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Succeeding Backwards: Tracking the Fall of King Saul (Part One)

March 19, 2023 Speaker: Allen Snapp Series: Highlights in 1st Samuel

Topic: Success Passage: 1 Samuel 13–15

Highlights From 1 Samuel

Allen Snapp

Grace Community Church

March 19, 2023


Succeeding Backwards: Tracking the Fall of King Saul (Part One)

Then the word of the Lord came to Samuel: 11 “I regret that I have made Saul king, because he has turned away from me and has not carried out my instructions.” 1 Sam 15:10

26 Samuel said to [Saul], “I will not go back with you. You have rejected the word of the Lord, and the Lord has rejected you as king over Israel!” 27 As Samuel turned to leave, Saul caught hold of the hem of his robe, and it tore. 28 Samuel said to him, “The Lord has torn the kingdom of Israel from you today and has given it to one of your neighbors—to one better than you. 29 He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie or change his mind; for he is not a human being, that he should change his mind.” 1 Sam. 15:26-29

Saul started out so well; humble, not seeking the limelight, uniting his people to rescued the town of Jabesh-Gilead from the Ammonites. How, in just a few short years did Saul fall so far that God says he has rejected him as king? Over time the success went to his head. He began to enjoy being looked up to, being admired, being applauded.

There’s a bit of Saul in all of us so let’s not say, “wow, how could he have fallen so far so fast?” I am pretty sure I could have fallen further faster and probably you could have too. So let’s look humbly at Saul’s fall from grace and learn.

Many of us are familiar with the phrase “failing forward”- that our failures can actually help us move forward in life when we learn from them. There is such a thing as “succeeding backwards” – where success becomes a person’s undoing.

I’m calling this message Succeeding Backwards: Tracking the Fall of King Saul.

  1. Saul pursued success by disobeying God and taking matters into his own hands

Saul’s fall begins in chapter 13. The Philistines mount a great army against Saul and his men, and his men start quaking in fear and slipping away to hide. His army is getting smaller and smaller and he’s supposed to wait seven days for Samuel the priest to arrive and offer the sacrifice to Yahweh and get God’s blessing on their army.

On the seventh day the pressure gets to be too much for Saul. He’s afraid he’ll lose the few men he has left so he takes matters into his own hands and offers the burnt sacrifice to Yahweh himself. We don’t know if he actually did it or a priest, but God had told him it was Samuel who was authorized to do it so Saul knew he was getting out of his lane.

The minute the offering is finished, Samuel shows up. God’s answer to our prayers is often just on the other side of the temptation to disobey God. Satan’s temptations were aimed at getting Jesus off the long, hard path of glory and salvation and take the easier path of quick success. Jesus had no interest in quick success,

to him success was always tied up with obeying God’s will. Samuel says to Saul:

11 “What have you done?” asked Samuel. Saul replied, “When I saw that the men were scattering, and that you did not come at the set time, and that the Philistines were assembling at Mikmash, 12 I thought, ‘Now the Philistines will come down against me at Gilgal, and I have not sought the Lord’s favor.’ So I felt compelled to offer the burnt offering.”

13 “You have done a foolish thing,” Samuel said. “You have not kept the command the Lord your God gave you; if you had, he would have established your kingdom over Israel for all time. 14 But now your kingdom will not endure; the Lord has sought out a man after his own heart and appointed him ruler of his people, because you have not kept the Lord’s command.” 1 Sam. 13:11-14

There was real pressure on Saul. Big enemy, shrinking army. Saul is feeling pressure to do something and the only path he can see to success is to disobey God and take matters into his own hands. Pressure to get out of his lane and get in God’s lane.

The pressure is real, but it’s not determinative. Pressure can push one way as much as the other. That same pressure could have pressed Saul to trust God harder. To rise up with a big faith and say, come what may I will trust the Lord. I will wait on God. I won’t try to get success by disobeying God. And God said, Saul, if you had done that, I would have established your kingdom forever and ever. As it is, I am taking the kingdom from you and giving it to a man who is after my heart. Saul succeeded backwards and it hurt him.

There are times in our lives when circumstances press on us and it can feel like the path to succeed (in whatever it is we want) is a different path than trusting and obeying God. A great financial need presses us to do something unethical to fix it.

A single person really wants to get married. Nothing wrong with that, it’s a good desire. Do what you can to find the right person. Nothing wrong with going places where there are other single people. Or trying out online dating. I know some amazing couples that happened through online dating. But when the desire to be married presses you to marry someone who isn’t a Christian or marry someone whose character has a lot of red flags, don’t disobey God to get what you want. Trust God – His answer might be right around the corner.

Saul honored God with his lips and disobeyed God with his actions. I wanted God’s favor before going to war so I felt compelled to offer the sacrifice (you could say God made me do it!). He’s slapping a coat of God-talk over his disobedience. Our flesh loves to be religious. We find pride in being religious. Someone says, “I’ve gone to church every Sunday for 30 years – never missed a Sunday!” What they don’t say is they’ve also never missed an opportunity to gossip about every Tom, Dick, and Jane in the church, at work, in their family, and in their neighborhood. Our flesh says, “I’m honoring God!” Our actions say, “I’m disobeying God!”

When we have a choice between succeeding without God or trusting God when things look impossible, choose trusting God. Success while disobeying God is always succeeding backwards. Trusting God and staying in our lane will always be blessed in the long run. Might not be easy in the short run, there might be a lot of pressure to take matters in our own hands and do God’s part, but slow down! Succeeding backwards is far more costly and painful than waiting and trusting.

The next step in Saul’s downward spiral is recorded in chapter 14. Ironically it starts with a real success story, but that story doesn’t belong to Saul it belongs to his son Jonathan. The entire army is at a standstill, intimidated by the size of the Philistine army, afraid to do anything or go anywhere, so they’re just hanging out not doing much of anything until finally Jonathan gets bored, leans over, and says to his armor bearer:

…“Come, let us go over to the garrison of these uncircumcised. It may be that the Lord will work for us, for nothing can hinder the Lord from saving by many or by few.” And his armor-bearer said to him, “Do all that is in your heart. Do as you wish. Behold, I am with you heart and soul.” 1 Sam. 14:6-7

  1. Saul turned God-given success into man-driven success

Gotta love the faith of Jonathan and his armor-bearer! They see the enemy but they see a bigger God. Jonathan says, “hey, God can give us success no matter what the odds.” His armor-bearer, rather than being a timid, fearful soul, says go for it! Whatever God’s put on your heart I’m with you!

When Jonathan comes to an outpost and the Philistines see them, he says, if they say wait for us to come to you, we’ll stay put. But if they say, “come up here” we’ll climb up to them because we’ll know the Lord has given them into our hands.

Jonathan’s reasoning doesn’t actually make a whole lot of sense. The outpost was on the top of a steep hill. Essentially Jonathan’s saying, if they choose the way that’s easier on us, we won’t fight. But if they make it harder on us, we’ll know God is on our side! That’s what happens and they climb up the hill using hands and feet, and then defeat the entire outpost. God then causes a panic to fall on the other Philistine outposts and Jonathan and armor-bearer start an avalanche of success.

God wants His children to succeed! This isn’t an anti-success message. God is bigger than any problem you may be facing. He’s bigger than any enemy coming against you and stronger than any weapon being formed against you. God is bigger than that trial, He has more grace than you have sin, His love is stronger than all the hate in the world. Saul and his men looked out and saw a massive army. Jonathan and his armor-bearer looked out and saw a big God and a tiny army.

God loves to give His children success in life. He promised Joshua he’d have success wherever his foot found to go. Jesus’ last words on the cross weren’t “it fell short!”, his last words were “it is finished!” I came to bring salvation to all who believe in me and I succeeded!

This isn’t an anti-success message. I agree with Chuck Swindoll when he says,

Every problem is an opportunity to prove God's power. Every day we encounter countless golden opportunities, brilliantly disguised as insurmountable problems. ~ Chuck Swindoll

Jonathan was full of faith and that spilled over to his companion, and God gave them great success. Saul took that success and turned it from God-given to man-driven.

Saul and his army see the success of Jonathan and they want in on it! Even the Israelites who were hiding in caves and tombs said, “I want in on that!” The Philistines are on the run and Saul’s army is chasing and defeating them.

It’s a great, God-given success. Then Saul steps in and messes it up. He turns this God-given success into a man-driven pursuit of success. Here’s what happens (verse 23-24)

23 So on that day the Lord saved Israel, and the battle moved on beyond Beth Aven. (God-given success!) 24 Now the Israelites were in distress that day, because Saul had bound the people under an oath, saying, “Cursed be anyone who eats food before evening comes, before I have avenged myself on my enemies!” So none of the troops tasted food. (Man-driven success)

Let’s observe a few things about man-driven success:

  1. Man-driven success makes it about us rather than about God

Cursed be anyone who eats food before…I have avenged myself on my enemies! Do you hear how Saul is making it all about himself rather than God? Jonathan gave all the credit to God’s working. Saul wants the credit (and the revenge) for himself. Saul is craving success for himself and the glory of his rule, not for God’s glory.

Man-driven success is man-centered success. When we care about how we look, whether we’re getting credit, etc. we are defining success in a man-driven way. God’s success frees us from the bondage of self-centeredness.

  1. Man-driven success seeks success at the expense of people

Saul craved success and was willing to hurt his people to get more of it. He wanted to motivate them to greater victory, but he only hurt them. As the day went on they grew weak and faint because they were expending great energy and not allowed to replenish it.

Those who abuse people to increase their so-called success, be it more fame or money or status or power or whatever, are succeeding backwards. They may get the success they crave but they are moving closer and closer to a great fall.

I just finished a book called The Sociopath Next Door. One of the amazing characteristics about sociopaths is that they have no conscience. They are not capable of feeling guilt or remorse or regret for any action they commit. Most sociopaths (and they estimate about 4% of population are) aren’t murderers, they hold down jobs, have families, can look amazingly charming.

But they are unable to connect with people because they don’t care about people. They care about winning, about domination. But this book points out that the deeper meaning and value of life is about connecting. True success doesn’t come at the expense of people, true success is loving and connecting with other people.

We see this in Jesus. The most glorious, successful, human being who ever lived, worthy of the worship and adoration of the most powerful angels, measured success by serving, loving, and saving people. That’s the success that God will say, “well done, good and faithful servant.”

  1. Man-driven success craves more and more and is never satisfied

Why did Saul swear this oath? To motivate his men to enlarge his victory and increase his success. He wasn’t content with the success he was having – he wanted more.

When we’re driven to get more and more success (however we define it) we are seeking man-driven success. More money, a better job, a bigger home, a faster car, more respect and social status, more admiration, applause, people serving us.

More in Highlights in 1st Samuel

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God’s Work in the Wilderness Part One

May 28, 2023

A Beautiful Friendship Part Two

May 21, 2023

A Beautiful Friendship Part One