- Acts 13:16-25;
- 1Samuel 13:1-15
My dear brothers and sisters, it’s only the expression on the faces of little girls when mom catches them out with make-up all over their faces sometimes which helps to not dish out punishment straight away. It’s another story when a parent finds a toddler with a permanent marker in its hands after the walls and the furniture had a bit of treatment. The first question is usually, “What have you done?”
Don’t we all know the embarrassment of being found out, especially after we acted silly or unwise. Men work with tools, handle them the wrong way, and end up with stitches in a finger or a hand. And still his wife asks, “What have you done?” She doesn’t really want to know; the question is actually a statement, “You should have known better!”
This question occurs frequently in the Bible, and in most cases it follows rebellion. After Adam and Eve were disobedient in Eden and rebelled against God, He asked Eve, “What have you done?” (Genesis 3:13) When Cain murdered Abel God asked him, “What have you done?” (Genesis 4:10) When the storm tossed the boat with Jonah in it, the men asked him, “What have you done?” (Jonah 1:8)
In our reading today, Samuel asked Saul, “What have you done?”
There are difficulties in the translation and understanding of 1 Samuel 13:1. There are wide-ranging differences between commentators. Fact is, Saul was surely not a year old when he became prince, and neither did he only rule the people for two years. The Hebrew text reads: “Saul was … year when he became king; he was king for … years”. By implication the translation mentions two periods: one year and two years. What does it all mean?
A careful study of the context gives us the impression that 13:1-2 should actually be grouped with the previous chapter, and should serve as a summary of Saul’s kingship. We learn two things from these two verses:
- After his inauguration Saul made his son Jonathan his Second-in-Command. Saul selected 3,000 men as army, 2,000 of which stayed with him, and the other 1,000 was under the command of Jonathan. Saul made Micmash his (temporary) headquarters, and Jonathan manned Gibeah.
- It is possible to understand verse one this way: Samuel anointed Saul as king; but his official inauguration as king happened a year later. That explains the time between Samuel anointing him, followed by Saul’s successful campaign against the Ammonites (chapter 11), and then his confirmation at Gilgal (11:12-15).
The second part of 13:1, stating that Saul reigned for two years, describes the period between his official inauguration and his rebellion against the command of God. This is when Samuel confronted him with the question, “What have you done?” From that moment on, according to 13:14—only two years into his kingship—Saul’s kingdom was so-to-speak over.
If this explanation is true, we have to conclude that if the people wanted a king like the nations around them to lead them in war against their enemies, their hope was shattered very early—and to make things worse, they were stuck with an ineffective king for the next about 30 years!
Let’s see how all of this happened.
The inoperative king
Directly after Samuel anointed Saul as king he specifically mentioned the Philistine outpost at Gibeah, and added, “You will be changed into a different person … do whatever your hand finds to do, for God is with you.” (10:7)
His kingship was to commence with charity at home—in his own hometown. The word “outpost” can also be translated as “commander”. The first assignment was not meant to be outrageously difficult—he only needed to get rid of the commander of the Philistines. He didn’t! Jonathan did with his 1,000 men after his father was inaugurated. This is what is recorded in our reading this morning.
Jonathan’s action and courage overshadowed that of his father’s. After all, Gibeah was described as “Gibeah of God” (10:5). For the young Second-in-Command, the honour of God came first—he had to rid the Promised Land of the uncircumcised (14:6) Philistines.
Although the people wanted to be free from the Philistines, they were not actually encouraged by Jonathan’s campaign. For them they now were a stench to the Philistines. Don’t stir sleeping dogs; Jonathan did, and it surely stirred the Philistines into vengeance.
His father seized the moment and took the honours. He blew the trumpet and called “the Hebrews”—the derogatory term the Philistines used to describe the Israelites—into action. He ordered them to gather in Gilgal.
The Philistines assembled in vast numbers right there where Saul left for Gilgal. Chariots with six thousand charioteers and four soldiers as numerous as a sand on the seashore (13:5)
The foolish king
After Saul was officially installed as leader, Samuel foreshadowed this event (10:8). Saul was ordered to go to Gilgal and wait for Samuel. This was the arrangement:
Go ahead of me to Gilgal. I [mark my words – there is a ‘Behold’ in the original; also the “I” is emphasised] will come to you to offer burnt offerings and to sacrifice fellowship offerings. Wait seven days until I come to you and show you what to do.” (1 Samuel 10:8, CSB)
In the lead-up to this day the people who thought now that they had a king, all would just be hunky dory, but when they saw the enemy and observed the inaction of their king, their courage left them. They hid in caves, in bushes, among the rocks, in pits, in cisterns, and some even ducked across the Jordan.
Saul arrived in Gilgal, but troops with him were quaking with fear. He remembered the command of Samuel to wait for seven days. At first it seemed Samuel forgot, and Saul’s army began to scatter. He ordered the burnt and fellowship offering and the sacrifice.
Then Samuel appeared. Saul went to greet him. There were no niceties from Samuel’s side. Just, “What have you done?”
Saul did not see anything wrong in what he did. Instead, he blamed first of all, the soldiers—they scattered. Then he blamed Samuel—he did not show when Saul expected him to arrive; lastly he blamed the circumstance —the vast number of the Philistines.
He had the sure word of the prophet that he will come, yet he doubted it; he had no certainty that the Philistines would attack him at Gilgal, yet took it for certain.
He was tested—but he failed. He sought the favour of the Lord by being disobedient to the Lord.
“Disobedience is like the evil of idolatry.” (15:23)
So close, yet now removed
We might have been compassionate towards Saul: the end justifies the means. His situation was desperate, and desperate times call for desperate measures: he had lost his army, his had lost the trust of the people, the enemy was vast, and he ran out of time.
Samuel did not listen to the reasons. What counted was the action. “You acted foolishly.” There was this moment in Saul’s heart that he doubted God—and only a fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” (Psalm 14:1) And because this was the case with Saul, his unbelief and doubt urged him to disobey the command of the Lord, “Your kingdom will not endure.” To this Samuel added: “If you had, He would have established your kingdom for all time.”
Saul, you were so close—now you’ve missed it all!
The only person to lead the people of God would be a person who fully trusted and fully obeyed the Lord. As we will see further down our study of the kings of Israel, God was not after a sinless king—even David would not have qualified then; but God was after someone who fully trusted and obeyed Him.
The King after God’s own heart
Samuel informed Saul of God’s plan:
“… the Lord has sought out a man after his own heart and appointed him leader of his people.”
This was set and done—when it comes to the well-being of his people, God’s sovereign right demands his justice. Now it was God’s desire to appoint a king, then it was the people’s desire. But in the meantime, the people were stuck for more than 30 years with the indecisive, ineffective, foolish king who did not obey and trust God.
What was the consequence?
Saul, his son Jonathan, and the troops who were with them were staying in Geba of Benjamin, and the Philistines were camped at Michmash. (1 Samuel 13:16, HCSB)
Saul went home with only six hundred soldiers; the rest lost confidence in him—and there is no indication that there was any confrontation with the Philistines.
And then this tragic note:
No blacksmith could be found in all the land of Israel, because the Philistines had said, “Otherwise, the Hebrews will make swords or spears.” So on the day of battle not a sword or spear could be found in the hand of any of the troops who were with Saul and Jonathan; only Saul and his son Jonathan had weapons. (1 Samuel 13:19, 22, CSB)
Imagine God’s people defenceless, subject to their enemy. Does it not paint a vivid picture of the church of today?
God’s choice was someone who would lead the people to not be like the nations around them; his choice was someone who would lead the people to lead the nations to be God’s people. In the short term David would be that man. Ultimately God had Someone else in mind. Let’s go to Acts 13. Paul preaches in Psidian Antioch. Referring to king David he draws this conclusion:
“From this man’s descendants, according to the promise, God brought the Saviour, Jesus, to Israel. (Acts 13:23, HCSB)
He then mentioned the resurrection of Christ, securing salvation for his people, and said:
And we ourselves proclaim to you the good news of the promise that was made to our ancestors. God has fulfilled this for us, their children, by raising up Jesus, as it is written in the second Psalm: You are My Son; today I have become Your Father. (Acts 13:32–33, CSB)
Why is this this message important?
“… through this Man forgiveness of sins is being proclaimed to you, and everyone who believes in Him is justified from everything that you could not be justified from through the law of Moses. (Acts 13:38–39, CSB)
Then the warning:
Look, you scoffers, marvel and vanish away, because I am doing a work in your days, a work that you will never believe, even if someone were to explain it to you.” (Acts 13:41, HCSB)
These words are from Habakkuk and it refers to God’s judgment upon his people by sending the king of Babylon to take them in slavery.
In Saul the hope of the people was shattered. He was ineffective, indecisive and acted foolish by disobedience to God.
The King after God’s own heart, Jesus Christ, obeyed God, took on the enemy and crushed him, and thereby restored the hope of those who trust God. He is the Saviour; He forgives sin, and whoever believes in Him stands justified before God. Is He your King?
We can safely say, “The king is dead; long live the King!” Amen.
Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 27 August 2017