1 Samuel 15:1-35; 17:1-58
As with all good stories, the early scenes set the stage for what is to come. In these two chapters we get to peek into the heart of the two main characters in this drama. On the one hand we see Saul, the current king of Israel. On the other hand we see David; a simple shepherd boy who will one day be king. By placing these two stories side by side we can see how the trajectories of each man’s journey has been set.
The heart of the matter is just that…the heart. Later on, David would write the words of Psalm 42:1, “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” In these two stories we see that what was in the heart of each man is what overflowed and set their destinies.
In chapter 15 we see that Saul’s heart was filled with himself. Previously, back in chapter 13, we saw that Saul had a hard time following directions. In that chapter he became impatient with Samuel and made the sacrifice for the battle by himself, thus violating God’s Law. In this chapter we see Saul thinking that he didn’t have to obey God’s instructions exactly. God had told him to completely wipe out the Amalekites (cleaning up after Joshua’s unfinished business). Instead, Saul saved the really good stuff.
Saul made two fatal mistakes:
1. He did a right thing for the wrong reasons. Saul claimed that he saved the best of the booty so that he could sacrifice it to God. That sounds really spiritual. After all, didn’t God demand that the Israelites bring the first fruits of everything to God? Wasn’t it noble of Saul to think about God in that way? No. It wasn’t. It was disobedient.
Many times we can do things that seem really “good,” but the reasons we are doing them are very distorted. If we do “good” things so that others will notice and recognize how spiritual or holy we are, then we have just made that good thing into a sinful thing. Samuel summarized very well how God feels about this in vv. 22 when he said, “to obey is better than sacrifice.”
2. He shifted blame when he was caught. Saul got caught in our society’s favorite pastime: the Blame Game. Truly, the passing of the buck is one of the most fundamental elements of the sinful human nature. It is the first effect that disobedience had on human nature. When Adam was accused of eating the forbidden fruit, the first thing he did was point a big, fat finger at “the woman you gave me.” Not only was he blaming Eve, he was blaming God for giving the temptress to him!
Isn’t that the logic we use all the time? “If you hadn’t invited me out to dinner, I would have never ordered that gigantic dessert and eaten it all myself.” “If you hadn’t sold me the gun, I would have never shot that guy.” “It’s your fault I burned myself; you didn’t tell me the coffee was hot!”
It is one thing to commit a sin. It is a far worse offense to deny the sin and try to shift the blame. Had Saul simply humbled himself, admitted that he had messed up, and asked God to forgive him, then perhaps things would have been different. Notice that at the end of the chapter he does try to repent. God did not believe him, however, because Saul was not sorry that he had disobeyed. He was sorry that he was going to lose the throne. There is a big difference.
When the young shepherd boy steps into the picture we see a very different situation. In chapter 17 we read one of the most famous stories of all time. A young teenage shepherd, armed only with a slingshot, brings down the best fighting machine that the Philistines had to offer.
Why was David able to defeat this giant? What made David different than Saul?
1. He had proper humility. Humility is a very misunderstood word. When you read David’s words in vv.24-37 it appears that he is a cocky little guy. “I killed the bear, and I killed the lion. Look how great I am!” But wait a minute. Is that really what he said? Yes, David did say, “I killed the lion and the bear,” but he finished by saying, “the Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.” Humility is not saying that you can’t do anything. Humility is being bold enough to speak truthfully about the gifts that God has given you, giving credit to Him, and not being afraid to use them.
2. He knew the source of his strength. The key to David’s success was his authentic proclamation, “I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty!” The key to a successful life in the Kingdom of God is to always remember that your heart is a conduit for God’s work to be done. As soon as you think you have the strength and ability to do what you think is right, then you will become like Saul and get hardening of the spiritual arteries, a blockage, and have a spiritual cardiac arrest. We must always have David’s attitude and remember that the battle is God’s. If God has truly asked you to do something, then you need to do it, keep your heart open, and let God do His mighty work through you.
Throughout the rest of this week we will see that David’s heart continues to grow for God and Saul’s heart continues to shrivel. As you read through the daily readings, keep a mental (or even an actual) comparison chart between Saul and David. Ask yourself, “what made David a man after God’s own heart (1 Samuel 13:14)?”