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Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Two Men Named Saul: A Study in Humility

"I believe that the first test of a great man is his humility. I don't mean by humility, doubt of his power. But really great men have a curious feeling that the greatness is not of them, but through them."
~John Ruskin, British writer 1819-1900

photo from http://www.lawrencewilson.com/how-to-be-humble/
The first man named Saul we meet in the Bible is taken aback when the prophet Samuel addresses him as the first king of Israel, and one on whom the hopes of the nation are set.  He says in 1 Samuel 9:21, "But am I not a Benjamite from the smallest tribe of Israel, and is not my clan the least of all the clans of the tribe of Benjamin? Why do you say such a thing to me?"  Saul passes this initial test.  He has no ambitions to become king or even be a leader among Israel.  He saw his own weakness, not his height (he was a head taller than his peers) or impressiveness.

   We know what happened to Saul and that somewhere along the line he began to feel entitled and grasped his position with such fierceness that he feared rivals, including his son-in-law.  Taking 3,000 soldiers with him he pursues David relentlessly.
   A second Saul of the tribe of Benjamin becomes part of God's story in the book of Acts.  His initial demeanour is proud and hard-nosed--a Pharisee who shunned others for being less righteous than himself.  He takes a delegation to the Damascus synagogue in order to arrest followers of Jesus.  
   However, God humbles him on the road, causing him to become blind and helpless.  When he regains his sight he becomes a new man, one who is ready to be an ambassador for Christ to the far reaches of the Roman Empire and among non-Jews.
   Saul is renamed Paul (meaning "little") even as he takes the lead in missionary journeys with Barnabas and later with Silas and Luke.  He receives a thorn in the flesh that further reminds Saul of his weakness.  His missionary achievements and his visions of heaven do not make him proud.
   By God's grace, Paul passed the test of a great man to the end, even though he would have failed it at the beginning.
   Wherever God has placed us in some level of authority (as a parent, in our workplaces, church work, etc.), we need to retain that "curious feeling that the greatness" is not of us.  God is the source, so a posture of submission to him is fitting for all leaders.

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