Why did God choose Saul? This is an issue that has plagued me for quite some time. He looked good like a king ought to look (1 Samuel 9:2), yet he did not act like a king ought to have acted. Then there is this statement from God when Samuel was sent to find Saul’s successor:
“Have no regard for his appearance or stature, because I haven’t selected him. God doesn’t look at things like humans do. Humans see only what is visible to the eyes, but the Lord sees into the heart.”
Didn’t God look into Saul’s heart? Reading through this passage this time, I believe I finally found my answer. Much has been written in studies about Saul’s self-image and how he had a very poor self-esteem. This led him to do things that were contrary to the Lord’s commands because he wanted to make himself look good. I fully believe this all to be true, but it does not answer the issue of why God chose him, though.
I believe that God saw in Saul one of the key virtues for a godly life: humility. Saul did not think he was better than anyone else. Even though he was physically better off than many people, and even though he came from a wealthy family, Saul saw others as better than himself. This would have been the makings of a wonderful king.
Saul’s problem was that he tried to compensate for his humility. Rather than embrace humility and allow it to be a virtue, always pointing successes back to the Lord and allowing God to receive glory and honor through the mighty deeds done, Saul tried to make himself look better than he was. He had been made king, and he was going to prove to his people that he deserved to be king.
1 Samuel 15:17 has Samuel’s rebuke of Saul:
Samuel said, “Even if you think you are insignificant, aren’t you the leader of Israel’s tribes? The Lord anointed you king over Israel.”
The key difference between David and Saul is that David understood that the Lord had made him king, whereas Saul thought he had to keep the position of power through his own action. Saul was a man who could not even find lost donkeys, but he wanted people to see a king.
Humility is only a virtue in the spiritual life when it reminds us that God is at work through us and around us. If we try to present ourselves as we think we ought to be seen, rather than allow God to present us as he wants us to be, we will have the same problem Saul had. It is a humility that, ironically, leads to pride of the most unhealthy sort.