Read the Text: 1 Samuel 13
Army Gathered (13:1–7)
In last week’s lesson we studied the Israelites’ sin of asking a king for themselves. We saw that their desire for a king was tantamount to a rejection of God (cf. 1 Sam. 8:7; 12:12). We noted that their request for a king was born out of the Israelites’ desire to be like the pagan nations around them (cf. 1 Sam. 8:5, 20). Samuel warned them that their desire was sinful (cf. 1 Sam. 8:10–18; 10:19–20), yet the people resisted Samuel. Consequently, as Hosea later notes, God gave them a king “in his wrath” (Hos. 13:11). In 1 Sam. 12 the prophet again confronts the people, noting “your wickedness is great, which you have done in the sight of the Lord, in asking a king for yourselves” (1 Sam. 12:17). Moreover, Samuel calls their request for a king “evil” (1 Sam. 12:19) and works a miracle to confirm his pronouncement by calling for a rain storm to destroy the wheat harvest (cf. 1 Sam. 12:16–18).
1 Sam. 13:1–7 describes in summary fashion the first two years of Saul’s reign. During this time Saul raised an army of 3,000 men, as Samuel had said he would do (cf. 1 Sam. 8:10–12). The text reports that Jonathan, Saul’s firstborn son and heir-apparent, attacked a Philistine garrison (cf. 1 Sam. 13:3). This would have provoked a Philistine retaliation, so Saul mustered an army to engage the inevitable Philistine attack (cf. 1 Sam. 13:4). The text records that the gathered Philistine army, which may have been over thirty thousand men, caused much fear and trembling among the inexperienced Israel army, thus “the people hid themselves in caves, in thickets, in rocks, in holes, and in pits” (1 Sam. 13:6). While the people thought that their king would fight their battles for them (cf. 1 Sam. 8:20), once the people realized that they would constitute the army, they began to flee.
Saul’s Sin (13:8–10)
The text reports that Saul and the army were in Gilgal. In 1 Sam. 10:8 Samuel had told Saul, “You shall go down before me to Gilgal; and surely I will come down to you to offer burnt offerings and make sacrifices of peace offerings. Seven days you shall wait, till I come to you and show you what you should do.” 1 Sam. 13:8–10 records that on account of the fact that Samuel took longer than seven days to arrive in Gilgal, and because the people were beginning to dessert the army (cf. 1 Sam. 13:8, 15), Saul “offered the burnt offering” (1 Sam. 13:9). This, of course, was not only a violation of Samuel’s instructions, but also it was contrary to the Mosaic Law (cf. Lev. 1:1–17; 3:1–17). Shortly thereafter, Samuel arrived and asked the question of Saul, “What have you done?” (1 Sam. 13:11). Clearly Saul failed this character test needed for leadership.
God’s Curse (13:11–23)
Rather than repenting of his foolish and self-centered act, Saul attempted to blame Samuel (i.e., “you did not come within the days appointed”) and/or the circumstances (i.e., “the Philistines gathered at Michmash”) for his disobedience. In reality, as Samuel’s response to Saul demonstrates, Saul had made the unlawful offering because he trusted more in his fleeing army than in the Lord, or perhaps, in his pride, he wanted the glory or assurance of military victory. In any event, his heart was not right; Saul seems to have wanted to rule with absolute power as prophet, priest, and king. Therefore, Samuel declared, “Your kingdom shall not continue,” for the Lord is seeking for “a man after his own heart” (1 Sam. 13:14). Note that Paul applies this term to David at Acts 13:22 (cf. 1 Sam. 16:7; Psalm 89:20; Acts 7:46). David will be introduced into the narrative of the book of 1 Samuel in chapter 16.
The ending of the account about this battle between the Philistines and Israelites is disappointing. Apparently, as a result of Samuel’s pronouncement of God’s curse, Saul sulks away to Gibeah and the army dissolves (cf. 1 Sam. 13:15). The result of these events seems to have been more Philistine oppression and raiding in the land (cf. 1 Sam. 13:16–18). The end of the chapter explains, in part, the rationale for the Philistine dominance over Israel—namely, the fact that the Philistines were more advanced in iron working than the Israelites. The text reports that the Philistines would not let the Israelites become blacksmiths and that they charged them exorbitant fees for sharpening their farm equipment (cf. 1 Sam. 13:19–21). The end result of this oppression is that only Saul and Jonathan possessed swords among the Israelites (cf. 1 Sam. 13:22–23).
- Why do you think God allowed Saul to be king, even divinely choosing him as king, if he knew that Saul would fall? Is it ever too late to repent of sin?
- Why does mankind—believers and unbelievers alike—persist in sin, even when the destructive results of sin are plainly evident?
- Do you think Saul’s action in offering the sacrifice seems reasonable or even prudent? Have you ever tried to justify your sin when caught or confronted?
- What is the connection between our actions and our heart (cf. Prov. 23:7; Matt. 12:34; 15:18)? Is it ever legitimate to claim that someone else caused us to sin?
- Who or what other than God are you tempted to trust in for your security? When trials come your way, what is your initial reaction and your course of action?