The Sacrifice and Loneliness of Leadership

Tuesday, April 04, 2017

Daily reading assignment: 1 Samuel 16-20

Our last scripture reading in 1 Samuel concluded with king Saul’s usurpation of Samuel’s role as priest and judge in Israel.  I concluded that study (1 Samuel 11-15) with the observation, “Character flaws in leaders breed insecurity in the lives of their followers.”  The threefold evidence of that observation was:  1) Saul’s army had decreased from 300,000 to 600 frightened men (13:15-16);  2) The threats against Israel had increased (13:17-18);  3) The people had become subservient to the Philistines.

Saul’s character flaws continued to surface in 1 Samuel 14-15 when he demanded his soldiers swear an oath to fast through a battle, not only leaving them physically weak, but also putting at risk the life of his son Jonathan who had no knowledge of the oath (1 Samuel 14).   Inspired by Israel’s victory over the Philistines led by Jonathan, Saul’s army increased and Israel once again experienced battlefield victories over the Philistines, Moabites, Ammonites and Amalekites (14:47-52).

1 Samuel 15 finds Samuel going to Saul with the LORD’s command that Israel go to war with the Amalekites not sparing one life including “man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass” (1 Samuel 15:3).   Saul’s army, now 210,000 strong (15:4), experienced a glorious victory over the Amalekites; however, Saul disobeyed the LORD’s command and spared the Amalekite king Agag and the “the best of the sheep, and of the oxen, and of the fatlings, and the lambs, and all that was good, and would not utterly destroy them…” (15:9).  Saul’s act of disobedience included lies to Samuel in a foolish attempt to hide his sin (15:12-15).  Samuel boldly confronted Saul with a spiritual principle that should reside in the heart of every believer:

1 Samuel 15:22-23 – “And Samuel said, Hath the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams. 23  For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because thou hast rejected the word of the LORD, he hath also rejected thee from being king.”

1 Samuel 15 closes with a living portrait of the disastrous consequences of rebellion and disobedience.  Saul had disobeyed the LORD’s command and the LORD rejected him from being king.  Saul confessed his sin (15:24-31); however, the LORD had already turned His heart to anoint another who would be king.  We come to 1 Samuel 16 knowing Saul reigns in Israel; however, God has withdrawn his blessing from the king (although he will continue to reign for several years).

The LORD questions Samuel, “How long wilt thou mourn for Saul, seeing I have rejected him from reigning over Israel?” and directs the prophet to go to Bethlehem and anoint the next king of Israel (16:1-5). Unlike Saul whose physical presence impressed the people, the king of the LORD’s choosing is an unlikely choice…David, the youngest son of Jesse and the shepherd of his father’s sheep (16:6-13).

With the Spirit of the Lord departed, “an evil spirit” filled the spiritual emptiness in Saul’s soul and he was continually troubled.  Saul commanded that a musician be employed to play the harp to calm his spirit and God providentially orchestrated that David would be the musician setting the stage for schooling a shepherd boy in the role of king and government (16:14-23).

1 Samuel 17 is the record of David’s slaying of the Philistine giant Goliath and God’s sovereign plan that moved a shepherd boy from court musician to a hero and household name in Israel.

1 Samuel 18-19 finds David not only residing in the king’s palace, but also befriended by Jonathan, the son of Saul (18:1-4).  David’s fame as a warrior continued to increase in Israel and Saul perceived him a threat to his lineage reigning on the throne and determined to kill him (18:5-30).

The bond between David and Saul’s son was never broken in spite of Saul’s attempts to kill him (1 Samuel 20:1-23). Realizing God’s anointing was upon David, Jonathan evidencing great humility, vowed to befriend, support, and love David to the end of his life (20:35-42). David’s departure from Jonathan begins a ten-year journey of hardship and loneliness…separated from his friend and his father’s household while living in the wilderness and hiding in caves.

I close with an observation: Serving God does not come with a guarantee of comfort or favor; in fact, servants of God are not immune from criticism and often experience the loneliness and sacrifice of leadership.

Copyright 2017 – Travis D. Smith