The Difference Between Saul and David


I’ve been studying 1 and 2 Samuel lately, and I’ve been surprised by how few differences exist between Saul and David.

Both started out fairly well. After Saul was anointed, God gave him another heart, and he even prophesied (1 Samuel 10:9-13). His early reign was characterized by a military victory (1 Samuel 11). But the cracks appeared pretty quickly: he offered an unlawful sacrifice (1 Samuel 13), made a rash vow (1 Samuel 14:24), didn’t follow God’s instructions in battle (1 Samuel 15), became unhinged around David (1 Samuel 19-26), and even consulted a medium (1 Samuel 28). His reign was characterized by pragmatism, blame-shifting, paranoia, and a refusal to repent.

David also starts out well. Twice, he refuses to kill Saul when he has the chance (1 Samuel 24 and 26). He mourns the death of his enemies (2 Samuel 1). He enjoys early victories as king (2 Samuel 5 and 8) and leads people in worship (2 Samuel 6). He elevates a potential rival to the throne (2 Samuel 9). But he also makes an ambiguous decision by fleeing to the Philistines (1 Samuel 27). He takes a number of concubines and wives contrary to Deuteronomy 17:17 (2 Samuel 5:13). And he becomes an adulterer (or worse!) and a murderer (2 Samuel 11), leading to significant problems in his family. Near the end of his reign, God lashes out in judgment because of one of David’s decisions (2 Samuel 24).

The big difference between Saul and David? David repents quickly (2 Samuel 12:13). He doesn’t blame-shift. He trusts God’s mercy even when he faces God’s judgment (2 Samuel 24:14). Simply put, David is a better repenter.

I find this both humbling and encouraging.

I’m humbled because even the best of us fail more than we’d like to admit. The best of us isn’t very good. I’m no longer surprised when I hear bad news about someone I respected or when even good people disappoint. Rather than being surprised by this, we need to see our own weakness and be sure that we put our hope in God, not in any person.

But I also find this encouraging.

God doesn’t use the perfect. He uses those who are quick to repent and throw themselves on his mercy. I want to learn to repent quickly.

I’ve always appreciated these words from Tim Keller:

My dear friends, most churches make the mistake of selecting as leaders the confident, the competent, and the successful. But what you most need in a leader is someone who has been broken by the knowledge of his or her sin, and even greater knowledge of Jesus’ costly grace. The number one leaders in every church ought to be the people who repent the most fully without excuses, because you don’t need any now; the most easily without bitterness; the most publicly and the most joyfully. They know their standing isn’t based on their performance.

That’s the difference between Saul and David in one line: “The number one leaders … ought to be the people who repent the most fully without excuses.” May God help us become good repenters.

Darryl Dash

Darryl Dash

I'm a grateful husband, father, oupa, and pastor of Grace Fellowship Church Don Mills. I love learning, writing, and encouraging. I'm on a lifelong quest to become a humble, gracious old man.
Toronto, Canada