And the LORD was grieved that he had made Saul king over Israel.” – 1 Samuel 15:35 (NIV)
One of my favorite days in sports happens this weekend: the NFL Draft. The 32 NFL teams select college football players that they hope will really improve their team. For a fan, it’s a nice oasis in the middle of the very long NFL offseason, where the Super Bowl is a few months gone by and the new season is still a long ways away.
There is one word that you’ll hear this weekend from the draft commentators more than any other: potential. “Boy this guy has the potential to be a great running back.” – “He’s got the potential to be the next Tom Brady or Peyton Manning.” But many players selected in the draft don’t turn into superstars. They have all the measurable things that teams look for (size, speed, strength, etc.) but for some reason it never comes together for them. I remember a commentator asking a coach about a player’s potential once, and the coach answered back, “Potential just means you ain’t done it yet !”
So flash back about 3,000 years. Saul sure had potential, didn’t he ? In 1 Samuel 9, he’s described as an “impressive young man without equal among the Israelites—a head taller than any of the others.” On top of that, he was anointed as Israel’s first king. But it soon became clear that, while Saul had all the “measurables”, he lacked a heart for God. Not long after, he improperly offered burnt offerings to God while waiting for Samuel. Then he disobeyed God’s command to completely destroy the Amalekites in battle, and instead spared some of them. Samuel let Saul know that God was not pleased and asked him, “Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the LORD?” (1 Sam 15:22). It didn’t take long for Saul to get off on the wrong foot. And finally, Saul became obsessed with David over what seemed to be a trivial issue – that David had killed thousands more in battle than Saul did. All of these factors and more led to Saul’s own destruction and foreshadowed a long line of disobedient and evil kings in both kingdoms. Saul appeared to have it all, but squandered it.
Saul’s life after becoming king is a clear example of how not to follow God. Disobedience and jealousy are sins that can lead to our downfall. Saul certainly had great potential. But his unfaithful response to God’s calling is unfortunately his legacy.