People are flawed and complex, rarely ever fitting well into the categories of hero or villain. Each one of us is really a mix of both. Biblical characters are the same; often we find that they inspire us one moment and horrify us the next. King Saul is a great example of that. History teaches that leaders who maintain their integrity for the long haul are few and far between, and once again, the Bible is true to our lived experience. In contrast, Samuel is able to maintain his integrity throughout his calling as the leader of his nation and beyond, and our reading today shows that contrast.

In chapter 11 we find Saul standing up against the injustice of the Ammonites, defending his people, and being gracious to those who didn’t believe in him. These are great qualities in a leader. In chapter 12 Samuel steps down as the leader of the people making space for Saul to rule as king. Students of history know that nations are most vulnerable in transitions of power, and peaceful transitions are rare. Samuel is open to rebuke and points the people back to their identity and history as God’s chosen instrument. He speaks truth, warning, and reassurance. In chapter 13 we see Saul falter because his character is marred by a combination of arrogance and insecurity. This is just a taste of what is to come, and Samuel’s prophecy at the end of chapter 12 foreshadows Saul’s future. The lesson for us is that our choices have consequences, and even if we have done well in the past, and even if God has trusted us with authority and position, we can’t simply coast on the memory of good days gone by. We don’t live in the future or in the past, and the choices we make in the moment are the ones that define the world we get to live in.

In chapter 11 (just like in chapter 10) we see the Holy Spirit come powerfully upon Saul, inspiring him to action. In the next few chapters, as he loses sight of God’s will and listens to his fear instead of his faith, you will see God’s Spirit leaving Saul in chapter 15, and an evil spirit entering Saul in 16. Once the wrong path, it gets harder and harder to work against evil’s momentum.

King of kings, I pray for all who lead, in our country, in our city, in our church, and with cultural influence. What we say and do matters, and I pray that You would make me faithful as I leverage my sphere of influence for the sake of Your Kingdom. Help me inspire others to best reflect You, and make me humble and open to rebuke when I falter. Remind us of the words of Samuel that remind us we are meant to have no king but You, God. I pray with Jesus, thy kingdom come. Amen.

Questions for reflection:

  1. Why do you think it is so common for leaders to end their careers poorly when they start with so much promise? Think of some leaders with untarnished legacies; what characteristics define them?
  2. Read 1 Samuel 12:18-20 again. What do you make of Samuel sending rain? Is this a threat, a power move, or a sermon illustration? What is the point?
  3. Why was it wrong for the people to want a king? What lessons are here for us today? (read 1 Samuel 8:10-21)