Saul’s greatest weakness was that he loved the adulation of the mob. He struggled to act independently of it. When Samuel first approached him with the command of God to kill Amalek and destroy everything the Amalekites owned it was a fear of displeasing the people that stayed his hand.
When Samuel told him to wait for his coming before going out to battle it was fear of public ridicule and mutiny that led Saul to act rashly and officiate as a priest in Samuel’s stead by offering sacrifices to God.
It is no small surprise then that when Saul saw David slaying Goliath on the battlefield that he would have felt a prickle of unease. After all, no other man in Israel had the courage and faith to do what David had just done, not even the King himself.
This prickle of unease bloomed into a full-blown cloud of jealousy when Saul, with David and the rest of the warriors of Israel, returned from battle. The women, with their timbrels shimmering in the sun, sang “Saul has slain his thousands and David his ten thousands”
The refrain rankled enough to set Saul’s teeth on edge with envy and rage. To be compared to the young shepherd at all would have been difficult to stomach but to be bested by him and for that triumph to be immortalized in song was something Saul was not prepared to accept.
This marked the beginning of a long and bitter campaign against David. Saul masked his jealousy for a while and tried to destroy David covertly, by sending him into battle again but David always returned unscathed and worse yet more celebrated than ever before.
In fact, Saul’s own children were dazzled by David. His son and heir Jonathan loved David like a brother and his daughter Michal wanted to marry him. Soon Saul’s rage could not be contained beneath a thin veneer of civility.
He began to pursue David with a kind of relentless determination that consumed him and drove him beyond the bounds of reason. It was as though capturing David and killing him would end all his troubles. Troubles he had brought upon his own head because of his disobedience to the express commands of God.
Yet, as it always is, it was easy to pin his problems on someone else, especially someone who was younger, braver, and more favored by God. Saul’s hatred of David made the young man a fugitive in his own homeland.
Desperate to preserve his life David bounced from one locality to another even trying for a brief time to find shelter with the Philistines whom he had fought so successfully against. In his pursuit of David, Saul reaped a harvest of blood that was both horrifying and gut-wrenching.
He slaughtered an entire town of priests. Ironic and cruel when considering the fact that he was unwilling to spare Amalekites on account of his tender conscience. Finally, David found himself cornered in a cave, and Saul, intending to relieve himself, seated right before him.
David’s friend’s urged him to kill Saul. It seemed like the perfect opportunity to eliminate a man who was so bent on destroying his life. But God spoke to David and stayed his hand. David told his friends that it was not his place to raise his hand against the anointed of the Lord.
Ultimately Saul destroyed himself. Led astray by a witch he went out onto the battlefield and took his own life in a moment of confused desperation and fear. Saul’s life, so full of promise, ended in an ignominious death on an obscure battlefield. He could have been so much more than he was and yet he destroyed himself because of his unwillingness to surrender himself wholeheartedly to God.
Saul’s downfall was his penchant for people-pleasing. May we learn from his example and take care not to follow it.