Saul’s initial humility and gaining a new heart

Week Twenty Five: 1 Samuel 8–10; 13; 15–18

A New York Times article characterized the NFL Draft as involving many players filled with hubris rather than with the more desirable trait of humility. David Leonhardt pointed out that NFL teams do a “miserable job” of predicting the best players. Often, there seems to be little relationship between performance and draft order. For example, Tom Brady was the 199th pick in the NFL draft of 2000. Yet, his humility has made him one of the most successful players in NFL history. The article ends with the statement: “People who can …mix knowledge with humility – are often at a competitive advantage.”[i]

It seems to be a contradiction that humility would make one more productive, more able, and more competent.

In January of this year, President Worthen gave a talk at BYU on humility, stating that “Humility is one of the most underappreciated virtues in contemporary society, which devotes so much attention to self-promotion.”[ii] He quoted researchers who observed “that the intellectually humble have a constant desire to learn and improve. They embrace ambiguity and the unknown. They like getting new information. They even enjoy finding out when they’re wrong.”[iii]

June Tangney’s research listed six central features of humility:

  1. An accurate assessment of self
  2. Acknowledgement of one’s mistakes and limitations
  3. Openness to other viewpoints and ideas
  4. Keeping one’s accomplishments and abilities in perspective
  5. Low self-focus
  6. Appreciating the value of all things, including other people[iv]

As we read the story of Saul in the Old Testament, we see how he initially exhibited these qualities of humility before he became king, but unfortunately, he soon changed as he allowed pride to enter his heart.

The Israelites were once more under the rule of the Philistines. The Lord had whispered in the Prophet Samuel’s ear that a man from the land where the tribe of Benjamin resided would come to him seeking his help to find his mules. The fact that Saul was the one seeking his mules was symbolically significant.  

The mule became the symbol of Israelite kings. When King David wanted the Israelites to know that he had picked Solomon as his successor, he had Solomon ride on the king’s mule to illustrate that Solomon would be their future king. The Savior rode a mule into Jerusalem during his triumphal entry into Jerusalem. He was proclaiming himself the king of Israel. The people acknowledged the Savior’s kingship as they cried” “Hosanna; blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord that bringeth the kingdom of our father David….”[v]

Samuel told Saul that the Lord wanted him to be the anointed king of Israel and the savior of Israel from bondage. Saul was initially overwhelmed. He said: “Am not I a Benjamite, of the smallest of the tribes of Israel? And my family the least of all the families of the tribe of Benjamin? Wherefore then speakest thou so to me?”[vi]

Even though Saul felt inadequate by this calling from the Lord, he submitted himself to the will of the Lord and allowed Samuel to anoint him king.[vii] He was so humble that when Samuel caused all the tribes of Israel to come together so he, as the prophet of the Lord, could proclaim Saul as their chosen king, Saul was nowhere to be found. Instead, he had hidden himself “among the stuff.”[viii] We also gain an interesting physical description of Saul that he was “higher than any of the people from his shoulders and upward.[ix] He was literally head and shoulders above the rest. Yet, he was overwhelmed and fearful before the praise and adulation of his new position.

Have you ever been asked to do something by the Lord or his servants that completely overwhelmed you?

Elder Neal A. Maxwell taught: “The submission of one’s will is really the only uniquely personal thing we have to place on God’s altar. The many other things we ‘give’ … are actually the things He has already given or loaned to us. However, when you and I finally submit ourselves, by letting our individual wills be swallowed up in God’s will, then we are really giving something to Him! It is the only possession which is truly ours to give!”[x]

Because of Saul’s humility and the submission of his will to God’s will, the Spirit of the Lord came upon him, and he was turned into “another man.”[xi] “God gave him another heart…and the Spirit of God came upon him, and he prophesied among them.”[xii]

At the beginning of Saul’s reign, Saul acknowledged his limitations, he kept his accomplishments and abilities in the proper perspective, and he appreciated other people and valued them. As you continue to read about King Saul, notice how his heart changed and what caused those changes. Also, compare his kingship to that of the Savior’s ministry.

Saul eventually became jealous and prideful as he began to succumb to the seductive nature of adulation and wealth, forgetting that the Lord gave him these blessings. When the Israelites praised David for his prowess in battle more than Saul’s own victory, Saul’s pride was hurt and, as we read, Saul pursued David to kill him – all because of pride. President Benson taught: “The proud make every man their adversary by pitting their intellects, opinions, works, wealth, talents, or any other worldly measuring device against others.”[xiii] These feelings changed Saul’s heart and he lost the new heart the Lord had given him.

In sharp contrast, our Heavenly King humbled himself as a little child during his sojourn on earth.[xiv] “Jesus ignored the intoxicating influence of the praise of the world….”[xv] Instead, his mission and purpose was to serve, rather than be served or receive the praise of men.

As we look to the Lord in every thought and feeling of our heart, we can retain our new heart and continue to be humble. Elder Bednar taught: “As you look to the Savior and trust in Him, you will be blessed with hope to overcome perplexity, with spiritual settledness to cut through commotion, with ears to hear and a heart to always remember the word of the Lord….”[xvi]

May we find joy in the Lord this week as we develop humility and retain a new heart.

[i] David Leonhardt, “Good Morning, Tonight, America begins an annual festival celebrating hubris,” The New York Times, The Morning, April 28, 2022.

[ii] Kevin J. Worthen, “Choose to be Humble, Brigham Young University Devotional, January 4, 2022.

[iii] Kevin J. Worthen, “Choose to be Humble, Brigham Young University Devotional, January 4, 2022.

[iv] Banker and Leary, “Hypo-Egoic,” 738; citing June Price Tangney, “Humility: Theoretical Perspectives, Empirical Findings and Directions for Future Research,” Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology 19, no. 1 (Spring 2000): 73–74; also citing June Price Tangney, “Humility,” in C. R. Snyder and Shane J. Lopez, eds., Handbook of Positive Psychology (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002), 413, as quoted in Kevin Worthen’s talk.

[v] JST Mark 11:10-12

[vi] 1 Samuel 9:21

[vii] 1Samuel 10:1

[viii] 1 Samuel 10:22

[ix] 1 Samuel 10:23

[x] Neal A. Maxwell, Swallowed Up in the Will of the Father,” Ensign, Nov. 1995, 24

[xi] 1 Samuel 10:6

[xii] 1 Samuel 10:9-10

[xiii] Ezra Taft Benson, “Beware of Pride,” 5.May 1989

[xiv] Matthew 18:1, 4

[xv] Athos M. Amorim, “Words of Jesus: Humility,” Ensign, March 2003, .50.

[xvi] David A. Bednar, “Look unto Me in Every Thought; Doubt Not, Fear Not,” BYU leadership retreat address, 16 April 2021.

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