When reading historical sections of the Old Testament, one of the thoughts that frequently crosses my mind is Wow, Israel, that was stupid.
Over and over again, despite repeated words of warning, despite circumstances proving God’s provision, despite extremely real, tangible expressions of God’s actual, physical presence and power, the people screw up, doubt, lie, do wicked things, and act as if they, and not God, were the most important things in the universe. How is that possible in the presence of the tabernacle, the pillars of cloud and fire? I wonder.
It’s as if I believe I wouldn’t—don’t—do the same things.
Saul, the first king of Israel, is a person who I think demonstrates how easy it is to put yourself before God, even when surrounded by signs of his works. When we first meet him, he doesn’t think he’s that special—“a Benjamite, of the smallest of the tribes of Israel, and my family the least of all the families of the tribe of Benjamin” (1 Samuel 9:21). Even when he’s being publicly declared king, he hides among luggage and equipment, afraid to come forward.
After a while, though, things change. Saul was anointed by a Godly leader of the region, honored with a special place and the best dish at a great feast, cheered on by crowds, given victory against enemies trying to assert their dominance of Israel. He had a whole lot of proof for how awesome he was, and a man who started out as nothing special wasn’t about to let that go.
He had been king only two years when he called the Israelites to fight, and when the priest didn’t show up on schedule to sacrifice before the battle, he did it himself. He went through the motions he thought he needed to maintain success. He tried to control the future of his kingship—and ended up causing the end of his rule.
Things get worse the farther you go on. Maybe he figured he slipped up, so he was going to do everything in his power to keep the rest of his life from falling apart. And though he descends further, becoming quite unstable by the time David comes along, it all rings a little too true.
To quote my pastor during this morning’s service: “Show me a control freak, and I’ll show you someone who’s experienced rejection.”
Saul, the Israelites, us—we all do what we think is best for ourselves. If we focus too much on maintaining control, making sure what we want comes to pass, we forget that nothing good that’s happened to us is because of our merit. Good comes about because of the goodness of God.
Life lessons for me: I didn’t make the best parts of my life come about. I can see the real, actual, tangible presence of God when I look at any of the good that’s happened to me. That should be as good as a pillar of cloud or fire.