So [Saul] demanded, “Bring me the burnt offering and the peace offerings!” And Saul sacrificed the burnt offering himself. 1 Samuel 13:9 (NLT)
As anyone who reads my blog for any length of time knows, my wife Wendy and I are big baseball fans. In particular, we are fans of the Chicago Cubs. One of the hot topics this off season for our beloved team is the play of young short stop, Starlin Castro. A few years ago Castro was brought up to the major leagues when he was still a teenager. He hit a home run in his first major league at bat and set a major league record of six runs batted in in his first major league game. His rookie year showed all sorts of promise.
Fast forward a few years and everyone in Cub’s nation is wondering what happened to the young phenom. His defensive play is atrocious, his concentration in the field is sometimes non-existent, and the tremendous talent at the plate has waned to the point you could call him average, at best.
How quickly things change. It’s tough to be consistent in the spotlight. Case-in-point: King Saul. After an initially grand start to his monarchy (which we observed yesterday), King Saul quickly begins to reveal some classic leadership blunders. The rookie king came out of the gate with some huge wins against the national rival Philistines. Saul had to feel on top of the world. He was young. He was king. He was batting a thousand and feeling invincible. Everyone faces adversary, however. And it wasn’t long before the young leader found himself behind in the count in the bottom of the ninth and staring at a bitter defeat. Saul panicked.
Those who are not avid followers of baseball may miss a lot that happens in a game. To the uneducated, the game moves slowly and there are huge periods of time when it seems nothing is happening. But, the game of baseball is constantly in motion. There is a continuous chess match going on between managers. There is psychological warfare happening between pitcher and hitter. There are secret signs being delivered constantly between the coach and the hitter, the catcher and the pitcher, the dugout and the fielders and runners. Critical mistakes are sometimes made because a player missed or ignored a sign from his manger that you’ll never see on television. Games are won and lost by seemingly insignificant mistakes which, innings later, lead to defeat.
When reading the ancient stories of the Old Testament, there is a very similar parallel. For those who are unaware of Old Testament history, it is easy to miss the hidden customs and contexts of historic, cultural and spiritual significance. To the casual 21st century reader, it seems of little consequence that King Saul called for the offerings and burnt them himself. On the surface, it appears that the rookie king is taking initiative, doing what needs to be done, and honoring God. In the context of God’s story, however, Saul just blew it – big time. He ignored the coach’s sign and foolishly attempted to steal home.
The Old Testament rule book for the nation of Israel was the law of Moses which is contained largely in the book of Leviticus. The major league rules of Saul’s day were very specific. Only the prescribed priests from the tribe of Levi were allowed to offer sacrifices. Period. When Saul ignores the law and offers the sacrifice himself it is as clear cut as if Starlin Castro punched the umpire an the face because he didn’t like being called out at second base. There is no gray area. No instant replay is necessary. Immediate ejection.
I have learned along the journey that leadership is not just about taking initiative and decisive action. There are times when a leader is required to sit back, bite his or her tongue, and let others do their job – even if others don’t do them the way we’d like them done or as capably as you think you could do it yourself. Sometimes leadership requires you to choose not to swing. You take a few pitches and work the count even though your entire being wants to swing for the fences. Sometimes you have to hold yourself in check, be patient, and let others do their jobs. By his refusal to wait for Samuel, who as priest was the position player designated to make the offerings, Saul showed his pride, arrogance, foolishness, and contempt for God’s rule book. It was more than a simple rookie mistake. Saul broke the rules in a big way and dishonored the game. The commissioner quickly bans Saul from ever making the hall of fame.
Today, I’m thinking about my own leadership. Where am I acting on my own when I should be letting others do their jobs? How might I be displaying impatience? Where am I displaying an “I’m the only one who can do this job” attitude? In what areas do I secretly believe I am irreplaceable?
God, help me learn from Saul’s mistakes. Help me to lead in such a way that I elevate others and honor you.