It’s Certainly Not A Question of Height

Height can be a real disadvantage when you are trying to hide. My three year-old son has been discovering the joy of playing hide-and-seek lately. I hide and he finds me. He hides as I count, but then when I go to find him he jumps out and yells, “Here I am, you found me! Good job daddy!”HIDING-BEHIND-A-TREE1

It’s fun. But it will be even more fun when he stays hidden until I find him. His little body can fit in some tiny places. Mine…not so much.

It’s not that I’m a huge guy; I’m on the shorter side. It’s just that when I try to hide I usually have a foot or elbow sticking out from behind the object I’m trying to hide behind.

Height is a funny thing. It’s not so good for hide-and-seek, but people tend to automatically equate height with leadership ability.

In the fantastic HBO mini-series about John Adams, Benjamin Franklin’s character remarks to John Adams that George Washington is a natural born leader because he’s the tallest man in every room he enters.john-adams-1024

The point of this post isn’t to comment on the worth of Washington’s presidency, or any of our other tall presidents for that matter. But I think that this principle betrays a deeply engrained weakness in our natural human (lack of) ability to judge.

Recently I was listening to a RadioLab podcast that reported on research that shows that physically attractive people are far less likely to be convicted of crimes than physically unattractive people (with all other factors being equal). I’ve been thinking about that research quite a bit lately. It is both fascinating and tragic.

Humans make terrible judges.

The prophet Samuel played one of the more interesting roles in the entire Old Testament. He’s one of the pivotal hinges that the door of Israelite history swings on. Samuel was the final judge in Israel’s history (as in “judges” defined in the book of Judges) but he also set up the first two kings of Israel, both anointing them and leading them spiritually. Samuel transitioned Israel from its awkward adolescent stage into young adulthood, and did so with integrity and strength.

When Samuel had grown old he handed a portion of his leadership over to two of his sons. Unfortunately his sons were nothing like their dad. The story reveals that they took bribes and cared nothing for justice.

So the elders of Israel, seeing Samuel’s age and his sons’ lack of character, came to Samuel and asked for him to set up a king over Israel.

Understandably the elders of Israel were worried about the future. For several generations they had been trapped in the terrible cycle of sin, rebellion, and cultural depravity so vividly described in the book of Judges.

The enemies of Israel had been growing in strength of late. The Philistines were already operating in the Bronze Age with new weaponry and armor and the Israelites were falling hopelessly behind, stuck in the final stages of the Iron Age. As the Philistines and other regional kingdoms grew in strength, Israel remained hopelessly trapped in a quagmire of poor human leadership, lack of spiritual vision, and only loose national cooperation between the twelve tribes. [1]

Within this context the elders of Israel decided to take matters into their own hands. The common denominator among the surrounding nations that were growing in might was a stronger centralized government ruled by a king.

The elders approached the aging Samuel and gave him their demand, stating, “We want a king like these other nations.” (Presumably they thought or hoped Samuel would choose one of them to be the king).bk_crowncardTheKing_en_01 [2]

Samuel responded, basically saying, “Trust me. You don’t want a king like the other nations.”

Then the elders responded, “Actually we do.”

Samuel then took the conversation to God. God said to Samuel, “Don’t worry, they haven’t rejected you, it’s me they’ve rejected from being King over them. Give them exactly what they’re asking for, just make sure you thoroughly warn them what that means.”

So Samuel tells the elders that God will give them a king but that from now on all of Israel will be essentially slaves to that man.

“So be it,” the elders declare. [3]

So God gave them exactly what they thought they needed. A king. But not just a king…a king just like the other nations.

Saul is described as being both the tallest and most handsome man in all of Israel.

That means when people saw him they thought to themselves, “Now there is a man that could lead us.” He was tall – therefore, a natural born leader (as we learn from Benjamin Franklin), and he was handsome – therefore, guiltless of crime (as we learn from RadioLab).

Saul’s reign over Israel actually began pretty well. He appeared to be humble and God enabled him to have some initial military success.

Pretty soon the glamor of the new position wore off. The Philistines were none too pleased with the political developments in their neighboring rival nation and began a systematic sweep of Israel to find and destroy Saul and his fledgling government.

1 Samuel 13 describes the Philistine army like the sand on the shore while the Israelite army was but a few thousand men. The Philistines were well equipped for battle. So desperate was the Israelite army’s situation that only Saul and Jonathan were armed with actual weapons.

As the Philistine army continued their search for the new king, Saul found himself hiding in a cave in the wilderness.

I’ll let the Word tell take the story from here:

“He waited seven days, the time appointed by Samuel. But Samuel did not come to Gilgal, and the people were scattering from him.  So Saul said, “Bring the burnt offering here to me, and the peace offerings.” And he offered the burnt offering.  As soon as he had finished offering the burnt offering, behold, Samuel came. And Saul went out to meet him and greet him.  Samuel said, “What have you done?” And Saul said, “When I saw that the people were scattering from me, and that you did not come within the days appointed, and that the Philistines had mustered at Michmash, I said, ‘Now the Philistines will come down against me at Gilgal, and I have not sought the favor of the Lord.’ So I forced myself, and offered the burnt offering.”  And Samuel said to Saul, “You have done foolishly. You have not kept the command of the Lord your God, with which he commanded you. For then the Lord would have established your kingdom over Israel forever.  But now your kingdom shall not continue. The Lord has sought out a man after his own heart, and the Lord has commanded him to be prince over his people, because you have not kept what the Lord commanded you.” [4]

As Saul waited for Samuel He watched His already weak army begin to desert. He began to question God’s provision. His heart may have told Him to trust in God, but his eyes told him that his situation was desperate, bordering on critical.

And so Saul did what earthly kings (i.e. “like the other nations”) do. He took matters into his own hands. And he paid for it.

God sought a man after His own heart.  In the short term this was David. Eternally this is Jesus; the King like no other king.

As I reflect on the story of Saul hiding, several things come to mind including this famous passage from Isaiah 40.

“Why do you say, O Jacob,
and speak, O Israel,
My way is hidden from the Lord,
and my right is disregarded by my God”?
Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
his understanding is unsearchable.
He gives power to the faint,
and to him who has no might he increases strength.
Even youths shall faint and be weary,
and young men shall fall exhausted;
but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
they shall walk and not faint.” [5]

David would find himself hiding in many caves as his enemies pressed in around him.  But David didn’t take matters into his own hands. He waited. When it was impossible to wait another moment, he pressed into waiting past the point of rationality, choosing to trust in God’s Word.

Waiting isn’t passive. When we go to a restaurant the waiter actively serves us with an introduction, with a beverage, with a menu, etc.  [6]

Saul waited passively on God. He could have spent those seven days in the cave crying out to God, interceding for his people.

David did this.

Jesus does this. He is the King of kings and the Lord of lords. He doesn’t just have a heart after God’s heart. He is God’s heart incarnate, and He wins every battle.

* Major height disclaimer. [7]

1. Joyce G. Baldwin, 1&2 Samuel: An Introduction and Commentary, (Downers Grove, IL, Inter-Varsity Press, 1988): 106.

2. Ibid., 84.

3. This whole conversation takes place in 1 Samuel 8. Also, check out Deuteronomy 17:14-20. God reveals what will happen many generations before it actually does. Notice the things that God commands His future kings in Deuteronomy 17. Future kings systematically break each of these commands. Did the elders remember this passage when they came to Samuel?

4. 1 Samuel 13:8-14 (ESV)

5.  Isaiah 40:27-31 (ESV)

6.  Check out the article “A Spirituality of Waiting” by Henri Nouwen at

7.  I have absolutely nothing against tall people. Height is a neutral thing. God looks at the heart, not the height of a person. Many of my closest friends are quite tall. It is interesting that God choose a super tall, good-looking guy to help represent the principle that He is uninterested in having a king “like the other nations.” Jesus is King and He is nothing like anything else.

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