It’s not how well you begin that matters, but how well you finish that is truly important. This is especially true in a race, fight, or contest of some sort. The race is not always won by who is the quickest ‘out of the blocks,” but who crosses the finish line first.
The fight doesn’t always go to the biggest or strongest, but is sometimes won by those who can “weather the storm” and outlast or outmaneuver their opponents. A sporting contest between two teams is not always won by the team with the most athletically talented individuals but by the ones who rely on their teammates and play in unison as a team.
Finishing well in life is important as well. It doesn’t matter how good or how bad you begin life…it is only the finish that counts. By finishing well, I’m not referring to acquiring success, wealth, power, or fame in your life… I’m talking about doing the will of God.
In the Bible there are many examples of men and women who finished their lives doing the will of God. Also, there are many examples of people who did not do the will of God before their death. Two men who shared the same name—Saul, had contrasting life experiences with God. They were both from Israel and were of the tribe of Benjamin. However, that is about all they had in common. They were totally opposite from one another in life and in death.
The first Saul is mentioned in the Old Testament and eventually became known as King Saul of Israel . He was Israel ’s first king. Before he became king, he was just an ordinary young man from a small family in Israel . Here is how the book of 1 Samuel describes him
“And he had a son, whose name was Saul, a choice young man, and a goodly: and there was not among the children of Israel a goodlier person than he: from his shoulders and upward he was higher than any of the people” (1 Samuel 9:2).
In other words, he was very good looking and tall…impressive on the outside.
Samuel the prophet was judge and leader of Israel in those days; but the people longed for a king to rule over them. They wanted to be like the neighboring nations and believed that a king could unite the tribes into one nation and one army. God listened to the people and told Samuel where he was to find their future king. Saul met Samuel while he was looking for his father’s (Kish) donkeys.
Samuel informed him that he would be Israel ’s first king. Later, Saul met up with a company of prophets and the Bible says:
“ Then the Spirit of the Lord came upon him and he prophesied with them, and he was turned into another man” (1 Samuel 10:6).
God was for him and gave him another heart by temporarily indwelling him with His spirit.
Samuel called the people and tribes unto the Lord to Mizpeh; and he informed them of God’s choice for the king of Israel.
“And they ran and fetched him there: and when he stood among the people, he was higher than any of the people from his shoulders and upward. And Samuel said to all the people, See you him whom the Lord has chosen, that there is none like him among all the people? And all the people shouted, and said, God save the king” (1 Samuel 10:23-24).
What a great way to start a new career! Saul went from being a farmer on his father’s land to becoming the king of Israel in a matter of days. This would be like the modern day equivalent of “hitting the jackpot” or “winning the lottery.” However, God did warn the people and new king:
“But if you shall still do wickedly, you shall be consumed, both you and your king” (1 Samuel 12:25).
King Saul initially proved himself to be a good military leader. Under his leadership, Israel defeated the armies of Moab , Ammon , Edom , Zobah, and the Philistines. However, in spiritual matters, he was a poor leader.
While fighting a losing battle against the Philistines, Saul decided to offer a burnt offering sacrifice to God. Rather than waiting for a priest, Saul offered the sacrifice himself. This was against the Mosaic Law. He took matters into his own hands and disobeyed God.
When Samuel came upon the scene and realized what Saul had done, he said to Saul:
“You have done foolishly: you have not kept the commandment of the Lord your God, which he commanded you: for now would the Lord have established your kingdom upon Israel for ever. But now your kingdom shall not continue: the Lord has sought him a man after his own heart, and the Lord has commanded him to be captain over his people, because you have not kept that which the Lord commanded you” (1 Samuel 13:13-14).
Another time, God (through Samuel) told Saul to kill all of the Amalekites, and utterly destroy all that they owned…both humans and animals (livestock). But Saul and the people spared Agag, their king, and the best of the livestock and did not utterly destroy all of them. The next morning Samuel confronted Saul about his disobedience to the word of God
“And Saul said They have brought them from the Amalekites: for the people spared the best of the sheep and of the oxen, to sacrifice unto the Lord thy God; and the rest we have utterly destroyed” (1 Samuel 15:15).
“And Samuel said, When you were little in your own sight, was you not made the head of the tribes of Israel , and the Lord anointed you king over Israel ? And the Lord sent you on a journey, and said, Go and utterly destroy the sinners, the Amalekites, and fight against them until they be consumed. Wherefore then did you not obey the voice of the Lord, but did fly upon the spoil, and did evil in the sight of the Lord?” (1 Samuel 15:17-19).
Saul responded by saying he had obeyed the Lord, in most everything except taking Agag as a prisoner and not destroying all of the livestock. He said the people took of the spoil, sheep and oxen, to sacrifice unto the Lord. Once again Saul is not completely obeying God and is not doing His will. He tried to place the blame on the people; even though he was in charge.
“And Samuel said, Has the Lord as great a 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. For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, he has also rejected you from being king” (1 Samuel 15:22-23).
While Saul is still king, Samuel is told by God to go to the house of Jesse, a Benjamite. There he is to look over all Jesse’s sons and then God will tell him which one is to be the next king.
“The Lord said unto Samuel, Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him; for the Lord sees not as man sees; for man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart” ( 1 Samuel 16-7).
After rejecting Jesse’s seven older sons, Samuel anoints David (a man after God’s own heart) as Israel ’s next king. Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the midst of his brothers; and the Spirit of the Lord came upon David from that day forward. But the spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord troubled him. Spiritually, he had gone a long way (downward) from his days of prophesying with prophets.
Saul became jealous of David after his victory over Goliath and the Philistines, and even tried to kill him on several occasions. David had to go on the run to escape Saul’s murderous attempts.
After Samuel died, the Philistines gathered their armies together for warfare, to fight with Israel.
“And when Saul saw the host of the Philistines, he was afraid, and his heart greatly trembled. And when Saul inquired of the Lord, the Lord answered him not, neither by dreams, nor by Urim, nor by prophets. Then said Saul unto his servants, Seek me a woman that has a familiar spirit, that I may go to her, and inquire of her. And his servants said to him, Behold, there is a woman that has a familiar spirit at En-dor” (1 Samuel 28:7).
Saul asked the witch to bring back the spirit of Samuel from the dead. Amazingly (even to herself), she did just that. Of course God was the power behind this unnatural event.
“And Samuel said to Saul, Why have you disquieted me, to bring me up?” And Saul answered, I am sore distressed, for the Philistines make war against me, and God is departed from me, and answers me no more, neither by prophets, nor by dreams: therefore I have called you, that you may make known unto me what I shall do” (1 Samuel 28).
“Then said Samuel, ‘Wherefore then do you ask of me, seeing the Lord is departed from you, and is become your enemy? And the Lord has done to him, as he spoke by me: for the Lord has rent the kingdom out of your hand, and given it to your neighbor, even to David: because you obeyed not the voice of the Lord, nor executed his fierce wrath upon Amalek, therefore has the Lord done this thing unto you this day. Moreover the Lord will also deliver Israel with you into the hand of the Philistines: and tomorrow shall you and your sons be with me: the Lord also shall deliver the host of Israel into the hand of the Philistines’” (1 Samuel 28:16-19).
The battle went exactly as God had foretold. Saul and his sons were slain in the battle and the Israelites were routed.
“And it came to pass on the morrow, when the Philistines came to strip the slain, that they found Saul and his three sons fallen in mount Gilboa. And they cut off his head, and stripped off his armor, and sent into the land of the Philistines round about, to publish it in the house of their idols, and among the people. And they put his armor in the house of Ashtaroth: and they fastened his body to the wall of Beth-shan” (1 Samuel 31:8-10).
When Saul first became king, he began well. He pleased God by obeying and relying on Him. However, toward the end of his life, Saul changed and was characterized by inconsistency, disobedience, and self-will. He no longer had a heart for God and didn’t want to do the will of God. For these sins, God allowed his enemies to completely overwhelm him. Saul’s sins not only affected him; but his family and the entire nation of Israel as well. He did not finish life well.
Saul had forgotten what the Lord had told him and the people when he first became king:
“If you will fear the Lord, and serve him, and obey his voice, and not rebel against the commandment of the Lord, then shall both Israel and also the king that reigns over you continue following the Lord your God: but if you will not obey the voice of the Lord, but rebel against the commandment of the Lord, then shall the hand of the Lord be against you, as it was against your fathers” (1 Samuel 12:14-15).
In Part 2 of this article, we will examine the life of Saul of Tarsus. It is quite a contrast from King Saul’s.