HUMBLE…OR INSECURE?

saul-nahash

1 SAMUEL #7. 1 Samuel 10:24 – 11:15

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I want to reiterate something that happened at the end of chapter 10, and then we’ll move on to chapter 11. Remember, Samuel anointed Saul as king of Israel when it was just the two of them in private. After being anointed king, Saul went home. As he journeyed back, his anointing was confirmed by several signs that Samuel had given him before hand – things Samuel said would happen, which then came true.

Even so, Saul did not tell anyone that Samuel had anointed him king. At first glance this looks like humility, and maybe it was. It looks like he is waiting for God to confirm it before he says anything. And yet – God already did confirm it. Maybe it is something else altogether – insecurity.

After some time, Samuel gathered the people together, and they asked the Lord to choose a king by lots. Saul was chosen. This was another powerful confirmation of Saul’s calling. But Saul hid among the baggage while it was happening. This could be humility also, but again, it could just as well be insecurity. Actually, I think it is a little bit of both. When we read the texts carefully, we can see that Saul is a very complex, very real person. I suspect that he had a lot of insecurity, but that he was also capable of genuine humility.

Briefly, I want to point out that his insecurity seems to be because he has trouble believing what God has said. Through Samuel, God told him he would be king. Through the signs, he confirmed it. Through the choices by lot, God confirmed it again. But I suspect, for the reasons I shared last week, that Saul had never really been a man of faith. He did not know God, and had not ever been very interested in Him. It’s hard to believe what God says if you don’t really know God. It’s hard to trust someone you don’t know. If you go your whole life ignoring God, then it is hard to believe it when someone tells you that God has a purpose for your life.

Listen to what happened next:

25 Then Samuel told the people the rights and duties of the kingship, and he wrote them in a book and laid it up before the LORD. Then Samuel sent all the people away, each one to his home. 26 Saul also went to his home at Gibeah, and with him went men of valor whose hearts God had touched. 27 But some worthless fellows said, “How can this man save us?” And they despised him and brought him no present. But he held his peace.

Just put yourself in Saul’s situation for a minute. You have just made king – twice. It has been confirmed by lot and by prophesied signs that came true. A future with possibilities you never dreamed of is opening up in front of you. Everyone shakes your hand and slaps you on the back, and congratulates you…and then goes home. You look around. It’s time for you to go home also. There’s nothing else to do. I can’t help thinking that this was a major let down for Saul. So he’s king. Now he’s got to go back and plow his fields.

A few warriors felt called to stick with the new king and serve him. The Lord touched them and they believed in him and stuck with him. But there were at least an equal number of people who didn’t believe in him at all, and mocked him and his calling.

I think all of this must have been disappointing, and it would not have helped his struggles in believing God and setting aside his insecurity.

Now, I want to leave Saul for a moment and go back and set the stage for what happened next. I spoke about this a little bit last time, but I want to go into more detail now. Roughly two hundred years earlier the residents of a town called Gibeah, in the tribe of Benjamin, had committed an atrocity. Rather than welcome a traveling priest, they had attempted to abuse and rape him. When they were prevented from this they raped and killed his concubine instead. In those days a concubine was considered a wife.

The priest took the dead body of his wife, and cut it up, and sent the pieces to the twelve tribes of Israel as a graphic way of letting the whole nation know what had taken place in Gibeah. Eleven of the tribes assembled – the tribe of Benjamin did not come, and Gibeah was in their territory. The other tribes demanded that the tribe of Benjamin deliver the residents of Gibeah to the rest of the nation so that justice could be done. Benjamin refused, and fought a war with the other tribes rather than punish the evil-doers. Naturally, there was a great deal of outrage against the tribe of Benjamin. The other Israelites destroyed almost the entire tribe, which numbered about 30,000 adult men, plus women and children – possibly more than 120,000 people altogether. The only survivors were six hundred Benjamite warriors who escaped into the hills. Everyone else – including women and children, had been killed.

In their rage, the other tribes had sworn an oath to not allow their daughters to marry any Benjamite. That meant that within a few years, there would be no more tribe of Benjamin. But after the war, the Israelites began to mourn for the loss of the twelfth tribe. They looked for a way to get them wives without violating their oaths, so that the tribe could be eventually restored. They found that one city in Israel had refused to go to war along with the other people – the city of Jabesh-Gilead, on the other side of the Jordan river Valley. In effect, Jabesh-Gilead had also been defending the evil doers, just passively, by refusing to fight for justice. So the rest of the Israelites took all of the unmarried women in that city, and gave them to the Benjamites to be their wives.

I mentioned some of this last week. I think the Lord’s choice of Saul was in part to remove the shame of the tribe of Benjamin. Not only was Saul from Benjamin, but he was from the town of Gibeah – the very town that had committed such shameful acts. The Lord was saying to them, “You are no longer under a cloud of shame. You are not second-class in my eyes. Your forgiveness is complete.”

But there was another group under a cloud of shame for that incident – the city of Jabesh-Gilead. They too, had defended the evil act of Benjamin, even if only passively. When Saul was made king, the shame of Benjamin and Gibeah was finally removed. But it appeared that Jabesh-Gilead was forgotten by God in all this. Their sin had not been as great, but they had suffered too, and they still lived under a cloud of shame. God is noticing Benjamin and Gibeah, but no one seems to remember poor Jabesh-Gilead.

Now, after Saul was chosen as king, things got even worse for Jabesh-Gilead. The foreign nation of Ammon came up to besiege the city. You can almost see the low self-esteem born of 200 years of shame. They don’t even pretend they will fight. They start negotiating a surrender right away, ready to give up their freedom in order to keep their lives. As often happens when a bully encounters someone with a poor sense of self-worth, the bully senses weakness, and begins to pile it on. Surrender isn’t good enough for the Ammonites. They want to rub the faces of their enemies in it. They demand that all the men have their right eyes gouged out, as one of the conditions of surrender.

The next exchange of messages sounds strange to us who are used to modern warfare. They city of Jabesh- Gilead asks for seven days to see if anyone will help them. The strange thing is that the Ammonites grant them the time. But there are three reasons for this. First, if the Ammonites don’t grant the time they will end up having to fight anyway, when there is still a chance of a bloodless victory. Second, the Ammonites probably felt that the other Israelite tribes were too disorganized to do anything within seven days anyway. Third, both the Ammonites and the people of Jabesh-Gilead seem doubtful that anyone would help them anyway. They are the black sheep of the family. Of any town in Israel, they are the least likely to be helped.

Their messengers go all over Israel. When the messengers get to Gibeah, Saul’s home town, no one thinks to go get the king. In fact, his royal majesty was plowing a field at that moment. He happens to come to town as the people were weeping over the fate of Jabesh-Gilead.

. 6 And the Spirit of God rushed upon Saul when he heard these words, and his anger was greatly kindled. 7 He took a yoke of oxen and cut them in pieces and sent them throughout all the territory of Israel by the hand of messengers, saying, “Whoever does not come out after Saul and Samuel, so shall it be done to his oxen!” Then the dread of the LORD fell upon the people, and they came out as one man.

Many of you don’t know this, but my wife has a bachelor’s degree in Biblical Studies. Years ago she did an exhaustive study on the Holy Spirit. She has pointed out to me many times that when the Holy Spirit comes on people in the Old Testament, it often seems to be almost an external thing, and God seems to use people whether or not they are close to him or in tune with him. For instance, the hero Samson was clearly ignorant of God and lived a sinful life – and yet God used him. After Jesus came, however, the Holy Spirit stopped working in that external way, and now he is connected with all who believe in Jesus through a spirit-to-spirit connection. Now the spirit is within everyone who trusts Jesus, and he flows through us and does his work from the inside out.

Saul is living in those Old Testament times, and in spite of his lack of faith, God used him. The Spirit came on him, and he acted. Even as God is using him, however, you can see his insecurity. First, he calls the people not only in his name, but also the name of Samuel, as if he is afraid they won’t come for the summons of the king alone. Second, he cuts up his oxen and sends out the pieces. Normally a middle-eastern leader in those days would say something like, “so shall I do to you if you do not fulfill your oath of loyalty to me.” But Saul says, “I will do this to your oxen.” It’s almost humorous. He has already destroyed his own oxen, and now he threatens not the people but their cattle.

Even so, God was with him. They assembled for battle and when up and destroyed the Ammonites, saving the city of Jabesh-Gilead. This no-account, shame-filled place suddenly has the tender care and affection of the entire country. Their shame also, has been forgiven and removed.

I have pointed out many of Saul’s faults, but as I said last week, God was not just trying to screw the Israelites for rejecting the Lord as their king. Saul, among all the tribes of Israel, would have been more sensitive to the shame and disgrace of Jabesh-Gilead than anyone else. His own tribe and clan had been under that same cloud until he was chosen as king. I am reminded again of 1 Corinthians, written by another man from the tribe of Benjamin, who was also called Saul:

26 Brothers, consider your calling: Not many are wise from a human perspective, not many powerful, not many of noble birth. 27 Instead, God has chosen what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen what is weak in the world to shame the strong. 28 God has chosen what is insignificant and despised in the world — what is viewed as nothing — to bring to nothing what is viewed as something, 29 so that no one can boast in His presence. (1Cor 1:26-29, HCSB)

Saul was chosen by the Lord. He started out well. God graciously gave him opportunity after opportunity to respond in faith. In this instance, he did.

So what does all this mean for you right now?

Maybe, like Saul, you are facing confusion, hurt and disappointment with God. Perhaps the Lord has given you a calling or done something in your life that seemed momentous. It seemed like it was all heading somewhere. But now everyone is turning out the lights and heading home, and you are left to make your way back to life as usual, and you don’t understand. You wonder what it was all about, if all these ways in which God seemed to be at work amount to nothing. I don’t have every answer for you. But I do know that Saul experienced that. In time, however, God showed him what to do and opened up the opportunity to step fully into his calling. Trust the Lord that he will do that for you also, even if it looks like it is all over right now.

On the other hand, maybe you have been dealing with insecurity, like Saul. The Lord has shown you he is real. He has spoken to your heart, revealed himself through the Bible. But you aren’t sure if you can trust him. Maybe you are afraid to step up to God’s calling. Perhaps that is because you don’t yet know him very well. Here, you can take a different path than Saul. Seek the Lord. Seek him by reading the bible, or listening to recordings of scripture passages. Seek him in music, in fellowship with other Christians, in worship. And make a decision to trust him and trust that what he says is true.

You might be someone who feels like the city of Jabesh-Gilead. For a while maybe other people shared your shame or humiliation. But now they’ve been able to move on, and you are stuck in the same old place. You feel forgotten. Maybe things have even gotten worse lately. You’ve gone from a bad place to a really dangerous or horrible place. I think the Lord would say to you, through this scripture, “do not fear! Do not give up hope. I never forget you. Sometimes I let things get a lot worse so I can then make them far, far better than ever before.”

Pause for a few moments now, and listen to what the Lord is saying. Thank him for it, and receive it with a choice of faith.

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2 thoughts on “HUMBLE…OR INSECURE?

  1. Brad L

    Thanks Tom, this was helpful to read. We had a similar teaching on Saul at my church (www.newlifedetroit.org) today, and it illuminated a lot of insecurities I have, similar to Saul. I was looking for some further teaching on the the topic and found your sermon. Also, the story of Jabesh-Gilead was something I had never put together. Thanks so much for connecting all the dots between them and Saul and that history of shame and redemption.

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