Saul: You And God Are A Majority
I Samuel 13:5-14
Until his death in 1977, Dr. Loren Eiseley was one of the most distinguished anthropologists of our time. He was an equally talented author. In one of his books, he tells of trying to capture two hawks, one male, the other female, in order to be able to study them. In the process of this attempt, the female managed to escape, but he still had the male. So as he held this giant bird in his hands and prepared to place the bird in the cage, he felt the bird’s heart pounding against the palm of his hand. In that moment, Eiseley realized that he did not have the heart to imprison that grieving bird, even for just a few days. So he stopped and put the bird down on the ground. The hawk did not move. Instead its eyes were focused straight toward the skies, looking intently for something up in the great blue expanse. Then suddenly—so suddenly that there wasn’t even the flexing of a muscle as far as Eiseley could see—the great bird was airborne, soaring straight toward the heavens. At that moment, Eiseley heard a long echoing cry coming down from high, high above. Eiseley looked way up into the sky and he saw hurtling down from beyond the scattered clouds, the female hawk who had earlier escaped his grasp. As she came hurtling down toward the earth, she was giving out this enormous cry. And the male bird, then, climbing ever upward toward her, began to answer with his own cry. Eiseley wrote that the glory, the power, the ecstasy of the cries of those two birds meeting in the freedom of the skies was so spectacular that the surrounding hillsides echoed with the splendor of the sound.
Have you ever wanted to soar skyward like that? Have you ever wanted to hear a cry coming down from above and to answer it with your own cry and then to go off with God into all that towering crystal space He has created for Himself and His holy angels forever? Have you ever wanted to break free from the things that entrap you in this life? Have you ever longed to be so much in God and to have Him so much in you that everything else in life takes on secondary importance? If that has ever been your desire, then I invite you to look with me today at three snapshots from the life of Saul. They are not really related. The only thing they have in common is that they are all battle scenes. Yet I think that these three snapshots portray for us three different approaches to the life of faith in Jesus Christ. See if you agree with me…
The first snapshot I would have you to view is found in 1 Samuel 15.
At that point, Saul and his armies were doing battle with the Amalekites. God had delivered to Saul the formula for victory. He had told Saul what he was to do during the battle, and he had told Saul that after the battle he was to destroy the Amalekites and all they possessed. Saul obeyed up to a point. After the battle had been won, Saul decided that he had a better idea. He saved the best of the animals and the other goods for himself. He was going to line his own pockets. A bit later, Samuel, the prophet of God, came along and said: “Saul, did you do what the Lord told you to do?” And Saul said: “Yes, I did.” Samuel said: “Well then what is this bleating of sheep and lowing of oxen I hear?” And Saul who, if nothing else, was at least quick on his feet, said: “Oh that! Well, Samuel, let me tell you! I had a great idea, I decided that I would save some of the best of the animals and later on you and I would make a special offering to God.”
Do you see what happened to Saul here? He was operating on the formula “God with you makes a majority.” But that is the wrong formula. Saul was saying: “God’s got an idea about things, but I have got an idea also. So I have taken God’s plan and I’ve improved it. I’ve taken God’s commandments and I’ve embellished them just a little. I’ve taken God’s wisdom and added my own wisdom to it and I’ve made the whole thing much better. Samuel then said to Saul: “It is not yours to add to the word and the will of Almighty God.”
But there are people who still do that. Some of those people are in the church. They say: “God has an idea of what it is to be a Christian, but I’ve got some ideas of my own that I would like to add to His.” They say things like this: “If you do not have a certain form and prescription of baptism, then you are not a Christian.” Where does it say that in the Bible? Or they say: “If you have not participated in a demonstration or if you have not been sympathetic with the liberation movements of our day or if you don’t criticize the government and its defense policy, then you do not deserve to claim the name of Jesus.” I have never yet read that on the pages of Scripture. Or they say this: “If you do not use “Praise the Lord” in your speech or if you do not speak in tongues, then you are not very close to Jesus.” Show me that written on the pages of Scripture. Or this: “Church A is more Christian than Church B because Church A has an altar call.” I have never yet seen an altar call described on the pages of the Bible.
Do you get the point? There are some people who feel that their ideas about living the Christian life are superior to God’s ideas. They think that all of the soldiers of Jesus Christ ought to be dressed alike and that they ought to be the ones to choose the wardrobe! They would have us to believe that the Holy Spirit is some kind of great Xerox machine who turns us out as identical copies of one another. That is not Scriptural. The Bible makes it plain that when it comes to living the Christian life we are all different, and that difference is part of God’s glorious plan for His world. So do not let anyone, either inside the church or outside of it, try to cage you in, try to make you into something you are not. God’s idea for you and your life is the only idea. And God’s ideas are communicated through the pages of this Book. So beware of any who wish to add their own ideas to the ideas of God. That’s what Saul did. So Samuel said to him: “Saul, you have rejected the word of the Lord, and so the Lord will reject you from being king over Israel.”
Now the second snapshot I want us to see is found 1 Samuel 13.
Saul and his armies were preparing to do battle against the Philistines. Samuel, as usual, God’s man on the scene, was scheduled to come prior to the battle to bless the troops. Samuel got delayed. I do not know why. It does not say. But for whatever reason, Samuel didn’t make it on time. He was late. And here were Saul’s soldiers all dressed in their parade best, standing in formation, waiting to be blessed. When Samuel did not show up, the soldiers began to drift away in little groups to do something else. Saul suddenly became desperately afraid that he was losing control of his army. So he decided to take things into his own hands. He had no right or authority to do so, but he decided that he would bless the troops himself. He was so afraid of losing the support of his men that he was willing to depart from the word and the will of God.
Now Saul was operating under a different formula. The formula this time was: “God with you and others make the majority.” Still the wrong formula. Saul was so dependent upon the support of other people, so consumed with the need to feel that other people were with him, that when he felt that he was in danger of losing that, he literally collapsed. And, when Samuel at last arrived and saw what was happening, Samuel said: “Saul, you are going to lose your kingdom.”
You know as well as I do that people who are that influenced by the crowd, by other people, are going to lose control over their lives. Do you know people who because they stand for nothing, fall for anything? Do you know people who say that they enjoyed a certain movie which they really did not enjoy, but they say it because they heard that it was a sophisticated film? You know people who espouse certain political positions that aren’t really of their hearts just because they feel that they want to be a part of the majority? Do you know people who are willing to sacrifice anything, even their Christian convictions and standards, just to be included as part of the group? Such people inevitably lose their kingdom.
In case you do not know it, I am an unabashed admirer of Branch Rickey. He was one of the greatest men in baseball. More than that, he was a remarkable Christian. On one occasion, when Branch Rickey was the general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, he was engaged in negotiations with the president of a professional football team who wanted to lease Ebbets Field, the Dodgers’ stadium, for use during the football season. It was a deal that would involve hundreds of thousands of dollars over a period of years. As the negotiations were underway, the two men were seated across from one another at a conference table. Suddenly, Branch Rickey stood up, threw his pencil onto the table, looked at the man across from him and said: “I’ve had it! No deal.” The man was flabbergasted. He said: “What is the matter?” Branch Rickey said: “You have been making negative aspersions about the one person who means more to me in life than any other.” The man said: “That is absurd. I have not been talking about anybody.” Branch Rickey then went on to tell this man that in the course of their negotiations this man had been taking the name of Jesus in vain repeatedly—in fact he was doing it so frequently that he wasn’t even aware that he was doing it. Branch Rickey said: “No more negotiations, no football in Ebbets Field.” The man said: “This Jesus must be awfully important to you. Why?” Branch Rickey sat back down and across that conference table, he began to share with this man his faith in Jesus Christ. It was years later, after Branch Rickey’s death, that the president of that professional football team revealed the story on himself. And he then said: “Branch Rickey is the greatest man I ever knew.” He was saying that here was a man who would not be influenced by the crowd. Here was a man who could not be bought, even for hundreds of thousands of dollars. Here was a man who would not be told where to stand by anyone else. Here was a man who made one great commitment in his life, and having made it, he stuck to it. That commitment was to Jesus Christ. Such a man always keeps his kingdom.
Well, who or what tells you where to stand? On your answer to that question will hang the future of the kingdom in your life.
Then here is the third snapshot for us to ponder, it is found in 1 Samuel 11.
Here Saul and his armies were preparing to do battle with the Ammonites. This was early in Saul’s life and at that point in his life he still believed that ultimate power in life rests with God. That would change as he grew older. But while he was young, he put his ultimate confidence in God. His primary allegiance was to the Lord of glory. On the basis of that belief, the battle with the Ammonites was won. When it was over Saul said: “I did everything I possibly could, but the victory belongs to God.” And Samuel, when he heard that, said: “Saul, the kingdom is yours.”
At that point in his life, Saul had the proper formula. Not “God with you makes a majority.” Not “God, with you and with others, makes a majority.” But “You with God make the majority.” Do you see the difference? It is doing everything that God has given you the capacity to do, but then recognizing that God comes in over and above all that—and He will make the difference. He will tip the balance. He will make the majority.
I scanned through the pages of the Gospels this past week trying to find incidents which illustrate this truth, and I discovered them on practically every page. For example, here was a group of men who could do nothing but haul buckets of water, but they did that—and God came and made the majority and Jesus turned the water into wine. Here was a little boy who had just a few rolls and a couple of fish, but he was willing to offer them—and God came and made the majority, and Jesus fed the multitudes. Here was a group of fellows who could do nothing more than cut a hole in the roof in order to lower their sick friend into the presence of Jesus, but they did that and God came and made the majority, and Jesus said to the man “Pick up your bed and walk.” Here were some people in Bethany who could do nothing more than put their shoulders to the stone and roll it away from the tomb of Lazarus, but they did that—and God came and made the majority, and Jesus cried: “Lazarus, come forth,” and Lazarus did.
The power, you see, ultimately rests with God. We are called to do everything we can do, everything He has given us the capacity to do, but then we need to remember that we are to rely on Him to do the rest. He is the One who makes the difference. He is the One who makes the majority. And He is ready to do that for you and for me, because we are His children. They asked a little girl once to describe the difference between family and friends. She said: “I do not know for sure, but I do know that friends can say that they do not want to be your friend anymore, but your family can never say that they do not want to be your family anymore.” That is true. Family is family, and God is our Father. We are His children. And He never forsakes that relationship. He stands ready to come to us to make the difference in our lives. He stands ready to move into our lives, and thus to make the majority.
Loren Eiseley’s story of the hawk ascending into the sky is a parable for us. Please, in the name of Jesus Christ, do not let yourself be caged by other people’s styles or tastes or desires. Do not let yourself be trapped by your own sins and shortcomings. Please, in the name of Jesus Christ, do not try to be more than God intends you to be, but do not settle for less than God has given you the capacity to be. Just begin to beat whatever wings you have got, and point your life toward heaven. Then you will hear the great, loving cry of God coming down to you and you will answer with your own cry. And then you and God will go off together Sonward…into the Son…always into the Son…