Standing Tall, Falling Hard

Title: Standing Tall, Falling Hard

Bible Book: 1 Samuel

Author: Mark Adams

Subject: Saul; Patience; Humility; Obedience



Way back in the dark ages, I’m talking about the late ‘60’s and early ‘70’s, when I was in high school, back then just like today’s teens we had certain clothing style fads. Like today’s young people we wore what everyone else wore because more than anything we wanted to fit in. Sure, we talked about the importance of being an individual, of “doing your own thing” of “going against the ‘establishment flow’” but when push came to shove we did just the opposite. We dressed just like all the other non-conformists because we wanted to be accepted, we wanted to fit in, we wanted to be like everyone else.

I kind of cringe as I look back and remember what that looked like for me personally. It’s embarrassing to remember the way I dressed in my own efforts to go with the popular flow. For example, I wore my belt buckle on the side like the guy in this photo. I wore earth shoes and wide lapel shirts. Every day I put on bell bottom jeans, the more beat up the better. In fact, I had a pair of jeans when I entered college that had so many patches on them you couldn’t tell if there was anything left of the original material. They were very comfortable but I can’t believe I wore those things in public! I must have looked like a quilt walking down the street.

And, as I said, today’s youth are no different. Like my generation today many adolescents wear their clothes in very shocking ways, in an effort to fit in, to be accepted. I don’t want to embarrass anyone but in recent years I’ve seen teens wear their pants like Bieber here, with the waist below where they sit down, or baseball hats with brims to the side. I’ve seen young people pierce their nose, ears, lips, and tongues.

I remember Gladys McClain telling me that when she was a principle at a middle school in our area, she would stand at the front door every morning, and if a kid came in wearing an offensive t-shirt, or a clothing style that was too revealing, she would send them home to change clothes. I wish we had more school administrators like Gladys. I bet those kids she sent home look back now and are thankful for her intervention in their lives. Just like me a day dawned when THEY cringed to remember at all the weird things they wore to fit in, to be like everyone else.

I mention this because this week in chapter 10 of The Story we read about a time when the Israelite people acted like immature, foolish, adolescents in that they wanted to “fit in.” They wanted to be like all the other kingdoms even if doing so was offensive to their Heavenly Father.

Before we go any further, let’s do a quick review of the historical setting of this chapter. When we began this past week’s reading it was the end of the period of the judges. Remember? During this sad period in their history, the Israelites had gone through repeated cycles. They would rebel against God and this would lead to their being oppressed by the pagan people around them: people like the Moabites, and Canaanites and Midianites, and Philistines. That oppression would motivate the people to repent and to cry out to God for help. He would respond by sending them help in the form of a judge who would deliver them, judges like Deborah and Gideon and Samson. Things would be good for a while but then once again the Israelites would rebel against God and His loving law, and as a result would be oppressed by another pagan people group, and so on.

The period of the judges was made up of SIX of these cycles but as I said, in this past week’s reading we have come to the END of that, when a man named Samuel came on the scene. Gene Appel of Willow Creek calls him, “…the last of the judges and the first of the prophets” and that’s a good way to put it. We learned this week that Samuel’s mother, Hannah, was married to a man who had two wives and understand, God did not condone polygamy. He didn’t honor it. But the people did it anyway and we are able to read about it because in His Book, God doesn’t whitewash His heroes. No. He tells it like it is.

Well, unlike her “sister wife” Hannah was barren. She had no children, and I think her womb was symbolic of the spiritual state of Israel during this time. I say this because the people to whom God had been faithful over and over and over again, at this point these people had declined into a state of spiritual barrenness and moral infertility. It was a time of violence and corruption and anarchy. It was a time when everyone did what was right in their own eyes regardless of God’s clear teaching. I can’t help but see the similarity to our own country today, a nation where this past week three states legalized same-sex marriage, where others legalized marijuana use, and where our own state expanded legalized gambling. I don’t know about you but I grieve over the sad state of the U.S. and I encourage you to join me in praying for our nation and it’s leaders. Pray that people will come to their senses and turn back to God for guidance.

Well, Hannah prayed, and asked God for a child and in response God touched her womb and she gave birth to Samuel. Out of gratitude and worship she gave Samuel back to the Lord. She took him to Eli, the priest, to be raised in his household. Remember? Every year she would take him a new robe that she had lovingly made for her son. Now, Eli had two sons of his own named Hophni and Phinehas and they were very wicked. They used the priesthood for their own gain and were known to use violence if necessary to steal from the people. but then once again the Israelites would rebel against God adn God for help. He would send them a judge to deliver them. Hophni and his brother even slept with the women who served at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting. What’s worse is the fact that their father Eli knew all this but did nothing. He didn’t punish them for their spiritual abuse. He didn’t remove them from office. He just looked the other way. He apparently didn’t want to deal with his sons. He lacked the courage to do so and because of this, the priesthood was eventually taken away from him and given to Samuel.

During this sad, barren time Israel was attacked twice by the Philistines and in the second attack the Philistines were able to steal the Ark of the Covenant. God allowed this to happen because of the Hebrews’ widespread disobedience and because of corrupt leaders like Hophni and Phineahas. Many years passed. Samuel grew old and unfortunately he followed in his mentor’s footsteps. Like Eli, Samuel was not a very good parent. He was a great prophet but not a great father. As an aside I have to say, men, we can’t make this mistake. Our first responsibility is to our family. We must strive to be Godly fathers to our sons and daughters. This is more important than anything, more important than our careers, even if that career is behind a pulpit like this one! If you and I fail in our calling to be a parent other successes don’t really matter.

Well, as I said, because of his poor parenting, Samuel’s sons were just as bad as Eli’s and when time came for them to take over for their dad as prophet and judge the people said, “No!” And it wasn’t just the fact that his sons had a bad reputation. The people were tired of following God’s judges and demanded a king just like all the nations around them. Let’s pick the story up at this point. Follow along as I read 1st Samuel 8:1-22.

You know, sometimes when our kids are rebellious and demanding, the best parental tactic to take is to simply give them what they want. There are times when the only way kids will learn is the hard way, by experience. They’ve gone beyond the point where they would listen to our guidance. They don’t think we know what we are talking about. And in times like these wise parents let their kids have their way and learn for themselves in the school of hard knocks. I remember when I was a kid one time my dad caught my two younger brothers, Jon and Matt, in the basement of our house smoking a cigar. They had found a six pack of these little cigars somewhere and were trying one and my dad found out because you cannot hide the smell of cigar smoke. I’m not sure why I was not involved but I’m glad I wasn’t because dad “gave” my brothers what they wanted. He “let” them, MADE them, smoke every cigar in that pack. They were so sick. But dad’s tactic worked because neither one of them have ever touched tobacco in any form since. And seeing how green their faces were motivated me to steer clear of that stuff myself!

Well, in essence this is what God did at this point in Hebrew history. The people demanded a king because they didn’t believe God’s leadership was good enough. Plus, they wanted to be like all the other surrounding kingdoms. Samuel warned them what having a king would cost them. He laid it all out very clearly but they still whined for one. So God said to Samuel, “Okay, get them a king.” He knew it was not best for them, but He also knew they wouldn’t learn in any other way.

God still uses that parental tactic with you and me. When we refuse to heed His loving warnings sometimes He says “YES” to our self-centered prayers, prayers like, “Lord, please make me successful. I want a larger salary. I want a home as nice as my friend’s. I want a nicer car and a corner office.” And God says, “OK.” But then we get so much success that we forget everything else and in our heart of hearts we would love to go back to those days when life was simpler and we had time for our kids, and we could get a good night’s sleep. I once heard someone say, “Which would you rather be; rich and depressed, or poor and happy?” Honestly, if the truth were known, many of us might reply, “Could I be moderately wealthy and moderately depressed?” Just kidding!

Well, Israel wanted a king. So God gave them one. God directed Samuel to a man named Saul, a man who as Frazee puts it, “…clearly had kingly potential.” Saul was a good looking guy, plus he was a head taller than anyone else in Israel. In short, Saul looked very presidential. So, Samuel anointed Saul as king and then sent him off on a spiritual retreat to prepare him to be the first man to live in the Promised Land’s version of the white house. When Saul got back, Samuel called the nation together and introduced him as their new king.

Now, I need to stop at this point and get political. Don’t worry, I’m not going to tell you who you should have voted for this past week. I’m simply going to tell you, as your pastor, that it doesn’t matter who is president of these United States. It doesn’t matter who serves in the Senate or the House, or even who sits in a Supreme Court seat. You see, our elected officials, no matter what their political party, no matter what their credentials or what they promise, our elected officials will never be able to fix this nation; not really, because the only way to fix our problems is for individuals to repent of their sins and ask God to rule their hearts and lives. In essence, the only way to make things right is for each person to go back to the time before the time of kings and presidents, and to ask God to rule. Government won’t change this country, this culture. That kind of change will only happen when hearts change and the only way to change a heart is to have Jesus Christ come into that person’s life as Savior and LORD.

Sorry about getting “political” but what I have said is a fact, a fact that should motivate us to get serious about evangelism. In essence it’s OUR job, not the president’s, it’s OUR job to change our culture for the better because we are the ones God has tasked with telling friends, neighbors, co-workers, family members, people who come to the ROC, it’s our job to tell everyone we can the story of Jesus and why He came.

Well, in spite of Samuel’s warning the people affirmed Saul as king, and as I said, he looked good and he also DID good, in the beginning. As Frazee puts it at first, “Saul stood tall—but soon he fell hard.” In his book, Mark These Men, J. Sidlow Baxter describes Saul in this way:

Saul, the first king of Israel, is one of the most striking and tragic figures in the Old Testament…In some ways he is very big and in others very little. In some ways he is commandingly handsome, and in others decidedly ugly. All in one he is a giant and a dwarf, a hero and a renegade, a king and a slave, a prophet and a reprobate, a man God-anointed and a man Satan-possessed. He began so promisingly, yet deteriorated so dismally, and ended so ignominiously as to make the downgrade process which ruined him monumental forever afterward to all who would read, mark, and learn.

Well, what can WE “mark and learn” from King Saul’s tragic life as we READ this chapter of The Story? Let me put it another way: What qualities were missing from Saul’s life that if he had them, would have made him a great king? I think it’s good for us to seek to answer this question because these same qualities make us better Christ-followers, so what was Saul lacking?

I. First, Saul lacked PATIENCE.

As I said, when he became king, at first things went well. He won a decisive victory against the Ammonites that was his greatest moment as Israel’s chief executive. Things looked good at that point. Saul’s approval rating was 100%, but then trouble started as the Philistines once again reared their ugly heads. 1st Samuel 13:5 says, “The Philistines assembled to fight Israel with 3,000 chariots, 6,000 charioteers…and soldiers as numerous as the sand on the seashore.”

Now, understand, the Philistines were a major world power and the Hebrews weren’t. In comparison it would be like the Dominican Republic going up against the United States. So, things looked bad, very bad. The Bible tells us that, “When the Israelites saw that their situation was critical and that their army was hard-pressed they hid in caves and thickets among the rocks and in pits and cisterns.”

In addition to their numerical advantage, another reason people literally ran for the hills is because the Philistines had a serious technological edge. 1st Samuel 13:9 says “Not a blacksmith could be found in the whole of Israel, because the Philistines had said, ‘Otherwise the Hebrew would make swords or spears!’” So, the enemy had a monopoly on iron technology. The Israelites had to go down to the Philistines to even get their tools sharpened. Verse 22 says, “So on the day of the battle not a soldier with Saul and Jonathan had a sword or spear in his hand; only Saul and his son Jonathan had them.” Make sure you understand, there were only two swords and two spears in the whole army of Israel. I guess everyone else had just farm tools and clubs and such, and they were going up against the Philistines who had 3,000 chariots, charioteers and soldiers numerous as sand on the sea shore. Well, with their military might the Philistines almost cut the nation of Israel in two. They took back territory from the Mediterranean Sea all the way to Jericho.

This helps us understand why the Bible tells us that at this point the Israelite troops with Saul were quaking with fear. Samuel told him to take the army to Gilgal, and to WAIT there for seven days. And Samuel was very clear on this. In chapter 10 he said, “Listen carefully Saul, I want you to go to Gilgal and WAIT seven days. I will come and offer a sacrifice and instruct you on what God wants you to do.” To paraphrase, their conversation went like this: “Saul, your job is to go to Gilgal WAIT—nothing else just WAIT. Got it?” And Saul says, “Yeah….go to Gilgal and wait. Check.” Well, Saul went and six days passed and no Samuel. When the seventh day dawned, Saul decided he wasn’t coming at all. Plus, in those six days things had gone from bad to worse. Soldiers had deserted left and right, morale was bad and in spite of the fact that during this difficult time Saul had one job to do; wait, he didn’t do it. No, he disobeyed God and offered the sacrifice on his own. He was too impatient to trust God’s timetable. He couldn’t wait even a few more hours. I mean, God was going to deliver His people. He had been doing that for generations. Saul would have heard those historical stories. So, all he had to do was wait for God to do His thing. But he didn’t do that. Before the end of the 7th day, he performed the sacrifice himself, something only the priest was to do.

But, before we get too judgmental with Saul at this point, let me ask. Has anyone here ever gotten impatient? Patience is a fruit of the Spirit, have any of you ever quenched the Spirit from growing that “fruit” in your life? Anybody here ever got tired of waiting for God’s timing and did something stupid? I know I have! And, I don’t know about you, but looking back on those times is another thing that makes me cringe with embarrassment and shame. In those times I wish I had waited on my Heavenly Father!

Charles Swindoll tells the story of a young man who farmed a little piece of land with his dad.

Several times a year father and son would load up an old ox-drawn cart with vegetables and go into the nearest city to sell their produce. Now, other than their name and the patch of ground, father and son had little in common. The old man believed in taking it easy. The boy was usually in a hurry, more of the go-getter type. One morning very early, they hitched up the ox to the loaded cart and started on the long journey. The son figured if they walked faster, kept going all day and night, they’d make market by early the next morning. So he kept prodding the ox with a stick, urging the beast to go faster. When he did this his father said, “Take it easy, son, you’ll live longer.” The son argued, “But if we get to the market ahead of the others, we’ll have a better chance of getting good prices.” Four hours and four miles down the road they came to a little house. The father smiled and said, “Here’s your uncle’s place. Let’s stop in and say hello.” “But we’ve lost an hour already!” complained the hot-shot know-it-all son. The father answered slowly, patiently, “Then a few more minutes won’t matter. My brother and I live so close, yet we see each other so seldom.” The boy fidgeted and fumed while the two old men laughed and talked away an hour. Then when they were finally on the move again, the man took his turn leading the ox. As they approached a fork in the road, the father led the ox to the right. “The left is the shorter way,” said the son. “I know,” replied the old man, “But this way is much prettier.” “Have you no respect for time?” the young man shouted. “Oh I respect it very much!” his father said, “That’s why I like to use it to look at beauty and enjoy each moment to the fullest.” The winding path led through graceful meadows, wild flowers, and along a rippling stream—all of which the young man missed as he churned within, boiling with anxiety. He didn’t even notice how lovely the sunset was that day. Twilight found them in what looked like a huge, colorful garden. The old man breathed in the aroma, listened to the babbling brook, and pulled the ox to a halt. “Let’s sleep here,” he sighed. “This is the last trip I am taking with you!” snapped the son. “You are more interested in watching sunsets and smelling flowers than making money!” “Why, that’s the nicest thing you’ve said to me in a long time,” smiled the dad. A couple of minutes later he was snoring as his boy glared back at the stars. The night dragged on slowly, the son was restless. Before sunrise the young man shook his father awake. They hitched up and went on. About a mile down the road they happened upon another farmer, a total stranger, trying to pull his cart out of a ditch. “Let’s give him a hand,” whispered the old man. “And lose more time?” the boy exploded. “Relax son. You might be in a ditch yourself sometime. We need to help others in need, don’t forget that.” The boy looked away in anger. It was almost eight o’clock that morning by the time the other cart was back on the road. Suddenly, a great flash split the sky. What sounded like thunder followed. Beyond the hills, the sky grew dark. “Looks like a big rain in the city,” said the old man. “If we had hurried, we’d be almost sold out by now” grumbled the son. “Take it easy, you’ll last longer and enjoy life so much more” counseled the kind old gentleman. It was late afternoon by the time they got to the hill overlooking the big city. They stopped and stared down at it for a long, long time. Neither of them said a word. Finally, the young man put his hand on his father’s shoulder and said, “I see what you mean, dad.” Then they turned their cart around and began to roll slowly away from what had once been the great City of Hiroshima, now a radioactive wasteland.

I love this story because it convicts me of those times when I have been lacking in patience, times when I did not trust God’s timing, times when I ignored the leading of His Spirit. I hurriedly went in the way that seemed right to me, but it ended in destruction. I fell flat on my face because I didn’t wait on my Heavenly Father. I forgot that as Isaiah 40:31 says, “Those who wait on the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”

Well, Saul was like me, like many of us. He got “antsy” but instead of bringing his anxiety to God, he became impatient and disobeyed God’s clear instructions. He proudly thought, “I’m THE KING and THE KING trumps a priest…” so he offered the sacrifice himself and then Samuel showed up at the end of the seventh day and said, “Saul, what have you done?” Now, at this point Saul made a second mistake. Instead of acknowledging what he did and repenting , Saul said, “Samuel, when I saw that the men were scattering and that the Philistines were getting ready to attack and that you didn’t come at the set time…I performed the sacrifice…so it’s kind of your fault actually.” He blamed Samuel, but there’s more to it than that. Saul said, “I thought, the Philistines will attack…and I have not sought the Lord’s favor so I felt compelled to offer the burnt offering.”

Did you catch that phrase, “...sought the Lord’s favor?” The Hebrew phrase that Saul uses literally means, “I have not put God in a gentle mood.” That’s Saul’s picture of God. He saw God as somebody that he could manipulate or try to control or get into a gentle mood, so that God would do what Saul wanted Him to do. He didn’t see God as the RULER. He didn’t see God as His superior, more of the other way around. He acted like he thought, “I’m THE KING and the king trumps God! The king gets God to do what he wants Him to do…not the other way around.” Well, Samuel says, “You’ve acted foolishly. You’ve disobeyed the command of the Lord.” And by the way, ignoring God’s clear teaching, disobeying God, is always a foolish thing to do. Always.

1st Samuel 13:14 (page 116 of The Story) gives us Samuel’s response. He says to Saul, “Now your kingdom will NOT endure; the Lord has sought out a man after His own heart and appointed him ruler of His people because you have not kept the Lord’s command.” This is a reference to David, who would eventually take Saul’s kingdom from him, but I get ahead of myself. That’s next week’s chapter from The Story. Well, in spite of the odds against the Philistines and in spite of Saul’s disobedience, through his son Jonathan’s faith, God gave a great victory and delivered Israel from the Philistines.

The next challenge to Saul’s administration came in the form of the Amalekites, and in his behavior during this challenge Saul highlights the fact that he was missing another important character trait as a ruler; something we’ve already seen absent in his behavior, and I’m referring to:

II. Saul Lacked HUMILITY.

And to fully understand this part of Saul’s story we need to back up so I can remind you that several hundred years earlier, the Amalekites had ambushed the Israelites as they were fleeing from Egypt, and God had told Moses to write down these words: “I will completely blot out the name of Amalek from under Heaven.” (Exodus 17:14) So when the Amalekites threatened, God gave Saul very clear instructions. He was to attack them and completely take them out.

He was to take no prisoners, nor was he to take anything that belongs to these people. This battle was to be an act of judgment from God upon the Amalekites. They had been involved in tremendous violence, tremendous wickedness against Israel. They were to be executed, and their possessions were to be utterly destroyed. No one from Israel was to profit from this battle. In short there was nothing complex about Saul’s instructions. There was no way he could have misunderstood. Destroy it all. But Saul could not resist making some changes in his orders. After all, the enemy king would be a great trophy, so Saul spared his life and plundered his flocks to boot. Saul, clearly, deliberately disobeyed God. And the implication is that he did it and his men did it for personal profit. They saved the best for themselves.

Well, Samuel went to meet Saul after the battle. Saul knew he’d done wrong and the minute he saw Samuel approaching he knew Samuel knew, and Saul knew what was coming but how did he respond? Well, did you ever seen a kid who knows he’s done wrong but hopes to get away with it by acting like a picture of innocence and virtue, sort of the “Eddie Haskel technique?”

Well, that’s how Saul behaved. He had disobeyed God and he knew it. He had been caught with his hand in the cookie jar. Saul knew what Samuel was about to say so Saul said, “The Lord bless you! I have carried out the Lord’s instructions! We sure do love the Lord don’t we Samuel!?” This is a paraphrase but Saul uses all the right spiritual kind of language. He lays it on thick. Well, Samuel is old, but not that old. His hearing was still very good and he said, “If you carried out the Lord’s instructions, what then is this bleating of sheep in my ears? What’s this lowing of cattle that I hear? Where’d these cows come from, the Ponderosa?” Saul says, “Oh—THOSE cows. The soldiers brought them from the Amalekites. It wasn’t my idea. The soldiers did it, and they spared the best of the sheep and cattle to sacrifice to the Lord your God.”

Notice Saul’s wording. He says, “They spared these livestock to sacrifice…not just to the Lord but to the Lord YOUR God Samuel. You should be happy.” Then he adds, “We TOTALLY destroyed the rest. We didn’t just destroy the rest. We TOTALLY destroyed the rest.” At this point Samuel says one word.

"STOP!" Saul, do you not understand what’s at stake here? Don’t you see what you are doing? You’re just trying to spin the truth. And every word you are saying is doing more damage. Saul, don’t you remember that God sent His Spirit to be with you and God’s Spirit is a Spirit of TRUTH?!

But Saul wouldn’t stop. In verse 20 he said, “But I did obey the lord. I went on the mission God called me to.” And then Samuel speaks truly great words; profound words, words you and I should heed. He says, "Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the Lord? To obey is better than sacrifice and to heed is better than the fat of rams."

Saul was king, but good kings, great rulers are humble and Saul wasn’t. He was too full of pride to obey God. As I inferred earlier, he forgot Who was ruling who.


Listen friends. God is most concerned with our hearts, so more than He wants sacrifice, more than He wants church attendance, He wants an obedient heart. More than He wants us to LOOK good, He wants us to BE good. He wants us to humble ourselves before Him and OBEY His clear teaching. I forget where I heard this but someone once said that obedience is God’s love language and that’s true. As Jesus said in John 14:15, “If you love Me you will obey what I command.” The Bible tells us that because of his prideful actions God’s Spirit left Saul. This is because, as Lucado puts it, “When you’re full of yourself, God can’t fill you.” But, when we embrace humility. When we “empty” ourselves of self, we become a vessel that is useful to God.

You know, all great presidents and kings realize they are not really leaders. They are followers. God is the Ruler so they humble themselves and obey His will. And all great Christians do the same. They humble obey God as RULER of their hearts and lives.

I wonder, is there an area in your life where you need to HUMBLE yourself in obedience to God? It could have something to do with your marriage. Perhaps you feel like quitting but you know how God feels about that. You know the covenant you made with Him and your spouse. Maybe it has to do with your career. Some ethical issue has arisen and it’s easy for you to just go with the unethical flow, but God has commanded otherwise. Perhaps it has to do with that horrible “T” word that people hate to hear their pastors utter, the word “TITHE.” You know what God says about TITHING, but you think you know better how to handle your finances.

Listen, ALL of God’s commands are for our good. He knows about our situation, whatever it may be, better than we do, so it makes SENSE to obey Him, but in the end; in the end, we must obey Him not because it makes sense but because He is God and we are not.

Let us pray.

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