by Matthew W. Bassford
Saul is one of the great tragic figures of the Old Testament and indeed of the Bible. Because of the connections between his story and the story of David, we know more about him than about any other spiritual failure. It is truly telling that his central problem was fear.
Saul’s fear is evident from the beginning to the end of his story. When he is elected king, he responds by hiding in the baggage. He offers an unlawful sacrifice in 1 Samuel 13 because he is afraid. His fear of David's excellence leads him to persecute a blameless man. He slaughters the priests at Nob because he is afraid. Immediately before he dies, he sinfully consults a medium because he is afraid, and his fear debilitates him before the battle that will take his life.
We often are sympathetic toward the fearful because all of us know what fear is. In many cases, fear is good. The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever. Even in a physical sense, fear protects us from playing hopscotch on the interstate and many other similar disasters.
However, apart from the fear of God, the effects of fear in our spiritual lives are almost never good. We recognize the dangers of lust and deceit, but Satan uses fear to tempt us just as frequently. We usually lie out of fear. Alcohol and drug addiction are so powerful because addicts fear the consequences of going sober. Even sins that appear lust-based are often fear-based. Consider, for instance, the young woman who sleeps with her boyfriend because she is afraid he will leave her if she doesn't.
In fact, dear reader, I will make a prediction about you. It may be that in your life is a sin that you have wrestled with for years or even decades. If so, you most likely are continuing in that sin because of fear. The sin itself probably doesn't bring you that much pleasure anymore, certainly not as much pleasure as it did at first. You may even hate yourself every time you sin. However, you can't imagine life without your sin and are afraid of the prospect. Thus, you go on sinning.
I myself feel great sympathy for those whom the devil enslaves in this way. How sad it is to be trapped in misery here and headed for more misery in the life to come! However, sympathy should not obscure the fact that fear is a soul-destroying killer. We might pity the poor fearful sinner, but pity won't keep them from going to hell.
We don't need self-pity either. It won't help us. Everyone who is enslaved by fear needs to hear Christ’s call to repentance, and they need to trust His promise of protection. In Him, we don't need to be afraid. We may suffer, but after a little while, He will restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish us. We may never have to face the consequences that we fear if we give up our sins, but even if we do, it is better to endure them than to shrink back to destruction. Only by pressing on may we preserve our souls.