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READY TO DIVE INTO WEEK 6?
I never liked King Saul. Every story I’ve heard or read about him since being a child in Sunday School made the man out to be evil, distrustful, and arrogant. And yet these past few weeks, as we learned about the beginning of his story, and about his great character. He wasn’t always so villainous. Remember when Saul’s father asked him to find the missing donkeys and he brought along his servant, who was obviously much more than an employee? This young man was Saul’s helper, his confidant, his companion. He valued the man’s thoughts and suggestions.
In Week 3, you’ll remember that we delved deeper into the below verse and realized Saul being referenced to as handsome, didn’t simply mean he was easy on the eyes. We know that’s not why God would have chosen him to lead the Israelites:
“There was not a man among the people of Israel more handsome than he. From his shoulders upward, he was taller any of the people.” (1 Samuel 9:1-2)
As you’ll recall, we learned that the word handsome is towb in Hebrew, and means much more than simply someone physically nice to look at.
The word also translates to mean: a good thing, morally good, upright, kind. The description continues, saying:
also as an adverb (well) – beautiful, best, better, bountiful, cheerful, at ease, fair…gracious, joyful, kindness, loving, merry, most pleasant, prosperity, ready, sweet, wealth, welfare, well-favored.
So…Saul sounds way more substantial than just a pretty face, don’t you think?
I think we sometimes forget that GOD CHOSE this guy. He wasn’t twiddling His thumbs until David was located to be his successor, He didn’t make a mistake, He didn’t choose Saul at random.
Saul is us. A perfectly imperfect person.
A man chosen for the job because of qualities and character that was pleasing to the Lord…and yet still one who made mistakes.
Last week, we learned that Samuel encouraged the Israelites in 12:24 to:
Only fear the Lord and serve him faithfully with all your heart. For consider what great things he has done for you.
And then proceeds to share a warning in the very next verse (12:25):
But if you still do wickedly, you shall be swept away, both you and your king.
Chapter 13 begins by telling us that Saul was thirty when he became king and reigned over Israel forty-two years. He may have been a good king, a great, kind and fair man for a good number of years. But after reading 13:3-15, we learn that he made a vital mistake. One that would not be undone.
GOING AHEAD OF GOD
(INSTEAD OF TRUSTING HE KNOWS WHAT HE’S DOING)
A battle was brewing and in Saul's impatience, he didn’t wait for Samuel as instructed. Maybe it was fear, maybe it was overconfidence, but whichever way the pendulum swung, it was disastrous for his future. Philistines were assembling to fight Israel. Three thousand chariots, six thousand charioteers, and soldiers as numerous as the sand on the seashore (13:5) caused the Hebrew army to hide in cisterns and caves and in thickets. Some wanting to get even further away, crossed the Jordan and into another nation’s land (13:6-7).
While his troops scattered, Saul remained at Gilgal, vigilant and waiting for Samuel to arrive to bless them and carry out the sacrifice. For seven days he waited. He knew he was waiting this long. He knew Samuel would arrive on the seventh day…and yet, what did he do? Day seven, he grew tired in the wait and took things into his own hands, burning the offerings himself.
Verse 10 tells us, just as he finished making the offering, Samuel arrived, and Saul went out to greet him.
Saul…the same guy who was so scared of the idea of becoming king, went hiding in a pile of luggage during the announcement of his anointing. The Bible doesn’t say this, but I feel like if Saul went right on out to meet Samuel, he had no remorse for his actions. He felt justified. He was no longer that nervous, intimidated man, but instead an overconfident ruler who was tired of waiting for Samuel and God to show up to battle. He seems to have evolved over the years into a man who thought himself above the law, or perhaps on-par with Samuel. We don’t know earlier details, but I’m imagining it was simply a slippery slope through the years and he eventually became a leader who decided was merited to do things himself.
Saul’s conversation with Samuel (13:11-13) sheds light on the king’s view of the situation: he was justified because Samuel was late. But was Samuel even tardy? Verse 8 says Samuel set the time of seven days, but doesn’t seem to have mentioned a certain hour so the mistake is Saul’s not his mentor’s.
How often have we done this?
We’re tired of waiting for God so we go out and do things ourselves.
Abraham did this when he agreed with Sarah’s idea of sleeping with her servant to produce an heir (Genesis 16:2). I can’t even begin to wrap my mind around doing something as drastic as Sarah and Abraham, but when we feel like God is silent after promising He’d show up, we do crazy things. We justify things.
We’ve all done it. We’ve all gotten ahead of God’s plans. And we’ve messed things up.
I almost got engaged to a guy who was truly rotten. You know the type: a “nice Christian guy”, who wasn’t actually all that nice. The reality is he was most certainly not someone who would have been a good husband to me, wouldn’t have been the best for me. Would certainly not been the man God wanted to place me with.
If I had continued on, I’d have missed out on my incredible groom. My best friend, my helpmate, the lifter of my heart. I can guarantee we wouldn’t have the amazing home full of children of many colors. Life would look very different.
Not that He can’t redeem things that are done outside of His will or outside His best…but they’re quite simply just that: Not. His. Best. He most certainly can.
Let me say that again: God can absolutely redeem things that are done outside His best for us, if we open our hands and hearts, and let Him.
Psalm 27:14 says,
Wait for the Lord;
be strong, and let your heart take courage;
wait for the Lord!
It doesn’t say, “Wait on the Lord; it’s easy.”
It says, be strong! Let your heart take courage!
In Hebrew, the word “strong” is chazaq (sounds like kha-zak) and means to prevail, be firm, and be secure.
Take courage is ‘amats and can be translated as strong, brave, bold, determined, and persistent.
Each of these things takes intentionality and trust. Saul obviously didn’t trust that even when things begun to look bleak, their Heavenly Father would come through for them. He had forgotten the True King was capable of miracles like the one he did in 1 Samuel 7 when the Israelites fought the Philistines and God threw them into a panic and were easily defeated (1 Samuel 7:7-13).
We are not alone in our wait. We are not on our own. God will never give us direction and then walk away, forcing us to figure out the when, the how, and all the little details for it to reach fruition.
If He seems late, like Samuel seemed to Saul…just wait. Think of the last direction from Christ you received, the last prompting, the last promise placed into your heart…and stay there. Continue on in that place until you hear more.
God may be wanting to see how much you trust Him, He may be wanting to do a miracle that didn’t seem possible. He may be working behind the scenes in a way you can’t even imagine, and going ahead with “your plans” because God seems absent, will only mess up that perfect thing He’s creating.
A friend was interviewing recently for a position at MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) Corporate. It was a great sounding part-time position that she would have been comfortable in. She prayed about the decision a ton. We all prayed about it a ton, though there was no doubt in any of our minds she’d get it. It was perfect for her and she was more than qualified.
But she didn’t get the job. She was devastated. And we were all confused.
A few weeks later, as she was still trying to make sense of what happened, they approached her with an even more exciting and huge opportunity. It’s a position I don’t think she ever would have put her name in the hat for. It’s a big jump. An impressive and intriguing position that stirs her heart with astonishment in a dangerous “this is crazy, but I trust You” kind of way.
Had she given up, she’d never have been able to say yes to that job. If she had acted in a way any less than grace-filled, God’s best would never have been presented to her. She would have spoiled it before knowing it was even an option.
When Joshua told the priests to begin walking into the Red Sea as they were about to overtake Jericho, they were stepping into rushing waters that were a mile wide. It made no sense that they would begin walking out with the ark of the covenant on their shoulders. But they trusted Joshua and they trusted their King. As their sandals dampened from their first steps, the waters parted.
I love how The Voice translates it:
At your command, the priests will carry the covenant chest into the edge of the Jordan water and they are to stand there in the Jordan, waiting. (Joshua 3:8)
They had to step out in faith...
And wait for God to move, trusting that He would.
Trust is not something Saul did here. Even after going ahead with his plans, and being confronted with his disobedience, Saul didn’t apologize. He only justified his actions, placing blame on Samuel for what had been done.
A leader is no longer good when he cannot take responsibility for his own actions. Saul (and any influencer) who wants to lead well, cannot exercise power he or she has not been given. Samuel shares in 13:13-14 that God would have established Saul’s kingdom over Israel for all time. But because of his disobedience, his kingdom would not endure.
I’m sure Samuel’s heart grew sad as he broke the news that was felt first with Eli, then himself…and now with Saul. Three leaders in a row would have their children’s reign ripped from them because of their own mistakes.
ACTIVE VS. INACTIVE FAITH
Saul’s faith in God was obviously shaky at this point and finding out about the fate of his royal lineage being shortened to him alone, seemed to have made his walk with the True King even more precarious.
He could have gone one of two ways…and the path Saul took was not one of forgiveness. 14:2 tells us Saul was in the outskirts of Gibeah, which means he retreated from Gilgal, likely rattled by Samuel’s words.
Sitting under a pomegranate tree (14:2), Saul had begun taking counsel from Eli’s grandson, who was also a priest (which shows that even when a lineage is cut short, it doesn’t mean God won’t still use people and allow ministries to emerge). We don’t know if Saul is resting, sulking, licking his wounds, or what. Likely though, he wasn’t sitting under the shade of the tree, devising any sort of military strategy because Jonathan was one of his prominent troop leaders and yet no one noticed when he and his armor-bearer left camp (14:3).
“Come, let’s go over to the Philistine outpost on the other side”, Jonathan suggests to the man bearing his armor. Not telling his father (14:1), they snuck away.
Jonathan may have been annoyed or tired of his father’s inactivity. He maybe wanted to show Saul that things weren’t over yet, or remind him that they shouldn’t stop fighting.
Or perhaps he wanted to show God that he was different than his father. Maybe he wanted to put his toe in the water and stand there waiting for it to part.
Maybe he simply wanted to demonstrate trust.
The area Jonathan and his armor bearer were venturing to was known to be very dangerous. Cliffs rose high on either side of them, caves and other places to hide and ambush riddled the surface above the men’s heads.
Jonathan wasn’t positive that God would use him to save his people, but he had no doubt that God could use him.
Jonathan (to his armor-bearer): 6 Come on! Let’s cross over to this force of Philistines, these uncircumcised, these idol-worshipers. Maybe the Eternal One will fight for us. If He wants to save us, then no force is too big or too small.
Armor-bearer: 7 Do whatever you think is right, and I will follow you. My decision will be your decision.
Jonathan: 8 Now we will approach the Philistines and let them see us. 9 If they say, “Wait there. We are coming to you,” then we will stay where we are, and we will not advance. 10 But if they say, “Come here,” then we will go to them, and that will be the sign that the Eternal has given us power over them.
11 So they let the Philistines see them, and the Philistine soldiers ridiculed them.
Soldiers: Look! There are some Hebrews climbing out of the holes where they’ve been hiding!
12 They signaled to Jonathan and his armor-bearer.
Soldiers: Come here, you two! Come here, and we’ll show you something!
Note: the philistines don’t believe any one could climb up to them.
Jonathan (to the armor-bearer): Follow me! The Eternal One has assured victory for Israel.
13 Jonathan scrambled up the steep incline on his hands and feet to the Philistine soldiers, his armor-bearer right behind. When he appeared before the Philistines, they fell before him, and he and his armor-bearer killed them right and left. 14 In that first assault, Jonathan and his armor-bearer killed about 20 men within an area of about a half-acre. 15 When the news of this slaughter spread, it caused trembling in the Philistine camp, among the soldiers in the field, even among the whole nation. The garrison of troops was confused and afraid, and the raiding parties who had terrorized Israel trembled. Soon the earth itself quaked, and an awesome trembling abounded.
How are you stepping out in faith? What crazy thing has Christ placed on your heart and like Jonathan…we each need to come to the point where we can tell those around us,
“I have this passion flaming up inside of me that could only be from the Lord. And I’m going to go for it. I’m going to jump up and go out there and know that God can fight for me. If he wants to use me, no force is too big or too small.”
This reminds me of my parents. We moved to Guatemala and lived there when I was in 6-8th grades. They walked out on a crazy path because they felt God prompting them to. It was just us. They didn’t move out with 5,000 other people to start a massive revitalization of their economy or revival within their communities. Like Jonathan and his armor bearer, they went out small. But they trusted big.
The dreams and purpose put into the hearts of my parents would only make a small impact on the crisis of poverty and unemployment rate worldwide, sure. Does that mean they were not doing enough? No! Every single person touched by love and care will be changed as they see Jesus in and through each of us.
We know only too well that what we are doing is nothing more than a drop in the ocean. But if the drop were not there, the ocean would be missing something. (Mother Teresa)
My parents were like a single candle in a dark room. Their love of Christ lit the wick of every person they touched, and as new wicks ignited, they in turn brought light to those around them: friends, family, communities. Only God knows how bright and shimmering the light in that room now radiates!
Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. (Matthew 5:15)
What drop of water in the ocean will you be? How will your single candle catch the wicks of others one by one by one?
God can take our faith and multiply the effects in ways that simply don’t make sense to our human minds.
The description of the next scene glows vividly as Jonathan comes upon a honeycomb simply oozing with golden nectar. The sticky goodness dripping down his arm and onto the ground from an overly-full hand of sweetness, Jonathan eats the treat while his companions look on, wiping drool off from their own chins and wide-eyed that the prince (unknowingly) went against his father’s wishes.
Before heading out for battle (the battle of which Jonathan was already fighting in), Saul addressed the army with a ridiculous oath: “Cursed be the man who eats food until it is evening and I am avenged on my enemies.” So none of the people had tasted food. (1 Samuel 14:24)
Saul understood that fasting was a way of indicating commitment to God and he perhaps he thought it was a way to cajole God into granting him favor again and grant victory. Fasting though, is not intended to be used in times of battle, but rather for moments of refection and refuge. And certainly can’t be used to strong-arm God into gaining assistance!
It’s interesting though, that though the oath was asinine, not a single soldier went against his command. Was it because they were superstitious and scared of the curse? Or did they respect Saul’s leadership so much, they’d do anything he asked? I wonder.
Though Jonathan had not been present at the time the oath was given, he shows no sign of remorse after they announce to him the mandate from the king. His father may have considered fasting as a way to convince God they were with Him, but Jonathan saw eating the food before him as nourishment and blessing to strengthen the body for battle. It was something that would allow them to fight more effectively.
It seems to me that Jonathan believed giving the men food would be a far better and more compelling reason for God to come alongside them and be their help in this time of adversity!
Though Psalm 46:1-3 was written in reference to a completely separate incident, it is just so fitting here:
God is a safe place to hide,
ready to help when we need him.
We stand fearless at the cliff-edge of doom,
courageous in seastorm and earthquake,
Before the rush and roar of oceans,
the tremors that shift mountains.
Jonathan knew God was their ever-present help. But he also knew they needed to be prepared themselves. If they were stronger, bellies full and bodies nourished, their troops would be stronger and able to dive the Philistines back even further than they could with famished frames.
He knew that though God can and will work through individuals...
we still need to play our part in preparing ourselves to carry out His will.
The writer of 1 Samuel tells this story in such a way that provokes us to strongly conclude that it's Jonathan...not Saul, who has a great understanding of what God requires of us. Both for them as leaders, and simply as men trusting the goodness of the True King and God.
Don't forget to head to The Library to print out your Study Guide to use for your personal Quiet Time (you must subscribe to the blog via email to receive the password).
You'll be able to delve deeper and learn what happens when the sun goes down how the men sin after Saul's curse is lifted, and what happens when Saul finds out that his very own son didn't adhere to the fasting. Will he really put Jonathan to death??
I can't wait to continue on next week!