Saul was thirty years old when he became king, and he reigned over Israel forty- two years. Saul chose three thousand men from Israel; two thousand were with him at Mikmash and in the hill country of Bethel, and a thousand were with Jonathan at Gibeah in Benjamin. The rest of the men he sent back to their homes. Jonathan attacked the Philistine outpost at Geba, and the Philistines heard about it. Then Saul had the trumpet blown throughout the land and said, “Let the Hebrews hear!” So all Israel heard the news: “Saul has attacked the Philistine outpost, and now Israel has become obnoxious to the Philistines.” And the people were summoned to join Saul at Gilgal. The Philistines assembled to fight Israel, with three thousand chariots, six thousand charioteers, and soldiers as numerous as the sand on the seashore. They went up and camped at Mikmash, east of Beth Aven. When the Israelites saw that their situation was critical and that their army was hard pressed, they hid in caves and thickets, among the rocks, and in pits and cisterns. Some Hebrews even crossed the Jordan to the land of Gad and Gilead. Saul remained at Gilgal, and all the troops with him were quaking with fear. He waited seven days, the time set by Samuel; but Samuel did not come to Gilgal, and Saul’s men began to scatter. So he said, “Bring me the burnt offering and the fellowship offerings.” And Saul offered up the burnt offering. Just as he finished making the offering, Samuel arrived, and Saul went out to greet him. “What have you done?” asked Samuel. Saul replied, “When I saw that the men were scattering, and that you did not come at the set time, and that the Philistines were assembling at Mikmash, I thought, ‘Now the Philistines will come down against me at Gilgal, and I have not sought the Lord ’s favor.’ So I felt compelled to offer the burnt offering. – 1 Samuel 13:1-12
Saul is getting off to an auspicious start as king of the Israelites. It did not take him long to place himself above God in the leadership of the Israelites. Here this approach has gotten him into trouble with the Philistines. The Israelites are beaten by the Philistines and are running for cover — hiding in cisterns and pits, and crossing back over the Jordan River.
The lesson that Saul learns from this failure is not exactly what Samuel, or God, had in mind. Samuel is late to come to the rescue and Saul decides to go it alone and offer sacrifices to God without Samuel….big mistake. What God is looking for is obedience and faithful following. What Saul is doing could best be described by the acronym CYA (cover your you know what). Saul does not trust God to show up, or even show up late for that matter.
Saul will soon find that his decision to get out ahead of God instead of letting God go out ahead of Him will cost him dearly. God was asking Saul to wait and lead by following. I admit that waiting on God can be hard and I am certainly guilty of being impatient at times. I have a tendency to strike out ahead of God. In my experience this often produces results that are less than optimal.
Saul lost sight of the bigger picture that God is in control, even when things look like they are not going his way. There is a strange dynamic here. When we encounter difficult times that require God’s help these are the very times when it is hardest to trust God — yet these are the very times when God desires us to follow Him unconditionally. We cannot wait for things to “get better” or “easier” before we follow Him. It is during these times that God wants to carry us like a son (or daughter) because He loves us.
Prayer: God help us to follow You even when doing so seems very hard and scary.