Summary: 2nd in a series on King Saul, "Portrait of a Politician" -- looking at Saul’s failed leadership.

June 29, 2008

Portrait of a Politician

The Arrogant King

1 Samuel 13:5-15

Robert Clinton has studied and written a great deal about leadership. Clinton has come to the conclusion that over 70% of leaders don’t finish well. For Christian leaders, he offers six factors that contribute to leadership failure.

One is, leaders quit learning and growing. Contentment is a killer. In second place is character weakness. Third leaders stop living according to their convictions. The fourth factor is, they stop living and leading for the sake of the long-term and settle for the short-term. Fifth, they forget their influence and purpose. Finally and most critically, leaders who end poorly lose their vibrant relationship with God.

Last time we began a study of an OT leader who not only ended poorly, his whole life and rule are a case study in bad leadership. He was Saul, the first king of Israel. I’ve called his account a “portrait of a politician“. One reason for that is, he lived for his image. When you study the chapters dealing with Saul’s reign you can’t help thinking, this guy was a leader who lived for the “photo-op“. He cared much more about people’s opinion than he did about God’s. Saul also made decisions repeatedly without consulting God.

He was incurably jealous -- his jealousy gushed from his great self-centeredness. And, Saul disobeyed God without hesitation because of a drive to hold on to power.

We started in chapter 8 of 1 Samuel. You remember how the account began: the nation came to the aging prophet Samuel and demanded a king -- mostly, because they wanted to be like other nations. And -- to the prophet’s utter amazement -- God granted their request.

Between that beginning in chapter 8 and where we pick up in chapter 13, Saul was publicly designated as king, by Samuel and by God -- that was in chapters 9 and 10. One of the new king’s first challenges was from the Ammonites, who threatened Jabesh-gilead. God’s Spirit came powerfully on Saul -- he slaughtered a yoke of oxen, and he sent pieces throughout Israel, and threatened he’d do the same to the oxen of anyone who did not come to the defense of their fellow Israelites. That move produced a force of 330,000 troops -- and ended in huge victory for Israel. That’s in chapter 11.

In chapter 12, Samuel again warns God’s people. Notice up in chapter 12 -- there’s a powerful assurance of God’s continued graciousness toward His people. Look for just a minute at 12, verse 20. They’ve already confessed it was evil to ask for a king. And Samuel says, "Do not fear. You have committed all this evil, yet do not turn aside from following the Lord, but serve the Lord with all your heart. You must not turn aside." (1 Samuel 12:20, 21)

Then comes this powerful promise of God’s grace -- "For the Lord will not abandon His people on account of His great name, because the Lord has been pleased to make you a people for Himself." Then -- with intense seriousness -- Samuel reminded them of a Truth Israel was so prone to forget. It won’t be their king, it won’t be their army which will give them security and deliverance from enemies, it will be their God Who will defend them -- as He’s done again and again in their history.

Saul’s predicament

In chapter 13, things get dicey again, for Israel and their new king. We’re going to see, this is a test from God -- it’s an examination over the Truth Samuel just told them.

Saul’s son Jonathan has attacked a Philistine garrison. And the Philistines reacted -- with a massive build-up of force against Israel. As things continue, the situation goes from bad to worse. Verse 5 reports, the Philistines’ army included 30,000 chariots and 6,000 horsemen. There’s no number of foot soldiers, but we find out, it’s huge.

Saul again has to summon Israel to war, even though he’s just sent them home. But there’s a problem: the volunteers this time are few and far between -- and when those who do come see the Philistine hordes their numbers start evaporating. The image of their opponents is in verse 5 -- we’re told the forces were like the sand on the seashore -- it would remind you of one of those massive battle forces in Lord of the Rings.

So naturally, verse 6, when the men of Israel saw that they were in a strait (for the people were hard-pressed), then the people began to hide themselves in caves, in thickets, in cliffs, in cellars and in pits. Some put the river between themselves and the battle front. And the few that were left at the end of verse 7, with Saul at Gilgal followed him with trembling.

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