Can you be good-looking, talented and blessed by God, and still make a mess of your
life? Yes. The proof of it is Saul, Israel’s first king.
His story is told in 1 Samuel, the book that records the transition from judges to
kings as leaders of the Israelites. That transition took place under the direction
of Samuel, a key Old Testament figure who was himself the last of the judges and,
at the same time, the first of Israel’s prophets. He personally anointed Saul as
the first king.
Saul was a king with great prospects. I could say the same about you, because if
you’re a Christian you, too, are a king, able to declare that Jesus ‘has made us
kings and priests to his God and Father’ and called to ‘reign in life’ through
him. Like Saul, you could end up falling far short of your prospects. So let’s
see what you can learn from him so that you don’t end up in the same mess.
Saul had some natural advantages that suited him for kingship. He came from a good
family, with his father ‘a man of standing’ in the community. Saul himself was regal
in stature: ‘as handsome a young man as could be found anywhere in Israel, and he
was a head taller than anyone else.’ What’s more, God had conferred certain special
blessings upon him for the job. The prophet Samuel had not only given him supernatural
direction in his search for his father’s lost donkeys but had also given him broad
prophetic hints as to his future role as king. Soon after, Samuel had anointed
him for the job, and as the Holy Spirit symbolised in that anointing came upon
him, he had begun to prophesy along with a group of prophets. Surely with so much
in his favour, and especially God’s blessing, he could look forward to a long and
What about you and your prospects? You may not enjoy Saul’s regal stature and good
looks, or have his sound family connections, but you can be sure of some key spiritual
factors. Certainly your life has been under God’s supernatural direction ever since
you were born. You are, I trust, anointed with the Holy Spirit, who is the Spirit
of prophecy and at whose prompting, Paul assures us, ‘you can all prophesy’.
So what went wrong for Saul? There are early indications in the story that, in spite
of his advantages, Saul suffered from self-rejection, timidity and insecurity. It’s
interesting, for example, that when he got back home after the search for the lost
donkeys he mentioned the contact with the prophet Samuel and his assurances about
the donkeys’ safety, but made no mention of the most newsworthy item of all: his
anointing: ‘He did not tell his uncle what Samuel had said about the kingship.’
Was it modesty? Possibly. Or was it just good sense, feeling the need to await the
day of the public selection procedure before saying anything? Possibly. But it could
also have been—and I think it was—a deep-seated lack of confidence in his ability
to do the job.
On the day of the public selection ceremony Samuel used the drawing of lots to narrow
down the choice from tribe, to clan, to family, to individual. Saul, of course, knew
that the final lot would pinpoint him, so he waited for his big moment. But when
it came—‘Ta-dah! And the winner is: Saul!—he was nowhere to be seen. A frantic search
discovered him hiding away in the baggage area. They hauled him up onto the podium
and presented him as the king of God’s choice, supporting him with ‘There is no-one
like him among all the people’ and ‘Long live the king!’ But it is hardly surprising
that not everyone joined in the cheering. Some, the record notes, ‘despised him and
brought him no gifts’. They despised him at least in part because of the obvious
lack of confidence in himself and his calling that Saul had showed by hiding away
at such a crucial point.
How’s your own confidence in yourself and your calling? How, for instance, do you
react when somebody points a camera at you? If you are inclined to self-rejection
I’m not at all suggesting you should put on a charade of ‘I’m the greatest’, but
I am pointing out that your prospects will be best served by your being quietly confident
in what God has made you and the gifts he has given you.
Saul’s initial lack of confidence soon began to show in other ways. Samuel had asked
him to rendezvous with him at Gilgal at a certain time to offer sacrifices to God
before starting the forthcoming battle with the Philistines. Saul clearly panicked
when Samuel was late and did what he was not qualified to do since he was a king,
not a priest: he offered the sacrifice himself. Sure, Samuel was late arriving
and Saul’s troops were beginning to scatter, but he should have waited. Instead,
he dithered, then gave in to the pressure, showing a lack of confidence not only
in himself but, more seriously, in the word of the Lord that had come through Samuel.
On a later occasion, Samuel came looking for Saul only to be told, ‘Saul has gone
to Carmel. There he has set up a monument in his own honour…’ Oh dear. Any properly
confident person, secure in his calling in God, will be content for other people
to honour him. But not Saul, who had to bolster his sagging self-esteem by erecting
a statue of himself. It’s a bit like the insecure teenager who has to go round with
a spray-can writing ‘Kevin woz ere’ on every blank bit of concrete he can find. It’s
no surprise, in the light of this, to later find Saul desperate to maintain his public
reputation andnot lose face. He admitted his sin privately to Samuel but went on
to qualify his admission with a request: ‘I have sinned. But please honour me before
the elders of my people and before Israel.’
No surprise, either, to find him threatened by other people’s success. When the young
David arrived on the scene to kill the Philistine giant Goliath, Saul was clearly
eaten up by jealousy of David’s popularity with the crowds. ‘From that time on,’
the story notes, ‘Saul kept a jealous eye on David.’ Later, he tried to spear
him to the wall, and even tried to kill his own son Jonathan, whom he perceived
as supporting David.
How do you measure up against these criteria? Is your confidence in yourself and
the word of God sufficient to keep you from dithering into disobedience? Do you have
to bolster your self-esteem by metaphorically setting up monuments in your own honour—by
reminding people of your qualifications and successes, for example, or by attention-seeking?
And how do you react to other people’s successes—when, say, a friend gets married
or promoted? With open admiration and celebration? Or by withdrawing into yourself
in seething resentment?
Saul’s personal insecurities even led to persecution mania. He would have identified
with the cry made famous by actor Kenneth Williams: ‘Infamy! Infamy! Everyone’s got
it in fer me!’ He even doubted the loyalty of his closest military commanders. ‘You
have all conspired against me,’ he complained.’ None of you is concerned about me
or tells me that my son has incited my servant to lie in wait for me, as he does
After that, things went from bad to worse. He gave David guarantees of safety but
didn’t keep them. Then, having turned away from Jehovah, he sought guidance through
a spiritist medium. And in committing suicide on the battlefield he performed the
act of ultimate self-rejection. Clearly self-rejection is a desperately serious condition.
Let’s look at some of the signs of it and, in case you find some of them in yourself,
think about how you can find the way to wholeness.
You will find it hard to trust God, probably because you don’t think he did a good
job on you: you’re not as good-looking as you would like to be, or as gifted, or
you have come from a tough family background such as a broken home or abusive parents.
You recognise that, as Paul says, ‘We are God’s handiwork’ so you blame him for
giving you a raw deal. No wonder, therefore, you can’t trust him today.
You will find it hard to love other people. That’s chiefly because you don’t really
love yourself—in the proper sense of having a sound level of self-esteem. The Scripture
wisely counsels: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ You can only do the former if
you already do the latter. If you don’t, you will constantly be pulling yourself
to pieces in self-criticism, saying, ‘I’m no good’ and shying away from cameras and
You will be forever comparing yourself with other people, always coming out unfavourably
in the comparison. And because you don’t like your basic physical features like your
size, your build and your looks, you will put an undue emphasis on clothes in an
attempt to look better. It’s interesting that Jesus himself put physical features
and concern about clothes together when he asked, ‘Which of you by worrying can add
one cubit to his stature? And why do you worry about clothes?’ Alongside this
you may make awkward attempts to hide what you consider physical defect. I once knew
a man who wore the most atrocious ginger wig to hide his baldness. A huge cheer went
up from his friends when the Lord did some major surgery on his psyche and he removed
the wig for ever.
You may be excessively shy, because you don’t think anyone would really want to get
close to you or talk to you. You are—to use Samuel’s words to Saul—‘small in your
own eyes’. At the same time you may well be something of a perfectionist, never
satisfied with what you do or achieve. Oddly enough, this often shows in a superior
attitude to others, and in boastfulness. That’s because you really feel inferior,
so you try to narrow the field of comparison by boasting. It’s the psychological
equivalent of Saul’s setting up a monument in his own honour.
You will look anxiously for any field in which you can do better than average and
give yourself to it to a disproportionate degree so that you can feel better about
yourself. It may be some sport or artistic activity, but the danger is that it ousts
the Lord from first place in your life. If it does, you feel guilty about it, and
so your whole self-rejection complex is further compounded.
You may also look for external ways of getting attention and winning people’s approval,
like buying yourself extremely expensive items of clothing, jewellery or gadgetry.
Because you don’t believe there is anything attractive about you as you are, these
become ‘bolt-on’ attention-getters. You may even give expensive, even extravagant
gifts to other people in an attempt to buy their approval. That, I think, is something
Saul did. To his military captains he said, ‘Listen, men of Benjamin! Will the son
of Jesse [David] give all of you fields and vineyards? Will he make all of you commanders
of thousands and commanders of hundreds?’
Now, it’s unlikely that you have found all these symptoms of insecurity and self-rejection
in yourself. But if some are present they point to a need for you to address the
issue and move towards a greater degree of wholeness as a Christian person. How can
you do that?
Begin at the top, by repenting of your ingratitude to God himself. Yes, he did make
you what you are, warts and all, and every part was designed for your blessing and
for God’s glory, provided your attitude is right. So ask his forgiveness and receive
it. Then start believing the good things that he says about you. These focus much
more on character issues and spiritual realities than on relatively unimportant externals
like the shape of your nose and your father’s embarrassingly silly laugh.
Remind yourself, for example, that the Lord individually called and redeemed you.
The Good Shepherd ‘calls his own sheep by name, and leads them out.’ He loved
you and gave himself for you personally. And what’s more, he doesn’t regret having
done so! He has made you a king and priest to God, and has great plans for you
as you ‘reign in life’, free from self-rejection.
In the light of this, make a conscious effort, with the Lord’s help, to stop comparing
yourself with other people. Such comparison, Paul insists, is ‘not wise’. Concentrate
instead on being like Jesus. This is, of course, a matter of character, and here
you have as much chance of success as anybody else, regardless of your background,
the way you look and all the other minor issues that have dominated your thinking
so far. Check your progress against the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians chapter
And, finally, don’t expect everything at once. Character-growth is by definition
gradual, because we are creatures of habit and it takes time and effort to establish
new attitudes and new patterns of thinking. I remember when I changed my car once;
every time I approached a corner the windscreen wipers came on because the controls
were the opposite way round on the new car. Months afterwards, it still happened
from time to time. Habits dies hard, especially habits of thought, so be patient
with yourself. We are all ‘a work in progress’. When Paul said, ‘We are God’s handiwork’
he used the present tense. In other words, his work in you is still going on. An
artist was sketching in a beauty-spot in the country. A passer-by stopped and, peering
over his shoulder at the work on the easel, commented, ‘Mm. It’s not very good.’
To which the artist replied, ‘It isn’t finished yet!’ Quite right. And neither are
Don’t end up on the scrap-heap like King Saul because of self-rejection. Look for
the signs of it now and work at eliminating it from your life. If you are going to
be like Saul at all, let it be like the other Saul, the one who appears in the book
of Acts and changed his name to Paul. He lived out the message he passed on to his
friends in Philippi: ‘[I am] confident of this, that he who began a good work in
you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.’ That can be
your story, too, as you co-operate with the Lord and make a success of your reign.
This is one essay in the Windows On The Word series. Click the Next and Previous
buttons to move through the series, and Up to go to the list. Footnotes appear in
the right-hand column. Hover over Bible references to see the text.
3. 1 Samuel 9:1-2
10. See 1 Samuel 10:20-27
17. 1 Samuel 22:6-8. The ‘servant’ is David, by this time an outlaw on the run from
19. Matthew 6:27-28 NKJV
20. 1 Samuel 15:17
21. 1 Samuel 22:7
22. Ephesians 1:4-5
4. 1 Samuel 9:19-20
5. 1 Samuel 10:1
6. 1 Samuel 10:9-11
7. In NT terms this is a conscious experience of the Holy Spirit known as ‘baptism
in the Spirit’ or ‘receiving the Holy Spirit’.
8. 1 Corinthians 14:31
9. 1 Samuel 10:15-16
11. 1 Samuel 13:11-13
12. 1 Samuel 15:12
13. 1 Samuel 15:30-31
14. See 1 Samuel 18:6-9 NIV
15. 1 Samuel 18:10-12
16. 1 Samuel 20:31-33
18. Ephesians 2:10
23. John 10:3
24. Galatians 2:20
25. Revelation 1:6; 5:10
26. 2 Corinthians 10:12
27. Philippians 1:6
The gist of this article
Israel’s first king, Saul, was a good starter but a poor finisher. A key reason for
his failure was his deep inner insecurity and lack of proper self-confidence. By
looking at his life you can avoid going the same sad way yourself.