Thinking about leadership
1 Samuel 14: Wherever he turned, he came up with a victory. He became invincible!
Saul is a terrific military leader: brave, capable, and resourceful. My first instinct upon reading Samuel’s pronouncement of God’s rejection of Saul as king is to think that everything’s going to fall apart for him. It simply doesn’t happen. Saul builds a great army, extends his rule by taking more territory, and keeps the hated Philistines on the defense. For decades he successfully leads Israel. Whether I like it or not, sometimes godless people are very capable people. For instance, all it takes is watching the innovative, yet profane commercials during a Super Bowl to see that some of the brightest, most outstanding people in advertising are those who have anything but Christian values. So, as I read his story, I see that at on at least the public level, Saul has it all together. It’s at the private level that things are, indeed, falling apart. Without doubt, living for the Lord is the best way to live. Still, being a follower of Jesus doesn’t make one smarter or more capable. That ought to at least humble me and make me more dependent on the Lord. It may also make me think twice when I’m picking a professional to help me with my business or getting ready to pull the lever to vote in an important election.
Take Away: Some of the smartest, most capable people we know aren’t Christians – at least, not yet.
Being spiritual about things
1 Samuel 14: Saul did something really foolish that day.
It’s war. Saul’s army is in battle with the hated Philistines. Saul’s son Jonathan leads the way. Single handedly he’s killed about 20 of the enemy. God’s working here, bringing confusion to the enemy army. In addition to the damage Saul’s army is doing them they seem to be at war with one another. It’s now that Saul does a “really foolish” thing. He commands his army to fast while they fight. His men are in hand-to-hand combat all day but eat nothing. When the battle ends at the end of the day they’re so hungry that they’re eating raw meat, meat with the blood still in it, which is contrary to God’s Law. The writer tells us that it’s all Saul’s fault. He’s in charge and they depend on his leadership. He’s let them down by adding to their burden in an attempt to make their effort seem “more spiritual.” It’s important that leaders be spiritually sensitive. We’re not to dress things up to make them seem more spiritual than they already are, but at the same time, we’re to take the lead in recognizing God’s work in even supposed “non-spiritual” efforts. Saul overplays his hand here and the result is near disaster. I pray that God will help me to be sensitive to spiritual things and to be a leader who “is” spiritually minded rather than a person who is foolishly, like Saul, merely “acting” spiritually minded.
Take Away: Spiritual leaders don’t play the role of someone who is spiritually minded; rather, they ARE spiritually minded.
The bigger they come…
1 Samuel 13: God is out looking for your replacement right now.
On the surface, Saul’s failure seems minor. All he’s doing is offering his own sacrifice instead of waiting for Samuel to do it for him. Beneath that, though, is a fault line that means catastrophe. Any king of Israel must rule only as a servant of God. Things are to be done God’s way. From the beginning of Saul’s story his position has been clearly defined. Samuel is the man chosen by God to provide spiritual leadership and that includes making ritual sacrifices. Saul has crossed that line, claiming authority that’s not his. Because of that God is rejecting him as king. Since he doesn’t accept God’s way of doing things another king will be found. I need to remember here that Saul isn’t making a mistake in this incident. Rather, he’s acting with full knowledge of what he’s doing. Simply put, he’s pushing God’s will to the side and taking what he thinks is a better course of action. While it’s true that God is testing him with the circumstance of Samuel’s late arrival it’s also true that he miserably fails the test. The Lord seeks another king because Saul, by his own decision, makes himself unworthy to be king. As I apply this to my life, I see that I must never forget that he is Lord. I’m not free to do whatever I want to do. While I know God is gracious and merciful, I also know that, in my own free will, I can push God too far. It doesn’t have to be that way, but I know that it remains a tragic possibility.
Take Away: If I’m to be God’s man I have to do things God’s way. He’ll have it no other way.
Hurry up, Lord!
1 Samuel 13: So I took things into my own hands.
As we leave Samuel’s sermon in chapter 12 and move to chapter 13 there’s a leap of several years. In fact, the first words of the next chapter tell us that Saul has now reigned for many years. Apparently, he’s doing a good job. For decades there have been no stories of failure. Life continues, securely and peacefully. Also, we see that Samuel is doing what he said he would do and is faithfully praying for them and providing spiritual guidance. Saul handles the day to day running of the country and Samuel’s the spiritual leader. Then historic things begin to happen. Saul’s son, Jonathan, attacks the Philistines at Gibeah and there’s war. Outnumbered, Saul’s army flees and things are unraveling for Israel. The call goes out to Samuel to come and offer a sacrifice. God’s help is needed here! As Saul waits on Samuel his men are deserting, slipping away one after another. Finally, Saul decides he can wait no longer. Crossing the line that has existed between his authority and Samuel’s he offers his own sacrifice. Of course, it’s all a test. Will Saul follow God’s plan for how Israel is to function or will he abandon God’s approach when it seems necessary? His failure’s obvious. I can be pretty hard on Saul if I want to. God has been with him, always on his side, now he’s messed up (royally!). The trouble is that I have to admit that I can identify with Saul here. How good am I at waiting for God to move when I’m under pressure? Do I tend to take matters into my own hands? This is a spectacular failure for Saul. Is it anything less when I fail in the same way?
Take Away: Waiting for God to move may be our greatest test of faith.
1 Samuel 12: And neither will I walk off and leave you. That would be a sin against God! I’m staying right here at my post….
Samuel’s an old man but he has plenty of life left. If these people had trusted God with the future Samuel would have kept them on the right track for years to come. Then, at the right time, the Lord would have raised up another national and spiritual leader to guide them even as he gave them Samuel. It isn’t going to be that way though. They insisted on having a king and God has given them one. Still, there’s evidence of God’s grace here. The Lord won’t forsake them. If they and their king cooperate things will be just fine. Now, Samuel adds a personal note. Even as God promises to remain faithful, so does he. Really, Samuel can do nothing else. As God’s man his actions must reflect God’s character. It would be unthinkable for him to say, “I represent God, and God is going to stand by you; but as for me, I’m out of here!” People who represent God, those who claim to be his people, reflect God in all their lives. Samuel could have gotten his feelings hurt and just “handed them over to God” but he doesn’t do that. As a man of God I must allow my life to reflect his character even when people treat me unfairly or misunderstand me or hurt my feelings. It’s simply a part of being a man of God.
Take Away: The people of God reflect him in all they do and say – on both good days and bad.
The big bang!
1 Samuel 12: God, simply because of who he is, is not going to walk off and leave his people.
Talk about “multi-media!” As Samuel brings his farewell sermon, he tells them how displeased the Lord is with them over their insistence on having a king. Then, to illustrate that displeasure, Samuel prays up a thunderstorm! Now, that’s an “attention-getter!” The storm scares them to repentance and they plead with Samuel to pray for them. He promises his prayers and also assures them that God can work through the king arrangement. It may not be God’s first choice, but he can handle it as long as king and people cooperate with him. And, even though the Lord’s disappointed in their poor choices, he isn’t giving up on them. How does Samuel know this? He knows it because his knows God. “Because of who he is, he will be faithful to you.” Wow! What a relief! It’s great to know that my relationship with God isn’t performance- based. That doesn’t give me license to ignore God and do my own thing, but it does encourage me today. Even when I’m functioning at peak capacity I tend to mess up. I’m glad for this reminder that God doesn’t walk out on people who make poor decisions.
Take Away: The Lord can work through even our poor decisions if we walk humbly with him.
1 Samuel 12: …you find nothing against me — no faults, no complaints.
As Moses concludes his ministry he brings a final message that’s most of the book of Deuteronomy. Later on Joshua concludes his leadership with his “as for me and my house” sermon. Now we find Samuel delivering his concluding sermon. However, the situation is very different than it was with Moses and Joshua. They signed off because the end of life was near. Samuel, though old and gray, is taking an early retirement. He’ll be God’s man, bringing his message, for years to come. In fact, he’ll even make a “post-death” appearance! So why is he preaching a farewell message now? It’s because the people want to be led by a king rather than a prophet. Samuel’s leadership is being cut short by that decision. As he delivers this farewell, Samuel doesn’t pull any punches. Even as their ancestors of the book of Judges forgot God, they’re walking dangerously close to the edge of that same cliff in preferring the leadership model of the nations of Canaan rather than the one put in place by the Lord. This farewell sermon proves to be a memorable one, complete with special effects. As I read it I find myself thinking of how different it could have been for these people had they not insisted on this common sense solution to their leadership concerns. God’s way is always the best way and I want to live close enough to him that I can always hear his Voice providing direction in my life.
Take Away: Common sense must always take a back seat to God’s way.