Turning Saul into Paul

A number of years ago, I was sitting at a church service and our friend Gary King was preaching. Gary’s an excellent preacher and this particular day he made two statements that have spoken to me for all these years.

The first was, “It takes a Saul to make a David.”

For many years, I believed that Saul was unelect. Despite all of God’s statements that he had chosen him to be king, I did not believe that Saul was eternally destined to be with the Lord forever because of the way he behaved towards David. It was only recently that I ran across one of those pesky scriptures that changed my mind.

When Saul visits the witch of Endor and has her conjure up the spirit of Samuel, Samuel prophesies the death of Saul and his sons in a very specific way: “The Lord will hand over both Israel and you to the Philistines, and tomorrow you and your sons will be with me. The Lord will also hand over the army of Israel to the Philistines. (I Sam. 28:19)” Clearly, it seems, Saul was elect, too, as Samuel said he’d be joining him in Abraham’s bosom awaiting the resurrection of the Christ.

This didn’t really surprise me too much as I’d seen for years that Saul was a pretty good king. He really desired to rule well in Israel, he just kept screwing up where God and David were concerned.

So here, once again, we see a sterling example of God’s grace. Saul messed up nearly every time he tried to do something for the Lord or to obey his commands. Certainly, his behavior towards David is reprehensible. And yet, Samuel says that Saul and his sons will be spending eternity with him.

In a well-furnished kitchen there are not only crystal goblets and silver platters, but waste cans and compost buckets – some containers used to serve fine meals, others to take out the garbage.

II Timothy 2:20

Well, then, like Judas, Saul must’ve been created as a “waste can” in the kingdom—to serve a lower purpose—the purpose of perfecting someone else. If David hadn’t spent years running for his life, hiding in the desert, he would never have been Israel’s greatest king. It was the very power that attempted to destroy him that made him the power he became in God’s kingdom.

The second thing that Gary said that has been ministering to me for years was, “We need to take some of these Sauls and knock them off their horse so they can become Pauls.”

This was the beginning of my understanding that the life of Saul and the early life of Paul the Apostle were parallel. I mean, it makes perfect sense: both were from the tribe of Benjamen; in their own way both stood head and shoulders above the rest of Israel; and both of them persecuted God’s chosen people. They had something else in common too: both of them thought that what they were doing was good and were unable to truly see their own wickedness.

We see a couple of times when David demonstrated mercy to Saul and spared his life that Saul says that he repents, and he probably believed in his heart that he had. Yet, he turns around and begins pursuing David yet again and seeking to take his life. David was never safe the whole time that Saul was alive.

So what makes the difference between these two men? Very simply put, God did.

But I’ll never remove my gracious love from him, as I removed it from Saul, who preceded you and whom I most certainly did remove.

II Samuel 7:15

God here tells David that he removed his mercy from Saul to remove him from the throne and make a way for David.

Just like Saul, I’m certain that Paul was trying with all of his might to serve the Lord. I’m certain he prayed every day and tried to spend time with the Lord. He certainly studied God’s scriptures to try to learn his ways. Yet he persecuted God’s people.

Even when Paul was knocked from his horse and laid blinded on the Damascus road he didn’t repent from his sin. He couldn’t, because he was still unable to see his own wickedness.

So what was accomplished on the Damascus road that day? Saul crashed into a God that told him that everything he was doing wasn’t measuring up to God’s standard. That day, Paul actually humbled himself for the first time.

He was led to Straight Street and sat blind for three days fasting, praying, and humbling himself before God. After three days of this, the Lord sent Ananias to him. Paul was finally humble enough to hear the prophetic words spoken over him and when he did so, the scales fell from his eyes. For the first time, he was truly able to see his own wickedness and see what he had done wrong in front of God. This was the beginning of the Apostle Paul.

I am certain that the similarities between his life and that of King Saul were not lost on a Bible scholar like Paul. I’m sure he saw how mercy had been removed from Saul and he had been destroyed as a result and that that same mercy had been extended to this Saul. As a result of all of this, Saul wrote the most impressive works on God’s grace ever expounded on the earth.

As I’ve grown to understand God’s kingdom and how he desires to reign in us in peace, I recognize how the early Christians would have responded to Saul’s intrusion into their homes. They wouldn’t have fought him with swords and shields, but would have used the weapons of peace. Those who were prophets would have prophesied over him. Ananias wasn’t the first one to prophesy over Saul at all. He was simply the first one that Saul could hear.

I’m sure Saul remembered all those faces that he had drug off to prison. I’m sure he remembered and recognized the truth of those prophetic words as he grew in his relationship with the Lord.

I’m also sure that none of the family members of those who’d been drug to prison understood enough to realize that it was because of their loss that Paul would write the words that have ministered to millions and millions of Christians.

Paul alone realized that he was Saul and David in the same package—that without God’s mercy there wouldn’t have been the humility that made the difference in him between life and death. This is the message Paul shares with us in Romans, his first book—his personal struggle to find the Lord and how God’s grace made it all possible. That his wickedness and the persecution of the saints had led to his deliverance.

When Saul would take these things to the Lord and cry out for the wickedness of his past, God simply said one thing. “My grace is sufficient for you.”