For many years I had a wipe board over the dining room table with the question: “Why was Saul rejected from being king?” It made for good conversation and stood there as a warning. The design of that room has changed, but the question is engraved in my heart. Why was Saul rejected from being king? Because Saul feared man more than God. This was not always the case. When Saul was anointed King of Israel, he was a humble young man. But later, Samuel the Prophet would chide him with these words: “When thou wast little in thine own sight, wast thou not made the head of the tribes of Israel, and the LORD anointed thee king over Israel?” (1 Samuel 15:17).
Our first hint that Saul worried more about what men would say than what God would think is in the story of the preparations for battle that took place at Gilgal (1 Samuel 13). We read that when Samuel did not show up as promptly as he was expected by Saul, King Saul took it upon himself to carry out priesthood duties for which he had no authority. He prepared a peace offering and actually carried out the ritual for burnt offerings (1 Samuel 13:9). When Samuel the Prophet, horrified as this evil thing, questioned Saul, the latter responded: “Because I saw that the people were scattered from me, and that thou camest not within the days appointed, and that the Philistines gathered themselves together at Michmash; Therefore said I, The Philistines will come down now upon me to Gilgal, and I have not made supplication unto the LORD: I forced myself therefore, and offered a burnt offering” (1 Samuel 13:11a-12). Saul, then, begins with an excuse, “Well, you were late and this thing had to be done.” From the excuse, he moves on to try and point out how noble his actions were, “Look, I forced myself, so instead of being upset, you should thank me, you should be happy I took the initiative.”
We have a similar pattern in the matter of Agag and the Amalekites (1 Samuel 15). “But Saul and the people spared Agag, and the best of the sheep, and of the oxen, and of the fatlings, and the lambs, and all that was good, and would not utterly destroy them: but every thing that was vile and refuse, that they destroyed utterly” (1Samuel 15:9). Saul had the audacity to tell Samuel, “Blessed be thou of the LORD: I have performed the commandment of the LORD” (1Samuel 15:13b). Samuel, once again, was incredulous at this saying, and asked: “What meaneth then this bleating of the sheep in mine ears, and the lowing of the oxen which I hear?” (1Samuel 15:14b). Once again, Saul responds with an excuse, a justification, that the people wanted to save the best for a sacrifice: “the people spared the best of the sheep and of the oxen, to sacrifice unto the LORD thy God” (1Samuel 15:15b). If there was anything Saul hated to do, was to correct the people, or teach the people. Saul refused to stand up and be counted but rather followed the will of the people over that of the Lord and His prophet.
When confronted with his evil doing, Saul again refuses to admit his error. Saul seems proud of his behavior: “Yea, I have obeyed the voice of the LORD, and have gone the way which the LORD sent me, and have brought Agag the king of Amalek, and have utterly destroyed the Amalekites” (1Samuel 15:20b). Then he blames the people: “But the people took of the spoil, sheep and oxen, the chief of the things which should have been utterly destroyed, to sacrifice unto the LORD thy God in Gilgal” (1Samuel 15:21b).
Samuel rejoins with the often quoted: “Hath the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams” (1Samuel 15:22b). This was a hard lesson.
So Samuel gives Saul the bad news: “Because thou hast rejected the word of the LORD, he hath also rejected thee from being king” (1Samuel 15:23b). Only now does Saul seem repentant: “I have sinned: for I have transgressed the commandment of the LORD, and thy words” (1Samuel 15:24b). Saul, however, is not moved by godly sorrow, but rather, by the unhappy consequences he will need to face. Then Saul explains what was in his heart, why he had been disobedient: “because I feared the people, and obeyed their voice” (1Samuel 15:24c). Saul feared man more than God. His confession of what had moved him to do that which was wrong in the sight of God was not a confession leading to change and repentance and turning to the Lord.
Saul now pleads with Samuel to walk with him—even though it is a pretense—so that the people will not realize that the Lord has rejected him: “I have sinned: yet honour me now, I pray thee, before the elders of my people, and before Israel, and turn again with me, that I may worship the LORD thy God” (1Samuel 15:30b). This was the critical moment; the moment of truth. This was the time for Saul to show God that he only cared about following the Lord’s will. Instead, it turned out to be among the most tragic events recorded in Scripture. Saul desired, above all things, to be popular with the people. I am of the opinion that the Lord would have forgiven Saul had he acted upon godly sorrow.
As an illustration, one of the most wicked kings of the Northern Kingdom (also known as Israel or Ephraim) after the civil war that divided the nation of Israel, was Ahab. Yet even Ahab, when confronted by Elijah the Prophet “rent his clothes, and put sackcloth upon his flesh, and fasted, and lay in sackcloth, and went softly” (1 Kings 21:27b). Even though Ahab did not altogether escape punishment, these were delayed for a season. We read: “And the word of the LORD came to Elijah the Tishbite, saying, Seest thou how Ahab humbleth himself before me? because he humbleth himself before me, I will not bring the evil in his days: but in his son’s days will I bring the evil upon his house” (1 Kings 21:28-29). Furthermore, if Ahab’s sons would have turned unto the Lord with all their might, such punishment would not have come upon them.
So we return to Saul. A man who once had been able to consult the will of the Lord, now was left destitute of communication with God: “And when Saul enquired of the LORD, the LORD answered him not, neither by dreams, nor by Urim, nor by prophets” (1Samuel 28:6). Saul’s prayers went unanswered.
In Doctrine and Covenants we read: “They were slow to hearken unto the voice of the Lord their God; therefore, the Lord their God is slow to hearken unto their prayers, to answer them in the day of their trouble. In the day of their peace they esteemed lightly my counsel; but, in the day of their trouble, of necessity they feel after me” (D&C 101:7-8). Yet in the very next verse we find these tender words: “Verily I say unto you, notwithstanding their sins, my bowels are filled with compassion towards them” (D&C 101:9a). What the Father expects of us when we find the heavens shut, is not to give up and say, “Oh, well, God does not care about me, anyway. I do not deserve His tender mercies. The atonement does not apply to me.”
When Saul was confronted with heavens that had turned into iron, instead of repenting, he decided to seek counsel from the dark side: “Then said Saul unto his servants, Seek me a woman that hath a familiar spirit, that I may go to her, and enquire of her. And his servants said to him, Behold, there is a woman that hath a familiar spirit at Endor. And Saul disguised himself, and put on other raiment, and he went, and two men with him, and they came to the woman by night” (1Samuel 28:7-8a). What makes Saul’s story so very sad is that at one time he was a righteous youth who loved the Lord.
What do we learn from the story of Saul? How can we apply these matters to our own lives? Are we more worried about what God thinks than about what people will say? Are we ashamed of being followers of Christ? Sometimes we are more worried about what men will say than about what God will think. I would submit, that one of the main reasons we are upon this earth is to show that indeed, we can grow to fear God more than man. The word fear has numerous meanings. One of them is to respect. The fear of God is a great desire not to let God down, but to behave in ways that will help us glorify the Father, as the Savior so beautifully demonstrated for us.
“And it came to pass that he said unto them: Behold, here are the waters of Mormon (for thus were they called) and now, as ye are desirous to come into the fold of God, and to be called his people, and are willing to bear one another's burdens, that they may be light; Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death, that ye may be redeemed of God, and be numbered with those of the first resurrection, that ye may have eternal life—Now I say unto you, if this be the desire of your hearts, what have you against being baptized in the name of the Lord, as a witness before him that ye have entered into a covenant with him, that ye will serve him and keep his commandments, that he may pour out his Spirit more abundantly upon you?” (Mosiah 18:8-10). And if we have been baptized onto such a great cause, let us now endure to the end as faithful followers of the Lord, the Holy One of Israel, even Jesus the Christ.