In this message we look at the contrast between David, who was “a man after God’s own heart” and his predecessor on the throne, King Saul, who grew increasingly envious and bitter. We see how the envy Saul developed for David destroyed what had started as a promising reign over Israel. And by observing the stages Saul went through to his destruction, we will hopefully be able to guard ourselves from a similar outcome.
I think one of the saddest things in the world is to see someone who was once alive and free with vision and direction for their spiritual life… become bitter and cold and heartless with no direction at all.
They just drift away from God and allow their character to become damaged. They allow a heart that was once full of life to get bitter.
And David, who we’re getting to know in this series, had a front row seat to watch that process go on in the life of King Saul.
Saul began his journey so well. Samuel said about him:
1 Samuel 10:24
“Do you see the man the Lord has chosen? There is no one like him among all the people.”
That’s a very rare phrase. It’s used only a few times in Scripture, and it’s a great compliment: “No one like him among all the people.”
Saul didn’t think he deserved to be king. In fact, when he was first anointed king, his response was to continue to work faithfully on his farm – he was a humble man.
When Saul was first anointed king, some of the Israelites opposed him – there were factions that opposed him.
But after he was crowned, he took them into battle to defeat their foreign enemies.
And morale went sky high.
1 Samuel 11:12-13
The people then said to Samuel, “Now where are those men who said Saul shouldn’t rule over us? Bring them here, and we will kill them!”
They were ready to destroy any internal opposition to Saul, which was commonly done in those days.
But Saul said, “No one shall be put to death today, for this day the LORD has rescued Israel.”
There was just this gracious, noble spirit about him. And people loved that.
He was only 30 years old when he became king. He was tall, he was strong, he was humble, he was a warrior, he loved God, and the future looked so bright.
He was so full of promise of what might be.
Yet, he reigned for 42 years, and when he died all that promise was wasted. It was all lost.
By the time he died, he was tormented by depression, driven by envy, his mind and emotions were in ruins. He lost the respect of the people around him. His children were alienated from him. He was incapable of love or peace or joy. He was just a shell of what he had once been.
And as I look at the kind of man Saul started out as and all the promise that was in him, and then look at the kind of man he became in the end, I can’t help but wonder – How did it happen? How does a life deteriorate so badly?
And, of course, no one plans to become that kind of a person. It just happens one day at a time.
No one plans to be destroyed by envy. It just happens one day at a time.
Saul didn’t set out to be wicked or violent. He just drifted into it.
The real problem, I think, was that he was never courageous enough to face the brokenness inside of himself.
And the reason this is so important, and the reason I’m talking about this today is because I believe we all face that same choice.
At night, when I put my kids to bed, I will just sit with them and pray with them… and I often pray about who they will become. I think of what God’s hope for them was when he created them.
*I’ll pray that God gives them noble and brave hearts.
*I’ll pray that God gives them bold spirits.
*I’ll pray that they learn to run the race of life well with integrity and character.
*I’ll pray that they open themselves up to God the very best they can.
And this week as I was studying, I was thinking of what God’s hope was for you when he created you.
And I got to thinking: I wonder what direction you’re headed these days?
*Do you have a noble heart?
*Are you running the race well?
*Are you on the right track?
*Do you have a brave spirit?
*Are you opening yourself up to God the very best you can?
I hope and pray that you are.
And I hope and pray that God will use things like words from a real inadequate person like myself to keep you moving towards him.
But I believe we all wrestles with deep brokenness.
I just believe that if we were to sit down face to face and be vulnerable enough to open up about our lives, and we just kept going from one area to the next, eventually we would find an area of deep brokenness.
*Maybe a habit you can’t fix.
*A train of thought you can’t escape.
*Traits you can’t run away from.
And these are deeply troubling to us although we often seek to avoid them.
So I want to give you a theological truth today. If you don’t remember anything else I say today, remember this, although I hope you remember some other things too.
This is a deep theological truth rooted in the doctrine of the Fall: Everyone is broken.
We all have this deep brokenness. And the key is, will I have the courage and faith to face my own brokenness?
I think when we come right down to it that’s the difference between Saul and David.
Saul didn’t have the courage to face his brokenness, and David did.
So I want to spend the time that remains in this talk thinking with you about, “How did Saul go wrong?” Because I believe the story of Saul is potentially the story of every one of us.
I think we meet Saul not just in Scripture. I think we meet Saul in our own hearts.
And I want to get as clear as I can today on what the decay of the human spirit looks like because I want us to fight it with all the strength that God gives us.
So we’re going to walk through what might be four stages of spiritual decay, four stages in the decline of the human spirit.
Alright now we’re going to walk through four stages in the decline of the human spirit. That sounds exciting, doesn’t it?
Well, I hope you stick with me because I believe it’s important for us to look at this.
And I want to ask that while we do this, that you have a kind of running conversation with God. Something like David’s conversation with God in the Psalms when he said, “Search me, Oh God, and know my heart. If there is any place where this process of decay is going on inside of me, let me know it.”
Alright, so the first stage is this:
Saul learned to rationalize his missteps
Saul is named king by the prophet Samuel, and he’s going to lead the troops into battle against the Philistines. Samuel says to him, “Saul, I want you to go to Gilgal and wait there. I’ll come in seven days, and we’ll seek God’s help. We’ll pray. I’ll offer sacrifices. Saul, it’s very important; you are not to offer the sacrifices.”
Now there’s a key dynamic here. In our day, we prize the separation of church and state – freedom to worship. In the ancient world, that was a non-existent concept. In the ancient world, the king, the head of the people, was also the head of the religion.
And it was in little Israel that this idea was born that the king himself was not God, didn’t have a special relationship to God, and ought to submit to God. This is very important. We owe a huge debt to this.
Samuel says to Saul, “I don’t want you leading the people in worship.” Kings in Israel would often violate this, and it led to great trouble over the years.
“Saul, you go to Gilgal and wait seven days. Do nothing till I get there. Got it?”
“What’s your job?”
“How many days?”
Here’s what happens:
1 Samuel 13:7-10
Saul remained at Gilgal, and all the troops with him were quaking with fear.
Waiting to go to battle is hard work. They’re scared. They don’t know what’s going to happen.
Saul waited seven days, the time set by Samuel; but Samuel did not come to Gilgal, and Saul’s men began to scatter.
Saul is getting real anxious, and an anxious leader is a dangerous thing.
So Saul said, “Bring me the burnt offering and fellowship offerings.” And Saul offered up the burnt offering. Just as he finished making the offering, Samuel arrived, and Saul went out to greet him.
Now Saul knows he has done what he was NOT supposed to do – violates God’s command, just decides, “I’ll go ahead and lead the people in worship. I’ll take the credit for being the most spiritual person.”
Samuel comes, and Samuel’s immediate question is, “What have you done?” “God raised you up. God gave you the kingdom. God wants to use you. God asked you to do this one thing. Saul, what have you done?”
This was a key moment in Saul’s life, and he could have come clean. He could have said, “I was scared. I was anxious. I disobeyed. How do I make things right? I want to repent.” He doesn’t do that.
For you and me – there will be those crossroads moments in our lives where our character is in the balance.
And here’s what Saul says to Samuel:
1 Samuel 13:11-12
When I saw that the men were scattering,
“You know, that’s a real problem. I’m the leader, and they’re going away. There’s a morale problem.”
and that you [Samuel, by the way, the prophet] did not come at the set time… “It’s kind of your fault, Samuel.” So I felt compelled to offer the burnt offering.
“It’s not my fault. I’m the king. I’m entitled. I get to do whatever needs to be done, and I get to decide.”
I want to tell you, anxiety and then you couple that with entitlement – “I’m in power. I’m in control. It’s okay for me. I don’t have to play by the rules.” That kind of stuff is dangerous.
You see, Saul won’t look at his anxiety, and he won’t deal with his entitlement. He won’t confess to what he’s done wrong. Then worse than that, he won’t come clean.
A little while later, he’s at war with the Amalekites. Samuel comes again to Saul. Saul has messed up a couple of times now, so Samuel gives him real clear instructions. “You are not to enrich yourself in this battle. Whatever loot, whatever plunder, whatever livestock comes your way, I want it destroyed, not used to make you, as the king, rich. Everything gets destroyed. Got it?”
Then there’s the battle. God gives them victory, but Saul decides, “You know, there’s some choice livestock here, and I’m the king, so I’m going to keep it.”
And he does. He disobeys what God called him to do.
Samuel comes to see him again:
1 Samuel 15:12-15
Early in the morning Samuel got up and went to meet Saul, but he was told, “Saul has gone to Carmel. There he has set up a monument in his own honor (Not a real humble thing.) and has turned and gone on down to Gilgal.”
When Samuel reached him, Saul said, “The LORD bless you! His language is so pious. I have carried out the LORD’S instructions.”
It’s not easy to pull the wool over Samuel’s eyes.
Samuel said, “What then is this bleating of sheep in my ears? What is this lowing of cattle that I hear?” Saul answered, “The soldiers brought them from the Amalekites; they spared the best of the sheep and cattle to sacrifice to the LORD your God.”
“It’s not my fault. The soldiers did it. And Samuel, we all know how devoted you are to your God. It’s to sacrifice to the God you love so much.”
Again, he disobeys God. He just refuses to come clean.
Samuel has to tell him, “Saul, the kingdom will be ripped from your grasp.”
And then Samuel makes this real poignant statement:
1 Samuel 15:35
And the LORD regretted that he had made Saul king over Israel.
Have you ever made a bad hire if you’re in the corporate world? “Oh man, I had such hopes for this person.”
So let me ask you – Is there anywhere in your life right now where you’ve just been rationalizing missteps? The Holy Spirit is perfectly capable of prompting those thoughts in you.
*Maybe you’ve been gossiping about someone, but you rationalize it… because you want people to know how to pray more specifically.
*Or, “It’s okay to tell you because you’re my friend.”
*Or, “I have every right to resent that person. They deserve it.”
*Or, “I really haven’t taken the time to pray lately, but it’s a busy season.”
*Or, “I’ve been holding onto my money. I haven’t been tithing. I haven’t been generous.”
Is there any area where God is saying, “You know, there is not wholehearted obedience to me in your life here”?
I just plead with you to get on that right track with God… because if you don’t, it’s only going to get worse, which is what happens with Saul. Saul just goes downhill from here.
The second thing that happens is this:
Saul learned to tolerate separation from God
When Saul was a young man, he loved to pray, he loved to worship, he loved to point people toward God. Then, over time as he’s disobedient – this will happen – he doesn’t want to think about God.
This can happen to you and me as well.
You don’t want to look at the Scripture.
You don’t want to pray because that would make you feel bad. There’s this separation. You just avoid thinking about it.
Then that leads, in Saul’s life, to this sense of unease and unrest and discomfort and insecurity.
The writer of Scripture puts it like this:
1 Samuel 16:14
Now the Spirit of the LORD had departed from Saul, (It’s not that God wanted that. Saul made it clear he didn’t want God. God doesn’t force himself on us.) and an evil spirit from the LORD tormented him.
It’s kind of an odd phrase. Most likely the phrase “evil spirit” could be translated troubling spirit or distressing spirit.
The idea seems to be that as Saul was experiencing pain, God allowed that to continue so Saul would experience enough internal unrest – lack of peace, unease – so he would be motivated to turn back to God.
But he doesn’t do that.
It’s a really interesting course he takes instead:
1 Samuel 16:23
Whenever the tormenting spirit from God troubled Saul, David would play the harp. Then Saul would feel better, and the tormenting spirit would go away.
Now part of what we see is what an amazing musician David must have been. Saul is tormented, and the music of David brings him relief.
Two of our kids are in music class this semester so they’ve been playing instruments in our home for the last several months. We’ve never said to them, “Come and play your saxophone for us to give us relief.”
You see, what Saul needed was to come clean. What Saul needed was to repent. What Saul needed was to ask this question: “God, how are things between you and me? God, what needs to change in my life? What do I need to confess? What do I need to examine? What do I need to understand?”
That’s the way to real health – emotional and spiritual health.
He doesn’t want to do that. He just wants relief. Music will do that sometimes.
That’s why some people always have music on, because they don’t want to be alone and hear that question, “How are things in my soul?”
So let me ask you. Is there any pattern in your life where there’s unrest inside you?
When you’re still, do you get uncomfortable? So you just look for escape and relief.
*I’ll just work a little longer.
*I’ll just turn on the television.
*I’ll just go online.
*I’ll just pull out my cell phone.
*I’ll have another drink.
*I’ll spend a little more money.
*I’ll buy something.
I’m just going down the relief route, not living with God so that there’s peace to the core of my being.
Saul just gets used to living with separation. And God didn’t make us for that.
Is that going on with you?
Is there a sense of the presence of God in your life?
If there isn’t, are you willing to look at that together with God?
If not, it will lead to the third stage which we’ll talk about in just a moment:
Saul learned to tolerate poisoned relationships.
David became a great soldier in Saul’s army. David became a musician in his court. David’s greatest longing was to be Saul’s friend and servant, but Saul got jealous. Saul saw David’s popularity rising, and Saul got afraid that David was going to take away what Saul was trying to hang onto.
Saul becomes incapable of a healthy relationship or intimacy. This is what the writer of Scripture says:
1 Samuel 18:12
Saul was afraid of David, because the LORD was with David but had departed from Saul.
Saul told his son Jonathan and all his attendants to kill David, who was his friend, his soldier, and his servant.
Jonathan, who was David’s friend, said to his father, “I can’t do that. David is loyal to you!”
Look what happens:
1 Samuel 20:30-33
Saul’s anger flared up at Jonathan and he said to him, “You son of a perverse and rebellious woman!
That could be translated in a number of different ways. That’s a really ugly phrase, very ugly language.
Don’t I know that you have sided with the son of Jesse (He can’t use David’s name.) to your own shame… Now send someone to bring him to me, for he must die!”
“Why should he be put to death? What has he done?” Jonathan asked his father. But Saul hurled his spear at him to kill him.
Saul now has tried to kill his own son Jonathan, who loves him. I’m telling you, enmity, hostility, can poison relationships.
He picks up his spear because his heart has gotten so twisted that somehow he thinks that if he could just eliminate David, it would eliminate the brokenness in his heart.
Let me tell you, when you get to this stage of decay, it will destroy you.
Some of you have had someone throw spears at you.
In the church where I grew up, there were two key leaders who, for a season in their lives, were so filled with anger they would virtually not speak to each other.
This was in a church.
And they would say mean things about each other. They would throw spears.
And everyone knew about it, yet no one did anything.
When that happens, that makes a mockery out of the unity of the Body of Christ, which is the unity Christ died for.
So I want to challenge you today. I want to challenge you today with this: If you have a hardened spirit towards another person, if there’s something in your heart that’s wrong, that’s off, towards another person, especially someone in the church, especially a brother or a sister in Christ – would you do whatever you have to do to heal it.
Confess it to God. Get wise counsel. But go directly to that person, and have a conversation or a series of conversations and patiently work through the problem.
Get your heart right toward people.
I’ll put it like this: You have no right to damage the unity for which Christ gave his life. You have no right.
You’ve got to — we’ve got to — give that the best that we have… because Saul didn’t, and it brought enormous pain and destruction to his community.
And it killed him.
He starts by rationalizing missteps, and then he learns that he can tolerate distance between himself and God.
Then his relationships get poisoned and his heart gets deadly.
Then there’s a final stage of spiritual decline:
Saul betrayed his ultimate values
We see this going on every day, and it’s just tragic.
I’m capable of this, and so are you. I’ve seen it happen too often with leaders, spiritual leaders and others.
When Saul was young and his heart belonged to God, one of the things he did was to point Israel to God.
In the ancient world, there were a lot of occult practices and idolatry. The writers of Scripture are really negative about them because they attempt to tap into divine power without submitting to a personal God and his demands for justice and righteousness. That’s part of why they were so destructive.
And Saul led the way in pointing Israel to the one true God.
Now he is an old man. He’s been on the throne for 40 years. They’re going to face the Philistines, and he’s scared. He has no friends. He has no courage. This is what happens:
1 Samuel 28:5-6
When Saul saw the Philistine army, he was afraid; terror filled his heart. He inquired of the LORD, but the LORD did not answer him by dreams or Urim or prophets.
And a really good question to ask here is: “Am I the kind of person who it makes sense for God to guide?”
See, Saul asked God for guidance, but he doesn’t really want guidance, because if he wanted God’s will, that would mean repentance and confession. He doesn’t want that. He just wants – “How can I be successful? How can I get inside, supernatural information to serve my agenda?” That’s what he wants.
And God wisely won’t give him that, as God generally won’t give that to you or me either.
So Saul goes to this character. She’s known as the Witch of Endor.
Saul, who outlawed the occult as a young man, uses the occult as an old man. This medium calls up Samuel the prophet, who had died some time ago. She called up Samuel from the underworld. It’s a real eerie passage.
People wonder what that means about life beyond death. But that’s not the interest of the passage. This is just the story of Saul’s descent.
Samuel the prophet comes up from the underworld, says to Saul:
1 Samuel 28:16-19
Why do you consult me, now that the LORD has departed from you and become your enemy? …tomorrow you and your sons will be with me.
Death has not mellowed Samuel at all.
There’s a big battle the next day, and the last time we see Saul, he has fallen on his own sword after he’s lost the battle and his kingdom.
It’s a real poignant story – David asks all of Israel to weep for Saul. When the prophet Samuel died, all of Israel wept tears of gratitude for his life, tears of sorrow over the man they would miss.
When King Saul died, no one cried for him, so David had to command it.
Then they wept tears over the man he might have been, over the reign he could have had.
I have to say, the farther I move along in life, the more I think about how I want to finish well. And I want you to finish well.
It doesn’t happen by accident. You don’t just drift into it.
Here’s the main thing I want to say to you – and this is the really good news – no matter how old you are, no matter how badly you’ve messed up, no matter what you’ve done that you wish you had not, there is a place you can come to for a fresh start. It’s through Jesus Christ. God will give you a fresh start.
It’s kind of a cool thing. In the New Testament, there’s a man who is also named Saul. He is also headed on a really destructive path. Then he meets Jesus Christ, and he’s given a new identity.
His name becomes Paul, the great apostle, the great advocate, the great servant for Jesus.
Jesus is the one who can take a Saul and turn him into a Paul. He can take someone whose life was going to be a wreck and turn him into a radiant light.
And he’ll do that for you, and he’ll do that for me.
Alright, let me pray for you.
Blue Oaks Church