1 Chronicles 10
Well, we made it through the genealogies. Now on to something a bit easier—or so I thought. As someone who is educated in the principles of journalism, I have to say that I encountered a bit of a problem in chapter 10 regarding the death of Saul. There are two seemingly-different accounts of his death within a few paragraphs of each other!
First, the writer of Chronicles said this:"Saul said to his armor-bearer, 'Draw your sword and run me through, or these uncircumcised fellows will come and abuse me.' But his armor-bearer was terrified and would not do it; so Saul took his own sword and fell on it. When the armor-bearer saw that Saul was dead, he too fell on his sword and died. So Saul and his three sons died, and all his house died together." (vs 4-6)
Just a few verses later, the writer of Chronicles said this: "Saul died because he was unfaithful to the Lord; he did not keep the word of the Lord and even consulted a medium for guidance, and did not inquire of the Lord. So the Lord put him to death and turned the kingdom over to David son of Jesse." (vs 13-14)
So, which account is accurate? Did Saul kill himself by falling on his sword? Or did the Lord put him to death for his unfaithfulness? Is there any way it could be both? Certainly from a journalistic standpoint, the answer would appear to be no. It would seem like the writer of 1 Chronicles would have to pick one—he couldn’t have it both ways.
Then again, it’s strangely reminiscent of what the writer of Exodus recorded about Pharaoh and his responses to the plagues in Egypt. In some places, he writes that Pharaoh’s rebellious response occurred because "Pharaoh hardened his heart." In other places, he writes that Pharaoh rebelled because "the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart." And, as you can imagine, the latter explanation causes quite a few problems. If God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, how could He hold Pharaoh responsible for his rebellion?
I think the same principle is at work in both the description of Saul’s death and Pharaoh’s rebellion. And that is that God is often given the credit for what happens to people when He gives them up to the choices they have made. Let’s take Saul’s death, for instance. At the end of 1 Chronicles 10, it says that Saul died because he wasn’t faithful to the Lord.
It’s certainly true that Saul didn’t remain faithful to God. And in taking the path that led him away from the Lord, Saul ended up doing some very foolish things, such as consulting a witch for advice. Consequently, he ended up in battle with the Philistines—a battle he was not prepared to win because he wasn’t listening to God for battle advice. Thus, when he ended up surrounded, he fell on his own sword and committed suicide.
But, in allowing Saul the freedom to go down his self-destructive path, the Lord knew where that would lead him. He knew it would lead to the death of Saul and his sons and to the opportunity to establish David’s family on the throne. He didn’t use supernatural means to keep Saul from making the wrong choices. Nor did He use supernatural means to keep Saul from experiencing the consequences of those choices.
At some point, God lets go. And I believe He does this regardless of whether we are making righteous choices or unrighteous choices. As it says in Revelation, God gives us over to the results of our free choices: "Let him who does wrong continue to do wrong; let him who is vile continue to be vile; let him who does right continue to do right; and let him who is holy continue to be holy." (Rev 22:11)
To me, it’s incredible that God does this. He doesn’t have to let go. He could have created us in such a way that we would always do whatever He wanted, whenever He wanted. Instead, He wanted creatures who had the freedom to choose what they would do. And, as in the case of Saul, we see that when we have truly made up our minds and set our course, God lets go. He lets us be whatever we decide to be.