I’ve been reading through 1 Samuel. It’s amazing how no matter where you are reading in scripture, God speaks personally. This book is alive and active.
Today, I opened up to chapter 13 where newly-crowned, King Saul is heading for battle against the Philistines. He is told to wait for the prophet Samuel to come and offer the customary sacrifices to the Lord before the army heads into battle. In this particular battle, Saul has selected 3,000 of his elite forces. Word gets out to the enemy and the Philistines are amassing a huge response. The Israelite army gets nervous. Really nervous. Fear has a way of bringing out irrational behavior. As they wait the 7 days until Samuel arrives, this elite force hides in caves, behind rocks, in thickets, and cisterns. Some even run away. It’s pathetic. Saul begins to feel he’s losing his army (which he is) and takes matters into his own hands. He offers the sacrifices himself in Samuels place. Here’s how
The Israelite army gets nervous. Really nervous. Fear has a way of bringing out irrational behavior. As they wait the 7 days until Samuel arrives, this elite force hides in caves, behind rocks, in thickets, and cisterns. Some even run away. It’s pathetic. Saul begins to feel he’s losing his army (which he is) and takes matters into his own hands. He offers the sacrifices himself in Samuels place.
Here’s how The Message records this event in 1 Samuel 13:
11-12 Samuel said, “What on earth are you doing?”
Saul answered, “When I saw I was losing my army from under me, and that you hadn’t come when you said you would, and that the Philistines were poised at Micmash, I said, ‘The Philistines are about to come down on me in Gilgal, and I haven’t yet come before God asking for his help.’ So I took things into my own hands, and sacrificed the burnt offering.”
13-14 “That was a fool thing to do,” Samuel said to Saul. “If you had kept the appointment that your God commanded, by now God would have set a firm and lasting foundation under your kingly rule over Israel. As it is, your kingly rule is already falling to pieces. God is out looking for your replacement right now. This time he’ll do the choosing. When he finds him, he’ll appoint him the leader of his people. And all because you didn’t keep your appointment with God!”
Adding insult to injury
Saul tries to justify his error instead of acknowledging his sin. Don’t misread the word “appointment” in this paraphrase. It was God’s command. Saul sacrificed not because he believed God was worthy of worship, but out of superstition. Saul overstepped his authority and his kingdom comes to an end.
This got me thinking. These days, believers in America are filled with fear. We may be tempted to act beyond the “appointment” that God has given. (Your appointment is between you and God. I can’t tell you what it is.) Will we trust that God has a plan? Did Saul, in fear, forget what God did in Gideon’s day? Perhaps a great victory was awaiting Israel with the handful of men that remained. We will never know.
So what about us?
Will we stay true to the command God has given us? I have my job, you have yours. It is a difficult thing to rely on each other. Can I trust that you are following God’s leading in your life and not overstep? Living in community is hard, but together, we can carry out the will of God for the benefit of our community in this generation. Saul let his fear dictate his action. Waiting for Samuel was more than he could do. He chose religious activity over his relationship with God. Making the sacrifice looked like the right thing – but it was not and in doing so, he broke a direct command of God. He was the King of Israel, but he wasn’t the priest or prophet.
God only knows the eternal consequences of our actions. We are but one thread in His tapestry of grace. (The reality here is that when Saul failed, God chose another. Don’t miss the opportunity to be in service of God.)
Trust God. Do your job and no one else’s. Let the indwelling Holy Spirit guide you. If God says wait, then wait. So when fear tempts you to stray, say, “I have an appointment to keep! My God is able to win with any hand.”
Grace and peace,