LORD’S DAY MORNING SERVICE, 4 August 2019
Sermon Text: 1 Samuel 31:1-13
Rev. Dr Kwangho Song
I. The king Israel sought after
II. The king Israel sought draws all to his evil fate
III. The king Israel sought disgraces the name of God
IV. Yet, Israel’s true King provides hope for Israel
At last, King Saul is fallen and that ends this First Book of Samuel. A boy born to an ordinary family in the tribe of Benjamin, one of the smallest tribes of Israel, was introvert and shy, not really enjoyed people’s attention, yet, was chosen for the king’s office and soon anointed as the first king of Israel. Many years later, he fell on his own sword in a battle against an enemy of Israel, and breathed his last.
It is interesting to note that 1 Samuel starts with the birth story of Samuel and concludes with the story of Saul’s death. It is also interesting to see that Samuel’s birth began with a tearful prayer of his mother, Hannah, and Saul’s death followed by the mourning of the residents of Jabesh-gilead, Saul’s distant relatives. When Samuel judged Israel, there was peace over the nation; yet, when Saul ruled the nation, there was discord and division among people and finally, destruction by their enemy.
Having a bigger picture of this book, our last sermon on 1 Samuel is with this title, ‘The end of the king Israel sought after.’ Mainly, this message is a warning to us all. But that’s not all of the message for us today; it is also a message of hope in the Lord God who is gracious and never forsakes His people. So, the unwritten second part of this sermon title is ‘but the never-ending grace of God toward His people.’
I. THE KING ISRAEL SOUGHT AFTER
Before hearing this message of warning and hope, I want you to think about the king Israel sought after. If you flip your Bible backward to chs. 9 and 10 of 1 Samuel, you’ll find there what sort of king Israel wanted. They desired to have a king like all the nations. They wanted a king to rule over them and go out before them and fight their battles. In a word, a king on whom they could depend, to whom they could leave all heavy burdens and through whose service they could benefit. Did Saul fit for that expectation? Yes, he did in their eyes.
What of Saul gave them that impression? 1 Sam. 10:23 tells us this: “when [Saul] stood among the people, he was taller than any of the people from his shoulders upward.” It was Saul’s outstanding appearance that gave them an impression and they welcomed him and said, “Long live the king!” There was no other description than his height, his outward appearance. And Saul became king that day as the people of Israel sought after.
With this, we’re reminded of a truth that people focus only on what they see. You and I are prone to depend only on what our eyes see. This is, in a sense, the ‘king’ we want. We want a good-looking person as our Prime Minister and elect an attractive one as the Mayor of our city. People look for an eloquent speaker as their church minister, instead of knowing what they believe in. People like to achieve some tangible goals for their life – for example, high income jobs, good holiday destinations, highly esteemed positions and fame or even good-looking man or woman to marry. Likewise, Israel of Samuel’s time wanted Saul as their king because their eyes were locked on his outward appearance.
But, God’s verdict for this kind of king is disapproval and disappointment. When all in Israel required a king, Samuel brought his people’s request to God. And God’s comment was this as recorded in 1 Sam. 8:7, “They have not rejected you [Samuel], but they have rejected Me from being king over them.” God’s disapproval and disappointment toward the king Israel sought after is elaborated further in Hos. 13:11 in these words, “I gave you [Israel] a king in My anger, and I took him away in My wrath.” Israel sought a king like Saul and it seemed right in their own eyes, but that was, in fact, what Prov. 12:15 points out as ‘the way of a fool.’
II. THE KING ISRAEL SOUGHT DRAWS ALL TO HIS EVIL FATE
Indeed, we find this ‘way of a fool’ or ‘foolish way’ in what Saul, the king Israel sought after, has done in this last chapter of 1 Samuel. He has failed, thus, dissatisfied his people’s expectations. They wanted their king to, first, judge them, second, go out before them and fight their battles.
Saul has failed in all these areas. Firstly, he failed in judging them. He kicked out David from the position of his army’s commander in chief; he murdered the high priest and all other priests and their families in the city of priests; he promoted disunity among people. Secondly, he didn’t go out before Israel, nor fight against the enemies of Israel, but left the Amalekites untouched and the Philistines unchallenged. And at last, he falls before the eyes of Israel by the arrows of Philistine archers.
If his failure affected himself only and left his people unaffected, it would have been a consolation in all sadness. But that wasn’t the case; all others around him were drawn to face the same evil fate alongside Saul. His three sons are struck down on a same day. This includes that great prince Jonathan, as Matthew Henry put, ‘that wise, valiant, good man, fell’ because of his father, Saul, the king Israel sought after. That’s not all. As he fell upon his sword, taking his own life, his armour bearer follows the same sin of killing himself. It’s a doubly foolish way. There’s more in this foolish way to make it a triply or more foolish way. Seeing all these, soldiers still alive in his army flee, abandoning their duty for their nation – God’s nation – and, hearing all these, the residents of nearby cities and towns run away, abandoning their God-given inheritance. What a pity this is!
Yet, this is not only a pity for the Israelites of 1 Sam. 31, the same could also be for any of us in case he/she seeks after a ‘king’ like Saul, trying to satisfy only his/her eyes and fleshly desires. When God is taken out of the picture and our sinful desire takes over, then, a fool’s way like Saul’s would be our way. A Christian might delight to get a high salary job, another believer would love to achieve her life’s dream, but if all those were sought after to satisfy their fleshly desires, ridding God of it all, then, their joy would soon be gone, and the roughness of fool’s way would meet them. The greater problem is that people around those who walk the fool’s way would also suffer from the same or similar fate or consequence. No wonder why so many churches in history have seen and experienced this trouble. Not only local congregations but also Presbyteries, synods and denominations have seen evil consequences of their attempts to follow their own eyes rather than heeding God and His direction.
This is why we find from every page of the Bible God’s urge for us to listen to Him and abide in His light which guides us and shines our paths in the darkness of the sinful world. Col. 3:23 puts it simply yet powerfully, saying, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men.” And doing all things as for the Lord, we’re to know that “from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward.” This is also what Jesus our Lord concludes in Mt. 6:33 for us to “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.” Whoever seems attractive to our eyes, whatever looks good and is likely to satisfy our wants and dreams, we must turn to God and examine it with His word and teaching.
III. THE KING ISRAEL SOUGHT DISGRACES THE NAME OF GOD
This way of a fool Saul opened up, walked and drew all his people into has a deeper issue we must be aware. That is, he disgraced the name of God! He brought contempt to the name of God! Being the king of God’s nation, he was beheaded and his body alongside his sons’ bodies was hung to the eyes of the whole world. Moreover, his armour was offered to an idol, the goddess of Philistine, as a sign of conquest and victory over the God of Israel. What a shame he brought to the name of the King of kings and God of gods, in fact, the only true God!
Please don’t misunderstand me as I criticise Saul over and over again. I don’t criticise him to make him the worst person ever lived or to imprint in your mind that his name is the last name you ever associate with; I don’t criticise him for any of those reasons. The point I take with Saul is that he is a kind of ‘teaching aid’ through whom we learn an important spiritual lesson. Whereas Saul is for warning, David is for encouragement for us all. It is like the way the apostle Peter’s weeping and repentance teaches us what true repentance is as well as God’s forgiveness toward all penitent sinners, whereas Judas Iscariot in his suicide warns us against the way of stubbornness in sin. So, my criticism of Saul is not for bitterness and resentment, but for sobering warning for all believers.
So, coming back to our point, Saul the king Israel sought after brought disgrace to God’s name at Mount Gilboa on which the flag of God’s army once stood and waved. On that mountain, God’s soldiers were slain and the enemy plundered God’s army. This reminds me of what Christ’s churches in our generation face. Generally speaking, churches seem to face a similar situation like that of Mount Gilboa. More Christians hear about persecutions and talk about upcoming challenges in the society we live in. I wonder whether this is a consequence of the disgrace brought to God’s name by a ‘king’ many of us have falsely sought after. I wonder whether this is a consequence of the disgrace we’ve brought to Christ’s name by our lukewarm faith and life. The same questions could be asked for each one’s life – ‘Have I or my family or church brought disgrace to our Lord’s name by our lukewarm faith and life?’
What makes me perplexed and speechless is the words found in v. 9. Let me read you this verse, “So [the Philistines] cut off [Saul’s] head and stripped off his armour and sent messengers throughout the land of the Philistines, to carry the good news to the house of their idols and to the people.” The news of Saul’s death and Israel’s defeat becomes the ‘good news’ and that ‘good news’ is delivered to, first, the house of their idols and, second, their people, the worshippers of those idols. This ‘good news’ is the same word we find in the NT as Jesus our Lord pointed out, for example, in Mt. 11:5, as the ‘gospel’ that saves sinners, and in Greek, ‘euangelion.’
We often see this happening in our world too – I mean, the gospel and good news of Jesus Christ is turned to be bad news to many ears, shunning some, if not most, people farther away from the Lord Jesus. Christians commit crimes, other believers are found as fraud and cheaters; some others are involved in sexual abuse cases. When the public see them and their wrongdoings, the good news of Christ’s free grace that saves becomes bad news to many unbelievers, and brings a shadow of doubt to even some weak believers or new converts. What a disgrace to the name of Christ, the only true Saviour of the world! Truth is that we all could easily turn our Lord’s good news to bad news to others around us by being dishonest or unfriendly or indifferent toward them. Guess that a visitor comes into our church on a Sunday or joins any of our meetings, and sees our face stiff or stern, finds our unwelcoming and indifferent attitude toward him/her, what would be the news that person hears from us? I guess, better chance for that to be bad news than good.
However, this also means, putting it the other way around, that we can make the good news good and commendable to the eyes and ears of the unbelievers by showing them Christian love and kindness. Tit. 2:7 puts it in these words, “Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works.” ‘Good works’ mean all things that bring Jesus’ salvation to the lost souls.
IV. YET, ISRAEL’S TRUE KING PROVIDES A HOPE FOR ISRAEL
Not surprisingly though, this is not the end of the message we hear from the First Book of Samuel. The end by the last three verses of this chapter brings to us a message of hope in God and this hope is the message we hear from God’s holy word. It is the message of restoration and God’s salvation for the undeserved sinners.
Let me explain what I mean; first of all, those valiant men arose and went all night to collect the bodies of Saul and his sons. Their act is an act of ‘entering a strong man’s house,’ as Jesus our Lord pointed out in Mt. 12 the nature of His works in the world, and more than just entering that strong man’s house, it is an act of ‘plundering his goods, binding that strong one first’ – that is, the devil. Do you see the point? Jesus our Lord had “no beauty that we should desire Him,” as Isa. 53:2 describes, but His word heals and forgives the sinners, making them mighty ones of God in His kingdom! Those men of Jabesh-gilead were not highly esteemed by their fellow Jews, but they went and took Saul and his sons out of that strong man’s house. Then, they burned their bodies and took their bones and buried them under the tamarisk tree in Jabesh, the same kind of tree Saul used to convene his kingly court. Although this doesn’t teach us about Saul’s salvation, it teaches us a spiritual lesson for God’s restoration of sinners like us to the status of blessed as God’s children in His kingdom. This also teaches us that our salvation is by grace alone in and through Jesus, as the dead body is burned and purified, and the bones are buried under the tree to become a part of this living tree, that is, Jesus our Lord! What a great message of hope and joy this is for all sinners!
Finally, although those men of Jabesh-gilead fasted and mourned seven days for the dead king and princes, there’s always joyful praises in heaven around the throne of Jesus our Lord when a sinner dies in sin and is born again in faith, as well as every believer repents of sins and the Holy Spirit renews that soul in Christ’s love and grace! What a beautiful picture this is!
Let me conclude in a sentence; sinful man seeks after a ‘king’ according to his sinful fleshly desire, but let us not continue in that path. Instead, let us seek the Lord, our true King, who is gracious to us and always with us, and do everything in His name for His glory. ***