No Good Reason (I Samuel 13:1-15a)
Topic: I Samuel Passage: 1 Samuel 13:1–13:15
Crying for a King
I. Effective Excuses?
Have you ever had a good reason for breaking the law? Listen to a few excuses given to real traffic cops by those who have broken the rules of the road.
A young lady who flew through a red light gave this excuse when pulled over, “I just had my brakes repaired, it had been very expensive, and so I DON'T WANT TO WEAR THEM DOWN!
One officer stopped a car in a rural area for going 80 MPH in a 55 MPH zone. The driver explained that he had a bee flying around his head so he sped up to 80, hoping that the bee couldn't fly that fast and would not be able to fly out of the back seat to get at him.
Incredibly, one officer in Europe heard this excuse when writing out a parking ticket. "I can't help it, constable. Someone has hypnotized me to park illegally.”
Have you ever had a good reason for breaking the law?
II. The Passage: "Your Kingdom Shall Not Continue” (13:1-15a)
We return this morning to our ongoing study in the book of Samuel, and as we do that, let’s look together at where we left off in May. Turn with me to I Samuel 13. We’ll begin this morning with verses 1 and 2.
A. “He Began to Reign” (13:1, 2)
Saul was . . . years old when he began to reign, and he reigned . . . and two years over Israel. 2 Saul 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.
What we have in verse 1 is the standard description used to record the formal beginning of an Israelite king’s reign. This same formula of the king’s age and how many years he reigned can be found both in Samuel and throughout the book of Kings.
The major problem with verse 1 has to do with the ancient copies of I Samuel that are available to us. It appears that somehow and somewhere along the line the numbers for Saul’s age and reign have dropped out. There’s nothing critical about these numbers, but in general, the whole time-line here is a little sketchy.
What is clear here is that Saul has formed a standing army of 3000 men. 2000 of these soldiers are with him in Michmash (about 7 miles NE of Jerusalem) and a 1000 are with Jonathan in Gibeah, Saul’s hometown (about 3 miles away to the southwest). Now, this is the first time we meet Jonathan, and only when get to verse 16 do we learn this is Saul’s son.
Now when we first meet Saul in chapter 9, he is described as a “young man”. But here in chapter 13, Saul has a full-grown son. So again, it’s not clear how much time has elapsed since Saul was first anointed as king over Israel.
But let’s do this. To understand this passage we need to understand the geo-political situation that has been brewing in Israel in the last several chapters. Warm up your fingers and let’s flip through a few chapters here in order to review the situation. Look with me first at chapter 7 (verse 3)…
And Samuel said to all the house of Israel, “If you are returning to the Lord with all your heart, then put away the foreign gods and the Ashtaroth from among you and direct your heart to the Lord and serve him only, and he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines.”… (7:3)
Up to this point in Samuel, one thing has been very clear: while there are other threats against the Israelites, the Philistines are the dominant enemy of God’s people. But if we continued here in chapter 7 we would read that Samuel’s leadership in Israel resulted in victory against and protection from the greedy Philistines. The blessing of godly leadership in Israel meant the blessing of political security. We’ll see the same thing with David in II Samuel.
Now turn over to chapter 9, verse 16. So in light of what we know about the threat posed by the Philistines, it’s no surprise that when God’s people foolishly ask for a king, and God strangely grants their request, it’s no surprise that Samuel is told this about the new king…I Samuel 9:16:
“Tomorrow about this time I will send to you a man from the land of Benjamin, and you shall anoint him to be prince over my people Israel. He shall save my people from the hand of the Philistines. For I have seen my people, because their cry has come to me.” (9:16)
In giving the people a king, one of God’s main objectives is to address the issue of the Philistines. So, with that in mind, look at chapter 10, verses 5-8. Listen to Samuel’s instructions to Saul after he anoints him as king. He first gives him a number of very specific signs that will be fulfilled and that will confirm God’s hand, and then he says…
After 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. 6 Then the Spirit of the Lord will rush upon you, and you will prophesy with them and be turned into another man. 7 Now when these signs meet you, [when you are full of the Spirit of God] do what your hand finds to do, for God is with you.
Saul would know from talking with Samuel about his anointing, and from living under daily threat from the Philistines, Saul would know that Samuel was encouraging him to strike the garrison of the Philistines in Gibeah, for God was with Saul. He didn’t have to be afraid, because the signs and the Spirit would confirm God’s power and presence!
And chapter 10, verse 8 simply records step number two after this preemptive strike against the Philistine outpost in Gibeah. Samuel continues:
8 Then 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.” (10:5-8)
But when we continue on in chapter 10, we find that Saul fails to go after the Philistines. He has a chance to ignite something, beginning with his uncle, but we’re told he kept his mouth shut.
So Saul has been anointed king. The rest of chapter 10 described how God publicly confirmed his choice of Saul. Chapter 11 shows how Saul, full of the Holy Spirit, responded to and defeated a threat from the Ammonites. But, as we’ll see here in chapter 13, the Philistine threat remains.
B. “And the People Were Called Out” (13:3, 4)
But look at what we read in 13, 3 and 4:
Jonathan [who has a 1000 men in Gibeah according to verse 2…Jonathan] defeated the garrison of the Philistines that was at Geba [here’s that garrison again; Geba is most likely just another name for Gibeah], and the Philistines heard of it. And Saul blew the trumpet throughout all the land, saying, “Let the Hebrews hear.” 4 And 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. And the people were called out to join Saul at Gilgal.
Even though Saul seems to get the credit in verse 4, it is Jonathan who launches the preemptive strike that Samuel seemed to describe back in chapter 10. As we’ll see in the next chapter, faith-inspired initiative is something Jonathan seems to have in spades.
Of course, the Philistines are ticked off about this attack, and Saul knows he has to call in as many reserve troops as he can get. But notice where Saul is headed. He’s going to Gilgal. Whether a matter of months or even several years have elapsed since Saul was first told about attacking the garrison in Gibeah, he does remember the second step that Samuel gave him: go to Gilgal and wait seven days for Samuel.
C. “The People Followed Him Trembling” (13:5-7)
Look at what verse 5 tells us about how the Philistines respond to Jonathan’s attack:
And the Philistines mustered to fight with Israel, thirty thousand chariots 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. 6 When 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, 7 and 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.
So the Philistines mobilize this massive army, and the Israelites who have come out to Gilgal to fight are terrified (as usual). The morale situation is so bad that many of the troops have run away to hide in caves and tombs, and some have even run off over the Jordan river.
So Saul finds himself in a very tough situation. His son has lit the Philistine fuse, and as the dynamite is about to explode, Saul’s defenses are starting to crumble. Can you imagine the pressure and fear that was hanging over the Israelite camp.
D. “You Have Done Foolishly” (13:8-15)
Look at what Saul does in verses 8 and 9. As the Philistine army is amassing to the west, we read that Saul…
…waited seven days, the time appointed by Samuel. But Samuel did not come to Gilgal, and the people were scattering from him [from Saul]. 9 So Saul said, “Bring the burnt offering here to me, and the peace offerings.” And he offered the burnt offering.
So Saul obviously remembers what Samuel told him about waiting in Gilgal and about the need to offer sacrifices to God. But it was Samuel who was supposed to offer the sacrifices; it was Samuel who was going to tell Saul what to do next. But it’s probably getting late on that seventh day, and more and more soldiers are starting to run away in fear. Where is Samuel? Look at verse 10:
As soon as he had finished offering the burnt offering [just as Saul is wrapping up, just as he is wiping the blood from the sacrificial blade], behold, Samuel came. And Saul went out to meet him and greet him. 11 Samuel said, “What have you done?” 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, 12 I 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.”
Maybe, just maybe, Samuel will understand the gravity of the situation, maybe he will realize he shouldn’t have stopped for that burger on his way down to Gilgal, maybe he will appreciate Saul’s initiative in a crisis situation. Maybe? No, look at verse 13:
And 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. 14 But 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.” 15 And Samuel arose and went up from Gilgal.
III. Perspective: The King and the Prophet
So what are we to take from this story? Why is this passage here? Why did God see fit to include this account in sacred Scripture?
Yes, this passage is simply the beginning of much larger passage that runs all the way through chapter 14. But this initial incident between Saul and Samuel, what does the writer of I Samuel wants his readers to learn from this story?
The story is not ultimately about having patience. It’s not ultimately about who can and who cannot offer sacrifices (David and Solomon offered the same kind of sacrifices and were not rebuked). To understand what this story is all about, we have to go back one chapter. You might remember that chapter 12 was what some describe as Samuel’s farewell address. It was really more like a “passing of the baton” ceremony. Samuel was stepping back as Israel’s leader, and Saul was stepping forward.
But before that could fully happen, Samuel knew the people had to reckon with their sinful decision to ask for king in the first place, a decision that was ultimately a rejection of God as their King and Savior. But repentance in this situation, humility, contrition, confession will not result in the loss of their king. Listen to what Samuel tells them in 12:14….
If 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. (12:14)
Samuel does not primarily stand as a priest in this story at the beginning of chapter 13. He stands as a prophet. If you will fear the Lord and serve him and obey his voice… How did they hear God’s voice? First and foremost through the Law of Moses, but also through the mouth of the prophet.
Saul knew Samuel was God’s prophet. He first looked for Samuel for this very reason, so that God’s seer could help him find his lost donkeys. Saul had most certainly seen God at work through Samuel. And so when Samuel said to him, “wait for me seven days, and I will come and offer sacrifice, and I will “show you what you shall do”” (10:8)…when Samuel spoke those words as God’s prophet, about his continuing role as God’s prophet, about Saul’s desperate need for God’s prophet, Saul should have listened to him.
You see, among God’s people, the king might have been above an Israelite who served as a prophet, but the king was never above that man’s ministry as a prophet. Why? Because the prophet spoke God’s word...and the king...the king must rule, he must reign, according to the will of God.
All leadership among God’s people only has validity inasmuch as it is submissive to the word of God. That’s what it means to be “a man after God’s heart”. Saul was not that. God was going to raise up a man who listened to God and wanted what God wanted, not his own agenda.
Are you submissive to God’s word? Listen to how the writer of Psalm 119 described his attitude toward God’s word:
I will also speak of your testimonies before kings and shall not be put to shame, 47 for I find my delight in your commandments, which I love. 48 I will lift up my hands toward your commandments, which I love, and I will meditate on your statutes.
Do you find your delight in God’s commandments? Do you love God’s commandments? Do you love, and therefore, do you meditate on what God has spoken?
Sadly, Psalm 119 does not describe Saul. And the writer of Samuel wants to drive that point home in no uncertain terms. God’s king (minus) God’s word (equals) failure. This is why the last phrase I read at the beginning of verse 15 is so devastating. It’s awful. Do you see it there? And Samuel arose and went up from Gilgal. The prophet is gone, and with him goes God’s guidance.
IV. Practice: Obedience and Excuse-making
But as we think about the application of that truth in our own lives, I think God has given us a very helpful snapshot here in terms of Saul and his response to Samuel.
Look again at verse 11 and 12. In responding to Samuel’s question “What have you done?”, Saul lets fly no less then five excuses for his disobedience. Do you see those?
And Saul said, Excuse 1) “When I saw that the people were scattering from me, Excuse 2) …and that you did not come within the days appointed, Excuse 3) …and that the Philistines had mustered at Michmash, 12 I said, ‘Now the Philistines will come down against me at Gilgal, Excuse 4) …and I have not sought the favor of the Lord.’ Excuse 5) So I forced myself, and offered the burnt offering.”
Notice how everyone else is to blame for Saul’s disobedience. “I couldn’t do what you said because of the people…because YOU were late, Samuel…because of the Philistines…because God himself requires these kinds of sacrifices.”
The only time Saul puts himself in this explanation is in “Excuse #5”. And in that excuse, Saul cannot be blamed because, to summarize the excuse, what other choice did he have. Saul seems to feel that he should be commended because he “forced” himself to offer the sacrifices.
Brothers and sisters, when it comes to not listening to God, when it comes to not doing what God has plainly told us to do, we could look at Saul’s excuse-making and say, “How pathetic!”. But aren't all of us full of excuses when it comes to not following God's word? Aren't all of us prone to blame this or that person or this or that situation for our spiritual and moral failures?
This kind of excuse-making is not always immediately apparent, but when we seriously consider our sinful choices, when we seriously consider what is happening in our hearts in moments of temptation, I think all of us will see the kind of rationalizing and justifying that is happening here with Saul.
We fail to forgive and say, “if you only knew what she did to me”. We get greedy and say, “but I just want to use it for God's work”. We lose our cool and say, “that's the only way he'll listen to me.” We're unfaithful in some way to our spouse and say, “well, he's not meeting my needs...she's neglecting me.” We're ashamed of the gospel and say, “well, I don't want to offend anyone.” We fail to pray and we say, “well God knows how busy I am.”
Like Saul and this sacrifice, we even fall into the trap of religious excuse-making. We gossip and call it a prayer request. We judge others and call it discernment. We walk away from a struggling brother or sister and call it holy separation.
You see, like Saul, the main issue here is not first obedience. It is faith. Listen to how one commentator expressed this:
Feel the weight of this as this episode presents it to us. To obey God, for Saul, was an extraordinary thing to ask, considering the circumstances. We might reasonably say that it was close to impossible. Why? Because to obey God in those circumstances would requires him to trust God against every instinct, against every evidence, and against every aspect of his experience at that moment. The Philistines were coming in massive numbers, the Israelites were slipping away, and everyone was terrified! What a huge mistake it is to think that to obey God is an easy thing to do. Trusting God is neither straightforward nor simple. (John Woodhouse)
I think one reason the circumstances here were so intense is that later, we would read about it and see that even in the worst of times, even in the most desperate of situations, even when there seems to be no other options, there is never a good reason to disregard the word of God. (2x)
Intense pain? Years of relational neglect? The potential loss of a friendship? The potential loss of one’s position? Spiritual fatigue? One’s reputation? A sense of overwhelming neediness? Tradition? Peer pressure? An open door of opportunity? Self-improvement? Great financial gain? Severe financial suffering? Sickness? One’s upbringing? No, none of these can be a reason to disregard the voice of God, because there is never a good reason to disregard his word.
Here’s the lesson we learn from Saul: While all of us are prone to put ourselves above God’s commands, even in the most difficult of circumstances, there is no good reason for not obeying the word of God.
But instead of just leaving it there, look at what this passage teaches us about why there is every reason to always obey God. I think there are three principles evident here:
Number one, we should always obey God’s word because it is the word of God himself. Look again at verse 13: You have done foolishly. You have not kept the command of the Lord your God, with which he commanded you.”
God is God. There is no one like him. He’s at the top. There’s no one above Him? He is the uncreated Creator. He is the only King. He is the blameless lawmaker. If Samuel was not a prophet, then there be any number of good reasons not to obey his words. But as THE prophet, his words were God’s words, and because is God, he should always be obeyed.
Number two, we should always obey God’s word because God is always good. Look at the end of verse 13: For then [if you had obeyed] the Lord would have established your kingdom over Israel forever.
Like a loving Father, God gives us commandments, He gives us rules, because He wants us to enjoy His blessings. As Adam and Eve’s failure in the garden demonstrates, the heart of sin is to doubt this very fact. The heart of sin is to believe that God is somehow holding back, that He wants to keep us away from what is really good. But as we see here, God had Saul’s best interest in mind. He wanted to bless Saul. He wanted Saul to understand that the path of faith-filled obedience leads to life, not death. The path of faith-filled obedience leads ultimately to victory, not defeat. Do you believe that this morning?
Number three, we should always obey God’s word because there are always consequences for not doing so. Look at verse 14: But 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.”
Our failure to listen to God’s voice always leads to loss. Whether we suffer under the loving discipline of God in this life, or under His perfect justice in this life AND in eternity, there always consequences for our rejection of God’s word.
This morning, I pray that it is your prayer that God himself would reveal and help you reject your own excuse-making when it comes to His word, when it comes to the life He has called you to lead, when it comes to the path of obedience.
Our hope this morning is, of course, not in the fact that we now know a little bit more and therefore will try a little bit harder. Our hope is in these words: There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. 3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
Because Jesus always obeyed His Father’s voice, because He never made and never makes excuses, we can know the blessings of obedience through His obedience. Because of the cross, because He died for excuse-makers like us, we can now walk according to the Spirit, which means the power to follow God through Christ because of grace.
Friends, brothers and sisters, this week, because of the grace of God in Jesus, ask God to reveal to you and to help you reject all excuses when it comes to following Him. No more excuses. I don’t want to cling to excuses anymore. Maybe you feel the same way. There are no good reasons for not listening to God, but every reason to trust Him.