These chapters of 1 Samuel move rapidly from jubilation to humiliation. Saul went from following the direction of the Spirit to being dominated by selfish ambition. Though Israel’s choice of a king brought temporal success, the people of Israel soon discovered that the character of their king was not good enough for God.
Though Israel enjoyed temporal success through Saul’s deliverance of Jabesh-gilead (1 Sam 11:1-11), that success would not last. When the message of the Ammonite invasion reached Saul, “the Spirit of God suddenly took control of him, and his anger burned furiously” (1 Sam 11:6). Saul warned Israel to join him in fighting the Ammonites or face the consequences of his wrath (1 Sam 11:7). Saul was so confident in the Lord and the troops that he instructed messengers, “Tell this to the men of Jabesh-gilead: ‘Deliverance will be yours tomorrow by the time the sun is hot’” (1 Sam 11:9). Israel celebrated their king’s military leadership, and “all the people went to Gilgal, and there in the LORD’s presence they made Saul king. They sacrificed fellowship offerings in the LORD’s presence and Saul and all the men of Israel greatly rejoiced” (1 Sam 11:15).
Yet, in his farewell address in 1 Samuel 12, Samuel reminded Israel that their choice of a human king would result in potential dangers. After reviewing Israel’s history from the time Jacob went to Egypt to the point when Israel asked for a king, Samuel confronted Israel’s motive in wanting a human king to reign over them (1 Sam 12:12). Samuel identified Israel’s motive in wanting a king: not only so that they would “be like all the other nations,” but further so that “our king will…fight our battles” (1 Sam 8:20). Israel wanted a human king because they were afraid. They thought God was no longer up to the task of conquering the remaining kings of Canaan. This line of thinking was so grievous to Samuel and the Lord that the Lord sent a great storm upon the people of Israel so that they would acknowledge their sin and again fear Him (1 Sam 12:16-19).
As Samuel had prophesied, the Lord dismissed Saul from his role as Israel’s king (1 Sam 13-14). Israel thought having a human king would ease their fear of the surrounding nations (1 Sam 8:19-20; 12:12; contra Ps 44:1-8). Even though they had Saul reigning over them, when the Philistines approached for battle, “the men of Israel saw that they were in trouble because the troops were in a difficult situation” (1 Sam 13:6a). Israel’s fear of the Philistines also led Saul to act unfaithfully and as a result his reign would not endure (1 Sam 13:14). Saul’s desire for vengeance, which ultimately cost him the throne, led him to make a rash vow against any of his warriors who ate food that day (1 Sam 14:24). Sadly, “Jonathan had not heard his father make the troops swear the oath” (1 Sam 14:27) and ate some wild honey. In the end, the Israelites recognized that the honey was in fact the means of “God’s help” (1 Sam 14:45) and they spared Jonathan from Saul’s wrath.
When Samuel confronted Saul with the news that he would not endure as king, he said, “You have not kept the command which the LORD your God gave you…The LORD has found a man loyal to Him, and the LORD has appointed him as ruler over His people, because you have not done what the LORD commanded” (1 Sam 13:13-14). In the immediate context, this “loyal man” was David, Jesse’s youngest son (1 Sam 16:11-13). David courageously defeated Goliath (1 Samuel 17) and provided Israel superb military leadership (2 Samuel 8-10//1 Chronicles 18-20). Nonetheless, even David’s reign would be scarred by infidelity (2 Samuel 11) and pride (2 Samuel 24//1 Chronicles 21). In the storyline of Scripture, only Jesus could fulfill the ideal of Israel’s warrior king. From the outset of His ministry, Jesus battled the Devil, the ultimate enemy of not just Israel but all of humanity. Jesus first defeated the Devil by enduring his temptations in the desert (Matt 4:1-11//Mark 1:12-13//Luke 4:1-13). When Jesus headed toward the cross, He announced, “Now the ruler of this world will be cast out” (John 12:31). There Jesus triumphed over the Devil finally and decisively, forgiving the sins of God’s people and removing the Devil’s weaponry of condemnation and death (Heb 2:14-15).