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Scripture reading – 1 Samuel 12-13

Saul’s Flawed Character (1 Samuel 13:1-5)

In the second year of Saul’s reign, he chose to maintain a small standing force of three thousand men while the balance of his army returned to their homes (1 Samuel 13:1-2). Saul divided his small army into two companies, and two thousand soldiers remained with him while a force of a thousand was subject to Jonathan, Saul’s son (1 Samuel 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” (1 Samuel 13:3b-4). A consequence of the raid on the garrison was “that Israel also was had in abomination with the Philistines” (1 Samuel 13:3b-4b). Though the cause was not revealed, it might have been that Jonathan’s attack on the Philistines breached some peace treaty, for they gathered to wage a campaign against Israel. 

An Enemy Invasion and Desertion (1 Samuel 13:6-7)

With only three thousand men, Israel was 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” (1 Samuel 13:5). Seeing the magnitude of the force aligned against them, Israel’s soldiers panicked, and fled Saul’s encampment, and sought safety hiding in the countryside. Some even crossed the Jordan River (1 Samuel 13:6-7).

Saul’s Usurpation of Samuel’s Role and Authority (1 Samuel 13:8-9)

Saul waited on Samuel’s arrival at his encampment; however, with an army reduced to six hundred frightened men, the king faced an untenable situation (1 Samuel 13:8). Sadly, the king’s lack of faith in the LORD and his flawed character began to trouble Israel, for “the people were scattered from him” (1 Samuel 13:8). Understanding the debilitating fear of the people, Saul realized all would be lost if the people’s confidence was not restored. Foolishly, Saul took matters into his hand. He usurped Samuel’s role and authority and offered sacrifices to the LORD (1 Samuel 13:9). 

Samuel’s Rebuke (1 Samuel 13:10-12)

When the sacrifices were ended, Saul received the news that Samuel was approaching the camp. The king then went out to meet the old prophet. The old prophet did not hesitate to confront the king, and he asked, “What hast thou done?” (1 Samuel 13:10) 

Saul’s failed character and inclination for deceit and folly were fully displayed. The king pretended to honor the prophet by greeting him “that he might salute [bless; kneel] him.”  In reality, he had usurped Samuel’s authority as a priest in Israel. Saul accused Samuel of failing to come on time “within the days appointed” (1 Samuel 13:11; 10). Contrary to the king’s assertion, Samuel had arrived on the seventh day. Saul then maintained he had been “forced” [literall compelled] and “offered a burnt offering” (1 Samuel 13:12). However, his contention was a lie (1 Samuel 13:11-12).

The Revelation of God’s Rejection (1 Samuel 13:13-15)

Now Samuel was an old man. Nevertheless, the fire of righteous indignation still burned in his soul. Not mincing words, the prophet 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” (1 Samuel 13:13). 

The consequences of Saul’s impropriety were dreadful. 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” (1 Samuel 13:14). Samuel departed, and Saul numbered his men, counting only “about six hundred men” (1 Samuel 13:15). 

Closing thoughts: 

A Diminished Military and a Disheartened Nation (1 Samuel 13:15-23)

How desperate was the hour? The Philistines were terrorizing the people, sending out three companies of raiders in all directions and reducing Israel to poverty (1 Samuel 13:17-18). The Philistines had humbled Israel to complete dependence, for there were no blacksmiths in the land. As a nation, Israel lacked the means of manufacturing spears and swords. The people found they depended on the Philistines to sharpen basic farm implements (1 Samuel 13:19-21). Indeed, in all of Israel, there were only two swords, Saul’s and his son Jonathan’s (1 Samuel 13:22).

LessonCharacter flaws in leaders breed insecurity in their followers.  

Israel recognized Saul’s lack of integrity and flawed character. As a nation, the people had lost faith in their king and lacked the confidence and courage to face their enemy. Tragically, the people turned from the LORD. 

Application – Israel’s quandary as a nation: A weakened military; the loss of manufacturing capabilities to foreign, adversarial countries; flawed leaders who lack character and integrity.

Sound familiar?

Copyright © 2023 – Travis D. Smith

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