I read 1 Samuel 13 today and found it interesting at some instances, ironic at others and confusing overall. That was until I read many commentaries to understand what was going on. Here was a new king, the first king of Israel who during just his 2nd year of reign gets in to a constitutional mess by disregarding God’s express wishes. What was so horrible about what he did that caused the throne to move from his line to David’s? And why was David chosen over him, a man of many shortcomings, problems and moods, if you look at Psalms.
The surrounding story stands thus (you can skip this part if you like):
It’s the 2nd year of King Saul’s reign. He keeps 3000 men as his guard and sends the rest home. 1000 men are for his son, Jonathan and the rest are for him. It’s during this period of Saul’s life that Jonathan attacks a Philistine garrison (a reason is not given). The story spreads about in the Philistine camp, angering them and causing them to finally take action against what is now a clear case of Israel insurgence.
Meanwhile on the Israel side of the border, Saul sounds the trumpet for all Israel to know what was done, but somehow the message is misunderstood to mean Saul as the initiator of the attack and not Jonathan. The angry Philistines have come with a great host to war against Israel and the advantage is with them. It seems the Philistines have had the upper hand in the land for some time. They have had the forethought to remove all blacksmiths from among Israel pushing Israel to get their utensils (garden and crop) sharpened by the Philistines themselves. So here they are facing a huge company of warriors with garden tools, the only swords being the ones with Saul and Jonathan.
The Israel men are trembling though unwillingly following Saul with panic and doubt in their hearts.
On a previous occasion Samuel had told Saul to wait 7 days for him. When Samuel came, the burnt offerings could be made and the Lord would instruct Saul what to do. With panicking men at his side, Saul couldn’t wait till the seventh day closed. As his men started deserting him, he decides to do things himself. He makes the sacrifice (something only a priest should do, I believe), changing the kingly constitution appointed to him by God and disregarding the kingship of God over Israel and declaring his own sovereignty instead. Not only does he do all these, but when confronted Saul presents excuses to Samuel for his conduct, spoiling him in God’s eyes forever. In fact, it was the beginning of transferring the throne from Saul to David.
Rising of many questions:
At first, I wondered. What an overreaction! Impatience, disobedience and giving excuses. I’m a convicted sinner of these sins on all counts. What hope for me if God was this harsh with Saul for what he did. Then I remembered that God doesn’t look at people the way we do. He looks at the heart. Maybe there’s some other things that I don’t see on the surface at play here.
So what were Saul’s sins?
Impatience, disobedience and giving excuses? Was it all? What existed at the heart of the matter that tipped the scales for Saul?
Yes. Impatience caused Saul to make the burnt offering. It also caused him to break the law. Not any law. God’s law! He took on a role that wasn’t meant for him and tried to cover it up with his kingly freedom. A king can do anything but he cannot go above God.
Saul forgot God and tried to make himself as one with God. At least this is the beginning of trying to take on God’s role. God knows what is happening and doesn’t wait to nip the thing in the bud.
Why was David called “a man after God’s own heart” even though he had the same shortcomings?
David was a man. As a man, he made many mistakes, fell many times and even brought shame on his friends and family. However as a king, he never forgot who the “true” king of Israel was: God. He never tried to change the constitution to take on roles that were not his to begin with. Every time he did make a mistake and someone pointed it out to him, he was quick in his apology, humble to admit them and ask for forgiveness.
Finally, what I understood from this chapter was that it is not our actions alone that shape our destiny but a combination of our actions and our motives. Because, destiny is in the hands of God and He looks at the heart of the matter every time!
- NKJV Bible 1 Samuel 13
- Bible Track Commentary on 1 Samuel 13
- Jamieson, Fausset, Brown Commentary
- Matthew Henry’s Commentary on 1 Samuel 13
- Adam Clarke’s Bible Commentary on 1 Samuel 13