Reflection: 1 Samuel 13:5-15
In an earlier encounter (10:8), Samuel instructed Saul to go to Gilgal and wait for him for seven days. The war with the Philistines was reaching a critical climax, and Samuel was to offer sacrifices in seeking God’s battle plans. As the days dragged on, Saul’s men began to abandon him at the sight of the enormous Philistine garrison before them at Micmash. He got jittery, and desperately wanting to stave off the desertion, he decided to offer the sacrifices on Samuel’s behalf. Samuel arrived as Saul completed the burnt offering. He got a rollicking from the Prophet, who further pronounced God’s terminal judgment on his reign – a tragedy due largely to an impulsive act driven by impatience. Or was that a symptom of a deeper malady?
What were Saul’s slip-ups? He focused on his own resources (viz., his army) and his adversary rather than on God. He was unable to see that the Lord had been on their side from the very beginning of their military campaign, and there was no doubt He could defeat Judah’s enemies with His own infinite resources as He had promised and done in the past. Then, as his men began falling away, he became impatient with God’s (Samuel’s) timing. As king, his sense of entitlement to know the Divine plans for the battle drove him beyond the boundaries of his own responsibility, and he jumped the gun! He was also modeling before his subjects and setting a benchmark for them. A king has no business taking over the responsibility of a priest (Deut 12:5-14); God has His order in the accomplishment of His purposes. Furthermore, he presumed that the ritual sacrifices would induce Divine favour and victory, devoid of any expression of faith in Yahweh or priestly mediation. He was dead wrong. Rituals and words cannot replace faith in and a relationship with the living God. Finally, blinded by his own disobedience and glossing over his own lapses and defiance, he blamed Samuel for being late. This prideful self-justification before God did not earn him forgiveness but retribution.
Saul’s impatience revealed a hidden issue. He held his kingship so tightly that he deemed it his right to be answerable only to himself and no one else. His power so possessed him that he forgot the Source of his appointment, to the extent that he became hostile towards things that obstructed, frustrated or delayed his goals. This misconception about himself produced a constant fear and sense of insecurity that were to plague him for the rest of his life.
What can we learn from this episode? God’s perspective is worth seeking, especially when major issues confront us – more so when others will be impacted by our decision (Heb 11:6). Praying and keeping an open mind and exploring angles that we have not seen as yet on the issues are wise (Phil 4:6-7; Jas 1:5-8). God has also placed us in community, the church, and that implies a level of mutuality and accountability, and we neglect them to our loss (Eph 4:16). The Lord’s timing is eternally impeccable when there are lessons to be learnt, and it behooves us to wait patiently for Him (Ps 40:1). Waiting on God is an active process (as opposed to passivity), and while we are anticipating, it benefits us to keep our silence before man and God that we may be able to hear what He has to say (Ps 46:10; 62:1,5). Be upfront with mistakes and sins as we seek His face (1Jn 1:8-10), and humility is the watchword, for without it we will not be teachable (1 Pet 5:6). Finally, we are to hold all that He has blessed us tenuously as they have been entrusted to us – they do not belong to us!