Monday, October 05, 2009

Was Saul Converted?

Notes from last night's teaching at JPBC:

Was Saul Converted?
JPBC October 4, 2009
Jeff Riddle

King Saul is one of the most tragic figures in the Scriptures. Today we are asking, "Was Saul converted?" This question assumes that there were Old Testament saints.

Three possible answers:

1. He was never converted. He was out.
2. He was converted, but he lived a weak and ineffective life. He was in.
3. He apostatized. He was in and out.

I. A brief overview of Saul’s life:

The account of King Saul is told primarily in 1 Samuel (his story is summarized in 1 Chronicles in only a few chapters, 8-10). In 1 Samuel 8 the people ask Samuel for a king. The Lord explains to Samuel that they are not rejecting the prophet but the Lord himself (8:7).

Saul seems to come out of central casting to play the role of king. He comes from a good family, is handsome, and tall (9:1-2).

There are signs of trouble, however, when Saul is proclaimed king at Mizpah. Saul is found hiding in the luggage (see 10:20-24).

Things start well, as he rescues the city of Jabesh Gilead from the Ammonites and he is made king at Gilgal (11:15). In Samuel’s speech at his coronation a stirring challenge is given (12:20-25).

The real trouble begins for Saul in chapter 13 with an unlawful sacrifice (13:8-14). This is a common theme in the time of the kings (cf. Jeroboam’s actions in 1 Kings 13:33).

This also begins with rivalry with David who will take Saul’s place. Saul makes a rash oath but breaks it (14:24-27; 45). He disobeys God’s direct command to utterly destroy the Amalekites (15:3, 9, 13-14, 22, 33).

Saul is troubled by a distressing spirit (16:14). He is jealous of David and casts a spear at him in anger (18:8-12). David marries Saul’s daughter Michal, but is still persecuted and narrowly escapes capture (19:9-12).

One of the worst acts of Saul is the murder of the priests of Nob who gave David bread (21).

Another spiritual lowpoint is Saul’s consultation with the "witch of Endor" (28:7, 15-18).
Finally, Saul’s life ends at Mount Gilboa. This is the Old Testament Hamlet. Saul falls on his own sword and dies along with his three sons (31:4, 6). His body is then desecrated (v. 9-10).

II. The positive evidence:

1. Saul is a member of the OT people of God. He is from the tribe of Benjamin. Doesn’t this make him part of the OT church?

2. Saul is chosen to be Israel’s first king. Would God allow a non-believer to be the first king?

3. Saul is promised by Samuel that he will be "turned into another man" (see a1 Sam 10:6). And we are told in 10:9 "that God gave him another heart." Does this refer to conversion?

4. Saul is among the prophets of God. God’s Spirit comes upon him and he prophesies (see 10:10-12; 19:23-24).

5. David defends Saul as "the Lord’s anointed" (2 Sam 1:14) and praises his life in "the Song of the Bow" (vv. 19, 23).

6. Can we not see Saul as a deeply flawed man? A brand plucked from the burning (Zech 3:2). Cf. Jude 1:23: "but others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire, hating even the garment defiled by the flesh." Calvin wrote, "there remains in a regenerate man a smoldering cinder of evil" (Institutes, vol. I, p. 602).

III. The negative side:

1. Just because Saul was part of the Old Testament people of God, this does not mean that he was converted. The Old Testament people of God are a mixed multitude. Korah, Dathan, and Abiram rebel against Moses in Numbers 16 and are swallowed up by the earth. Romans 9:6: "For they are not all Israel who are of Israel." See also Romans 2:28-29. You can be a Hebrew ethnically and not be among the elect.

2. God is willing to let unregenerate Israelites rule over his people. An example would be Ahab (see 1 Kgs 17:30-33). Also, we have no promises given to Saul as are given to David and Solomon (cf. 1 Sam 6: 12-16).

3. We need not read the references to Saul’s heart being changed or him being turned into a new man in evangelical terms. It might merely mean that God is shaping him for particular purposes. He uses unregenerate as well as regenerate men to accomplish his purposes. Cf.: Isaiah 10:15: "Shall the ax boast itself against him who chops with it? Or shall the saw exalt itself against him who saws with it? As if a rod could wield itself against those who lift it up, Or as if a staff could lift up, as if it were not wood!"

4. God uses unregenerate prophets. The clearest example is Balaam in Numbers 22-24. Balaam is condemned in the NT for prophesying out fo greed (2 Pet 2:15; Jude 1:11).

5. Similarly, David might have been anointed as king and was therefore deserving of respect, but this does not mean he is saved. Paul respects the authority of the corrupt high priest in Acts 23:2-5.

6. Do we have any sure evidence of Saul’s conversion? Any real fruit. Consider the evaluation of the Chronicler:

1 Chronicles 10:13 So Saul died for his unfaithfulness which he had committed against the LORD, because he did not keep the word of the LORD, and also because he consulted a medium for guidance. 14 But he did not inquire of the LORD; therefore He killed him, and turned the kingdom over to David the son of Jesse.

Consider also Saul’s complete absence from the NT, especially in Hebrews 11 where even men like Samson are rehabilitated in light of God’s grace (see 11:32-33).

IV. Conclusions:

Review our three possibilities above. We can narrow our options to 1 or 2. We must reject option 3, because it does not agree with the analogy of Scripture (cf. John 10:28-29).

How do we know if anyone is converted?

We do not know. God alone is the Judge of our hearts. In the end, all we know is that everyone will praise God for his justice. We will know that he has done right.

The story of Saul should make us tremble and make us want to make our calling and election sure (2 Peter 1:10).

Finally, note that in God’s providence the greatest human evangelist in the human church would begin life with the name of Saul. In Philippians 3:5 Paul proudly declares himself to be "of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews." The name of Saul is vindicated in Paul.

No comments: