I Samuel 15.17 - "Though you are little in your own eyes." (Samuel speaking to Saul)
This summer I've been preaching through the life of Samuel. Along the way Samuel begins to interact with Saul. Saul will become the first acclaimed king of the growing nation of Israel. Ask most people today about the Kings of Israel and they'll talk about David, Solomon, some of the others who were good or rascals, but few will remember Saul.
Saul was the first, chosen by God when the people made a request for a King. He is introduced to the world as one who is head and shoulders taller than the rest of Israel, a mighty man. Yet, Saul is little in his own eyes. He doesn't believe in his own mind that he's much of anything. Because he believes this way about himself, he leads a pensive and petulant life as king.
Saul expresses this thought at his first meeting with Samuel. In 9.21 he says, "I am only a Benjamite, from the least of the tribes of Israel and my family is the humblest of the tribes." He emphasizes the size, from the least tribes, from the humblest family. Though he is physically taller than most, he describes himself as small, as insignificant. In reality, he isn't. When David is drawn from the field he is literally insignificant, so insignificant that his father won't bring him before Samuel until Samuel insists that he be brought in.
Saul has other places in his heart and mind where there are things that build a case, a wrong case to be sure, that he is a personality that is less than what he ought to be.
In chapter 9 he gets in trouble with Samuel because he initiates a sacrifice without the presence of Samuel. While he has been commissioned to be King, he wasn't given the task of sacrifice or leading the people in worship. A football analogy is this, he's been hired as the coach, but not the general manager. Because he's not both, he begins to sense that he's incapable, incapable in spiritual matters.
The prelude to his sacrifice was the leaving of soldiers. They had gathered for preparation for war but with Samuel long in coming they began to seep away. Saul couldn't keep them focused, he lacked personal magnetism to keep the army intact. When you are tapped to be a leader and find a deficiency in magnetism, what are you to resort to? Most likely either resignation or force. But deep down, there's despair. Saul, I believe, broods on despair. He'd love to resign. But can't. Before long he'll be utilizing the tools of force.
In chapter 13 Saul's army is described as being about 600 in number and having only a sword and spear for his son and himself. Furthermore, the technology to create weapons is not found in Israel. Their enemies have it, but aren't willing to share.
Then there's a story of the army in a stand off with the Philistines. Jonathan, Saul's son gets tired of sitting around and says to his shield bearer, let's go on a reconnaissance mission. Their action puts fear into the Philistines and they begin to flee. Saul should be happy, but this action by Jonathan reveals a lack of courage on his part. Instead of cheering the victory, he become demanding, wanting satisfaction.
From lack of courage flows a tongue that speaks to early, which will demand things of God at a very quick pace, and finally there is the revelation that in his heart he lacks complete obedience and trust in God.
Saul's list of shortcomings can be stacked up like this. He lacked:
1)Appropriate family and tribal credentials
2) Appropriate Spiritual resources
3) a strength of character that would draw people to himself
4) Real resources; people, armor, technology
6)Timing and a wise tongue
7) Complete Obedience to God
Most of the outside observers seldom saw these deficiencies in Saul. They saw one as Samuel did, who was tall, mighty and handsome. They saw one who went off to battle, won and inspired others to write songs enshrining his victories . They saw one who prophesied, because God had given him His Holy Spirit. They saw a man on a mission, who had the backing of the people, the support of the oppressed whom he liberated, and the helpful resources of the sages personified in Samuel.
Saul and those around him saw two very different people, two very different tracks. What he saw wasn't the fullness of reality, nor did the people around him see with crystal clarity. However, they saw more clearly what could be if Saul would walk with the Lord, look at life through graced eyes.
As I reflect on Saul's life, on how he perceives himself and how others see him, I have to confess that in my darker days, I follow his lead. I'm bent toward tallying up my weaknesses, listing my foibles.
Samuel's word to him in chapter 15 are meant to sting Saul, like cold water to one who is asleep. Wake up. His words sting me. Instead of the list of weaknesses, the challenge is to begin developing a list of God's grace, of God's mercy, of God's grace, so that the people and things to whom I owe a responsibility may be well served, so that they may in fact receive the gifts of the Good Shepherd.