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Imposter: Leading on Empty

The narrative in 1 Samuel 14 reveals that the empire of King Saul was in decline. Compounding the predicament, Saul was making too many unwise decisions.

As the account unfolds, it was Saul’s son Jonathan who routed the enemy, while the king was in hiding. Once the enemy retreated, Saul regained control and began to issue confusing ecclesiastical orders. He told his army to fast until the day was finished. But this weakened their ability to fight and caused frustration in the ranks.

Part of his onerous edict stipulated that if anyone ate something during this fast, they would be put to death! Unfortunately, Jonathan did not know about the decree and ate some honey. When Saul ordered Jonathan’s death, the people refused to let it happen and stood against Saul.

So, where’s the problem? The problem was not with Jonathan or with eating the honey. The problem was King Saul. Fearing the loss of his kingdom to David, he began to grasp at power and control.

Proverbs 12:25 says, “Anxiety in the heart of man causes depression.” And Saul was sliding into the morass of despair. Fright and worry often lead to sin. Even the patriarch Abraham lied about Sarah being his wife when he feared that the enemy would kill him. As Jesus taught in Matthew 13:22, “the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it [the Word], making it unfruitful.”

But something even worse was happening. Saul was losing his relationship with God. His moral failure would lead him to being oppressed by an evil spirit and eventually to his abhorrent consultation with the witch of Endor.

As Saul relied less on God, he tried to cover his dead spirituality with “religious” works. The calling of a fast was to make him look pious and therefore under God’s authority, which he was not. These acts of a spiritual imposter made Saul look ridiculous and crippled his troops.

As his mistakes were exposed, he doubled down on his commitment to religious strong-arm tactics. But when he threatened the life of his son, it was the defiant deed of his own troops that saved the life of innocent Jonathan.

Saul was wrong. He could have been an amazing leader if he had kept his relationship with God in order. But his bankrupt spiritual life forced God to move on. As we age, every church leader should learn the sobering lesson of Saul.

It is a warning to us that trying to be religious without having a deep relationship with God can only lead to disaster. Faking religious authority is a sin. Jesus pointed this out when He spoke of the Pharisees (Matthew 7:28; 23:2-4).

Our only authority is in God. Rites, rituals, and ecclesiastical orders are just words unless God has approved them. Think it over!


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