To call someone a fool is serious business. Jesus warned against it in the Sermon on the Mount: “Whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire” (Matthew 5:22). But it’s quite another matter when someone refers to himself or herself that way.
Such is the case in 1 Samuel 26, where King Saul said to David, “I have sinned…. Indeed I have played the fool and erred exceedingly” (v. 21). Those last nine words form an autobiographical statement of Saul’s life. In fact, they form a banner statement of anyone who squanders the call of God on their life.
Saul started out so well. He had such advantages at his disposal, both naturally (see 1 Samuel 9:1-2, 21; 10:20-23) and supernaturally (see 1 Samuel 10:6-7, 9, 26). So what caused him to be so remorseful at the end of his life? How did he “play the fool”?
First, Saul played the fool by arrogance. He started out humble, but the more elevated he became, the greater he declined inwardly. He took the credit for a victory his son Jonathan earned (see 1 Samuel 13:3-4). He sacrificed a burnt offering—a job only a priest was allowed to do (see 1 Samuel 13:7-14). He built a monument to himself (see 1 Samuel 15:12).
Saul also played the fool by indifference. In one bizarre story, he didn’t seem to care that his son Jonathan would die by his own command (see 1 Samuel 14:1-46). In addition, Saul played the fool by outright disobedience. In 1 Samuel 15, he disobeyed the prophet Samuel and then tried to use spiritual words and shift the blame when he was called out on it (see vv. 13-15).
Finally, Saul played the fool by preeminence. He couldn’t stand it if somebody else got the attention, and nowhere was this jealousy more obvious than in his relationship with David (see 1 Samuel 18:6-11; 19:9-10).
Was there anything Saul could have done so that he wouldn’t have ended up saying, “I have played the fool and erred exceedingly”? Let me give you four important points:
1. Saul should have lived before his God. He mentioned God. He acknowledged God. He even praised God. But there’s no evidence that he allowed God to rule in his life or that he had a healthy fear and reverence of the Lord.
2. Saul should have learned from his past. Twice he said, “I have sinned” (see 15:24, 30), but he never did anything about it or tried, by God’s grace, to change his behavior.
3. Saul should have leaned on his friends, but he wouldn’t have anything to do with befriending those around him.
4. Saul should have looked after his character. Instead, he looked after his reputation. How he looked to other people on the outside was more important to him than who he really was on the inside.
Let me tell you: you don’t have to end up like Saul. No matter how you’ve begun or what you’ve experienced in the middle, you can end well. You can choose wisdom over foolishness. And it can all start right here, right now, before God. Simply and humbly acknowledge that you need God’s help, and He will walk with you and give you the power to overcome.