Discipline is never a pleasant thing. I remember getting caught lying by my dad once, and he told me, “I can’t trust you anymore. If I’m ever going to trust you again, you’re going to have to earn it back.” Those were very painful words for me. I still remember them clearly. But it caused me to change, and eventually I did regain my dad’s trust.
Saul, unfortunately, didn’t respond well to God’s discipline. As I read this passage, I can’t help but compare his response to the priest Eli’s response when God disciplined him. Eli failed to rein in his sons when they were doing all kinds of evil in the temple, and because of that, God passed judgment on him and his family, saying that the day would come when he would strip the priesthood from them.
When Eli heard this, he didn’t rant. He didn’t rage. He didn’t throw a fit. Instead, he said,
He is the Lord; let him do what is good in his eyes. (I Samuel 3:18)
More importantly, he raised Samuel in a way that was completely different from the way he raised his sons. When he saw Samuel was hearing from God, he wasn’t jealous of what God was doing in his life. He didn’t abuse Samuel because God was blessing him and not Eli. Rather, he trained Samuel on how to respond to God, and how to be responsible with what he was given. He told Samuel to always relay the word of God to people honestly, without holding back, even when it was unpleasant. And Samuel took that lesson to heart and became a great prophet of God.
God didn’t let Eli off the hook for his sin. Discipline did come and eventually his descendants were relieved of their duties by King Solomon (I Kings 2:27).
But to Eli’s credit, he accepted God’s discipline, and continued to serve God as best as he could.
Contrast that to Saul in this chapter. When he saw that God’s Spirit had left him and was on David, when he saw that the people praised David above himself, and when he could see that David was to take his place, he became afraid of David and tried to kill him. He tried to do so by his own hand, and by the hand of the Philistines. And when he was unable to do so, he became even more afraid of David.
His life became a miserable mess because instead of accepting God’s discipline, and moving on trying to serve God as best as he could, he fought the decision of God and tried to hold on to what he had. And as a result, he lost everything.
Imagine if he had embraced David instead. Imagine if instead of fighting God’s decision, he would’ve said to David, “I failed. That’s why God has chosen you. Please learn from my mistakes.” Chances are, God would’ve sent Samuel to Saul once more instead of keeping him away. God would’ve kept speaking to Saul and working in his life.
But by fighting God’s discipline in his life, he found himself getting further and further away from God.
I’m not saying if he had accepted God’s discipline that God would’ve reversed his decision. But it could’ve been a stepping stone to a closer walk with God. Instead he lived the rest of his life in misery.
How about you? How do you respond to God’s discipline? Do you try to fight it? Or do you embrace it and let God change you. Remember that God never disciplines us because he hates us. Rather he disciplines us because he loves us and wants the best for us. As the writer of Hebrews said,
5“My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, 6 because the Lord disciplines those he loves,and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.”
7 Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father?8 If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons.9 Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live!10 Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. 11 No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. 12 Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. 13 “Make level paths for your feet,” so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed. (Hebrews 12:5-13)