Both Saul and David became Kings of Israel at the same age – thirty years old. But the story of Saul’s monarchy is decidedly short, covered in its entirety by these five chapters. He is not presented as an admirable king – which is a bit amazing because he is introduced to us in such glowing terms.
Saul was initially successful in overcoming Israel’s enemies: Moab, Ammon, Edom, the Amalekites and the Philistines. The last of these gave Saul the most difficulty, troubling his rule for the entirety of his monarchy. Whatever good might have been observed from Saul however is overshadowed by an incompetence highlighted in these chapters. At least late in Saul’s administration, his son Jonathan would have made a better king.
Of all Saul’s shortcomings, two are particularly highlighted: the first in chapter 13 and the second in chapter 15.
Chapter thirteen begins the story of Saul’s rule after he’d already been king for several decades. Though beginning successfully, by this time, he is failing miserably. He fails to raise and maintain a sufficient army. He has been so oppressed by his enemies that his army has no weapons. The army itself is poorly trained, evidenced by the fact that when facing the enemy, all but six hundred immediately desert.
If that were not enough, Saul, by his own admission, does not seek the will of God in his administration (13:12), taking matters into his own hands and repeatedly making poor decisions.
Being a Christian requires a scrupulous honesty with self. When things go bad, we must ask ourselves why they are going badly, and be wise enough and honest enough to admit it when we are at fault. Repeated poor decisions should lead us to admit that we really are not competent to run our own lives alone and seek help from those who seem particularly successful. But this is not the road most taken. The wandering child of God may say they are willing to submit to God, but persistent refusal to seek the counsel of wise and spiritual humans is solid evidence of a refusal to submit to God, for even the Lord says: “Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed” (Proverbs 15:22). Saul’s great problem was an unwillingness to wait and seek advice. It ruined him as king.