The rise and fall of King Saul – part 2 (1 Sam 9-15)

Today is part two of a three-part look at the rise and fall of King Saul. If you’re joining us now, you’d be best starting with yesterday’s post. Because we left Saul, the reluctant king, victorious in war against the Ammonites; and the people of Israel being graciously given a second chance by God, despite their choosing a human king over God.

The next scene is pivotal (Read 1 Sam 13, or follow the highlights below). The Israelite army assembles at Gilgal to offer a sacrifice. They want to do this in order to gain God’s favour before they went out to battle the Philistines. Verse 7 tells us that the men were ‘quaking in fear’ at the Philistines,  so they needed reassurance that God would be with them:

13:7b Saul remained at Gilgal, and all the troops with him were quaking with fear.

Don’t you find that a little ironic? Now they have a king to go out before them and fight their battles, just like all the other nations – but they’re still scared! And so they want to offer a sacrifice.

Now hopefully you’ve been paying attention to the story so far. So you can all tell me: what’s the rule about offering sacrifices? Wait seven days for the priest to come and tell you what to do. You can’t sacrifice without a priest.

So what does Saul do? He gets a little impatient and goes ahead and offers the sacrifice himself. I sense trouble, don’t you? Samuel then turns up just after the seven days passes, and as you’d expect, he isn’t impressed. And Saul gives his excuses:

13:11-12 “What have you done?” asked Samuel. Saul replied, “When I saw that the men were scattering, & that you did not come at the set time, and that the Philistines were assembling at Micmash, I thought, ‘Now the Philistines will come down against me at Gilgal, & I have not sought the LORD’S favour.’ So I felt compelled to offer the burnt offering.”

In other words, Saul was more worried about what his men were thinking than what God thought. So he disobeyed a direct command. This turns out to be a characteristic of Saul, as we’ll see later.

So what happens? We get an immediate pronouncement of judgement:

13:13-14 “You acted foolishly,” Samuel said. “You have not kept the command the LORD your God gave you; if you had, he would have established your kingdom over Israel for all time. But now your kingdom will not endure; the LORD has sought out a man after his own heart & appointed him leader of his people, because you have not kept the LORD’S command.”

Do you see how Israel has been given the kind of king they asked for? They wanted a king so they’d be like everyone else. They were more worried about what other people thought, than what God thought. And so they get a king who’s like that, too. Worried more about public opinion polls than obeying God. About pleasing people rather than pleasing God.

A stark contrast to Jesus, the perfect king. The king who placed obedience to God before everything else. The king who resisted the will of the people, who wanted to make him king by force. They wanted him to be a king like the nations around; a military rescuer, not a suffering saviour. King Jesus fulfils what King Saul failed to do: to put obedience to God ahead of pleasing people.

Matt 22:16 “Teacher,” they said, “we know that you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are.”
John 6:15  Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.
Luke 12:29-31 And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. For the nations run after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.

But despite Saul’s failure, look more closely and you’ll see mercy in the midst of judgement. The consequences aren’t immediate. Saul remains king – it’s just that his kingdom will not endure; it won’t be passed down to his descendents. There are consequences for his disobedience – serious ones. But yet God is still gracious. God gives him another chance. He still gets to be king. God can still work through him, despite his disobedience. Again, as we saw yesterday, there is still hope, despite our sin.

To think about

In what ways are you swayed by others, rather than by God?

In what ways has God shown you remarkable grace and forgiveness?

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