Skip to main content

Saul—a Portrait of Pride and Insecurity

  • Author:
  • Updated date:

Tamarajo is an avid Bible scholar who loves nothing more than seeking out the treasures in God's Word and sharing them with others.



King Saul's life, chronicled in I Samuel chapters 9-17, exhibits how lack of faith in God can be the fodder for pride, insecurity, and an insatiable need for human attention and approval. The Biblical account of Saul's life illustrates the problems and pitfalls of prideful self-reliance that inevitably leads to self-destruction.

All Scripture is written for our example, as Paul states in his letter to the Corinthian church.

Now all these things happened to them (Old Testament characters) as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.

— I Corinthians 10:11

This example intends that as we examine the narrative, we also examine ourselves.

Examine me, God! Look at my heart!
Put me to the test! Know my anxious thoughts!
Look to see if there is any idolatrous way in me,
then lead me on the eternal path!

— Psalm 139:23-24

Give Us a King

In chapter nine of first Samuel, Israel's first king is introduced. During this time, Israel was struggling morally, spiritually, and militarily. They concluded that perhaps a king like all the other nations had would save them. Up until this time, the time of the Judges, "there was no king in Israel, and everyone did what was right in their own eyes." (Judges 17:6, 21:25)

God was displeased by their request, as it implied that they were rejecting His leadership. Rather than repent of their wrongdoing and live under the dictates of God's will and His ways, they determined that a human government would better serve their wishes. God agreed to let them have it their way.

. . . they said, “Give us a king to judge us.” So Samuel prayed to the Lord. And the Lord said to Samuel, “Heed the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me, that I should not reign over them.

— I Samuel 8:6-7

Collectively Israel was exhibiting their insecurity and prideful solution in this scene. Pride is evident when we reject God and seek to save ourselves through human agencies rather than submit to God.


Tall and Handsome Saul

While tall and handsome, Saul from the tribe of Benjamin was out looking for some lost donkeys for his father; God informed Samuel the prophet that Saul was the man who would be Israel's first king. Note that the chapter begins with a description of Saul's physical appearance. God knows they are looking for superficial characteristics.

And he had a choice and handsome son whose name was Saul. There was not a more handsome person than he among the children of Israel. From his shoulders upward he was taller than any of the people.

— I Samuel 9:2

This type of presentation aims to connect us with the idea that God's people are unfaithful. They are people who want anything and everything but God. They are shallow and desire what looks good on the outside, and God knows all too well where this will lead them.

Samuel the prophet explains to Saul that he has been chosen to be king over Israel, and Saul's reply reveals that Saul is entirely intimidated by the calling:

And Saul answered and said, “Am I not a Benjamite, of the smallest of the tribes of Israel, and my family the least of all the families of the tribe of Benjamin? Why then do you speak like this to me?”

— I Samuel 9:21

It appears that Saul feels a bit insecure despite his good looks and stature. He was taller than all the people around him, but he felt smaller than all of them. It also reveals that Saul's sense of security is centered not on God's ability to enable Him but on his tribe and family's size and value. He is hyper-focused on the opinions of men, which will eventually become a great snare to him.

The fear of man brings a snare,
But whoever trusts in the Lord shall be safe.

— Proverbs 29:25

Pride wants us to believe that our value and success depend on our abilities and not God's.

Next, Samuel holds a ceremony to introduce Saul to the nation as their king, but Saul is nowhere to be found.

. . . And Saul the son of Kish was chosen. But when they sought him, he could not be found. Therefore they inquired of the LORD further, “Has the man come here yet?” And the LORD answered, “There he is, hidden among the equipment.”

— I Samuel 10:21-22

Saul understands his smallness despite his tallness. He appears incredibly intimidated by the position. This scene is in sharp contrast to David, who confronts his assignments head-on in the name of the Lord.

Then David said to the Philistine, “You come to me with a sword, with a spear, and with a javelin. But I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied.

— I Samuel 17:45

When Saul finally becomes king and steps into the role of a leader of Israel, he begins to make tragic mistakes rooted in his deep-seated insecurities and how he chooses to appease them.


The First Battle

In I Samuel chapter eleven, Saul returns from the field where he had been tending his herd. He hears the people of Jabesh Gilead crying. He discovers that Nachash, the Ammonite, threatened the people.

Now there was Saul, coming behind the herd from the field; and Saul said, “What troubles the people, that they weep?” And they told him the words of the men of Jabesh. Then the Spirit of God came upon Saul when he heard this news, and his anger was greatly aroused. So he took a yoke of oxen and cut them in pieces, and sent them throughout all the territory of Israel by the hands of messengers, saying, “Whoever does not go out with Saul and Samuel to battle, so it shall be done to his oxen.”

— I Samuel 11:5-7

Although the Spirit of God comes upon him and moves him to act, he musters an army by command and manipulates the situation by scaring the people into serving him. His tactic included sending pieces of a cut-up cow throughout the tribes and threatening that they would become like the cow if they did not act. Saul's approach is not a sign of confidence in God's instructions. Instead, it most likely reveals that He's scared that they will not come. According to theologian L. Daniel Hawk, this misuse of God-given authority is attributed to humans who function outside of God's will for its use.

. . . fallen human agents characteristically use divine power imperfectly.1


The Blame Game

The next exhibit Begins in First Samuel, chapter thirteen. Saul is in a battle with the Philistines at Michmash and waiting for Samuel to show up to make the required sacrifice. He expects Samuel to offer him instructions from the Lord concerning the battle when he arrives.

You shall go down before me to Gilgal; and surely I will come down to you to offer burnt offerings and make sacrifices of peace offerings. Seven days you shall wait, till I come to you and show you what you should do.

— I Samuel 10:8

Saul's first encounter with Samuel in First Samuel chapter nine involved Saul waiting for Samuel to make a sacrifice. This last event informs us that Saul is very familiar with this requirement.

As soon as you come into the city, you will surely find him before he goes up to the high place to eat. For the people will not eat until he comes, because he must bless the sacrifice; afterward those who are invited will eat.

— I Samuel 9:13

In this case, Saul became fearful because It was the seventh day, and Samuel had not shown up yet.

Then he waited seven days, according to the time set by Samuel. But Samuel did not come to Gilgal; and the people were scattered from him.

— I Samuel 13:8

Saul, therefore, decided to go ahead and make the sacrifice himself. Problematically, Only those appointed by God (prophet and priest) were allowed to do this.

So Saul said, “Bring a burnt offering and peace offerings here to me.” And he offered the burnt offering. Now it happened, as soon as he had finished presenting the burnt offering, that Samuel came; and Saul went out to meet him, that he might greet him.

— I Samuel 13:9-10

When Samuel arrives, he completely ignores Saul's fake friendly greeting. Saul hides his pretentious decision by pretending that there is nothing wrong. Instead, Samuel is greatly disturbed by Saul's arrogant "I'll take care of it myself" presumptuous and faithless act.

And Samuel said, “What have you done?”

— I Samuel 13:11

Saul replied with excuses and an accusation against Samuel himself.

When I saw that the people were scattered from me, and that you did not come within the days appointed, and that the Philistines gathered together at Michmash . . .

— I Samuel 13:11

When Samuel confronts Saul about his disobedience, Saul's pride leaps into action to cover up the real issue. The first thing he does is blame Samuel for not showing up on time. The seventh day had not ended when Saul offered the sacrifice, and at the same time that Samuel appeared. Samuel was, therefore, not technically late. He was just later than Saul had expected.

Saul's greatest fear was that he would look bad in the people's eyes. He displayed no confidence in God concerning the matter. Fear of failure, a need for public approval, and humiliation plagued him, so he took matters into his own hands rather than seeking God and remaining loyal to His instructions to wait.

He does admit that he was worried about the people who were leaving him but claims that if Samuel just would have shown up on time, this would have never happened and made himself appear as the victim. Pride will convince us that it is in our best interest to make ourselves the victim through blame when confronted with our moral failures.

He also blames Samuel's lateness by implying that it left him (Saul) with no other choice.

. . . therefore I said, ‘Now the Philistines will come down against me at Gilgal, and I have not yet implored the face of Yahweh.’ So I forced myself and offered the burnt offering.”

— I Samuel 13:12

Pride prevents us from taking responsibility for our actions. It convinces us that we are forced into making unfaithful poor decisions.

This similar blame game occurs in Genesis chapter three, with Adam blaming his wife and Eve blaming the serpent for their disobedience.

Saul, like Adam, forfeited a great deal to maintain his prideful and rebellious position.

Then Samuel said to Saul, “You have behaved foolishly! You have not kept the command of Yahweh your God which he commanded you. For then, Yahweh would have established your kingdom over Israel forever.

— I Samuel 13:13

Rabbi David Fohrman, the founder of Aleph-Beta, also keenly observes Saul's arrogant faith in Himself rather than God in this story. The following is an excerpt from his video teaching titled "What Is the Book of Maccabees About? - Recognizing God in Our Lives"

"Imagine it was two and a half thousand years ago, you're in the ancient equivalent of Las Vegas, and you're waging a bet on Saul's ability to vanquish the Philistines in this upcoming battle. Saul has 3000 men and the Philistines 30,000 chariots, 6000 sharpshooters, and an almost innumerable amount of infantry. So now, what are the odds of a victory here? You'd say, vanishingly close to zero. Now one more question for you, let's say Saul doesn't have 3000 men anymore, a bunch start to desert him, and now he only has 600 left, now what are the odds? Honestly, have they really changed? . . . There was basically a zero chance of success, to begin with, and there's the same zero chance of success now. If Saul looks at the situation with a clear head he actually loses nothing by waiting for Samuel . . . Samuel was saying, don't make the fatal error of thinking that you control the path to victory. Your actions are close to irrelevant. In times like these your focus needs to be on one immutable fact, an Israelite king is just a vessel, he is king, but G-d is the King of Kings."2


Pride Takes the Form of Control

Rabbi David Fohrmann fleshes out another important arrogant act in this story.

The battle wasn't going well after Samuel left.

. . . there was trembling in the camp, in the field, and among all the people. The garrison and the raiders also trembled; and the earth quaked so that it was a very great trembling. Now the watchmen of Saul in Gibeah of Benjamin looked, and there was the multitude, melting away; and they went here and there . . . And the men of Israel were distressed that day, for Saul had placed the people under oath, saying, “Cursed is the man who eats any food until evening, before I have taken vengeance on my enemies.” So none of the people tasted food.

— I Samuel 14:15-16. 24

The Rabbi observes that Saul avenges himself as if this was his war.

Saul, in his terror, watching his army melt away, seems to take on the role of God when he forbids his men from eating until they conquer. Unlike God, who forbade one tree of many in the garden, Saul, in tyrant form, prohibits all food thinking that this control method will force his men to be more determined to get a victory.

In this case, fear and control appear to be closely related.

Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.

— Romans 12:19

Jehoshaphat, a later king of Judah, faced a similar dilemma. Unlike Saul, he earnestly and humbly consulted the Lord.

Then Jehoshaphat stood in the assembly of Judah and Jerusalem, in the house of the Lord, before the new court, and said: “O Lord God of our fathers, are You not God in heaven, and do You not rule over all the kingdoms of the nations, and in Your hand is there not power and might, so that no one is able to withstand You? . . . O our God, will You not judge them? For we have no power against this great multitude that is coming against us; nor do we know what to do, but our eyes are upon You.”

— 2 Chronicles 20:5-6,12

The Lord's reply reassured Jehoshaphat He would take care of it.

Thus says the Lord to you: ‘Do not be afraid nor dismayed because of this great multitude, for the battle is not yours, but God’s.

— II Chronicles 20:15

The Snare of the Fear of Man

Another subsequent tragic mistake happens in I Samuel, chapter fifteen. The Lord had given the Amalekites, noted for their cruelty, into the hands of Israel's army. God made it abundantly clear that they were not to spare anyone or take the spoil of anything from the Amalekites. He was especially not to spare King Agag,

But Saul and the people spared Agag (the king of the Amalekites) and the best of the sheep, the oxen, the fatlings, the lambs, and all that was good, and were unwilling to utterly destroy them. But everything despised and worthless, that they utterly destroyed.

— I Samuel 15:9

Samuel comes to confront Saul once again.

In the next portion of Scripture, Saul arrogantly sets up a monument to himself. This tribute to himself is a giant fig leaf disguising what is going on in Saul's heart.

So when Samuel rose early in the morning to meet Saul, it was told Samuel, saying, “Saul went to Carmel, and indeed, he set up a monument for himself; and he has gone on around, passed by, and gone down to Gilgal.” Then Samuel went to Saul, and Saul said to him, “Blessed are you of the LORD! I have performed the commandment of the LORD.”But Samuel said, “What then is this bleating of the sheep in my ears, and the lowing of the oxen which I hear?”And Saul said, “They have brought them from the Amalekites; for the people spared the best of the sheep and the oxen, to sacrifice to the LORD your God; and the rest we have utterly destroyed.”

— I Samuel 15:12

The deception of pride will convince us that our selfish motives are for God's benefit. Samuel's response uncovers the deep insecurity lying beneath Saul's audacious reply:

So Samuel said, “When you were little in your own eyes, were you not head of the tribes of Israel? And did not the LORD anoint you king over Israel? Now the LORD sent you on a mission, and said, ‘Go, and utterly destroy the sinners, the Amalekites, and fight against them until they are consumed.’ Why then did you not obey the voice of the LORD? Why did you swoop down on the spoil, and do evil in the sight of the LORD?”

— I Samuel 15:17-19

Samuel goes right to the very root of the problem, he was little in his own eyes, and he even shows Him that he had no business trusting in his abilities anyway because God had anointed (empowered) him to be the king.

Saul's pride can't cover him anymore, and he finally admits the real reason for his disobedience.

Then Saul said to Samuel, “I have sinned, for I have transgressed the commandment of the LORD and your words, because I feared the people and obeyed their voice.

— I Samuel 15:24

Saul was attempting to win his peers' approval as a remedy for the insignificance he felt inside. We see how Saul attempted to esteem himself by building himself up in man's eyes. We see God behind the scenes trying to lift him up if he would only humble himself and obey.

The situation goes from bad to worse when Saul begs Samuel to return with him to the people to try to save face with them.

Then he (Saul) said, “I have sinned; yet honor me now, please, before the elders of my people and before Israel, and return with me, that I may worship the Lord your God.”

— I Samuel 15:30

Spirit Life Bible notes comments on the following scene, as it concerns Saul's root issue.

"Saul is concerned with his image and having Samuel with him would make it appear as though everything is alright"

Notice that Saul refers to God as Samuel's God and not his own. There is no change of heart or repentance. Saul keeps trying to cover himself.


The Golden Calf Example

We also see this same fear of man and prideful excuse, illustrated in Exodus chapter two. In this event, the people demanded that Aaron make them a "god" because, much like Saul waiting for Samuel, they were tired of waiting for Moses to come back from the mount. Aaron wasted no time in fulfilling their request. By the time Moses came down from the mountain, the people were worshiping the calf.

The people saw that Moses was taking a long time to come down from the mountain. They gathered around Aaron and said to him, “Come on! Make us gods who can lead us. As for this man Moses who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we don’t have a clue what has happened to him.”

— Exodus 32:1

Aaron takes matters into his own hands, just like Saul.

Aaron said to them, “All right, take out the gold rings from the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” So all the people took out the gold rings from their ears and brought them to Aaron. He collected them and tied them up in a cloth. Then he made a metal image of a bull calf, and the people declared, “These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!”

— Exodus 32:2-4

When Moses confronted his brother Aaron about making a golden calf, Aaron offered a laughable excuse.

So Aaron said, “Do not let the anger of my lord become hot. You know the people, that they are set on evil. For they said to me, ‘Make us gods that shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.’ And I said to them, ‘Whoever has any gold, let them break it off.’ So they gave it to me, and I cast it into the fire, and this calf came out.”

— Exodus 32:22-24

Aaron played the victim by blaming the people. He took no responsibility for even forming it, claiming that the calf just came out of the fire by itself. Aaron feared the people more than he feared God.


A Pictograph Understanding of Pride

Gesenius' Lexicon defines the Hebrew root word for pride as "ge-ah." Several words built from it come with the idea of lifting oneself to a position that God should only hold.

The Hebrew pictograph definition is quite simple and agrees with this definition.

"Gimel," the first letter of the Word "ge-ah," is a picture of a camel and carries the idea of "lifting." Pride is the lifting up of oneself. Except for giraffes, camels are the tallest land-living animals. When the camel lifts itself, it is head above all the rest, as we saw in Saul's story; he was a head taller than the others. Pride wants us to see ourselves as above anything or anyone else, including God.

Contrastingly, Camels are also noted for their ability to kneel. Camels kneeling can be a picture of humility as they bow down to receive their master's burdens. It's a form of submission.


Pride Can Strongly Lead Us

The second letter of the word for pride, "ge-ah," is "Aleph." An ox represents the letter "Aleph" and carries the idea of something strong and leading.

This letter also connects to the concept of one's will. "Aleph" is many times used as a prefix to express the phrase "I will." When our will is exalted over God's will, we are in a state of pride and getting ready for a fall.

Pride goes before destruction, And a haughty spirit before a fall.

— Proverbs 16:18

The deceitfulness of sin convinces us that we will be exalted and raised by lifting ourselves, but the Bible tells us otherwise.

A man’s pride will bring him low, But the humble in spirit will retain honor.

— Proverbs 29:23


Where Does Pride Originate?

"Hey" is the final letter of "ge-ah," a Hebrew word expressing pride, and it is a picture of a window relating to the concept of revelation. When used as a prefix, the letter "hey" makes the word female. indicating the idea of "what is produced" from the word.

Taken all together, we can see that pride is what comes from lifting our own will and wishes over God's will and wishes.


Pride Has Far-Reaching Consequences

From the I Samuel chapter fifteen narrative, rather than slaying Agag, as God had instructed, he was saved as a prized trophy. Saul's attempt at self-exaltation had horrific consequences for God's people. King Agag was a Hitler type of enemy to the Israelites.

Centuries later, the evil Haman arrives on the scene in the book of Esther. He is identified as an Agagite, meaning descended from Agag, which means that there were still descendants alive that Saul was instructed to kill and did not.

Esther spoke again to the king, fell down at his feet, and implored him with tears to counteract the evil of Haman the Agagite, and the scheme which he had devised against the Jews.

— Eshter 8:3

The scheme against the Jews was to eradicate all of them. Saul's self-preoccupation and disobedience left an open door for future persecution and potential annihilation.

Flesh and Spirit

There is also an interesting pattern in Old Testament Scripture that can be relative to this same principle. When God presents two men either together or in succession, one is a picture of flesh and self-dependence, and the other is that of Spirit, as in one who depends on God. This pattern can be seen with Cain (image of flesh-human dependence) and Abel (image of spirit-God dependence). Ishmael (flesh), Isaac (Spirit), Esau ( flesh), Jacob (Spirit), King Saul (flesh), and King David (Spirit).

Cain, Ishmael, Esau, and Saul give us a picture of insecure, self-reliant flesh and a great lesson that there is no security or confidence to be found in our flesh. Paul writes.

For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells.

— Romans 7:18

Paul encourages the Philippians as to where our confidence ought to lie.

. . . rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh . . .

— Philippians 3:3



From these examples, we can see that insecurity, depending on how we deal with it, and pride go hand in hand. There is only one cure for insecurity— faith and confidence in God and not self-exaltation.

Our esteem is to be is built from the love God has for us alone. The knowledge of that love ought to provoke our love, loyalty, and obedience to God.

Building our security based upon peer acceptance, public opinion, or the way we look is building a house and life on the sand, which will inevitably fall and have far-reaching consequences for future generations. Building our esteem through a humble relationship with our creator builds our house (a metaphor for life) on the rock that will stand through eternity.

. . . be clothed with humility, for “God resists the proud,But gives grace to the humble.” Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.

— I Peter 5:5-7

And do not turn aside; for then you would go after empty things which cannot profit or deliver, for they are nothing.

— I Samuel 12:21


1The Violence of the Biblical God by L. Daniel Hawk, William B. Eerdman's Publishing Company, Grand Rapids Michigan. Copyright 2019

2 "What Is the Book of Maccabees About? - Recognizing God in Our Lives"

© 2010 Tamarajo

Related Articles