Message preached on Sunday, August 23, 2009
Have you ever played the fool? In a sense, playing the fool is biblical conduct. At least, the idea of playing the fool comes from the words of a biblical character. In the King James Version of the Bible, King Saul described himself as having “played the fool” when he looked back on how he had behaved with his loyal subject David (1 Sam.26:21). Saul had to come to that conclusion because he had manifested a total lack of discernment about two matters:
- The sincerity of the godly, and
- The sovereignty of God
Saul had not dreamt of being a king. He seemed to have an inferiority complex. When the prophet Samuel indicated that Saul had been chosen by God to be the king of Israel, Saul’s response was that he was a nobody (9:21). Seems a bit silly and futile to say that to God’s prophet who was announcing what God had planned.
As Saul travelled homeward, along the way, everything that Samuel had predicted had happened, even the fantastic experience of coming under the power of God’s Spirit and exercising the gift of prophecy (10:9-11). Still, when Samuel turned up at his home to go public on God having chosen Saul, the man went and hid himself in a storeroom (v.22). That was how reluctant he was to shoulder the responsibility of leading a nation. His bearing and behaviour made some troublemakers raise the question whether such a man could save the nation and they wouldn’t accept his kingship (v.27). Anyway, after the public investiture by anointing had taken place, incredibly Saul went back to farming (11:5).
Finally, Saul rose to the task when confronted by an enemy nation threatening destruction of an Israelite city (vv.6-11). Riding a triumphant wave, his supporters wanted to punish the troublemakers who had questioned his authority as king, but Saul was magnanimous in victory and said that no one would be punished because the Lord had given the nation its salvation (vv.12-13).
Exceeding the Limits
Up to that point in his life, Saul had shown proper humility. But it would appear that being king did go to his head thereafter. He lost his “sense of proportion” and began to exceed the limits of his kingship.
It so happened that Saul had to go into battle with an enemy nation. When Samuel didn’t come in time to bless them for their campaign, Saul took things into his own hands by not continuing to wait for God’s prophet and assumed the role of God’s prophet (13:7-10).
When Saul took over a task that was not his to perform, Saul forgot that he had been anointed king of the people, but in God’s court he was not king; he too was just one of the people.
Gentile nations believed that their kings were demigods to be worshipped. Not so with Israel. Their king had no authority in the tent of worship. (Israel had no temple until the time of Solomon, and instead the focal point of religious activity was a movable tent containing the ark of the covenant, and other equipment necessary to their style of non-idolatrous worship). In the tent of worship, only the man of God dedicated to worshipful activity had authority to function as the intermediary between God and His people. Saul exceeded his authority and brought his kingship into play in the presence of God.
Saul’s excuse was that his army was beginning to disband (vv.11-12). Gone was the Saul who had attributed the earlier victory to God. He now demonstrated that he believed that Israel’s salvation depended on him. Gone was the dependence on God and instead his behaviour seemed to shout, “Yes, I can.”
When Saul didn’t wait for Samuel, the prophet of God, he indicated that he wasn’t willing to wait for God to choose the moment to act. He would take things into his own hands and proceed. He was going ahead and God’s prophet could follow whenever he wanted to.
Defying the Lord’s Order
If exceeding the limits was a matter of attitude, Saul next flouted a clear order. God had ordered that nothing was to be saved from the next battle. Everything would be dedicated and untouchable and consigned to the flames like a great big sacrifice to God (1 Sam.15:3). Instead of doing what God wanted him to do, Saul led his soldiers in saving the best along with being partial to the enemy king. They burnt up only what no one wanted (v.9). When confronted with this blatant disobedience to God’s command, Saul pretended devotion as the reason for saving the best of the enemy’s possessions: he said that they had saved them to sacrifice to God (v.15). This claim was patently false, because the total destruction that God had commanded was itself to reflect total devotion to God.
The prophet Samuel said then,
What is more pleasing to the Lord: your burnt offerings and sacrifices or your obedience to his voice? Listen! Obedience is better than sacrifice, and submission is better than offering the fat of rams (v.22, NLT).
Samuel was not alone in challenging God’s people about pretended religiosity.
What makes you think I want all your sacrifices?” says the Lord.
“I am sick of your burnt offerings of rams
and the fat of fattened cattle.
I get no pleasure from the blood
of bulls and lambs and goats.
When you come to worship me,
who asked you to parade through my courts with all your ceremony?
Stop bringing me your meaningless gifts;
the incense of your offerings disgusts me!
As for your celebrations of the new moon and the Sabbath
and your special days for fasting—
they are all sinful and false.
I want no more of your pious meetings.
I hate your new moon celebrations and your annual festivals.
They are a burden to me. I cannot stand them!
When you lift up your hands in prayer, I will not look.
Though you offer many prayers, I will not listen,
for your hands are covered with the blood of innocent victims.
Wash yourselves and be clean!
Get your sins out of my sight.
Give up your evil ways (Isa.1:11-16,NLT; cf. Jer.6:20; 7:21).
His disobedience left Saul disturbed internally. The Lord’s Spirit left him, and he was tormented by a demonic spirit (1 Sam.16: 14-15).
When people give up their faith in God, they become tormented souls. In early science lessons, I learnt that nature doesn’t allow a vacuum to exist. Similarly, in the spiritual realm, there cannot be a vacuum. The space emptied by God, gets taken over by demons. When people leave God, they become open to occupancy by evil spirits. That is what happened to Saul.
Our Lord told a story about an evil spirit being cast out and rendered homeless. It kept searching for a place to stay, until its wanderings brought it back to the space it had been thrown out of. The evil spirit discovered that the space was still vacant. The soul that had been liberated from being possessed by the evil spirit had not bothered to fill up the emptiness. The evil spirit quickly repossessed the space along with a bunch of its friends. The Lord said that the last state of that soul was worse than its first state of being possessed by one spirit (Matt.12:43-45).
In Saul’s disturbed state, he was not able to recognize his own friend. Even though, David had joined Saul’s service earlier to be a personal attendant who would soothe and heal his disturbed state with gentle music (1 Sam.16:21-23), he is unable to recognize David when David showed that he was a very brave soul (17:55-57). Blinded by his envy of David (18:6-9), Saul tried to kill David at the very time when David was doing him good with his music (vv.10-11). Saul then plotted David’s murder by assigning David a task that required bravery knowing that David would rise to the task (vv.17-29) and kept on trying again and again to murder David. Even after David had spared his life (24:1-22), Saul was unable to discern loyalty when he saw it in David. In the end, he lost the services of his most loyal servant (27:1-2).
Another Loses Sanity
One aspect of Saul’s lack of discernment was that of his not discerning the sovereignty of God. From time to time, he did manifest an awareness of it (18:28-29; 24:20-21), but he didn’t go beyond the awareness to submit to the Lord’s sovereignty. Instead he kept bucking God’s authority again and again. Having had a taste of power, he was not ready to give it up even at the Lord’s command.
Beware power. It not only corrupts the soul in its relationships and dealings, but it stands defiant before the Lord God Himself, because power sees itself as power. Within its own circle power is absolute and defies the sovereignty of God. That is what happened to Nebuchadnezzar.
God gave Nebuchadnezzar a vision of the future of generations to come. He sensed that this dream of his was different from all the meaningless ones he had shared with his wise men allowing their silly interpretations to amuse him. So unlike other times, he refused to tell the wise men his dream. He figured that if they really could discover the meaning of a dream, then they ought to be able to discover the dream itself. His wise men assured him that they could come up with an interpretation for his dream, if they were told the dream. But Nebuchadnezzar was determined to safeguard against fraud.
When the order to kill wise men unable to tell him the dream and its interpretation went out, Daniel and his friends prayed for God’s revelation. The dream was revealed to Daniel and he told the king that the dream was about four empires, starting with himself (Daniel chapter 2). Even though Daniel’s interpretation made it clear that ultimately Nebuchadnezzar and all other earthly powers would be displaced by the last King, Nebuchadnezzar decided to honour himself by erecting a huge statue of himself to be worshipped. He forgot that the displacement order was already given from heaven.
When Daniel’s friends refused to give in to the command to worship the king’s image, Nebuchadnezzar should have remembered that he was not the main point of the dream, that he was not the aim of it all. He should have backed off from demanding to be worshipped. After seeing God’s intervention rescue Daniel’s friends from the fiery death that he had planned, Nebuchadnezzar acknowledged the Lord God’s greatness and power (chapter 3), but otherwise continued to ignore all that God’s servant had taught him.
God tried to reach Nebuchadnezzar a second time with a dream. It was a disturbing dream with weird images: a tree trunk, that has the mind of a man, and that mind becoming like an animal’s. This time the wise men don’t try to interpret the dream, knowing that the king would know when they were winging it. Daniel gave warning that doom was coming, but the king, while honouring Daniel as the man who could interpret dreams, continued to enjoy his power as though God didn’t matter. The dream happened. Nebuchadnezzar became insane for seven years as predicted. Healing and the return to sanity came only with Nebuchadnezzar acknowledging God to be God (chapter 4).
Coming to Oneself
In the story of the prodigal son, we see the younger son insanely asking for his share while the father was alive. No one inherits while the original owner is still around. He mistook the father’s kindness and generosity for his own craftiness.
The man went as far away as he could to get away from all the influences of his home. As long as he had the means to ply people with food and drinks and have a good time, he was surrounded by fair-weather friends. When the means were gone, the friends were gone. No one would give him a helping hand when he needed it, and he ended up looking after pigs. He was so desperate that he tried to live on pig’s food. That is when he “came to himself” (Lk.15:17, KJV).
The young man had thought that he could find happiness far from his father, his home, and all the godly influences in his life. He let himself go. He thought he was enjoying himself. In the end, it was the memory of his father and his home that helped him retrace the steps in his life till he found himself once again in his father’s home. Thank God for the godly influences in your life. Their memory may one day save you when you wander off and they will serve in bringing you back to your spiritual home.
The prodigal youth did not have the discernment to see that bad friends cannot be good friends. They don’t know how to be friends. They’re not in it for your good. Sometimes we too fool ourselves with such “friends”, imagining that they are our friends. They are not friends, who only want a good time all the time
The rule of thumb that the prodigal discovered is that any friendships that require us to do a one-sided spending of all of our worldly goods are not friendships. Any relationship based on possessions is not a relationship.
The prodigal son came to himself: that is when he came to his senses. He knew he had to go back to his father whom he had hurt with his demand of his share as though he wished the father was already dead. He knew he had hurt his father by going away and he knew it was time to end the exile and return home even with a sense of unworthiness. It was foolish to have gone away. It would be foolish to stay away after coming to one’s senses. It would be foolish to not recognize that it is time to go home.
While the prodigal came to himself, our Lord taught about two who were fools to the end. One thought it foolish to waste time on foundations. He believed in quick results and proud displays of how quick he was in achieving his aims, while another was plodding along with slowly and painstakingly laying a foundation in rock. The foolish build on shifting sands. The wise build on rock. Both superstructures look the same, until the storms come. Then it is that the structure built on rock shows its solidity (Matt.7:24-27).
The second fool thought that planning his life was all important. His plans were great, and he had bigger and better plans. He thought that all he planned was all that mattered. Sounds like one of us, doesn’t it? The man made all the plans for this life, and none for the next. God looked down from heaven, shook His head and whispered, “You fool. Tonight when your soul is required to appear before me, who will all that belong to?” (Lk.12:16-21).
We do not have all the time in the world. We have so very little time. If we had all eternity to make up our minds and take decisions, then we could delay the moment when we must stop playing the fool. But we don’t have all eternity for that. The time to stop playing the fool is now.