It has been said that kings and earthly rulers are prone to pride. History is full of examples of this, one particular event that stands out is when James VI was king of Scotland. James was a proud man, after all he was the king! He was a rude man, and when he walked into worship each Sunday his rudeness entered with him. On one occasion he was sitting in the pew surrounded by friends and other royal VIP’s, and when the pastor (who was Robert Bruce at the time) began preaching James began talking to his friends. The pastor stopped preaching, looked in the king’s direction, and the king fell silent. The pastor began again, and so did James. For the second time the pastor stopped preaching, looked at the king, and the king quieted down. When the same thing happened for the third time in a row, the pastor turned toward the king and said this, ‘It is said to have been an expression of the wisest of kings, ‘When the lion roars, all beasts of the field are quiet.’ Sir, the Lion of the tribe of Judah is now roaring in the voice of His gospel, and it becomes all the petty kings of the earth to be silent.’
Kings can too quickly forget that they are subjects, and that a greater King rules over, even them. Pride has been the downfall of many a king and many a peasant throughout history, and as we enter into 1 Samuel 13 today we find that King Saul is far too like James VI. Recall as we ended chapter 11-12 Israel was rejoicing over Saul’s inauguration as King and it may come as a surprise to many that in the very next chapter, 1 Samuel 13, we see the beginning of the end for Saul as King of Israel.
The scene is laid out for us in 13:1-7. In these opening verses we have the customary introduction of the kingship of Saul in v1, followed by a description of the armies of both Saul and his son Jonathan who took his army and defeated a garrison of Philistines at the city of Geba. v3 gives us a contrast of two separate announcements: after being defeated by Jonathan’s army v3a says all the rest of the Philistines ‘heard of it’ implying that they would not take this loss lying down, they would respond. v3b shows the other side. After his sons victory king Saul trumpeted the victory throughout the country so loud that all Israel heard of it as well. So both nations have heard of this battle, the Philistines were angry and v4 indicates that Israel was going to join Saul at Gilgal to prepare for the Philistine response. But even in the midst of all their preparation they were not ready for what they saw before them in v5. The Philistines indeed responded and it seems that they brought every soldier they had: 30,000 chariots, 6,000 horsemen, and troops like sand on the seashore, foot soldiers without number. v6 then gives us the Israelite response, they scatter and flee, fleeing to hide in caves, fleeing to hide in holes in the ground, fleeing to hide behind rocks, fleeing to hide in cisterns (wells), even fleeing to hide in tombs as if they were already dead men. Some of them were so scared they did a reverse exodus and went back across the Jordan back into the wilderness to Gad and Gilead. Where was Saul in the midst of the people’s terror? He stayed in Gilgal but notice what it says? ‘Saul was still at Gilgal, and all the people followed him trembling.’
v7 is one of those moments in Scripture that when we come across it, we would do well to pause and linger at these words ‘…all the people followed Saul, trembling.’ Notice the source of the people’s trembling was Saul’s trembling. A lack of courage in the king created a lack of courage in the people. The king’s lack of confident trust in God created in the people a lack of confident trust in God. What is the result of his trembling, lack of courage, and lack of confident trust in God? Terror, sheer terror. Men fled everywhere. Saul’s leadership is lacking the most significant component to quality leadership – conviction. All the leaders we read about in history books have this one thing in common, they all had deep conviction. Not just beliefs, but convictions, things they knew to be so true and so beautiful that they were willing to not only live for them but die for them as well.
We could speak of all of the apostles who were men of conviction as they faced torture and death. We could speak of many of the early church fathers who had to stand against the tide of wicked cultures who forced them to choose between denying Christ and saving their lives or being faithful to Christ and losing their lives. We could speak of many of the reformers who were men and women of conviction too, and they had to be because most of them were burned at the stake by the Roman Catholic Church for preaching the true gospel. In England Queen Mary killed 288 protestants, all of whom were men and women of deep gospel conviction. We could speak of many puritans of the 17th-18th centuries and many missionaries (even in our own day) who have had to and are now having to stand firm on gospel convictions in hard places………yet in contrast to all these stunning examples stands king Saul, who looked the part, taller than any man in Israel, yet the one thing he lacked was the conviction, the deep-seated belief that God could handle their enemies, that God was strong enough to save them, and the faith that Psalm 3:6 describes where a single man trusting in God stands fast against thousands enemies. And when the people saw terror in his eyes, they were terrified.
v7 brings us to decision, what kind of Christian will you be? One that speaks a bold word on Sundays but is quiet in the workplace? One that is more eager to be cool with the culture than clear about the gospel? Or one that speaks a bold word on Sundays and is just as passionate with the lost men and women of our city? David Platt once remarked, ‘All of the men and women who have died for our faith in their day, show us how we must live in our day.’
In v8-15 we then see an exchange between Saul and Samuel. Saul has finally got around to obeying the command of Samuel from 10:8, so he goes to Gilgal and waits 7 days for Samuel, but Samuel did not come. Look at v8-9, ‘…the people were scattering from him. So Saul said, ‘Bring the burnt offering here to me, and the peace offerings.’ And he offered the burnt offering.’ Yikes. Saul, who is the king, just took it upon himself to perform the duties of the priest and prophet. This is not good. Sure, Saul felt the pressure, and a quick glance at this would prompt us to ask ‘how could we blame him to taking matters into his own hands?’ Samuel arrives, v10 says, directly after Saul offers the sacrifices and says in v11, ‘What have you done?’ To which Saul responds, ‘The people were scattering, you didn’t come in time, and the enemy has gathered in full strength and has moved to Michmash…(v12) so I forced myself to offer the burnt offering.’ What did Saul want Samuel to say to him, ‘Ohhhh, ok, you were in a hard spot, and you had to force yourself to disobey God. That’s fine, no problem.’ WRONG!
Samuel knows what you and I should know, that there’s never a time where it is right to disobey God. You see, it was the priest’s and prophet’s calling to offer sacrifices and burnt offerings, Samuel said as much back in 10:8, and God had already said as much back in Deut. 12. Saul didn’t care. His wisdom mattered more to him than God’s. To him, hearing from God through His prophet to get guidance and direction in the war wasn’t convenient enough. Or to say it another way, for Saul…prophetic direction is dispensable when life’s difficulties seem insurmountable. He was just going to go ahead and handle the whole burnt offering thing himself and give his heart some kind of false relief because he still went through the religious motions. It surely was a good thing to make an offering, but a good thing done in the wrong way makes it a wrong thing. See what’s at stake here: would Saul be subject to the prophet or would the prophet be subject to him? Saul proved by this one deed that he did not consider himself bound by God’s commands. This is the epitome of pride – to think that our wisdom is greater than God’s, to think that when it really comes down to it, we know better than God.
Yet, you and I know what this is like don’t we? How tempting is it to take matters into our own hands when it seems like ‘waiting on God’ is the most impractical thing to do? We have microwaves, fast food, and cell phones that can retrieve any information we desire in a few seconds. We have hot pockets, an exquisite meal, that only takes 3 minutes to cook! We’re used to getting what we want when we want it. So when something in our lives isn’t going the way we want it to go, the last thing we’re use to doing is waiting on God. Yet isn’t it true that so much of the Christian life is waiting on God? We have been saved, yet we’re waiting to be fully saved, we’re in the Kingdom, yet we’re waiting for the Kingdom to be brought in full measure, sin has been decisively defeated on the cross, yet we’re waiting for the day when our remaining corruption will be cast off. If not waiting on God, and taking matters into our own hands, and living by what we think is best is the essence of pride, than waiting on God and living life by His commands is the essence of humility. To many of us live life just like Saul does: Man is big, and God is small. We see this in v11 when the first words out of Saul’s mouth are ‘When I saw…’ He saw his army scatter, he saw Samuel not show up, he saw the enemy move closer…’ he saw and trembled. But wait, hasn’t he also seen God save His people? In this moment Saul feared man more than he feared God. These two things, the fear of man and the fear of God, play out in our lives like two scales on balance, as one rises the other lowers. The more we fear man the less we’ll fear God, and the more we fear God the less we’ll fear man. So when you ‘see’ things and events or people who make you tremble, remember the One you ought to fear. ‘The fear of man lays a snare…’ Proverbs 29:25 says, ‘…but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe.’
Among the 288 protestants Queen Mary burned at the stake, 3 of them stand out. Hugh Latimer, Nicolas Ridley, and Thomas Cranmer were preaching and calling out to one another, ‘The fires we now face are nothing in comparison to the fires we deserve for our sin’ and as the flames consumed them they went out preaching the gospel of Christ. What an example of fearing God right? Learn here that fearing God doesn’t always bring safety. No, it doesn’t always bring safety but it always brings security – because by fearing God we’re reminded that God is big and Man is small.
As v7 did earlier, now these verses in v8-11 call us to decision again: what kind of Christian will you be? One that refuses to wait on God and leans on your own wisdom, or one that refuses to lean on your own wisdom and waits on God? One that has a small view of God, and a pridefully big view of man, or one that has a big view of God and a humble or low view of man? From examining how Saul lived pridefully in his day, we learn of the humility we should have in our day.
In v13-15 Samuel rebukes Saul for his foolishness and tells him that because of his actions of disobeying God, God will not allow his kingdom to last and endure, it will end with him, Saul’s dynasty is now no more…the Lord has sought a man out after His own heart, and God has commanded that man to be prince over His people. The warning Samuel gave the people in 12:15 and 12:24-25 has come to fruition. So Samuel and Saul part ways. Samuel left Saul and the army while Saul took all the army he could find (about 600 men) and advanced toward Gibeah. This is indeed a sad case; it seems hopeless. The most hopeless part of it all was that due to Saul’s actions he had lost the guidance and direction of God. To lose the direction of God’s Word is to find hopelessness. Ralph Davis says here, ‘It was one thing for Saul to be in terrible distress, it’s another thing for Saul to be alone in that distress.’ Praise God you and I are never alone right? ‘And behold, I am with you always.’ While waiting for Samuel Saul had grown tired and decided to live by His word alone, now as he leads out a vastly smaller army, Saul is alone.
Just when think things couldn’t get any worse, they do. From v17-23 we see Saul move his army to Gibeah to unite with Jonathan’s, and we see the Philistines begin to send out raiding parties into Israel, and because of the previous Philistine oppression on Israel, no one in Israel had any weapons, only farm equipment. If they wanted weapons they had to trek over to the Philistines and pay them way too much money to sharpen their plowshares and sickles. As the passage ends in v22-23 we see the battle about to begin. A colossal philistine army, every soldier with weapons, against small Israel who, except Saul and Jonathan, had armed themselves only with shovels and pitchforks. This is hopeless indeed.
But as we end I have a question for you: haven’t you seen Israel in situations like this before? Of course we have. The previous experience of Israelite hopelessness we see again and again should teach us about the bleak look of things in chapter 13. So often the helplessness of God’s people proves to be the backdrop of God’s deliverance. This is how God works with His people. We don’t rejoice in our hopeless conditions we’re in, we sure don’t enjoy being in some of the spots we find ourselves in throughout life, but remember, God has saved His people in hopeless spots before in the past too many times for us to lose heart today.
So for the last time let me ask you: what kind of Christian will you be? Those who give up all courage and throw in the towel when seemingly insurmountable things enter your life? Or will stand with all those who have gone before us, will you lean into those deep-seated gospel convictions that define us, will you own up to the hopeless condition that IS us, and will you trust in, rely on, and cling to Jesus Christ who came to save us?