Vol. 8, No. 1
~ Page 13 ~
Having just received a letter from a beloved brother indicating that he has slipped his anchor from the solid rock of God's revelation to the shifting sands of subjective religion, my thoughts went to some in the Bible who started with such great promise and ended in miserable disgrace. A short study in contrasts may be helpful to give both warning to the unwary and encouragement to the feeble. Paul said, "Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall" (1 Corinthians 10:12).
First, let us look at the story of Saul, the son of Kish, who became the King of Israel. When we first find him, we note that "There was not among the children of Israel a goodlier person than he" (1 Samuel 9:2). He not only had a well-formed and superior physical body, he demonstrated a submissive, thoughtful obedience to his father that should commend him to all persons. He was head and shoulders higher than any of the people, but was not too big to obey his father and show concern for his possible anxiety (1 Samuel 9:3-5).
He was approved of God to be king, but demonstrated honorable humility. Saul was chosen, but "when they sought him, he could not be found. Therefore, they asked Jehovah further, "Is there yet a man to come hither? And Jehovah answered, Behold, he hath hid himself among the baggage" (1 Samuel 10:21-22). He was conscious of his unworthiness, of the insignificance and smallness of the tribe of Benjamin and that of his own family (1 Samuel 9:21). He did not consider himself too good, even after he had been declared king, to go back to tending the herd. But when he heard the battle call against the Ammonites, he demonstrated a courageous willingness to fight on behalf of God's people.
It would be very difficult to find any flaw in Saul up to this point from the record we have of him. Yet, we find him apparently lifting up his heart in pride and self-confidence, resulting in disobedient dereliction of duty.
First, we find him impatiently and faithlessly "forcing himself" and offering a burnt offering when he was supposed to wait for Samuel (1 Samuel 13:11-12). Unbelief and disobedience are always condemned, no matter what excuse we may have for it. God graciously allowed him to continue for a time, apparently giving him a chance to repent and gain a reprieve, but he continued on that downward path.
When God told him to go and utterly destroy Amalek (1 Samuel 15:3), he decided to walk by sight instead of by faith and destroy them on his own terms. He claimed that this was obedience (v. 20), but even the sheep and oxen cried out against him. Then instead of demonstrating true penitence, he admitted he sinned, but blamed it on the people (v. 24).
That does not end his downward path, but indicates the direction he was going and from which there was no return, though there were many opportunities, until the sad suicide recorded in 1 Samuel 31:4-6.
Let us turn now to a consideration of the life of Saul of Tarsus. When we first meet him, he was making havoc of the church, not only committing men and women to prison (Acts 8:3), but persecuting them unto death, giving his voice in testimony against them and assisting and consenting thereto (Acts 8:1). If this were all we knew about him, it would be hard to draw a blacker picture of a man.
Yet, the fact that he had a good conscience and meant to do what was right (Acts 23:1) was the basis for the possibility of a man starting so badly and turning out so well. From the time Jesus appeared to him on the way to Damascus until he died, his attitude was "Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?" He never wavered from that. He never raised the question, "What would be the easiest or most expedient thing?" He never said, "I know God said do it, but the situation is such that I feel I should do something different." This is why Saul of Tarsus could end his life with the statement, "I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith" (2 Timothy 4:7), whereas the other Saul died a wretched death by suicide.
Let us summarize some characteristics of each to see more clearly how some of us can start so well and end in defeat, while others may start so poorly and end in victory. King Saul was humble, but allowed his position or success to make him proud and feel self-sufficient. Paul was sure that he was not a whit behind the very chiefest apostle (2 Corinthians 11:5), yet never forgot that the grace of God was sufficient for him (2 Corinthians 11:9) and that all he was or did was not for his own glory, but for the glory of God.
Whether the first part of your life was like that of Saul of Tarsus or King Saul is not crucial. What is important is that now you make sure that the rest of your life is devoted to knowing what God has said, respecting it enough to neither go beyond it or fall short of it in your reverent obedience to his will.