Key Figures of the Old Testament

Freedom from Slavery: A Lesson from the Life of Saul

Photo of Lee Campbell
Lee Campbell

1 Samuel 9-28


Often, our hiding, manipulation, insecurity, and emotional outbursts are due to fear. The life of Saul, Israel's first king, was characterized by these things, resulting in poor leadership and a sad spiritual life. Because Saul was unable to put his trust in God's faithfulness, he lived his life enslaved to fear. We learn that freedom from enslavement to fear is possible through putting our faith in God and his unlimited power. A testimony from Kim Gulyassy is included.


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Saul was the 1st king of Israel (i.e. 1050 BC; His account is in 1 Samuel 9-31 and a short summary in 1 Chronicles 10:1-14).

Well, the 1st human king, anyway. Prior to Saul, God was the king of Israel (c.f. 1Samuel 8:7; 12:12; Isaiah 43:15) and during this period, for 3 centuries, at times of crisis, God would nominate a judge who would free people from oppression (c.f. in fact, when the judge Gideon is offered the monarchy, he replies, ”You have no king but Yahweh“ - Judges 8:23)

Samuel was the last of the judges. The Israeli's didn't like the God-as-king situation because one of their many enemies, the Ammonites. They were so afraid and so dubious about God's ability to save them that they asked for a human king. . .thus, rejecting God's leadership (1 Samuel 8:4-22; they wanted a visible standing army not an invisible God 8:20 & 12:12). God told Samuel to go ahead and give them the king they wanted—Saul.

Now we don't have time to review Saul's entire life but I think it will be useful to zoom in on a few episodes in his life to get a 'feel' for the kind of man he was

  • Saul was the GQ man of the decade in 1050 B.C. (c.f. 1 Samuel 9:2 incomparably handsome and head and shoulders above the other men in height).
  • When Saul was nearly 40 he went looking for his Dad's lost donkeys (1 Samuel 9:1-14; 40 years old 13:1). He's about to give up when he decides to ask Judge Samuel if he, by the power of God, can find his fathers assets.
  • Samuel tells him the donkeys are back home and then, unexpectedly, anoints him king of Israel in a private ceremony (9:15-10:1) and again in a public ceremony (10:17-24).
  • We begin to smell something stinky at the time of his public installment as king (10:21-22). . .you might think. . .OK, he's a little shy. . .Well, check this out.
  • (13:5-14). . .Philistines had them out-numbered & out-gunned1. . .dwindling troops (3000 to 600), he was afraid. . .so he offers the sacrifice (13:8-14). . .his dynasty is rejected
  • (15:1-24). . .Amalekites. . .takes a while for us to find out his motivation (v.24) he was afraid of his own people. . .so he disobeyed the commandment (15:13-16; 20-21; 24). . .his own kingship is rejected.2
  • (17:11,24). . .he was afraid of Goliath
  • (18:12,15,29) David b/c he was a threat to his dynasty. . .so he tried to kill him. (18:10) David held a harp. . .Saul held a spear.
  • (28:5,20). . .he was afraid of the Philistine army (28:4-7; 15-20) and so he sought occult insight.3

Saul was driven by fear most of his life. The irony is the Hebrews got the king they wanted (i.e. a handsome warrior) but he was just like them (i.e. fearful) (1 Samuel 16:7 God looks at the heart). He was afraid of his family, his nation, his enemies, Samuel, David and so on and so on.

The problem, of course, wasn't that he was fearful, it's that he let his fear drive him to opt for the bag of tricks he'd used from childhood (e.g. hiding, controlling, manipulating, lying, falling apart, raging & destroying). . .INSTEAD of looking to God as the one he should trust with his fears.

Don't Let Fear Enslave You

Is it that hard to relate to Saul? I don't think so. We all experience fear. Some are afraid of failure, success, people, people's opinions, real dangers, imagined dangers (“I have been through some terrible times in my life, some of which actually happened.” Mark Twain), the unknown and death.

We fear. . .some more. . .some less because of our nature, nurture, culture or personal circumstances.

I'll bet that underneath much of our busyness, obsessive entertainments, outbursts of anger, manipulations, dishonesty and loneliness is fear. Fear can keep people working, manipulating, playing or hiding for their whole lives (caveat: not saying that all work, play or retreat derives from fearfulness; just that some does).

e.g. Functioning to avoid the messiness and difficulty of people.
e.g. Obsessive work to avoid failure

Playing (if it's for self-soothing purposes)
e.g. Shopping when anxious. . .relationship btw. materialistic culture and our personal definitions of success.
e.g. Sexual addiction via fear of real relationshiPsalm
e.g. Substance abuse. . .chronic TV watching. . .

e.g. Anger (like fear-biting dogs) seeking peace by intimidation, force, or violence. (1Sam.22 - killing Ahimelech, the priests of Nob (85 of them) and all the women, children and animals too; c.f. ch.21 for background; 19:10ff vindictive; duplicity).
e.g. Queen bee girl gangs

Fear makes us lonely. . .we're driven inward. . .lying, blaming and hiding.

Seeking peace at the expense of honesty. Some of us don't want praise we just want to avoid critique and so we blend in. . .lay low and don't take on anything that we know we can't accomplish in our own strength (1 Samuel 10:16 not telling his uncle; 1 Samuel 10:21f hiding by the luggage)

Some of us have serious personal failure that we're hidden from others today, partly b/c we're afraid of what the very people God intends to help us, will think of us. . .fearful of their opinions we stay enslaved to. . ..(1 Samuel 15:13 deny; v.21 blame shift)

Not being honest about our faith.

Not being honest about our worries (contrast Jonathan 20:14-17 with Saul 18:17, 20-24).

Seeking peace at the expense of love. Seeing problems in our spouse, children, parents, co-workers or friends . . .but never directly telling them what's bothering us.

I run across lots of situations where people tell me how unhappy they are with another person, sometimes for years. . ..and have never taken one step to work it out because the love of peace is greater than love for that person.

Seeking peace at the expense of justice. Fear makes us complicit in evil.

Keep in mind, it's not fear, it's our refusal to examine and act upon those fears from God's perspective that makes us slaves to fear like Saul was enslaved to his fears. So, how do you avoid slavishness to fear?

A critical issue for Saul and for us is whether we'll make an important shift in perspective from what we're afraid of to whom we belong. . .is God is bigger than our situation?

God is Powerful

God can do whatever he wants to do (Genesis 18:14; Jeremiah 32:17; Isaiah 40:15-18, 21-23, 26, 28; 43:13).

It's implicit in his names—“I am” (YHWH I am here is what I am); “I am your provider” (YHWH raah (aka jireh); “I am your peace” (YHWH Shalom)—(the name Gideon gave to an altar he built b4 fighting the Midianites; Judges 6:11-24); “Almighty God” (El Shaddai) (Genesis17:1-3); “I am the God of Armies” (YHWH Elohim seba'ot {hosts, armies or masses}) It emphasizes his power over everything in the material and spiritual universe. All is under his command; “God most high” (El Yoh) (Genesis 14:17-20); “God who sees” (El Roi);

(Psalm 9:10) And those who know Your name will put their trust in You; For You, O LORD, have not forsaken those who seek You

The miraculous is no more impossible for God than the non-miraculous. These are distinctions that we make, not God. Both are equally possible for him.

God is able to forgive any and all sin. There is no one so lost that God is not able to convict/draw/forgive them (John 16:8). EVANGELISM

God is able to change our characters, no matter how big our problems are (Ephesians 1:18-20; 3:20; Philippians 4:13). SANCTIFICATION

God is able to use you to accomplish his purpose (2 Corinthians 3:6; 12:10). MINISTRY

If this is true. . .what's the most reasonable response to God? Awe, humility, submission and anticipation of his actions on our behalf and on behalf of others.

The problem with Saul, was not that he felt weak. . .it's that as weak as he felt, he saw God as weaker still (1 Samuel 9:21).

Respond in Faith

Cultivate “fear of God.” The primary meaning is awe and respect but it also includes the realization that He is overflowing with unlimited and potentially fatal power.

y-r-' (yir'ah- fear), nora' (awe) are the natural outcomes of YHWH's rule on earth (47:2; 65:5-8; 68:35; 76:7,12); p-h-d (pahad)—dread, tremble with fear; the natural result of rebellion (53:5; 14:5);

Those who haven't taken God's power and justice seriously should feel dread (Hebrews 10:31).

Those who have asked for God's mercy are free from this sort of fear (1Jn.4:18) but ought to feel awe & respect.

The godly fear (y-r-' & p-h-d) the Lord (Psalm 119:120, 161) and yet have nothing to fear (27:1,5; 3:6)

“Aslan is not safe—but he's kind” from The Lion, the witch and the wardrobe by C. S. Lewis.

This concept doesn't first appear in wisdom literature. Earlier scripture makes it clear that 'fear of YHWH' is the appropriate response to trust in the Lord (Genesis 22:12; 42:18; Job 1:1, 8-9; 2:3; Exodus 1:15-21; 14:31; 20:20; Leviticus 19:14, 32; 25:17; Deuteronomy 4:10; 5:26; 6:2, 13, 24; 8:6; 10:12, 20; 13:4; 14:23; 17:19; 28:58; 31:12-13).

The fear of YHWH has to be learned (Deuteronomy 4:10; 14:23; 17:19; 31:12-13; Psalm 34:11)

Regularly meditate on & pray about this attribute of God (i.e. including application to your situation).

Recall God's faithfulness in the past (historically, personally & in the lives of others).

Since YHWH is inclined to come to the aid of his children when they turn to him, his mighty actions in history are important subjects of meditation in times of need (77:11-12) and add to the weight of evidence at times of deliverance (26:7)

Saul had seen the power of God (1 Samuel 10:10-12; 26; 11:6-7, 13; 14:47; 15:1-7; 19:23f). . .he just failed to apply those experiences to the new scary situations.

Jonathan (14:6) was near the home town of Gideon who'd been forced by God a century earlier to make his army smaller and smaller so Israel would understand this very point. . .I'll bet anything he remembered this history when he said what he said.

Ask for and expect God's intervention with submission. Ask for & expect (pray in faith)

“. . .the central core of sin in our personalities is not pride or sensuality but unbelief.” Lovelace, p. 133

“Though He slay me, I will hope in Him. Nevertheless I will argue my ways before Him. Job 13:15

This honesty & responsiveness often produces a fruitful clash between God and man (Saul didn't have to consult a necromancer. . .he already knew what was going to happen. . .he just didn't like it - 28:16. What would have happened if Saul had seceded as soon as Samuel anointed David?).

I hope you will use this to increasingly express uninhibited praise, gratitude, anger, anxiety, sadness, longing, confidence and joy to God. I think as you're open with Him you'll find he has a lot more elbow room to transform you into His own image.


Attitude. This part goes to the last few weeks' principles. . .that God is truthful and good. That he's powerful is rarely enough to engender our confidence unless we realize that he uses his power to accomplish good, even if it means that we suffer loss for a time.

For instance, it's clear that God intends great spiritual growth to accompany and follow trials (James 1:2-5, 12; Hebrews 12:4-13; 2 Corinthians 4:7-18). This spiritual growth includes increased confidence in and dependence on God's provision and increased commitment to God's goals.

Action. Do the scary thing that best accomplishes God's will.

Note: expect incremental progress. . .Don't expect an absence of fear expect instead to make incremental progress toward learning to respond to your fears biblically (e.g. You may need to wade back into the conflict if you realized you chickened out the last time)

Avail yourself of the resources he's given. In Saul's case. . .The Holy Spirit, Samuel, Jonathan, David Notice how Jonathan shared his worries with David (20:1-17; especially vv. 13-17)

Acknowledge God's help. 1 Samuel 7:12 Ebenezer - “the stone of help“


1 From Jim Leffel: “The Philistine invasion. They emerged in 1190 from the northern coastline to invade Israel. We know much of them from Egyptian records. The “Harris Papyrus“ found in Egypt, shows Philistine battles against Ramses III. These invasions brought to an end Egypt's hegemony of the region. The Philistines were among the first to use iron (1 Sam. 13). They were enormously powerful. Israel was no match for their military hardware or skill“. Although, (Psalm 78:54-64) the real problem was spiritual infidelity. “Because of her unfaithfulness, God withdrew his protection from her. As a result, the military powers in the region had their way with Israel. The scripture makes it clear that the central problem was a spiritual one, not military.

From other sources:

“The Philistines were. . .a people from the Aegean Sea related to the Greeks, and had migrated from that area about 200 years earlier. They had fought as mercenaries in the Trojan War, and perhaps this is the reason they had left. They had traveled to Crete, lived there a while, and then migrated to the land of Canaan where they set up a series of city-states similar to those of the Greeks. Excavations in this area indicate that the Philistines were a sophisticated, very warlike people much like the Greeks.“

“The Philistines did their best to see that the Israelites did not learn how to forge (iron) (1 Samuel 13:19-20). In the eleventh century BC iron was just coming into general use in Palestine, as excavations have shown, and the iron monopoly was not only an incalculable help to Philistine superiority in arms, but a valuable commercial consideration as well, as the Hittites, who seemed to have started the monopoly, discovered two centuries earlier. The fact that the Israelites had to go to Philistia to have iron tools made or repaired was inconvenient enough, but it was. . .expensive. Throughout the period of the Judges the Israelites remained comparatively poor because of a lack of iron for farming implements, nails, and weapons of war. They were unable to drive the Canaanites out of the plains because the latter had chariots of iron (Joshua 17:18, Judges 1:19 and 4:2-3) and certainly weapons of iron. Excavations have shown that the Philistines possessed iron weapons and jewelry, while the Israelites apparently did not. Even as late as the time of Saul it is emphasized that “on the day of battle there was neither sword nor spear found in the hand of any of the people with Saul and Jonathan; but Saul and Jonathan his son had them.“ (1 Samuel 13:22).”

“When Saul and David broke the power of the Philistines, the iron-smelting formula became public property, and the metal was popularized in Israel. The result was an economic revolution, making possible a higher standard of living. The struggle against the Philistines was, accordingly, a war of survival, justly celebrated in song and story.“

2 The ethics of the “Ban”

According to scripture, not all violence is sinful.

If certain acts are deserving of death, and God employs human agency in judgment, then to take part in the judgment of a nation (which God has specifically commanded) is not sinful.

  • This is what happened in the case of the conquest of Canaan.

God had waited for over 400 years for the Canaanites to repent (Genesis 15:16). Because of their utter wickedness, He decided to judge them by removing them from their land (Deut. 9:5-6), thus preventing the rest of the world from being polluted by their wickedness (Deut. 20:17-18).

In the conquest, strict commands were given against exploitation and cruelty (see Deut. 20:19)

The Canaanites were given the opportunity to surrender and stay (Deut. 20:10-16).

  • This is also what happened in the case of the Amalekites but we have much less biblical & extrabiblical information.

Israel was not permitted to fight in order to expand their territory, only to defend it. There was always a strong prophetic voice against war for exploitation (Is. 10:13; Amos 1:11,13).

The Amalekites were 'cousins' of the Israelis through Esau, Jacob's brother. Amalek was Esau's grandson.

They were marauders and had a long history of attacking Israelis. The Amalekites settled in the Sinai Peninsula, and were the first nation Israel encountered when they left Egypt. As they came out of the land of bondage into freedom, Amalek struck them from behind. They attacked the rear of the column where the women and children were, and they inflicted great damage upon Israel.

After this incident God says to Moses, “Write this in a book as a memorial and recite it to Joshua, that I will utterly blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven.” And Moses built an altar, and named it The Lord is My Banner; and he said, “The Lord has sworn; the Lord will have war against Amalek from generation to generation.”

Later on, in Deuteronomy 25, when Amalek comes into the picture again, the Lord says to Israel, “Remember Amalek. When you come into the land, exterminate the Amalekites.”

3 A biblical view of the occult

God's against the occult (Dt. 18:10-11; Lev.19:31; 20:6; Isaiah 8:19ff; Acts 19:18f) because it's either energized by demonic beings with evil intentions for the participants (Dt.32:17; Psalm 106:37 1 Corinthians 10:20 connects demons with idol worship) or its fake and thus of no value. In both cases it's a rejection of God's benevolent leadership in favor of self-aggrandizing efforts to manipulate the spiritual realm.

Note that God did not reject Saul as an individual; he rejected him only as king. When Saul failed to deal with the Amalekites according to the word of God be thereupon lost his ability to reign as king. He still was the recipient of God's love and care but he could no longer be king. In verse 19 that Samuel says Saul will be with him. . .implying that he would not be in a place of judgment.