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The literary structure of 1 Samuel 15:10-35

The literary structure of 1 Samuel 13:2-15:35. Saul is rejected

We’re coming to the end of our series on 1 Samuel, at least for now. We’ve been looking at Saul’s downfall, and since we haven’t gone over this since the beginning of October, I think a bit of review is in order.

We saw how –

Saul’s core weakness is fear

This was his main temptation and struggle. In chapter 10 after God gave him three providential signs and the Holy Spirit came upon him, out of fear, he hesitated to attack the Philistines. Also, in chapter 10 he was afraid of being chosen as king, so he hid in the baggage when the lots were drawn.

His fear eventually led him to outright disobedience to God. In chapter 13, because he was afraid that the Philistines would attack quickly, he didn’t obey God and wait for Samuel to come before the battle. He offered up his own offering to God. If God was merciful before, here he is judged. He will not have a dynasty. After him, his kingdom will be over.

Saul continued to walk in foolishness (13:13), doing what he thought was right, regardless of God’s will – making his army swear a foolish oath and nearly killing his son Jonathan because of this foolish oath.

And today we reach the breaking point, when out of fear, once again, he disobeys explicit instructions from God. We saw last time how God commanded Saul to devote to destruction the Amalekites and how he did this, except that he left king Agag alive, and the best of the livestock.

So God sends the prophet Samuel to confront him – and it’s an epic confrontation.

1 Samuel 15:10-35

Samuel finds Saul

10The word of the Lord came to Samuel: 11“I regret that I have made Saul king, for he has turned back from following me and has not performed my commandments.” And Samuel was angry, and he cried to the Lord all night.

Regret can be translated “change your mind,” although this doesn’t really fit here. God had set up the terms for Saul to be king and these included him being obedient (12:14-15). So, God is just recognizing that Saul has broken these conditions and judgment is about to happen. And God is sad about this. (God’s regret here echoes Genesis 6:6 regarding the creation of humanity, just before the judgment of the flood.)

God is saying, ‘he just won’t do what I tell him to do.’ He does what he thinks is right based on the circumstances and his fears.

Samuel was upset also. He invested a lot in Saul and was genuinely rooting for him.

12And Samuel rose early to meet Saul in the morning. And it was told Samuel, “Saul came to Carmel, and behold, he set up a monument for himself and turned and passed on and went down to Gilgal.”

Setting up such monuments was common among ancient kings. Saul certainly seems set on exalting himself for the victory. (The Carmel here is not the mountain in the North but a small town in Judah. Gilgal is the site of their last confrontation.)

The confrontation: part one

13And Samuel came to Saul, and Saul said to him, “Blessed be you to the Lord. I have performed the commandment of the Lord.”

If Samuel and God are unhappy, Saul is pretty happy with himself. He seems to really think that he’s obeyed God, even though he hasn’t. Is he self-deceived?

Samuel points out the obvious –

14And Samuel said, “What then is this bleating of the sheep in my ears and the lowing of the oxen that I hear?”

There was to be no livestock left; no plunder. All Samuel had to do was listen, to know that Saul didn’t listen to God (Bruce Birch).

Saul then deflects and rationalizes –

15Saul said, “They have brought them from the Amalekites, for the people spared the best of the sheep and of the oxen to sacrifice to the Lord your God, and the rest we have devoted to destruction.”

His deflection is saying that the people did it (not him). It’s the soldiers’ fault, if there is any. And he rationalizes that these are for sacrifice, which is a good thing, right? Even though God told him to destroy them all and take no plunder. And note – even if they are sacrificed, Saul and the men would get some of the food (Tsumura)

16Then Samuel said to Saul, “Stop! I will tell you what the Lord said to me this night.” And he said to him, “Speak.” 17And Samuel said, “Though you are little in your own eyes, are you not the head of the tribes of Israel? The Lord anointed you king over Israel. 18And the Lord sent you on a mission and said, ‘Go, devote to destruction the sinners, the Amalekites, and fight against them until they are consumed.’ 19Why then did you not obey the voice of the Lord? Why did you pounce on the spoil and do what was evil in the sight of the Lord?”

Stop deflecting. You are in charge of “the people.” You were given the mission. You are responsible. And stop rationalizing. You pounced on the spoil, you did what was evil in God’s sight. When, in a similar context Achan took spoil from Jericho, he was killed for it.

Saul goes on to insist he was obedient, even while undermining his defense . . .

20And Saul said to Samuel, “I have obeyed the voice of the Lord. I have gone on the mission on which the Lord sent me. I have brought Agag the king of Amalek, and I have devoted the Amalekites to destruction. 21But the people took of the spoil, sheep and oxen, the best of the things devoted to destruction, to sacrifice to the Lord your God in Gilgal.”

Now we learn that the king, Agag was spared – probably as a trophy of war, which is another evidence, along with the monument, to Saul’s pride. And he continues to deflect and rationalize. The people did it. It was for sacrifice.

Then Samuel destroys his pretense with what has become one of the most well-known OT passages –

22And Samuel said, “Has 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 listen than the fat of rams. 23For rebellion is as the sin of divination, and presumption is as the evil of idolatry (italics NIV).”

Sacrifice is good, but obedience is better. And besides what good is sacrifice if it comes from a disobedient heart? God is not interested in mere outward ritual, but with a heart of love for him that is expressed in obedience.

  • Saul has rebelled. He willfully refused to do what God said, which is a rejection of God similar to divination.
  • And he has presumed to do what he thought was right, instead of God’s will, which is a rejection of God similar to the evil of idolatry.

This is no little matter. These are capital crimes. And because of this he is judged.

“Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, he has also rejected you from being king.”

He may continue on in the role, but not under God’s blessing.

The confrontation: part two

With his pretense shattered, Saul fesses up.

24Saul said to Samuel, “I have sinned, for I have transgressed the commandment of the Lord and your words, because I feared the people and obeyed their voice.

He went from insisting, “I have obeyed” to “I have not obeyed.” And he even confesses why – he feared the people. (The conditions for his kingship were that he was to fear God and obey his voice. Here he feared the people and obeyed their voice – 1 Samuel 12:14.)

25Now therefore, please pardon my sin and return with me that I may bow before the Lord.” 26And 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.”

Saul asks for forgiveness, but is it sincere? Saul wants Samuel to come with him for his own reasons. To project that everything is OK. Which is why Samuel refuses. His repentance isn’t right, because he’s using it to get what he wants – his status.

27As Samuel turned to go away, Saul seized the skirt of his robe, and it tore. 28And Samuel said to him, “The Lord has torn the kingdom of Israel from you this day and has given it to a neighbor of yours, who is better than you.”

To grab the hem or skirt of someone’s robe is to take up the position of a supplicant. He wants Samuel to change his mind. But this accidental tearing becomes a metaphor of God’s judgment. The kingdom has been torn from him and given to another, that is, David.

29And also the Glory of Israel will not lie or have regret, for he is not a man, that he should have regret.”

God regrets making Saul king in vs. 11 and 35, but here God doesn’t have regret? (It’s the same Hebrew word). As we saw in v. 11, it is not so much that God changed his mind, as it is that he was sorrowful because Saul broke the conditions of his kingship.

Here Samuel seems to mean that, as opposed to Saul, whose kingship was conditional, David’s kingship will be unconditional. God will not change his mind about choosing David and his line. (2 Samuel 7:15) (See Terrence Fretheim)

30Then he said, “I have sinned; yet honor me now before the elders of my people and before Israel, and return with me, that I may bow before the Lord your God.” 31So Samuel turned back after Saul, and Saul bowed before the Lord.

Here we see more clearly his real motive is not forgiveness. He drops this request. What he really wants is to be honored before the elders. He is interested in his status.

Samuel acquiesces, because Saul finally gets it that he has been rejected and that God will not restore his kingship.

 Conclusion

32Then Samuel said, “Bring here to me Agag the king of the Amalekites.” And Agag came to him cheerfully. Agag said, “Surely the bitterness of death is past.” 33And Samuel said, “As your sword has made women childless, so shall your mother be childless among women.” And Samuel hacked Agag to pieces before the Lord in Gilgal.

Samuel finishes what Saul left incomplete.

34Then Samuel went to Ramah, and Saul went up to his house in Gibeah of Saul. 35And Samuel did not see Saul again until the day of his death . . .

This represents a full break in their relationship. Samuel no longer recognizes him as the rightful king. (And notice throughout this passage Saul’s use of “your” God (vs. 15, 21, 30), which his own recognition that he is alienated from God.)

And then our story ends as it began –

but Samuel grieved over Saul. And the Lord regretted that he had made Saul king over Israel.

Lessons

What do we learn from this. Let me highlight three things.

1. Saul show us how not to respond when we sin. Even when caught in the act, he blamed others, he rationalized his wrong choices, he made excuses and he lied. Even when he confessed, it was to get what he wanted from Samuel.

This is a portrait of the sad state of humanity. And we do these very things ourselves when we are caught in our sin.

The right way to respond to sin is displayed by David, Saul’s replacement. When Nathan the prophet confronted him, he simply said, “I have sinned against the Lord” 2 Samuel 12:15. He confesses with no strings attached. And then he accepted the consequences.

2. God’s patience has an end. And then comes judgment.

God was very patient with Saul. He told Saul ,do what I tell you and your kingdom will be established forever over Israel (13:13). But Saul chose to disobey God’s specific commands over and over. And judgment came.

When we are not obeying God, we ought not test God’s patience with us. Paul tells us in Romans 2:4 that God’s patience and kindness is meant to lead us to repentance. But if we don’t repent, eventually we will be judged.

Are any of us here this morning presuming upon God’s patience?

3. God demands our full obedience.

Saul gave partial obedience. But partial obedience is no different than disobedience. We don’t get to pick and choose which parts of God’s will be put into practice.

And outward expressions of religion will not make up for our disobedience – going to church, saying you are a Christian, feigning respect for God, wearing a cross or a Christian T-shirt.

What delights God is a heart set on loving him, expressed in careful obedience to his Word. Do we keep “the word of the Lord?” Do we obey “the voice of the Lord?”

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The literary structure of 1 Samuel 14:36-46

Well, it has taken us a number of weeks but we’re finally to the conclusion of the story that started in chapter 13. Jonathan started a revolt against the Philistine overlords. Saul then went to Gilgal, but disobeyed the Lord by not waiting for Samuel to come and give him instructions. Then, while facing a massive Philistine army, Jonathan once again, in faith, took the initiative to bring about a great victory.

But as they were chasing the retreating Philistines, Saul made an oath that his men couldn’t eat that day. This caused Jonathan to stumble, because he didn’t hear the oath and ate a bit of honey. And it caused the army to stumble. They were starving and when they could eat they ate meat with the blood in it. And the victory was diminished because of the army’s weakness.

We saw how Saul’s relationship with God was broken due to his unrepentant sin, and so he’s just making decisions based on what he thinks is right; that is he’s not following God; he’s making foolish choices.

Our story today picks right up where we left off with Saul’s continued foolishness. Let’s see what God has to teach us in this.

1 Samuel 14:36-46

36Then Saul said, “Let us go down after the Philistines by night and plunder them until the morning light; let us not leave a man of them.” And they said, “Do whatever seems good to you.”

His army has now eaten and is refreshed. So he makes a proposal to continue to pursue the retreating Philistines. He wants to fix what he messed up with his oath; he wants to bring about a total victory.

But he doesn’t seek God about this. He’s all ready to go –

But the priest said, “Let us draw near to God here.” 37And Saul inquired of God, “Shall I go down after the Philistines? Will you give them into the hand of Israel?” But he did not answer him that day.

The priest has to stop him to seek God’s guidance. But, then no answer is given.

38And Saul said, “Come here, all you leaders of the people, and know and see how this sin has arisen today.

Saul interprets God’s silence as a sign of judgment. There are grounds for this in Scripture (e. g. 1 Samuel 8:18). But this isn’t always the case. Sometimes it can just mean keep doing what you’re doing, or you don’t need further instructions, or you are in a time of testing when God chooses to be silent. In any case, here it does mean that something is wrong.

When he says, “this sin” he specifically means who broke the oath and ate food when they weren’t supposed to. Remember, an oath means that you call on God to curse you if you don’t fulfill the terms of the oath. And here Saul put this oath of not eating on his men. And we saw last time how Jonathan unknowingly broke this oath.

Saul then swears another oath –

39For as the LORD lives who saves Israel, though it be in Jonathan my son, he shall surely die.”

He doubles down on his previous oath, even though he saw how it backfired and caused trouble for his people. He now swears to kill the person who broke it, even if it’s his own son. It would have been wise to just move on.

One has to ask, ‘Why so extreme?’ ‘Why death?’ Especially since we know that in Jonathan’s case it was inadvertent.

This is not a good decision. This is foolishness on top of foolishness.

But there was not a man among all the people who answered him.

Many, if not all of the army knew what happened with Jonathan. But no one said anything. They are protecting him.

40Then he said to all Israel, “You shall be on one side, and I and Jonathan my son will be on the other side.” And the people said to Saul, “Do what seems good to you.”

41Therefore Saul said, “O LORD God of Israel, why have you not answered your servant this day? If this guilt is in me or in Jonathan my son, O LORD, God of Israel, give Urim. But if this guilt is in your people Israel, give Thummim.” And Jonathan and Saul were taken, but the people escaped.

Urim and Thummin were most likely dice-like objects, perhaps different colors that were cast to discern answers. It’s possible that you had to get the same answer several times in a row for it to be clear. And perhaps when God didn’t answer Saul that’s what happened.

Here he asks a simple question, ‘Is the guilt with this group or that group?’ Urim likely means accursed and Thummin acquitted.

Jonathan and Saul are taken. One of them has sinned. The rest are acquitted.

42Then Saul said, “Cast the lot between me and my son Jonathan.” And Jonathan was taken.

So this process accurately picks Jonathan. He is, in fact guilty of breaking the oath, even though he didn’t know anything about it. Frustratingly none of this process addresses Saul’s own knowing sin. And how it was his foolishness that led to Jonathan’s unknowing sin. He keeps the focus on the failures of others, not his own – a sin with no technicalities involved.

43Then Saul said to Jonathan, “Tell me what you have done.” And Jonathan told him, “I tasted a little honey with the tip of the staff that was in my hand. Here I am; I will die.”

Jonathan’s response highlights Saul’s continued foolishness. He says, “I tasted a little honey . . . I will die.” This last phrase may well be a question, “I tasted a little honey . . . I will die?” It points out the harshness of the situation. The sentence is way out of proportion to the offense.

And it certainly contrasts with Saul’s decision when he was walking in God’s ways. In 1 Samuel 11:3 when some men had questioned his role as king and the crowd said they should be killed, he said, “Not a man shall be put to death this day, for today the Lord has worked salvation in Israel.” Like in our story, they had just won a battle. But here Saul is ready to kill his own son.

And then, as if Saul is unable to learn, he again swears an oath, tripling down on his first oath.

44And Saul said, “God do so to me and more also; you shall surely die, Jonathan.”

Notice Saul’s complete lack of empathy or concern about his son. He should have commended Jonathan for his faith and bravery.

Is he jealous of him and his faith and boldness and how he was the one God used to deliver Israel? Clearly Saul is being out-shined. Is he trying to secure his son’s death? This certainly foreshadows how Saul will later treat David (his son in law) in similar circumstances.

But then our story, thankfully, takes an unexpected turn –

45Then the people said to Saul, “Shall Jonathan die, who has worked this great salvation in Israel? Far from it! As the LORD lives, there shall not one hair of his head fall to the ground, for he has worked with God this day.” So the people ransomed Jonathan, so that he did not die.

The army has some wisdom and courage to challenge the king. If the priest stops him before to seek guidance, the army stops him here from killing his own son. They counter Saul’s oath with an oath of their own.

They point out that God’s use of Jonathan to bring the victory is much more important than his unknowing breaking of a foolish oath. Clearly they respect Jonathan more than Saul.

46Then Saul went up from pursuing the Philistines, and the Philistines went to their own place.

Our story began with pursuit and here the pursuit ends once and for all.

All you can say after reading this is –

What a mess!

Because of Saul’s oath the victory over the Philistines is diminished. And Jonathan and the army are led to stumble into sin.

And then, because of his refusal to back away from it, he makes an oath to kill whoever broke his first oath and Jonathan is almost killed.

The story ends with him being alienated from his son and the army. And with him under the condemnation of his two oaths in this story. He said in v. 44 – “God do so to me and more also” that is, if he didn’t kill Jonathan. And he didn’t kill him.

How much better if he had sought the Lord in the first place. How much better if after his foolish oath he had acknowledged this and let it go. How much better if when God was silent, he took responsibility for causing the army and Jonathan to stumble and sought forgiveness. What a different story this would have been!

What do we learn from this?

Did you know that we are not to swear promises? Oaths are certainly allowed in the Old Testament, but Jesus raises the bar when he says in Matthew 5:34, “Do not take an oath at all”; and James 5:12 says, “But above all, brothers and sisters, do not swear . . ..” If you haven’t looked at this before, I invite you to study it for yourself.

The key lesson however is that if you are walking in foolishness, stop! Foolishness is not following God, but making our own choices based on what we think is right. This is what Saul was doing.

And today we learn that if you are walking in foolishness, don’t cling to it. When you see if for what it is, stop. Don’t be too proud to admit it and then move forward. Don’t double and triple down like Saul here. When you are in a hole of your own making stop digging – as the saying goes. You just go further and further down. You have to put the shovel down and crawl out of the hole.

Take responsibility for your foolish choices. Don’t put the focus on others or make excuses. Set aside your bad choices, and begin to follow God and walk in his wisdom.

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The literary structure of 1 Samuel 14:23b-35

Our story today is a continuation of what we have looked at over the last two Sundays. Starting in chapter 13, Jonathan started a revolt against the Philistine overlords. Saul went to Gilgal as Samuel instructed in chapter 10:8, but then disobeyed the Lord by not waiting for Samuel to come. Then Jonathan took the initiative again and attacked a Philistine outpost, which led to a great defeat of the massive Philistine army. Our story today has to do with the Israelites chasing the remnants of the Philistine army as they retreat.

Before we jump into our story, let’s take note of –

Saul’s spiritual state

 –  at this time. And I’ll just say that it isn’t good! He disobeyed the Lord’s specific command to wait for Samuel and Samuel responded to him in 13:13, “you have done foolishly.” He acted on his own and not based on God’s command, which is a good definition of foolishness.

And on top of this, he was unrepentant about what he did. So you can see that there’s a break in his relationship with God. And as a result he is disconnected from God’s guidance. Samuel left without giving him instructions for how to fight the Philistines. And when Jonathan acted in faith and was bringing about a great victory Saul was so caught off guard that although he asked the priest to seek God’s will, he stopped him so that he could go into the battle.

And this theme will continue. Saul doesn’t look to God for guidance as the leader of God’s people, but makes his own choices. That is, he acts foolishly.

1 Samuel 14:23b-35

14:23bAnd the battle passed beyond Beth-aven.

This would be west of Michmash along the path of the retreating Philistine army.

So the Israelites are chasing them, when Saul puts his army under an oath.

24And the men of Israel had been hard pressed that day, so Saul had laid an oath on the people, saying, “Cursed be the man who eats food until it is evening and I am avenged on my enemies.”

An oath is when you invoke God to curse you if you don’t fulfill the terms of the oath. Here Saul invokes a curse on his men, God’s judgment, if they eat food before evening.

Why the oath? Well, the men had already been through a lot and they are getting spread out over a large terrain chasing a scattering Philistine army. And so he does this to keep them focused and to push them further.

Remember, he doesn’t have any explicit instructions from God, since Samuel left, and he told the priest to stop seeking guidance. The oath seems to be a way of putting the fear of God in his soldiers, short of  instructions from God.

There is a word play going on here in Hebrew. The word for “laid an oath” looks very similar to the root word for “foolishness” (Ralph Klein). As we will see, Saul’s oath is very misguided.

So none of the people had tasted food.

25Now when all the people came to the forest, behold, there was honey on the ground. 26And when the people entered the forest, behold, the honey was dropping, but no one put his hand to his mouth, for the people feared the oath.

What a temptation! Huh? They’re exhausted and hungry and here’s an easy fix. But it says, “no one” ate of it. Now our culture doesn’t take oaths seriously. But in the ancient world, if you broke your oath you fully expected God’s judgment. That’s why it says, “they feared the oath.”

Jonathan is caused to stumble

27But Jonathan had not heard his father charge the people with the oath, so he put out the tip of the staff that was in his hand and dipped it in the honeycomb and put his hand to his mouth, and his eyes became bright.

So here is Jonathan, who has been fighting longer than anyone else and who wasn’t with Saul and the troops when the oath was given, because he took the initiative to start the battle, here he has a taste of honey and is strengthened. “Bright eyes” speaks to life and vigor. Even today we talk about whether some has a light in their eyes, when they are full of energy.

28Then one of the people said, “Your father strictly charged the people with an oath, saying, ‘Cursed be the man who eats food this day.’”

Jonathan finds out after it’s too late. He ate without knowing, but he’s now technically broken the oath and is cursed. Saul’s oath has caused him, the hero of the day and his own son, to stumble.

The oath’s effect on the people is noted –

And the people were faint.

Jonathan then expresses his criticism of his father and the oath.

29Then Jonathan said, “My father has troubled the land. See how my eyes have become bright because I tasted a little of this honey. 30How much better if the people had eaten freely today of the spoil of their enemies that they found. For now the defeat among the Philistines has not been great.”

We’ve already seen tension between Saul and Jonathan, in that Jonathan didn’t tell his father that he was going to attack the Philistine outpost. Here he is outright critical.

If the soldiers could have eaten, just a little – the defeat of the Philistines would have been greater. Perhaps they would have broken the back of their rule once and for all. But since the soldiers are faint from hunger this can’t happen.

Not that they didn’t have success –

31They struck down the Philistines that day from Michmash to Aijalon.

They chased them all the way back to Philistine territory. Aijalon is over 12 miles from Michmash, along the Philistine border. But it’s not what it could have been.

We are reminded again of the effect of the oath –

And the people were very faint.

Notice the progression – they had no food, they were faint, and now they are very faint. What’s the result?

The army is caused to stumble by Saul’s oath. It’s evening and so the oath is over.

32The people pounced on the spoil and took sheep and oxen and calves and slaughtered them on the ground. And the people ate them with the blood.

Eating with the blood in the meat is strictly forbidden. This command was given to Noah in Genesis 9:4 and it is repeated in the Law of Moses several times (Leviticus 17:10ff; Deuteronomy 12:16, 23-25).

They are so famished after a day of hand to hand combat and chasing the Philistines for miles they can’t wait to go through the proper procedure of draining the blood.

Our story ends –

33Then they told Saul, “Behold, the people are sinning against the Lord by eating with the blood.” And he said, “You have dealt treacherously; roll a great stone to me here.” 34And Saul said, “Disperse yourselves among the people and say to them, ‘Let every man bring his ox or his sheep and slaughter them here and eat, and do not sin against the Lord by eating with the blood.’” So every one of the people brought his ox with him that night and they slaughtered them there. 35And Saul built an altar to the Lord; it was the first altar that he built to the Lord.

So Saul steps up to stop the men from sinning and provides a solution, a stone that can be used to drain the blood. This is also referred to as an altar in v. 35.

But of course, it was his foolish oath that caused them to stumble; it made them susceptible to sin. But he takes no responsibility.

Notice also the hypocrisy here. He is furious about their sin, “you have dealt treacherously.” But he himself has not obeyed God or sought God’s guidance for the battle. 

What do we learn from this?

First of all, did you know that we are forbidden to eat blood? Acts 15:28-29

The Apostles and the Jerusalem council taught that Gentile Christians (us) are not to ingest blood. This is found in what is called the Apostolic Decree. This forbids eating blood, along with eating food sacrificed to idols, both spoken of in Leviticus 17. And it forbids us to be involved in any of the sexual activities that are spoken of in Leviticus 18.

Now, this isn’t a common thing, because our meat is butchered to drain the blood, but there are some dishes that contain blood. And we should not eat them! (If this is something new to you I invite you to study Acts 15 for yourself.)

But the key lesson of our story today is simple, don’t be foolish!

Saul here is a portrait of what it looks like to be foolish. He doesn’t obey God, but makes his own choices based on what he thinks is good and right.

And we see the results. Things don’t go well. He ends up undercutting his own goal of having a great victory over the Philistines. Instead it is lessened because his troops are starving. And he leads his son and the army to stumble. He takes a miracle victory connected to the faith of Jonathan and messes it all up. He makes trouble for Israel. And as we will see next time, as his foolishness continues, things get much worse.

Well what about us? What’s your spiritual state? Are you walking in fellowship with God? Or are you cut off from God because of your unrepentant sin? And so you are making decisions based solely on what you think is right and good.

The result is the same as with Saul. Things don’t go well for us. We wander around in darkness and futility. Even if we have outward success it is empty and meaningless. Proverbs 14:12 says, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.” And as we’ll see next time Jonathan is almost killed!

Learn from Saul! That’s the message today. Learn from Saul. If we want God’s blessing in our life; if we want God’s purposes to be fulfilled, then we need to obey God’s commandments and seek out his guidance, even if what God says seems hard or risky. This is the path of wisdom.

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The literary structure of 1 Samuel 13:2-18

We’re back into the book of 1 Samuel today, covering most of chapter 13; what is the beginning of the end for Saul’s kingship, at least under the blessing of God.

Just to help you remember where we’re at in the story. Israel requested a king and God chose Saul. And this choice was affirmed in numerous ways in chapters 9-12. He is privately anointed king by Samuel, in a story filled with acts of divine providence that brought them together. And this is confirmed to Saul by three miraculous signs.

Next, Saul was to attack the Philistine garrison near his home, after these miraculous signs, but he didn’t. He hesitated. He was afraid. This was how God’s choice of him was to have been made known, in a military victory. Nevertheless, he is publicly chosen by lots in chapter 10 and he wins a military victory in chapter 11 over the Ammonites. And then finally in chapter 12, Samuel retires from being the Judge of Israel and Saul is established as king.

Our story today connects back to the unfinished business of 1 Samuel 10:8. Basically whenever Saul decided to attack the Philistines, Samuel told him, “go down before me to Gilgal. And behold, I am coming to you to offer burnt offerings and to sacrifice peace offerings. Seven days you shall wait, until I come to you and show you what you shall do.”  (I am indebted to V. Philips Long in his book, The Reign and Rejection of King Saul for this interpretation.)

Let’s look at what happens –

1 Samuel 13:2-18

Our verses today begin with Saul selecting his standing army.

2Saul chose three thousand men of Israel. Two thousand were with Saul in Michmash and the hill country of Bethel, and a thousand were with Jonathan in Gibeah of Benjamin. The rest of the people he sent home, every man to his tent.

Jonathan’s victory. 

3Jonathan defeated the garrison of the Philistines that was at Geba, and the Philistines heard of it. And Saul blew the trumpet throughout all the land, saying, “Let the Hebrews hear.” 4And all Israel heard it said that Saul had defeated the garrison of the Philistines, and also that Israel had become a stench to the Philistines.

It’s interesting that it’s Jonathan, Saul’s son, who fulfills the words of 1 Samuel 10 about Saul doing what his hand finds to do with the Philistine garrison. Although perhaps Saul ordered it. In any case, he certainly gets credit for the victory here.

Jonathan’s act commits Israel to all out war with their Philistine overlords. They are in open revolt. They are a “stench” to the more powerful Philistines.

And the people were called out to join Saul at Gilgal.

Saul goes a ways East to Gilgal, according to the instructions of 1 Samuel 10:8, and to muster the full Israelite army.

And likewise the Philistines gather together their army.

5And the Philistines mustered to fight with Israel, three thousand chariots (NIV) and six thousand horsemen and troops like the sand on the seashore in multitude. They came up and encamped in Michmash, to the east of Beth-aven.

This was a truly massive army, perhaps much more than Israel was expecting. They also had better equipment. They had chariots (the tanks of that day). And as we learn later, among Israel, only Saul and Jonathan had swords. The rest presumably used farm implements for their fighting.

6When the men of Israel saw that they were in trouble (for the people were hard pressed), the people hid themselves in caves and in holes and in rocks and in tombs and in cisterns, 7and some Hebrews crossed the fords of the Jordan to the land of Gad and Gilead. Saul was still at Gilgal, and all the people followed him trembling.

If the Philistine response is impressive, the Israelite response is not impressive. They knew they were in trouble, if you just go by the numbers, so they hid and fled as far away as they could. Saul still had some people with him but they were shaking in their boots.

This brings us to Saul’s sin.

8He waited seven days, the time appointed by Samuel. But Samuel did not come to Gilgal, and the people were scattering from him. 9So Saul said, “Bring the burnt offering here to me, and the peace offerings.” And he offered the burnt offering.

So Saul has finally, through Jonathan, attacked the Philistines and so he knows that Samuel’s instructions from 1 Samuel 10:8 are now in effect. He waited, but not the whole time; not all of the seventh day, as we’ll see.

The offerings are important because they are a means of calling for God’s blessing and help in the battle to come.

10As soon as he had finished offering the burnt offering, behold, Samuel came. And Saul went out to meet him and greet him. 11Samuel said, “What have you done?”

So Samuel comes at the last minute, apparently just after the burnt offering, and before Saul finished the peace offerings. Samuel immediately sees that Saul has not done what God commanded. He was to have waited the full seven days, Samuel was to sacrifice and Saul was to wait for Samuel’s instructions for the battle.

This brings us to Saul’s excuse.

And Saul said, “When I saw that the people were scattering from me, and that you did not come within the days appointed, and that the Philistines had mustered at Michmash, 12I said, ‘Now the Philistines will come down against me at Gilgal, and I have not sought the favor of the Lord.’ So I forced myself, and offered the burnt offering.”

He actually has three excuses. 1) The army was deserting, so he feels he needs to act quickly. 2) He shifts the blame to Samuel. It’s your fault! You didn’t come soon enough! (The “you” in this phrase in v. 11 is emphatic). 3) And, although there is no indication that this was true, he was afraid that the Philistines would come all the way to Gilgal to attack. So again, he’s in a hurry.

So he felt compelled to go ahead and offer the burnt offerings. He’s saying to Samuel, “Hey, I had no choice!”

Notice how each of these excuses has to do with what he saw (v. 11). He’s focused on the circumstances around him. And he chose to act based on his negative circumstances versus what God has specifically commanded him to do. We have already seen that fear is a core weakness for Saul, and this is surely a part of why he did what he did.

God’s judgment.

13And Samuel said to Saul, “You have done foolishly. You have not kept the command of the Lord your God, with which he commanded you. For then the Lord would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. 14But now your kingdom shall not continue. The Lord has sought out a man after his own heart, and the Lord has commanded him to be prince over his people, because you have not kept what the Lord commanded you.”

Samuel reveals that this was a test. If he had demonstrated faith in God, to obey what God said, his kingdom would have endured forever over Israel. But now his descendants will not succeed him; he will have no dynasty.

Why such a serious judgment? He disobeyed a specific command of God that he was well aware of. And he is the king and much is expected of him as the leader of God’s people. And he was given everything he needed, a specific promise in 9:16 that “Saul shall save my people from the hand of the Philistines.” He was also given a new heart by the Spirit of God working in him. And he acted appropriately before in another crisis by relying on God, showing that he can do it.

But this test reveals something deeper, that something is off in him now. 1) His thinking is off. He thinks that giving a sacrifice is more important than obeying God, when it’s obedience that brings God’s blessing, not a mere ritual or sacrifice (1 Samuel 12:13-15; 25). We will see this again in chapter 15 when Saul once again outright willfully disobeys God.

2) His heart is also off. Obeying God is now to him something to do when it suits him. When it doesn’t create complications for him. But if circumstances demand, then he disobeys. He thinks he knows better than God what to do in a crisis. But God is looking for “a man after his own heart” – v. 14. God is looking for someone who loves him and wants to obey him; who wants to please him; who desires what he desires. And even takes risks to do this. That’s why God has chosen someone else who has this kind of heart, whom we learn later is David. (That this has to do with a different kind of heart – 1 Samuel 14:7, 1 Samuel 15:28, which is in parallel to this; 2 Samuel 7:21; 1 Kings 11:4; 15:3 Jeremiah 3;15; Acts 13:22)

Notice also here how the punishment fits the crime. In v. 13 Saul didn’t keep the “command” or it can be translated “appointment” that God gave him. So in v. 14, using the same word, God has “appointed” or “commanded” someone else to be prince over his people.

The aftermath.

15And Samuel arose and went up from Gilgal.

Notice how in all this Saul in unrepentant. He doesn’t take responsibility. And so Samuel simply leaves without giving him any instructions.

The rest of the people went up after Saul to meet the army; they went up from Gilgal to Gibeah of Benjamin. And Saul numbered the people who were present with him, about six hundred men.

 He went to muster troops but came back with fewer than he had before.

16And Saul and Jonathan his son and the people who were present with them stayed in Geba of Benjamin, but the Philistines encamped in Michmash.

What are they supposed to do? They don’t know.  

17And raiders came out of the camp of the Philistines in three companies. One company turned toward Ophrah, to the land of Shual; 18another company turned toward Beth-horon; and another company turned toward the border that looks down on the Valley of Zeboim toward the wilderness.

If before, after Jonathan’s victory, Israel had the momentum, now the Philistines have it. They send out people to surround Saul, to cut off any reinforcements and to gather supplies for their huge army.

What do we learn from this?

Sin has consequences. When we willfully, knowingly disobey God there will be consequences for us, just as there were for Saul.

Ezekiel 18:20 says, “The soul who sins shall die.” And even when we find forgiveness from God, there is still damage done in our lives. For Saul this meant no dynasty. Sin has consequences.

Our excuses also don’t hold water. In a time of trial, circumstances will be hard, but when God gives us clear instructions, we need to follow them. We can’t say, like Saul, “I had to disobey.” “I had no choice!” To put it in a different set of circumstances we can’t say to God, “I had to lie.” “I had to steal.” “I had to commit adultery.” That doesn’t cut it.

We can rationalize all we want. But God gives us what we need to follow him, even when it’s hard. And when we choose not to obey God that’s on us. And we need to take responsibility for our wrong choice and own our sin.

Finally, our hearts need to be after God’s own heart, to love and obey him, not just when it’s easy.

If you don’t obey God out of love; out of a passion and desire to serve God, you’re an empty shell that will one day be exposed in a time of trial, just as Saul was. Maybe some of us need to find our passion and desire for God, once again. It’s not about being religious, Saul offered a sacrifice. It’s about a heart that yearns to do what God wants. It’s about our heart wanting what God’s heart wants.

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The literary structure of 1 Samuel 11:14-13:1

The literary structure of 1 Samuel 8-13:1, plus Deuteronomy 17 and 1 Samuel 8-13:1

This morning we’re coming to the conclusion of the story of how Israel came to have kings for leaders. It all began in chapter 8 when Israel demanded a king and amazingly God allowed it.

  • After a time, God chose Saul – and so Samuel privately anointed him as prince.
  • Then Saul was chosen by lots, making God’s choice of him public.
  • Then Saul passed the leadership test by delivering Jabesh-gilead from the Ammonites.
  • And finally today he is officially installed as king.

Our passage today is 11:14-13:1. It’s too long to go through verse by verse, so I will summarize parts of it, but I encourage you to follow along in your bibles.

A change from judges to kings

Saul becomes king – 11:14-15

11:14Then Samuel said to the people, “Come, let us go to Gilgal and there renew the kingdom.” 15So all the people went to Gilgal, and there they made Saul king before the Lord in Gilgal. There they sacrificed peace offerings before the Lord, and there Saul and all the men of Israel rejoiced greatly.

In these first verses Samuel calls all Israel together to Gilgal, a central location used for religious and political meetings. And v. 15 says, “There they made Saul king before the Lord.”

And then, after having tried before in chapter 8, Samuel actually gives his farewell speech to Israel.

Samuel’s farewell – 12:1-2

12:1And Samuel said to all Israel, “Behold, I have obeyed your voice in all that you have said to me and have made a king over you. 2And now, behold, the king walks before you, and I am old and gray; and behold, my sons are with you. I have walked before you from my youth until this day.

He has walked before them as a leader for many years and is “old and gray.” And now Saul walks before them as the new king. Samuel will remain as a priest and prophet, but will no longer be the national leader or judge.

And then he goes on to establish his integrity as a leader – 12:3-6

3Here I am; testify against me before the Lord and before his anointed (that is, Saul). Whose ox have I taken? Or whose donkey have I taken? Or whom have I defrauded? Whom have I oppressed? Or from whose hand have I taken a bribe to blind my eyes with it? Testify against me and I will restore it to you.”

And in vs. 4-6 they all affirm that he has indeed been a righteous leader.

 4They said, “You have not defrauded us or oppressed us or taken anything from any man’s hand.” 5And he said to them, “The Lord is witness against you, and his anointed is witness this day, that you have not found anything in my hand.” And they said, “He is witness.” 6And Samuel said to the people, “The Lord is witness, who appointed Moses and Aaron and brought your fathers up out of the land of Egypt.

Can you imagine doing this at your work? Or even at church or with family?  This is a challenge to all of us to live godly lives of integrity and character, like Samuel. This is especially important for leaders who have power and can misuse it to take advantage of others.

Samuel is also drawing a contrast here between the role of a judge, who doesn’t “take” things, to that of a king who will “take” things (same word), as he warned them in chapter 8:11-17. (Notice the contrast also between Samuel and his sons – 8:3)

Next, Samuel goes through their history to make the point that God is able to deliver – vs. 7-12

7Now therefore stand still that I may plead with you before the Lord concerning all the righteous deeds of the Lord that he performed for you and for your fathers. 8When Jacob went into Egypt, and the Egyptians oppressed them, then your fathers cried out to the Lord and the Lord sent Moses and Aaron, who brought your fathers out of Egypt and made them dwell in this place. 9But they forgot the Lord their God. And he sold them into the hand of Sisera, commander of the army of Hazor, and into the hand of the Philistines, and into the hand of the king of Moab. And they fought against them. 10And they cried out to the Lord and said, ‘We have sinned, because we have forsaken the Lord and have served the Baals and the Ashtaroth. But now deliver us out of the hand of our enemies, that we may serve you.’ 11And the Lord sent Jerubbaal and Barak and Jephthah and Samuel and delivered you out of the hand of your enemies on every side, and you lived in safety.

  • He recalls how God raised up Moses to deliver them from Egypt
  • Then they sinned by turning to false gods and idols.
  • And so God gave them over to their enemies for instance Sisera, the Philistines, and Moab (as told in the book of Judges).
  • But in each case God heard their cry and delivered them. He raised up Jerubbaal (or Gideon), Barak, Jephthah and Samuel – and delivered them.

God has been faithful to save. And after Egypt, they only needed deliverance because of their unfaithfulness.

Now the point of this history lesson is that a king is not necessary to deliver Israel; God is able. God was their only king and there was no lack in God that they needed a human king. But they asked anyway.

12And when you saw that Nahash the king of the Ammonites came against you, you said to me, ‘No, but a king shall reign over us,’ when the Lord your God was your king.

It was their lack of trust in God to deliver, that led them to ask for a king. Nevertheless, despite all of this God can use kingship for his own purposes – 12:13-15

13And now behold the king whom you have chosen, for whom you have asked; behold, the Lord has set a king over you. 14If you will fear the Lord and serve him and obey his voice and not rebel against the commandment of the Lord, and if both you and the king who reigns over you will follow the Lord your God, it will be well. 15But if you will not obey the voice of the Lord, but rebel against the commandment of the Lord, then the hand of the Lord will be against you and your king.

God can use kingship. This is why he allows it, and tells Samuel to obey their voice (chapter 8).

Instead of everyone doing what is right in their own eyes (as the book of Judges talks about) a king has the power to lead the people to obey. Although, just as surely, he can use that power to lead them to disobey.

And besides, even with a king, the question is always the same, “Will Israel follow God or false gods?” Their covenant relationship with God has not changed. And so if they do what is right, God will watch over them; but if they do not, they will be judged.

Next we have a miracle that again establishes the point that God is able to deliver – 12:16-18

16Now therefore stand still and see this great thing that the Lord will do before your eyes. 17Is it not wheat harvest today? I will call upon the Lord, that he may send thunder and rain. And you shall know and see that your wickedness is great, which you have done in the sight of the Lord, in asking for yourselves a king.” 18So Samuel called upon the Lord, and the Lord sent thunder and rain that day, and all the people greatly feared the Lord and Samuel.

At the time of the wheat harvest there was no rain, so this was unusual. And, of course, Samuel called for it and God acted right away. Also remember, they often looked to false gods who were supposed to be in control of the rain and thunder. But God shows here that he is the only true God.

So both from their history, including under Samuel’s leadership and from this miracle it should be clear that there is no lack on God’s part to save.

But how often do we, in the face of God’s history of faithfulness and our own present experiences of this, still distrust God? God’s faithfulness is beyond question, we are the questionable ones, because we are often faithless. But still we don’t trust God.  We think that there is some lack in God, when God alone is more than sufficient.

This miraculous sign leads the people acknowledge their sin – 12:19

19And all the people said to Samuel, “Pray for your servants to the Lord your God, that we may not die, for we have added to all our sins this evil, to ask for ourselves a king.”

Their lack of faith in God and their demand for a king was evil. As Samuel said above “your wickedness is great” in asking for a king when God was already taking care of you. And they confess this here plainly and they ask for Samuel’s prayers to avert judgment.

The next verses speak to Samuel’s continuing role among them – 12:20-25

20And Samuel said to the people, “Do not be afraid; you have done all this evil. Yet do not turn aside from following the Lord, but serve the Lord with all your heart. 21And do not turn aside after empty things that cannot profit or deliver, for they are empty. 22For the Lord will not forsake his people, for his great name’s sake, because it has pleased the Lord to make you a people for himself. 23Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by ceasing to pray for you, and I will instruct you in the good and the right way. 24Only fear the Lord and serve him faithfully with all your heart. For consider what great things he has done for you. 25But if you still do wickedly, you shall be swept away, both you and your king.”

Samuel is no longer a judge, but he is still a prophet and priest. And as such he admonishes them:

  • He tells them to serve the Lord with all their heart.
  • They are to turn away from “empty things” that is, worthless idols and false gods.
  • And he warns them – If they don’t obey – they and their king will be swept away.

He also promises to pray for them and teach them. In vs. 23 he says, “Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by ceasing to pray for you, and I will instruct you in the good and the right way.”

And then our passage ends with a statement about Saul’s reign – 13:1

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

The Hebrew text literally says, “Saul was years old when he became king, and reigned two years.” It appears that the text did not survive intact. Some later versions of the Septuagint have 30 years for his age. Acts 13:21 says that Saul reigned for 40 years. (And in one place Josephus agrees with this). So this would be a rounded number for the possibly original number of 42.

Let me end by taking note of –

How great God’s grace is

God’s patience in this whole episode is truly amazing. The reason they needed to be delivered from various enemies in the first place was their unfaithfulness to God. They sinned and God gave them over to their enemies, just as their covenant agreement stipulated. In other words, it was their fault.

But they had the audacity to blame God for not being able to deliver them. They think God is inadequate to take care of them. They think God is at fault.

But then look at God’s patience and grace. Samuel says in v. 20, “Do not be afraid . . ..” God is not going to judge them for this. They will still be judged for other things, like turning to idols, as Samuel says here, but God doesn’t judge them for this.

And then in v. 22 he says, “For the Lord will not forsake his people, for his great name’s sake, because it has pleased the Lord to make you a people for himself.” Despite what they have done, God is still going to be their God and they will be his people.

  • He does this for his own reputation – since they bear his name.
  • And because it pleases him that they be his people. That is, because he loves his people.

They reject him as king, but he continues to accept them as his people. They wrongly look down on him and his ability to save, but he bears with their very real failures here.  They slander his ability to save, but he gives them words of encouragement. This is a truly amazing example of grace.

And in this episode we see God’s heart revealed; a heart of love for his people. And God has this same love for his people today; for us. And in this we can rejoice. What a great God and King we serve!

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The literary structure of 1 Samuel 10:27-11:13

We’re back to the story of Saul in 1 Samuel today, and let’s start off by remembering some of where we’ve been:

  • Israel demanded a king in chapter 8
  • And after a time, Saul was privately anointed as king by Samuel.
  • At the end of this story of anointing, Saul hesitated to attack the Philistines as instructed, which was to have been how his selection was made public, through a military test.
  • So in chapter 10, he is publicly chosen by lot.
  • And today, in chapter 11 we have an alternate test of his ability to fight.

Now, after Saul was chosen by lot, there is a discordant note, which begins our story.

The deliverance of Jabesh-gilead

10:27But some worthless fellows said, “How can this man save us?” And they despised him and brought him no present. But he held his peace.

Just before this some valiant men gathered around Saul. But these worthless ones call him into question, even though he was just chosen by God. They didn’t give a present, that is, a gift to honor Saul and to help fund the new monarchy.

And it’s true that there will always be some among the people of God who question leaders or who have a critical spirit and don’t support or honor them; and it’s no different here.

Can Saul really save us? This question sets up our story.

11:1Then Nahash the Ammonite went up and besieged Jabesh-gilead . . .

 Jabesh-Gilead is on the eastern side of the Jordan river. This is where part of the tribe of Manasseh, the tribe of Gad and the tribe of Reuben settled. It is also next to the nation of Ammon. Jabesh-gilead is in Gad and is about 40 miles from Gibeah where Saul is.

We find out later that Nahash’s growing power is in part why the people wanted a king in the first place (1 Samuel 12:12)

Now some translations have extra verses at the end of chapter 10, which come from the Dead Sea scrolls, that are probably not original to the Hebrew Bible, but might be an ancient scribe’s attempt to give us some background. These verses say, “Now Nahash, king of the Ammonites, had been grievously oppressing the Gadites and the Reubenites. He would gouge out the right eye of each of them and would not grant Israel a deliverer. No one was left of the Israelites across the Jordan whose right eye Nahash, king of the Ammonites, had not gouged out. But there were seven thousand men who had escaped from the Ammonites and had entered Jabesh-gilead. About a month later . . .” (NRSV)

 So, some possible background information here on what’s going on.

Then picking up again with the rest of v. 1, Scripture says – 

. . . and all the men of Jabesh said to Nahash, “Make a treaty with us, and we will serve you.” 2But Nahash the Ammonite said to them, “On this condition (or by this means) I will make a treaty with you, that I gouge out all your right eyes, and thus bring disgrace on all Israel.”

They ask for a treaty, which means they are willing to pay tribute to Nahash and to live under his rule, if there is peace.

There is a wordplay going on here. To make a treaty is literally “to cut a treaty,”  because animals were sacrificed to ratify these. Here Nahash is saying that the cutting out of their eyes will be the way of ratifying the treaty (Tsumura). (And so, “on this condition” should be translated as “by this means.”)

This was an extreme measure, meant to provoke and shame them and all of Israel, if they allow this to happen to their kinsmen. Almost certainly cutting out their right eye was meant to impair their ability to be skilled warriors, since the right eye was used to aim. It was a way of keeping them under his rule.

3The elders of Jabesh said to him, “Give us seven days respite that we may send messengers through all the territory of Israel. Then, if there is no one to save us, we will give ourselves up to you.”

They ask for time to see if anyone will help them.

Now, there is a background story to this one, found in Judges 19-21. It’s the gruesome story of when the men of Gibeah in Benjamin sought to rape a Levite visitor, but instead sexually assaulted and murdered his concubine. He then cut her body into 12 pieces and sent these parts all throughout Israel to call them to punish Benjamin for their crime. Well, Jabesh-gilead didn’t respond to this call. And so as they send out a call here, there is reason to question if any will come to their aid.

4When the messengers came to Gibeah of Saul, they reported the matter in the ears of the people, and all the people wept aloud.

 Again, there is background here from Judges 21. The other tribes fought against Benjamin and nearly wiped them out. But they didn’t want to lose a tribe, so they relented and sought wives for the remaining men. Since Jabesh-gilead didn’t respond to the call to punish Benjamin and the city of Gibeah, they were attacked and 400 young women from Jabesh-gilead were taken to give to the 600 men that were left of Benjamin. So there is a close kinship connection between Jabesh-gilead and Benjamin, and here specifically the city of Gibeah.

So it’s no surprise that the messengers come to Gibeah and to Saul hoping for a response. And it’s no surprise that there is such weeping.

5Now, behold, Saul was coming from the field behind the oxen. And Saul said, “What is wrong with the people, that they are weeping?” So they told him the news of the men of Jabesh.

Though anointed king and publicly selected, he is still a farmer for now, and as we will see below, Samuel still has a leadership role.

And so he comes in from the fields after work to hear the news.

6And the Spirit of God rushed upon Saul when he heard these words, and his anger was greatly kindled.

The Spirit comes to empower Saul to be king and deliverer. Specifically, the Spirit stirs up righteous anger about what Nahash is doing. Righteous anger is meant to stir us up to do the right thing.

And then in a move reminiscent of Judges 19-21,

7He took a yoke of oxen and cut them in pieces and sent them throughout all the territory of Israel by the hand of the messengers, saying, “Whoever does not come out after Saul and Samuel, so shall it be done to his oxen!”

(The phrase, “throughout all the territory of Israel” is also found in Judges 19:29.)

He is calling all of Israel to respond to Nahash and his outrageous behavior.

There must have surely been a temptation for people to want to stay home and do their farm work. But the threat is that if they don’t come their oxen, which today would be equivalent to their farm equipment, will be destroyed. Then they won’t be able to work for the foreseeable future.

(That he kills his own oxen might be a sign that he is not going to be a farmer anymore, but will now be king.)

Then the dread of the Lord fell upon the people, and they came out as one man. 8When he mustered them at Bezek, the people of Israel were three hundred thousand, and the men of Judah thirty thousand.

God worked through the message that Saul sent out and everyone responded.

9And they said to the messengers who had come, “Thus shall you say to the men of Jabesh-gilead: ‘Tomorrow, by the time the sun is hot, you shall have salvation.’” When the messengers came and told the men of Jabesh, they were glad. 10Therefore the men of Jabesh said, “Tomorrow we will give ourselves up to you, and you may do to us whatever seems good to you.”

The phrase, “we will give ourselves up to you” is more simply translated, “we will come out to you.” Which could mean to surrender or to march out for war. But the Ammonites take it that they will surrender, which instills complacency in them.

11And the next day Saul put the people in three companies. And they came into the midst of the camp in the morning watch and struck down the Ammonites until the heat of the day. And those who survived were scattered, so that no two of them were left together.

So Saul is strategic in dividing up his army and in attacking in the morning watch, sometime between 2 and 6 in the morning, when an already unsuspecting army is further off guard. And it was a complete victory.

(Notice that in the first past of the story that Nahash sought to cut out their eyes. But here the people of Jabesh-gilead say to them “do to us whatever seems good to you or in your eyes” and then the Ammonites are struck or “cut” down.) (The people of Jabesh-gilead were faithful to Saul when he died – 1 Samuel 31:11-13; 2 Samuel 2:4-7; 21:12)

12Then the people said to Samuel, “Who is it that said, ‘Shall Saul reign over us?’ Bring the men, that we may put them to death.” 13But Saul said, “Not a man shall be put to death this day, for today the Lord has worked salvation in Israel.”

Remember, before “he held his peace” when they questioned him. And here Saul displays real character and grace, by counseling that no one be punished. And he gives full credit to God for the deliverance wrought through him.

This request “bring us the men (the worthless ones – 10:27) that we may put them to death” echoes Judges 20:13, “give up the men, (the worthless fellows of Gibeah) that we may put them to death.”

So Saul has passed the test! and the people are behind him. Next, we will see him being officially recognized as king and Samuel will give his farewell to the people.

Now let’s look at some –

Challenges for us

– from this story. One lesson is that 1. With the call comes the anointing. I have mentioned this before. God doesn’t call us to do things that he doesn’t empower us to accomplish.

  • Saul was called to be king and we see here that God’s Spirit came upon him and enabled him to defeat the Ammonites.
  • Saul is able, in the Lord, to overcome his fear; his core weakness, to do what God called him to do.

This was his finest hour. But this also shows us that when Saul fails in the coming chapters, it was because of his choices and giving in to his fears, not because he couldn’t do it with God’s help.

What does God want you to do? He will empower you to do it. Even if it goes against your core weakness. God’s power is made perfect in our human weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). Saul is an example of this here.

2. God is able to save. This is a key theme in this story. The word for save/salvation (or deliverance) shows up 4 times in this story (10:27, 11:3, 9, 13) ending with Saul’s words, “today the Lord has worked salvation in Israel.”

This is one more in a long line of examples of how God is able to save his people, no matter what the situation is.

Now, this story can be read typologically, that is, it presents to us a foreshadowing of what is true today in the time of Christ.

Nahash’s name means serpent. The people of Jabesh-gilead are thus under the power of the evil one. Saul the deliverer represents the promised Messiah; God’s anointed one who saves.

And so the question is, what do you need delivered from? Sin and Satan are spoken of as powers that enslaves us.

  • Jesus says in John 8:34, “everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.” But he also says, “if the Son sets you free you will be free indeed.”
  • In Luke 11 Jesus speaks of us as captives of the strongman, Satan. But he says of himself, “when one stronger than he attacks him and overcomes him . . . he takes away his spoil,” that is, us.

What do you need to be delivered from? God will work through our king, Jesus to set you free! And not only that, he can begin to use us to help set others free, just as the Israelite army does in this story.

God is able to save. God saves us from Sin and the evil one. And God wants to use us to set other people free.

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The literary structure of 1 Samuel 9-10:16

Last week we saw an amazing display of God’s knowledge and ability  when he providentially orchestrated the events surrounding the anointing of Saul. It’s really quite incredible. Today we pick up the story and see how it ends. And it’s ending will give us insight into Saul and much of what is ahead in these stories about Saul in 1 Samuel.

By way of review we read again in v. 1 about –

Saul’s anointing

1aThen Samuel took a flask of oil and poured it on his head and kissed him and said, “Has not the Lord anointed you to be prince over his people Israel? And you shall reign over the people of the Lord and you will save them from the hand of their surrounding enemies.

Right after this Samuel predicts three signs that are meant to fully convince Saul that he is to be king.

 1bAnd this shall be the sign to you that the Lord has anointed you to be prince over his heritage.

Remember, he wasn’t looking to be king, he was looking for donkeys. And you can understand some measure of reluctance. And so God is merciful to him to make it as clear as clear can be.

Sign one:  2When you depart from me today, you will meet two men by Rachel’s tomb in the territory of Benjamin at Zelzah, and they will say to you, ‘The donkeys that you went to seek are found, and now your father has ceased to care about the donkeys and is anxious about you, saying, “What shall I do about my son?”’

He came to Samuel concerned about donkeys. And he leaves with witnesses attesting that they have been found, confirming Samuel’s word to him.

Sign two: 3Then you shall go on from there farther and come to the oak of Tabor. Three men going up to God at Bethel will meet you there, one carrying three young goats, another carrying three loaves of bread, and another carrying a skin of wine. 4And they will greet you and give you two loaves of bread, which you shall accept from their hand.

The items they have are for sacrifice at Bethel. They give Saul two loaves of bread. He came to Samuel without bread and he leaves with bread.

Sign three:  5After that you shall come to Gibeath-elohim, where there is a garrison of the Philistines. And there, as soon as you come to the city, you will meet a group of prophets coming down from the high place with harp, tambourine, flute, and lyre before them, prophesying. 6Then the Spirit of the Lord will rush upon you, and you will prophesy with them and be turned into another man.

He came to Samuel looking for a prophecy about his donkeys but on his way home he prophesies.

The mention of the Philistine garrison is key. The Philistines were once again ascendant and had a group of soldiers stationed in or near this city, which is Saul’s hometown (It is called Gibeah in v. 10 below. See 10:11 – they knew him. Also see 11:26)

Samuel promises that when the reality of the anointing comes; that is, when the Spirit comes upon him, he will “be turned into another man.” This means that the Spirit will empower him to fulfill his calling of king and deliverer.

Then Samuel shares what Saul is to do after the signs.

7Now when these signs meet you, do what your hand finds to do, for God is with you. 8Then go down before me to Gilgal. And behold, I am coming down to you to offer burnt offerings and to sacrifice peace offerings. Seven days you shall wait, until I come to you and show you what you shall do.”

The phrase, “do what your hand finds to do, for God is with you” implies that Saul is to do something. What he is to do, is to attack the previously mentioned Philistine garrison. And after he provokes them, he is to gather the Israelite army and go to Gilgal. And he is to wait seven days for Samuel to come to give further instructions. (These instructions are referred to again in chapter 13. Even though there it is Jonathan, Saul’s son who attacks a Philistine garrison and so provokes them, both Saul and Samuel know that now these instructions come into play. And Saul does not keep these instructions and is judged.) (I am indebted to V. Philips Long in his book, The Reign and Rejection of King Saul for this interpretation.)

This is how his anointing is to be made public.

Well, sure enough everything comes true.

9When he turned his back to leave Samuel, God gave him another heart. And all these signs came to pass that day.

 Everything happened just as predicted. (The statement “God gave him another heart” is probably summative of the events of the whole day, or the change began then and continued on through to his Spirit experience – see 10:6) 

And then the third sign’s fulfillment is narrated.

10When they came to Gibeah, behold, a group of prophets met him, and the Spirit of God rushed upon him, and he prophesied among them. 11And when all who knew him previously saw how he prophesied with the prophets, the people said to one another, “What has come over the son of Kish? Is Saul also among the prophets?” 12And a man of the place answered, “And who is their father?” Therefore it became a proverb, “Is Saul also among the prophets?”

As predicted “the Spirit of God rushed upon him” and he prophesied. This prophesy was an outward sign of his possession of the Spirit, even though it was temporary. (This is similar to what happened in Numbers 11:25ff, when the Spirit came upon the elders of Israel and they temporarily prophesied as a sign of their being chosen.)

Those who knew Saul from before are witnesses that the Spirit is upon Saul and they are surprised. They say, “Is Saul also among the prophets?” He was not known to be a prophet, nor perhaps anyone in Kish’s family. But then someone suggests, “And who is their father?” referring to the other prophets, making the point that prophecy isn’t hereditary. The basic point of the question, “Is Saul also among the prophets?” seems to be that someone unexpected has the Spirit working through them. (This is repeated in 19:20 when Saul was hostile to the prophets and so again his prophesying here is very unexpected. This phrase appears with Saul’s first and last encounter with the Spirit.)

Here again, with these three signs, we see God’s providential oversight.

  • Samuel predicted he would meet two men who would say such and such, and it happened.
  • Samuel predicted that he would meet three men who would give him two loaves of bread, and it happened.
  • Samuel predicted that he would meet a band of prophets and he would prophesy, and it happened.

I just have to say, wow! Isn’t God amazing?

But then we come back to our story and Saul’s missed opportunity.

13When he had finished prophesying, he came to the high place. 14Saul’s uncle said to him and to his servant, “Where did you go?” And he said, “To seek the donkeys. And when we saw they were not to be found, we went to Samuel.” 15And Saul’s uncle said, “Please tell me what Samuel said to you.” 16And Saul said to his uncle, “He told us plainly that the donkeys had been found.” But about the matter of the kingdom, of which Samuel had spoken, he did not tell him anything.

He didn’t attack the Philistine garrison. He was told to “do what your hand finds to do.” But he does nothing. So there’s a disconnect. And since this was how he was to make public his role as king, and he didn’t do it, he hid his anointing and what Samuel said about kingship from his uncle. And so the story just kind of fizzles out.

 

I want us to focus on this, because we can learn from it. Here we begin to see –

Saul’s core weakness

As we will clear soon enough, Saul ends up being a failure as a king – rejected by God and a scourge to God’s people. And it all stems from his inability or unwillingness to deal with his core weakness, which is fear.

He was afraid to act even though he was given very clear confirmations that he was to be king and the job description of a king included delivering Israel from the Philistines. And he was next to the the outpost in own hometown after the Spirit came on him, and he did nothing.

And this will become a characteristic throughout his story – fear that leads to not carrying out God’s will.

  • fear of the Philistines (here and in chapter 13)
  • fear of even being king (the rest of chapter 10)
  • and fear of his own people (chapter 15)

As the story goes on from here – the question for the first time reader is, “Which way will Saul go? Will he overcome? Or will he be overcome?” Well, we already know, but we will find out what his failure looks like in great detail in chapters 13-15 and beyond.

But let’s not just focus on Saul.

What is your core weakness?

We each have an area (at least one) that can keep us from being all that God wants us to be; where we struggle to be faithful; that can keep us from fulfilling God’s purposes. We all struggle with whether we will overcome it and be fully faithful to God or whether it will get the best of us, so that we don’t do God’s will.

Do you know what your weakness is? Are you attending to it to make sure that it isn’t keeping you from doing God’s will? Are you praying to be strong, seeking God’s help and the help of others? Are you asking to be filled with the Spirit to overcome your weaknesses? Saul received the Spirit but failed to do his part. When the Spirit comes to help you, do you do your part to step out in faith to act? (Dave Weaver)

What is the story of your life? Of victory or defeat? Will you be a Saul who fails or a David who succeeds despite failure along the way?

Well, your story isn’t over yet, and so I encourage you this morning to press on and to be an overcomer.

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