Summary: Saul did it his way because he was filled with pride, was controlled by impulse, and driven by rebellion.
Patrick O’Boyle tells about an incident in Hyde Park, a large public park in London, England, famous for its soapbox orators. He recalls one particular day, back in the 1940’s, when Frank Sheed, a Christian author and publisher was addressing the crowd in the “Speakers’ Corner.” He writes: “Sheed could be devastating with hecklers. Once, after he had described the extraordinary order and design to be seen in the universe, a persistent challenger retorted by pointing to all the world’s ills, and ended by shouting, ‘I could make a better universe than your God!’ ‘I won’t ask you to make a universe,’ Sheed replied. ‘But would you make a rabbit — just to establish confidence?’”
Pride leads people to believe that they could do things better than God, if only given the chance. They question God and criticize the world he has made and the way he has made it. Like the heckler in the story, they believe that they could create a universe better than God. Of course they could not even make a rabbit, but they like to think they could do a better job with the universe than God. It would be interesting to start with the universe, and then let these people just be in charge for a short while to actually see how well they would do. We get some idea of how well this would work by looking at the lives of people who had a little taste of being in charge of the world by being world leaders — Stalin, Hitler, Mao Tse-tung, Henry VIII, and the list could go on. We get no clearer picture of this than the life of Saul, Israel’s first King. In spite of all that God did for him, he never really was willing to do things God’s way.
The first thing I would like to point out about Saul is that he did it his way because: He was filled with pride instead of dependent humility. Actually, Saul had very humble beginnings, but God saw future potential in his life and chose him to be king. In the beginning of the story of Saul, we realize that the thought of becoming the king of Israel was the farthest thing from his mind. When Samuel the prophet came to Saul and said, “To whom is all the desire of Israel turned, if not to you and all your father’s family?” Saul answered, “But am I not a Benjamite, from the smallest tribe of Israel, and is not my clan the least of all the clans of the tribe of Benjamin? Why do you say such a thing to me?” (1 Samuel 9:20-21). He was incredulous that God would seek him out to be the king of Israel. He thought of himself as a person of no importance in the life of the country. Even when Samuel gathered all the people together to select their first king and anoint him, Saul hid so that no one could find him. Being king was not an office he was seeking. He in effect said, “If nominated I will not run, if elected I will not serve.” But when the people discovered his whereabouts and brought him to Samuel, they noticed his fine appearance. The Bible tells about it with these words: “They ran and brought him out, and as he stood among the people he was a head taller than any of the others. Samuel said to all the people, ‘Do you see the man the Lord has chosen? There is no one like him among all the people.’ Then the people shouted, ‘Long live the king!’” (1 Samuel 10:23-24). It sounded strange at first, but then he began to like the sound of it. He started believing what everyone was saying about how great he was. The mantle of king not only started to feel comfortable, it seemed as though it should have always been there. He was one of the beautiful people, one of the admired, and he liked it. Slowly he became impressed with himself.
At the ceremony where Saul was anointed, there was a group of men who were not so impressed with him. The Bible says, “But some troublemakers said, ‘How can this fellow save us?’ They despised him and brought him no gifts. But Saul kept silent” (1 Samuel 10:27). He could have ordered them executed, but he did not say anything to them at all. And after his first military victory over the Ammonites, the people brought the men who had spoken against him and wanted to put them to death. But Saul said, “No one shall be put to death today, for this day the Lord has rescued Israel” (1 Samuel 11:13).
It was a sign of his initial humble greatness. But things began to turn quickly. It was not the people who were against Saul who caused him concern, it was those who were for him. A young upstart named David became an overnight sensation after killing a Philistine giant in battle, and Saul began plotting how he could kill him. Saul could handle his enemies, but he could not stand the success of his friends. David was getting into the spotlight. After the army of Israel came home from battle, the women began to dance and sing: “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands” (1 Samuel 18:7). Then the Bible says, “Saul was very angry; this refrain galled him. ‘They have credited David with tens of thousands,’ he thought, ‘but me with only thousands. What more can he get but the kingdom?’ And from that time on Saul kept a jealous eye on David” (1 Samuel 18:8-9). His jealousy was the natural product of his pride.