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Saul Sacrifices His Kingdom (1 Samuel 13:1-14)

Introduction

A good friend and his wife decided that it was time to trade in their old car and buy a new minivan. Though their old car had served them well, it needed more and more repairs. Craig and Grace talked a good deal about the advantages and disadvantages of buying a new car as opposed to a used one, finally deciding that a new car was best. While they agreed it would stretch their budget a bit, they would take very good care of the car and make it last a long time. With less than 10,000 miles on the new minivan, the serpentine belt broke – the one that runs virtually everything from the power steering to the alternator to the water pump. The car overheated, and even after the belt was replaced, Craig and Grace had some uneasy moments for a while. Then, on their way home from a church picnic, a sudden thunderstorm arose, pelting the car with hailstones. Even more unbelievable, on their way downtown, someone ran into the back of the car! Half-seriously, Craig confessed after these disasters: “We don’t even wash the car any more.”

Some things start out so beautifully -- and then disaster strikes all too suddenly. Surely this was true for my friend, Craig, That bright, shiny, mechanically perfect new minivan was so sweet, for a short time, until serious troubles started all too soon. When I approach our text, Saul’s kingdom reminds me of that new car experience. Saul’s reign starts off so nicely, so triumphantly. After his selection and appointment, Saul leads the Israelites to a stunning victory over the Ammonites (1 Samuel 11). Then at the height of their optimism, the people are brought back down to earth with Samuel’s stinging rebuke in chapter 12, punctuated by God Himself, as He brings about a devastating storm at the very time the wheat is ready for harvest. Now, when only in chapter 13 of 1 Samuel, we arrive at an incident which costs Saul’s offspring the hope of ever ruling in their father’s place.

If we are really honest with ourselves and with our text, we will admit that Saul’s actions do not seem to be all that bad. On the surface, it appears that Samuel is late, that the survival of Saul and the nation is doubtful unless someone acts very quickly, and that Saul certainly seems to be the man to do so. What is so wrong with Saul’s actions, given Samuel’s tardiness and the Philistine threat? God, however, takes Saul’s attitudes and actions quite seriously, and we must take them seriously as well. As we study this text, we should seek to discern why this is so evil in God’s eyes and determine what happened with Saul. Let us further seek to learn and apply the principles and lessons our text conveys to Christians, for Saul’s sin is significant enough to cost him and his heirs his kingdom forever.

A Numerical Problem

Biblical scholars point out several problems with numbers in our text. The first two are found in verse 1, which literally reads:

1 A son of a year {is} Saul in his reigning, yea, two years he hath reigned over Israel (Young’s Literal Translation).

Removing the italicized (supplied) words from the NASB, the verse reads,

Saul was years old when he began to reign, and he reigned two years over Israel.

Obviously, we have a problem here. I believe the best solution is to make the most sense of the text from the words we have, rather than trying to decide what words to supply to make sense of the text. The New King James Version seems to do this best:

Saul reigned one year; and when he had reigned two years over Israel, Saul chose for himself three thousand men of Israel. . . . (13:1-2a).

Some allege there is a numerical problem in verse 5, where we read that 30,000 Philistine chariots are dispatched to Israel to wage war on the Israelites, along with 6,000 horsemen and an army of foot soldiers like the sand on the seashore. They feel that 30,000 is simply too large a number, indicating that the term for 30,000 is very similar to the one for 3,000, and suggesting that 3,000 is a more reasonable number. They also point out that since there are many more chariots than “charioteers,” the number must be wrong. I like the way the New American Standard Bible handles this. The 6,000 are not “charioteers,” but “horsemen.” Though 30,000 is a large number, it is not an impossible one, and we should accept the text as it stands. The author is trying to impress the reader with the impossibility of the situation from the Israelites’ point of view. The numbers given are consistent with the sense of hopelessness the author describes.

Another Problem:
The Presence of the Philistines

I must confess that as I have been reading in 1 Samuel, it has been difficult to understand just what is happening. The Philistines are very much present in Israel. We know from 1 Samuel 4:9 that the Israelites are, in some sense, slaves of the Philistines. In chapter 4, the Philistines prevail over the Israelites in war, even though the Israelites bring the ark of God with them into battle. In chapter 10, when Saul is informed by Samuel that he is God’s choice for Israel’s king, he prophesies in an Israelite city -- which is also a Philistine outpost (10:5). Yet in chapter 11, we are told of an Ammonite attack and a great Israelite victory. How can they muster for war while occupied by Philistine troops? And how does Saul maintain a standing army of 3,000 men without protest from the Philistines?

I think I am beginning to understand the situation a little better. We should first remember that the nation Israel is surrounded on all sides by land, and that this land is divided into a number of kingdoms:

47 Now when Saul had taken the kingdom over Israel, he fought against all his enemies on every side, against Moab, the sons of Ammon, Edom, the kings of Zobah, and the Philistines; and wherever he turned, he inflicted punishment. 48 And he acted valiantly and defeated the Amalekites, and delivered Israel from the hands of those who plundered them (1 Samuel 14:47-48).

The Philistines dwell in Philistia, which is on the Mediterranean coast, to Israel’s south and west. The battle they fight in chapter 4 is on Israel’s western border, as one would expect. The ark is taken into Philistia and then returned to the city of Beth-shemesh, which is again along the Israeli-Philistine border. But the Ammonites are located across the Jordan River to Israel’s east. The attack on the city of Jabesh-gilead is in northeastern Israel, approximately 20 miles from the border of Ammon, and far from Philistia, which is on the opposite side of Israel.

I do not think the Philistines intend or desire to utterly wipe out the Israelites, but only to keep the Jews in subjection to them. After all, the Israelites are a ready market for the Philistines’ technology, especially in those things made of iron (see 13:19-23). Israel can also serve as a buffer between the Philistines and other more aggressive nations. When the Israelites muster to do battle with the Ammonites, it seems to be in the best interests of the Philistines. The Israelites, if weakened by war, will be less of a threat to them. And if the Israelites win their battle against the Ammonites, the Philistines gain even further control because they still hold the Israelites in subjection. The fact that Saul will keep a small force of men as a standing army is no threat to the Philistines either. What can a meager army of 3,000 do to a nation whose forces can be numbered as the sands of the seashore? So it is that Israel can wage war with the Ammonites, while at the same time continuing under subjection to the Philistines.

Terror in the Hearts of the Israelites and Their King
(13:1-7)

1 Saul was forty years old when he began to reign, and he reigned thirty-two years over Israel. 2 Now Saul chose for himself 3,000 men of Israel, of which 2,000 were with Saul in Michmash and in the hill country of Bethel, while 1,000 were with Jonathan at Gibeah of Benjamin. But he sent away the rest of the people, each to his tent. 3 And Jonathan smote the garrison of the Philistines that was in Geba, and the Philistines heard of it. Then Saul blew the trumpet throughout the land, saying, “Let the Hebrews hear.” 4 And all Israel heard the news that Saul had smitten the garrison of the Philistines, and also that Israel had become odious to the Philistines. The people were then summoned to Saul at Gilgal. 5 Now the Philistines assembled to fight with Israel, 30,000 chariots and 6,000 horsemen, and people like the sand which is on the seashore in abundance; and they came up and camped in Michmash, east of Beth-aven. 6 When the men of Israel saw that they were in a strait (for the people were hard-pressed), then the people hid themselves in caves, in thickets, in cliffs, in cellars, and in pits. 7 Also some of the Hebrews crossed the Jordan into the land of Gad and Gilead. But as for Saul, he was still in Gilgal, and all the people followed him trembling.

Saul’s reign as Israel’s king starts out with a bang. Under Saul’s leadership, God delivers many Israelites from a humiliating surrender to Nahash, leader of the Ammonite army which threatened the inhabitants of the city of Jabesh-gilead. To accomplish this, a volunteer army of 330,000 Israelites is summoned (11:8). After this victory, the volunteers return home, and Saul retains a small standing army of 3,000 men.

Why does Saul retain such a small standing army? The text does not tell us, but it seems safe to infer that an army of 3,000 men would be tolerated by the Philistines, while a larger standing army would not be. Saul keeps this many men in his army because it is as large of an army as he can maintain without precipitating the wrath and reaction of the Philistines. Saul does not seem willing to “trouble the waters” either by keeping too many soldiers on active duty or taking any action concerning the Philistine garrison(s?) stationed throughout Israel.

Jonathan changes all this, without his father’s knowledge or permission. Saul has divided his troops. He keeps 2,000 men with him, stationed in Michmash and the hill country of Judea; the remaining 1,000 are placed under Jonathan’s command and stationed at Gibeah. Jonathan’s reasoning for attacking the Philistine garrison is not given to us; we are only told that he does so. From what we know of Jonathan elsewhere, it seems that his actions are prompted by faith. After all, God gave this land to the Israelites and instructed them to drive out the nations dwelling in their land. Subjection to a foreign nation is depicted in Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28-32 as a divine chastening for Israel’s unbelief and disobedience. The king is not to facilitate the Israelites’ subjection to the surrounding nations but is to be used of God to throw off their shackles (see 14:47-48). This will not happen unless the Israelites act to remove those who occupy their land. Saul seems reluctant and unwilling to “rock the boat.” Jonathan seems unwilling to accept things as they are, and thus he leads his men in an attack on the Philistine garrison at Geba,42 located approximately 6 miles north of Jerusalem about half-way between Gibeah to the south and Michmash to the north. This may very well be the same garrison stationed in Israel before whom Saul prophesies, along with other prophets (see 10:5, 10-13).

The response of the Philistines to this attack is predictable, causing one to wonder if Jonathan both expected and wanted it. Let me to attempt to describe the Philistines’ reaction in modern-day terms. A few years ago, the United States (along with a number of allies) attacked and defeated the Iraqi forces which had occupied Kuwait. Let us suppose that after this victory, the United States placed several companies of our troops inside the Iraqi border to assure that further acts of aggression were thereby checked. Let us then suppose that Saddam Hussein launched a chemical attack on one of those U.S. companies inside Iraq. Reports reach America of the death of hundreds, perhaps thousands, and of many others who are seriously injured. As Americans, we would feel fully justified in taking massive military action against Iraq.

This is very similar to the Philistines’ reaction to Jonathan’s attack against the garrison in Geba. The Philistines previously defeated the Israelites, and they have given the Israelites considerable freedom (even to wage war against the Ammonites). But they still station troops in Israel to prevent any attempts to throw off the shackles of Philistine bondage. When Jonathan attacks this garrison, it is viewed as an attack against Philistia, and as a monumental insult. As our text puts it, “Israel had become odious (a stench) to the Philistines” (verse 4). The Philistines are coming and are they mad! They will make the Israelites pay for this act -- they fully intend to do great damage to Israel. They come with 30,000 chariots, 6,000 horsemen, and so many foot soldiers their numbers are as the sand on the seashore. They come up against Israel, camping in Michmash, where Saul has been stationed just recently with his soldiers (verses 2, 5).

It seems as though Saul’s response to Jonathan’s attack and the Philistines’ arrival is a reaction prompted by necessity. In short, Saul seems to have no other choice than to attempt to defend himself against this Philistine attack. Trying to put the best face possible on this situation, Saul blows the trumpet, which summons the whole nation once again to battle. Saul’s “press release” might read: “Saul Attacks Philistine Garrison.” From an administrative perspective, of course, Jonathan is under Saul’s authority, but it appears as though Saul does not want to admit that he is passive while Jonathan takes action.

The situation in chapter 13 appears to be quite different from that described in chapter 11. In chapter 11, Saul is Spirit-empowered when he becomes angry and forcefully calls all Israel to fight the Ammonites. Here, Saul is not said to be empowered by the Spirit, and he is certainly less forceful when calling the nation to war. The Israelites are summoned, but it seems as though far fewer than the earlier 330,000 show up.43 Those who do present themselves for battle are tentative in doing so. When the size of the Philistine army is known, the Israelites are terrified. The people begin to desert, hiding in caves and thickets, in cliffs, cellars,44 and pits. This has happened before (see Judges 6:1-6), but this does not make the situation any more tolerable.

When Saul seeks to gather his army, he summons the people to assemble at Gilgal, according to the instructions Samuel gave him when he was told he would be Israel’s king:

8 “And you shall go down before me to Gilgal; and behold, I will come down to you to offer burnt offerings and sacrifice peace offerings. You shall wait seven days until I come to you and show you what you should do” (1 Samuel 10:8).

Samuel’s instructions are very specific: Saul is to go to Gilgal and wait for him to arrive. It will be seven days before he arrives. Samuel will offer both the burnt offerings and the peace offerings. At that time, Samuel will indicate to Saul what he should do.

During this seven-day waiting period, Saul agonizes as he watches his army shrink when soldiers vaporize in fear of their lives. Every day as the situation grows increasingly more dangerous, soldiers flee, seeking to save themselves. Some seek to save themselves by fleeing across the Jordan (verse 7). Apparently others are willing to save themselves by joining with the Philistines (see 14:21). Those who stay with Saul are shaking in their boots.

Saul’s Folly and Samuel’s Rebuke
(13:8-15)

8 Now he waited seven days, according to the appointed time set by Samuel, but Samuel did not come to Gilgal; and the people were scattering from him. 9 So Saul said, “Bring to me the burnt offering and the peace offerings.” And he offered the burnt offering. 10 And it came about as soon as he finished offering the burnt offering, that behold, Samuel came; and Saul went out to meet him and to greet him. 11 But Samuel said, “What have you done?” And Saul said, “Because I saw that the people were scattering from me, and that you did not come within the appointed days, and that the Philistines were assembling at Michmash, 12 therefore I said, 'Now the Philistines will come down against me at Gilgal, and I have not asked the favor of the LORD.' So I forced myself and offered the burnt offering. “ 13 And Samuel said to Saul, “You have acted 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. 14 “But now your kingdom shall not endure. The LORD has sought out for Himself a man after His own heart, and the LORD has appointed him as ruler over His people, because you have not kept what the LORD commanded you.” 15 Then Samuel arose and went up from Gilgal to Gibeah of Benjamin. And Saul numbered the people who were present with him, about six hundred men.

Saul manages to make it through six days and most of the seventh. But when that seventh day begins to draw to an end, Saul is at his wit’s end. I can just imagine what is going through his mind. “Where in the world is that man, and what is he doing? Does he not know how much danger we are in? Does he not grasp the urgency of the situation and the need to act quickly? I’m going to give him 30 more minutes, and then I’m going to have to go on without him.”

As the people continue to scatter, Saul begins to take matters into his own hands. Every appearance is that Saul offers the burnt offering himself. He issues orders for the burnt offerings and the peace offerings to be brought to him. No mention is made of any priest taking part in the offering. Saul seems to place great importance on this offering, and I think I may know why. In 1 Samuel 7, all Israel gathers at Mizpah to repent and renew their covenant commitment to God. The Philistines misinterpret this gathering, assuming there is some military intent behind it. The Philistines encircle the Israelites at Mizpah and are just about to attack. As the attack is about to commence, Samuel is busy offering the burnt offering:

9 And Samuel took a suckling lamb and offered it for a whole burnt offering to the LORD; and Samuel cried to the LORD for Israel and the LORD answered him. 10 Now Samuel was offering up the burnt offering, and the Philistines drew near to battle against Israel. But the LORD thundered with a great thunder on that day against the Philistines and confused them, so that they were routed before Israel (1 Samuel 7:9-10).

How easy it would be to look at this offering as the means to Israel’s deliverance. Just as the Israelites looked upon the ark of God as a kind of magic secret weapon, now it may be that Saul looks upon the burnt offering as the means of assuring God’s action on Israel’s behalf. If this is so, no wonder Saul is so eager to get that sacrifice offered, with or without Samuel.

At the very moment Saul finishes sacrificing the burnt offering, Samuel arrives. It seems apparent that had Saul waited those few minutes, Samuel would have arrived, still on time, and still in time to offer both the burnt offerings and the peace offerings. Saul goes out to greet Samuel, and his greeting betrays his guilt. It is not Saul who stands there with his hands on his hips, rebuking Samuel for being too late, but Samuel who asks Saul what he has done. Saul’s explanation falls flat.45 He tells Samuel that the people were deserting him and that the prophet did not come within the appointed time. He points out that the Philistines are assembling for battle at Michmash, making his actions necessary lest he be attacked while at Gilgal. Though he really did not want to do what he did, he simply had to, so he forced himself to offer the burnt offering.

Samuel is not impressed as his direct and stern words show. Saul’s actions were foolish -- because they were willful disobedience to Samuel’s clear and direct orders. They were likewise foolish because they accomplished the exact opposite of what Saul thought. Saul must certainly have thought that waiting for Samuel (and the instructions he would give) was foolish. He was wrong. Saul’s disobedience will cost him his dynasty. Though his reign will not immediately be terminated, his sons will never sit on his throne. Had Saul but obeyed the command of God, his kingdom would have endured forever. Now, his kingdom will die with him. God has already sought out and chosen a man whose heart is in tune with His to be Saul’s replacement. All of this is the direct result of Saul’s disobedience.

Samuel’s parting here is quite different from that described in 1 Samuel 15:24-31. Here, Saul does not appear to be shaken by Samuel’s words, and certainly he is not repentant. If Saul were a teenager in today’s culture, his response to Samuel’s rebuke would be, “Whatever.” Saul busies himself with the numbering of his skimpy rag-tag army, now composed of some 600 men, and Samuel arises and departs for Gibeah.

Conclusion

This incident is not the “beginning of the end” for king Saul; it is the end. His kingdom will endure for a number of years, but it will not endure beyond his death. Two years into his reign, Saul’s destiny as king is sealed. As we read these verses, most of us would probably be willing to admit that Saul’s actions are almost understandable, and that God’s response seems very severe. Why all the fuss about this one incident, this one mess up? Let us first consider the seriousness of Saul’s actions and then press on to some of the implications and applications our text offers.

First, we need to understand this passage in the light of what God first declared about kings in the Book of Deuteronomy:

14 “When you enter the land which the LORD your God gives you, and you possess it and live in it, and you say, 'I will set a king over me like all the nations who are around me,' 15 you shall surely set a king over you whom the LORD your God chooses, one from among your countrymen you shall set as king over yourselves; you may not put a foreigner over yourselves who is not your countryman. 16 “Moreover, he shall not multiply horses for himself, nor shall he cause the people to return to Egypt to multiply horses, since the LORD has said to you, 'You shall never again return that way.' 17 “Neither shall he multiply wives for himself, lest his heart turn away; nor shall he greatly increase silver and gold for himself. 18 “Now it shall come about when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself a copy of this law on a scroll in the presence of the Levitical priests. 19 “And it shall be with him, and he shall read it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the LORD his God, by carefully observing all the words of this law and these statutes, 20 that his heart may not be lifted up above his countrymen and that he may not turn aside from the commandment, to the right or the left; in order that he and his sons may continue long in his kingdom in the midst of Israel (Deuteronomy 17:14-20).

Look especially at verses 18-20. When the king ascends to his throne, he is to write a copy of the law for himself -- he is to do this in the presence of the Levitical priests. This seems to imply a very clear “separation of powers.” The king has great authority, but when it comes to the law, he is not only subject to it, but he is to listen to the Levitical priests as to its meaning. The Old Testament Book of the Law is the king’s textbook, and the Levitical priests are his teachers or tutors. This Law is to be his constant guide, the basis for his rule. He is to read and re-read it all the days of his life. This not only gives the king the wisdom to rule, and the principles on which his kingdom is established (the constitution of the kingdom), but it keeps the king from becoming puffed up with pride and elevating himself above his brethren (verse 20). This constant reading of the Law is to keep the king from disobedience of the Law, even in some small way. Devotion to the Law will prolong the king’s days, for both he and his descendants (verse 20).

Does this not explain the severity of God’s response to Saul’s disobedience? Saul did not heed this instruction to kings set down in Deuteronomy and very likely reiterated and clarified by Samuel:

24 And Samuel said to all the people, “Do you see him whom the LORD has chosen? Surely there is no one like him among all the people.” So all the people shouted and said, “Long live the king!” 25 Then Samuel told the people the ordinances of the kingdom, and wrote them in the book and placed it before the LORD. And Samuel sent all the people away, each one to his house (1 Samuel 10:24-25).

In addition to these more general instructions to Saul as Israel’s king, there are the very specific instructions (“the command”) of 1 Samuel 10:8. Saul has no excuse; his sacrifice is a willful act of disobedience, for which he loses his kingdom.

Let us now move from Saul and his disobedience to the lessons this text has for each of us today. We shall sum up the important lessons of our text in the form of principles.

(1) Like Saul, when we have no sense of our calling, we are headed for trouble. The people want a king to judge them, and ultimately this means they want a king to deliver them from their bondage to the nations surrounding them. Samuel makes considerable effort to communicate to Saul what God has appointed him to do, but it does not seem long at all before Saul’s sense of calling becomes fuzzy. In our text, Saul seems to lack a deep sense of what he has been called to do, or he lacks the commitment to do it -- or perhaps both. When I look at the writings of the apostle Paul, I see a man with a deep sense of his calling and a great commitment to carry it out -- to the very end (see Romans 1:1; 1 Corinthians 1:1; Galatians 1:15; 2 Timothy 4:7-8). Paul speaks a great deal of our calling as well, and he challenges us to live up to that calling -- both our common calling (to which every saint is called – see Romans 1:6-7; 8:28, 30; 1 Corinthians 1:2, 9; Galatians 5:13; Ephesians 4:1; 1 Thessalonians 4:7; 2 Thessalonians 1:11) and our individual calling (1 Corinthians 7:17). Saul does not seem to have a clear sense of what God has called him to do. Much of his floundering seen in these 1 Samuel chapters appears to be the result of his failure to grasp just what he has been called to do.

Each and every Christian has been “called,” and each of us has a specific “calling.” I am not speaking of a specialized “calling” to “full-time ministry” or to “missionary service.” I am speaking of a unique sense of calling, whereby the Christian has a general sense of why God has saved him (or her), and a more specific sense of one’s task and contribution in the body of Christ. Too many Christians seem to have lost their sense of calling, and, like Saul, they seem to be “hiding in the luggage” of the church and its ministry, rather than taking up their fair share.

(2) God’s commands serve as a test of our faith and obedience. Saul is given very specific instructions about going to Gilgal and waiting for Samuel. This is the test of Saul’s faith and obedience. The Bible’s commands are given for good reasons. One reason is that they are very specific tests of our faith. I hear too many Christians today reacting to any emphasis on divine commands and our need to obey. “That’s legalism,” I hear some say. Some may obey God in a legalistic fashion, and that is a problem. But far to many Christians take God’s commands too lightly. Jesus instructed His disciples to “teach them to observe all that I commanded you” (Matthew 28:20). How many of Christ’s commands do you take seriously today?

(3) Christian liberties are also a test of our faith and love for God. In chapter 10, verse 7, Samuel instructs Saul,

7 “And it shall be when these signs come to you, do for yourself what the occasions requires; for God is with you.”

Just what then keeps Saul from taking on the Philistines who occupy Israel and who oppress the people of God? Why does Saul not do that which obviously needs doing, trusting that in doing so God is with him? Not only do most of us fail to obey God’s commands, we also fail to exercise our liberties as we should. Liberties, like the law, are tests we often fail.

(4) Emergencies are not excuses for disobedience to God’s commands, but a test of our faith and obedience. God often tests us by taking us to the limit. That is the way we test the products we manufacture. Ford does not test its cars by gently driving them around the block a few times. They are put on the test track, which hammers the suspension with endless bumps and turns and stresses the engine with high heat, severe cold, and long distances. God tests us by taking us to the limit as well, by taking us to the breaking point.

When we reach “our limit,” our faith in God becomes apparent. When we come to the end of our own resources, we must then trust in God. God takes Saul “to the limit” by delaying Samuel’s arrival to the last moments, but Saul cannot wait. He is convinced his situation is an “emergency,” and as such, the rules can be set aside. At these moments -- when we are pressed to our limit -- our faith and obedience are tested by whether or not we keep God’s commands, whether or not we obey Him.

Twice the Book of Proverbs speaks of the “lion in the road” (see Proverbs 22:13; 26:13). This is the sluggard’s compelling reason for avoiding a task he really does not want to do. After all, who would be outside mowing the grass if there really was a lion out there? Emergency situations, where disaster seems imminent and breaking the rules seems expedient, may be nothing more than lions in the road. We may be willing to make exceptions to God’s commands, but God is not. Let us beware of allowing a crisis to become the excuse for our disobedience.

I doubt if Saul’s disobedience in making the burnt offerings is one isolated event. Rather, it is likely the climax, the culmination, of a long history of disobedience. As previously pointed out, Saul knows that his duty as Israel’s king is to do battle with the Philistines and the other surrounding nations who oppress the people of God. Day after day, month after month, Saul seems to close his eyes to the suffering of his people and to the presence of the Philistines stationed in Israel. Saul’s disobedience regarding the sacrifices at Gilgal is no sudden sin -- a complete shock to all. It is the logical, almost inevitable outcome of a lifestyle of disobedience. This crisis only shows Saul up for who he is (or is not). This is the way it is with us as well.

I cannot help but notice that there is no evidence of spirituality in Saul prior to his becoming king, or afterwards. But David is a young man who learned to depend upon God while a shepherd boy, left alone with his flock. David learned to trust God and to worship him. He has a history of walking with God before he became king, and that continued afterward. Saul has no godly disciplines in his life, and it shows, especially at Gilgal when the tests of faith come upon him.

(5) God’s judgment may be pronounced long before its consequences are apparent. God may pronounce judgment a long time before He carries it out. God has rejected Saul as king. That is, Saul’s kingdom will not endure (see 13:14). Having said this, Saul reigns for many years before his death. We may be certain that God’s judgment is sure, even though it may be some time in coming. That is the way it is with Saul, and that is the way it is with the coming wrath of God. Satan’s doom has already been pronounced, and yet we still find him opposing our Lord and His church. Nevertheless, God’s judgment is sure, even though it is not immediate.

(6) God works through less than perfect, less than ideal people. I never cease to wonder at the kind of people God uses to accomplish His purposes and fulfill His promises. Saul is one of those people. In spite of all of his weaknesses and sins, God uses Saul to deliver Israel from bondage to the surrounding nations (see 14:47-48). All through history, God has chosen to use the “weak and foolish” things of this world, confounding the wise and bringing glory to Himself. If God can use a man like Saul, we can be assured that He can use us too. How grateful we should be that God is not limited to using perfect people. This does not excuse our imperfections or our sins, but it does give us hope that God can and does use frail, sinful people to accomplish His purposes.


42 A town belonging to Benjamin, 11 kilometres north of Jerusalem and 5 kilometres from Gibeah, from which it is to be distinguished. . . . John J. Bimson, consulting editor, Baker Encyclopedia of Bible Places (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1995), p. 141.

43 I think I remember a movie title about someone calling a war, and no one came. That seems to be somewhat the case here.

44 Interestingly, here the New Revised Standard Version renders tombs. Things would have to be desperate for an Israelite to hide in a tomb.

45 Notice what might be called the “I factor” in verse 12. Saul continually speaks of himself (“I”), as though Israel’s military success depends upon him, rather than upon God.