1 Samuel 13:1-14
I’m a child of the 80’s. One of the classic rock anthems of my generation declares this truth: “The waiting is the hardest part.”
Waiting is difficult, isn’t it?
In life, it feels like we’re always waiting on something or someone.
Waiting for a green light. Waiting for loan or credit approval. Waiting for an answer to a question or a proposal. Waiting for confirmation on a decision.
Waiting for our circumstances to change. Waiting for help to arrive.
Waiting isn’t easy. What is easy is to become impatient – to get frustrated while we wait.
Having the patience to wait for someone else is not something most of us have.
We want the help, but we want it right away, on our own timetable. And so, most people do not like to wait for other people.
What’s the old adage? “If you want something to get done, then do it yourself.”
Waiting is difficult. Especially when things are falling apart all around you, when it feels like a moment, an opportunity is slipping through your fingers and you’ve decided you can’t afford to wait any longer.
Hard circumstances test our patience – especially when it comes to waiting on God.
Today, as return to the book of 1 Samuel, chapter 13, we come face to face with our impatience and our struggle to wait upon the Lord through the ongoing story of King Saul.
Only two weeks and two chapter ago, we were marveling at Saul’s rise to leadership as Israel’s first king.
Saul was called, anointed, and commissioned as the king of Israel through no merit or achievement of his own but solely by the grace of God’s choosing.
And at the start of his reign, Saul, through abiding in God’s Spirit and following the Lord’s direction, had done everything right and secured a military victory over the encroaching forces of a foreign nation, the Ammonites. But sadly, today, some rust appears on his crown as Saul begins his slip-and-slide down from the top.
By the end of this chapter, he will lose the throne of Israel.
And his tragic descent begins, Saul’s life will start to unravel, all because of his impatience.
As we’re about to hear, sometimes the waiting isn’t the hardest part. Sometimes the hardest part is what happens on the other side of our impatience – when we get tired of waiting and take matters into our own hands.
Let’s listen to 1 Samuel, chapter 13, verses 1 – 14.
Though Samuel had driven the Philistines out of Israelite territories, by the early part of Saul’s reign, they were threatening Israel again.
In fact, if we pay attention to the details of this story and know a little bit about the geography of Israel, the Philistines are increasing encroaching on the area around King Saul’s hometown of Gibeah.
In response, King Saul raises an army of 3,000 men in order to launch an assault. Jonathan, the son of King Saul, commanding a thousand of these troops successfully initiates a pre-emptive strike upon a garrison of the Philistines at a place called Geba – a city located about 4 miles away from the royal capital.
The Philistines take Israel’s attack upon them as a declaration of war – and a war is what they come prepared to fight.
Their countermove to Jonathan’s assault on their outpost is massive as the Philistines assemble at large army of chariots and warriors. The Philistines make their camp at a place called Michmash, about a mile away from their garrison where Jonathan attacked and roughly five miles northeast of Gibeah.
In the meantime, King Saul blew the shofar – what we might consider an ancient trumpet made out of a ram’s horn – as a way of raising a signal throughout the land and to summon more troops to join him at his camp at Gilgal.
But when the people of Israel see and hear what they’re up against – both the superior size and technology of the Philistine army – they don’t come running to fight with King Saul, they start running as far away as they can.
An all-out panic ensues as everyone heads for the hills.
Perceiving themselves so badly outnumbered, some Israelites attempt to dodge the draft by hiding in caves and thickets.
Others start jumping behind rocks, into pits or empty cisterns.
A few are so terrified they desert the war effort by hopping into the Jordan River and swim east to the other side in order to get out of the country.
The soldiers who already are with Saul at Gilgal are shaking in their boots. This is not what they signed up for.
What we have here is quite the contrast from the picture of chapter 11, when King Saul, energized by the Spirit of the Lord, rallied the people and rose to victoriously meet the threat of Nahash and the Ammonites.
But now, the people of Israel demonstrate no confidence in Saul’s leadership.
We can’t miss the irony here.
One of the big reasons Israel had asked for a king was in order to experience a greater sense of safety and security before the power of all the other nations.
And now they have a king, but nothing really has changed. They are just as fearful as they were before the monarchy had been established for them.
But perhaps the even greater irony is that once again, surrendering to their fear rather than abiding in faith, the people of Israel have forgotten the One who gave them what they wanted – a king – the God who had protected and delivered them countless times before in the face of an advancing enemy.
Tragically, King Saul, through his decisions and his actions in this moment, will prove to be no different than the people he is leading.
He will be shown to suffer from the same lack of trust in the Lord.
Before things got this far, before gathering the troops at Gilgal, King Saul apparently had been given specific instructions by the prophet, Samuel.
We need to remember that when Samuel spoke as a prophet of the Lord, it was equivalent, it was as good as if the words came from God’s own lips.
And the command that Samuel, the prophet and spokesperson for God, gave to King Saul was to wait – to wait for seven days for the Lord to act.
On the 7th day, Samuel would come, lead the people in worship and offer sacrifices to the Lord, and tell King Saul the game plan for this battle.
At first, King Saul waited as instructed. He waited. And waited. And waited.
Saul manages to make it through six long days and most of the seventh. But when that seventh day begins to draw to an end, King Saul is at his wit’s end.
Samuel, still has not shown up. The situation has not improved. It’s still really bad and quickly growing worse.
The pressure has been building. The tension is so thick you could cut it with a knife.
Saul’s forces are beginning to disappear. Men are going AWOL.
With the military situation becoming more and more precarious by the hour and with there still being no sign of Samuel, King Saul decides he can’t afford to wait any longer.
Decisive action is needed. Morale is low. Desertion is high. The battle is being lost before it even has been fought. The people need assurances that victory is still within their grasp.
King Saul takes matters into his own hands.
If Samuel is not going to show up, then Saul will just have to do Samuel’s job for him.
He gives the order and starts leading the people in worship and offering the prescribed sacrifices.
This is the jumpstart King Saul thinks will turn things around. Why?
Because this is how things went down when the Philistines last attacked Israel way back when at Mizpah – in chapter 7.
Samuel led the people in worship and offered sacrifices while the Lord thundered against a Philistine army of great numbers – just like the one they’re facing now.
King Saul sees religious ritual as military strategy.
It doesn’t matter whether Samuel is here or not, as long as we have a worship service, as long as I provide the right offering, as long as we give God His due,
Israel can be assured of the Lord’s action on her behalf.
Easy-peasy, right? Wrong.
Just as these sacrifices were being completed by Saul, Samuel comes on the scene.
And by the way, Samuel is not late in arriving because it’s still the seventh day.
King Saul goes out to greet Samuel like everything is copacetic – all good.
“Hey Samuel, nice of you to join us! How’s your day going?”
But Samuel dismisses the pleasantries and gets right to it as he asks, “What have you done?”
King Saul goes on the defensive and makes his case for the actions he’s taken. But Samuel remains unconvinced.
He responds by declaring that King Saul has made a foolish miscalculation.
But then, Samuel delivers a surprising and unexpected verdict upon Saul.
A monarchy is usually hereditary. When a king dies, the son of the king succeeds him.
But Saul’s success has now come to an end. Saul’s contribution to the monarchy of Israel will finish with his tenure. Saul is not being dethroned as king. The throne is being removed from his family line. The kingdom of Israel will not pass from Saul’s hands into his son, Jonathan’s.
The people didn’t choose Saul to be king, God did. And now, the Lord will choose someone else to take the crown from King Saul.
With these parting words, Samuel leaves the camp – no doubt with King Saul’s mouth still hanging open.
Once the dust has settled from Samuel’s depature, Saul’s situation does not improve.
As he counts up the men he still has left to fight with him, Saul discovers he’s only 600 soldiers by his side.
His numbers have shrunk dramatically.
Apparently, King Saul’s presumptuous plan to conduct the worship service by himself has not had the desired effect of rallying the troops – of bring his departing soldiers back to him.
Licking his wounds, King Saul heads back to Gibeah to merge the remaining forces he has with his son Jonathan’s troops.
The elephant in the room with this sermon is the question many of us are thinking in the midst of this story but aren’t saying out loud:
Isn’t God being rather harsh on Saul here? Saul loses the throne because he got a little impatient. Really? If we’re honest, it doesn’t seem like the punishment fits the crime here.
Impatience may not be a good thing but is it such a bad thing that you can end up like Saul?
Let’s talk about this.
First, let’s briefly consider what King Saul’s impatience was communicating.
The situation Saul was in was a difficult one – facing an alarming threat while continuing to lose the support of the people.
The pressure Saul was under was severe and increasing – fear was overtaking Israel and confidence was being to erode in his leadership.
But while Saul’s temptation in the midst of difficult situation and increasing pressure is understandable; that doesn’t mean his decision to take matters into his own hands is excusable. Far from it.
In acting out of impatience, Saul let his circumstances determine his actions rather than the word of the Lord – God’s direction.
By not waiting on the Lord, Saul was communicating that he trusted his own wisdom and reasoning over God’s wisdom – over the Lord’s provision and protection.
By not waiting on the Lord, Saul was revealing himself not to be a king under God but rather a king in place of God.
Through his actions, Saul was declaring that he as king wasn’t working for Lord as much as the Lord was working for him.
Perhaps we might argue, but Saul was trying to defer to God’s leadership.
After all, he didn’t just march into battle, Saul led the people in worship before the Lord.
But when Saul takes charge of offering the sacrifices of Israel before the Lord, Saul is presuming a role that isn’t his to take.
Saul as the king of Israel was not authorized to serve as the High Priest of Israel. Even as far back as the Bible, there was the separation of church and state. Saul as king was designated to lead the troops into battle; but it is Samuel as the priest who was supposed to lead the people in worship.
King Saul’s actions – even his intentions – may have been pious – turning to and asking for the Lord’s help.
However, Saul’s actual motivations were to use the worship of the Lord not to glorify God but to contribute to the war effort.
And yet contrary to what many believe, patriotism and worship of the Lord do not belong together.
Love for God must never be co-opted out of love of country.
Saul’s primary concern was for gaining an advantage – the “good luck” – the worship service and the sacrifices would bring to his prospects in battle.
Whenever we attempt to manipulate divine power like this as a means to serve our own ends, there is a technical, old school term for such behavior. It’s not called true worship; it’s called sorcery.
Whenever we exercise power in the Lord’s name but not in deference to the Lord’s instructions and guidance, we are not honoring or glorifying God; we are seeking to honor, glorify, and protect ourselves.
Spiritual words and religious acts by themselves – no matter how sincere or heartfelt – do not necessarily coincide with walking in the way of the Lord.
The integrity of both our faith and our witness to Christ is measured by whether or not whatever we say or do arises out of love for Jesus, trust in His Word, and following His character and commands.
Fear rather faith drove Saul to stop waiting on the Lord.
Lack of confidence and trust in the Lord led Saul to take matters into his own hands.
And apart from the Lord’s rebuke through Samuel and the consequences that will follow, what ended up being the net result of Saul’s impatience – of his decision to jump the gun when it came to waiting on the Lord?
His numbers continued to dwindle. The Israelites who had previously left did not rally to his side.
And the imminent threat that King Saul perceived ended up being less pressing than he believed it was.
Saul was convinced he couldn’t wait for Samuel to arrive – but the truth is, he could have.
After Samuel’s departure, no epic battle ensues. The Philistines enact a couple of raiding attacks but that’s all – for now.
King Saul, just like Samuel proclaimed, made a foolish decision
a foolish decision that didn’t change his situation,
a foolish decision because what seemed so urgent never actually came to pass.
King Saul actually did still have time to wait.
Like Saul, hard circumstances and a sense of urgency often test our patience.
When those moments come, do we wait for the Lord to lead us or like Saul, does our impatience get the best of us?
Do we take matters into our own hands?
It doesn’t take much for us to say we believe in the sufficiency of Christ, that come what may we will follow Jesus, to commit to live according to God’s Word and Spirit, when things are going our way – when there’s no challenge, no resistance, no obstacles before us.
However, the rubber meets the road, the true test of our submission to the Lord, our willingness to abide in Christ, to not just talk about how good God is but to trust in the goodness of God, is when trouble is brewing, as the storm comes, as the rain falls, and what’s possibly coming next scares us to death but all the same, the Lord calls us to wait upon Him, in the midst of deluge before us, Jesus assures us, we do not have to fear, as the water level rises and clouds grow darker, the Holy Spirit offers us peace in place of our worry and concern.
That’s when our faith gets real. That’s what we believe and who we believe in become obvious.
But let’s not become confused. While part of this story is about waiting on the Lord, the heart of the problem is not Saul’s impatience.
And it’s not ours either.
While we should wait on the Lord, while it is always better to trust in God’s timing, we have and we will have moments when we will still be impatient and have to learn the lesson hard way.
Another way of saying this is bad decisions and failure are a part of life – even our life in Christ – as we are works in progress being gradually transformed as we follow Jesus by the grace of God.
The Lord knows we will not always get everything right. The truth is Saul doesn’t lose his crown because of being impatient. Saul’s inability to wait ends up being symptomatic of a larger problem.
This larger problem is revealed through how Saul responds when confronted with his impatience – with his wrongdoing.
Did we notice this? I purposefully didn’t mention it earlier.
When Samuel shows up, instead of immediately coming clean, Saul, at first, tries to act like nothing has gone wrong – like everything’s fine.
Fair enough. Maybe it truly didn’t occur to Saul there was a problem.
But then, when Samuel makes it clear everything is not fine and asks not curiously but rebukingly, “What have you done?”
Saul still doesn’t acknowledge having done anything inappropriate. Saul attempts to rationalize and justify his actions.
Saul asserts three justifications for what he’s done: The people of Israel were deserting him, Samuel didn’t arrive on time, and the Philistines were assembling for battle.
Anybody noticing a trend here?
Saul is blaming other people for his actions. Saul is blaming his circumstances for his impatience.
Saul’s response here is humanity’s textbook reply when it comes to answering to God for our brokenness.
We can go all the way back to the beginning, when Adam blamed “that woman” you put here in the Garden with me.
Or how about Aaron when he blamed “these people” you left me with while you were having a private meeting with Moses up on the mountain?
One of the clearest signs of our brokenness as human being is our default human nature when caught red-handed, guilty as charged, is to self-rationalize, to self-justify, to find someone else to blame.
Why is the world broken? What do bad things happen to good people? What are things not the way they are supposed to be? It’s not our fault. It’s always God’s fault.
But Saul goes even further than the blame game. Putting the responsibility on others, on his circumstances, Saul excuses what he’s done by adding he “felt compelled” to do what he had to do.
He had no choice. He was forced to act. Don’t miss the implications of this.
Saul is now revealing he was not ignorant of what he was doing but convinced himself it was more important to make the sacrifice than to obey God’s instruction.
Have we ever made a similar argument when it comes ignoring waiting on God, trusting in the way of the Lord?
How often our current political climate and in the midst of this last year of the pandemic in the face of whatever the perceived threat is before us, have we justified our actions or the actions of our leaders in living contrary to how Christ has called to live?
Like Saul, we can come up with all kinds of reasons – reasons that sound really good – for doing things our way rather than following the harder, narrower, sacrificial way of Jesus.
And like Saul, we can do so by arguing we had no other choice, that the government, those kinds of people, all the conflicting healthy information, forced us to do what we had to do.
Like Saul, we can even convince ourselves that our disobedience is not only for our benefit but for God’s benefit.
But we’re not fooling anybody with that kind of argument; we’re just being foolish like Saul.
The kicker in all this is while Saul may, in his own mind, offer a compelling case as to the WHY of his choices – WHY he did it – Saul never answers Samuel’s question as to the WHAT – WHAT he’s done.
Because, regardless of the WHY of the situation, the WHAT remains unchanged.
What did Saul do? He disobeyed the Lord’s clear instructions.
But Saul just keeps making excuses rather than owning what he’s done wrong.
Do you remember last week, chapter 12, Samuel’s speech before all Israel?
As king, Saul was there. He heard Samuel recount again and again not only the past events where Yahweh had delivered his people, but the past times where Yahweh had forgiven his people when they confessed their sin and repented and called out to him for mercy.
Saul not only heard about God’s grace, he had experienced – he seen it happen before his very eyes it during that gathering.
As the Lord through Samuel’s speech declared how Israel had sinned yet again and deserved judgment, but then as Israel had confessed her sin and pleaded for mercy, and God forgave them.
The Lord forgave them and blessed them. Saul personally witnessed how Yahweh is a God who is rich in mercy, who forgives those who own their sin and ask for His grace.
And yet here in a defining moment of his own failure, his own sin, of falling short, instead of owning that failure, instead of repenting, and reaching out to receive the grace that the Lord willing offers, Saul defends himself.
He blames everyone else.
In justifying his own actions, Saul chooses his own wisdom over God’s.
Saul basically is telling the Lord that his reasoning is better than God’s direction when the going gets tough.
And that mindset, that posture sets the trajectory for the rest of Saul’s story.
What marks Saul’s story is not his initial failure and the Lord just comes down on him like a hammer.
What marks Saul’s story is when he failed, he refused to admit it, choosing to believe he was right rather than choosing to be forgiven.
And what is Saul left with as he rejects God’s authority over him, as he rebels against the Lord’s conviction that he is wrong?
Saul is left with nothing but his own wisdom, his own judgment as he goes his own way.
Saul is left standing alone – standing apart, standing beyond the Lord’s power and direction.
Not because God has withdrawn from Saul but because Saul refuses to be drawn into God’s grace.
Do we see a bit of ourselves in the person of King Saul?
Perhaps more than a bit – more than we’d care to admit.
Well, that’s the point.
Not shying away from owning our brokenness. Not avoiding look within our own hearts and minds for what is not of the Lord, for what needs to be confessed and submitted to God. Not blaming others for our junk – for our choices, our mistakes, our failures. Not making excuses for the things we do wrong in following Jesus. Not having always wanting to be right but always embracing the forgiveness and the grace that we need.
The waiting isn’t the hardest part. Sometimes the waiting is hard. And there will be times when we don’t wait upon the Lord – when we try to get ahead of God, when we insist on taking matters into our own hands.
When that happens, the hardest part – but the most important part – is coming clean.
Not coming up with our best defense but starting with a damn good apology.
That apology – our confession and repentance aren’t for God’s sake; it’s for ours.
We aren’t earning or meriting or somehow deserving the Lord’s love and grace through owning our stuff and making an apology.
Through coming clean – confession and repentance – we are putting all our junk in God’s hands – so that we a clear line of sight, so that we have room in our minds and hearts – for the love and grace that is being offered to us in Christ.
Let us then, let go of our excuses and instead lay hold of God’s promises.
Let us then, stop trying to blame someone or something else, and start acknowledging our mistakes, our failures, all the places we are still learning to trust not in our wisdom but in the Lord’s.
Let us, answer the prompting of the Spirit, not to try and defend ourselves but instead to live out of and share the forgiveness we have in Christ.
Let us move forward patiently – being patient with ourselves as we continue to wait upon the Lord, knowing that while things might be seemingly slipping out of our hands, they are always firmly in God’s hands. Amen.