Saul the son of Kish was the first king of Israel appointed by God. He was a handsome, stately young man of regal bearing, who stood, literally, head and shoulders above his countrymen. The people desired a king like the nations about them, and that received in Saul one who seemed to fit the very idea of a king in the minds of most people. The process by which he was selected from among the people brought Saul to the national stage in a quite impressive way. When Israel presented themselves to the Lord at Mizpeh according to Samuel’s instructions, first Saul’s tribe is selected, then his father’s family, and finally Saul himself. “But when they sought him, he could not be found” (1 Samuel 10:21).
The young man is discovered “hiding among the stuff” (1 Samuel 10:22, KJV). He is shy and aloof from the proceedings. He is a man of humility, as well as noble bearing. He has within himself the makings of a great king who could also be a great servant of God in doing so. Fast-forward forty years, and we see what began with such great promise on the plain of Mizpeh ends ingloriously on the windswept sides of Mt. Gilboa. Saul, forsaken by God because of the king’s rebellion against Him, is slain with his valiant son, Jonathan, by the hand of the Philistines, Israel’s most dangerous enemies at the time (1 Samuel 31). What made the difference between the marvelous beginning of his reign in Israel and the king’s terrible end?
A hint is given by Samuel, the man of God, when he rebuked Saul at Gilgal in 1 Samuel 15:16ff. In his rebuke, he said to Saul, “When you were little in your own eyes, were you not head of the tribes of all Israel? And did not the Lord anoint you king over Israel?” (v. 17). What had happened to the young man hiding with the baggage that Israel had brought for the meeting at Mizpeh? He had grown up, but not just in stature. He had grown in ego. Pride had become the undoing of the king, just as it so often has whenever it rears its ugly head.
Proverbs 16:18 – “Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.” 1 Peter 5:5-6 – “…Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace unto the humble. Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time.”
Pride is often the one thing that keeps people from serving the Lord as they should, because it exalts self over everything else, and the first demand of discipleship is to “deny one’s self” (Matthew 16:24-27). Sometimes it is one of the hardest things to do! Saul’s sad end should be a warning to us all (Romans 15:4; 1 Corinthians 10:11). It did not take Saul very long before he began playing the role of the strutting despot.