Our Disappointments


By J.P. Thackway

And the LORD said unto Samuel, How long wilt thou mourn for Saul, seeing I have rejected him from reigning over Israel? 1 Samuel 16:1

Because of his rebellion and disobedience, Saul lost the throne of Israel. The Lord will give it to another, and begin a new dynasty of kings. We know this will be David and his line, all the way down to the coming of Christ (Luke 2:4). For Samuel, however, this was a desperate disappointment.

The Lord spoke the words of our text to the prophet when he was back in Ramah, away from public duties. Perhaps he had returned to the sons of the prophets, instructing them. Matthew Henry in his Commentary reckoned he would find more satisfaction in prophets than in princes!


Samuel had not got over the rejection of Saul, “How long wilt thou mourn for Saul?” The Lord gently rebukes him, but also assures him that there is better to come, “fill thine horn with oil, and go, I will send thee to Jesse the Beth-lehemite: for I have provided me a king among his sons.”

In the Lord’s dealings with Samuel we have some lessons concerning disappointment – how to view it, and how to overcome it. Disappointment is a fact of life in a fallen world. Charlotte Brontë wrote, doubtless from personal experience, “Life is so constructed, that the event does not, cannot, will not, match the expectation.”


We do not refer, of course, to heaven. There are no disappointments there. We can say, in the prayer of David, “As for me, I will behold thy face in righteousness: I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with thy likeness” (Psalm 17:15). In heaven we will exclaim, “until I came, and mine eyes had seen it: and, behold, the half was not told me” (1 Kings 10:7). In the light of all our disappointed hopes we can feelingly say, “Heaven will make amends for all.”

The Lord

Neither do we for a moment imagine we will find any disappointment in the Lord. What He is to us goes beyond infinite beauty, all-surpassing excellence, never-failing love and goodness. “They cried unto thee, and were delivered: they trusted in thee, and were not confounded” (Psalm 22:5). As the Puritan Alexander Grosse put it, “When Christ reveals Himself there is satisfaction in the slenderest portion, and without Christ there is emptiness in the greatest fulness.”

This life

It is in this life that we meet disappointments. It may be 2019 was a year when events fell short of expectations. Hopeful signs of someone’s conversion has ended fruitless. A fellow Christian has turned against you. Setbacks and failures are your circumstances. Devoted labour for the Lord appears unblessed. It may be that already in 2020 something has happened to let you down. If we dwell on these, like Samuel over Saul, it will do us no good and will bring us even further into sadness and self-pity.

Our text assures us there is a providence is every disappointment, whatever it is. And we may yet see the Lord making it up to us. We can learn lessons from Samuel’s disappointment, and the Lord’s gracious dealings with him to bring him out of it. Samuel witnessed Saul’s failure, but he went on to anoint David, who was the best king Israel had. Concerning disappointment, consider:


“How long wilt thou mourn for Saul?” It is clear that Samuel loved Saul like a father. He had great hopes for him. This was gracious of the prophet, given the people of Israel rejected him and demanded a king instead. To begin with, Samuel’s hopes for Saul seemed justified and would be realised.

1] Saul had humility and yet zeal for God.

These qualities are summed up when Samuel reminded Saul, “When thou wast little in thine own sight, wast thou not made the head of the tribes of Israel, and the LORD anointed thee king over Israel?” (1 Samuel 15:17). “Before honour is humility” (Proverbs 15:33) and some telling examples appear in Saul. Being told that he will be king, he commendably exclaims, “Am not I a Benjamite, of the smallest of the tribes of Israel? and my family the least of all the families of the tribe of Benjamin? wherefore then speakest thou so to me?” (1 Samuel 9:21; see also 10:22,27).

Saul’s zeal blazes when he learns of the Ammonites’ humiliating threat to the men of Jabesh (11:6). The Spirit of God empowers him, and he gathers an army to go to their rescue, and the enemy is routed (11:11). His generosity of spirit comes with equal zeal in refusing to have his detractors put to death, “There shall not a man be put to death this day: for to day the LORD hath wrought salvation in Israel” (11:13).

All this seemed to bode well for Saul and Israel. The joint virtues of humility and zeal are rare. There is a kind of humility that shrinks from venturing in the Lord’s service and becomes an excuse. Moses sought refuge here (Exodus 3:11), as did Gideon and Jeremiah (Judges 6:15; Jeremiah 1:6). But when that humility drives us to the Lord for His promised sufficiency, then it is a sanctified grace and, “when I am weak, then am I strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10).

There is also a zeal that can forget humility. Any triumph, and self-congratulation can raise its ugly head. Hezekiah was tested on this point. Zealous for reformation, and granted fifteen more years, the congratulatory visit from Babylonian ambassadors was enough for his heart to be “lifted up with pride” (2 Chronicles 32:25). However, King Saul combined humility and zeal in their places, and promised much.

2] Tragically, Saul became rebellious and disobedient.

At his best, he lasted for “two years” (1 Samuel 13:1). The subsequent chapters in 1 Samuel chronicle his presumptuousness, devious disobedience, jealousy of David and relentless persecution, the murder of the priests of Nob, his angry attempts upon his son Jonathan, resorting to the witch of Endor, and in the end his suicide. The higher a man rises in profession and promise the further he falls in backsliding and apostasy. Saul stands as a warning: “Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12). The best way never to fall is ever to fear.

3] He clearly was never converted.

“Another heart” (1 Samuel 10:9) is not the same as “a new heart” (Ezekiel 36:26). Saul had gifts and common grace that equipped him for kingship, but not regeneration and a saving relationship with God. Such people cannot last in their promising qualities. It is the test of time. But it is a hard disappointment when such professors come to nothing. Christian parents have this heartache over their unconverted children, ministers in the hopeful signs that vanish in anxious souls, Sunday School teachers with little children that promised fair, those whom we witness to but remain unsaved. If the heart is not changed, the life and the future course can never change. We, too, “mourn” for those who come to no more than Saul did.

4] Maybe Samuel set too much store by Saul.

“Wilt thou mourn for Saul?” He had “kissed” Saul at his anointing (1 Samuel 10:1), showed fatherly affection, and set much store by him. How bitter is the disappointment that hoped for great things from a hypocrite and apostate! Only the Lord can fulfil our hopes of the best in others. Matthew Henry wisely wrote, “We cannot expect too little from man nor too much from God.”


“How long wilt thou mourn for Saul, seeing I have rejected him from reigning over Israel?” There is a gentle rebuke in the Lord’s words. It is not wrong, of course, to grieve over something like this; it is overmuch grieving that is wrong: “how long wilt thou mourn.” Maybe Samuel was also praying for Saul’s recovery and reinstatement. Why is too much sorrow over disappointment wrong?

1] It reflects unfavourably upon the Lord.

It is certainly right to mourn over others’ sins (Psalm 119:136). However, if we are inconsolable over a certain individual, what are we saying about the Lord’s sovereign dispensations? That He should not have let it to be like this? That, in this instance, He should have made Saul to be as David was? But it was not so, and the difference between Saul and David was divinely-meant to be. There comes a time when we must bow to the sovereign hand and loving heart of God.

2] It flies in the face of Providence.

“I have rejected him from being king.” This was for just and wise reasons – the Lord never acts in any other way. Yet to grieve too much is to call this into question. Allowing disappointment to upset and overwhelm us is mild rebellion against the God we love. We are not reconciled to His ways. Do we know better than the Lord? Far better to heed Job’s words, “For he performeth the thing that is appointed for me: and many such things are with him” (Job 23:14).

3] Samuel imagines that God can only work by Saul.

“Mourn for Saul.” The prophet’s distress was partly from concern for Israel’s future. However, could Saul be the only king? Is this the only provision the Lord can make? Perhaps Samuel fears this is a loss that cannot be made up. But this is to limit the Almighty, who “is the judge: he putteth down one, and setteth up another” (Psalm 75:7).

4] This is something decreed by God.

The prophesy of Jacob in Genesis 49:10 runs, “The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be.” This tells us that the line of kings (“sceptre”) leading to the Messiah (“Shiloh”) will be of the tribe of “Judah.” This is David’s tribe; Saul belonged to the tribe of Benjamin. Christ must come of David’s line (Judah); therefore, Saul must fail, and David succeed him. Saul was the people’s choice rather than God’s ideal and could never last. Although Saul was responsible for his disobedience and rejection, yet his fall and replacement is ordained by God to fulfil His purpose.

Here we have an example of human responsibility and divine sovereignty.

The relationship between the two is a mystery to us, but is a fact of divine revelation. They are not antagonistic to each other nor conflicting. The Bible sees them as complementary and harmonious. As Spurgeon put it, “I do not need to reconcile divine sovereignty and human responsibility because I do not need to reconcile friends.” 

A further example is the role of Judas Iscariot and our Lord. Judas was to be the betrayer in prophecy, “Yea, mine own familiar friend, in whom I trusted, which did eat of my bread, hath lifted up his heel against me” (Psalm 41:9 cp John 13:18); and in destiny, “the son of perdition” (John 17:12). Yet, he was a free agent, who of his own volition coveted money and betrayed the Lord for thirty pieces of silver. He is fully responsible for his actions, although those actions are ordained by the Most High.

Therefore, for Samuel, his disappointment was meant to be and had to be. We must see our every disappointment in this light. If we do this, it helps us. It is not failure or debacle or things going to pieces. Behind it all the Lord is working out His higher purpose and wider plan. It is the sovereignty of a kind, all-wise heavenly Father who knows the end from the beginning and is working His purpose out to perfection.


“Fill thine horn with oil, and go, I will send thee to Jesse the Beth-lehemite: for I have provided me a king among his sons.” In these words,

1] The Lord assures Samuel that He has something better than Saul.

We can place two parts of our text together: “I have rejected … I have provided.” God only raises a disappointment to give us something better to make up for it. We must believe this, and not allow disappointment to hold us back. In this sense, we can be like Paul, “this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before” (Philippians 3:13).

2] Samuel can move on.

“Fill thine horn with oil, and go, etc.” There is the next thing now. Here is comfort in the continuing purposes of God. David is going to be better than Saul could ever be. The golden age of Israel is coming. And God’s purposes will run all the way down to the coming of His Son in the fulness of time. There is always the next time – and who knows what more will come of what the Lord does? Do not see your disappointments as wholly negative. They are divinely positive. This is captured in a helpful poem by Laura Sophia Soole in 1893. Let us go into 2020 with this blessed assurance.

DISAPPOINTMENT — His appointment

Change one letter, then I see
That the thwarting of my purpose
Is God’s better choice for me.
His appointment must be blessing
Though it may come in disguise;
For the end from the beginning
Open to His wisdom lies.

“Disappointment — His appointment;”
Whose? The Lord who loves me best,
Understands and knows me fully,
Who my faith and love would test.
For, like loving earthly parents,
He rejoices when He knows
That His child accepts unquestioned
All that from His wisdom flows.

“Disappointment — His appointment;”
“No good thing will He withhold;”
From denials oft we gather
Treasures of His love untold.
Well He knows each broken purpose
Leads to fuller, deeper trust,
And the end of all His dealings
Proves our God is wise and just.

“Disappointment — His appointment;”
Lord, I take it then as such,
Like the clay in hands of potter,
Yielding wholly to Thy touch.
All my life’s plan is Thy moulding,
Not one single choice be mine;
Let me answer unrepining,
Father, “Not my will, but Thine.”

“Disappointment — His appointment;”
Change the letter, then, dear friend,
Take in cheerful acquiescence
All Thy Father’s love may send;
Soon will faith be lost in vision,
Then in glory thou shalt see
“His appointment”, and that only,
Was the right way Home for thee.

by Rev. John Thackway, Pastor of Holywell Evangelical Church

Used with kind permission of the author

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