I’ve known the story of King Saul all of my life. The first king of Israel, a man who stood out among his fellows by his physical distinction: a handsome young man as could be found anywhere in Israel, and he was a head taller than anyone else (1 Samuel 9, NIV).
The story of Saul began with a young handsome man who happened to lose his father’s donkey. He looked for these animals faithfully and in his searching he met Samuel who told him that he was chosen as the first king of Israel and later anointed him. At first Saul accepted this assignment with a humble gesture. He asked, “But am I now a Benjamite, from the smallest tribe of Israel, and is not my clan the least of all the class of the tribe of Benjamin?” (1 Samuel 9:21) Saul was aware of his position in the eyes of his nation – he came from an unimportant clan, people that didn’t get honourable place in the society at that time. And yet God chose him.
I read further and I saw there was a change happening in the life of this young man. A timid forgotten man who was raised to be the king of Israel, started to take his place to lead a stiff-necked nation by rescuing the city of Jabesh (read Samuel 11). But how? What changed Saul? I can’t escape my attention from this, because it was mentioned two times in the Bible: that the Spirit came powerfully upon him – hence the changes! The changes were not done by Saul himself, but it was actually the power of God who worked in him!
Samuel said to Saul as he anointed him; “The Spirit of the Lord will come powerfully upon you, and you will prophesy with them (with the prophets); and you will be changed into a different person.” (1 Samuel 10: 6, NIV)
And when Saul heard the news about the threat of the Ammonites to people of Jabesh, he was stirred with anger to defend his people, and this time it was done by God too: When the messengers came to Gibeah of Saul and reported these terms to the people, they wept aloud. Just then Saul was returning from the fields, behind his oxen, and he asked, “What is wrong with everyone? Why are they weeping?” Then they repeated to him what the men of Jabesh had said. When Saul heard their words, the Spirit of God came powerfully upon him, and he burned with anger. (1 Samuel 11: 4 – 6, NIV) We read later how he led the people to fight against the Ammonites and won.
No Saul. It was not you. It was God who worked in you!
Unfortunately Saul forgot about these facts in his position as a King. Several times it was written how he disobeyed God by shifting just a little from God’s commands. It looked pretty innocent at first: when the Israelites were in the fight against the Philistines, they were hard pressed by the enemy and the situation was getting critical. Samuel hasn’t come yet to Gilgal to pray and burn the offering to God (asking for victory for the Israelites). Considering the situation, Saul took the initiative and offered up the burnt offering. He acted out of his impatience, forgetting that he was ordered to wait. And precisely when he was finished Samuel arrived, and rebuked his wrong doing.
What’s so wrong to take the initiative? He was a king and he was a leader, he had to take action to save his people. I also don’t see anything wrong in this situation. But apparently God had ordered the wait, and thus he had to wait. Saul was not “entirely wrong” at that time, he has been waiting for Samuel for 7 days, just as instructed. Samuel did actually come, only a few hours later just when Saul had finished with the burnt offering.
This very small, almost innocent disobedience of Paul cost him so much and he couldn’t understand what obedience means in front of God.
“What have you done?” asked Samuel after he arrived.
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.”
“You have done a foolish thing,” Samuel said. “You have not kept the command the Lord your God gave you; if you had, He would have established your kingdom over Israel for all time. But now your kingdom will not endure; the Lord has sought out a man after His own heart and appointed him ruler of his people, because you have not kept the Lord’s command.” (1 Samuel 13: 11-14, NIV)
This was the first strike of Saul disobedience that was noted in the Bible. Later we can find the proof of Saul’s foolishness and disobedience. He was failing to see that the reason he was to be a king was God – God was the one who appointed him with such a role. And the reason for his power was also God – God has filled Saul with the Spirit of the Lord! He would never be able to do his assignment perfectly when he was not aligned with God! And how could he align with God? Only by doing His will, by listening to His command.
What Saul saw as a little disobedience was seen as a big offence by God. His impatience in waiting for Samuel portrayed his distrust in God who gave him the assignment. God wanted him to fully trust and obey, because Israel was not Saul’s kingdom, but God’s kingdom. Saul had forgotten his initial position, and instead of obeying God as the real leader, he took the leadership and therefore took for himself the glory.
Later we can read how Saul made more mistakes, by not entirely following God’s order. In his battle against the Amalekites in 1 Samuel 15, Saul was told to destroy all that belong to the Amalekites. Saul didn’t obey, he spared the king of Amalek and saved the best animals to sacrifice to the Lord. Again, it looks like a little disobedience, but this has caused God to reject Saul as king: “I regret that I have made Saul king, because he has turned away from Me and has not carried out My instructions.” (1 Samuel 15: 11, NIV).
Samuel went to rebuke Saul, but Saul was not able to see his problem! He told Samuel; I have carried out the Lord’s instructions. Even if I don’t destroy them, we have a plan – that’s for the Lord! He made an excuse to justify his mistake by saying that he simply wanted to give to the Lord. But does God need such sacrifice? Does God want such sacrifice?
Samuel replied Saul;
“Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the Lord?(1 Samuel 15: 22 – 23, NIV)
To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams.
For rebellion is like the sin of divination, and arrogance like the evil of idolatry.
Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, he has rejected you as king.”
Just like Saul, we too make mistakes like this. It’s hard to totally obey God and follow His instructions. We love to play with the rules, bend them in such a way to accommodate our own will. We sometimes even use the excuse that we actually want to glorify God hence the deviation. But by looking at Saul’s story, we learn that God wants our full trust and obedience. By following Him with a full trust in His guidance we admit and declare the goodness of His plans, and give Him the glory He deserves as the owner and the God of our lives.
God is pleased with the obedience and the earnestness of our hearts, and the wholesome of our trust in Him. Let’s trust, and obey!