SAULíS FAILURES

1 Samuel 13 - 15

Saul is the story of a great beginning. But the spiritual life is not limited to beginnings. It is not a sprint. It is, instead, a marathon. Saul had made an excellent beginning. This young man who had come on the scene looking for lost donkeys had instead found himself as the redeemer of Israel and her first king. The tragedy of his story begins in chapters 13-15.

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Jonathanís victory over the Philistines at Geba

Jonathanís victory over the Philistine garrison at Michmash

Saulís victory over the Amalekites

Saul disobeys the law by offering sacrifices

Saul makes an oath of hunger which Jonathan inadvertently disobeys

Saul disobeys God by sparing the life of Agag, king of the Amalekites.

 

WAR WITH THE PHILISTINES

1. The Years of Saulís Reign.

1 Samuel 13:1 has several variant readings which have puzzled scholars over the years. This is reflected in the various English translations.

KJV & NKJV

Saul reigned one year; and when he had reigned two years over Israel...

NAS

Saul was forty years old when he began to reign, and he reigned thirty-two years over Israel.

NIV

Saul was thirty years old when he became king, and he reigned over Israel forty-two years.

(Taken from a few late manuscripts of the LXX).

RSV

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

The King James Version attempts to reflect the Hebrew numerals of the Massoretic Text. However, this phrasing seems out of character and most scholars today believe it to be in error.

Indeed, a literal rendering of the Hebrew text would read: "Saul was a year old when he began to reign; and he reigned two years over Israel."

The Septuagint omits the entire verse. The Latin Vulgate translates the Hebrew literally.

Acts 13:21 says that Saul reigned for 40 years, but this might be a round number (the NAS translators viewed 32 years of Saulís reign + 7Ĺ years of Ishbosheth).

2. Attack on the Geba Garrison.

Now Saul chose for himself 3,000 men of Israel, of which 2,000 were with Saul in Michmash and in the hill country of Bethel, while 1,000 were with Jonathan at Gibeah of Benjamin. But he sent away the rest of the people, each to his tent.

And Jonathan smote the garrison of the Philistines that was in Geba, and the Philistines heard of it. Then Saul blew the trumpet throughout the land, saying, "Let the Hebrews hear."

And all Israel heard the news that Saul had smitten the garrison of the Philistines, and also that Israel had become odious to the Philistines. The people were then summoned to Saul at Gilgal. (1 Samuel 13:2-4).

The Philistines had last been mentioned in chapter 7 where they had been driven from the territory of Israel and had retreated to their own cities by the sea. Now they were back. They had infiltrated east into the mountains of central Canaan, establishing a garrison at Geba.

Saul had split his meager forces into two parties. There were 2000 men under his command both at Michmash and stationed in the hill country around Bethel. Another 1000 were with Jonathan to the south at Gibeah. Jonathan was able to take the initiative, capturing the garrison at Geba. This had the same effect as kicking over a hornets nest. It infuriated the Philistines and brought about an immediate retaliation.

3. Philistine Invasion.

Now the Philistines assembled to fight with Israel, 30,000 chariots and 6,000 horsemen, and people like the sand which is on the seashore in abundance; and they came up and camped in Michmash, east of Beth-aven.

And when the men of Israel saw that they were in a strait (for the people were hard-pressed), then the people hid themselves in caves, in thickets, in cliffs, in cellars, and in pits.

Also some of the Hebrews crossed the Jordan into the land of Gad and Gilead. But as for Saul, he was still in Gilgal, and all the people followed him trembling. (1 Samuel 13:5-7).

The Philistine response to the destruction of their garrison was an all-out invasion of the Israelite territories. They boasted a thoroughly modern army against the under-equipped and untrained Israelite militia.

Saul was forced to retreat to Gilgal. This was the place where the Israelites had first crossed the Jordan to enter the Promised Land under Joshua. The memorial stones still stood here.

But in the face of this overwhelming enemy, the people were not remembering the past victories of the Lord. Instead, they were hiding. Some were going back across the Jordan to find refuge on the east bank.

4. Decision at Gilgal.

Now he waited seven days, according to the appointed time set by Samuel, but Samuel did not come to Gilgal; and the people were scattering from him. (1 Samuel 13:8).

Samuel had promised to meet Saul at Gilgal within seven days of his arrival there. But it wasnít a recent promise. He had made this promise all the way back in 1 Samuel 10:8.

Saul arrives in Gilgal and waits the seven days. But there is no Samuel. And the Philistines are getting closer. And Saulís army is shrinking quickly.

Finally, Saul decides that he can wait no longer and he calls for the sacrifices to be brought and he offers them himself.

Before we judge Saul too harshly, letís ask whether we are any different. What do you do when God does not appear on schedule? "If God won't do it, I'll do it for God." Do you feel as though God must adhere to your time schedule?

Saul had waited the seven days, up to but not including the last minute. And so, he takes things into his own hands. He offers the offering himself.

What was his sin? Not in merely offering the sacrifice, for David and Solomon both did the same thing (2 Samuel 24:25; 1 Kings 3:15). Saulís sin was in disobeying the command of the Lord as given through Samuel. Immediately he finds himself confronted by Samuel.

And it came about as soon as he finished offering the burnt offering, that behold, Samuel came; and Saul went out to meet him and to greet him. (1 Samuel 13:10).

Samuel questions the actions of Saul ("What have you done?"). Saul immediately begins a process of rationalization.

Do you see what it missing in Saulís reasoning? There is a complete lack of REPENTANCE. He is remorseful for the results of his sin, but he does not admit his guilt.

5. Judgment against Saul.

And Samuel said to Saul, "You have acted foolishly; you have not kept the commandment of the Lord your God, which He commanded you, for now the Lord would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. 14 But now your kingdom shall not endure. The Lord has sought out for Himself a man after His own heart, and the Lord has appointed him as ruler over His people, because you have not kept what the Lord commanded you." (1 Samuel 13:13-14).

The judgment against Saul is that he will not be the founder of a dynasty. It shall not be his descendants who sit upon the throne of Israel. This distinction shall be given to another.

Saulís bad situation had gotten a lot worse. The Philistine threat was growing. The number of his forces had been reduced to a mere 600 (13:15). Samuel had come and gone. And the Lord was not on his side. In the midst of this bleak outlook, victory comes at the hands of Jonathan.

 

JONATHANíS VICTORY

The personality of Jonathan stands in strong contrast to that of his father. In the face of circumstances which had cowed his father, Jonathan sees the hand of the Lord.

1. Setting for the Victory.

And Saul was staying in the outskirts of Gibeah under the pomegranate tree which is in Migron. And the people who were with him were about six hundred men, 3 and Ahijah, the son of Ahitub, Ichabodís brother, the son of Phinehas, the son of Eli, the priest of the Lord at Shiloh, was wearing an ephod. And the people did not know that Jonathan was gone. (1 Samuel 14:2-3).

Saul had moved from Gilgal back to his home town of Gibeah. He still had his 600 men and he had added to his entourage the new high priest, Ahijah, the great-grandson of Eli in all of his priestly finest.

Why is Ahijah mentioned along with his ancestry? Perhaps it is to point to the company which Saul was keeping - the son of an accursed line of priests.

2. Jonathanís Plan.

Then Jonathan said to the young man who was carrying his armor, "Come and let us cross over to the garrison of these uncircumcised; perhaps the Lord will work for us, for the Lord is not restrained to save by many or by few." (1 Samuel 14:6).

The Philistines had established an outpost at the top of one of the passes leading to Michmash. This was the objective to which Jonathan now turned his attention.

Jonathan was a man of faith. While his father had been worried that the army was melting away, Jonathan wasnít worried at all. He didnít care that the army which had originally consisted of 3000 now numbered only 600. He believed that God was able to save with 600 men. Or with 6. Or with only 2.

And his armor bearer said to him, "Do all that is in your heart; turn yourself, and here I am with you according to your desire." (1 Samuel 14:7).

Jonathanís armor bearer had no less faith. An armor bearer in those days was often a teenage boy who was not yet considered of age. The armor that he carried would consist of a giant shield nearly the size of a man. It was a two-handed job and so he would depend upon the warrior on whose behalf he was bearing the armor.

They decide upon a plan. They will approach the Philistine outpost guarding Michmash and reveal their position.

Did you notice anything about this plan? There was no plan for either retreat or defeat. There is no third option. They assume that there will be eventual victory and that it will either come now or it will come later.

3. Jonathanís Attack.

Then Jonathan climbed up on his hands and feet, with his armor bearer behind him; and they fell before Jonathan, and his armor bearer put some of them to death after him.

And that first slaughter which Jonathan and his armor bearer made was about twenty men within about half a furrow in an acre of land.

And there was a trembling in the camp, in the field, and among all the people. Even the garrison and the raiders trembled, and the earth quaked so that it became a great trembling. (1 Samuel 14:13-15).

Up to this point, the Philistines thought of the Israelites only in terms of those who came down from the mountains to have their farm implements sharpened. Nothing to fear from them. They were nothing but a band of backwoods farmers. But this farmer does some plowing that leaves 20 professional soldiers dead.

There is an interesting parallel between the stories of Jonathan and Gideon, the judge of Israel.

Gideon

Jonathan

Went alone with a servant into the camp of the Midianites.

Went alone with his armor bearer against the Philistines.

Sets forth the fleece as a sign of Godís victory.

Sets the invitation of the Philistines to come up as the sign of Godís victory.

The Midianites are thrown into a panic by Gideonís 300.

The Philistines are thrown into a panic by Jonathan and his armor bearer.

In their panic, the Midianites fought one another.

Every manís sword was against his fellow (14:20).

Reinforcements come from Ephraim.

Reinforcements come out of hiding in Ephraim (14:22).

The confusion which fell upon the Philistines is described in graphic detail with the threefold use of the root word "tremble".

And there was a trembling in the camp, in the field, and among all the people. Even the garrison and the raiders trembled, and the earth quaked so that it became a great trembling. (1 Samuel 14:15).

This was a godlike trembling in its intensity. It was also FROM God as to its origin.

 

SAULíS OATH

Saul hears what is going on, looks around to see who is missing from his army and discovers it is just Jonathan and his armor-bearer.

1. The Ark.

Then Saul said to Ahijah, "Bring the ark of God here." For the ark of God was at that time with the sons of Israel. (1 Samuel 14:18).

We are not told why Saul had brought the ark of the covenant with him. Perhaps he thought of it as a good luck charm. That is how the Ark had been lost in the first place.

With this turn of events, Saul calls for the Ark of God in order to inquire of God. This sounds great. The only problem is that, as he looks out, he sees the Philistines fleeing and takes off after them as he says to the priest, "Withdraw your hand." He reasons, "We donít have time to check with God; letís take advantage of the situation."

2. The Oath.

Now the men of Israel were hard-pressed on that day, for Saul had put the people under oath, saying, "Cursed be the man who eats food before evening, and until I have avenged myself on my enemies." So none of the people tasted food. (1 Samuel 14:24).

Saul thought to motivate the Israelites to fight harder, and so he places them under an oath and a curse, forbidding them to eat. As a result, the fighting men of Israel find themselves running out of energy. The result is exactly the opposite of what Saul had desired - "the slaughter of the Philistines has not been great" (14:30).

a. Jonathanís innocent disobedience.

Jonathan hadnít heard about the oath which his father made. And so, when he comes upon some honey dripping from a honeycomb, he partakes of it.

b. The disobedience of the People.

At the dayís end, the Israelites came upon the spoil which the Philistines had left in their retreat. Since they were now famished, they "took sheep and oxen and calves, and slew them on the ground; and the people ate them with the blood" (14:32).

To eat blood was a sin against the Mosaic Law (Leviticus 3:17; 7:26; 17:10-16).

3. Saul and Jonathan.

Saul wants to go on attacking the Philistines and taking spoil all night and "not leave a man of them." The priest suggests they "draw near to God." When Saul does this, there is no answer from the Lord. Saul reasons that this must be because of some sin among the Israelites.

Saul says, "Let's cast lots and find out who the sinner is. Even if it is my own son I will kill him." Within a few minutes, he finds himself confronted with the folly of his own words. When they cast the lots, they find out it is indeed Saul's son, Jonathan, the hero, who had brought about this great deliverance in Israel.

Saul declares his intention to have Jonathan executed. Jonathan, in a great display of faith and loyalty, agrees to give up his life. The Israelites intervene, demanding that Jonathanís life be spared.

 

SAUL AND THE AMALEKITES

Up to now Saul has only forfeited the right of his line to rule Israel. In Chapter 15 we will see the climax of his life and the loss of his kingship.

1. Godís Command to Strike the Amalekites.

Then Samuel said to Saul, "The Lord sent me to anoint you as king over His people, over Israel; now therefore, listen to the words of the Lord.

"Thus says the Lord of hosts, `I will punish Amalek for what he did to Israel, how he set himself against him on the way while he was coming up from Egypt. Now go and strike Amalek and utterly destroy all that he has, and do not spare him; but put to death both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.í" (1 Samuel 15:1-3).

The Amalekites were among the descendants of Esau. They were a nomadic desert tribe who lived in the northern Sinai. The fighting between the Amalekites and the Israelites went all the way back to the wilderness wanderings.

Because of this, every living thing of Amalekís is to be put to death. If this seems cruel, remember that this is the same God who promised Abraham that if there were ten righteous men in Sodom he would spare the whole valley, the whole cesspool, not just Sodom but Gomorrah, Zeboim, Admah, Bella, the whole five cities of the plain.

The Amalekites were a cancer in the land of Canaan. Like a cancer, they were to be completely exterminated. It isnít wise to leave a few cancer cells behind. And it isnít wise to leave a bit of sin behind.

2. Saulís Initial Obedience.

Then Saul summoned the people and numbered them in Telaim, 200,000 foot soldiers and 10,000 men of Judah. And Saul came to the city of Amalek, and set an ambush in the valley.

And Saul said to the Kenites, "Go, depart, go down from among the Amalekites, lest I destroy you with them; for you showed kindness to all the sons of Israel when they came up from Egypt." So the Kenites departed from among the Amalekites.

So Saul defeated the Amalekites, from Havilah as you go to Shur, which is east of Egypt. And he captured Agag the king of the Amalekites alive, and utterly destroyed all the people with the edge of the sword. (1 Samuel 15:4-8).

Saul responded in obedience to the Lord. He gathered together a huge force and moved down and conquered the Amalekites.

a. Sparing of the Kenites.

Notice that the Kenites were spared. The Kenites were a tribe of metalworkers (that is what "Kenite" means). They mined copper in the mines in the Sinai. Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses, was a Kenite (Judges 1:14; 4:11) who lived in the land of Midian (he is called a Midianite for the same reason that one living in Florida would be called a Floridian).

Many of the Kenites had affiliated themselves with the Israelites in the wilderness, settling on the southern edge of Judah to the east of Beersheba. And so, they are permitted to leave in peace.

b. Extent of the destruction.

This does not mean that each and every Amalekite was destroyed. They would continue to be a force to be reckoned with (1 Samuel 30:1).

c. Agag was probably a dynastic title like "pharaoh" (see Numbers 24:7).

It may have come from the Akkadian agagum, "to become angry."

3. Saulís Disobedience.

But Saul and the people spared Agag and the best of the sheep, the oxen, the fatlings, the lambs, and all that was good, and were not willing to destroy them utterly; but everything despised and worthless, that they utterly destroyed. (1 Samuel 15:9).

Ancient kings would sometimes keep the kings whom they captured, keeping them as a living monument to their success. Judges 1:6-7 tells of Adonai-bezek who had kept a retinue of 70 conquered kings with their thumbs and big toes amputated. Perhaps Saul rationalized that, since all of the other kings were doing this, he would act in the same way.

What is ironic is how Saul had been ready to put his own son to death in the previous chapter but was now unwilling to execute a wicked king.

But this is not all. Saul and the people also took for themselves the choice pick of the flocks of the conquered Amalekites. These things had been dedicated by God for destruction, but they decided that these things were too good for God. They were committing the sine of Achan who had stolen some of the spoil from Jericho.

4. The Lordís Repentance.

Then the word of the Lord came to Samuel saying,

"I regret that I have made Saul king, for he has turned back from following Me, and has not carried out My commands." And Samuel was distressed and cried out to the Lord all night. (1 Samuel 15:10-11).

When we come to verse 29, we shall read that God "is not a man that He should change His mind." And yet, we read here that God regretted His actions.

5. Confrontation with Samuel.

And Samuel rose early in the morning to meet Saul; and it was told Samuel, saying, "Saul came to Carmel, and behold, he set up a monument for himself, then turned and proceeded on down to Gilgal." (1 Samuel 15:12).

This is not the Carmel along the Mediterranean, but another town located south of Hebron. Samuel catches up with Saul on the way to Gilgal.

And Samuel came to Saul, and Saul said to him, "Blessed are you of the Lord! I have carried out the command of the LORD."

But Samuel said, "What then is this bleating of the sheep in my ears, and the lowing of the oxen which I hear?"

And Saul said, "They have brought them from the Amalekites, for the people spared the best of the sheep and oxen, to sacrifice to the Lord your God; but the rest we have utterly destroyed." (1 Samuel 15:13-15).

Notice the pronouns. I have been obedient. THEY brought the oxen and sheep. The PEOPLE spared the best to sacrifice to the Lord YOUR God.

When Samuel points out his disobedience, Saul argues that the purpose of the spoil was to bring sacrifices to the Lord. It is like the little boy who was caught with his hand in the cookie jar and who exclaimed, "I was getting it for you!"

And Samuel said, "Has the Lord as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of divination, and insubordination is an iniquity and idolatry, because you have rejected the word of the Lord, He has also rejected you from being king." (1 Samuel 15:22-23).

God ordained sacrifices in the Old Testament. Sacrificing was a part of obedience to God. But it is not the mere act of killing an animal which was pleasing to God. God isnít really impressed with a bunch of dead animals. What impresses God is the giving of SELF.

When you take that which you own and for which you have worked and give it to God, that involves a real sacrifice. And the best kind of sacrifice is the giving of yourself in OBEDIENCE.

6. Promise of Judgment.

Saul asks Samuel for forgiveness. Samuel replies that the consequences of Saulís sin will be long-lasting.

But Samuel said to Saul, "I will not return with you; for you have rejected the word of the Lord, and the Lord has rejected you from being king over Israel."

And as Samuel turned to go, Saul seized the edge of his robe, and it tore. So Samuel said to him, "The Lord has torn the kingdom of Israel from you today, and has given it to your neighbor who is better than you.

"And also the Glory of Israel will not lie or change His mind; for He is not a man that He should change His mind." (1 Samuel 15:26-29).

Having been told that his kingdom would be taken from him, Saul instinctively did what came natural. He reach out to hold on. To hold on to his kingdom. To hold on to his status. To hold on to Samuel. And in the process, he ripped a portion of Samuelís cloak, bringing a fitting illustration to the prophetic words.

Do you remember the reaction of Eli when he was told that his sons would not follow him in the priesthood? There had been an acceptance of Godís will. Saul is different. He wants to hold on. And the rest of the book of 1 Samuel will be the account of Saul trying to hold on.

Then Samuel went to Ramah, but Saul went up to his house at Gibeah of Saul. And Samuel did not see Saul again until the day of his death; for Samuel grieved over Saul. And the Lord regretted that He had made Saul king over Israel. (1 Samuel 15:34-35).

Saul would see Samuel one more time. But it would take place after Samuel had died. And it would take place on the eve of his own death.


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