In 1 Samuel 13:1-15 Saul’s character is exposed through the test of waiting. Yes, things were “formless and empty.” Yes, he was being defeated. But would he wait for God or take matters into his own hands? Will he wait for a sent word that says, “Let there be light” (thus scattering his darkness) or will he move on his own word, based on his own felt-need? The issue at stake is a central issue of the heart. It has to do with the difference between faith and our own good works. Faith waits, rests and trusts in God’s solution. But our own works are different. They are not the products of resting in God and true prayer. Rather, they stem from fear and nervous energy. They do good stuff but they are not God working through us. Entering into God’s Sabbath rest is at the heart of true religion; doing our own good works is at the heart of false religion. As Samuel said to Saul, “To obey is better than sacrifice” (1 Sam. 15:22).
Samuel commanded Saul, “Go down ahead of me to Gilgal. I will surely come down to you to sacrifice burnt offerings and fellowship offerings, but you must wait seven days until I come to you and tell you what you are to do” (1 Sam. 10:8). The Lord sent Saul to Gilgal through Samuel, but the situation in that locality was anything but pleasant. We read:
“Philistines assembled to fight Israel, with three thousand chariots, six thousand charioteers, and soldiers as numerous as the sand on the seashore…When the Israelites saw that their situation was critical and that their army was hard pressed, they hid in caves and thickets, among rocks, and in pits and cisterns. Some Hebrews even crossed the Jordan to the land of Gad and Gilead.” (1 Sam. 13:5-7, TNIV)
It is easy to wait when everything is peaceful, but extremely difficult to wait when everything is falling to pieces. More than that, Saul is the new king. He needs to show that he is capable, able to lead and produce results. Yet, even with all this turmoil Saul was called to wait—he had to wait in silence based on a word that he received seven days ago––a word that was not given during the trial, but before it. “Yes,” he may have thought, “What Samuel said was good. But he didn’t know what I would be going through. He spoke the word before and not during this pressure.”
“Saul remained at Gilgal, and all the troops with him were quaking with fear. He waited seven days, the time set by Samuel; but Samuel did not come to Gilgal, and Saul’s men began to scatter” (1 Sam. 13:7b-8). Now fear gripped the troops and darkness was over their faces.
Saul’s men went in every direction, fleeing their leader. His very army was becoming void. Moreover, the time allotted by Samuel was up, or at least Saul perceived it as complete.
“So [Saul] said, ‘Bring me the burnt offering and the fellowship offering.’ And Saul offered up the burnt offering. Just as he finished making the offering, Samuel arrived, and Saul went out to greet him” (1 Sam. 13:9-10). Saul felt like he waited long enough, but if he had held back a few more minutes, God would have come through. Instead he offered his own sacrifice. This was a reflection of Israel’s constant transgression (in the Old Testament) as they waited for their Messiah. They were continually tempted not to wait for their deliverer, but to initiated their own salvation, like they did with Saul. Their inclination was to establish their own righteous, to offer their own sacrifices, rather than wait for the fullness of time, the time the Messiah would offer the true sacrifice of himself. The reason why Saul lost the kingship over this event was that it had eternal ramifications. The spirit that moved Saul—fear—is the very spirit that produces false religion and rejects the true Messiah.
Prayer: Father, keep fear from being my motivator. Give me a persevering spirit to wait through the hardest, darkest time. May I be obedient to your Word no matter what the situation looks like. Make me like David and save me from the nervous rush of Saul.