Do you ever have that sick feeling in your stomach that something is not right? A feeling that there is something bad coming your way? Maybe you made a decision that was clearly wrong in hindsight, or perhaps you are confident, but still have the feeling that things are not going to turn out well. That is the feeling that King Saul likely had at the end of this chapter.
We left chapter 12 with the warning from Samuel in verses 24-25: “Only fear the Lord, and serve Him in truth with all your heart; for consider what great things He has done for you. But if you still do wickedly, you shall be swept away, both you and your king.”
The actions we see Saul taking in the early verses of chapter 13 show a king that is not seeking the counsel of the Lord. Saul builds up a small army, which may have been to protect the king and his cohorts. But then he uses this army to attack a nearby Philistine garrison. He then blows a trumpet, as a way to make all of Israel understand that more fighting was likely on the way. Saul’s son Jonathan makes an appearance here and will play more prominent roles in the story as we progress through the book.
Many Philistines come close to Israel, in an area called Michmash. This caused many of the Israelites that were nearby to flee and hide. Saul had been told what to do by Samuel back in I Samuel 10:8: “You shall go down before me to Gilgal; and surely I will come down to you to offer burnt offerings and make sacrifices of peace offerings. Seven days you shall wait, till I come to you and show you what you should do.”
Saul waited the seven days, but Samuel did not come within that seven days. Saul also saw that the people had hidden and were scattered, so Saul felt compelled to act, regardless of what he had been told before by Samuel. Saul still believes in God and that God can and will deliver them. But with his next act Saul goes beyond the things that God had laid out for him. Saul offers a burnt offering when it was Samuel’s place as high priest to do so. This was a violation of God’s law. Saul might have quelled his guilt by telling himself that Samuel did not come within the seven days, so it was okay. In verses 13 and 14, Samuel clearly explains the details of Saul’s offense: “And Samuel said to Saul, “You have done 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. But now your kingdom shall not continue. The Lord has sought for Himself a man after His own heart, and the Lord has commanded him to be commander over His people, because you have not kept what the Lord commanded you.”
The last verses of the chapter explain how the Philistines are coming out against Israel and how the Philistines have prevented the Israelites from fashioning effective metal weaponry. The Philistines were quite politically savvy in that they also prevented the Israelites from making and improving their own farm implements. This could have been a ploy of the Philistines to make Israel dependent on them. The chapter ends with the Philistines coming out to the pass of Michmash.
The main lesson for tonight’s chapter for us is that a sin is a sin, whether it is done under duress, under what we feel are justifiable conditions, or even if it is done with clean intentions. Saul’s offering was all of these things, but it was still a sin because only a high priest was to make the offering. We should think about this as it applies to our own lives. When I sin, do I couch it in what I judge to be justifiable conditions? Do I forgive myself for the sin because it was during a very stressful time? Do I allow myself the sin because I feel like it was in the pursuit of higher purpose? All of those noble ideals surrounding the sin do not the sin forgive. Only God can forgive sins, and it is only within the conditions that he has determined and laid out for us (the cross). We simply cannot create the conditions within which a sin can be excused.