SAUL: His Decline

Samuel and Saul

1 Samuel 13:1—15

The history of Saul’s reign as Israel’s first king really begins in chapter 13, and according to the custom of recording the history of the kings, it begins with a statement of his age.  The NIV begins like this—

Saul was thirty years old when he became king, and he reigned over Israel forty-two years.  (1 Samuel 13:1)

A look at how the RSV translates this verse shows the difficulty translators had in tackling this verse—

Saul was…years old when he began to reign; and he reigned…two years over Israel.

And the literal version sounds like this—

A son of a year [is] Saul in his reigning, yea, two years he hath reigned over Israel.

What does all this mean?  The NIV has calculated that Saul was 30 years old when he became king, but the text does not say that.  In fact, Saul could have been 40 years old.  What we know for sure is that his son, Jonathan, was fully grown by now and an accomplished warrior.   So why is the Hebrew so obscure?  Given the disaster that Saul would become, some Bible scholars offer this paraphrase of the obscure Hebrew—

Saul was like a child of one year when he began to regin

Saul was chosen out of obscurity and rose to dizzying heights in such a brief time that he was unprepared for the office and as clueless as the people he was leading.  According to God, the only preparation Saul needed was to be obedient to Him.  But no, he could not do that.  Saul was a product of a corrupt generation and the people got a leader exactly like they were.

While the story of Saul’s reign begins here, so does the story of his decline.  It is not a stretch to say that after an initial victory at Jabesh Gilead, Saul was a complete failure as a political leader.  But the prophet Samuel, in love and faithfulness to the Lord, told the nation of Israel in his farewell address in response to this request—

The people all said to Samuel, “Pray to the LORD your God for your servants so that we will not die, for we have added to all our other sins the evil of asking for a king.”

“Do not be afraid,” Samuel replied. “You have done all this evil; yet do not turn away from the LORD, but serve the LORD with all your heart.  Do not turn away after useless idols. They can do you no good, nor can they rescue you, because they are useless.  For the sake of his great name the LORD will not reject his people, because the LORD was pleased to make you his own.  As for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the LORD by failing to pray for you. And I will teach you the way that is good and right.  But be sure to fear the LORD and serve him faithfully with all your heart; consider what great things he has done for you.  Yet if you persist in doing evil, both you and your king will be swept away.” (1 Samuel 12:19—25)

Saul was given every opportunity to succeed in his new career, and like another king of Israel, Uzziah, he was helped by God until he was strong—

In Jerusalem he made machines designed by skillful men for use on the towers and on the corner defenses to shoot arrows and hurl large stones. His fame spread far and wide, for he was greatly helped until he became powerful.

But after Uzziah became powerful, his pride led to his downfall. He was unfaithful to the LORD his God, and entered the temple of the LORD to burn incense on the altar of incense.  (2 Chronicles 26:15—16)

The pride that resulted in his success would surely end in Saul’s destruction.  Did God forsake Saul?  According to Samuel, Saul forsook God and reaped what the seeds of his disobedience produced.

1.  Saul’s duty was obvious, verse 8

He waited seven days, the time set by Samuel; but Samuel did not come to Gilgal, and Saul’s men began to scatter.

In order to fully understand this verse, we need to glance back at 10:8—

“Go down ahead of me to Gilgal. I will surely come down to you to sacrifice burnt offerings and fellowship offerings, but you must wait seven days until I come to you and tell you what you are to do.”

This was some time before the events of chapter 13, but this was what Saul was supposed to do when the situation warranted it.  But here is the true nature of Saul’s heart working itself out in disobedience.   This word from God given through Samuel was given, perhaps, as many as three years before, but that did not negate it; this was a standing order from God for Saul’s benefit.  Saul needed God’s help, and all he had to do get it was to obey.

Saul’s sin was not that as king he was forbidden to offer sacrifices.  Consider what Kinds David and Solomon did—

David built an altar to the LORD there and sacrificed burnt offerings and fellowship offerings. Then the LORD answered prayer in behalf of the land, and the plague on Israel was stopped.  (2 Samuel 24:25)

Then Solomon awoke—and he realized it had been a dream.  He returned to Jerusalem, stood before the ark of the Lord’s covenant and sacrificed burnt offerings and fellowship offerings.  Then he gave a feast for all his court. (1 Kings 3:15)

Saul sinned simply because he disobeyed God’s word through the prophet Samuel, and he would do it again near the end of his career.

What is our duty as Christians?  To obey the Word of God; our responsibility is to live according to the light we have in God’s revealed Word, the holy Bible.  There are those in Church today who teach that parts of the Bible are outdated and no longer apply to modern Christians.  Liberal theologians teach that these parts of the Bible, especially the Old Testament, are “lesser inspired” and modern Christians can overlook them.  But, here is what some “lesser inspired” verses say—

Preserve my life according to your love,
and I will obey the statutes of your mouth.

Your word, O LORD, is eternal;
it stands firm in the heavens.

Your faithfulness continues through all generations;
you established the earth, and it endures.  (Psalm 119:88—90)

The eternity of God’s Word is linked to His unfailing love.  If we, like Saul, are conscious of having been chosen by God and anointed by God by being filled with His Holy Spirit, then the revealed Word must become our absolute rule to live by; it needs to be the unconditional law of our lives—all of it, not just the parts we like or make us feel good.

2.  His faith was tested, verse 5

The Philistines assembled to fight Israel, with three thousand chariots, six thousand charioteers, and soldiers as numerous as the sand on the seashore. They went up and camped at Micmash, east of Beth Aven.

These ancient enemies of God’s people hated Israel; Israel literally stunk to them.  As a result, Saul mustered his troops to Gilgal.  He started out waiting for Samuel as prescribed by the prophet.  But we read this—

He waited seven days, the time set by Samuel; but Samuel did not come to Gilgal, and Saul’s men began to scatter. (verse 8)

Why did the men scatter?  Obviously they scattered because they were afraid and they were afraid because Saul was not leading them.  Beyond one single battle, what had Saul ever done to inspire the confidence of his people?  In fact, the great military brain of the family was Saul’s son Jonathan, not Saul!  Jonathan won a great victory and his father took the credit for it!  Who would trust a man like that?  He took credit for something somebody else did!  So the men took to hiding.  Poor Saul; he was unable to keep his troops together.

What we are witnessing here is a test of Saul’s faith.  Notice that Saul outwardly obeyed God.  His problem was he failed to trust God, failed to trust Samuel and instead he couldn’t take his eyes off his frightened soldiers.  In other words, Saul’s outward circumstances determined the strength of his faith instead of the other way around.

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.  This is what the ancients were commended for.

By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.  (Hebrews 11:1—3)

For we walk by faith, not by sight.  (2 Corinthians 5:7)

Of course his circumstances were desperate; desperate circumstances always highlight a person’s faith.  And there is always a struggle between faith and sight.  But the reality for the believer lays, not in what they can see, but in their faith in what God has said.  We assume that what we see is what is real, but that is not what the Bible teaches. But this is what Saul thought; the desperate circumstances he found himself in negated God’s word.  God Word is never negated by circumstances.

3.  His failure was complete, verses 9, 10

So he said, “Bring me the burnt offering and the fellowship offerings. ” And Saul offered up the burnt offering.  Just as he finished making the offering, Samuel arrived, and Saul went out to greet him.

Saul waited almost the whole time, but he grew impatient with Samuel.  Really, Saul grew impatient with the will of God; things were not happening fast enough for him; God wasn’t doing things the way Saul thought they should have been done, so he took matters in own hands.  He chose his own way and stepped out of God’s will and favor.

Every single Spirit-filled believer will have their faith tested.  Even our Lord, Jesus Christ, the very Son of God, was not exempt from this testing.  As soon as He was baptized and filled with the Holy Spirit, He was purposely led into the wilderness to be tested by that same Holy Spirit!   Thank God He remained faithful.

Abraham was tested, and thankfully he passed otherwise he never would have become the father of the faithful!

Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God.  (Romans 4:20)

And Moses was tested and the whole nation of Israel survived because he stood his ground and remained faithful—

By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king: for he endured, as seeing him who is invisible.  (Hebrews 11:27)

That is how you become useful to God:  by enduring as seeing him who is invisible.  If, when we face our testing, we fear and we take our eyes off of God and see our circumstances, we become life-long cripples in the work of the Lord; we become useless to Him.  Whenever, as servants of God, we choose our way rather than God’s way as revealed in His Word or when we rush ahead of God instead of waiting on Him, we become like bones out of joint in the Body of Christ.  What a painful way to live.

5.  His excuse was lame, verses 11, 12

“What have you done?” asked Samuel.

Saul replied, “When I saw that the men were scattering, and 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, and I have not sought the LORD’s favor.’ So I felt compelled to offer the burnt offering.”

In a sense, we can almost understand Saul’s motivation to offer the sacrifice.  His army was deserting him, the Philistine army was pressing in, Samuel was long in coming, and Saul’s own patience was waning.  Saul’s excuse to Samuel was to point to the circumstances and point out the urgent need to seek God.  What Saul did not realize is that animal sacrifice was not what moves the Hand of God.

And Samuel said, Hath the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams.  (1 Samuel 15:22, KJV)

There is never an excuse for disobedience.  We all want to be the exception to the God’s rule, and we make lame excuses just like Saul did:

  • My marriage was falling apart and my secretary loves me more than my wife, so I don’t think I really committed adultery.
  • Things are really tight this month, so God will understand why I don’t tithe.
  • I didn’t lie, I misspoke.
  • Who cares if our new pastor is gay.  He still loves God, and really, everybody sins, right?  He such a nice man.
  • Well, I know that what Jesus said, but nobody can live up to that!  Besides, God knows I am only human, right?

No argument and rationalization can mitigate the guilt of doing what we know to be contrary to the Word of God.   The saddest part of this story is how Saul tried to justify what he did by blaming everybody but himself.

What’s worse is that even after Samuel’s rebuke and solemn warning; Saul showed absolutely no signs of sorrow or repentance.  He proceeded to number his followers.  When we have sinned and when we find out we have made a mistake, when we stumble and fall and fail, and when we disobey, repentance and confession is the only way to get back into God’s favor and make things right.

6.  The consequences terrible, verse 14

But now your kingdom will not endure; the LORD has sought out a man after his own heart and appointed him leader of his people, because you have not kept the LORD’s command.”

Saul turned away from God, and so God chose another man to take his place.  Saul was a man after his people’s heart, but God’s new man would be a man after God’s own heart.  We might look at this and think God was reacting harshly to what Saul did.  But Saul was warned not once but twice that if he did not obey God’s command, he would be replaced by someone else.  This tells us what Saul really thought about God; he didn’t think God really meant what He was saying.  Or he thought God was not a God of His word.  He soon found out otherwise.

God means what He says in His Word.  There are no exceptions to His rules.  We, who live in this present dispensation of grace are fortunate enough to experience the forgiveness of our sins.  But God’s rules are still for us.  We have an obligation to live in obedience to them.

For Saul, all his plans for establishing his kingdom in Israel  would come to nothing because Israel’s God had plans and nothing Saul could do could change that.  Saul’s power was gone.  It is sad but true  that there are believers who perform like Christians very well but they are doing so in the power of the flesh because there is no Spirit empowering them.  To choose to live our lives according to our set of rules is to choose a life of defeat and failure.

May God give us the wisdom and the ability to allow Him to work in us to will and to act according to his good purpose (Philippians 2:13).

(c)  2009 WitzEnd

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