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." 1 Samuel 15:12
A monument is a structure built to memorialize greatness. It calls attention to the significant accomplishments of some person in a way that his or her importance is commemorated into posterity. Such a scenario may seem outrageous. But this is exactly what King Saul did for himself. In 1 Samuel 15:12, the prophet Samuel came early in the day looking for the king. To his astonishment, he was told that Saul had gone to Gilgal to “set up a monument for himself.”
It was an act of profound arrogance. In Saul’s mind, Israel was no longer a nation set apart to worship, honor and exalt God in the earth. Instead, Israel was a tribute to himself, to his abilities and great accomplishments. People would look at the monument and immediately think of Saul and what he did for Israel. It didn’t matter that Israel had been created by God as a testament to His own glory (Isaiah 46:13). For Saul, the nation of Israel and all that it had become was all about him and his greatness as a leader. Saul had turned his ministry into a monument.
James 4:6 warns us that “God resists the proud.” Simply stated, to be proud is to pick a fight with God. “My glory I will not give to another!” is the bold decree of God in Isaiah 42:8. When Saul raised that monument to himself, he was taking the glory that belonged to God. Pride picks a fight with God. It provokes God to defend His glory and put man in his place by humiliating him in failure and defeat. Proverbs 8:13 says the Lord hates “Pride and arrogance.” As well, Proverbs 16:18 says “Pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall.” This was a lesson Saul was about to learn. Nothing brings blessing from God like humility and nothing brings His judgment like pride.
Saul didn’t start out as a monument builder. When the call of God first came to Saul, he was a humble man. He was so contrite and filled with meekness that when chosen to become Israel’s king, he hid himself hoping to avoid the appointment (1 Samuel 10:22). At first, Saul was not ruled by ambition or blinded by pride. He understood his inadequacies and knew that in his own strength, he could never lead a nation.
However, after being crowned with authority and anointing, Saul started to change. The taste of success, the sense of power over thousands, the flattery attached to status and privilege all served to inflate his ego with a perverted sense of importance. Rather than seeing himself as a servant to the people, he believed the people existed to serve his great ambitions. Sadly, this humble farm boy who felt too inadequate to lead became so convinced of his own importance that he raised a monument to commemorate his “greatness” (1 Samuel 15:12).
In this we see a subtle danger that resides within gaining authority and anointing. It’s the tendency to think, “Because I am the leader, because I have the vision and the anointing, and because I am the one out in front, I am, therefore, the important one, the more significant one, the essential person in the organization, even more important than those who serve under me.” It is an unspoken, often subconscious feeling, but it often effects how we talk to and treat those around us. It is nothing more than pride. The dark, ugly, spiritual cancer we call pride. It spreads and metastasizes. It controls and corrupts and changes us into tyrants denying the humility of servanthood and turning our ministry into a monument to show off our own greatness.
But is Saul really that different from any of us? Don’t most of us start out in humility only to have our character corrupted by success and promotion? Don’t many of us fall to the subtle entitlements of pride?
Remember how easy it was to be humble when you were the new guy? Remember what it was like when you were just starting out in ministry? More than likely, you were willing to do anything. You could take orders, serve anyone, and do what you were told to do no matter how humiliating and demeaning it might seem to be.
But like Saul, after success sets in and “the new guy” gets promoted, after we gain authority and command over others, it becomes harder for us to take orders and do lowly tasks. Soon we start “realizing” how special and important we are. And now, those menial, insignificant things we used to do unto the Lord are somehow “beneath” us. Sweep the floor? Clean bathrooms? Carry someone’s bags? Those are for other people, less important than us. Now we have staff that does the sweeping and an entourage to carry our bags. As “Anointed Men of God” with powerful ministries, we think we need only to be concerned about those tasks that are “worthy” of our precious time and attention. And so begins the building of our monuments.
Humility is defined as an unassuming or moderate estimation of one’s abilities or achievements in relationship to one’s own importance. Paul called it a “lowliness of mind” that enables one to “esteem others better than himself” and “not think of himself more highly than he ought to think” (Philippians 2:3, Romans 12:3).
Indeed humility is one of the most important virtues for it demonstrates not only one’s ability to overcome prideful impulses, but also his inner dependence on God. For this reason God has promised to “give grace to the humble” and “lift him up” (James 4:6, 10).
Let us cast off the spirit of King Saul. Let us tear down these monuments we have built to our own greatness and seek rather to put all focus, all attention and all glory on the King of Kings and Lord of our lives. “Not unto us, O LORD, not unto us, but to Your name give glory, because of Your mercy, because of Your truth” (Psalm 115:1).