Plain Truth Magazine
June-July 1978
Volume: Vol XLIII, No.6
Issue: ISSN 0032-0420
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Saul, the people's choice for king, failed with God in the execution of his office. Self-centered, unrepentant and egotistic, though handsome and head-and-shoulders taller than his subjects, Saul was not God's choice. Instead, God chose an insignificant shepherd boy, David, while Saul yet reigned. Then God arranged David's training for his future kingship by bringing him into Saul's court. This remarkable story sets the theme for David's triumphs and his failures.

   Successful Saul, impatient in seeking favor and pressed by the threat of foreign invasion, lost the possibility of having his dynasty rule Israel forever by rebelling against Samuel and God in assuming to himself the priestly duty of sacrificing (I Sam. 13:12-14). But he Was yet to commit a greater blunder and lose the very kingship itself.
   "One day Samuel said to Saul, 'I crowned you king of Israel because God told me to. Now be sure that you obey him. Here is his commandment to you: "I have decided to settle accounts with the nation of Amalek for refusing to allow my people to cross their territory when Israel came from Egypt. Now go and completely destroy the entire Amalek nation..."'" (I Sam. 15:1-2, The Living Bible used throughout article).
   A difficult and odious task, granted. It amounted to genocide. But one thing to remember is that it was a command from God. He is the one who holds all life in His hands. He gives and He takes away. This was not a human decision, but a judgment from the Almighty.
   With 210,000 troops Saul began to fulfill God's command. Even every animal was to be destroyed. Then Saul began to hedge. It seemed such a shame to destroy so many good animals. Saul and his army slew only the poor quality and worthless animals saving the best for themselves, on the spiritual-sounding pretext of using them to "sacrifice to the Lord." Saul himself spared the Amalekite king, Agag perhaps fearing the slaying of kings might become popular and so endanger his own throne. It was "mission unaccomplished"!
   When confronted by Samuel on his mismanaged raid, Saul insisted he had obeyed the injunction of the Lord, despite his obvious distortion of the orders and his feeble excuse of saving the best to sacrifice to the Lord.
   Samuel's classic answer to this line of reasoning is a lesson for us all: "Has the Lord as much pleasure in your burnt offerings and sacrifices as in your obedience? Obedience is far better than sacrifice. He is much more interested in your listening to him than in your offering the fat of rams to him. For rebellion is as bad as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as bad as worshiping idols. And now because you have rejected the word of Jehovah, he has rejected you from being king"! (I Sam. 15:22-23.)

Saul's Outward Repentance

   In the wake of this devastating proclamation, Saul's response was superficial and insincere. He said he had sinned and disobeyed Gust as he previously said he had obeyed); but he begged Samuel's backing of his kingship in the eyes of the people! "I have sinned; but oh, at least honor me before the leaders and before my people by going with me to worship the Lord your God," Saul begged Samuel (verse 30).
   Note that the real problem here is one of the deep inner attitude of the heart not of outward profession. Saul admitted sin, yet feared the reaction of the people more than the displeasure of God, against whom his sin was committed. He requested of Samuel a sham display to forestall the anger of the people, not of God! On top of that, he made a vital slip of the tongue which reveals his true feelings toward God: He said "the Lord your God" to Samuel rather than "the Lord my God," or even "the Lord our God." His concern, his fear, his surface sorrow, his intent, his heart was for himself, and for his reputation in the eyes of the people rather than toward his God!
   This is the vital difference between King Saul and King David. David's sins were many, perhaps more than Saul's. There is no use comparing the magnitude of individual sins, because sin is sin, and the penalty, without repentance and forgiveness from God, is death! David realized, as Paul put it in the New Testament, that "sin is against God." David's repentance was always toward God, often to his detriment in the eyes of the people; Saul's repentance was always outward only, with an eye toward how he would appear in the eyes of the people, and with complete disregard of God.

A King of God's Choice

   Samuel mourned constantly for Saul in his rejection by God, despite the fact that Saul's kingship was a slap in his face in the first place. But God had rejected Saul though he was still to reign for many years and was now ready to select a man to be king of Israel to replace Saul: a man after God's own heart. God's Spirit was removed from Saul, the people's choice, and God was ready to place that Spirit on another of His own choosing.
   "Finally the Lord said to Samuel, 'You have mourned long enough for Saul, for I have rejected him as king of Israel. Now take a vial of olive oil and go to Bethlehem and find a man named Jesse, for I have selected one of his sons to be the new king'" (I Sam. 16:1).
   Samuel feared for his life on such a mission, lest Saul should find out about it. Strange! Another insight into the character of Saul. Why would Saul commit murder and that on a Judge chosen by God if his action was the will of God? Because the kingship originally granted by. God had degenerated into a political drive for power by Saul. He misunderstood the purpose of a king, which is to serve the people, and instead would by any means maintain the monarchy to serve his own ego.
   David, later faced with the same dilemma, many times let circumstances and the hand of God determine whether or not he would remain king, never striving to grasp the crown, determined to let it be a gift rather than a conquest. David understood the heart of the principle that would later be spoken by his Lord, Jesus, to the disciples: "Whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant" (Matt. 20:27).
   Samuel set forth to perform his dangerous mission, covered with the God suggested excuse of making a sacrifice to the Lord. It is God's own irony that sacrifice was chosen to cover the more important purpose of anointing another king. Saul had lost the opportunity of an ever ruling dynasty by sacrificing when Samuel was late in showing up. Now that dynasty was assured for David with the cover-up of sacrifice. Saul misunderstood the purpose for sacrifice and so would be completely fooled by this ostensible reason for Samuel's visit to Bethlehem and the family of Jesse!

The Puzzle of God's Choice

   Even Samuel needed education in the matter of God's method of choosing! When he saw Eliab, the eldest son of Jesse, with an outward appearance much like that of Saul, he thought, "Surely this is the man the Lord has chosen!" But God corrected that opinion and gave Samuel, and us, this advice: "Don't judge by a man's face or height, for this is not the one. I don't make decisions the way you do! Men judge by outward appearance, but I look at a man's thoughts and intentions" (I Sam. 16:6-7).
   To illustrate His point, God allowed seven of Jesse's sons to be paraded before Samuel, each one unacceptable to God. Frustrated, Samuel asked if there were any more. "Well, there is the youngest... but he's out in the fields watching the sheep," Jesse replied. "Send for him at once," Samuel said, "for we will not sit down to eat until he arrives" (verse 11).
   "So Jesse sent for him. He was a fine looking boy, ruddy-faced, and with pleasant eyes. And the Lord said, 'This is the one; anoint him'" (verse 12).
   The puzzle is this: David had a fine outward appearance also. Some think because God bases His decisions about men on their innermost thoughts and intentions that it is necessary for a decent outward appearance to be lacking. That is not what God intended. The point was: No matter what the outward appearance, ugly or comely, it is the thought and intent of heart upon which the decision must be made. God is not impressed with an outward appearance of humility any more than He is by an outward appearance of authority and leadership: Both are equally self-righteous to Him.
   The anointing of David done in a small private gathering, not with public fanfare the Spirit of God came on David from that day forward, with great power. How old was David at the time? It is not revealed. Guesses range from twelve to twenty. Let's give an arbitrary age of eighteen after all, one guess is as good as another. That would give twelve years of study and diverse experience for the young heir apparent, guided by God all the way, before the duties of real kingship fell on his shoulders.
   And what better place to send a king-to-be to school than in the court of the king? And not just at the court, but as close to the king as possible! Education was needed in both the private and the public life of a king. Court intrigue, problem-solving, protocol, organization, statecraft, military planning, legislative and judicial procedures the myriad of governmental necessities must all be learned even if they had to be learned from the negative side of improper examples. Yet the private problems of a public king must be faced also. The pressures, fears, emotions, desires of the individual in such a position had to be learned.
   Throughout it all, God worked negatively with Saul and positively with David. "... The Lord had sent a tormenting spirit that filled him [Saul] with depression and fear. Some of Saul's aides suggested a cure. 'We'll find a good harpist to play for you whenever the tormenting spirit is bothering you,' they said.... One of them said he knew a young fellow in Bethlehem, the son of a man named Jesse, who was not only a talented harp player, but was handsome, brave, and strong, and had good, solid judgment. 'What's more,' he added, 'the Lord is with him'" (verses 14-18).
   God, through His Spirit and busy angels, had influenced a decision by Saul necessary to place David where God wanted him. And David's own efforts were not missing from the scene. In his short life he had managed to build a reputation for talent, bravery and judgment and, most important of all, to show by his example that he was close to God!
   Remember, the king's talent scouts were ever on the lookout for this type of man to conscript into the army or into the staff at court. Saul should have sensed a problem here.
   He would certainly eventually rue the day David came into his life!

Instant Success

   From the instant he saw David, Saul admired and loved him; and David became his bodyguard. Then Saul wrote to Jesse, 'Please let David join my staff, for I am very fond of him'" (verses 21-22).
   When Saul was tormented by the evil spirit from God, David would be summoned to play the harp and Saul would feel better. God was very clever. The spirit which troubled Saul could be sent to distress him anytime God so chose. Whenever, or for however long God wanted David to be present with the king; whatever affairs of state or personal problems God wanted David to observe all could be arranged by God by this simple method!
   Talent as a musician was only one of the qualifications David brought with him to Saul's court. As every student of politics in government or industry knows, proximity to power breeds power! Saul was fond of David. As yet he had not begun to fear him as a rival. David was young, innocent. Surely Saul's guard was completely down in David's presence. As it were, David was King Saul's private physician/psychiatrist, treating his ailments. Saul felt free to discuss in David's presence whatever problems might occur.
   Surely, since he came with the qualification and reputation of "good, solid judgment," David must have been consulted for an opinion on the problems of state, and even the personal problems facing Saul. Saul was king. He could accept or reject any advice. It never hurts to ask... at first!
   And, what songs did David play? Later he was to write the majority of the psalms. Were not the themes of his songs sown in the seeds of his childhood and young adulthood? Remember his reputation: "The Lord is with him!" The psalms range from bitter laments (always with a positive ending) to paeans of joy. Surely the beginning concepts of Psalm 119 (the longest of the psalms) were present in David's music for Saul. The deep awe, respect, fear, love and utter dependence on God must have blossomed in the words David chose to accompany the music he played for Saul to banish his evil spirit.

Armorbearer for the King

   David was also recommended for his bravery. His position at court was officially "armorbearer," or as some translations have it, "bodyguard." He, who was ordained by God to the office of king to replace Saul, was given as his official responsibility the trusted position of the king's armorbearer and protector! Could this be one of the reasons why, in following years, David would be so reluctant to lift his hand against Saul, even when his men advised him to kill him, and circumstances allowed the possibility?
   The king's armorbearer, intimate confidant, personal servant to his most important needs, must have had the king's ear on military strategy first learning, then offering plans of his own. David had a firsthand opportunity to observe King Saul's mind in action on military matters. Surely this provided him with excellent intelligence when later he would be fleeing from the same man as a hunted outlaw, a guerrilla leader hiding in the hills to save his life.
   And "handsome, good-looking," was also a description of David given to Saul. Saul Had a family, and in that family was a daughter, Michal, later to become David's wife. This entertaining, multitalented youth, a fresh face in court, must have caught the eye of more than one of the feminine gender during his stay so close to the king.
   Yet, until the episode with Goliath; David's stay at court was intermittent, mostly in the private chambers of the king. His launching into public notice, with its attendant problems, was precipitated by his encounter with that famous Philistine, Goliath! Next issue, read how the experience changed David from friend, to rival, to enemy of King Saul, and how he became a public figure in all of Israel.

(To Be Continued)

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Plain Truth MagazineJune-July 1978Vol XLIII, No.6ISSN 0032-0420