Hide and Seek 
Scripture reading: 1 Samuel 10:17-27; 14:24-46
Opening prayer: Dear heavenly Father, our glorious God, and the God of almighty. We praise You and thank You for Your deeds revealed to us through the history of salvation. You are Lord of lords, King of kings. You set up kings and dispose them. You give wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning. Let us see Your glory, holiness, grace, and mercy. Lord, please give us understanding and faith, so that we may walk in Your presence and do Your will in all our days. In Jesus name, Amen!
Who was Saul?
Who was Saul? What a personality did Saul have? As the first king of Israel, Saul does not seem to be a towering figure in the Bible. What lessons does God want us to learn through this particular figure Saul?
Being handsome, strong, and a head talker than all the other people, Saul won a big acclamation when he was publicly identified as the first king of Israel chosen by God ( 1 Sam 10:23-25 ). However, Saul was not just a man with admirable appearance. It was proved in the first battle against the Ammonites that he was a highly strategic, determinant, and brave military/political leader ( 1 Sam 11 ). In fact, in the eyes of men, he was even a person of great moral courage: he asked the armor-bearer to kill him in order not to be abused by the “uncircumcised fellows”( 1 Sam 31:4 ). But sadly, he was just a worldly hero, a man who had a great carnal and mind capability yet lack of spiritual perspectives, therefore, cannot follow God.
As an anointed king, Saul's being chosen was doubtlessly related to God's purpose of all kinds of goodness. Like many worldly heroes, Saul's life followed a trajectory of emerging out to the public, fighting for success, and rising up all the way to the summit. All these are the requirement of God's purpose. However, as a historical figure requested to the Lord by the rebellious people after the godless nations, Saul was destined to be just a transition figure, through whom God meant it for the people to learn the lessons. The problem of the Israel people was to set up a king for themselves rather than let God rule over them. So was the problem of the thusly requested king, who was to establish his kingship rather than obey God. For this very reason, Saul was first chosen by God, then used by God, yet finally rejected by God. Unavoidably, Saul must fall from great fame, fade in failures, and eventually die out.
Therefore, not only Samuel mourned for Saul ( 1 Sam 15:35 ), but David composed a sobering lament when Saul and Jonathan died in the battle field: “Your glory, O Israel, lies slain on your heights. How the mighty have fallen! …How the mighty have fallen! The weapons of the war have perished!” ( 2 Sam 1:17-27 )
Saul's being chosen: the mercy of God
The Lord is wonderful and beyond understanding. The Israel people had insisted Him to set up a king for them, which is a big sin against God. In human logics, the Lord should abandon them for their rejection of Him. However, after serious warnings, the Lord said to Samuel: “Listen to them and give them a king.” ( 1 Sam 8:22 ) Also, the Lord told Samuel later: “About this time tomorrow I will send you a man from the land of Benjamin. Anoint him leader over my people Israel; he will deliver my people from the hand of the Philistines. I have looked upon my people, for their cry has reached me.”( 1 Sam 9:15-16 ) In reading these, one might ask himself silently: “Is God reasonable? Is the Lord consistent?” Praise the Lord who is such a merciful, loving, and faithful God. He does not treat us according to our own transgressions. Instead, He teaches us the lessons so that we might repent and be saved. The Lord is the Almighty, whose ways are higher than men's ways. God can cause His plan being worked out, regardless of human failures. God's will must be done, even if His people did not make the right choice.
It is through choosing Saul, God's lavish mercy is shown. The Lord brought Saul to Samuel, let him anoint the young man, and gave Saul all kinds of signs fulfilled vividly one by one. Saul indeed was assured of his call from God. However, in the very day he was to be publicly chosen as a king, Saul played a premeditated trick before all Israel people. And it is the trick that revealed both his smartness in mind and his spiritual weakness.
In the extremely exciting historic moment when all the people were waiting eagerly to see who was going to be their first king. Saul was finally identified. To their great surprise, the man was not there at all! What was wrong with the guy! How would a guy miss such a great event? And how incredible that the missing person "happened to be" the only one who should not be absent? The absence of Saul placed the people in a big suspense that all of them were anxiously looking for him. And the most wonderful part of the story is that people were not able find him at all, and finally they had to seek the Lord: “Has the man come here yet?” THE LORD SAID, “YES, HE HAS HIDDEN HIMSELF AMONG THE BAGGAGE.”
Immediately, they found the man in the baggage! Unfortunately, the people were too excited to pay much attention to the reason why Saul hid himself. They were simply elated because “there is no one like him among all the people”. Now the king was chosen, and Samuel “explained to the people the regulations of the kingship. He wrote them down on a scroll and deposited it before the Lord” ( 1 Sam 10:25 ). For Samuel, this is the most important thing because the Lord is the King. As the people were dismissed, and Saul went back to his own home accompanied by some valiant men, it seems that the story came to a happy ending.
However, the last verse ( 1 Sam 10:27 ) drops a stimulating surprise: but some troublemakers despised Saul, believing that the reason why Saul had hidden was that he was a coward overwhelmed by nervousness; but Saul kept silent. Do we agree with the trouble makers? If so, we probably have missed a wonderful point the Bible makes in this passage! Saul was not a coward at all. He was going to prove himself soon. In stead, he was a very brave and smart person, because “even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent and discerning if he holds his tongue”( Pro 17:28 ).
Now we are facing a substantial difficulty in order to find out the answer to the question: why did Saul hide himself? To solve this issue, we should remember how the Israelites found Saul. Yes, we must seek God when we are in difficulty! (We don't want to wait until we have to; instead, we want to make this a principle.) Where is God? When we read through the whole passage, we find that God SPOKE to the people who were seeking Him. We are close to finding the answer if we know that God is also speaking to us through these few words. God is speaking to us that He is always the center of the history, and His words are always the key. God is speaking to us that the whole point of the trick that Saul played was for the words God spoke to the people. God is speaking to us that Saul knew extremely well how important these words were for establishing his authority of kingship. God is speaking to us that Saul was not satisfied with casting lots. God is speaking to us that Saul needs God's further endorsement for his kingship before all his people. God is speaking to that Saul was a very strategic politician but not a man who trusted in God. God is speaking to us that Saul was the king after men's hearts!
One should pay attention to the fact that when David was anointed, there was even no sign for him ( 1 Sam 16:12-13 )! David did not need any signs, let alone God's endorsement in front of men, because David was the king after God's own heart and trusted solely in the Lord.
This is the key to understanding Saul's success and failure in his career as a political and military leader. His smartness in mind helped him to seize almost every opportunity the Lord provided him for working out God's plan in that particular stage of history ( 1 Sam 14:47-52 ). However, his spiritual blindness, i.e., relying on “the men” rather than trust in the Lord, led to his failure in obeying God's commands and eventually rejection by the Lord ( 1 Sam 13:13-15; 15:22-23; 31:1-6 ). Every time Samuel rebuked him for his disobedience, his excuse would be “the men” or “the people” ( 1 Sam 13:11; 15:24 ).
In fact this trick is Saul's seeking for the Lord's help---he knew that it is not going to be an easy job to be the first king. Unfortunately, such a “smart” way of seeking risks putting the Lord into test. Then why did God play with Saul? Because the Lord is merciful, He wants the spiritually blind people to seek Him and to know that the Lord is the King of kings! The Lord is to show mercy to us and to remember His holy covenant, the oath He swore to Abraham: to rescue us from the hand of our enemies, and to enable us to serve Him without fear in holiness and righteousness before Him all our days ( Luke 1:72-75 ).
Saul's success: the grace of God
The Lord not only gave Saul the talents, but also provided him with opportunities. In Saul's success, we see clearly the Lord's grace of salvation and deliverance.
The attack of Ammonites is the first opportunity the Lord provided for Saul. Saul seized it immediately and neatly conducted a battle. That was a total victory, which deterred effectively the enemies such as Ammon and Moab to the southeast territory of Israel. This won a precious period of peace for the new nation to develop its kingdom system. Saul then started to set up a professional army initially with 3,000 soldiers.
In the same time, the Philistines to the southwest became alert to the rising of Saul and fortified their military passes protruding to the central land of Israel. The two sides confronted closely but neither of them attacked. In this moment, an “incidence” happened unexpectedly to Saul. That is, his son Jonathon smote the garrison of the Philistines and took back the pass Geba. Jonathan proved to be a gracious gift given to Saul by the Lord. As a warrior and military commander, Jonathan was almost as brave and strategic as Saul. However, unlike his father, Jonathan was spiritually sharp and knew the Lord.
Jonathan's preliminary victory breaks the silent confrontation. Again, Saul took the advantage of the opportunity and summoned all the people to join the battle against the Philistines. And all the Israelites gathered under Saul at Gilgal. Jonathan's attack shocked the Philistines and they collected a military force several tens times larger than the Israel army, immediately placing the Israel people in a dooming horror. The people escaped and hid wherever they could find. In order to keep his men, Saul rashly made the burn offering before Samuel's arrival. Samuel rebuked him for his disobedience and left him. As more people left, now Saul only had 600 men with him, waiting for any scarce chance to fight for victory.
At such a critical moment, the Lord used faithful Jonathan again. In seeking the Lord's guidance, Jonathan left his father, crossed over the Philistine garrison with his armor bearer. The two young men kill the Philistines, and the Lord sent panic striking the whole army of Philistines. It firstly appeared to Saul that the Philistines were about to attack and he had intended to bring up the Lord's Ark so that the enemies might be deterred. However, in hearing the tumult from the Philistine garrison, Saul realized that the enemy was in panic and decided not to risk touching the Ark of Covenant. Again, Saul seized the opportunity and struck. All the Israelites now came back to fight against the Philistines, who were killed, pursued, and driven back. It turned out to be a totally unexpected victory caused by the Lord. Even Saul realized this and, for the first time, he built an altar for the Lord.
This victory was so important for Saul that his army became much stronger and his talent was unleashed hence after. The bible summarizes Saul's success as this: “After Saul had assumed rule over Israel, he fought against their enemies on every side: Moab, the Ammonites, Edom, the kings of Zobah, and the Philistines. Wherever he turned, he inflicted punishment on them. He fought valiantly and defeated the Amalekites, delivering Israel from the hands of those who had plundered them.” ( 1 Sam 14:47-48 )
Therefore, the promise that the Lord had given to Samuel and the Israel people regarding Saul ( 1 Sam 9:15-16 ) was now fulfilled.
Saul's failure: the authority of God
The sin of the people of Israel was to set up a king rather than let God be their king. So is the sin of Saul. However, when a human king does not subject to God's Kingship, his failure is predetermined.
Saul's failure had been rooted in the “hide-and-seek” game. His politician attitude was completely exposed in offerings at Gilgal. When Samuel rebuked him, his first excuse was “I saw that the men were scattering”! Samuel abandoned him immediately and more people left him.
Interestingly, when Saul went back to his home Gibeah with 600 loyal soldiers, a man wearing ephod was with him ( 1 Sam 14:3 ). This man was the grand son of Eli, the former great priest rejected and punished by the Lord. Why this guy was there? It is just because Saul needs such a priest to do the “religious stuff” for him. He did not want a priest like Samuel who would rebuke the king! Saul went so far as appointing a priest for himself. He placed his kingship above the Lord's lordship! But this smart king had never expected that the priest he appointed was going to bring him trouble.
On the other hand, Saul put his kingship above the lives of “his men” and even his son. Jonathan essentially played the key role in winning the battle. In order to show the people that he was the king, Saul set up an absurd rule: “Cursed be any man who eats food before evening comes, before I have avenged myself on my enemies!” This made a big trouble because the soldiers were hungry and exhausted in the battle.
Finally, evening came and the men recovered in strength after eating. Saul decided to pursue the frightened enemies. This was indeed a good idea and the people were happy to follow. However, just in this moment, the appointed priest spoke: “Let us inquire of God here.” The motivation of the priest was the same as the king in setting the rule---he just wanted to show his own authority. Unfortunately, inquiry was unnecessary because the Lord had sold the Philistines to them. If they had run after the enemy, they were definitely going to beat them. However, when they actually inquired, they got into trouble surprisingly: God did not speak to them! Now Saul seemed to be unhappy: “I must inquire of God to find out who have sinned. Since God does not want to speak, we will do lot casting!” Here the Bible shows us that the Lord can be really humorous: “Man, weren't you satisfied with casting lots and playing the game so that I spoke out for you? Now I am not going to play with you any more, and you have to cast lots.”
Once the lots were casted, the result seemed to be even more surprising: all were cleared except for the king and his son. What was wrong? The king was determined to put the Lord into test: “Cast the lot between me and Jonathan my son!” But the Lord God is the most high who is not subject to test. Now it is the Lord's turn to “hide” Himself before the man who did not believe in God and refused to admit his own sin. Consequently, Jonathan alone was taken by the lot because he had broken the rule set by the king. Holding his kingship aloft, Saul insisted to put Jonathan to death. However, God is the King of all kings, and He rescued Jonathan through “the men”. Saul was in vain.
When Saul hid, God saw him; when the Lord hid, Saul did not. When the Lord hid, the ungodly king sought but did not see; but the faithful prince “saw” Him. So it is said in the Scripture: “To the faithful You show Yourself faithful, to the blameless You show Yourself blameless, to the pure You show Yourself pure, but to the crooked You show Yourself shrewd.” ( Psalm 18:25-26 )
Lord, we praise You. You choose human to serve You and work with You, in order to give them Your blessings. Who are the blessed that can be used by God? Only those who are pure in heart and who have a single mind to trust in You. As the heavens are higher than the earth, O Lord God, Your ways are higher than ours, and Your thought are higher than ours. May all Your children live in Your presence every day and be complete in Christ. In Jesus'name, Amen!
 The application part of the final paper in Denver Seminary; Translated from a similar Chinese sermon preached at Chinese Assembly in Denver, 8/23/2009.