King Saul was quite the human specimen. A man of stunning appearance, he stood head and shoulders above his contemporaries. Moreover, Saul’s father Kish was a valiant warrior from the beloved tribe of Benjamin. When the people of Israel demanded a king, Saul was an obvious choice.
Saul the son of Kish, however, had a problem: he was insecure. The young king declared his allegiance to God, but his decisions were often driven by the fear of rejection. And though he proved himself fearless in battle, Saul failed to obey the full command of God because he feared the disapproval of his people.
When pressed by the prophet Samuel, the king lied to deflect the focus, but lying to a prophet is not to be recommended. There is a very good reason they are often called “seers.” A stinging rebuke followed:
“For rebellion is like the sin of divination,
and defiance is like wickedness and idolatry.”
1 Samuel 15:23 (HCSB)
What is the common denominator between rebellion, divination, defiance, wickedness, and idolatry? It is the quest to control.
Lessons From Saul
Saul’s natural tendency toward control was multiplied by his fears. He then tightened his grip on power, fixated on David as the enemy of his throne, and sought the guidance of a witch to keep his worst fears from coming true.
The life of Israel’s first king is a sad testimony of how the innate tendency to control, if left unchecked, can become a fear-driven compulsion. That compulsion, then, drives people to do things—such as Saul repeatedly trying to kill David—that they would have never considered otherwise.
Through King Saul we see that, in the end, we will lose that which we try to hold onto and control. A life of such compulsive control will surely be lacking in peace and joy. They are blessings that accompany the advance of God’s kingdom, but not our own.
Making Sense of it All
I wish that these were simple issues to navigate. So many of our vices are the result of a complex mix of pride, pain, and fear. The compulsion to control, for example, can also be amplified by personal trauma. Thankfully, there are practical steps we can take to help move ourselves into alignment with the dynamics of God’s kingdom.
Stepping back once again to our story in Eden, we read at the end of Genesis chapter two that “Both the man and his wife were naked, yet felt no shame” (HCSB).
After they ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, however, an instantaneous change took place. Suddenly, they were very much ashamed—and afraid.
Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves. Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and they hid themselves from the Lord God among the trees of the garden.
Genesis 3:7-8 (HCSB)
Previously, Adam and Eve had been clothed in God’s glory, but now here they were, naked and ugly, having inherited the nature of the dark Lord. At the root of their anxious efforts was the fear of being found naked and ashamed. Furthermore, their pride could not acknowledge that there was anything wrong with them. And so they hid. And they deflected. And they cast blame.
When we are not trusting God and also feel as though we are not in control, we tend to become anxious. Our natural tendency, though, is to blame our anxiety on the chaos and uncertainty around us. Big mistake! We are anxious because something is broken within us.
Had Adam and Eve admitted their transgression and looked to the Lord for mercy, the story might have played out differently, but as it was, fear and pride became a part of the human DNA. Fear can be managed and overcome, but those efforts will be less than effective unless we are also willing to humble ourselves.
Freed By Love
Through Christ, we can stand before God with all our pride, all our fear, and every area of our lives naked and exposed. It does not matter if our shame was self-inflicted or the result of human cruelty; He welcomes us regardless. Like a loving father approaching a child who has just been assaulted, He gently clothes us in His glory.
How can we be freed from the compulsion to control? The best starting point involves learning to see our heavenly Father as an advocate rather than a threat. The Bible teaches that perfect love casts out all fear (1 John 4:18), and there is no more perfect love than that of our heavenly Father.
What we need, at the very core of our being, is a revelation of our heavenly Father and all that entails. We need a clear vision of His generous character and a revelation of His faithfulness. The depths of His unconditional love must permeate every nook and cranny of our hearts to heal our hearts, make our emotions whole, and wash away our shame. It is then that the cold, hard shackles of control will begin to fall from our wrists.
If only King Saul had understood these truths.
*Bob Santos has authored several books, and this post is drawn from an upcoming work titled The Search for Rest.