Saul vs. David: The heart of man vs. the heart of God


Recently while reading and teaching a small youth group lesson on Saul’s life, specifically his disobedience and the consequences he faced, God revealed a passage of truth to me in His Word.  As you may recall (and from a few posts I’ve made), Saul was Israel’s first king, anointed by Samuel, chosen by God.  I’ve discussed the warnings that God passed on through Samuel to the Israelites about their demands for a king and how they were not only rejecting Samuel, but ultimately rejecting God as their king.

For this lesson, we’ll pick up the story where Saul was about to engage in battle with the Philistines after Jonathon had defeated a garrison of Philistine troops in Geba.  I Samuel 13:3 As the tensions mounted and the Philistine troops were amassed, the Israelites found themselves cowering in caves and holes, those with Saul at Gilgal were likewise fearful.  I Samuel 13:6-7

Samuel had instructed Saul to wait seven days before taking any actions.  Because of his impatience, Saul decided to do what he thought best and offer a sacrifice to God, despite the fact that it was in direct contradiction with what God had commanded him.  In verse I Samuel 13:12 NKJV we hear Saul’s explanation for his disobedience, “Therefore I felt compelled,  and offered a burnt offering.”  Therefore I felt compelled….  Think about this for a second, we use this same excuse only worded differently when we sin.  Why did you do that?  Because I felt like it, because it felt good to me, because I wanted to, because I felt compelled, therefore I felt compelled.  This is the sinful nature of man’s heart.  To do what it is that we want to do, when we want to do, no matter the consequences.  Just as the Bible says in Judges 21:25b, “everyone did what was right in his own eyes” and Saul was a perfect and fitting example of this point.  This is the world in which we live in today.

But there is hope.  For after Saul came Israel’s great king.  After Saul came a man after God’s own heart. I Samuel 13:14 After Saul came King David.  David was also chosen by God and anointed by Samuel.  But instead of cowering when it came time to assume the throne, David waited on the Lord.  Just like Saul, David sinned, but his reaction was far greater.  With Saul, we learned that he sinned because he felt like it.  With David, we learn what it means to have heartfelt remorse, to pour out ones soul over the pain that we’ve caused our heavenly Father.

God used Nathan to “wake” David up from his sinful slumber.  After Nathan’s rebuke, David’s immediate response was, “I have sinned against the Lord.” II Samuel 12:13 Notice the difference when confronted by their sins. Saul said to Samuel that he felt compelled to do it.  David said to Nathan that he sinned against the Lord.  This is what is meant by being a “man after God’s own heart.”  David recognized his sin and through his heartfelt change, desired to become a better man in the Lord each day.  In fact we can read about his changes and about his remorse throughout the Psalms of David.  Take Psalm 25 for example:

To You, O LORD, I lift up my soul.
2 O my God, I trust in You;
Let me not be ashamed;
Let not my enemies triumph over me.
3 Indeed, let no one who waits on You be ashamed;
Let those be ashamed who deal treacherously without cause.

4 Show me Your ways, O LORD;
Teach me Your paths.
5 Lead me in Your truth and teach me,
For You are the God of my salvation;
On You I wait all the day.

6 Remember, O LORD, Your tender mercies and Your lovingkindnesses,
For they are from of old.
7 Do not remember the sins of my youth, nor my transgressions;
According to Your mercy remember me,
For Your goodness’ sake, O LORD.

8 Good and upright is the LORD;
Therefore He teaches sinners in the way.
9 The humble He guides in justice,
And the humble He teaches His way.
10 All the paths of the LORD are mercy and truth,
To such as keep His covenant and His testimonies.
11 For Your name’s sake, O LORD,
Pardon my iniquity, for it is great.

12 Who is the man that fears the LORD?
Him shall He teach in the way He chooses.
13 He himself shall dwell in prosperity,
And his descendants shall inherit the earth.
14 The secret of the LORD is with those who fear Him,
And He will show them His covenant.
15 My eyes are ever toward the LORD,
For He shall pluck my feet out of the net.

16 Turn Yourself to me, and have mercy on me,
For I am desolate and afflicted.
17 The troubles of my heart have enlarged;
Bring me out of my distresses!
18 Look on my affliction and my pain,
And forgive all my sins.
19 Consider my enemies, for they are many;
And they hate me with cruel hatred.
20 Keep my soul, and deliver me;
Let me not be ashamed, for I put my trust in You.
21 Let integrity and uprightness preserve me,
For I wait for You.

22 Redeem Israel, O God,
Out of all their troubles!

A far cry from, “Therefore I felt compelled.”  There are far too many people today with the heart of Saul and too few with the heart of David.  Whose heart represents yours?  One who callously shrugs off their sins, with a passing repentance of words?  Or the heart of the Lord, whose heartfelt remorse and repentance leads to a life change and a desire to live more like Christ each day?

About the author

Christian saved by grace through faith.


  1. I was listening to TD Jakes and he made a passing story about Saul being the morally “better” person but David was spiritually “better”… In the end, David was more blessed than Saul… and then I googled “Saul vs. David”, and I stumbled upon your blog. And then you know “1+1 =2” kind of moment just happened. Thanks!

  2. Thanks for the comment JP. I think there could be a lot of truth to those statements. Of course, in the end we saw how unfaithful Saul’s heart really was and genuine faithfulness of David’s heart.

    As a side note, I know that Bishop Jakes has a lot of appeal, given his style and content, but please use discernment when listening to him. He has yet to renounce his belief in modalism, the belief that there is no real trinity, but instead God operates in different “modes”, i.e. the Father, became the Son, became the Spirit. Additionally, he has been closely linked with “prosperity gospel”. I don’t want that to discourage the truths you may have found in this particular sermon, but simply to point out some dangerous teachings that he has yet to renounce.

    In Christ Alone,

  3. Saul got a raw deal. He didn’t want to be King to begin with – God forced it on him.
    In 1 Sam 10:7, Samuel tells Saul to do “as occasion serves him, since God was with him.”
    This means Saul was to do what HE thought was right – God was with him. When you say he felt compelled – that seems to fit within Samuel’s instructions.

    In 1 Sam 10:8 Samuel tells Saul to wait seven days.
    In 1 Sam 13:8 Samuel was late – Saul waited seven days – then made a sacrifice – to God! Waiting 7 days does not seem impatient at all. We hear people say “If Saul had only waited one more hour. . .”

    Samuel was the one who was under obligation to be on time – maybe if Samuel had only hurried a little bit.

    In 1 Sam 13:13 Saul violated a command the Lord had given him – but no reference as to what the command was – maybe God had communicated privately with Saul or Samuel told him something that isn’t relayed to the reader. Some say that only the priest was to give a burnt offering – but in 2 Samuel 6:13 – David gives a burnt offering. He does not repent for that nor is he chastised by God.

    In 1 Sam 13:14 Samuel didn’t even have to think about it or communicate with God – Samuel told Saul he was finished.
    Either Samuel knows God’s mind or God had communicated with Samuel before he lollygagged his way to Gilgal.

    Think about that – God’s representative tells Saul he is finished and yet Saul still tries to “make up” with God, but God didn’t let him. Neither gave him a chance to be remorseful – as God did with David.

    Something seems fishy – God didn’t want Saul for some reason and goes out of his way to badger him for the rest of Saul’s life, even so far as sending evil spirits to torment him.
    Commentators often say that Saul’s treatment of Amalek is what sealed his fate – but God had abandoned Saul long before this.

    I feel sorry for Saul.

    I understand the point of your story – but it doesn’t fit with the facts of the narrative.

    To me, it doesn’t seem as if David ever learned his lesson or ever had his heart with God. In 1 Kings 2, ON HIS DEATHBED, David tells Solomon to be sure to kill Shimei, even though David made a solemn promise in the name of the Lord not to have him killed.

  4. Thanks for the thought-provoking comments. Would I be correct in saying you think that Saul was treated unfairly? We should be reminded that it is God who chooses Whom He wills to accomplish What He wills. It would seem at no point, according to Romans 9,, does man have a ground or standing before God to shake our fists and say why did you make me like this. Afterall, He is the Potter and we are but clay. Or perhaps it was unfair for Job to be treated the way he was? I don’t think that’s his own conclusion.

    Regarding Saul, before we feel too much empathy for him, let’s be reminded that he tried to kill David and his own son on multiple occasions. The people were warned by Samuel regarding the wicked rule of Saul in 1 Samuel 8:10-18. I suppose in some sense we should feel empathy for those who have no regard for the commands of God and it should serve as a reminder for us that God takes obedience seriously.

    I think the message of this post is clear. The difference between Saul and David can be an analogy for those who have a new heart and those who don’t. Both will still sin, but the one who has been born again, i.e. the man after God’s own heart, will have true repentance. Perhaps for reminder of how David felt regarding his sin, Psalm 51 should be consulted.

    God bless!

  5. Hi Lorna,

    I’m not sure I understand your question, but if our chief desire is to please God, then it will not matter whether that pleases people. Keeping in mind of course that God has desired that we treat others as we would want to be treated though we do not refrain from speaking the truth in love to them, i.e. exhorting them to turn from sin and to Christ.


  6. Because David still sins. Even the most mature believers are not without sin. The mark of maturity though is sensitivity to sin and recognition of it, followed by repentance when convicted by the Holy Spirit. That’s the characteristics that David displayed. Isn’t it an amazing display of grace that God, in Christ forgives those who have repented and turned to Him in faith of not only their past sins, but their future ones as well.

    The real concern would have been if David had not been sorrow at all, or had shown a surficial worldly sorrow, i.e. Saul.


  7. As I read through the first book of Samuel, it is hard not to feel a little sorry for Saul, but we have to remember, from the beginning of the book God reminds Samuel and the reader that God sees the heart. Saul was “compelled” to do things outside of God’s plan because of his fear of the people he was leading. When repenting, he clearly would not accept the consequences and wanted Samuel to go with him so the people wouldn’t leave him. He knew the kingdom was to be taken away from him, but he insisted on trying to kill David to hold the consequence off. He may not have wanted to step into the calling God had for him (to be king) but he loved ruling once he got there (maybe a little too much). Saul loved ruling to the point of obsessively trying to kill his most trusted leader (David) and even wanting to kill his oldest son, Jonathan.
    When David was offered a consequence (taking the life of his child) he stopped mourning once the child had died, knowing it was God’s will. When he took an unlawful census David told the prophet to have God choose the consequence for him. In repenting David didn’t seem to hide his shame and made it clear he had sinned against God. Saul’s moments of repentance seem quite different throughout the history.
    I don’t want to bash on Saul too much, but I think the book makes their differences pretty clear.

  8. My contribution, pleasing man is not a sin, if such pleasing is not against God’s will, but pleasing man against God’s will is a great sin against God, is like you are choosing man over God and I believe you know what that means to prefer creature to creator.May Almighty God open our hearts of understanding.

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