When Saul went to find and kill David, the Spirit of God overpowered him. The people who saw this asked, “Is even Saul a prophet?” The answer is NO.
1 Samuel, chapter 19; 1 Chronicles, chapter 7; Psalm 59; Matthew, chapter 4
1 Samuel 19:18-23 (NLT):
So David escaped and went to Ramah to see Samuel, and he told him all that Saul had done to him. Then Samuel took David with him to live at Naioth. When the report reached Saul that David was at Naioth in Ramah, he sent troops to capture him. But when they arrived and saw Samuel leading a group of prophets who were prophesying, the Spirit of God came upon Saul’s men, and they also began to prophesy. When Saul heard what had happened, he sent other troops, but they, too, prophesied! The same thing happened a third time. Finally, Saul himself went to Ramah and arrived at the great well in Secu. “Where are Samuel and David?” he demanded.
“They are at Naioth in Ramah,” someone told him. But on the way to Naioth in Ramah the Spirit of God came even upon Saul, and he, too, began to prophesy all the way to Naioth! He tore off his clothes and lay naked on the ground all day and all night, prophesying in the presence of Saul. The people who were watching exclaimed, “What? Is even Saul a prophet?”
Saul was trying to kill David. He had no good reason to do it; he was motivated by his jealousy. Saul had once been the darling of the people – their first king, who led them into battle. But then Saul became presumptuous, twice disobeying God’s commands to him. So God, through Samuel, told Saul that God was choosing another who would be king. By now, it had become clear that David was that person – so Saul was trying to kill him.
One of Saul’s problems was that his own children loved David. Saul’s son, Jonathan, was David’s best friend; Saul’s daughter Michal was David’s wife. They both defended and protected David. So Saul took matters into his own hands, and sent his army out to find David and bring him to Jerusalem.
“Is even Saul a prophet?”
Our passage for today details what happened when Saul sent his troops. The first group approached Samuel, and the Spirit of God came upon Saul’s men, and they also began to prophesy. The same thing happened with a second, and then a third group. Finally, Saul himself went to Naioth. But on the way to Naioth in Ramah the Spirit of God came even upon Saul, and he, too, began to prophesy all the way to Naioth!
When the Scripture says that the Spirit of God came upon Saul, it means that the Spirit so overpowered him that Saul was no longer in control of himself. He tore off his clothes and lay naked on the ground all day and night, prophesying in the presence of Samuel – and in the presence of all the people who were there. “Is even Saul a prophet?”
No. This was not the first time the Spirit of God had come upon Saul. When Samuel anointed him as king, the Spirit of God came upon him (1 Samuel 10:10). When Saul heard that the king of Ammon had threatened the people of Jabesh-gilead, the Spirit of God came upon him to prepare him for battle (1 Samuel 11:6). But this time, the presence of the Spirit was in spite of Saul, not in cooperation with him. God demonstrated to Saul, and to everyone else there, that God, not Saul, was in control.
People have always been attracted, and impressed, by supernatural events and displays of power. Jesus drew people because of his miracles, but he knew that their attraction was not true belief. There’s a big difference between a temporary demonstration of power and the consistent presence of the Holy Spirit in a person’s life. Several times, God’s Spirit had come upon Saul; the Spirit led to particular acts, but obviously did not effect a permanent change in Saul. The same is true of Samson; God’s power came upon him in mighty ways, but Samson’s life did not demonstrate the character that is consistent with the indwelling presence of God’s Spirit.
Jesus drew a similar distinction with his disciples in John 14. He told them, “He (the Holy Spirit) has been with you, but he will be in you” (John 14:17). One critical difference is that the Spirit being “with” someone, or “coming upon” them, as he did with Saul in today’s passage, is a temporary empowering event. When the Holy Spirit is in us, however, his presence empowers us each day for life and service.
Is even Saul a prophet? No, he’s not. The Spirit of God came upon Saul in spite of Saul, to demonstrate God’s power.
When the Spirit left Saul, Saul went right back to being Saul – looking for a way to kill David, determined to do things his own way. Saul had no way to “keep” the Spirit of God, because he had disobeyed God and the Lord removed his Spirit from Saul. Thankfully, Jesus promised us that the Spirit would be in us! And we can be confident that the Spirit will stay with us, so long as we don’t allow disobedience and rebellion against God to creep back into our lives.
Father, we thank you today for the reminder that seeing the power of your Spirit at work is not the same as knowing the presence of your Spirit in us. Help us to remember that we know the Spirit’s presence by his fruit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. When we see that fruit – in ourselves, or in others – we know that the Spirit is present.
Thank you also for the reminder that your Spirit was once with Saul, before he let disobedience and rebellion spring up in his heart. Guard our hearts, we pray, that we might stay committed and surrendered to you. Search our hearts each day, and show us if there is any hint of disobedience in us. We long for you to form us in the image of Jesus, through the presence of your Spirit in us. Amen.
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