If God Won’t Fix Things, I Will! (1 Samuel 13:1-14)

Are you good at waiting for things to happen? I know I’m not, I’d rather do something to try to fix it than wait around.

I always joke with women about how much more difficult childbirth is on the husband than the wife! Really, it is! If you’re the woman having the baby, at least there is something you can DO. You can push and grunt and work (labor) at getting that child outa there. All the husband can DO is watch and encourage. And it is terribly frustrating as a man to have to sit around and not be able to fix something!

When times are difficult, it is difficult to sit around and wait for God to do what you even know and have been told by His Word you must do in trusting him with the situation rather than taking it on in your own strength.

This was Saul’s dilemma is our chapter today. He had been told by Samuel to wait for the spiritual leader in Israel to come and sacrifice before heading into battle. But Samuel had not arrived, and Saul was very much pressed by the Philistine forces arrayed against him.

Samuel Rebukes Saul

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

There is a textual problem here. In other Scripture it says that Saul reigned for 40 years, and the number 30 is not in the original text. Probably it originally said that Saul was 40 when he became king and the events of this chapter were in his second year.

2 Saul chose three thousand men from Israel; two thousand were with him at Mikmash and in the hill country of Bethel, and a thousand were with Jonathan at Gibeah in Benjamin. The rest of the men he sent back to their homes.

Saul had put together a regular army of 3,000, divided in two forces with the rest of the nation on standby duty in a crisis. This is the first of three major military events during Saul’s reign.

3 Jonathan attacked the Philistine outpost at Geba, and the Philistines heard about it. Then Saul had the trumpet blown throughout the land and said, “Let the Hebrews hear!”4 So all Israel heard the news: “Saul has attacked the Philistine outpost, and now Israel has become obnoxious to the Philistines.” And the people were summoned to join Saul at Gilgal.

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 Mikmash, east of Beth Aven. 6 When the Israelites saw that their situation was critical and that their army was hard pressed, they hid in caves and thickets, among the rocks, and in pits and cisterns. 7 Some Hebrews even crossed the Jordan to the land of Gad and Gilead.

The war was on, and the Philistines outnumbered the Israelites and had pushed them to Gilgal, which is very near Jerusalem. The situation was quite critical, and some of the Israelites had fallen back so far as to cross to the east of the Jordan.

Saul remained at Gilgal, and all the troops with him were quaking with fear. 8 He waited seven days, the time set by Samuel; but Samuel did not come to Gilgal, and Saul’s men began to scatter. 9 So he said, “Bring me the burnt offering and the fellowship offerings.” And Saul offered up the burnt offering. 10 Just as he finished making the offering, Samuel arrived, and Saul went out to greet him.

Saul had waited the prescribed time, but Samuel had not arrived. This was not good, as some of his forces were abandoning the lines. Surely God would not mind if he took matters into his own hands, even if it was inappropriate for him as a Benjamite to assume the Levitical duties that Samuel would do. Hey, it had to be done. The situation was intolerable!

11 “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 Mikmash, 12 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.”

13 “You have done a foolish thing,” Samuel said. “You have not kept the command the Lord your God gave you; if you had, he would have established your kingdom over Israel for all time. 14 But now your kingdom will not endure; the Lord has sought out a man after his own heart and appointed him ruler of his people, because you have not kept the Lord’s command.”

Saul had committed a grievous error of judgment and sin against God’s command and structure. What it did was demonstrate the cold nature of a heart that was not inclined toward trusting God. Because of this, God would not establish the house of Saul over Israel; it would go to another who had a heart after God … and we know that this will ultimately be David.

We read this story and think, “Wow, Saul is such an idiot!” Yet how often do we fail to trust God when he appears “delayed” in answering or providing what seems surely to be a reasonable need or request? I have seen it when people jump into wrong relationships with even unbelievers, rather than trust God in his timing and supply. And I’ve seen people justify jumping out of marriage relationships simply because they are unhappy with how it has gone – surely God understands that.

And it is not just in the area of relationships. We could ponder other categories – such as prioritizing God in life over the pursuit of material gains or positions of prominence. We could talk about how so, so many find every reason to “forsake the assembling together” with others in regular church family attendance because there is always some other “good thing” to be doing on Sunday mornings instead.

I’ve often found myself at a point of exasperation in a counseling setting with someone who is giving me every excuse as to why their (frankly sinful) choices are justifiable. And I finally say to them, “Do you really think that God would right now say to you, ‘You know what? What you’re doing normally really ticks me off as sinful, but just for today in your case I’m going to overlook it because your circumstances are special.’” Really?

Obedience always trumps everything else, as we will see emphatically in tomorrow’s reading.