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“That we might have hope” (Rom. 15:4)

First Samuel, Chapters Eight Through Fifteen

Saul vs. Paul: Arrogance vs. Humility

We recall in our Old Testament Bible history that the children of Israel were tired of being different from their surrounding nations. As a result they demanded that Samuel make them a king such as other countries had. After God instructed the prophet to warn the people just what this king would be like, they were soon introduced to the tragic figure of Saul.

Later on in the New Testament, we read of another Saul. This man, later known as Paul, also had his life interwoven into the fabric of the lives of the children of God. Two men living centuries apart–one beginning with great promise but coming to utter destruction; the other starting out on a pathway to hell, ending up a shining example to all Christendom. May the Holy Spirit teach us by their examples to see the strange mixture of arrogance and humility that often lurks within us all.


Old Testament Saul had a right to be arrogant by the world’s standards! The Scriptures state that Saul was a “choice and handsome young man” (1 Sam. 9:2). In fact, we’re told there wasn’t anyone more handsome in all of Israel! On top of that, he stood head and shoulders taller than any of the people, and his father is described as a mighty man of power.

Good looks, good connections, and power are often the breeding ground for arrogant behavior. We often see the people of the world lording their power or position over others.

But what of Saul? When Samuel informed the youth that he had been chosen by God to lead Israel, Saul replied in all humility: “Am I not a Benjaminite, of the smallest of the tribes of Israel, and my family the least of all the families of the tribe of Benjamin? Why then do you speak like this to me?” (1 Sam. 9:21) And lest we think this was a false humility, remember that when the time arrived for the proclamation of the new king, Saul was found hiding among the baggage.

We also read that the Spirit of the LORD was given to Saul, which enabled him to prophesy. He was also “turned into another man” by this same Spirit. What a promising beginning for Israel and her new, humble king!

Centuries later, during the time of the New Testament church, we read of another Saul–and what a contrast! This Saul (whom we shall call by his Christian name, Paul) describes himself this way: “I was . . . a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man” (1 Tim. 1:13); and “you have heard of my former conduct in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it. And I advanced in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries in my own nation, being exceedingly zealous for the traditions of my fathers” (Gal. 1:13-14).

What arrogance! This man, after his study of the Scriptures, in effect created his own religion directly opposed to God. Based on his own interpretation and the traditions of the fathers, Paul was led to wreak havoc on the new Christians, desiring to see as many as possible taken away in chains. In his blind arrogance, this was a man bent on a course for destruction.


But what became of our humble King Saul and his promising beginning? We learn that his rule, life, and faith soon began a destructive, downward spiral.

It started with seemingly innocent enough deeds, but soon progressed into gross outbreaks of sin which would cost Saul his soul. He began by regarding the holy order set up by God as no big deal. When Samuel was late for the presentation of the burnt offering, Saul took on the prophet’s responsibility. When confronted with his sin, Saul was disturbingly silent.

Later, when Saul had been commanded to “utterly destroy” King Amalek and all that he had, Saul slipped again. This time he not only disobeyed and justified his disobedience, but he even put a righteous spin on his sin. Saul feebly offered: “We only saved the best of the animals to sacrifice to the LORD your God. Samuel, surely that’s O.K.?” Samuel thundered in return: “To obey is better than sacrifice.” (Cf. 1 Sam. 15)

Soon Saul had given up all pretenses of faithfulness to God by slaughtering eighty-five priests of the Lord and by his attempts to destroy David, the next anointed king.

Finally, in a last act of disobedience to God, Saul took his own life.

And what of the New Testament Saul who was “breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord”? (Acts 9:1)

The Lord had a new route in mind for him. For on the road to Damascus, this arrogant man came face to face with our humble, yet almighty Savior. In a moment of time this, our beloved apostle Paul, was shown that everything he had been living for was a travesty. He had been practicing a self-centered, self-righteous religion which could only lead to hell.

The results of Paul’s conversion are nothing short of miraculous. Now Paul had a new pride and glory in his life: the Lord Jesus. Paul wrote to his Galatian congregation: “God forbid that I should glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Gal. 6:14).

And where is the man “advanced in Judaism beyond his contemporaries” in this declaration: “This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief”? (1 Tim. 1:15)

Christ, through the power of the Gospel, had crushed the arrogant, self-made spirit of Paul and replaced it with a Spirit-born humility that emulated Christ Himself. That is how this new Paul could earnestly profess: “Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:10).

As long as we are in the flesh, we must do daily battle with our own self-made arrogance which tries to rationalize our sin before God. We must also rely on the Holy Spirit to increase our confidence in these words of our Lord Jesus: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my strength is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9).

Even so, grant us such a humble spirit, O Lord!

–Teacher David Bernthal