1 Samuel 12:16-13:14

A bit of a long passage today, but I wanted you to get the flavor of the situation.  Our focus will be on 1 Samuel 13:7-14, but read all of it to immerse yourself in the story.  By way of review, “the people” clamored to Samuel, God’s appointed prophet for a king.  Samuel assured them they did not want a king, no good could come from having a king, but they were undeterred.  They wanted a king “like all the other nations,” which of course was exactly the point – God’s intention was for them to be different from all nations.  In the end, he relents and Saul is anointed as the first king of Israel.  Saul’s reign begins well, but goes south quickly because Saul proves to be a weak man.

As our story opens, the nation is under great stress.  The crops have failed and the war efforts aren’t going well.  Jonathan (Saul’s son) has attacked a Philistine outpost and apparently “poked the sleeping bear.”  When Saul realizes they have turned their attention in his direction, he calls for the men of Israel to join him in this battle at Gilgal.  The Philistines do likewise; however, they have invested more heavily in the military arena.

As the story unfolds, we learn that God’s prophet Samuel has instructed Saul not to take action until he arrives and is able to offer a sacrifice that will be pleasing to the Lord, in other words to wait on the Lord.  Samuel has been quite specific in telling Saul to wait seven days.  It is not entirely clear what the significance of seven days is – maybe Samuel needs seven days for travel or maybe it is a period of ritual purification, but in any event it is a decree to trust in the Lord.

During the seven day period, the military situation deteriorates.  Philistinian men and equipment are arriving daily and Saul’s troops begin sneaking off, abandoning the mission.  Fear reigns in the Israelite camp.  The men are surely clamoring for Saul to get on with it, and the chances of victory seem slimmer by the day.

But Saul sticks to the seven day plan . . . to the letter.  He waits seven days and when the seventh day arrives and Samuel is not standing in their midst, he takes action.   He fires up the sacrificial fires and makes the offering on his own.

The smoke from the fires still lingers in the air when Samuel arrives as promised.  Saul goes out to meet him with blood (and barbeque sauce?) still marking his apron. Samuel quite naturally asks in disappointment and disbelief, “What have you done?”  Saul responds by justifying his actions. I can just hear him, “Well, it was like this, and things were occurring, and everyone agreed and . . . .  See, I had no other choice.”

Now, if I’m Saul, I’m hoping that Samuel will say, “Oh, Saul.  Now I understand.  I wish I had come more quickly, seven days was too long for you and the men to hold out.  This is on me.  I am so, so sorry I put you in this spot.  Let’s go slay some Philistines.”  But no, Samuel says, “You have done foolishly. You have not kept the commandment of Yahweh your God, which he commanded you; for now Yahweh would have established your kingdom on Israel forever.  But now your kingdom will not continue. Yahweh has sought for himself a man after his own heart, and Yahweh has appointed him to be prince over his people, because you have not kept that which Yahweh commanded you.”

Translation?  “Your reign is over.”  We know where the story goes from here.  Saul is not immediately deposed as king, but he is ineffective thereafter.  He also slips rapidly into increasing degrees of mental instability.  Further, we know that the “man after his own heart” is David, who will be anointed king by Samuel even while Saul remains king.
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How very like me this story is.  God has a calling on my life.  He says, “Wait awhile with me, while I fight for you.  I will deliver you in the appointed time.”  I respond, “Yes, Lord.  I will wait until the appointed time,” but as time passes I grow impatient as the darkness closes in and I take action on my own.  And my response?  Rationalization!  I begin rationalizing my actions, mostly to convince myself that I had no choice – I did what I had to do.  And the Lord is disappointed in my disbelief.

And there are always consequences . . . .

Time and time again, I follow the recipe:  Impatience → Action out of desperation → Rationalization → Consequences.

If only I would rely on the promise of Isaiah, “But those who wait for Yahweh will renew their strength. They will mount up with wings like eagles. They will run, and not be weary. They will walk, and not faint.”

Seeking strength through trusting the Lord,

Robert