I wrote a fictional piece a while back in an attempt to get into the mind of Saul – Israel’s first king – as he lay dying on the battlefield at the end of 1 Samuel.
Today, I share:
The Tragedy of King Saul
by Wes Woodell
It all comes down to this … pain, the pain is terrible! Why did I journey here today? Why didn’t I flee? I haven’t slept since visiting the witch and the old man predicted my fate. Why didn’t I flee today? Why didn’t I try to escape … but would it have done any good? The hand of the Lord is against me … I had no choice.
The great king Saul, pierced by Philistine arrows … must it end like this? Blood exiting my body slowly, the noise of the battle still ringing in my ears … I can feel my life fading even as my men flee, yet I am still alive. Not here, not now – not like this!
Oh, but to go back and live my life differently … but I never asked to be placed upon a throne. Who’s to blame? Surely not me … oh, but to go back and flee before meeting the old man!
I was a handsome young Benjamite man, tall, strapping, and strong. My father, Kish, instructed me to take a servant in search of some of our donkeys that had gotten loose, and our search turned in to a long journey. We passed through the hill country of Ephraim, the land of Shalishah, the land of Shaalim, the land of Benjamin, and even the land of Zuph, but could not find our animals.
I was ready to return home fearing my father would begin to worry for me instead of the animals when the servant boy spoke up and told me about the old man. Oh, but to go back and refuse to heed his words, “The seer of Zuph may help us find the animals.” But I didn’t refuse to listen – visiting the seer made sense at the time, and we journeyed into town to see him, quarter shekel of silver in hand to give him as an offering.
The servant boy had spoken to me as if I didn’t know who the old man was, but I did. The old man was a judge of Israel, quite famous, and everyone knew the hand of the Lord was with. After all, this was the same man who’d caused the voice of the Lord to thunder against the Philistines at Mizpah, who settled disputes between the people, and who spoke for the Lord – no ordinary man, indeed.
Little did I know what my meeting him would bring about. If I knew then what I know now, I would have fled … but alas, I did not.
The old man was on his way to the local shrine when we met him. Immediately he knew who I was even though the servant boy and I had never met him face to face. Without prompting he told us not to worry about our lost donkeys – that they had been found. This was shocking enough, but then he said the words I’ll never forget! The old man said, “All Israel’s desire is fixed upon you and your father’s house.” Was he serious? I looked over my shoulder thinking surely I’d been mistaken in believing that word had been for me, but no one else was there – he’d said those words for me.
“What?” I thought. “All Israel’s desire is on me? What does this mean? Why my fathers house? Why me? Surely not me!”
I protested explaining my humble origin and position, but the old man held up a hand commanding silence while ushering the servant boy and I to a banquet prepared at the shrine. As we entered, I felt everyone’s gaze as the old man seated me at the head of the table. Can you imagine me – a lowly farmer – at the head of the table. This was not something I was accustomed to. Back then I never liked crowds or being the center of attention, yet here I was in the seat of honor, and for what? Because the old man said so.
With the meal prepared and blessing pronounced, the old man instructed the cook to lay such a portion of meat on my plate as had never been offered me before, and I feasted together with the other guests, my head swimming with thoughts, quietly wondering what the following days would bring. Who was this mysterious old man to me? Obviously the Lord had touched him – he was greatly respected and revered by the people and they hung upon his every word, but what did he have to do with me. What insight did he have into my destiny? What did he mean, “All Israel’s desire is fixed upon me”? What would my future hold? These inner thoughts and questions continued as I lay gazing at the stars from a bed on the old man’s roof that evening, wondering with a mixture of excitement and anxiety about the future.
The next day the old man woke me up early telling me it was time to go home – little did I know what this day would bring. As we walked to the edge of town, he instructed the servant boy to travel ahead so he could speak with me alone.
Before I knew what was happening, the old man pulled out a flask of oil and began pouring it over my head, then he kissed me, and prophesied that I would be Israel’s savior – a warrior king raised up to deliver the people from their enemies. I was in such a state of shock I couldn’t respond – all I could do was listen as the old man told me the signs that would accompany his words. I’m sure I looked a fool standing there with my mouth agape.
As if that hadn’t been strange enough, something even more odd happened next. As I turned to walk away, the anxiety was lifted. I felt a strange sense of peace in that moment … I knew my life would never be the same. I would learn later that I’d had an encounter with the very Spirit of God.
While traveling home, the three signs the old man predicted came true. I learned that my father’s animals were found and that he’d turned to looking for me, I accepted gifts from worshipers on their way to Bethel, and, unable to help it, fell into a worshipful frenzy with a band of prophets at Gibeath-elohim. The old man’s words about everything were true – I knew it, and I was not the same man I had been before encountering him, but I kept this to myself.
A bit of time passed, and word spread that the old man was again summoning all the people before the Lord at Mizpah. I’ll never forget the horror I felt at his pronouncement: that God had been faithful to Israel in bringing them out of Egypt and protecting them from their enemies, yet Israel had responded to him wickedly – they’d asked for a king. Suddenly I knew what the old man had meant when he’d said, “All Israel’s desire is fixed upon you and your father’s house”, but I could now see that their desire had been wicked! How could any good come, not only of my being the focus of my people’s desire, but of my people’s wicked desire?!? How should I, the object of their want, respond now that I’ve learned God considers their desire evil?!? I did all I could think to do: I hid among a traveler’s belongings, but it was too late.
They found me among the luggage and brought me before the people. The old man presented me as God’s chosen, and the people rejoiced shouting, “Long live the king!” Now all Israel knew the name of Saul.
I never desired to be king – never asked for it! All this was thrust upon me, and nothing in me wanted this position … at least in the beginning.
After the pronouncement, warriors were attracted to me and a number accompanied me home to Gibeah. Even though I’d been made king, life wasn’t much different at first. I actually went to working my father’s land as if nothing had changed … but it soon would.
About a month after my coronation, I received word that Nahash the Ammonite had attacked our brothers and sisters across the Jordan and mutilated all by putting out their right eye. About 7,000 fled across the river to Jabesh-gilead, and Nahash besieged that city threatening to put out the right eye of everyone behind the walls in order to bring disgrace upon all Israel. When word reached my ears of this, I again felt the presence of the Lord, and an anger filled my bones unlike any I had felt before.
I fell upon a yoke of oxen in my anger cutting them to pieces. I instructed servants to take the parts to all the tribes of Israel with the message, “The oxen of any who do not follow me into battle will be made like this.” I meant it, and the people knew it. Thousands of fighting men from Israel and Judah met me at a rally point in Bezek, and we violently descended upon Nahash routing the foreign oppressors.
That day, there was great rejoicing in Israel. The people held me upon their shoulders shouting, “Long live the king! Long live Saul!” Sacrifices were made to the Lord, and all Israel rejoiced in his presence and in the presence of me, their new king.
It was in that moment that I realized something I hadn’t before – being king was glorious! And even though I’d thought myself small before, I could see now that I really was great – the great warrior-king Saul! I had led our people to victory, I was the deliverer raised up by the Lord, and my exceptionalism had been ordained by God himself – why shouldn’t I be praised?
The momentum spawned by my first military success spawned more: I turned my attention to the Philistines, and routed their garrison at Geba. They in turn mustered a vast army at Michmash to face me, but would have no chance.
I mustered my armies to fight them knowing the Lord would be with us. We set up camp near the battleground a few days before our planned campaign, but where was the old man? He’d told me the set time he would arrive. His presence was greatly important – it was his job to offer the sacrifices, but he was late and morale was waning.
My thoughts drifted, “Who am I to tolerate lateness? Doesn’t the old one know my men are losing confidence? Of course we’ll route the Philistine army, but only if my army is willing to fight. Doesn’t he know the sacrifice must be made before we can enter battle? Fine! I will perform it myself.”
The old man showed up just as the sacrificial ceremony was ending. I could see the scowl on his face as he approached and knew he was not happy. “What have you done?!” he demanded, already knowing the answer. “Foolish man – the Lord would have established the throne of your kingdom forever, but now it will be given to another!” With that, he left.
I was greatly distressed at the old man’s words, but didn’t have time to worry in that moment. As he went on his way, I took the army and went to meet the Philistines. Through the tenacious fighting spirit of my son Jonathan, the Lord delivered them over to us in victory.
Under my lead military success followed Israel wherever we went. The old man’s words had bothered me significantly when he’d said them, but I forgot them as the time passed and victories stacked up. The Lord was with me and everyone knew it – at least he had been until the attack on Amalek.
The old man told me it was the Lord’s will to destroy the Amalekites completely leaving nothing alive – human or animal. The armies of the Israelites would be his tool in carrying this out, so I mustered the men and attacked swiftly … but there was a problem. The city was rich – surely it didn’t all have to be destroyed! I instructed the men to take the best of the sheep and cattle, and to spare Agag the king. All else would be destroyed, but these we would keep for ourselves sacrificing many to the Lord.
So great was our victory over Amalek, I commissioned a monument be erected in my honor in Carmel so that Israel would forever remember our achievement. Afterward, I passed down to Gilgal where the old man met me. When he arrived and saw the animals we’d kept along with king Agag, he was greatly displeased. I attempted to appease him by explaining why we’d kept the spoil: “It wasn’t my fault – the men wanted to keep the spoil! Besides, the animals were set aside for sacrifice to the Lord …” but to no avail.
The old man refused to listen further before uttering the words I will never forget: “You have rejected the word of the Lord, and the Lord has rejected you as king over Israel.”
May it never be! Sorrow filled my heart!
In the midst of my anguish, I fell to my knees taking hold of the edge of the old man’s garment as he walked away only to have it tear in my hands. “This will be the way the kingdom will leave your grasp – torn away, and given to another!” … and there was nothing I could do about it – at least, that’s what the old man said.
The old man left me that day. I would only see him once more before his death, and that from a distance. I underwent a change in that moment as dramatic as the change I’d undergone after my first encounter with the Spirit, only this time I was not at peace but in anguish. I was greatly troubled night and day and could not eat and could not sleep. So wretched was my spirit that it was visibly obvious to all. My servants believed music would sooth me, and that’s what led to meeting him. The boy – that wretched boy!
I liked him well enough at first. He would player his lyre and indeed my spirit would be soothed, but the death of that horrid Philistine changed all that. In my heart I wish the Philistine had taken the boy’s head and not the other way around! Who did the people think they were singing that song, “Saul has killed his thousands, but David his ten thousands.” Don’t the people remember who I am? Who is this nobody – this shepherd boy – whom the maidens give greater glory to? I decided to prove them all wrong – to prove that no one is greater than king Saul, the great king of Israel!
Never had I wanted to end the life of another as much as this boy – this David. It became an obsession! Twice I tried to kill him as he played the lyre for me, but my spears missed each time … yet he kept coming back. The insolence!
I put him in charge of 1,000 of my men and sent him into endless battles secretly hoping – knowing – he would eventually be killed, but he was always victorious! I even offered the hand of my daughter to him in exchange for 100 Philistine foreskins knowing he would die attempting to collect them, but he was successful, and his fame increased.
More and more desperate I became, more and more obsessed. “If this boy’s fame continues to increase, the old man’s words may come true!” I thought. “I must prove him wrong!”
I approached my son Jonathan about killing this boy, but little did I know my son would betray me in exchange for his friendship. My son betrayed me to serve this boy! And my daughter Michal who I’d given to him in marriage who was meant to be a snare for him turned into a snare for me, aiding the boy in his escape from my hand. Even the Lord was against me in my pursuit of him. When I chased the boy to Ramah, two sets of my messengers, and then I myself were hindered in our pursuit by a prophetic trance only God could send, yet I still fought to kill him!
From Nob to Keilah, from the Wilderness of Ziph to the strongholds of Horesh, from Maon to the Arabah to En-Gedi I pursued him – nothing, not even priests of the Lord, would stand in my way … but it was no use.
No matter where I went, no matter what I tried, I could not catch him or kill him. On the contrary, on two separate occasions I fell into his hands, yet he spared my life each time. Have I been wrong all along? Have I really wasted my life?
Oh, what a fool I’ve been … what a wretched, pitiful fool! Who am I to stand against the Lord? Who am I to question the Living God? Who am I to prove wrong his prophet, the old man – has the Lord ever been wrong? Has he ever spoken a word that didn’t come true? Why shouldn’t it have come to this – pierced by Philistine arrows, lying in a pool of my own blood awaiting death?
The Lord is no longer with me, and hasn’t been for years … this because I turned my back on him long ago – not the other way around. My prayers remain unheard, my supplications unnoticed … because I left the Lord. I can see that now … Oh, but to to do it over again and not waste my life!
When the old man told me what would happen today I thought about fleeing, but what would have been the point? What can a man do when the Lord is against him?
To go back and relive those moments – what I would give to relive those fateful moments that defined my life! Oh, to change my actions and thereby my destiny … but it is too late for that. Perhaps my tortured soul will find rest … perhaps the Lord will be merciful …
“Lord – please have mercy on me – the Philistines will not have me alive! Young man – I command you, come here …”
What do you believe were Saul’s final thoughts?
Pride and insecurity can be a dangerous combination, especially when mixed together as they were in the life of King Saul. It’s scary, especially since I’ve seen it bring down better men than I am.
From insecurity and doubt, to security and pride, to arrogance, self-reliance and disobedience, to death.
God calls for our faithfulness to death.