Saul Disobeys the Lord
1Saul was a young man when he became king, and he ruled Israel for two years. 2Then he chose 3,000 men from Israel to be full-time soldiers and sent everyone else home. Two thousand of these troops stayed with him in the hills around Michmash and Bethel. The other 1,000 were stationed with Jonathan at Gibeah in the territory of Benjamin.
3Jonathan led an attack on the Philistine army camp at Geba. The Philistine camp was destroyed, but the other Philistines heard what had happened. Then Saul told his messengers, “Go to every village in the country. Give a signal with the trumpet, and when the people come together, tell them what has happened.”
4The messengers then said to the people of Israel, “Saul has destroyed the Philistine army camp at Geba. Now the Philistines really hate Israel, so every town and village must send men to join Saul's army at Gilgal.”
5The Philistines called their army together to fight Israel. They had 3,000 chariots, 6,000 cavalry, and as many foot soldiers as there are grains of sand on the beach. They went to Michmash and set up camp there east of Beth-Aven.
6The Israelite army realized that they were outnumbered and were going to lose the battle. Some of the Israelite men hid in caves or in clumps of bushes, and some ran to places where they could hide among large rocks. Others hid in tombs or in deep dry pits. 7Still others went to Gad and Gilead on the other side of the Jordan River.
Saul stayed at Gilgal. His soldiers were shaking with fear, 8 and they were starting to run off and leave him. Saul waited there seven days, just as Samuel had ordered him to do, but Samuel did not come. 9Finally, Saul commanded, “Bring me some animals, so we can offer sacrifices to please the Lord and ask for his help.”
Saul killed one of the animals, 10and just as he placed it on the altar, Samuel arrived. Saul went out to welcome him.
11“What have you done?” Samuel asked.
Saul answered, “My soldiers were leaving in all directions, and you didn't come when you were supposed to. The Philistines were gathering at Michmash, 12and I was worried that they would attack me here at Gilgal. I hadn't offered a sacrifice to ask for the Lord's help, so I forced myself to offer a sacrifice on the altar fire.”
13“That was stupid!” Samuel said. “You didn't obey the Lord your God. If you had obeyed him, someone from your family would always have been king of Israel. 14 But no, you disobeyed, and so the Lord won't choose anyone else from your family to be king. In fact, he has already chosen the one he wants to be the next leader of his people.” 15Then Samuel left Gilgal.
Part of Saul's army had not deserted him, and he led them to Gibeah in Benjamin to join his other troops. Then he counted them and found that he still had 600 men. 16Saul, Jonathan, and their army set up camp at Geba in Benjamin.
The Philistine army was camped at Michmash. 17Each day they sent out patrols to attack and rob villages and then destroy them. One patrol would go north along the road to Ophrah in the region of Shual. 18Another patrol would go west along the road to Beth-Horon. A third patrol would go east toward the desert on the road to the ridge that overlooks Zeboim Valley.
19The Philistines would not allow any Israelites to learn how to make iron tools. “If we allowed that,” they said, “those worthless Israelites would make swords and spears.”
20-21Whenever the Israelites wanted to get an iron point put on a cattle prod, they had to go to the Philistines. Even if they wanted to sharpen plow-blades, picks, axes, sickles, and pitchforks they still had to go to them. And the Philistines charged high prices. 22So, whenever the Israelite soldiers had to go into battle, none of them had a sword or a spear except Saul and his son Jonathan.
Whenever I read this story, I feel sorry for Saul.
He is in the early stages of leadership, is getting the army established when his son Jonathan wins a skirmish with their old enemies the Philistines that leads to a declaration of war.
Israel was vastly outnumbered militarily and the people “had so much confidence in their army” that many went into hiding, some even fled to the east of Jordan!
For seven days Saul waited for Samuel to come so that the appropriate offerings to God could be made (See I Samuel 10:8). Samuel was late – and he didn’t call or text to explain. Waiting was scary and seemed tactically foolish.
In panic Saul went against all the rules when he decided to conduct the priestly offerings himself, apart from Samuel. Not only that, he initiated a war without specific guidance from God who had typically provided specific direction in such circumstances in the past.
No sooner had the sacrifices been offered when Samuel arrived. Right then and there Samuel declared that Saul’s kingdom would not endure. (Beyond his lifetime)
The issue of the sacrifice and its problematic timing were clearly a test from God.
God tested this new leader early in his career. Would he be faithful in spite of the extreme circumstances? Or would he give way to expedience when in a tough spot? God dealt similarly with many Biblical leaders. Think of Moses, Joshua, Gideon, Samson, David, Jeremiah, Peter and Paul. All were tested severely soon after they committed themselves to the path of spiritual leadership.
As for Saul, there was a battle to be fought. The situation could not have been more bleak.
Lord God, I am a little worried at how easily I identify with Saul. I do understand that you call me to be faithful and obedient to what you have revealed to me. Help me to not forget that – ever! Amen.