The Devil Seeks a Foothold
by Jack Wald | November 2nd, 2008

I Samuel 18

It is quite painful for me to read the story of Saul. He was a reluctant king, was dragged into the position against his will, but then with God’s inspiration he became successful. He did what a king was supposed to do. He began by defeating Nahash the Ammonite. He went on to defeat the Philistines, even though they held the technological advantage of having iron swords and spears. And he knew that it was God who was bringing the victories.

The writer of I Samuel acknowledges his success: (I Samuel 14:47)

After Saul had assumed rule over Israel, he fought against their enemies on every side: Moab, the Ammonites, Edom, the kings of Zobah, and the Philistines. Wherever he turned, he inflicted punishment on them. 48 He fought valiantly and defeated the Amalekites, delivering Israel from the hands of those who had plundered them.

He had been king for some time and now his son, Jonathan, was bravely leading a division of the army. But once again he was at battle with the Philistines and found himself at a stalemate. Day after day the Philistine champion, Goliath, came out to taunt the Israelites, but noone would step out to fight him.

How did Saul react to all this? He was a head taller than the rest of the Israelites. Shouldn’t he have been the one to go out and fight against Goliath? But maybe by this time Saul was older and it is the young men who fight these duels.

Day after day they waited but then David came and in the story we all know, using his slingshot, defeated Goliath dressed in all his armor and weaponry. The shepherd boy slayed the giant warrior.

This was a great victory. Earlier it was Jonathan who had led a surprise attack and gained a victory for Saul. Now it was David who led the attack. But then

the women came out from all the towns of Israel to meet King Saul with singing and dancing, with joyful songs and with tambourines and lutes. 7 As they danced, they sang:

Saul has slain his thousands,

and David his tens of thousands.”

The women did not mean to insult Saul. Saul was the king and they credited him with the victory. Earlier the text mentions that Saul sought out brave men to fight for him. (I Samuel 14:52)

All the days of Saul there was bitter war with the Philistines, and whenever Saul saw a mighty or brave man, he took him into his service.

Why was David not just one more brave man he had enlisted in his service to fight the enemies of Israel?

But Saul was not pleased.

8 Saul was very angry; this refrain galled him. “They have credited David with tens of thousands,” he thought, “but me with only thousands. What more can he get but the kingdom?” 9 And from that time on Saul kept a jealous eye on David.

When we observe someone who acts poorly we tend to make a judgement that there is something wrong with that person. We observe and make judgements in the present but to understand why people act as they do we need to go into the past.

In Saul’s case this began some time earlier. Saul’s son, Jonathan, attacked a Philistine outpost and the Philistines gathered an army to retaliate. Saul called the men of Israel to come and stand against this army. They arrived but were intimidated by the numbers and weapons of the Philistines.

Samuel had told Saul to wait seven days and he would come to make a sacrifice to God on behalf of the army of Israel. Saul waited but when the seven days passed and Samuel had not shown up, Saul did not know what to do. The men who had come to fight with him were slipping away. What should he do? Maybe Samuel had had an accident. Maybe Samuel had died. Something had to be done so Saul decided he would stand in for Samuel and make the sacrifice himself.

When Samuel showed up late, he chastised Saul for acting on his behalf. Samuel was already disturbed that Saul had taken his place as ruler of Israel and now Saul was taking his place as prophet/priest of Israel.

I Samuel 13:13-14)

You acted foolishly,” Samuel said. “You have not kept the command the Lord your God gave you; if you had, he would have established your kingdom over Israel for all time. 14 But now your kingdom will not endure; the Lord has sought out a man after his own heart and appointed him leader of his people, because you have not kept the Lord’s command.”

This had to hurt. Why wasn’t it Samuel’s fault because he arrived later than he had promised? But Saul is the one who suffered. He was going to be replaced by someone as king and that would not be his son Jonathan.

Then later, sometime before the battle with the Philistines and Goliath, Samuel instructed Saul to go into battle against the Amalekites and to destroy all living things. This is one of the Old Testament passages that disturbs us. Saul was instructed to kill the men and women and children and infants. He was to kill all the animals. There are a lot of modern sensibilities that are offended by passages such as this one.

Saul defeated the Amalekites and killed the men, women, children, infants and some of the animals but spared the king and the fat sheep and cattle. It seems that his men who had fought so well wanted a reward and Saul gave in to them and allowed them to keep the best of the sheep and cattle.

When Samuel confronted him, Saul offered the best excuse he could think of at the moment and said he had saved the best of the sheep and cattle so they could be offered to God as a sacrifice. It is not clear that Saul had kept any of the sheep and cattle for himself or had just given in to the will of his troops. In any case Samuel had had enough and told Saul.

the Lord has rejected you as king over Israel!

First he was told that his son would not sit on his throne and now he was told that he himself had been replaced.

From this point on it seems that Saul lost his will to rule. He stumbled through his life from this point on. He was moody. When he prophesied, evil spirits overwhelmed him. He reacted rashly, killing all the priests and their families at Nob because David had been offered assistance. It is a sad and ugly story.

It is in this light that we need to read Saul’s jealous reaction to the praise of the women after David killed Goliath and the Philistines were defeated.

Saul has slain his thousands,

and David his tens of thousands.”

There are a couple clues to what led to this destructive downturn in his life.

Saul started out well. After he first met Samuel, (I Samuel 10:9-10)

As Saul turned to leave Samuel, God changed Saul’s heart, and all these signs were fulfilled that day. 10 When they arrived at Gibeah, a procession of prophets met him; the Spirit of God came upon him in power, and he joined in their prophesying.

After he had been proclaimed king, he was plowing in his field when word came that Nahash the Ammonite was threatening the tribes of Reuben and Gad. (I Samuel 11:6)

When Saul heard their words, the Spirit of God came upon him in power, and he burned with anger.

After he defeated them he proclaimed that (I Samuel 11:13)

this day the Lord has rescued Israel.

He was a king like, it seems to me, God wanted him to be king. He depended on the Spirit of God to fight and gave credit to God for the success he encountered.

He made two mistakes. He made a sacrifice that elevated him in the eyes of Israel to Samuel’s position and that offended Samuel and by inference, God as well.

Saul was a practical man. The sacrifice needed to be made. The troops were deserting. He would make the sacrifice. This was not a coup with Saul determining to take over Samuel’s role. This was a practical decision.

And then he gave in to the demands of his troops for loot from the battle.

Saul tried to make it up and repented.

I Samuel 15:24

Then Saul said to Samuel, “I have sinned. I violated the Lord’s command and your instructions. I was afraid of the people and so I gave in to them. 25 Now I beg you, forgive my sin and come back with me, so that I may worship the Lord.”

Samuel did go back to worship with Saul but then never saw him again. Saul seems to have repented but it did him no good. He was rejected. His throne had been taken from him. Saul was still king but God had announced that in his eyes, Saul’s successor was now the king and the next chapter of I Samuel describes the anointing of David as the new king of Israel.

On the face of it, David did far worse things than Saul did. He took another man’s wife and killed the husband to cover up his action. He lied to the priest at Nob which led to the death of the priests. He practiced extortion against Nabal and was ready to kill him when he refused to pay. He killed two hundred Philistines just so he could have their foreskins as a wedding payment for Saul’s daughter, Michal.

But here is one thing I noticed that makes a difference between Saul and David. In I Samuel 14:35 we read:

Then Saul built an altar to the Lord; it was the first time he had done this.

When you read Genesis and the story of Abraham, one of the things that distinguishes Abraham from his nephew Lot is that Abraham built altars to seek God, to worship God wherever he went. We don’t read about Lot building altars and he moves closer and closer to Sodom until he finally is living in this sinful city.

Saul was not in the practice of building altars, but David was writing psalms and worshiping God long before he became king. As a teenager David was writing psalms and fighting off lions and bears that threatened his sheep. Saul was in his middle years before he built an altar and it is not clear whether he did that as an outpouring of his heart or as a practical step to determine why it was God was not speaking to him.

When David repented, as he did after Nathan confronted him with his sin against Bathsheba and Uriah, he realized that his sin was principally against God.

Psalm 51:4

Against you, you only, have I sinned

and done what is evil in your sight,

David may have sinned with all his heart but he also repented with all his heart.

It seems that Saul repented as a practical step, more out of a desire to keep his kingship than any sense of having sinned against God.

This is one reason Saul’s life turned so miserably downward. His relationship with God seems to have been a practical one. I will do this so you will do that. There does not seem to be much in Saul that offered devotion to God, just for the sake of offering devotion.

It is true that when we read the psalms, it seems David also had practical motives for his praise. He offered praise so God would defeat David’s enemies and keep him on the throne. But there is also a part of David that loved God just for the thrill of loving God. That seems to be missing in Saul.

A second reason for the downturn in Saul’s life is found in his reaction to the praise the women offered after Goliath and the Philistines were defeated.

The chronology in I Samuel is a bit confusing but it seems that David was anointed as the new king before Saul called him to the palace to play his harp to soothe him when he was in a bad mood.

Saul had been rejected by Samuel, twice. Saul had been rejected by God. We will focus on this next week, but God told Samuel, I am grieved that I have made Saul king and that is a terrible rejection.

Saul was still king. He remembered that it was Samuel and God who dragged him into this position and now he had been rejected by them. He knew that Samuel and God were looking and perhaps had already found the next person to be king of Israel.

And then God arranged to have David, his new choice for king of Israel, brought to the palace of Saul.

Saul had become paranoid, looking to see who Samuel had anointed as king and when he saw David, he saw something in him that made him wonder.

Then in the battle with the Philistines, Saul saw that David was good with more than his harp and after he killed Goliath, Saul’s thinking crystalized. God’s hand was on David and that meant David had been anointed to be the next king. David became more of a threat.

Saul was feeling rejected and now he opened himself to jealousy.

The women celebrated Saul’s victory but gave David even greater honors than Saul.

And from that time on Saul kept a jealous eye on David.

David had great success on the battlefield. Saul could see in David the Spirit of God that he had once experienced and he was jealous. He wanted to protect what he had and did not enjoy the thought that David would take it from him.

Jealousy and envy are closely related. Jealousy is having something and not wanting anyone to take it away from you. Envy is not having something someone else has and wanting it.

Saul was jealous. Even though Samuel told him God had appointed someone else to take his place, for all intents and purposes he was still king but now he was looking at the one God had chosen.

David had charisma and a spiritual relationship with God. David was who Saul wished he could be but was not. David was the skilled athlete and singer who skipped through life and dazzled the crowds. Saul plodded through life making the best decisions he could but stumbled and received the rejection of God. He was angry he had been rejected, insecure because he was not sure he had what it took to be king and threatened because David’s continuing success indicated he was now God’s chosen king.

Saul was jealous.

What is so wrong about being jealous?

In Ephesians 4:26-27 Saul’s ancestor, who we know as Paul, wrote:

In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 and do not give the devil a foothold.

The problem with jealousy or envy or anger or pride or any of the long list of sinful attitudes is that they open us to the work of the devil in our lives.

Peter wrote in his letter (I Peter 5:8)

Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.

When we give in to our feelings of jealousy, envy, anger or whatever, we open up a crack onto which the devil can gain a foothold to begin his work to pull us away from God, to wreck havoc in our lives.

In the allegory Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyon, the main character, Christian, is making his way to heaven. He turns away on the path because he hears that there are lions ahead on the path. His fear of the lions prevents him from going ahead toward the eternal city but then he is reassured that the lions are held by chains and if he keeps to the center of the path, they will not be able to touch him. They will growl and claw at him but they will be unable to touch him – if he keeps to the center of the path.

The meaning of this allegory is obvious. If we walk obediently with Jesus, we will be safe but as soon as we yield to temptation or stray away from Jesus with our anger or envy or jealousy, we are vulnerable to the devil who can attack us. Our safety in Jesus comes only when we walk in the center of the path with him. We need to live obedient lives to live safely.

Saul was jealous and his jealousy opened a crack onto which the devil was able to gain a foothold so that when Saul began to prophecize, as he had done since he was first made king, an evil spirit came in and he tried to kill David.

This is the danger of our sinful attitudes. It may not seem that jealousy hurts anyone but it opens up the door of our heart so that evil can take over.

Saul gave into his jealousy and it ruined his life. He spent the last part of his life chasing after David and losing his son, Jonathan. The last part of his life was miserable and it began with his jealousy.

As we prepare for communion this morning, I want to take us through a list of sinful attitudes and allow us to examine ourselves. If we recognize our sin and confess our sinful attitudes, we will approach the meal with Jesus in a way that will allow us to receive from this meal the spiritual benefit that is intended. It will nourish us spiritually, if we approach it with a clean heart and conscience.

The Seven Deadly Sins date from the 4th century and have been used for centuries as a basis against which we can measure ourselves. Each of the seven deadly sins has attached to it a contrasting virtue. As I take us through this list, I pray that the Holy Spirit will open our minds and hearts and convict us of the ways in which we need to repent.

The first of the Seven Deadly Sins is lust and the virtue contrasted with it is chastity.

Frederick Buechner defined lust as: the craving for salt of a man who is dying of thirst.

Lust is a self-destructive drive for pleasure that will not and cannot satisfy. We think of this principally as sexual lust but it can also be lust for any kind of pleasure.

When Jeremiah wanted an image to describe Judah’s lust for other gods he used this description:

You are a swift she-camel

running here and there,

24 a wild donkey accustomed to the desert,

sniffing the wind in her craving—

in her heat who can restrain her?

Any males that pursue her need not tire themselves;

at mating time they will find her.

25 Do not run until your feet are bare

and your throat is dry.

But you said, ‘It’s no use!

I love foreign gods,

and I must go after them.’

The people of Judah were out of control, their lust for other gods driving them. For what are you lusting? What drives your thought life? When you daydream, about what do you dream? When you wake up in the morning, about what do you think? When you sit down to your computer, where on the internet is it you want to go?

There is nothing wrong with pleasure. God created us to enjoy pleasure and he put us in a pleasurable world. But we need to train ourselves to restrain our pursuit of pleasure. We need to enjoy the pleasurable things in life and be grateful to God for them but we need to yearn and desire a more intimate relationship with God.

Have you opened yourself to the work of the devil in your life by lusting for what will not and cannot satisfy?

Let us reflect and pray.

The second in the list of the Seven Deadly Sins is gluttony and the virtue contrasted with it is temperance.

Lust is the desire for something whereas gluttony is the inability to control the consumption of pleasure.

We think of this in regard to food or drink. A couple summers ago my father invited the family to take a cruise on the Mediterranean Sea. We had a great trip going to the islands of Greece and stopping in ports of Turkey, but food on the ship was included in the cost of the trip and there was no limit to the food they provided. Any time you wanted to eat there were places serving food and you could even have it delivered to your room.

This was gluttons paradise and I found it necessary to fast for one of the days on the trip.

Thomas Merton in medieval times argued that gluttony could also include an obsessive anticipation of meals, and the constant eating of delicacies and excessively costly foods. It is not just how much you eat but how much time you put into thinking of what you are going to eat.

We think of food when we talk about gluttony but this has a wider application. Some people cannot restrain themselves and have to party every night. Gluttony might be an inability to turn off the TV and go to bed.

Gluttony needs to be countered by temperance, the ability to moderate our desires and habits.

Proverbs 23:2 warns us,

put a knife to your throat if you are given to gluttony.

Where are your desires and habits out of control? Where is it that your desires are ruling you?

Let us reflect and pray.

The third of the Seven Deadly Sins is greed and the contrasting virtue is charity or generosity.

Greed immediately brings money to mind but the sin of greed is not the accumulation of wealth, but to what lengths you will go to get it. It is not sinful to be wealthy but it is sinful to pay bribes, cheat, steal, manipulate, swindle people to get the money you want. It is greed when no matter how much you accumulate it is not enough and you are driven to make more money.

You can also be greedy for praise, wanting to take credit for anything you can or greedy for recognition, making sure everyone knows what you have done. In your greed, you may also try to take credit for work other people have done.

The contrasting virtue is charity, being generous with the money you have, sharing with others the praise that comes to you for work accomplished.

In one of my favorite movies, Enchanted April, three women leave cold, rainy England for a vacation in Italy. They are all transformed and one of the women has this realization:

This place makes me feel flooded with love. The important thing is to have lots of love about. I was very stingy with it back home. I used to measure and count it out. I had this obsession with justice, you see. I wouldn’t love Mellersh unless he loved me back exactly as much. But, he didn’t and neither did I. The emptiness of it all.

In what way are you stingy? Where have you been holding back when you need to be letting go, sharing, being generous?

Let us reflect and pray.

The fourth of the Seven Deadly Sins is sloth and the virtue contrasted with it is diligence.

The other day I was in the supermarket and the woman at the checkout counter was just a step above being a corpse. Her elbows never left the counter. She moved the items from side to side but was so lethargic it was amazing.

Sloth is the failure to use the gifts and talents God has given you to their full potential. Sloth is settling for mediocrity when God intends you to do great things with him.

Sloth is laziness or indifference in general but it is specifically spiritual apathy, not caring.

Jesus said we are to

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.

Where is your thirst and hunger for God, for a deeper, more intimate relationship with God?

Are you pursuing life with energy or just letting it happen to you, or maybe letting it pass you by?

Let us reflect and pray.

The fifth of the Seven Deadly Sins is wrath or anger and is contrasted with patience.

Think through your relationships at home with your spouse or children or your roommates, at work or school with your colleagues. How do they view you? On a scale of “out of control angry” to “patient as a saint”, where do they put you?

Let us reflect and pray.

The sixth of the Seven Deadly Sins is envy and is contrasted with kindness.

Envy looks out at what others have and want it for ourselves. Kindness looks out at what others need and asks how we can help them.

Which is more characteristic of you, to look at someone and think about how nice it would be if you had what they have, or to see someone and think about how you might encourage or support them?

Let us reflect and pray.

The seventh of the Seven Deadly Sins is pride and the contrasting virtue is humility.

Pride is considered to be the original sin and the most deadly of the seven sins. It was pride that led Lucifer to rebel against God which resulted in his expulsion from heaven.

Pride is the most deeply rooted of the sins. Pride makes us think better of ourselves and worse of our neighbors.

It is pride that makes us think we are better than others and that we deserve God’s love and sacrifice for us.

I Peter 5:5

All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because,

God opposes the proud

but gives grace to the humble.”

Let us reflect and pray.