Q. How Was Saul Wrong In Fighting The Philistines?
I am really having a hard time understanding what Saul did wrong with regards to fighting the Philistines. On the one hand, God gave him the “go ahead” to attack the Philistines, BUT…before he was to wage this assault he was instructed to wait 7 days at Gilgal for specific instructions from Samuel, and Samuel was late...so Saul did what he had to do, it seems. Were Samuel’s instructions not in-line with God’s ? Was Samuel not on the same page with God. I can see how Saul was confused. Confusion causes fear. Or was it more because the King was not to act as a priest(Samuel) and offer a burnt offering? God said that Saul was free to commence war, was he not also free NOT to commence war if he chose?
Samuel’s instructions to Saul in 1 Samuel 10:8 are clear. Saul is to wait for Samuel in Gilgal for seven days, until he comes. It was the priest who should offer sacrifices, not Saul, but beyond this, Saul was to wait for Samuel to come so that he could give him instructions about what he should do.
There was a two-fold foolishness on Saul’s part, and Samuel’s rebuke for this makes it clear that Saul was wrong. His later disobedience in chapter 15 becomes additional evidence that he is not one to be Israel’s king.
Saul’s foolishness is set beside Jonathan’s faith in the passage between Samuel’s instructions to Saul and Samuel’s later rebuke of Saul. It is clear that Jonathan responded very differently to the size and strength of the Philistine forces. He trusted God to bring the victory:
6 Then Jonathan said to the young man who was carrying his armor, “Come and let us cross over to the garrison of these uncircumcised; perhaps the LORD will work for us, for the LORD is not restrained to save by many or by few.” (1 Sam. 14:6 NAU)
Saul acted out of fear, and on impulse. He called for the priest, to see what God wanted him to do, and then chose to dismiss him and act on his own wisdom (or lack of it):
16 Now Saul’s watchmen in Gibeah of Benjamin looked, and behold, the multitude melted away; and they went here and there. 17 Saul said to the people who were with him, “Number now and see who has gone from us.” And when they had numbered, behold, Jonathan and his armor bearer were not there. 18 Then Saul said to Ahijah, “Bring the ark of God here.” For the ark of God was at that time with the sons of Israel. 19 While Saul talked to the priest, the commotion in the camp of the Philistines continued and increased; so Saul said to the priest, “Withdraw your hand.” 20 Then Saul and all the people who were with him rallied and came to the battle; and behold, every man’s sword was against his fellow, and there was very great confusion. 21 Now the Hebrews who were with the Philistines previously, who went up with them all around in the camp, even they also turned to be with the Israelites who were with Saul and Jonathan. (1 Sam. 14:16-21 NAU)
Saul’s foolishness is further evidenced by his command that no one eat until they gained the victory over the Philistines:
24 Now the men of Israel were hard-pressed on that day, for Saul had put the people under oath, saying, “Cursed be the man who eats food before evening, and until I have avenged myself on my enemies.” So none of the people tasted food. 25 All the people of the land entered the forest, and there was honey on the ground. 26 When the people entered the forest, behold, there was a flow of honey; but no man put his hand to his mouth, for the people feared the oath. 27 But Jonathan had not heard when his father put the people under oath; therefore, he put out the end of the staff that was in his hand and dipped it in the honeycomb, and put his hand to his mouth, and his eyes brightened. 28 Then one of the people said, “Your father strictly put the people under oath, saying, ‘Cursed be the man who eats food today.’” And the people were weary. 29 Then Jonathan said, “My father has troubled the land. See now, how my eyes have brightened because I tasted a little of this honey. 30 “How much more, if only the people had eaten freely today of the spoil of their enemies which they found! For now the slaughter among the Philistines has not been great.” (1 Sam. 14:24-30 NAU)
Saul’s order not to eat resulted in his men sinning by eating meat without pouring out the blood (1 Samuel 14:32). Notice Saul’s foolishness and disregard for God’s guidance after this:
Then Saul said, “Let us go down after the Philistines by night and take spoil among them until the morning light, and let us not leave a man of them.” And they said, “Do whatever seems good to you.” So the priest said, “Let us draw near to God here.” 37 And Saul inquired of God, “Shall I go down after the Philistines? Wilt Thou give them into the hand of Israel?” But He did not answer him on that day. 38 And Saul said, “Draw near here, all you chiefs of the people, and investigate and see how this sin has happened today. 39 “For as the LORD lives, who delivers Israel, though it is in Jonathan my son, he shall surely die.” But not one of all the people answered him. 40 Then he said to all Israel, “You shall be on one side and I and Jonathan my son will be on the other side.” And the people said to Saul, “Do what seems good to you.” 41 Therefore, Saul said to the LORD, the God of Israel, “Give a perfect lot.” And Jonathan and Saul were taken, but the people escaped. 42 And Saul said, “Cast lots between me and Jonathan my son.” And Jonathan was taken. 43 Then Saul said to Jonathan, “Tell me what you have done.” So Jonathan told him and said, “I indeed tasted a little honey with the end of the staff that was in my hand. Here I am, I must die!” 44 And Saul said, “May God do this to me and more also, for you shall surely die, Jonathan.” 45 But the people said to Saul, “Must Jonathan die, who has brought about this great deliverance in Israel? Far from it! As the LORD lives, there shall not one hair of his head fall to the ground, for he has worked with God this day.” So the people rescued Jonathan and he did not die. 46 Then Saul went up from pursuing the Philistines, and the Philistines went to their own place. (1 Sam. 14:36-46 NAS)
Before God spoke (God was “late” in Saul’s mind), Saul came up with his own plan, which put the blame on Jonathan, and made him worthy of death (in Saul’s mind).
Saul is consistently described and fearful and foolish, and not intent on knowing or following God’s instructions.
See if this does not make sense as you read through the life of Saul. And remember, when you get to the story of David and Goliath (1 Samuel 17), that Saul was Israel’s Goliath (1 Samuel 9:1-2), yet he was too fearful to attack Goliath, as David did in faith.
So, back to Saul not waiting for Samuel. Saul was fearful and foolish, acting without God’s guidance through Samuel, and taking on a task (offering a sacrifice) which was not his right to do.
Hope this helps,