This Sunday as we look at 1 Samuel 11, we will see the “high water-mark” of Saul’s kingship. In this chapter, Saul leads Israel in a stunning defeat of the Ammonites, freeing the people of Jabesh-Gilead from the oppression of King Nahash. What is it that makes Saul such an effective leader in this moment? Well, the text answers that question for us. Saul’s leadership really began when the Spirit of God rushed upon him, empowering him for this role (v. 6).
There are two truths we can take away from this account, one which should encourage us and another which should sober us.
1) First, we learn that God is able to draw a straight line with a crooked stick. He takes a sinful vessel like Saul, and uses him to accomplish something great on behalf of Israel. The same is true of us. We, like Saul, are “crooked sticks.” Despite our sinful & weak condition, God still uses us for His glory. Were this not true, even our greatest efforts would bear no fruit. Christ Himself reminds us that apart from Him we can do nothing (John 15:5).
2) But this is also sobering when we consider the long-term trajectory of Saul’s life. Yes, he performed some mighty acts as king. But this was not an indicator of his spiritual condition. The Spirit empowered Saul for specific tasks, but Saul seemed to lack a transformed heart, evidenced by his continual tendency to trust ultimately in himself rather than God and his lack of repentance when confronted. This reminds us that good works alone are not a basis for assurance. Jesus reminds us that it is possible to perform many good works, while not knowing the Lord personally. There are those, who despite doing many works in the name of Jesus, will hear the dreaded words “I never knew you” (Matthew 7:21-23).
Saul’s life reminds us that God is fully capable of using broken vessels like us. And his life also reminds us that our greatest need is a saving relationship with God through Christ. Only the Spirit’s regenerating work can transform us from the inside-out, unite us to Christ, and produce good works that are in keeping with genuine repentance.