I thought, 'Now the Philistines will descend upon me at Gilgal, and I have not sought the favor of the LORD.' So I felt compelled to offer the burnt offering."
1 Samuel 13:8-15. (GILGAL.)Genesis 2:17), but they involve important principles, and the manner in which they are endured is followed by serious consequences. The position of Saul necessitated a trial of his fidelity to the fundamental principle of the theocratic kingdom, viz., unconditional obedience on the part of the king to the will of God as declared by his prophets. He was directed
(1) to wait for Samuel seven days, and
(2) to attempt nothing till he came (1 Samuel 10:8). He omitted the former and did the latter, and thus took his first wrong step - a step never retraced, and leading to a course which ended on the fatal field of Gilboa. Observe -
I. ITS APPARENT EXPEDIENCY. His conscience told him that it was not right, as he virtually acknowledged in the defence he offered for his conduct (vers. 11, 12). Yet he persuaded himself (as others are accustomed to do) that it was venial, expedient, and even necessary, because of -
1. The pressure of worldly circumstances. "Because I saw that the people were scattered from me," etc. Resources diminish, and danger is imminent. When they are considered in themselves alone, anxiety and fear increase, and temptation becomes strong to make use of any means of relief that may be presented. How often are men tempted by the plea of necessity to disobey the voice of conscience! The tempter says, "It is better to steal than starve, better to sin than perish."
2. The disappointment of religious expectations. "And that thou camest not at the appointed time." "Help has been long waited for, but it comes not; nor is it likely, now that the seventh day is drawing to a close, that it will come at all. The promise has not been fulfilled. The time for action has arrived, and the long delay indicates that the most expedient course must be taken. Nothing else remains. If there be any blame, it cannot be attributed to one who has waited so long, has been left in such extremity, and acts for the best."
3. The efficacy of ceremonial observances. "And I forced myself, and offered a burnt offering." Inasmuch as such an offering was required on entering upon his enterprise against the Philistines, he could not hope to succeed without it, and he had at all times great regard for the external ceremonies enjoined by the law (1 Samuel 14:33, 35). A doubtful or wrong act is often supposed to be blameless when performed in connection with sacred rites, or with a righteous end in view (John 16:2); and disobedience is sometimes clothed in a religious guise, its real nature being thereby obscured to the view of conscience, and its commission rendered easy.
4. The prospect of immediate advantages. Apparent and immediate good is the first and last and most powerful incentive to departure from the path of duty. "The tree was good for food, and pleasant to the eyes," etc. (Genesis 3:6). "And the history of Adam is as ancient as the world, but is fresh in practice, and is still revived in the sons of Adam."
II. ITS REAL CULPABILITY. "What hast thou done?" said Samuel, speaking' as with the voice of God, and seeking to arouse his conscience and lead him to repentance. He had been guilty of -
1. Disobedience to a plain commandment. "Thou hast not kept the commandment of the Lord thy God" (ver. 13). The fact could not be denied. He had not waited all the appointed time, and he had acted without Divine direction. He had rejected the supreme authority of the Divine King, and no excuse that might be made could do away with his guilt. "Sin is not estimated by God according to its outward form, but according to the amount and extent of the principle of evil embodied in that form."
2. Distrust of promised help. Men sometimes wait long for the fulfilment of Divine promises, but not long enough; and their lack of perseverance shows weakness or absence of faith. The force of adverse circumstances is exaggerated by being exclusively dwelt upon; doubt of the power of God prevails through disregard of preservation from harm hitherto afforded; and as faith unites the soul to God, so unbelief severs it from him, leaves it a prey to disquiet and impatience, and leads it to adopt worldly and godless expedients. Unbelief was the root of the transgression of Saul, as it is of the transgression of men generally.
3. Formality in religious service. A burnt offering was a symbol and expression of consecration, and when offered aright, in a spirit of obedience, it honoured God and obtained his blessing; but when wrongly offered it was worthless, dishonoured him, and was abomination in his sight (1 Samuel 15:22; Proverbs 21:27; Isaiah 1:13). It is the same with other outward forms of service. "Saul is a specimen of that class of persons who show a certain reverence and zeal for the outward forms of religion, and even a superstitious reliance on them, but are not careful to cherish the inner spirit of vital religion" (Wordsworth's 'Com.').
4. Self-will, pride, and presumption. In disobeying the will of God he set up his own will as supreme, and was guilty of pride, "by which sin fell the angels." It is not said that he offered sacrifice with his own hand, and he may have simply directed it to be done by the priest who was with him (1 Samuel 14:18); nor is it certain that if he had done so he would have gone beyond the privilege and prerogative possessed by other kings. His sin did not consist of intrusion into the priestly office. It was nevertheless very great. "He had cast away his obedience to God. The crown he thought was his own. From that moment he fell; for all our good qualities retain their ascendancy over our evil passions by the presence and power of God claiming them as his." "Samuel, according to modern expositors of the story, was angry because he felt that he was losing his own influence over the mind of the king. No; he was angry because the king was so much the slave of his influence, or of any influence that was exerted over him for a moment; because he was losing the sense of responsibility to One higher than a prophet, to One who had appointed him to rule not in his own name, but as the minister and executor of the Divine righteousness" (Maurice).
III. ITS EXCEEDING FOLLY. "Thou hast done foolishly" (ver. 13). The folly of the sinner appears in his -
1. Being deceived by the appearances of things - the magnitude of danger, the false promises of advantage, the specious arguments of expediency. He is like the foolish man who built his house upon the sand, instead of "digging deep and laying the foundation on a rock" (Luke 6:48). He is infatuated, fascinated, and under a glamour cast over his mind by his own evil desires and the spell of the tempter.
2. Making light of the enormous evil of sin. It is the only real evil. But he is thoughtless, ignorant, and foolish enough to account it a trivial thing, which may be easily excused and passed by. As he who says in his heart "No God" is called a "fool," so he who deems it a little matter to offend him is appropriately designated by the same name. "Fools make a mock at sin" (Proverbs 14:9); and he who makes light of sin makes light of God.
3. Leaving the only path of safety and honour. "For now" (if thou hadst obeyed his commandment) "the Lord would have established thy sovereignty over Israel forever."
4. Entering on a course of certain loss and misery.
(1) Inward - weakened moral power, increased tendency to sin, unsteadiness, rashness, etc. What a man does once he is almost certain under similar circumstances to do again. Saul's subsequent course was a continuation and complete development of the same kind of transgression as he now committed. He was already so blinded by sin as not to repent.
(2) Outward. "But now thy sovereignty shall not continue," etc. (ver. 14). The sentence "embodied the principle that no monarchy could be enduring in Israel which did not own the supreme authority of God," and it declared that Saul's crown would not be transmitted to his descendants; but not until afterwards was he personally rejected from being king (1 Samuel 15:23). Having failed to endure the trial to which he was subjected, he was left by Samuel (ver. 15), and nothing is further recorded of his intercourse with the prophet for some years. "He had not even accomplished the object of his unseasonable sacrifice, viz., to prevent the dispersion of the people" (Keil). O that he had waited a little longer! "Saul lost his kingdom for want of two or three hours' patience."
1. Beware of the first wrong step. "It is always marked by a peculiarity of evil which does not attach to any subsequent offences". (Miller). Principiis obsta.
2. If you have taken such a step, instantly repent of it. "It is not sinning, that ruins men, but sinning and not repenting, falling and not getting up again." - D.
I forced myself therefore, and offered a burnt offering.Romans 12 fin.; 1 Corinthians 10:13.) The prophet was mouthpiece of Divine law: the king its administrator and executor. Prophet superior to king in respect of religious observances. Saul's difficulty continually recurs, plain commands of God not to be slighted or disobeyed for less plain ones. In this incident we find something right in Saul, and something wrong.
I. WHERE SAUL WAS RIGHT. He was in great distress, and felt need of Divine aid. (Psalm 60:11.) He was for seeking it in ordinances appointed. Christ's sacrifice on cross our great peace offering, to be presented in faithful, intelligent prayer. (St. John 14:6 fin.) Do not stay at a mere dull, diffused sense of wanting pardon. So, if need enlightenment, seek it in Holy Scripture (St. John 5:39); if spiritual refreshment, at Holy Communion. Ordinances have their proper value, rightly used. Thus Saul was right.
II. WHERE SAUL WAS WRONG. Elements of his fault: Want of faith; contrast Gideon (Isaiah 28:16); superstition as to sacrifice. Nowadays, many value ordinance of religion quite independently of state of heart in the person using it. Saul relied on the form only. "Sacrifice must be offered!" No! It is not the objective but the subjective that is of highest importance; the formal is useless without the spiritual. Heart first. (Isaiah 1:10-20; James 4:3; St. John 4:24; Psalm 51:9, 10.) Saul misapprehended the object and effect of religious ordinances. It is not the thing done, but the obedient spirit of the doer which obtains. (Psalm 50:18.) No mechanical influence upon God by prayer, etc. Ordinances are not charms, but channels of grace when rightly used. Therefore Saul disobeyed. Sin never necessary. Contrary notion arises from cowardice, or from superstition, or from some other want of intelligence Since Saul's fault was superstitious distrustfulness, seek from Holy Spirit an intelligent reliance on the general promises of God, and an intelligent obedience to the plain commands.
(Cornelius Witherby, M. A.)
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