Saul was personally chosen by God himself to rule as king over Israel. He later rejected Saul and chose David. But we all know the story of David and Bathsheba; though once described as a man after God’s own heart, David committed adultery, engaged in a government orchestrated cover-up, and eventually resorted to murder. So why was Saul rejected but David restored? I suggest it all has to do with repentance.
You really need to read 1 Samuel chapters 13-15 to fully comprehend the complex relationship between God, Samuel the prophet, and Saul, King of Israel. Saul’s downfall was the result of a series of wilfully disobedient acts, not a single event. His heart was in the wrong place. I have written before about attitude making the difference between pleasing God and sinning against God, even when actions seem to look the same from the outside. God, after all, has searched and tried our hearts and knows us better than we know ourselves. Saul’s first act of disobedience occurs in 1 Samuel 13. He was told by Samuel that after seven days he would come and make a sacrifice. At the end of seven days Samuel was late in coming and Saul thought he was going to lose the crowd. He made the sacrifice himself when he saw Samuel had not shown up. When Samuel did arrive he was angry and asked Saul what he had done. Saul says he “forced himself” to make the sacrifice, indicating that he really didn’t want to but felt it was absolutely necessary. He was making excuses he hoped Samuel would find acceptable but notice two things: he did not admit any wrong-doing nor does he repent of his actions. That’s strike one.
In 1 Samuel 14 he makes a vow that no man of Israel will eat until the armies of the Philistines are defeated. His son Jonathan does eat, with no knowledge whatsoever of the vow Saul had made. Saul’s prayers go unanswered and when the matter is finally revealed to him he takes back his vow. He announces that not so much as a hair will fall from Jonathan’s head. Strike 2.
In chapter 15 Samuel, delivering to King Saul the words of the LORD, sends him and his army to Amelek to destroy all that is there. He is specifically told to spare nothing. But, in his third act of defiance, Agag the king is saved alive and the best of the sheep are taken for the men of Israel’s army. Saul furthermore meets Samuel and declares “I have performed the commandment of the LORD.” Saul repeatedly disobeyed the commands of the LORD even while publicly proclaiming that he has kept them; he is delighted to tell Samuel what a good job he has done even though Samuel has been told by God, more than once, that he regrets making Saul king. Saul did wrong, again and again, and thought he was doing right. Compare that to David.
2 Samuel 11 shares the story of David and Bathsheba, and the subsequent murder of Uriah the Hittite. Nathan the Prophet confronts David in chapter 12, and in verse 13 “David said to Nathan ‘I have sinned against the LORD.'” After being told the son conceived in sin would die, David wallowed in sackcloth and ashes. Saul disobeyed continually, had an unrepentant heart, and he was rejected by God. David’s sins were great, but when confronted by the prophet of God he repented. David writes in the Psalms that no matter who is offended or harmed it is God that he has sinned against. David was a man after God’s own heart, and after David repented (and the child died as God had promised) he was restored into a right relationship with God. David and Bathsheba’s second son together, Solomon, would be chosen by God to be the next king of Israel.
We have all sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23). Paul considered himself chief among sinners. As long as we have breath it is not too late to repent. When you fall off the horse, don’t lay there on the ground – get back up! Having a contrite heart and repenting of past sins was the difference between being a man after God’s own heart (and defeating all the enemies of Israel, leading to a time of peace and prosperity) and being rejected by God.