Saul was the first king of Israel. He “was thirty years old when he became king, and he reigned forty-two years over Israel” (1 Samuel 13:1). He was chosen to be king because he was “an impressive young man. There was no one more impressive among the Israelites than he. He stood a head taller than anyone else” (1 Samuel 9:2). “When Saul assumed the kingship over Israel, he fought against all his enemies in every direction: against Moab, the Ammonites, Edom, the kings of Zobah, and the Philistines. Wherever he turned, he caused havoc. He fought bravely, defeated the Amalekites, and rescued Israel from those who plundered them” (1 Samuel 14:47–48).
A thousand years later, a baby boy was born to a Jewish family in Tarsus of Cilicia (Acts 22:3). They named him Saul. It was a strong name, a royal name, a Jewish name. I’m certain, Saul was proud of his name.
When Saul was just a lad, the family moved to Jerusalem where Saul was educated in the influential seminary of “Gamaliel according to the strictness of our ancestral law” (Acts 22:3). I am certain that Saul beamed with pride when Gamaliel taught Jewish history concerning the reign and rule of the original Saul, Israel’s first king.
After graduation, Saul became a Jewish Zealot, determined to stamp out any opposition to his beloved Jewish tradition. Jesus of Nazareth was enemy number one! “Saul ... was ravaging the church. He would enter house after house, drag off men and women, and put them in prison” (Acts 8:3). “Saul was still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord. He went to the high priest and requested letters from him to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any men or women who belonged to the Way, he might bring them as prisoners to Jerusalem.” That’s when everything changed. “As he traveled and was nearing Damascus, a light from heaven suddenly flashed around him. Falling to the ground, he heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ ” (Acts 9:1–4).
Saul was forever transformed by the redeeming power and presence of Jesus, the Christ, the victor over death and the grave. Just as he had vehemently opposed Jesus, now he passionately preached Jesus! Quickly, Saul grew into a strong and able leader and teacher in the church. Serving at the church in Antioch, Barnabas and Saul were commissioned as the first international missionaries.
While on that first missionary journey, Saul was “called Paul” (Acts 13:9). The Book of Acts doesn’t explain why his name was changed, but he was never again referred to as Saul. It’s simply stated as a fact. The proud, powerful and royal Saul became Paul, a Greek name meaning “little.”
Later, Paul wrote, “he (Jesus) said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is perfected in weakness.’ Therefore, I will most gladly boast all the more about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may reside in me. So I take pleasure in weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and in difficulties, for the sake of Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9–10).
Saul, the proud, became Paul, the humble. We can learn from his example.
All Scripture quotations, except as otherwise noted, are from
Holman Bible Publishers’ Christian Standard Bible.