I don’t believe in ordering God around. Some people say that if we believe God wants us to have something, then we should just speak it into existence because faith is a force that we must muster. They say we should tell the Lord what we want – just name what it is and claim it. They treat God as though he were a celestial bellboy or butler.
But Jesus told us to address God as our Father in heaven. So when I pray, I ask for what I believe is the will of God, but I always add this P.S. to my prayers: “Lord, if this is outside of your will, disregard what I am asking for.” I have come to know through experience that Father knows best.
There was a time in Israel’s history when they didn’t think their heavenly Father knew best. The people were tired of being ruled by judges. All of the other nations had kings, and they wanted a king, too. God reminded them that he was ruling and guiding them. But that wasn’t enough for the people. So God gave them what they asked for.
They got their king, and his name was Saul. Saul’s life is a study in contrasts. In some ways, he was big. In other ways, he was very little. In some ways, he was strikingly handsome. In other ways, he was decidedly ugly. He was both a hero and a renegade. He began his life in victory and ended it in humiliating defeat.
In his book “Fascinating Stories of Forgotten Lives,” Charles Swindoll makes this statement about Saul: “Beware the temptation to form early opinions about certain individuals, especially those greatly gifted. Assume the best and be willing to give every benefit of doubt, but remember that the end of a life reveals more than the beginning.”
Saul came from a good family. His father, Kish, was well-known and influential. Saul also was extremely good-looking. The Bible says he was the most handsome man in Israel. If Saul were alive today, he would be named People magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive. He was the George Clooney or Brad Pitt of his day. And not only was Saul strikingly handsome, but he was taller than everyone else.
In ancient Israel, the public was drawn to attractive people, and that is very important to people today as well. The good news for most of us is that attractiveness is not what God looks for in a person. When the prophet Samuel went to the home of David’s father, Jesse, to find Israel’s next king, Jesse’s son Eliab caught Samuel’s attention. But God said, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7 NIV).
Everything was going Saul’s way. He was out of the starting block with a bang. So far so good. But then the first test came in his life. God had not told him to do anything in particular. Samuel had simply come along and anointed him as king of Israel and then left. To his credit, Saul just went back to his responsibilities, which included plowing a field.
Then a real villain named Nahash came along. As leader of the Ammonite army, Nahash laid siege against the Israelites living in Gilead. The people wanted to sign a peace agreement rather than battle the Ammonites.
So Nahash essentially told them, “I will sign a peace agreement, but here are my terms: Every one of you has to gouge out your right eye. Does that sound reasonable?”
Surprisingly, Israel asked Nahash if they could get back to him on that.
When Saul heard about it, he was royally ticked off. He said, in effect, “I’ll tell you what, this is not going to stand! You tell them that help is on the way.” Then Saul went out and rallied an army of 330,000 troops that came against Nahash and destroyed him. Boom! Israel had a new hero in Saul.
I wish the story had stopped right there. But one of the things I love about the Bible is its honesty. It shows us all of the twists and turns, all of the good things as well as the bad things people did. Saul had a great beginning, and things were going well. He could have been a great king. But unfortunately, things did not go as they could have.
All of a sudden, almost inexplicably, Saul began to self-destruct. He became a victim of himself, full of impatience and pride and rebellion and jealousy. He eventually attempted murder because, over a period of years, he was transformed from a great leader to a paranoid tyrant. And when he found out David would take his place as king, he tried to kill him. Ultimately, King Saul committed suicide on the battlefield. And in the end, he unwittingly summed up his life when he said, “Indeed I have played the fool and erred exceedingly” (1 Samuel 26:21 NKJV). He lost his crown and his very life.
Impatience was one of the first steps that led to Saul’s decline, and partial obedience was another. When God appointed Saul as Israel’s king, we read that “Samuel explained to the people the rights and duties of kingship. He wrote them down on a scroll and deposited it before the Lord” (1 Samuel 10:25 NIV). The people were told what they should do, and Saul was told what he should do.
That is true of life as well. God tells us, “Here is the way to do it. If you do it, it will go well. If you don’t do it, it won’t go well.” But we think our case is different. We don’t agree with this, or we don’t want to live that way. And we will reap the consequences eventually.
Saul’s life stands as a warning that it is impossible to rebel against God and avoid having to ultimately face the consequences – maybe not today, maybe not next month, maybe not even next year. But sooner or later, we will have to face the music.