Foundational Framework. Part 38 - The Failure of the King


Foundational Truths: The Bible is God’s self-revelation.
God is the Eternal, Sovereign Creator; all that He creates is good.
Man is a responsible agent, held to a moral standard.
Sin originates within a person, separating us from God.
God declares one righteous by faith alone, apart from works.
The glory of God is the centerpiece and goal of all existence.
God’s glory is maximally realized in the promised, coming Kingdom.

We would often like to think that if we simply had more revelation of God, or if He would just appear to us in a tangible way then we would sin less, love more, forsake the flesh, and live godly lives until our dying day. YHWH has gone out of His way to reveal Himself to Israel in astounding ways, and yet their stubborn hearts were constantly keeping them from following Him fully. Sadly, many have determined that His Word is not enough.

Israel had succumbed to the pinnacle thought of fleshly devices: the conviction that a human being will be able to provide the prosperity, security, and freedom that only God alone promises. With this request, Samuel the prophet warned the people of the ramifications of such a government, causing the enslavement of the people to the wishes of their king, surrendering a portion of their properties (both land and livestock), the taxing of their livelihood to support an earthly regime, and even the distortion of the family structure as their sons and daughters would be removed from the family business and placed into the king’s service (1 Sam 8:10-17). Having previously been freed from such a system, one would figure that Israel’s perspective of a monarchy would have been colored by cruelty, wishing instead to live as truly free people with YHWH as King. In sin, Israel cried out for a king “like all the nations.”

In the Law, YHWH included a proviso regarding the desire for a king.

Deuteronomy 17:14-20. To assume the throne of Israel is to lead in humility. At least this is how the office was designed by YHWH. Though Israel had set YHWH aside, He did not do likewise to them. In His omniscience, YHWH understood the whims of the human heart, even that of Israel’s, and what would happen after their settlement in the Land of Canaan. Clough notes that the “Israelite kingship was to submit to the authority of the Law (Deut. 17:14-20). God’s Law, not a human king, was the ultimate authority. The Creator-creature two-level view of reality had to be respected. Kingship was not supposed to be some midpoint between man and God on a continuous scale of being.”[1] Instead, the king would be subservient to YHWH’s Law, instilling in him a knowledge of the truth by which he would both govern and be held accountable. The Law called for specifications to be met that would ensure this.

First, the king would be chosen by YHWH and not through a political process (v.15a). This would root out any issues of favoritism or any corruption that usually accompanies an electoral process.
Second, the king would be one who was an Israelite national and not a foreigner (v.15b). This would safeguard against reckless decisions that did not consider the history and personal care of the Jewish people. Third, the king was not to collect a great amount of horses, nor was he to send a delegation to Egypt for the purpose of securing a great amount of horses (v.16). The accumulation of horses would be the basis for a military presence to fight battles, which is what Samuel warns the people of in 1 Samuel 8:11. For Israel, victory is not something secured by having more soldiers than the nations that opposed them but in YHWH who solely provides. Even the presence of “many horses” would give a pseudo-security to the people of Israel. Israel’s king was to have none of this.

Fourth, the king was not to have a multiplicity of wives and the reason for such a command is quickly given in 17:17a- “his heart will turn away.” The more women that were in the mix, the more directions that the king’s heart would be taken. The clearest example is in the reign of King Solomon who was the wisest man in the world, and yet was so easily led astray by his multiple wives to serve, worship, and sacrifice to other gods (1 Kings 11:1-8).
Fifth, the king was not to be wealthy (17:17b). This speaks against everything that history has ever seen in the rulers of the world. However, riches provide nothing but false assurance. Proverbs 11:28 is clear, “He who trusts in his riches will fall, but the righteous will flourish like the green leaf.” Money has never brought peace, and unless it is managed wisely by one who gives liberally it becomes a snare (Matt 6:24; 1 Tim 6:10; Heb 13:5).

Finally, the king was to copy by hand the first five books of the Old Testament (17:18). This was to be done before the Levitical Priests so that they could “check his work,” making sure that accuracy was maintained and all questions were clarified and answered. The text is clear that the king was not to make the laws but was to know those given by YHWH and was to enforce them because they are truth. Legislation was not the king’s business. This was not simply a rote exercise, but the textbook by which the king was to conduct his reign. He was to keep it with him (17:19a), he was to read it continually for the rest of his life (17:19b), with such efforts giving way to a healthy fear of YHWH (17:19c), and a careful consideration of all matters being conducted according to the Law’s contents (17:19d). This constant meditation would cultivate humility within the king (17:20a) so that he would not view himself as superior, placing all reverence and authority before YHWH and not himself. Maintaining this course would ensure a long legacy for that line of kings (17:20b).

The first chosen human king of Israel was Saul, a man said to be taller and more handsome than any other man in Israel (1 Sam 9:2). Saul was of the tribe of Benjamin and the Lord called upon Samuel the prophet to anoint him (1 Sam 9:16-17). The language that YHWH uses is intentional: Saul was the “prince” that was to be anointed and he would “rule” over YHWH’s people (1 Sam 9:16-17). YHWH does not relinquish His position as the King of Israel but does delegate responsibility to one that He has personally chosen for the task at hand. Samuel anoints Saul making him the ruler over YHWH’s possession Israel (1 Sam 10:1). This is solidified by the prediction of YHWH’s Spirit coming upon Saul and changing him into “another man” (10:6) and the fulfillment of that prophecy in 10:10. However, Saul shied away from the spotlight, hiding behind a pile of bags when the time came to publicly recognize him as God’s chosen ruler of Israel (10:20-24).

While the beginning of Saul’s reign was full of triumphant victories and careful decisions, such an approach began to wane in chapter 14. The details of Saul’s foolish choices are worth examining but the events of 1 Samuel 15 is really the turning point in Saul’s reign.

1 Samuel 15:1-29. Samuel’s conversation with Saul is pointed to say the least. Samuel begins by stating that Samuel had anointed Saul as the king over Israel by the Lord’s Word. That exact same Word was going to be communicated to Saul, calling for his obedience to whatever is commanded. Saul was anointed because Samuel obeyed God’s Word. In the same way, Saul was to obey the Word of the Lord. Samuel draws attention to the opposition of the Amalekites against Israel from Exodus 17:8-16. This incident is famous for the need to uphold Moses’ arms to secure the victory for Israel.

With verse 3, the call is for harem, for Israel to utterly “destroy” the Amalekites, leaving nothing alive. As mentioned before, the Lord is certainly gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast (loyal) love (Psa 145:8), but He is also a just God who knows the most intimate thoughts of the heart. His pronouncement against the Amalekites is not without cause, nor should we conclude that they are an “innocent” people. Every single person who has ever lived deserves death. That is the only thing that we have earned in our time on Earth. The freely-offered gospel of salvation is the grace of God toward the destitute and undeserving. If YHWH has called for Israel to exterminate the Amalekites, we must trust His Word in the matter, as well as His reasons for such a pronouncement. He alone is the Judge of all.

Saul assembles 210,000 men to handle the command, moving forward in obedience to YHWH’s word (v.4-5). The Kenites were descendants of Midian who resided just south of Judah. Saul notes their kindness (in contrast to that of the Amalekites) shown to Israel as they were traveling to the Land of Canaan. Saul shows them mercy, allowing for them to evacuate the area because of the ensuing calamity. Everything in the text so far directs us to believe that Saul has every intention of carrying out YHWH’s word without reservation.

In their conquest, the entire territory of Ishmael was covered (v.7; see Gen 25:18). All was destroyed… except Agag, the king of the Amalekites. In fact, not only was he spared, but Israel took the best of their livestock for themselves (v.9) in direct opposition to what YHWH had commanded in 15:3. The text notes that attention was given to the valuable and the worthless, with the first being kept and the other being destroyed. This was a critical mistake. Saul was not called to observations and assessments of value, he was called to obedience. Not only this, but v.9 gives us an indication that it was a group effort, seeing that “the people” were right in the thick of these decisions.

In verses 10-11 we find YHWH’s heart-response to what Saul had done telling Samuel that He “regrets” that He has made Saul the king. A comment like this really creates problems for people who think that the Lord is not personal, or that He has so planned out history in such a way where individuals do not have the ability to exercise personal freedom. YHWH is intensely personal and He has emotions, especially in relation to our obedience or disobedience. The regret being expressed is not in the fact that God chose Saul, but in the way that Saul has handled his position as king.

We must remember that election is not a doctrine that determines who goes to heaven and who goes to hell. The Scriptures never use this term in that way. However, election by God is unto a task, mission, or vocation that is to be fulfilled. With 1 Samuel 15 and YHWH’s remarks in v.11 we have an example where the election of God did not work out, just as we see in Romans 9:32. In both instances, it was not YHWH’s election of the person or people that was wrong, but the unbelief of those elected in fulfilling what God had provided for and commanded of them. Saul’s personal responsibility is still intact, and he failed miserably. For this, Samuel is grieved.

To make matters worse, Saul has erected a monument to himself in Carmel (v.12). The man who once hid behind the baggage has now promoted himself through idolatry.

1 Samuel 15:13-21 holds the confrontation between Samuel and Saul. When asked about the campaign against the Amalekites, Saul is oblivious to his error, stating that he has carried out God’s command (v.13). As the words leave his lips, you can hear the sheep and cattle in the background. In verses 15 and 21 Saul refers back to the actions of “the people” as the responsible party for bringing back the spoils. Saul even tries to rationalize these actions by stating that the motive was for the purpose of sacrificing the best that the Amalekites had to YHWH (v.15 and 21). The king had rationalized that worshiping YHWH through sacrifices was somehow separate from obeying Him. Samuel then reveals his conversation with YHWH to Saul (v.16-19). The Lord had taken Saul from being no one to being the ruler of Israel. The command before him was to lead a campaign of harem (used in v.18 and 20 by both men) against the Amalekites as YHWH’s disciplinary tool of judgment. Instead, remnants of the Amalekites remained, including Agag the king (v.20). Verse 19 drives the point home: partial obedience is evil because it is ultimately total disobedience.

1 Samuel 15:22-23. Samuel’s response to Saul’s rationale for his actions should be memorized for our own benefit. YHWH desires obedience over sacrifice. Good intentions and rationalizing sin are evil. Rebellion against His commands is the equivalent to witchcraft in YHWH’s eyes. In v. 23, the word “insubordination” is used. This means “self-will.” It is the pride that comes with living the “self-life,” which is a life lived in one’s desires and not for God. It is corrupt satisfaction. It is sin.

Because Saul had rejected God’s Word, YHWH was removing him as king.

1 Samuel 15:24-26. The reason for Saul’s disobedience is revealed.

First, he feared the people instead of fearing YHWH. This is why the observation of the Law of God was to put the fear of YHWH into people, so that they would not fear anyone else (Deut 17:19c). Saul’s installation was by divine election, not by human politics. He, like we, serve an audience of One.

Second, Saul heeded the voice of the people. Peer pressure had taken precedence over the Word of God. Reasoning through the benefits of keeping the best of the spoil seemed good and right, except that the Lord had commanded otherwise. Only His Word matters.

The remainder of Saul’s time as Israel’s king is a slippery slope downward, finding him tormented by spirits (1 Sam 16:14), paranoid of losing control (1 Sam 18:10-12), commanding the slaughter of the priests of YHWH (1 Sam 22:18), misinterpreting God’s will (1 Sam 23:7), and even consulting a medium for guidance (1 Sam 28:7-14).

Ultimately, Saul ended his life by dying upon his own sword (1 Samuel 31:4).

[1] Charles A. Clough, A Biblical Framework for Worship and Obedience in an Age of Global Deception, Part III (, p. 101.