“But their swords will pierce their own hearts,
and their bows will be broken.”
To his credit, Saul didn’t want the job. In fact, he even hid when chosen. He was a local farmer, a head taller than most people, remarkably handsome. But he wanted no part of being
Israel’s first king. In a way, that’s good. It speaks humility.
What’s more, he changed his mind only because Israel faced a crisis. No one bribed him; he took the job to which he was divinely appointed only because his people needed him. Nabash the Ammonite, threatening the city of
Jabesh with vastly
superior forces, told the people he would accept their surrender only if each
male would give the Ammonites his right eye, a sure way to ensure continuing
To counter, Saul played a card from a similar deck. He hacked up his oxen, and his men delivered the chunks to the people of Israel, telling them that unless they acted all their livestock would meet a similar fate. Soon enough, he had an army. Soon enough the city of
Jabesh was spared. Saul was a hero—and he was King.
It didn’t take long for his reign to spiral into disobedience and decay, and the cause was understandable: he began to trust himself more than the Lord. Excuse my saying it, but that’s well, natural.
Specifically, when he saw his army dissipate before battle with the Phillistines, he took upon himself the task of religious sacrifice, thereby disobeying God, who had commanded that only Samuel, his anointed prophet, could undertake the ritual sacrifice.
Samuel was furious. He told the King that God would replace him with someone God himself would choose, a man, Samuel told him, who had a heart like God’s own.
Not long after, King Saul won an impressive victory over the Amalekites, but rather than destroy the entire army as God had commanded, Saul took their King, Agag, alive, a kind of trophy. Likewise, his soldiers kept Amalekite livestock, such plunder traditionally a conquering army’s wages. Both acts were disobedient.
Samuel grieved deeply over Saul’s flagrant arrogance, and God commanded his prophet to anoint another king. Enter David, a 16-year-old shepherd boy with no military experience, little gravitas, and absolutely no name recognition.
After a miraculous one-on-one defeat of the giant Goliath, however, David needed no one to market his importance. Soon he was the champion of the masses, a fact that did not go unnoticed by the still reigning King. King Saul grew frightfully paranoid about the would-be king, even mad. Several times, he tried to kill him. Amazingly, David stayed loyal. The King no longer ruled but was ruled by a fanatical obsession to kill the boy who’d never been disloyal.
With the nation in disarray, the Philistines mounted another assault, and Saul, seeing defeat, killed himself rather than suffer the humiliation of capture and torture—was killed, in fact, by his own hand when he purposefully fell on his sword.
The moral lesson of all of this could hardly be missed by Saul’s reluctant successor, a man after God’s own heart. Is the story of King Saul the precise derivation of this line from the song? It seems impossible not to believe that it couldn’t be.
But the reason it’s here is assurance—ours. The wicked, whoever they might be, won’t prosper in the long run. That’s the simple truth David wants to offer for our comfort. He knew—perhaps like no one else—how true it was, and is.