Sunday, July 28, 2019

Was King Saul Saved?

Scripture has many stories of great men who fell into serious sin. In most instances (David and Peter, for example), obvious restoration to communion with God followed. This is not the case with Saul; his story ends in disobedience and despair. Our image of him, therefore, tends to be negative.

Samuel’s initial vision of Saul, however, was better. First Samuel 10:10 points out that the Spirit of God came upon Saul, leading him to prophesy amongst a group of prophets. The presence of that Spirit however, was short-lived as “the Spirit of the LORD departed from Saul” in 1 Samuel 16:14.

The experience of Saul seems to fly in the face of the doctrine of perseverance of the saints and Jesus’ teaching in John 10:27–28: “My sheep hear My voice … and I give them eternal life, … and no one shall snatch them out of My hand.” How does Saul’s experience of having and losing the Spirit fit that promise?

The dilemma loses its strength when we understand that the presence of the Holy Spirit is not necessarily equal to possessing saving faith. In theocratic, Old Testament Israel, the Holy Spirit served a multitude of functions short of regeneration. The Spirit was given to the artisans who crafted the tabernacle of the LORD. These artisans, Bezalel and Oholiab (Ex. 31:2), were supernaturally endowed to create objects of beauty, but we have no evidence that the Spirit came in a regenerative manner. Cyrus, though not a believer, was led by the Spirit to release the exiled Hebrew nation.

Calvin points out a second instance of empowerment by the Holy Spirit which falls short of regeneration. He speaks of various gifts of men, elect and nonelect, “For why is one person more excellent than another? Is it not to display in common nature God’s special grace, which, in passing many by, declares itself bound to none? Many examples of this occur in the book of Judges [6:34], where it is said that ‘the Spirit of the LORD took possession of those men whom he called to rule the people’ ” (Institutes II.ii.17).

Matthew Henry, in his commentary on Samuel, explains the departure of the Spirit in the same manner. He writes, “God, in a way of righteous judgment, withdrew from him those assistances of the good Spirit with which he was directed, animated, and encouraged in his government and wars.” Thus, as the Spirit’s presence was not necessarily regenerative, so His departure did not necessarily mean degeneration. Though Saul’s life ended in disgrace, the final question of the state of his soul must remain an open one.

The question of Saul’s destiny will not find its answers fully in this blog post. Such a question was not addressed by Samuel. The answer is found in a different book, one to which we have no access, the Lamb’s Book of Life.