In order to understand today’s passage, we need to remember what happened in chapter 10 after Samuel anointed Saul to be king over the Lord’s people. Do you remember? Samuel told Saul to expect three signs. Firstly, Saul will meet two men who will tell him that his father’s lost donkeys have been found. Secondly, Saul will meet three men who will greet him and who will offer him two loaves of bread. And thirdly, once he returns to Gibeah, which was his home town — and where there was a Philistine outpost — Saul will meet a procession of prophets who will be playing musical instruments and prophesying. And the Spirit of the Lord will come on Saul in power and he too will prophesy. And, Samuel added, once these three signs are fulfilled, do what your hand finds to do, for God is with you. And you might recall that I explained that when Samuel told Saul to do what your hand finds to do, he meant Saul was to attack the Philistines in Gibeah. God was going to give him his Spirit to strengthen him so that he would be able to attack and destroy the Philistines who had invaded the Promised Land. So, when Samuel told Saul to do what his hand finds to do, he meant: Do what you’re supposed to do. Attack the Philistines, because that’s what God has anointed you to do and that’s why he’s going to send his Spirit on you. Attack the Philistines, for God is with you.
But that wasn’t the end of Samuel’s instructions to Saul that day, because he then said to Saul that once he had done what his hand finds to do, he should go on to Gilgal and wait seven days for Samuel to arrive, because Samuel will surely come down to him to sacrifice burnt offerings and fellowship offerings to the Lord. And then, after that, Samuel will tell Saul what he’s do to next.
So, that’s what Samuel said to Saul in chapter 10. And sure enough, the three signs were fulfilled, one after the other. Saul met the two men who told him the lost donkeys had been found. Saul met the three men who greeted him and offered him two loaves of bread. And Saul met the procession of prophets and the Spirit of the Lord came upon him in power so that he too prophesied.
But do you remember? Instead of attacking the Philistine outpost, he did nothing. Nothing. He went home, back to the family farm. He didn’t attack the Philistines in Gibeah. And he didn’t go to Gilgal to wait seven days for Samuel to come. He did nothing.
That’s the background to today’s passage, because in today’s passage we read that someone did eventually attack the Philistines; and though Saul went to Gilgal, he did not wait for Samuel to come, but he went on ahead and offered the sacrifices himself. And that’s why Samuel rebukes Saul in this chapter. Samuel rebukes Saul for not keeping the command of the Lord which he had make known to Saul in chapter 10. And, of course, remember what we read in chapter 12 and how the Lord’s anointed king was supposed to obey the Lord. But Saul did not obey him.
So, let’s study this passage together, because Saul’s shortcomings highlight the perfect obedience of God’s true anointed king, who is Jesus Christ the Saviour.
Verses 2 to 7 and 15 to 22
Saul — who had won a great victory against the Ammonites in chapter 11 — chose three thousand men from Israel to form an army. You see from verse 2 that 2,000 were with him in one place and 1,000 were with his son, Jonathan, in another place. So, now he’s got an army in place and it looks like he’s finally going to do something about the Philistines. He should have attacked them back in chapter 10, but at that time, he did nothing. But now he’s finally going to do something about those Philistines who had invaded the Promised Land.
But hang on! According to verse 3, someone did lead an attack on the Philistines, but it wasn’t Saul. It was Saul’s son, Jonathan. He was the one who led the attack on the Philistines. The text says the Philistine outpost was at Geba. According to chapter 10, the Philistine outpost was at Gibeah. So, where was it? Was it at Geba or was it at Gibeah? Well, some of the commentators suggest that Geba was just another name for Gibeah. In any case, though Saul was meant to attack the Philistines, it was his son who attacked them. And then we’re told the ominous news that the Philistines heard about it. Why it is ominous news? Well, look down to verse 4 where it tells us that Saul announced the news to the rest of Israel that he had attacked the Philistine outpost and now Israel has become an offence to the Philistines. In other words: ‘Watch out! The Philistines were against us before. But now they really hate us.’ And we read that the people were summoned to join Saul at Gilgal. The commentators are a bit scornful towards Saul for taking credit for attacking the Philistines, when in fact it was his son who attacked them. But to be fair to Saul, he may have ordered the attack and Jonathan was therefore only acting in his name.
And look now at verse 5 where it tells us that the Philistines assembled to fight Israel and they had 3,000 chariots and 6,000 charioteers. If you’ve using an NIV Bible, you’ll see the footnote in verse 5 which tells us that the original Hebrew text says the Philistines had, not 3,000 chariots, but 30,000. I’ve explained before that the word for ‘thousand’ can refer to a thousand men or it can refer to a unit of men. But whatever the actual number of chariots, the fact remains that the total number of fighting Philistines according to verse 5 was like the sand on the seashore. There were too many to count.
And when the Israelites saw what they were up against, they began to hide in caves and thickets and among the rocks and in pits and cisterns. And some of them even deserted and crossed the Jordan river to flee to the land of Gad and Gilead. And if you jump down to verse 15, you’ll see that Saul was left with only 600 men. At the beginning of the chapter, he had 3,000 men. But now, there’s only 600 left. And according to verse 17, raiding parties went out from the Philistine camp. And according to verses 9 to 22, none of the Israelites — apart from Saul and Jonathan — had a sword or a spear, because the Philistines had removed all the blacksmiths from the land of Israel.
Verses 7 to 14
So, Israel faced a real crisis. And we’ll read more about their fight against the Philistines in the next chapter. But for now, let’s turn our attention to verses 7 to 14 and to the account of what happened in Gilgal. Why did they assembly in Gilgal? Well, presumably it’s because Saul remembered Samuel’s instructions from chapter 10, telling him to go to Gilgal once he had attacked the Philistines and to wait for seven days for Samuel to come to offer sacrifices to the Lord and to give him further instructions. So, Saul went to Gilgal. And, according to verse 8, he waited for seven days, which was the time set by Samuel. But it began to look as if Samuel would not come. Ans Saul’s men, who had been quaking with fear because of the Philistines, began to scatter. And so, we can imagine Saul’s anxiety level getting higher and higher, so that finally he could wait no longer. You know that feeling, don’t you? You’re trying to be patient and to hang on, but eventually the pressure becomes too much and you give in. Well, Saul gave in and he asked someone to bring him the offerings which had been prepared for Samuel’s arrival. And Saul took the burnt offering and offered it to the Lord. And just as he finished offering the burnt offering, and before he had time to offer the fellowship offering, who should appear but Samuel himself. He came, just as he said he would. But Saul hadn’t waited for him.
We’re told that Saul went out to greet Samuel. We don’t know whether he was embarrassed or afraid or whether his conscience was clear. But Samuel said to him: ‘What have you done’ And his words are an accusation, aren’t they? They recall the words of the Lord in the Garden of Eden after Adam and Eve had eaten the forbidden fruit. And the Lord said to Eve: ‘What is this you have done?’ So, it’s an accusation, isn’t it? ‘Saul, what have you done?’ And just as Adam blamed Eve and just as Eve blamed the serpent, so Saul blames everyone but himself. He blamed his men who were scattering. And he blamed Samuel for not arriving sooner. And he blamed the Philistines for assembling against them. He blamed everyone but himself, and he explained that since the Philistines were about to attack them and he hadn’t yet sought the favour of the Lord, he felt compelled to sacrifice the burnt offering himself. Other English translations say that he ‘forced himself’ to offer the sacrifice. You know, he didn’t want to do it, but he forced himself to do it.
‘You have acted foolishly’, said Samuel. He acted foolishly, because on every and all occasions, the wise thing to do is to obey the Lord, and the foolish thing to do is to disobey him. And so, Saul had acted foolishly because the had disobeyed the Lord who had commanded him through Samuel back in chapter 10 to wait until Samuel arrived before offering the sacrifices.
Now, we’re tempted to wonder to ourselves why is Samuel making such a big deal of this. Why does it matter? It’s not a terrible sin, is it? On Wednesday evening, we were studying Psalm 51 which was David’s confession after he committed adultery with Bathsheba and arranged for her husband to be killed. David’s sins were big sins. Saul’s sin was nothing like that. And while it’s true that some sins are more serious than other sins, nevertheless every sin — even the smallest sin — deserves God’s wrath and curse, both in this life and in the next, because every sin is an offence to the Lord our God who is a holy God whose eyes are too pure to look upon evil. And Saul’s sin was all the more serious because he was the Lord’s anointed king, called by God and appointed by him to lead God’s people. He was a leader among God’s people; and yet, instead of obeying the Lord, he disobeyed him. And then, instead of confessing his sin and seeking God’s forgiveness, all he did was blame everyone else.
And so, Samuel said to Saul that if he had obeyed the command of the Lord, then the Lord would have established his kingdom over Israel for all time, so that one of his descendants would have ruled Israel in every generation. But since he did not keep the Lord’s command, his kingdom will not endure and the Lord will hand over the kingdom to someone else. Samuel refers to ‘a man after his own heart’; that’s just a way of referring to a man chosen by God. And when the time is right, God will appoint this other man to be leader of God’s people in place of Saul. And the reason the Lord will take the kingdom from Saul and give it to another is because Samuel did not keep the Lord’s command.
Saul had been appointed by God to rule over God’s people on God’s behalf. And as king, he was duty-bound to obey the Lord in all things. But when the Philistines appeared in the Promised Land, Saul disregarded the word of the Lord and disobeyed his clear command.
I mentioned one other week the parallel with Adam, who had been appointed by God to rule over the earth on God’s behalf, because when God made Adam in the beginning, he commanded Adam to rule over all the other creatures. He was to rule the world on God’s behalf. And he was also duty-bound to obey God’s command. But when the serpent appeared in the Garden, Adam disregarded the word of the Lord and he disobeyed his clear command concerning the forbidden fruit. And so, he lost his right to rule over God’s world.
And all of us are just like Adam and Saul, because all of us are duty-bound to obey the Lord our God and to do his will each day in all things. And he has written his law on our hearts; and he has revealed it to us in his word; and he had given us teachers to teach us his word and to make his will known to us. And yet, despite all these good things which he has given to us, we still sin against the Lord in thought and word and deed; and every day we disregard his laws and we do not keep his commands. And so, all of us deserve his wrath and curse in this life and in the next; and we deserve to be condemned and sent out of his presence forever. That’s what each one of us deserves, because each one of us, like Adam and Saul, has not kept the commands of the Lord.
But God, who is rich in mercy, sent his one and only Son into the world as God’s true anointed king, who came to deliver God’s people from our sin and misery and to give us everlasting life in the Promised Land to come. And unlike Saul, and unlike you and me, the Lord Jesus kept the command of the Lord his God perfectly. Though he is mighty God and is above the law, he humbled himself and he submitted himself to the law and he obeyed it perfectly on behalf of his people. And even though he did not deserve to die, nevertheless he gave up his life on the cross and he suffered and he died on behalf of his people to pay for their sins and all that they have done wrong. And the moment a sinner trusts in God’s Son, God pardons that sinner and accepts him, accepts her, as right in his sight.
And after the Lord Jesus died and was buried, he was raised from the dead and he ascended to heaven above to rule and reign over all things. And in his name I say to you that you must trust in the Lord Jesus Christ as the only Saviour of the world. Trust in him, because whoever does not trust in him will be condemned by God and will be punished forever when Jesus Christ the King comes again. But whoever trusts in him receives forgiveness from God for all that you have done wrong, and peace with God forever, and the hope of everlasting life in the Promised Land to come, where you will reign with Christ forever and where there will be no-one and nothing to harm you. And whoever trusts in Christ the King receives from him not only the forgiveness of sins and the hope of everlasting life, but you also receive his Spirit to help you to fight against every temptation so that more and more you’re able to keep the command of the Lord your God, as you wait for Christ your King to come again.