Scripture reading – 1 Samuel 12-13
In the second year of Saul’s reign, he chose to maintain a small standing force of three thousand men, and the balance of his army returned to their homes (13:1-2). Dividing his small force into two companies, two thousand men remained with Saul, and a force of a thousand were subject to Jonathan, Saul’s son (13:2).
Assuming Saul ordered his son to lead a charge on a Philistine garrison, the raid was successful, and Saul disingenuously proclaimed to the nation, “Let the Hebrews hear. 4And all Israel heard say that Saul had smitten a garrison of the Philistines” (13:3b-4). A consequence of the raid on the garrison, was “that Israel also was had in abomination with the Philistines” (13:3b-4b). The offense that mustered the Philistines to gather for a campaign against Israel is not detailed, but it might have been that Jonathan’s attack on the Philistines was a breach of some peace treaty.
With only three thousand men, Israel found itself surrounded by a great Philistine army that dwarfed its standing army. Arrayed against Saul and his men were “thirty thousand chariots, and six thousand horsemen, and people as the sand which is on the sea shore in multitude” (13:5). Seeing the magnitude of the force aligned against them, Israel’s soldiers panicked, and fled Saul’s encampment, seeking safety hiding in the countryside. Some fled across the Jordan River (13:6-7).
Saul had waited on Samuel’s arrival at his encampment; however, with his army reduced to six hundred, frightened men, he faced an untenable situation (13:8). The king’s lack of faith in the LORD, and his flawed character, began to haunt Israel, “and the people were scattered from him” (13:8). Understanding the debilitating fear among the people, Saul realized all would be lost if the people’s confidence was not restored. Taking matters into his own hand, Saul usurped Samuel’s role and authority, and offered sacrifices to the LORD (13:9).
When the sacrifices were ended, Saul received news that Samuel was approaching the camp, and he went out to meet the old prophet. Samuel did not hesitate to confront the king, and asked, “What hast thou done?” (13:10)
Saul’s failed character, and his inclination for deceit and folly were on full display. He pretended to honor the prophet by going out to greet him “that he might salute [bless; kneel] him.” In reality, he had usurped the prophet’s authority as priest in Israel. He accused Samuel of failing to come in a timely manner, “within the days appointed” (13:11; 10), but in fact, he had come on the seventh day. Saul maintained he had been “forced” [literally, compelled] and “offered a burnt offering” (13:12); however, that was a lie (13:11-12).
Though he was an old man, the fire of righteousness still burned brightly in Samuel’s soul. Not mincing words, he boldly declared, “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” (13:13).
The consequences of Saul’s impropriety were dreadful, for he had not only failed the LORD, but his family would be cut off from the throne (13:13). Though only in the second year of his reign as king, Saul was told “the Lord hath sought him a man after his own heart, and the Lord hath commanded him to be captain over his people, because thou hast not kept that which the Lord commanded thee” (13:14). Samuel departed, and Saul numbered his men, counting only “about six hundred men” (13:15).
How desperate was the hour? The Philistines were terrorizing the people, sending out three companies of raiders in all directions, and reducing the people to poverty (13:17-18). The Philistines had reduced Israel to complete dependence, for they had no blacksmiths in the land. Not only did they lack the means of producing spears and swords, they were dependent on the Philistines to sharpen basic farm implements (13:19-21). There were only two swords in all Israel, that of Saul’s, and of his son, Jonathan’s (13:22).
Israel came to recognize the character imperfections in their king, and lost faith, and courage. As a result, the nation turned from the LORD, and were haunted by the failures of its leader.
Think about it: A weak military; national threats within and without; and the loss of manufacturing capability to a foreign, adversarial nation.
Copyright 2021 – Travis D. Smith