At this point in the narrative of 1 Samuel, Saul has been confirmed as king over Israel. He has already led his people in victory against the enemy. And his focus is still on the Lord. Things are going pretty well.
A year or two goes by, and there is war between Israel and Philistia. After Saul’s son Jonathan attacks a Philistine garrison, the Philistines gather together in record numbers against the Israelites. The odds seem so against Israel that the people give in to fear and scatter.
Saul goes to Gilgal, and the people follow him “trembling.” As the fear and anxiety continues to build, Saul waits in Gilgal for a whole week.
Now why did he do that?
Back when Samuel had privately anointed Saul, the prophet had told him, “And let it be, when these signs come to you, that you do as the occasion demands; for God is with you. You shall go down before me to Gilgal; and surely I will come down to you to offer burnt offerings and make sacrifices of peace offerings. Seven days you shall wait, till I come to you and show you what you should do” (1 Sam. 10: 7-8, NKJV).
I had never associated these words with the events of chapter 13, but I read someone else’s blog post recently who did make the connection, and it seems to be a reasonable one. Just as Samuel had told him to do back in chapter 10, Saul goes to Gilgal and waits for him for seven days.
As each day passed, and Samuel still wasn’t making an appearance, the tension continued to build. The number of Israelites waiting with Saul diminished with each passing day.
Finally, Saul gave up waiting on Samuel, and took matters in his own hands. He stepped out of his bounds and sacrificed the burnt offering himself. Scarcely had he finished doing so before Samuel showed up.
The old prophet immediately asks, “What have you done?”
So Saul begins to make excuses – the people were scattering left and right, you weren’t showing up, the Philistines are getting ready to attack, and I didn’t want to go into battle without making a sacrifice to God first.
Samuel doesn’t accept the excuses. Rather, he responds with judgment. “You have done 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. But now your kingdom shall not continue. The LORD has sought for Himself a man after His own heart, and the LORD has commanded him to be commander over His people, because you have not kept what the LORD commanded you” (1 Sam. 13:13-14).
And just like that, Saul loses his kingdom. Well, not yet exactly. But all he did was mess up once, and God decided the kingdom was going to get passed to someone else. No second chances. In fact, God’s already picked out who’s going to get it. He has chosen a new commander over Israel, because Saul did not obey his Commander.
The chapter closes by painting a bleak picture of Israel’s situation. Only 600 men are left with Saul; the rest have scattered in fear. Raiders are coming out from the Philistines in multiple directions. And on the day of battle, someone figures out that Saul and Jonathan are the only ones who have a sword!
Not to mention Saul had gone to Gilgal to wait for Samuel so that (1) Samuel could offer sacrifices to the LORD, and (2) Samuel could give Saul direction on what he was to do. Presumably, neither one occurred.
It is a dark day for Israel.
But hope is coming!
- Saul did not trust that Samuel would keep his promise, and gave up waiting for him. If only he had waited a little longer!
- Do I really trust that God will fulfill His promises? Or do I give in to worry and impatience?
- Do I “rest in the LORD and wait patiently for Him”?
- When Samuel asked Saul, “What have you done?”, Saul quickly confessed his deed, but also made a lot of excuses to justify himself and make it seem like he had done a good thing. It reminded me of Adam’s confession to God in Genesis – frankly acknowledging what he had done, but making excuses to say it really wasn’t his fault. Adam basically said it was God’s fault for giving him a wife who tempted him, and Saul basically said it was Samuel’s fault for not showing up fast enough.
- When I mess up, do I try to make excuses and justify myself, making it seem like I had good intentions? Do I try to pass the blame off to other people or circumstances?
- Saul was rejected from being commander over Israel because he did not follow God’s commands.
- I can’t be a good leader over others until I first learn to follow those who are leaders over me.