24Saul said to Samuel, “I have sinned; for I have transgressed the commandment of the LORD and your words, because I feared the people and obeyed their voice. 25Now therefore, I pray, pardon my sin, and return with me, so that I may worship the LORD.” 26Samuel said to Saul, “I will not return with you; for you have rejected the word of the LORD, and the LORD has rejected you from being king over Israel.” 27As Samuel turned to go away, Saul caught hold of the hem of his robe, and it tore. 28And Samuel said to him, “The LORD has torn the kingdom of Israel from you this very day, and has given it to a neighbor of yours, who is better than you.29Moreover, the Glory of Israel will not recant or change his mind; for he is not a mortal, that he should change his mind.” 30Then Saul said, “I have sinned; yet honor me now before the elders of my people and before Israel, and return with me, so that I may worship the LORD your God.” 31So Samuel turned back after Saul; and Saul worshiped the LORD.
32Then Samuel said, “Bring Agag king of the Amalekites here to me.” And Agag came to him haltingly. Agag said, “Surely this is the bitterness of death.” 33But Samuel said,
“As your sword has made women childless,
so your mother shall be childless among women.”
And Samuel hewed Agag in pieces before the LORD in Gilgal.
34Then Samuel went to Ramah; and Saul went up to his house in Gibeah of Saul. 35Samuel did not see Saul again until the day of his death, but Samuel grieved over Saul. And the LORD was sorry that he had made Saul king over Israel.
This is not an ideal place to resume the devotionals. First, the episode above is near the story's end and not at its beginning. Second, the story is not a hope-filled story. It's kind of depressing, as a matter of fact. Saul is not a happy character. He is pathetic in many ways. But if we were to meet him in person, we would be initially impressed, for he is tall and handsome -- "kingly" handsome. So by appearances Saul looks the part. What makes him a sorry character is his heart.
His heart -- his inner core -- is rotten. Or, it got that way, mainly because Saul became King of Israel! Had he stayed an unknown nobody, Saul would have turned out better because he would not have been tempted and would not have fallen in the ways that he did.
The weakness of his inner core was not lust (like David's) or anger (like Moses'); it was "fear of man." Some of us are used to hearing this short phrase, "fear of man," but we need to understand this phrase correctly. This phrase is best understood against the background of another fear -- the "fear of God." So, "fear of man" is a contrastive term, meaning that whenever we hear it, we should think about the other fear that it is replacing. Both "fear of man" and "fear of God" indicate the ultimate grounding for our decisions. "Fear of God" means we decide (on important matters) on what the Lord thinks. "Fear of man," on the other hand, means we decide on important matters on what others' might think and say.
Saul, being an insecure (and at times, paranoid) man, is constantly worried about how others see him, especially as king. Saul craves respect and recognition. Saul hates competition. Saul becomes insanely jealous when the shepherd boy, David, becomes popular in the eyes of the nation when he defeats Goliath. What's missing in Saul's makeup is the other fear that we talked about. Saul is not worried about how God sees him (except when there is impending divine judgment); Saul does not crave God's approval and joy; Saul is always looking out for himself, not for God's will and the nation's well-being.
Occasionally, Saul gets a self-reflective glimpse of where he truly is with respect to God and even voices the truth of his condition, as in verse 24 above -- "... I feared the people and obeyed their voice ..." But his confession comes too late. God has moved on. The Lord has selected another king to replace Saul. And through Samuel, the Lord God tells Saul as much.
Though Saul confesses his fear of people and his mistake, Saul can't seem to get entirely free from his fear of man, even after he confesses this fear! (Which goes to show that mere verbal confession of truth does not automatically change the heart.) Even though Saul has been rejected by God, he doesn't want others to know that he has been rejected by God. Public image is everything. His private self can be in shambles but what's deeply important for Saul is how others perceive him.
That is why Saul pleads with Samuel to go with him to "worship" the Lord (as if everything is OK). Saul has not truly worshiped the Lord in a long time (for true worship entails genuine repentance and restoration). Saul is only interested in appearances. Let me and you go and offer some burnt sacrifices and say a few prayers in front of the elders and Israel, and then all is good -- basically this is what Saul is saying to Samuel.
Without any hint of cynicism, the text says in verse 31, "and Saul worshiped the Lord." That is, Saul performed whatever religious rites prescribed for him.
The passage ends on a sadder note still. Samuel 15:35, "Samuel did not see Saul again until the day of his death, but Samuel grieved over Saul. And the LORD was sorry that he had made Saul king over Israel."
Sadness and regret all around. As I said, not a hope-filled story.
Let's pray: Father God, save us from the fear of man. Rather, may a healthy fear of you ground our important decisions in life. A fear that acknowledges your holiness and great worth. A fear that is married to a deep love for you, for we know that whatever you ask us to do comes from your love for us. So may fear of you and love for you constitute our foundation for a well-lived life. In Jesus' name, amen.