Principles of Leadership(4)
I continue this random series of leadership essays with some reflections on why Saul failed as king of Israel. I believe the key comes from understanding how Saul moved from being like this:
Thus Samuel brought all the tribes of Israel near, and the tribe of Benjamin was taken by lot. Then he brought the tribe of Benjamin near by its families, and the Matrite family was taken. And Saul the son of Kish was taken; but when they looked for him, he could not be found. Therefore they inquired further of the Lord, “Has the man come here yet?” So the Lord said, “Behold, he is hiding himself by the baggage.” So they ran and took him from there, and when he stood among the people, he was taller than any of the people from his shoulders upward. Samuel said to all the people, “Do you see him whom the Lord has chosen? Surely there is no one like him among all the people.” So all the people shouted and said, “Long live the king!” (1 Samuel 10:20-24)
Then the word of the Lord came to Samuel, saying, “I regret that I have made Saul king, for he has turned back from following Me and has not carried out My commands.” And Samuel was distressed and cried out to the Lord all night.
Samuel rose early in the morning to meet Saul; and it was told Samuel, saying, “Saul came to Carmel, and behold, he set up a monument for himself, then turned and proceeded on down to Gilgal.” Samuel came to Saul, and Saul said to him, “Blessed are you of the Lord! I have carried out the command of the Lord.”
But Samuel said, “What then is this bleating of the sheep in my ears, and the lowing of the oxen which I hear?”
Saul said, “They have brought them from the Amalekites, for the people spared the best of the sheep and oxen, to sacrifice to the Lord your God; but the rest we have utterly destroyed.” Then Samuel said to Saul, “Wait, and let me tell you what the Lord said to me last night.” And he said to him, “Speak!”
Samuel said, “Is it not true, though you were little in your own eyes, you were made the head of the tribes of Israel? And the Lord anointed you king over Israel, and the Lord sent you on a mission, and said, ‘Go and utterly destroy the sinners, the Amalekites, and fight against them until they are exterminated.’ Why then did you not obey the voice of the Lord, but rushed upon the spoil and did what was evil in the sight of the Lord?” (1 Samuel 15:10-19)
Notice the connection between "hiding himself by the baggage" and "though you were little in your own eyes." Perhaps there are clues in some earlier situations.
- 1 Samuel 13 is the account of Saul's first crisis as king. He is outnumbered 10 to 1 by the Philistines. His soldiers are fearful and leaving. Saul feels that an offering to the Lord and seeking his face would help the situation, but Samuel is late. This was a test of Saul's faith. He was to remember how the Lord delivered another large army to Gideon with only 300 men. Saul, choked with his own fear, assembled the men and offered the sacrifice himself.
- 1 Samuel 14 is the account of an oath that Saul put upon his army
Now the men of Israel were hard-pressed on that day, for Saul had put the people under oath, saying, “Cursed be the man who eats food before evening, and until I have avenged myself on my enemies.” So none of the people tasted food. (1 Samuel 14:24)
If 1 Samuel 13 shows a disrespect for the Lord, 1 Samuel 14 shows a disrespect for the people who serve him. These few soldiers have just had a great victory, but Saul refuses to allow them food to regain their strength. At one point in the march, they passed a source of honey, but no one ate except Saul's son Jonathan who had not heard the oath. This created a two-fold disaster.
The first disaster resulted from the desperate hunger of the people:
They struck among the Philistines that day from Michmash to Aijalon. And the people were very weary. The people rushed greedily upon the spoil, and took sheep and oxen and calves, and slew them on the ground; and the people ate them with the blood.
Then they told Saul, saying, “Behold, the people are sinning against the Lord by eating with the blood.” And he said, “You have acted treacherously; roll a great stone to me today.”
Saul said, “Disperse yourselves among the people and say to them, ‘Each one of you bring me his ox or his sheep, and slaughter it here and eat; and do not sin against the Lord by eating with the blood.’ ”
So all the people that night brought each one his ox with him and slaughtered it there.
And Saul built an altar to the Lord; it was the first altar that he built to the Lord. (1 Samuel 14:31-35)
By slaying the "animals in the ground" the blood was not properly drained. Saul had led the people into a desperate temptation and they failed. Note the little line that showed Saul building his first altar to the Lord. It shows that he had not really repented from the earlier events of the sacrifice.
The second disaster concerned his son Jonathan:
Then Saul said to Jonathan, “Tell me what you have done.” So Jonathan told him and said, “I indeed tasted a little honey with the end of the staff that was in my hand. Here I am, I must die!”
Saul said, “May God do this to me and more also, for you shall surely die, Jonathan.”
But the people said to Saul, “Must Jonathan die, who has brought about this great deliverance in Israel? Far from it! As the Lord lives, not one hair of his head shall fall to the ground, for he has worked with God this day.”
So the people rescued Jonathan and he did not die. Then Saul went up from pursuing the Philistines, and the Philistines went to their own place. (1 Samuel 14:43-46)
Some have made the argument that the people rescued Jonathan by having another die in his place.
Saul's leadership failed because he did not fear God. From the first essay we learned the importance of this quality in a leader. Saul was an able king. He had successfully defeated the Philistines time after time, but he feared the enemy more than he feared God.
Saul's leadership failed because he did not watch out for the needs of his followers. Saul put hungry soldiers under an oath to fast until Saul's goals were met. This was not from God. It was rather Saul manipulating the situation. He said, in effect, "You are hungry and you are not going to eat until you finish your job." Rather than thank his men for their miraculous victory and providing their needs to carry on the work, he asked for the extra measure.
Proper leadership is sacrificial from the top down. Authority is given to the leader as a tool. Every leader will give an account of his leadership to the Lord. It could be said, the Saul fell into the trap of power, reputation, and prestige. The kingship became about him and not about why the people needed a king.
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