As I read through 1 Samuel, I have come across one of the most puzzling characters in the Bible. Saul was the first king of Israel, anointed by Samuel for the job. God selected Saul, a young man who stood much taller than other men. He seemed to have all the right stuff for leadership.
Samuel promised the young man that God would come upon him in power, and that Saul would be a different person. Sure enough, as Saul left Samuel, "God changed Saul's heart."
Saul was even humble. After being anointed as king, he didn't tell anybody. Only when Samuel called him out publicly did Saul acknowledge that God had called him as the nation's leader.
But soon the power of kingship went to Saul's head. He began taking shortcuts with his instructions from Samuel. He tried to justify his actions and explain his good reasons for disobedience or "near obedience." At one point he even asks Samuel to make him look good in front of the people, in spite of his disobedience.
Eventually God removes his hand of blessing and decides to take the kingdom away from Saul.
It really gets bad when David comes into the picture. Saul becomes convinced that David is conspiring to kill him and take the throne. Saul behaves like a madman, suspecting everyone of treason. His bizarre behavior actually leads some of his subjects to work around him, but not to kill him. Saul eventually dies on the battlefield, having led his army to defeat.
So, I wonder, what's up with Saul? Did God really change his heart? Did Saul change it back? Was God's work in his life conditional upon Saul's obedience?
I believe that God changes hearts today. He transforms lives. He puts his Holy Spirit in us to lead us and to change our patterns of behavior. This work of God depends not on our righteousness, but on the righteousness of Jesus, who gave his life as a sacrifice for us on the cross. We can't undo the work of God.
That's why I just don't get Saul.