Military Victories and Spiritual Loss
“There was hard fighting against the Philistines all the days of Saul. And when Saul saw any strong man, or any valiant man, he attached him to himself” (14:52).- 1 Samuel 14:47–15:9
How do we measure success? Often we do so by looking for tangible achievements. The more positions and awards a person earns, the greater his success. Fame and fortune—those are marks of success in the eyes of many people.
Yet, most of us understand that fame, money, awards, and position are often not true measures of success. Many people who seem to be on top of the world are later revealed to be frauds. Some of the most apparently successful people in our world turn out to be some of the saddest individuals on the planet. Achievements and wealth are no guarantees of a happy family, a contented spirit, or lasting friendships. It is possible to look outwardly successful but to have achieved nothing that matters.
If this is true on a human level, it is certainly true on the spiritual plane. Scripture gives many examples of people who seemed to have it all and yet were finally lost. Consider King Saul and how he is described in today’s passage. We see in 1 Samuel 14:47–52 that from one perspective, Saul had a successful reign. Earlier chapters have shown us that Saul was sometimes reluctant to fight or to embrace fully his role as king (10:20–22; 13:1–4; 14:1–46). Still, when he did go to war as the leader of Israel, he won many victories. He was a great military commander, defeating foes “on every side” and knowing enough to find and recruit “any strong man, or any valiant man” (14:47–52).
Saul enjoyed military success, but he was a failure in spiritual matters. We have already seen this in his disobedience to God’s explicit command to wait for Samuel to offer the sacrifices at Gilgal. This prompted the Lord not to give Saul a lasting dynasty, though that sin did not mean Saul himself would lose his throne (13:8–15). But Saul did not learn from his error, and this would lead ultimately to God’s rejection of him as king and then to the Lord’s rejection of Saul the man himself. Saul’s disobedience to another explicit command of the Lord was what made God move from not giving Saul a dynasty to not retaining Saul as Israel’s king. To punish the Amalekites who opposed Israel on their way to the promised land in the days of Moses, the Lord ordered Saul to destroy them and all of their animals. None were to be spared (1 Sam. 15:1–3; see Ex. 18:8–16). However, Saul did not wipe out everything as God commanded, for he spared King Agag of the Amalekites and their choice livestock (1 Sam. 15:4–9). This was a spiritual loss that would have severe consequences for Saul.
Jesus uttered this sober warning: “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” (Mark 8:36). Achieving much in this life is not a bad thing, but if we are not concerned to love and obey the Lord, nothing we achieve will have lasting value. Our focus should be on faithfulness to the Lord before any of the other achievements we pursue. This day, let us seek above all else to do the Lord’s will.
Passages for Further Study
1 Samuel 15:22
2 Corinthians 7:1