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’[1] and called to ‘reign in life’ through him.[2] 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.’[3] 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.[4] Soon after, Samuel had anointed him for the job,[5] and as the Holy Spirit symbolised in that anointing came upon him, he had begun to prophesy along with a group of prophets.[6] Surely with so much in his favour, and especially God’s blessing, he could look forward to a long and successful reign.

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,[7] who is the Spirit of prophecy and at whose prompting, Paul assures us, ‘you can all prophesy’.[8]

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.’[9] 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’.[10] 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.[11] 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…’[12] 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.’[13]

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.’[14] Later, he tried to spear him to the wall,[15] and even tried to kill his own son Jonathan, whom he perceived as supporting David.[16]

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 today.’[17]

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’[18] 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 compliments.

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?’[19] 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’.[20] 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?’[21]

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.[22] The Good Shepherd ‘calls his own sheep by name, and leads them out.’[23] He loved you and gave himself for you personally.[24] And what’s more, he doesn’t regret having done so! He has made you a king and priest to God,[25] 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’.[26] 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 five.

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 you.

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.’[27] That can be your story, too, as you co-operate with the Lord and make a success of your reign.

 

Copyright © David Matthew 2009

 

 

1. Revelation 1:6 NKJV

2. Romans 5:17

1 SAMUEL

Ruined By Self-Rejection

 

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.

 

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3. 1 Samuel 9:1-2

10. See 1 Samuel 10:20-27

1 Samuel

17. 1 Samuel 22:6-8. The ‘servant’ is David, by this time an outlaw on the run from Saul’s persecution.

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.