1 Samuel 13:13
And Samuel said to Saul, You have done foolishly: you have not kept the commandment of the LORD your God, which he commanded you…
I. THE STORY. Saul's bright morning was a very short one, and his sky soon gathered blackness. Beginning with popular acclamation, succeeded after the exploit in Gilead by popular enthusiasm, he lost in a very short time the respect of his subjects. Beginning with a Divine sanction signified through the prophet Samuel, and with appearances of religious fervour, he quickly forfeited the favour of the Lord and the good opinion of the prophet. The ship of his fortunes had hardly left the harbour, with sails set and flags flying, before it ran aground on a rock of wilfulness, and though it kept afloat for years, it ever afterwards laboured uneasily in a troubled sea. The critical question for Saul was whether or not he would be content to act simply as executant of the Divine will. Samuel had pressed this upon him again and again. Would he wait on God, and act for him; or would he act for and from himself? Would he lead the people still to look up to Jehovah as their real King and Lawgiver; or would he imitate the heathen kings, who themselves took the initiative, and then called on their gods to be propitious to them, giving them success in their expeditions and victory in their combats? Would Saul do his own will, expecting the Lord to follow and favour him; or would he set the Lord always before him, follow and obey his voice? It is a great mistake to think that Saul was hardly dealt with on a point of small importance. The principle at stake was great, was fundamental. The test was definite, and was applied in the most public manner before all the army of Israel. The courage which had been roused against the Ammonite invaders of Gilead was now turned against the still more formidable Philistines. The gallant Jonathan struck the first blow, and then his royal father, knowing that the Philistine army could and would be very soon mobilised (as the modern phrase is) and hurled against Israel, summoned his people to arms. But, alas, the greater part of them were afraid to come, and in the threatened districts hid themselves. So the king found himself at Gilgal in a terrible plight, at the head of a small and dispirited force. He must have known that, unless Jehovah came to their help, all was lost. Let it not be said that it was unreasonable to judge and punish a man for anything done by him in such an emergency. Saul had received long notice of this week of patience. On the morning when Samuel anointed him three signs were given him, all of which had been exactly fulfilled. Then he had been told that he would have to tarry seven days at Gilgal for the coming of Samuel to offer sacrifice. But he had forgotten this. The word of the prophet had made no lasting impression on his mind. There was nothing profound about the man. He had no controlling reverence for God, no abiding faith. So he acted from himself, only calling on God to help him in what he was going to do, instead of waiting to know what the Lord would have him to do, and acting as his servant. He bore the strain of anxiety for days, but not till the end of the time appointed. The troops (if one may give such a designation to hastily collected and ill-armed levies) were faint hearted, and but loosely attached to the standard of their king. They wondered why the sacrifice was delayed. They feared that God would be displeased, and not fight for them. Then Saul, impulsive and unwise, ordered that the sacrifice should proceed. Rather than wait a few hours more, he violated the direction he had received from the prophet of the Lord, and betrayed once for all an unreliable character and presumptuous heart.
II. THE LESSONS.
1. God rules men on large principles, but proves them by specific tests. His law is great and equitable; the trial of obedience to it is sometimes quite minute. In the garden within the land of Eden man and woman were put under a rule of universal obedience to the voice of the Lord, and they were tested by this specific requirement, to abstain from the fruit of one of the trees in the garden. Lot, his wife, and daughters were rescued by angels from a doomed city, and enjoined to flee to the mountains; "but his wife looked back from behind him, and she became a pillar of salt." Hezekiah, devoutly referring everything to God, had great deliverances, and a prosperous reign; but failing to consult the Lord when a flattering embassy came to him from Babylon, he revealed vain glory lurking in his heart, and broke down the wall of defence which his previous piety had reared round his throne. Saul was tested more than once, but this one trial at Gilgal was enough to prove his unfitness to rule over God's heritage. The fact is, that one act may show character as clearly and decisively as a score or a hundred could do; not, indeed, an incidental act of inadvertence or error, but a thing done after explicit instruction and warning, lie who breaks through the line of obedience at one point, out of self-will, is not to be depended on at any point. He disentitles himself to confidence by one instance of misconduct, not because of its intrinsic importance, but on account of the key which it gives to his inward tone of character.
2. One action, hastily performed, may carry irremediable consequences. Adam ate of the forbidden fruit, and he could never reverse that fatal act. Cain struck down his brother, and was from that day a wanderer and an outlaw on the earth. Esau sold his birthright, and never could recover it. Moses erred once at the rock in Kadesh, and forfeited his entrance into the promised land. The sins of those who are penitent are forgiven; but there are consequences of sinful habits, nay, even of one sinful act, which have no cure or corrective. It is well that this should be kept sternly before the eyes of men; for the moral nature of many is slippery and self-excusing, and they are too ready to count on impunity, or on finding some easy corrective for what they do amiss. The truth is, that one action may spoil a whole life, and, indeed, may hurt not oneself only, but many others also; just as Saul's impatience at Gilgal injured not himself alone, but the nation of Israel during all his unhappy reign.
3. He whom God will exalt must first learn patience. For want of this was Saul rejected from being king. By means of this was David educated for the throne. The son of Jesse was privately anointed by Samuel, as the son of Kish had been. Thereafter he came into public notice by his promptitude and bravery against Goliath, just as Saul had come into public favour by similar qualities against Nahash. So far their paths may be said to have corresponded; but then they quite diverged. Saul, impatient, behaved foolishly, and fell. David, when tried, "behaved himself wisely," made no haste to grasp the sceptre, waited patiently till God should lift hint up. So when the time at last came for his elevation, he knew how to reign as God's king on the hill of Zion. How beautiful is this in the Son of David, the meek and lowly One, who, because he patiently observed the will of God, has now a name above every name! Jesus pleased not himself. He always spoke and acted as in behalf and by direction of his Father in heaven. Therefore has God highly exalted him.
4. It is a dangerous thing to ask for, or accept, a vicegerent of God on earth. It betrays unbelief rather than faith, and it entails tyranny and confusion. What a calamity it has been to the Latin Church to have an alleged vicar of Christ on earth! The arrangement quite falls in with the craving for a spiritual ruler who may be seen, and the uneasiness of really unspiritual men under the control of One who is invisible. So there is a Popedom, which began indeed with good intentions and impulses, as did the monarchy of Saul, but has long ago fallen under God's displeasure through arrogance, and brought nothing but confusion and oppression on Christendom. We are a hundred times better without any such vicegerent. Enough in the spiritual sphere that the Lord is King. Our Divine Saviour, now unseen, but in due time to appear in his glory, is the only as well as the blessed Potentate, Head of the Church, Captain of the host, Lord of all. - F.
Parallel VersesKJV: And Samuel said to Saul, Thou hast done foolishly: thou hast not kept the commandment of the LORD thy God, which he commanded thee: for now would the LORD have established thy kingdom upon Israel for ever.