The Tragic Story of Saul
January 8th, 1961 @ 7:30 PM
DR. W. A. CRISWELL
1 Samuel 9:22 -27
1-8-61 7:30 p.m.
Now tonight we are going to follow the tragic story of Saul. And then next Sunday night, we shall begin to follow through the glorious story of David, the king of Israel, and the prototype, the antitype, the harbinger, the type of that greater King who shall sit upon David’s throne forever and ever. As we follow through these Old Testament characters, we shall find in them our own lives. We shall find the problems of our own day. We shall look upon the tragic mistakes that some of them made. We shall also see some of their triumphs that harbinger, that are earnests of the greater glory God hath in store for us.
Now the story tonight is one of the saddest in all of literature. As a beginning, would you turn and read 1 Samuel chapter 9, beginning at verse 22, and read through the first verse of chapter 10. This is the story of the anointing of Saul as king over God’s people. First Samuel chapter 9, verse 22, and read through the first verse of the next chapter, chapter 10; now all of us having it, sharing our Bibles with each other, let us read it together, 1 Samuel 9:22:
And Samuel took Saul and his servant, and brought them into the parlor, and made them sit in the chiefest place among them that were bidden, which were about thirty persons.
And Samuel said unto the cook, Bring the portion which I gave thee, of which I said unto thee, Set it by thee.
And the cook took up the shoulder, and that which was upon it, and set it before Saul. And Samuel said, Behold that which is left! set it before thee, and eat: for unto this time hath it been kept for thee since I said, I have invited the people. So Saul did eat with Samuel that day.
And when they were come down from the high place into the city, Samuel communed with Saul upon the top of the house.
And they arose early: and it came to pass about the spring of the day, that Samuel called Saul to the top of the house, saying, Up, that I may send thee away. And Saul arose, and they went out both of them, he and Samuel, abroad.
And as they were going down to the end of the city, Samuel said to Saul, Bid the servant pass on before us, (and he passed on,) but stand thou still a while, that I may show thee the word of God.
Then Samuel took a vial of oil, and poured it upon his head, and kissed him, and said, Is it not because the Lord hath anointed thee to be captain over His inheritance?
[1 Samuel 9:22-10:1]
Isn’t that one of the most beautiful scenes to be found in the Word of God? This young man, and he’s just beyond the days of youth, this young man so tall, so handsome, so strong, so everything that God could want or covet in a youth, this young man kneeling before God’s aged prophet Samuel. And Samuel takes the anointing oil of the Holy Spirit of God, and pours it upon his head; and then in love and affection, he kisses Saul, and calls him God’s man for God’s day, the new, the first leader in the kingdom over Israel [1 Samuel 10:1]. Why, just to think of it, just to picture it, just to imagine it thrills your heart. For the story of Saul could have been the story of one of God’s greatest, noblest, finest, most able, capable, and devoted people. He could have prayed like Samuel. He could have served God like David. He could have loved with the largeness of heart of a Jonathan. There is not anything that Saul could not have done in the power and strength of the Lord. He was endowed with every natural talent that God could bestow upon a man. But the tragedy of the story of Saul is the story of a gradual deterioration.
It’s like the story sometimes we see written across the sky: the day will begin so beautiful, so clear; but as it progresses clouds make it gloomy and dark until finally it ends in a cataclysmic storm. So with the story tragic of Saul: beginning so beautifully in the presence and power and favor and love of God, he lost the presence of the Lord, he lost the power and the Spirit of the Lord, he lost the love and friendship of Samuel, he lost the leadership that God had given him among his people, and finally he lost the lives of his sons before his eyes, and himself lying in his own blood in suicide. This is the story of the great Greek tragedians. It is the story in the tragedies of Shakespeare. And it is a story delineated by this inspired Hebrew historian placed here before our eyes.
There was a man of Benjamin, whose name was Kish . . .
And he had a son, whose name was Saul, a choice young man, and a goodly: and there was not among the children of Israel a goodlier person than he: from his shoulders and upward he was higher than any of the people.
[1 Samuel 9:1-2]
And when he was anointed and presented, they ran and fetched this young man Saul, and when he stood among the people, he was higher than any of the people from his shoulders and upward.
And Samuel said to all the people, See, see ye him whom the Lord hath chosen, that there is none like him among the people? All the people shouted—and for the first time was it said and has been re-echoed through the centuries since—And all the people shouted and said, God save the king!
[1 Samuel 10:23-24]
That’s the beginning of the kingdom under Saul.
He was one of the humblest young men you could ever know. He’s presented here in the Bible, when Samuel the prophet met him and spoke to him in the passage that you just read, Saul answered and said, “Am I not a Benjamite, of the smallest of the tribes of Israel? and my family the least of all the families of the tribe of Benjamin? Why do you speak thus unto me?” [1 Samuel 9:21]. You could not help but love a boy like that. And when they sought him to present him to the people, they couldn’t find him, “And they inquired of the Lord. And the Lord said, Look, he has hidden himself among the baggage. And they ran and fetched him” [Acts 10:22-23]. Timid, humble, unostentatious, self-effacing, you couldn’t help but love and admire a young fellow like that.
And further, and further, he was the soul of generosity. When they anointed him king, there were some of them described as the children of Belial, who when they looked at him, said, “This Benjamite, how shall this man save us? And they despised him. But Saul answered them not” [1 Samuel 10:27]. And when in this story of his deliverance of the men of Jabesh-gilead—and I haven’t time, but one of the most interesting stories in the Bible, haven’t time to follow—when he delivered Israel in the first battle, coming from herding the flocks of his father like a Roman Cincinnatus, laying down the plow handles in order to assume the leadership of the armies of Rome, same thing here: this young fellow following the herd of his father Kish out of the field, put at the head of a band of men, and delivered Jabesh-gilead; and the news of the victory sent delirium of joy and gladness throughout all Israel [1 Samuel 11:5-11]. “And the people said unto Samuel, Who is that man? And who are those who said, Shall Saul reign over us? bring these men, and we’ll cut their heads off, we’ll put them to death right now. And Saul said”—look at the generosity of the man—“And Saul said, There shall not a man be put to death this day: for today the Lord hath wrought salvation in Israel” [1 Samuel 11:12-13]. I repeat: you couldn’t help but love and admire a glorious young leader like that. What a beginning! “And Samuel kissed him” [1 Samuel 10:1]. What a beginning. “And God chose him” [1 Samuel 9:16-17]. What a beginning. “And heaven favored him.” What a beginning! “And all Israel rejoiced in their new and God-given king!” [1 Samuel 11:15].
Oh, it breaks your heart to follow the deterioration of this man that had the whole world in his hands. We’re going to follow it briefly, just incident as it goes down and down and down.
One of the first things that I notice about him is this: when they are looking for the lost herds of the father, Kish, why, the servant says to Saul, “Behold now, there is in this city a man of God, and he is an honorable man; all that he saith surely cometh to pass: let us go thither; peradventure he can show us our way that we should go” [1 Samuel 9:6]. Listen: that great prophet Samuel lived within fifteen miles of the home of Saul, and Saul never heard of him! How far is it from here to somewhere that’s fifteen miles away? Where is somewhere that’s fifteen miles away? Garland? All right, how far is it from here to Garland? You say, “Fifteen miles.” That is the proximity in which Saul was reared to God’s great prophet, and Saul never heard about him! That’s the first thing that startles you. He didn’t grow up in a religious home and in a religious family. And when Samuel the prophet made the circuit of his rounds, there was no prophet’s chamber in Kish’s house where the man of God was invited and entertained. And Saul somehow grew up without the background of a great fundamental deep and abiding religious faith.
And I turn the page, and I look in this story when Samuel says to Saul, “The Philistines are gathering at Michmash, and you gather your army at Gilgal, Michmash, Gilgal, and you wait until I come, and make sacrifice unto God; then God will give you victory” [1 Samuel 10:8]. And after Saul had waited a little while, and Samuel didn’t come, Saul said, “Why should I be bound down by prayer, and devotion, and worship, and waiting on God?” [1 Samuel 13:8]. Like the men that run a certain store in this city, a chain of stores: some of these men who run a like chain came to the man who heads it in Dallas and in this state, and said, “Don’t open your store on Sunday; that’s God’s day. That’s the day when people ought to be trained and encouraged to go to worship. Don’t open your stores on Sunday.” And the head of that great grocery chain, who heads it in the state of Texas, looked into the faces of those men, and said, “God and church? What have I got to do with God or with church? My business is to sell groceries! God be damned! The church be damned! Worship be damned! My business is to sell groceries”; and those stores are wide open every Sunday, with signs on them, “Open on Sunday”: that chain of grocery stores. That’s exactly the spirit of Saul: “Why should I take time for prayer or time to worship God? I can take this day and use it to advantage. I can take these hours, and I can make money with them.” And Saul refused to wait on Samuel to pray and upon the sacrifice unto God that asked God’s favor. Listen, any time a man thinks that he can do better by himself than he can with God, that man is following in the tragic way and story of Saul. And the end of it finally, though it may not be in his life, it’ll be in damnation; may not be in his life, but it’ll come to America, and it’ll come to our city, and it’ll come to our people. There never has been yet a people that flaunted God, and blasphemed God, and damned the name of God and prayer and the worship of God that ever survived, that ever lived. The judgments of God fall today as they did back here in this Old Testament, and that’s why God has written these things for us, that we might look upon them and live.
Saul says, “Why should I wait for Samuel? Why should I stop for prayer? These Philistines are here, and here’s my army.” And so [Saul] offered the sacrifice himself, which ought not to be done by anybody but an ordained priest [1 Samuel 13:9]. And while he was offering the sacrifice against the commandment of God, Samuel appeared, and looking upon him said, “What hast thou done?” And Saul replied, “I forced myself to do it.” And Samuel said to Saul, “Thou hast done foolishly: thou hast not kept the commandment of the Lord. Therefore” [1 Samuel 13:10-14], then came the first judgment from heaven upon this man that thought he was better than God, and didn’t need prayer, and didn’t need worship, and didn’t need Sunday, and didn’t need anything that God had to bestow upon His people.
Then I turn the page, and here I see the further deterioration of this great king. Giant Saul is standing at the head of two hundred ten thousand footmen, and their swords and their spears are gleaming under the sun; and they have been commissioned by Samuel the prophet of God to visit upon the Amalekites the judgment that the Lord spake against them four hundred years before! You know it’s a funny thing about God: His clock isn’t our clock. Four hundred years before, God condemned and judged the Amalekites; and now after four hundred years, the day has come when that judgment is to fall. And God through Samuel commissioned Saul and the Israelite army to be the messengers of vengeance and wrath from the Almighty [1 Samuel 15:1-5].
Now, that meant it was to be a devoted war; that is, nothing of plunder, nothing of spoil, nothing to be kept for oneself, but all of it to be devoted unto God. So giant Saul at the head of two hundred ten thousand footmen, make war against Agag and the Amalekites; and they go down there in the strength and might of Jehovah God, and they win an incomparable victory. But when it came to looking at the wealth amassed of the Amalekites, another Achan, another Saul, he said, “Let’s keep the best for ourselves. We’ll devote, that is, we’ll destroy in this holy cause, we’ll devote all the rest of this stuff that’s no count to rubbish, and we’ll burn it, and the no count cattle and the herds, we’ll slay them. But the best let’s keep for ourselves” [1 Samuel 15:8-9]. And then he looked at Agag, the king of the Amalekites, and said, “What a thing if he comes bound to my chariot, what a thing of triumph! [1 Samuel 15:9]. How he’ll grace my return in victory through the cities of Judah and Israel.” So giant Saul comes back from the war that he has turned into just another Oriental plunder; no God in it at all, no visitation from heaven in it at all, just another Oriental war whereby they seek to enrich themselves in the destruction of other cities and other people.
Here comes Saul at the head of his victorious army, with Agag tied to his chariot, a trophy of his victory, and the finest sheep, and herds, and flocks, and oxen, and all, coming along with him. And then Samuel the man of God meets him. And the brazenness—isn’t it strange how, in the deterioration of a man, finally, he gets to be an affront to God—and in his effrontery, he met Samuel the prophet and said, “Blessed be God: I have carried out thy commandment.” And Samuel in amazement said, “You carried out the commandment of God? Then what does this mean, the bleating of the sheep and the lowing of the herds?” [1 Samuel 15:13-14].
“Oh,” said Saul, “I could not hold back my armies; and we kept them to make a great sacrifice unto God” [1 Samuel 15:15]. And it was then Samuel said that famous word, “To obey is better than to sacrifice!” [1 Samuel 15:22]. To do what God has asked us to do is better than all of the rituals, and all of the burnt offerings, and all of the genuflections, and all of the litanies in the world. And then came that second judgment: “And Samuel came no more to see Saul until the day of his death: and the Lord repented that He had made Saul king over Israel” [1 Samuel 15:35]. He didn’t listen to the voice, so the voice was still; it wasn’t heard anymore. And he didn’t respond to the overtures of grace in the man of God, so the man of God was taken away. And he didn’t want the friendship of the Almighty, so he lost it.
Now I want to show you the degradation into which he fell. David, David fleeing away from the wrath of King Saul, who sought his life, David came to Nob, the city of the priests, where Ahimelech presided over the house of the Lord and over the covenant. He didn’t know anything about David fleeing away from Saul. And David said, “I am starving, and my men. Will you give us bread to eat?” And Ahimelech the high priest gave him bread to eat and sent him on his way, knowing nothing except that David was the son-in-law of the king; and he thought a great, loved, trusted, loyal servant of King Saul [1 Samuel 21:1-6].
Then King Saul found it out and said, “Go down there and get Ahimelech. And go down there and bring the entire household of Ahimelech, eighty-five priests of the family of Eli, bring them up here to me.” So Ahimelech the high priest and eighty-five of his family, fellow priests, all dressed in a plain white linen ephod, stand in the presence of Saul. And Saul looks at Ahimelech the high priest and says, “Did you know that David came to your house?” [1 Samuel 22:11-20].
“Yes,” said Ahimelech, “he came.”
“And did you give him bread to eat?”
“Your lord, I gave him bread to eat. He was famished.”
“And you sent him on his way?”
“I did,” said Ahimelech the high priest, “because he was the king’s son-in-law and your loyal and faithful servant.”
And Saul burst into a rage and said, “You lie! You knew he seeks my life! And I seek his. And you have fed and given succor to my enemy!” Then Saul in a rage turned to the soldiers around him, and said, “Lay on them, and slay them!”
One soldier looked and refused, “I will not lay my hand upon the priests of God” [1 Samuel 22:17]. And another one said, “Nor will I slay God’s priests.” And the other one looked at him and said, “Nor will I bear my sword and stain it with the blood of God’s priests.” And there wasn’t a soldier that would destroy the high priest and the eighty-five around him dressed in linen ephods.
Then Saul in a rage turned to Doeg, the Edomite, the low-down, dirty dog—his name sounds like a dog, Doeg—and he turned to Doeg and said, “Fall upon them,” and Doeg, who is the chief herdsman of Saul, bared his sword, and there in the presence of Saul, he slew Ahimelech the high priest. And one by one he slew all eighty-five of the priests of the Most Holy and High God. And only Abiathar escaped to David to tell him what Saul had done to God’s people [1 Samuel 22:18-21]. Down and down and down!
And then the Philistines have marched to their maritime plain, and through the plain of Sharon, have poured through the pass of Megiddo, and are encamped on the other side of the great Valley of Esdraelon. And on this side, on the mountains of Gilboa, the armies of Israel are gathered under Saul [1 Samuel 29:1]. That is the great battlefield of the world, Har Megiddo, Armageddon.
I stood at Nazareth one evening, on the high slope upon which Nazareth is built, and I looked at Mount Moreh. And I could see all three of these villages: on the far side, the village of Shunem, where the Shunamite woman entertained Elisha [2 Kings 4:8-11], and where Elisha raised her son from the dead [2 Kings 4:32-35]; and the little village of Nain in the center, where the Lord Jesus stopped a procession of death and raised the son of the widow from the grave [Luke 7:11-15]; and there before me Endor, Endor [1 Samuel 28:7-14]. And my mind went back again to the Plain of Esdraelon, the Har-Megiddo of the Bible.
- There the great battles of the world have been fought. They have discovered hieroglyphic inscriptions from the dust and the dirt of Esdraelon in which is read the story of Thutmose III of Egypt, thousands of years ago, who won a great battle at Har Megiddo.
- That is the plain where Barak and Deborah overcame Cicero and the Canaanites [Judges 4:1-24].
- That is the plain where Gideon came down from the heights of Gilboa with his army of three hundred and slew the Midianites [Judges 7:1-23].
- And that is the plain, the great battlefield where Jehu destroyed the armies and the family of Ahab and Jezebel [2 Kings 9:1-10].
- That is the plain where Josiah placing himself before the forces of Pharaoh Necho was destroyed, him and his army [2 Kings 23:29]; where Zechariah cried and lamented in the battle of Har-Megiddo [Zechariah 12:11].
- That is the plain where the Turks, and the Saracens, and the French, and the British, and the Israelites, and the Syrians, and the Damaseenes, and the Egyptians, and the Antiochians, and the Ephesians, and all of them have fought through the years.
And that is the plain over which Saul now looks at the vast armies of Philistia that number like the sands of the sea. And in his distress and in the horror of that awful moment, he’s inquired at Urim, he’s inquired at Thummim [1 Samuel 28:4-6], he’s inquired by dreams and visions, he’s inquired by the tabernacle, and the altar, and the law of the covenant, and the horns of the altar, and there’s no answer from God. In the hour of his distress, disguising himself at night, he makes that ten mile journey to Endor, to a witch [1 Samuel 28:7-8]; and says to the witch, “I am sore distressed, and the Philistines press me, and the battle will be joined tomorrow, and God hath forsaken me! Would you call up Samuel? Call up Samuel? Could you call up Samuel?” The witch of Endor who couldn’t call up anybody, nor can any necromancer or spiritualist. But God allowed it, and Samuel appears. And Saul cries, saying,
I am sore distressed; for the Philistines make war against me, and God is departed from me, and He answers me no more, neither by prophets, nor by dreams: therefore have I called thee, that thou mayest make known unto me what I shall do. Then Samuel said, Why do you ask? The Lord hath done as He spake by me: because thou observedest not the voice of the Lord. Saul fell on the earth, and was sore afraid.
[1 Samuel 28:15-20]
And the next day the battle was joined in the plain of Megiddo. And the Philistines came swarming down, and the armies of Israel led by Saul went out to meet them. And when the battle was joined, the first to fall was Jonathan! Before Saul’s eyes, Jonathan was cut down by the uncircumcised, blaspheming enemies of God. And then before his eyes, Saul saw [Abinadab] his second son, cut down [1 Samuel 31:1-2]. And then before his very eyes, he saw Malchi-shua, his third son, cut down. And as the battle raged, the archers found the range, and the arrows began to fly around Saul; and in his distress, he said to his armor-bearer, “Draw thy sword, and thrust me through; lest these uncircumcised come and abuse me! But his armor-bearer would not” [1 Samuel 13:3-4]. And Saul took his sword and put the hilt on the ground and the point to his heart, and fell on it himself [1 Samuel 31:14]. And his great, heavy, giant frame, falling on that sword thrust him through, and he fell there in his own blood. And those uncircumcised, blaspheming, cursing, infidel Philistines came and cut off his head, and put it in their temple to Dagon their god, and said, “That’s how our god triumphed over Jehovah.” And they took his armor and put it in the temple of Ashtaroth, the female goddess who with Dagon made the vile indescribable pair. And they took his body, and the bodies of his three sons, and fastened them to the wall of the city of Beth-shan in Jezreel, and exulted, and exulted over the defeat of the Lord God of Israel [1 Samuel 31:8-10].
Why, it brings tears to your eyes just to follow the deterioration and the tragedy of this man who could have meant so much to the Lord. That’s our story, unless we find favor before God.
I have one question to ask and to answer, then I have to quit. Saul, Saul, instead of a witch, why didn’t you fall down in tears, in sobs, and in confession, and ask God to forgive and to save? Why? Why?
I have an answer: did you know you can say no to God for so long, and you can refuse the overtures of the grace and love and favor of God so long until you can’t cry, you can’t sob, the soul stiffens and hardens, and we become derelict forever and forever? I’ve never been able to enter into the mysteries of the unpardonable sin [Matthew 12:31-32; Mark 3:28-30], but my dear old dad, who’s in glory now, used to stand by me in the days of my youth as we’d attend a revival meeting, and he’d say, “There,” and point out to that man, “I saw the day and the hour when he cried and trembled before God, and held to the bench, and he said no to God one last time, and now he’s turned to a heart of stone and shall die without glory, without grace, without salvation.” I don’t know whether he’s correct or not. He did die, that man, without God and without salvation. In my pastoral ministry I’ve stood by the death of many a lost man who was dying, and he couldn’t cry, and he couldn’t sob. Somehow his heart couldn’t repent; he had turned to stone, just like Saul!
Life seems to be that way. When we pass God by and when we say no to Him, there’s a line by us, unseen, that when the man crosses, it divides between God’s mercy and God’s wrath.
O blessed Lord, while I have time to repent, may I repent. While I have an opportunity to trust, may I trust. While I can, dear Lord, call upon Thy name, Lord, may I call upon Thy name. While God has given me space to serve, help me to serve. Dear Lord, while it is now, help me to respond.
Today if you will hear His voice, harden not your heart” [Hebrews 4:7]. Today, today if you will hear His voice, harden not your heart. If the Spirit has bid you come, come now. If the Lord bids you here, be here now. If God says respond now, respond now. “Here I am preacher, and here I come.” In this balcony round, somebody you; on this lower floor, somebody you; a family you, or a youth, a child, a man, a glorious girl, a woman, a couple, as the Spirit of Jesus shall make the appeal, would you respond? “I’ll do it tonight, pastor, and here I come. I’ll make it now, and here I am; in faith and in trust, give my heart and soul to Jesus, give you my hand. Here I am.” Or putting your life with us in the fellowship of the church, however God shall say the word and bid you come, will you make it now? While we stand and while we sing.