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Saul Did It His Way

1 Samuel: A Heart for God  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  50:32
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Saul Did It His Way - 1 Samuel 31

Intro: [Some lyrics from “My Way” by Frank Sinatra - lyrics by Paul Anka - 1st verse and 1st and 2nd refrains]
And now, the end is near And so I face the final curtain My friend, I'll say it clear I'll state my case, of which I'm certain I've lived a life that's full I traveled each and every highway And more, much more than this, I did it my way
[…]
Yes, there were times, I'm sure you knew When I bit off more than I could chew But through it all, when there was doubt I ate it up and spit it out I faced it all and I stood tall and did it my way […]
For what is a man, what has he got? If not himself, then he has naught To say the things he truly feels and not the words of one who kneels The record shows I took the blows and did it my way
Besides the fact that this song was a huge hit by Frank Sinatra in it’s day (1969), and a live version by Elvis Presley was released after his own death (1977), it remains popular both as an iconic Frank Sinatra hit as well as a song symbolic of secular society’s version of going out with triumph.
A 2005 survey by Co-Operative FuneralCare showed that this track was the most requested one at funerals in the UK. Spokesman Phil Edwards said, "It has that timeless appeal – the words sum up what so many people feel about their lives and how they would like their loved ones to remember them." (https://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/franksinatra/myway.html)
I would say this is considered the be the defiant triumph of the human spirit, even at the last, even at death’s door. In a post-modern world where uncertainty and relativism reigns, I suppose “I Did It My Way” is an effort to express some kind of confidence in a life well spent. Here’s the significant problem with that—it’s dead wrong.
A life well spent is not one of self-determining defiance at all, but one of dependence on God and submissive service for His Kingdom. God himself tells us that this is the case. The way to true honor in this life is to honor God. The Bible gives us both positive and negative examples of lives well spent or lives (and opportunities) wasted.
In our series through the book of 1 Samuel, we have seen how David’s submissive spirit is continually being shaped and trained by God to be the kind of leader God desires. But Saul, by stark contrast, has turned from God to do things his own way. Despite repeated warnings from God regarding this path and the sure destruction it will reap, Saul does not repent but continues in faithless defiance. When we come to the end of Saul’s life in 1 Samuel 31, we reach the unfortunate conclusion of a wasted opportunity to belong to a loving God and be used by Him for his good purposes.
PRAY with me and we will study the text together…
Last time we saw David… He had returned to Ziklag, after God providentially rescued him from fighting against Israel alongside the Philistines, to find that the Amalekites had taken the wives and children of him and all his men. At this desperately low point of consequences for his sin (faithlessly going to live in Philistia when God had earlier told him to stay in Judah), with his own men ready to stone him, David turned to renew his strength in God and to seek God’s will. God providentially restored all of David and his men’s families, belongings, and more! David headed back home in triumphant blessing from God while at the same time Saul was fleeing for his life from the Philistines.
Last time we saw Saul… He had desperately sought information from God through a means directly prohibited by God… the use of a medium to try to speak to the dead. God providentially brought up the real Samuel (even to the shock of the medium) to bluntly remind Saul yet again of his error in rejecting God’s commands and the coming result of continuance on this faithless path:
1 Samuel 28:17–19 ESV
The Lord has done to you as he spoke by me, for the Lord has torn the kingdom out of your hand and given it to your neighbor, David. Because you did not obey the voice of the Lord and did not carry out his fierce wrath against Amalek, therefore the Lord has done this thing to you this day. Moreover, the Lord will give Israel also with you into the hand of the Philistines, and tomorrow you and your sons shall be with me. The Lord will give the army of Israel also into the hand of the Philistines.”
Rather than plead for mercy from a repentant heart, Saul went away dismayed but resigned to his fate.
And God fulfills his promise in chapter 31 of 1 Samuel.

The Final Scene (vv. 1-3)

1 Samuel 31:1–3 ESV
Now the Philistines were fighting against Israel, and the men of Israel fled before the Philistines and fell slain on Mount Gilboa. And the Philistines overtook Saul and his sons, and the Philistines struck down Jonathan and Abinadab and Malchi-shua, the sons of Saul. The battle pressed hard against Saul, and the archers found him, and he was badly wounded by the archers.
Down in the valley with their chariots (Iron age), the Philistines definitely had the advantage. Israel perhaps thought the Philistine enemy wouldn’t want to pursue them all the way into the mountainous region of Mt Gilboa… but they did.
Saul’s three oldest son’s are killed, perhaps the last stand to halt the oncoming forces from reaching their father, the king. Although we are saddened by it, we unfortunately don’t know any details of Jonathan’s end. - The youngest son, probably absent from the battle altogether, Eshbaal (later known also as Ish-bosheth, “man of shame” bc of his cowardice and poor leadership qualities)… he is the one whom Abner sets up as king of Israel in the near future (while David becomes king of Judah).
Saul is pinned down by the enclosing archers, and badly wounded, knowing there is no escape.

Saul’s Tragic End (vv. 4-6)

1 Samuel 31:4–6 ESV
Then Saul said to his armor-bearer, “Draw your sword, and thrust me through with it, lest these uncircumcised come and thrust me through, and mistreat me.” But his armor-bearer would not, for he feared greatly. Therefore Saul took his own sword and fell upon it. And when his armor-bearer saw that Saul was dead, he also fell upon his sword and died with him. Thus Saul died, and his three sons, and his armor-bearer, and all his men, on the same day together.
In desperation, Saul gives his armor-bearer two reasons to kill him: dying at the hand of the uncircumcised… and the almost certain torture that would precede his death.
Whether Saul’s servant refuses for fear of God or fear of repercussions from men, we do not know. (But after all the narrator has told us of David’s insistence on not taking the life of the Lord’s anointed, we can’t help but take this positively.)
Still determined to not go out in any greater pain, Saul falls on his own sword, bringing an end to his own life. His armor-bearer does the same. - If you read ahead you might wonder whether he finished the job successfully or if the Amalekite who claims to have helped him finish the job is telling the truth. (David certainly believes him, and he dies for it!) But bc of the conclusiveness of the text here about his death, I take that later episode to be a tale by this other man in hopes of ingratiating himself to David. Wrong move!
But back to Saul taking his own life: “Bluntly, he is more interested in avoiding pain than in obeying God (not harming God’s anointed).” Deffinbaugh
A Difficult (but Necessary) Discussion: Suicide and Assisted Suicide
I desire to make every effort to deal with this issue sensitively, but honestly and directly.
Suicide is a sin because it is self-murder. - It is disobedience.
Suicide is a sin because God alone has rightful authority over life and death.
Suicide is a sin because it reveals a heart that does not trust God’s ability to solve our problems.
Perhaps most fundamentally, suicide is a sin because it reveals a heart that is not trusting God’s faithful goodness beyond and even through our painful circumstances.
No, suicide is not an unpardonable sin that automatically sends one to hell, even one who professed faith in Christ. The Bible doesn’t teach that anywhere. (The unpardonable sin in Mark ch. 3 is attributing the Holy Spirit’s work to the devil. Or some might say it is rejecting the Holy Spirit’s work. Either way, no where does the Bible say that a true believer who commits suicide has somehow forfeited his faith.) When Christ died for sin, he died for all of it. So if God saves me by granting faith in Jesus, then Christ’s sacrificial death and perfect righteousness covers all my sin, from first to last. - Now, if an unbeliever commits suicide, they have in fact removed any chance for repentance and faith, and they do indeed remain condemned.
One helpful qualification for our understanding: “We need not allow medical technology to prolong pain and the death process, but we should not seek to end the life which God gives, and which only God takes away (Job 1:21). Whenever men wish to die in the Bible, it is not commended; it is clearly seen as a failure of faith.” - Deffinbaugh
Suicide is tragic and wrong, but it isn’t something we should avoid thinking rightly about or that we should take seriously. We need to be willing, most of all as God’s people, to deal with it as directly as is possible in our relationships so that we are the best help to one another that we can be.
How can we help one another in severe mental and emotional distress? (I don’t claim to be an expert. But I do believe these are a few suggestions that are biblically sound.)
Be present. And if we make efforts to comfort them, we must not do so with worldly words but with gospel truth: God loves you. God cares. Jesus died for you. Jesus lives so that you may truly live. Let me help you see the goodness of God.
Take depression and anxiety seriously and make sure people are getting ongoing help. (Depression isn’t something you just “bounce” out of… like your kid going right back to playing a game even though he has a gorgeous goose egg on his head from only moments before. You wouldn’t tell your friend who just dislocated his knee and tore his ACL downhill skiing, “You’re fine. Walk it off. Or walk the bottom of the hill because that’s where help is.” In other words, the internal damage is more severe than outward appearance suggests, and you can’t simply tell them to do a better job of trusting God or to get out their Bible and seek God. They need your help to get there, maybe on stretcher.) Church, I’m not calling us to be worldly and ignore the spiritual realities that are always connected with out lives as humans. But I am suggesting that we be more alert and more sensitive to helping and getting people help.
(How will we even know if people are deeply hurting?) Be involved in each other’s lives. Carry one another’s burdens. Celebrate victories with them and growth in their lives. (Elders and others telling me of marked growth… I know they don’t mean to insult my past… just trying to encourage me as I move forward.) - *Saul had isolated himself!
The Real Tragedy: Unrepentant Faithlessness
Saul was warned of impending judgment from God when he unlawfully offered sacrifices to God(in ch. 13) without Samuel bc the Philistine forces looked massive. He thought, with emphasis on religion rather than relationship to God, that he needed to do something to gain God’s favor against this enemy, and Samuel wasn’t there yet! But when warning came that his kingdom would not continue and God had sought out another after his own heart (13:14), Saul didn’t respond with repentance.
Again, after conquering the Amalekites but not doing it fully as God had said (ch. 15), but taking some of the spoil (which he blames on the people, and claims they kept the best for sacrificing to the Lord), the warning leads only to a hollow repentance that proves to be for self-preservation rather than a heart truly desiring to honor God. (Asks Samuel to pardon his sin, and wants a show of solidarity, to be sure the people see Samuel as still supporting Saul.)
Saul’s spiraling decline becomes more and more evident as God elevates David in Israel (Goliath anyone? “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands”), as Jonathan forms a bond with David in kindred faith, and as Saul invests more energy in relentlessly seeking David’s life rather than in running the kingdom and fighting its enemies. - He reaches such a low that he occasions the death of all the priests at Nob for supposedly harboring and helping David (which they had done unknowingly, innocently).
And again, as we just mentioned, Saul ignored the blatant warning from Samuel, from the afterlife, perhaps only hours before this military defeat at the hands of the Philistines.
Don’t tell me it wouldn’t have mattered, and that Saul’s fate was already written. There are other times where God prophecies regarding judgment but said judgment is prevented by the repentance of the hearers. Just one example, and the very reason Jonah runs away from the task God gives: God prophesied the destruction of Nineveh, but when they repented, God relented.
“We see, in Saul’s case, that there is no surer sign that a man is on the high road to ruin than that his heart is hardened against Divine warnings.” (J.A. Miller)
Despite instructive warnings, Saul insisted on doing it his way.
1 Chronicles 10:13–14 ESV
So Saul died for his breach of faith. He broke faith with the Lord in that he did not keep the command of the Lord, and also consulted a medium, seeking guidance. He did not seek guidance from the Lord. Therefore the Lord put him to death and turned the kingdom over to David the son of Jesse.
Whatever other military victories Saul may have accomplished while God had him on the throne as Israel’s first king, all is overshadowed by his unrepentant, faithless, disobedient heart.

Defeat and Dishonor (vv. 7-10)

1 Samuel 31:7–10 ESV
And when the men of Israel who were on the other side of the valley and those beyond the Jordan saw that the men of Israel had fled and that Saul and his sons were dead, they abandoned their cities and fled. And the Philistines came and lived in them. The next day, when the Philistines came to strip the slain, they found Saul and his three sons fallen on Mount Gilboa. So they cut off his head and stripped off his armor and sent messengers throughout the land of the Philistines, to carry the good news to the house of their idols and to the people. They put his armor in the temple of Ashtaroth, and they fastened his body to the wall of Beth-shan.
Saul’s outcome is an instruction to the nation of their own sin, and man’s determination to have his own way… which leads to ruin. God wants to bless people through their submission to him.
Saul’s example is NOT praise to the triumph of the human spirit. - No hero, but a tragic life indeed. … The tragic end of a life led in independence of God.
[There’s one bright spot in this brief chapter…]

The Honor of Jabesh-gilead (vv. 11-13)

1 Samuel 31:11–13 ESV
But when the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead heard what the Philistines had done to Saul, all the valiant men arose and went all night and took the body of Saul and the bodies of his sons from the wall of Beth-shan, and they came to Jabesh and burned them there. And they took their bones and buried them under the tamarisk tree in Jabesh and fasted seven days.
The men of Jabesh-gilead, the city that Saul saved at the beginning of his reign (ch. 11), bravely rescue the bodies of Saul and his sons from dishonor. - They burn off the flesh and bury the bones. David later commends them and promises to bless them for this act. And even later still, David exhumes the bones and buries them in the land of their fathers (of Kish, Benjaminite).

Whose way are you doing life?

When we reach the end of Saul’s life, we are not led to conclude that his was a life well spent. (Faithlessness and compromise)
Who is your master? Who captains your soul? [“Invictus” poem by William Ernest Henley]

A Better Example from a Better King

Jesus expressed, in prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, that humanly speaking, he didn’t want to suffer the pain and humiliation that he knew was coming next. However, in his divine unity with God, he was able to remain faithful because he was confident in the goodness of the Father’s will, and he was reliant on the sustaining work of the Holy Spirit… so he both prayed and was sustained to follow through with, “not my will but yours be done.”
So how do we follow the Lord’s example?
Hebrews 12:1–2 ESV
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
Sometimes the most profound truths are simple and straightforward. See in Hebrews 12 that what we need is trusting submission to a God who is good, and we must help each other keep that focus.
What will it be for you?

Epitaph: [Your Name] Submitted to God’s Way

“God sometimes brings us to a point of total despair and frustration so that we will give up trying to live this life in our own strength and cast ourselves wholly upon Christ.” Deffinbaugh
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