Saul looked, on the outside, like quite the leader — a head taller than most men, dutiful, self-deprecating, and anointed by God. But after anointment and the first blush of success, things began to unravel for Saul.
The Philistines were again gathering for battle against Israel, and they had a significant advantage in terms of both foot-soldiers and war-machines (chariots and cavalry). Israel (and Saul), on the other hand, had perhaps no more than 3000. Worse still, as the Philistine numbers swelled, Saul’s troops began to desert. And even worse, Samuel had told Saul to wait before attacking until he had arrived to offer sacrifice to the Lord — and he wasn’t showing up. Finally, Saul decided to take matters into his own hands and offer the sacrifice — after all, other monarchs had authority to make sacrifices; and other monarch often doubled as priests to their gods, for crying out loud! Just then — here comes Samuel. And God is not pleased at Saul’s impatience. This situation was apparently a watershed test, because God announces that He will now seek another king, one “after God’s own heart”.
What was God up to? This test was about Saul’s reliance on God and His word: Do you believe that God can rescue by few or many? Then wait. Do you really believe that it’s important to obey God, no matter how bad things look? Prove it, wait. Do you think that I’ll abandon you or rescue you? Really? Then wait. Do you believe that God’s foolishness is wiser than man’s wisdom? Show Me; wait. Saul didn’t. And he failed a crucial test.
Would you have passed? Would you wait, do you wait, when resources are dwindling? Do you believe and live that obedience to God is important regardless of how bad things may look? Do you demonstrate a faith that God will never abandon you? Does your discipleship show that you think that God’s way is superior to the world’s wisdom? Tough questions! We’re faced with questions like this daily.
And about that question, “Do you believe that God can rescue by few or many?” it’s ironic that Saul’s son, Jonathan, was a believer! And he proves it in his initial attack (chapter 14) with only 2 against 20 Philistines. Sadly, Jonathan’s initiative almost earned him a death penalty, since he was out doing something, while Saul, dithering back in the camp, reacted to the retreating Philistines, by blurting out an ill-advised command, forbidding anyone to eat before the Philistines had been completely chased back home. You have to love Jonathan — thoughout the biblical text to the day that he dies, he’s doing the right and faithful and loyal thing, no matter what.
Finally, Saul is given the job of punishing the Amalekites (Ex. 17:8-14). Amalek is under the ban — putting it bluntly, everything breathing is to be killed. God, of course, would never give a command without giving the victory, and He did. But Saul didn’t hold up his end of the things; he brings back the best of the animals and Amalek’s king, Agag. Samuel meets Saul on his return from victory and calls him on it. In his rebuke of Saul he articulates a principle that remains incredibly important:
“’Has the LORD as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices As in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, And to heed than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of divination, And insubordination is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, He has also rejected you from being king.’” 1 Samuel 15:22, 23, NAS95.
What is also interesting here is that Saul confesses to giving in to the temptation of popularity. How many, many times do we seek the love and approval of men over the love and approval of God? It has sadly become part and parcel of much of modern religion — appeal to men, do what’s popular. Isn’t it what is usually at the bottom of so much of teen misbehavior? And even adult misbehavior? Being different is hard. Going against the flow is tough. Shrugging off the looks, the insults, condescension, the scorn — it’s really difficult. But do it we must to follow Jesus.
And doesn’t the power of what others think of us, tell us about the importance of our church assemblies? Think about it.
See you tomorrow, Lord willing.