There is no denying that the first king of Israel, Saul, failed to model humble obedience to God. After the prophet Samuel had given clear instructions to wait for him in Gilgal, the impatient king presumed to take on the office of priest and offer a sacrifice, something only Samuel should do.
Then, following a victory against the Amalekites, Saul failed to follow simple instructions concerning the spoils of war. Later, after Samuel’s death, Saul, still king but desperate to hear guidance from God as he and his men faced another Philistine threat, sought help from a medium, knowing full well that such practices were against God’s law.
In one of the strangest stories in the Bible, God permitted the medium to arrange a conversation between the recently departed Samuel and Saul. But it was not a pleasant one for Saul. The prophet reminded the king that God’s judgment had already decreed a new king will arise from a different family line. Saul’s royal line will start and finish with him.
He went on to say, “Because you did not obey the LORD or carry out his fierce wrath against the Amalekites, the LORD has done this to you today. The LORD will deliver both Israel and you into the hands of the Philistines, and tomorrow you and your sons will be with me. The LORD will also give the army of Israel into the hands of the Philistines” (1 Sam 28: 18 – 19).
This may seem like a story about God’s judgment, but I think it grants us a revelation into His kindness. Let me explain.
First, note that Saul was still king the day before his impending death. Even though God had previously made clear that the king’s reign would come to an end, He spared Saul the embarrassment of a public demise. He allowed Saul to continue in ministry until the day of his death.
Second, when Samuel informed Saul that he and his sons would die the next day, he made it very clear that they will be “with me”. They will die and be in paradise. Even his army will only be captured for a season. They are and will be still called the “army of Israel”.
God may be a judge, but He is also kind. God is unafraid to confront and deal with sin in our lives, but He is full of goodness and compassion. David reminded us in Psalm 30 to “Sing the praises of the LORD, you his faithful people; praise his holy name”, and then gives a great reason why:
“For his anger lasts only a moment,
but his favour lasts a lifetime;
weeping may stay for the night,
but rejoicing comes in the morning” (Ps 30: 4 – 5).
I believe God would rather share his love than His discipline. Like any good parent, He will deal with sinful attitudes and behaviours, but only to bring about the goals of righteousness, transformation and reconciliation.
The prophet Jeremiah gave us a glimpse into the heart of God, when the Lord spoke through him to a disobedient nation saying, ““I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness” (Jer 31: 3).