Did King Saul commit the unpardonable sin ?
In two recent Q&As, we discussed the question whether Judas might have committed the unpardonable sin, dealing with the issue whether Judas is lost http://www.eternalgod.org/qapdf/10163, and whether he rejected his chance for salvation when he betrayed Christ http://www.eternalgod.org/qapdf/10136.
We concluded that Judas did not commit the unpardonable sin, mainly because he never received God’s Holy Spirit prior to his death. Please read or re-read our Q&As, which also explain the nature of the unpardonable sin.
One way to commit the unpardonable sin is to permanently refuse to repent, after one has obtained the knowledge of God through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. This kind of sinful conduct cannot be forgiven, as one refuses to repent and therefore cannot repent, and God only forgives us our sins upon repentance. Paul tells us in the letter to the Hebrews that there is no further sacrifice for us, when we fall away after we have been enlightened and tasted the powers of the world to come and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, as we would then require Jesus Christ to die for us again (compare Hebrews 6:4-8). But the Bible says that Christ died once and for all (Hebrews 9:28).
Based on this understanding, it will be difficult to dismiss the idea and escape the conclusion that King Saul might very well have committed the unpardonable sin—but of course, the final determination of that question is not to us, but to God only—the Judge of the living and the dead.
But notice what the Bible tells us happened to King Saul. Let us focus first, in contrast, on King David. We know that King David received God’s Holy Spirit, even though he committed many grievous and terrible sins. But we also read that upon realizing what he had done, he bitterly repented of those sins (although he still had to live with the consequences of his bad conduct).
Still, we read that God accepted his repentance, and He inspired the prophet Nathan to tell David that he would not die. David’s repentance was genuine, and he pleaded with God not to take His Holy Spirit away from him. We read how he prayed, in Psalm 51:10-11: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, And renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me away from Your presence, And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me.”
God listened to his prayer and did not take His Holy Spirit away from David, and so we are told that David will be in the first resurrection, and that he will be given a high rulership position in the Kingdom of God.
We read nothing remotely similar about the future of King Saul, even though we are told that God had initially decreed that Saul should be king over His people (1 Samuel 9:17), and we also read, that King Saul received God’s Holy Spirit. We read in 1 Samuel 10, beginning with verse 1:
“(Verse 1) Then Samuel took a flask of oil and poured it on his head, and kissed him and said: ‘Is it not because the LORD has anointed you commander over His inheritance?… (Verse 6) Then the Spirit of the LORD will come upon you, and you will prophesy with them and be turned into another man. (Verse 7) And let it be, when these signs come to you, that you do as the occasion demands; for God is with you…’ (Verse 9) So it was, when he had turned his back to go from Samuel, that God gave him another heart; and all those signs came to pass that day…”
However, it did not take long for Saul to rebel against God, because of fear and lack of trust in God. He offered sacrifices which were the distinct responsibilities of Samuel. We read in 1 Samuel 13:7-14:
“And some of the Hebrews crossed over the Jordan to the land of Gad and Gilead. As for Saul, he was still in Gilgal, and all the people followed him trembling. Then he waited seven days, according to the time set by Samuel. But Samuel did not come to Gilgal; and the people were scattered from him. So Saul said, ‘Bring a burnt offering and peace offerings here to me.’ And he offered the burnt offering. Now it happened, as soon as he had finished presenting the burnt offering, that Samuel came; and Saul went out to meet him, that he might greet him. And Samuel said, ‘What have you done?’ Saul said, ‘When I saw that the people were scattered from me, and that you did not come within the days appointed, and that the Philistines gathered together at Michmash, then I said, “The Philistines will now come down on me at Gilgal, and I have not made supplication to the LORD.” Therefore I felt compelled, and offered a burnt offering.’ And Samuel said to Saul, ‘You have done foolishly. You have not kept the commandment of the LORD your God, which He commanded you. For now the LORD would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. But now your kingdom shall not continue. The LORD has sought for Himself a man after His own heart, and the LORD has commanded him to be commander over His people, because you have not kept what the LORD commanded you.’”
Notice that Samuel said that if Saul had continued to obey God, his kingdom over Israel would have been established forever. But because of his disobedience, the kingdom would be given to another man—namely David.
Subsequently, King Saul failed again to obey God by carrying out the instruction to kill the king of the Amalekites, Agag (a cruel mass murderer), and all the animals. Saul was not in any way reluctant to kill per se; but he had different ideas when it came to King Agag. And so we read first about God’s specific instruction, in 1 Samuel 15:3:
“’Now go and attack Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and do not spare them. But kill both man and woman, infant and nursing child, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.’ ”
Now notice how Saul acted, in verses 7-11:
“And Saul attacked the Amalekites, from Havilah all the way to Shur, which is east of Egypt. He also took Agag king of the Amalekites alive, and utterly destroyed all the people with the edge of the sword. But Saul and the people spared Agag and the best of the sheep, the oxen, the fatlings, the lambs, and all that was good, and were unwilling to utterly destroy them. But everything despised and worthless, that they utterly destroyed. Now the word of the LORD came to Samuel, saying, ‘I greatly regret that I have set up Saul as king, for he has turned back from following Me, and has not performed My commandments.’ And it grieved Samuel, and he cried out to the LORD all night.”
When Samuel confronted Saul, he did not repent of his disobedience. His concern was not so much to please God, but to be honored before the people (verse 30). Saul had rejected the word of God, and so God rejected Saul from being king over Israel (verse 26). We read in verse 35 that “the LORD regretted that He had made Saul king over Israel.”
God was very displeased with Saul because he took a lot of things upon himself that he should not have. This is quite similar to some men today who are given a small measure of authority and who step way over that authority, beginning to “lord it over” others.
When God rejected Saul from being king over Israel, notice what else happened, in 1 Samuel 16:14: “But the Spirit of the LORD departed from Saul, and a distressing spirit from the LORD troubled him.”
When God’s Holy Spirit departed from Saul, God allowed that a demon would begin to trouble him. (For an explanation of the concept that an evil spirit “from the LORD” came upon Saul, please read our free booklet, “Angels, Demons and the Spirit World,” under “The World of Demons” and “A Demon from God?”). God saw to it that David would be brought to Saul to calm him down through his music, when Saul was troubled, but in due time, Saul became David’s enemy continuously and tried to kill him on numerous occasions. In his rage and hatred toward David, and suspecting conspiracy against him at every turn of the way, he even had the priests of God killed (compare 1 Samuel 22).
Finally, after Samuel had died and God refused to listen to wicked Saul and answer his prayers (as He did not see any genuine repentance in Saul), he practiced witchcraft and consulted a medium who spoke to him through a demon who pretended to be Samuel. The demon told him, through the witch, that he and his sons would die in battle (compare 1 Samuel 28:3-25), and that is what happened (1 Samuel 31:1-6). For a thorough explanation as to what happened during that séance, please read our free booklet, “Do We Have an Immortal Soul?”, under “Communication with the Dead?”
Throughout King Saul’s life, after the Holy Spirit had departed from him, we do not see any signs of genuine repentance or a desire to serve God. Even in his final days, we are told that he totally rejected God and engaged instead in witchcraft, apparently following the “guidance” of the evil spirit or demon which continuously troubled him.
1 Chronicles 10:13-14 summarizes the reasons for Saul’s fall with these telling words:
“So Saul died for his unfaithfulness which he had committed against the LORD, because he did not keep the word of the LORD, and also because he consulted a medium for guidance. But he did not inquire of the LORD [at least not in the right way; that is, with genuine repentance and a desire to obey God]; therefore He killed him, and turned his kingdom over to David the son of Jesse.”
We note that Samuel and David are both mentioned in Hebrews 11, as being among those who will be in the first resurrection, but Saul is not mentioned, as God had removed His mercy from him. There is no record in the Bible that he ever repented, nor is there even any indication given that he did so. We read in 2 Samuel 7:15-16 that God promised David that His mercy would not depart from David’s son Solomon, as He “took it from Saul,” and that David’s house and kingdom and throne would be established forever.
Based on the biblical record, it therefore appears that Saul has committed the unpardonable sin (but the final determination is not with us, but with God).
Lead Writers: Norbert Link and Rene Messier