Character flaws in leaders breed insecurity in their supporters. (1 Samuel 13-14)

Daily reading assignment: 1 Samuel 13-14

The theme of today’s devotional is a truth that arises not only from our scripture reading, but also out of my own observation after forty-one years in ministry.

I have learned that flawed leaders are apt to blame others (i.e. family, employees, followers) for their failures. However, tried and true leaders assess their character deficiencies honestly, accept liability, and sincerely address them. Sadly, today’s scripture reading illuminates in King Saul’s life the character flaws that often surface in the public and private lives of leaders.

1 Samuel 13 – Big Man, Small Character

Two years have passed since Saul was anointed king of Israel. In the second year of his reign, the king organized his army into three divisions, appointing his son Jonathan over one while he led the others (13:1-2).

Evidencing a youthful zeal to be admired, Jonathan led his division of one thousand men in a successful assault on the Philistine garrison in Geba (13:3). Learning of the raid, a character weakness in Saul emerged when he assumed the glory of his son’s victory for himself.

While there is no evidence the king ordered the attack on the Philistines, we read, Saul “blew the trumpet” (13:3) and “all Israel heard say that Saul had smitten a garrison of the Philistines” (13:4).  Saul had opportunity to praise his son’s success and deflect the praise from himself; instead, he jealously embraced the glory of the victory for himself.

When the Philistines learned of the attack on their garrison, they were stirred to war and assembled a great army (13:5).  Seeing the size of their enemy’s army, Israel panicked, and many deserted Saul hiding “themselves in caves, and in thickets, and in rocks, and in high places, and in pits” (13:6). Others fled the land and sought refuge on the east side of the Jordan River (13:8).

Knowing fear had taken hold in Israel, Saul feared all would soon be lost if the people’s confidence was not restored.

Samuel had appointed seven days for Saul to wait for him to come, offer sacrifices, and confirm the king before the people at Gilgal (10:8). Weary of waiting and fearing the people would continue to desert him, on the seventh day, Saul usurped Samuel’s leadership as God’s prophet and offered sacrifices in the prophet’s absence (13:9-10).

Saul’s flawed character was exposed in three lies. (13:10-12)

The first deception was the king’s disingenuous greeting when he “went out to meet [Samuel], that he [Samuel] might salute [bless; kneel] him [Saul]” (13:10). Saul greeted the prophet as though all was well when in reality he had usurped the prophet’s role in Israel. The second lie was Saul’s refusal to take responsibility for his sin when he said, “the people were scattered from me, and that thou camest notwithin the days appointed” (13:11).  The third ruse was the king’s assertion he was “forced(compelled)and “offered a burnt offering” (13:12).

The flaws in Saul’s character produced insecurity in the lives of his followers (13:15-18).

The size of Israel’s army declined from over 3,000 soldiers (13:2) to 600 frightened men (13:15).   The threats against Israel increased in direct proportion to the weakness evidenced by Saul’s army (13:17-18).   Finally, Israel had become so subservient to the Philistines, they no longer had blacksmiths to produce sword or spear and were dependent on their enemies to sharpen their plows and axes.

Under Saul’s flawed leadership, Israel was weakened militarily, faced increasing national threats from within and without, and had lost the capability of producing their own tools and weapons. Sound familiar?

1 Samuel 14 – The King’s Flawed Character Imperiled the Nation and His Family.

The consequences of Saul’s failures continue to surface in 1 Samuel 14. While Saul demonstrated no initiative for battle and “tarried…under a pomegranate tree” (14:2), his son Jonathan set his heart to attack the Philistines with only his young armourbearer accompanying him (14:3-13).

God blessed Jonathan’s faith (14:6), and twenty Philistines fell before his sword (14:14).  The noise of the attack and an earthquake set off a panic in the camp, and the Philistines turned their swords on each other (14:15).

When Saul’s watchmen alerted him there was a disturbance in the Philistine camp and the enemy was fleeing (14:16), rather than a call to arms, Saul issued a roll call to determine “who is gone from us” (14:17).  Learning his son and armourbearer were gone, Saul called for the Ark of God to be brought up (14:18), and the LORD gave Israel a great victory that day (14:19-23).

Another foolish act of the king came to light when he issued an order for his soldiers to fast in the course of the battle, leaving his army physically weakened and ultimately imperiling his son who had no knowledge of his father’s ill-advised order (14:24-28).

After taking honey to sustain his strength (14:27), Jonathan was informed of the king’s order to fast and pronounced an undeniable fact saying: “My father hath troubled the land” (14:29-30).

Faint with hunger, Israel’s soldiers began to eat the spoils of the battle. Slaughtering the Philistines’ livestock, they began to “eat them with the blood” (14:32), thus violating the law: “Ye shall not eat any thing with the blood” (Leviticus 19:26).

“Saul asked counsel of God,” but the LORD “answered him not that day” (14:37).

Saul supposed the failure of the LORD to answer him was because a soldier had sinned and violated his command that the army fast (14:38-40). When he learned his own son had violated his command, the king would have killed Jonathan had the people not rescued him from Saul’s maniacal intent (14:41-45).

Inspired by Israel’s victory, Saul’s army increased, and Israel once again experienced victories over the Philistines, Moabites, Ammonites, and Amalekites (14:47-52).

Make no mistake: in spite of the victories, the flaws of Israel’s king will become a source of national sorrow.

Copyright 2020 – Travis D. Smith