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“Early in the morning Samuel got up and went to meet Saul, but he was told, "Saul has gone to Carmel. There he has set up a monument in his own honor and has turned and gone on down to Gilgal.” (1 Samuel 15:12)
King Saul was the first king in Israel. Tall, strong, and handsome, he certainly looked the part. But from the beginning, his insecurities held him back. In fact, when the prophet Samuel went to anoint him as king, they could not find him because he was hiding “among the baggage” (1 Samuel 10:22)!
Despite his anxieties, Saul’s early days as king were full of success. But eventually he lost his way, and God let Samuel know that Saul was going to be replaced as king by a young shepherd named David. In the pivotal scene in Saul’s life, he disobeys an instruction from God during a battle with the Amalekites. And when Samuel goes to find him to deliver the bad news that God has rejected him as king, once again he can not find Samuel. Saul, apparently, has been busy setting up a monument in his own honor.
I find this story to be not only an indictment against Saul for just how unfit he was to be the king over God’s people, but also a great metaphor for what can happen when we are as insecure as Saul was about who God is and who we are in Him. According to the Bible, those who have put their trust in Jesus have been given so much: we are set free from shame and guilt, adopted into God’s family as beloved children, heirs of all of God’s riches, completely known and loved and forgiven to the core of who we are, indwelled by the Holy Spirit, promised eternal life, and so much more. As we grow in our new identity, our self-worth becomes less about our performance or what others think about us, but becomes rooted in what God says about us. As Paul put it in 1 Corinthians 4:3-4: “I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me.”
However, when we are not secure in who we are in Christ, we will find ways to “set up monuments in our own honor” in order to convince ourselves and others that we are worth something. Saul erected the monument to himself so that others would consider him a great man and praise him. We can so often do the same: the size of our house, the car we drive, the job we take, the man or woman we date or marry, the clothes we wear, the things we spend our money on, and so many other decisions we make can be driven by our desire to show the world what a great person we are. Even smaller scale things like our Facebook or Instagram page can become monuments set up in our own honor, where we choose to display only those things which will cause others to think well of us.
The opposite of Saul, in my opinion, would be John the Baptist. Jesus said in Matthew 11:11, “I tell you the truth: Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist.” But when John’s disciples came to him, complaining that his followers were leaving him to follow Jesus, John replied, “You yourselves can testify that I said, 'I am not the Christ but am sent ahead of him.' The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom's voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. He must become greater; I must become less” (John 3:28-30).
I love that last line – “He must become greater; I must become less.” To know and love God is to tear down the monuments we have built in our own honor so that we might set up monuments in HIS honor with our lives. To live for Jesus is to live our lives in such a way that people see how great He is, even if they completely look past us in the process. He is the only one who is worthy of monuments, for even our most admirable qualities and greatest achievements are but gifts from God. As Paul said in 1 Corinthians 4:7, “For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?”
Dismantle the monuments that you have set up in your own honor. He must become greater, and you must become less.
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