ARLessons Learned from Saul and DavidWhy did David find favor in God’s sight despite his failings, while Saul ultimately did not?Both David and Saul made mistakes as kings, but because of their different responses to Him, David found favor with God while Saul did not. Saul was too proud to admit his mistakes and sought glory for himself, while David humbly repented for his sin and sought to glorify God.
Saul and David both had humble beginnings. Saul came from the smallest
tribe of Israel (1 Sam 9:21); David was the youngest son in his family (1
Sam 16:11). By God’s grace, both Saul and David were chosen from the
bottom rung of the social ladder and exalted to kingship. At God’s
command, Samuel anointed them with oil in their respective times, during
which the power of God descended upon them in power (1 Sam 10:1,9f and
Even so, both of them were still susceptible to human failings and were
punished for their sins. But why did David find favor in God’s sight
despite his failings, while Saul ultimately did not? The answer lies in the
differences between David and Saul’s attitude toward God and His
Obedience & Faith
Obedience and faith are two essential ingredients in building a strong
relationship with God. Unfortunately, Saul was never fully obedient nor did
he ever truly rely on God because he was proud and took God’s commands
lightly. Saul valued his own reasoning and will over God’s. As a result,
he made three major mistakes which ultimately cost him his kingship and his
Mistake #1. Saul’s first mistake was to make offerings despite
God-given instructions to wait seven days for Samuel. Saul did wait for
Samuel, but the seven days were not completely over yet and his men began to
scatter. Saul panicked and was more concerned about pleasing man than God.
Relying on himself rather than God, he impulsively made the offerings.
Samuel arrived shortly after and reprimanded Saul. He told Saul that his
kingdom would not endure as a consequence of his disobedience (1 Sam
Mistake #2. Saul’s second mistake was to place his men under
oath, saying, "Cursed is the man who eats any food until evening,
before I have taken vengeance on my enemies" (1 Sam 14:24). Saul
instituted this command without stopping to think if it was God’s will for
the troops to fast. Unaware of the oath, Jonathan ate some honey.
Afterwards, Saul suspected that someone had broken the fast because God
was not responding to his inquiries. As they cast lots, Saul made another
foolish oath, saying, "though it be in Jonathan my son, he shall surely
die" (1 Sam 14:39). Jonathan was found to be the culprit. To save face,
Saul said, "God do so and more also; for you shall surely die,
Jonathan." (1 Sam 14:44). The troops, however, came to Jonathan’s
rescue and spared his life. Saul made these empty promises without regard to
God’s warning to "not swear falsely" but "perform your
oaths to the Lord" (Mt 5:33ff).
Mistake #3.Saul made his third mistake when he disobeyed God’s
command to "attack Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have"
(1 Sam 15:3). Though God’s explicit instruction was to destroy everything,
Saul defied the Lord’s command in order to keep the goods and riches. He
also spared Agag king of the Amalekites to augment and bask in his own
Saul’s pride and vanity got in the way of fully obeying God. In the
end, "Saul died for his unfaithfulness which he had committed against
the Lord, because he did not keep the word of the LORD?he did not inquire
of the Lord; therefore He killed him, and turned the kingdom over to David
the son of Jesse" (1 Chr 10:13f).
Seeking God’s Will. David, on the other hand, constantly kept God’s
will in mind and never instituted his own decrees or went to battle without
consulting God first. David always inquired of the Lord before making any
decisions. He did so at Nob (1 Sam 22:13ff), at Keilah (1 Sam 23:2,4,10-12),
and at Ziklag (1 Sam 30:7f) to name a few examples. Is it any wonder that
"Saul has slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands"(1 Sam
Another example of David’s reliance on God is when David asked God if
the citizens of Keilah would betray him (1 Samuel 23:9-14). David’s was in
a life-or-death situation, one more precarious than Saul’s situation
mentioned earlier in Samuel 13:11f. But unlike Saul, David still managed to
keep his head and take the time to seek God’s will and blessing.
Trust in God. David’s simple heart of reliance and confidence in
God was evident from the time of his youth. The most renowned incident is
his encounter with Goliath. Despite his brother’s disparaging remarks (1
Sam 17:28), Saul’s doubts because of David’s youth and inexperience (1
Sam 17:33), and Goliath’s crude insults (1 Sam 17:43f), David remained
confident¡Xnot in himself, but in God. He told Saul, "The Lord, who
delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, He will
deliver me from the hand of this Philistine" (1 Sam 17:37).
Unlike Saul, David did not care what other people thought and therefore
was not intimidated. Instead, he turned to God for help. In answer to
Goliath’s snide remarks, David answered (again with confidence not in
himself but in God), "You come to me with a sword, with a spear, and
with a javelin. But I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts..."
(1 Sam 17:45)
Obedience and Faith. David was able to achieve success in everything
because of his obedience and simple reliance on God. Proverbs 3:5-6 says,
"Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own
understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your
paths." Proverbs 16:3 says, "Commit your works to the Lord, and
your thoughts will be established." Solomon probably received
inspiration for these verses by witnessing his father’s demonstration of
obedience and faith in the Lord Almighty.
Both Saul and David committed grave sins. But why did God remember David
and his descendants (1 Kgs 11:12f) but not Saul’s? The difference was
their responses to the Lord’s rebukes.
Shifting the Blame. Whenever Saul’s mistakes were pointed out, he
justified himself and even lied instead of admitting his sin against God.
For example, when Samuel finally arrived to offer the sacrifices, he asked
Saul, "What have you done?" In response, Saul futilely explained,
"When I saw that the people were scattered from me, and that you did
not come within the days appointed?I felt compelled, and offered a burnt
offering" (1 Sam 13:11ff).
Saul tried to shift the blame on Samuel for not arriving sooner.
Moreover, he lacked faith in the Lord Almighty. To cover it up, he feigned
to be pious by mentioning his desire to offer the sacrifice. Little did he
realize that "the sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, A broken and a
contrite heart¡XThese, O God, You will not despise" (Ps 51:17).
Refusal to Admit Wrong. Another incident where Saul refused to admit
his wrongdoing was when he disobeyed the Lord’s command to completely
destroy the Amalekites. He fooled himself into thinking that he had
faithfully carried out God’s instructions and said so to Samuel.
But Samuel asked him, "What then is this bleating of sheep in my
ears? What is this lowing of cattle that I hear?" Saul replied
"They have brought them from the Amalekites; for the people spared the
best of the sheep and the oxen, to sacrifice to the Lord your God; and the
rest we have utterly destroyed" (1 Sam 15:15).
Saul tried to cover up his disobedience by mentioning his seemingly
good-intentioned sacrifice to God. Saul was could not understand that
"to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of
rams." (1 Sam 15:22).
Insincere Repentance. Unfortunately, by the time Saul was ready to
admit that he had sinned (1 Sam 15:24), he had already crossed the line. In
reality, he only confessed with his mouth, but in reality he was not
sincere, and both God and Samuel knew it.
Saul never knew how to truly repent. His actions
did not reflect his words. Saul repented to David after he had spared
his life, "You are more righteous than I... You have treated me well,
but I have treated you badly" (1 Sam 24:16ff). Although he admitted
that he was wrong, afterward he still continued to seek David’s life. That
is not true repentance. As a result, the spirit of God left him, and in its
place, an evil spirit filled his heart (1 Sam 16:14).
David’s Sincere Repentance
Admitted Wrong. David, on the other hand, had true respect for the
Lord and was sincere in his repentance. Every time he realized that he had
sinned, David would either immediately pray to God for forgiveness or
rectify the situation. He never tried to cover it up, justify himself, or
blame someone else. Instead, he humbly and bravely accepted the consequences
of his actions.
When Nathan the prophet rebuked David for committing adultery and murder,
David immediately said, "I have sinned against the Lord" (2 Sam
12:13). What a contrast to Saul’s response to rebuke! David gave no
excuses¡Xno ifs, ands, or buts. David simply admitted that he had sinned,
and afterward, he never committed the same sin again. That is true
A Contrite Heart. Another time, David stealthily cut off a corner of
Saul’s robe as Saul relieved himself in a cave. Afterward, David’s heart
troubled him for what he had done. He told his men, "The Lord forbid
that I should do this thing to my master, the Lord’s anointed, to stretch
out my hand against him..." With those words, he rebuked them and kept
them from harming Saul (1 Sam 24:4-7).
An example of David’s malleable and contrite heart is when he was
conscience-stricken after he counted the number of his fighting men.
Immediately, he prayed, "I have sinned greatly in what I have done; but
now, I pray, O LORD, take away the iniquity of Your servant, for I have done
very foolishly" (2 Sam 24:10). This time, he did not even need the
prophet Gad to point out his sin. Although David was never exempt from
punishment, the Lord was merciful to him because of his sincere repentance.
Praise and Glory to God
Yet another difference between Saul and David is that the former sought
glory for himself whereas the latter gave all the glory to God. Saul did not
know how to worship the Lord and was rather stingy in giving praise to God,
but David was the complete opposite.
Why was there for the contrast? Perhaps it was because David always
meditated on God’s words (Ps 119:148). In fact, he thirsted after God (Ps
42:1ff, 63:1) and loved His commandments (Ps 40:8, 119:127). His personal
experience and close relationship with God enabled him to humbly give credit
where it is due and to be grateful to the Lord.
Saul’s Pride. The Bible only records one instance where Saul built
an altar to the Lord (1 Sam 14:35). Other than that, Saul only sought to
glorify himself. For example, he erected a statue in his own honor (1 Sam
15:12) and lied about wanting to give God the glory. Not once did he praise
or give glory to the Lord.
David’s Humility. Unlike Saul, David never built a statue in his
own honor despite his many achievements. On the contrary, he desired to
build a temple for "the ark of the covenant of the Lord" (1 Chr
28:2) and made preparations to build it. Although God did not permit David
to build it, he made sure that his son, Solomon, would carry it out to
completion (2 Chr 6:7ff).
Though David had an extremely difficult life, he never complained or
ceased to give praise and glory to God. He often rejoiced in the Lord and
offered prayers of thanksgiving. He danced, played the harp, sang, prayed,
and acknowledged God’s greatness in public and in private.
Despite the mistakes they made, David found favor in God’s sight while
Saul did not because of their different responses to God’s calling,
discipline, and commands. Saul was disobedient, didn’t have faith in God,
was too proud to admit his wrongdoings, and sought glory for himself.
Although God gave Saul time to redeem himself, he chose to depart further
and further until he was finally cut off.
It is such a pity that Saul had such a promising beginning only to go
through life and end it in misery and dishonor. God gave him so many chances
to repent, but he let these opportunities slip through his fingers.
Let us learn from Saul’s mistakes and David’s virtues¡Xobeying and
trusting in God, truly repenting, and praising and glorifying God’s holy
name. By doing so, we too can ultimately be a person after God’s own heart
(1 Sam 13:14).