The Saul Syndrome

Voices echo in my mind, reverberating in a mixture of noise and meaning.  Seductively they whisper, slithering into my thoughts.  Voices both noble and perverse, play the herald, calling me to obey.

There are times that I rightly discern the voices; I hear the voice of God and I follow.  There are other times that I fail; other voices hold sway.

Saul, the first King of Israel, failed to rightly discern the voices.  God dispatched him on a mission to completely destroy the Amalekites, but he did not do it.  He led the Israelites into battle, and they prevailed, but Saul permitted the people to keep the best of the plunder.

The prophet Samuel confronts Saul, “What then is this bleating of the sheep in my ears and the lowing of the oxen that I hear?” (see 1Sa 15:14 ESV).  Saul tries to convince the prophet (and himself) that the plunder is so that sacrifice to the Lord can be made.  Samuel is not persuaded.  Saul himself chokes on his own explanation.  He finally owns up that he “feared the people and obeyed their voice” (see 1Sa 15:24 ESV).

I think I get what is going on.  Saul knew what the command of the Lord was.  Saul knew that obedience to the Lord is far better than any rite, ritual or sacrifice, yet he did not comply.  There were other voices that reverberated in his mind.  Not the muttering of the crowd, who clamoured to have their fill of the spoils of victory, no the voices that competed with God’s command came from within.  They suggested to the King that if he failed to please the people he would lose their allegiance and with it his regal status.

Saul, who was initially reluctant to become king, now was desperate to remain first among the people’s princes.  “Heeding God’s voice will threatened your royal security,” whispered Fear.  “You alone deserve to be king,” softly murmured Pride.  So the voices echoed and eventually seduced Saul to believe he could both disobey the Lord and worship Him at the same time.

How very much like Saul we are!  We want to be respected, admired and esteemed by the “people”.  We pursue the “cheers” and we fear the “jeers”.  This is a common weakness that men of God need to be mindful of so that it does not derail our discerning of God’s voice in our lives.

How would you suggest we arm ourselves against the Saul Syndrome?


1 Response to “The Saul Syndrome”

  1. 1 Kevin
    January 27, 2010 at 11:03 pm

    I think this was a recurring issue with Saul, and it seems he never really had a heart that was committed to God. It’s true that he knew God’s word, commands, and promises, and that he had a most excellent teacher/friend in Samuel, but even being surrounded with resources and being given immense responsibility wasn’t effective in producing a God honouring man out of Saul. Saul was trying to ‘get by’ with God on his own (what he thought was perfectly reasonable) terms. When exposed it became clear that his ‘half-heartedness’ towards God was actually ‘no-heartedness’

    It’s a hard teaching to hear that anything less than a full commitment to the Lord is equivalent to no commitment, but this idea is seen over and over again in the New Testament. Just a sampling: Matt 19:21, 1 Jn2:15-17, James 4, Rev 3:16, (plus many other passages with similar themes, especially in the gospels and John’s writings)

    I think that there is no formula or pat-answer to ensure that you will be able to both hear and follow the will of God rather than voices from the world or elsewhere. Instead the answer will be one part of the panorama that makes up a heart and life committed to following our Lord Jesus Christ.

    We must associate ourselves with Christ’s death, and die ourselves to our worldly desires and the tendencies of our previous nature. Then we must also know God’s promises and purposes for an abundant and victorious life. This can only be rightly understood by also associating ourselves with Christ’s resurrection and glorification. By faith we were reborn and by faith we must follow Jesus with our whole heart. Without the proper heart, no amount of ‘praying’, scripture reading, or any spiritual disciplines will provide an answer for how to follow the Lord in any given circumstance. The funny thing is that conversely when we have the proper heart, no amount of sin can disqualify genuine repentance and restoration to following Christ (consider David, on countless occasions. In fact in many ways, Saul was a far more moral man than David for most of his reign).

    I think there is a place for a crisis moment when a nominal or spiritually young Christian can experience the Lord and make a decision to follow Him by putting all other things in submission to Him. Knowing Christ at this point becomes so much more than where your address will be after death, it’s about salvation, renewal, and eternity right now, here on earth. As we learn about and understand God’s plans for renewal, we gradually become less concerned and interested in the things of the current world. The dichotomy becomes very real.

    C.S. Lewis on Jesus: “No net less wide than a man’s whole heart, nor less fine of mesh than love, will hold the sacred Fish”

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This blog is a place to wrestle with loving, leading and labouring according to the Jesus Way.


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