeah, accompanied by valiant men whose hearts God had touched. 27 But some troublemakers said, “How can this fellow save us?” They despised him and brought him no gifts. But Saul kept silent. (1 Sam 10:20-27)

A young man was sent to Socrates to learn oratory. On being introduced to the philosopher, he talked so incessantly that Socrates asked for double fees. “Why charge me double?” “Because I must teach you two sciences: the one how to hold your tongue and the other how to speak. The first science is the more difficult, but aim at for proficiency at it, or you will suffer greatly and create trouble without end.” (Tan # 6376)

An old Egyptian saying of around 3,000 years old that the three worst things in life are (1) to be in bed, and sleep not; (2) to wait for one who comes not; and (3) to try to please, and please not.

Saul’s critics were vocal, blunt and impolite. His worst fears came true. People who knew him were critical of his presence and his conduct among the company of prophets. They mocked, jeered and taunted Saul, saying “Is Saul also among the prophets?” (v 11) A man who lived there quipped, “And who is their father?” (v 12) He wanted a place to hide before the fickle public. From then on, Saul wisely learned to keep his mouth shut, even when he met someone close - his curious uncle (1 Sam 10:16).

After things had died down, Saul’s worry resurfaced again. Samuel had assembled everyone for a public announcement on the appointment and coronation of a king. When Samuel gathered the excited tribes, clans and families, Saul did not want to take any chances. Again, he hid himself. He knew how fickle the public could be. He was bitten once; so he rather made himself a part of the furniture, blend in with the backdrop and landscape (1 Sam 10:22). Before, he had rather be with animals; now, he would rather be with objects.

When the people found Saul they gasped and sighed over his height and build. The crowd immediately hailed him as king. Saul won some backers and admirers (1 Sam 10:26) but he also found some enemies and doubters. Some oohed and aahed but others said, “Nah” and “Blah.” Troublemakers wanted to cut him down to size (1 Sam 10:26). They couldn’t wait for Saul to hear, for the ceremony to end and for Samuel to leave. The troublemakers questioned his legitimacy, qualifications and upbringing. According to the Hebrew text, they despised (1 Sam 10:27) him with the same despise Goliath had for David (1 Sam 17:42). They brought nothing – no gift, praise or respect, but criticism, vitriol and unrest.

But Saul was not going to let others rain on his parade. He wasn’t about to get into a shouting match with them, pit his newfound supporters against the troublemakers or even quit in protest for the lack of support. He held his peace. The verb for “kept silent” is from Hebrew for “pottery.” By implication, he refused to screech like a piece of pottery scratching. He did not want to make noise, cry foul or get even. When the troublemakers’ chorus grew, Saul shut his mouth, turned a deaf ear and close a blind eye to their refrain. He did not bother to tell them and others his side of the story or cite the divine and prophetic mandate before others.

A 39-year-old says: “If someone says something unkind about me, I must live so that no one will believe it.” (Live and Learn 12)

Conclusion: The kind of person God chooses to represent Him is modest, which is freedom from vanity; meek, which is strength under control; and magnanimous, which is contempt for meanness or revenge. Arguments breed more disputes, defensiveness breeds more attacks. Is God your defender and vindicator? Are you trying to impress people with your physique, personality and possessions? Are you free from hypocrisy, guile and vainglory? God is sufficient when people feel inadequate in themselves and uncertain about themselves, because knowledge, wisdom, and abilities come from God.


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