Sermon preached on 1 Samuel 13 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 3/15/2015 in Novato, CA.
1 Samuel 13
“A Man After His Own Heart”
What do you do when the enemies of God’s people seem to look like they’ve received all the blessings and promises that God’s people are supposed to receive? As God’s people, how do you respond? This is what Israel and their king had to wrestle with here. God’s people had been promised by God to dwell in freedom and sovereignty in the Promised Land. For example, in Genesis 22:17, God had promised that his people would be as numerous of the sand of the seashore. And yet in our passage for today, they are struggling to pull together a few thousand people for an army, to fight against this enemy nation who had been oppressing them. Yet, their enemy is able to pull together a force as numerous as the sand of the seashore, verse 5.
Or, in Deuteronomy, God had promised the people that as they moved into the Promised Land, that they would be the leading nation among all the nations in the area. They’d rule over the nations; they’d lend out to them but not borrow from them; God would bless all that they undertake and all the peoples around them would notice; Deuteronomy 28:1-14. And yet in our passage, at the end, we see that Israel couldn’t even make weapons for themselves, and had to be going over to Philistia every time they wanted an ax or a pick sharpened. In other words, they were greatly dependant on the Philistines instead of the other way around. And so what do you do, when the enemies of God’s people keep prospering, and God’s people seem to be so struggling? And what should God’s people do when that prospering nation then turns to attack you?
Well, it seems to me a good idea would be to call out to the Lord. You should call out to the Lord and come before him in worship. You should seek his face and his blessings, and wait on him for salvation. That seems to be what you need to do, generally speaking. And so I would ask the pointed question, isn’t that what Saul tried to do here? That’s his claim in verse 12. Well, it is his claim. But today we will think about what he did and what God’s review of it was. We’ll begin first by considering the background to the main event in this passage: Saul’s leading the people to become an abomination to the Philistines. Second, we’ll look at Saul’s unlawful and hasty sacrifice. Third, we review Samuel’s condemnation and verdict concerning Saul.
Let’s begin our first point then to think about the background. Basically, King Saul initiates the troubles with the Philistines in this chapter by raising an army and attacking one of their garrisons. Though to clarify, this was a Philistine garrison in the Promised Land. In other words, this was Saul trying to reclaim Israelite territory that the Philistines were occupying. This seems like a completely fitting thing for the new king to be doing. And at first things seem to go well. He gathers a decent sized force, enough for two armies. One he leads, and the other he has his son Jonathan lead. Evidently Saul felt so confident in the number of forces that it says he sent the rest of the people home, verse 2. And then his first attack against the Philistine garrison, led by Jonathan, goes well, verse 3.
That is when the circumstances begin to change. Understandably, the Philistines do not go quietly into the night. They do not go down without a fight. Look at verse 4. Saul’s actions in attacking the Philistine garrison had a very tangible result on the Philistines. It infuriated them! It says there in verse 4 that Israel had become an abomination to the Philistines. And so the Philistines are loathing the Israelites. And so in verse 5 we see the Philistine response. They gather together a humungous force: chariots, horsemen, and infantry. It makes the previous two armies led by Saul and Jonathan look puny and almost laughable.
This is apparently detrimental to the morale of the Israelites. In verse 6 we see that it causes fear and distress for the Israelite forces. The result is that many of the Israelites go into hiding. Others flee across the Jordan river for protection. Per verse 7, the few that remain with King Saul are trembling. They obviously are greatly afraid of this huge Philistine horde of an army. From a human perspective, death seemed certain. And so everyone is greatly afraid. Morale hits rock bottom for the Israelites.
And so this leads us now to our second point. To observe how it’s in this context that Saul performs his unlawful and hasty sacrifice. We pick up the story in verse 8 where we find Saul in Gilgal waiting for the arrival of Samuel. He waits there seven days. It says that this waiting was in accordance with the time set by Samuel. We don’t know for sure what this entailed. Did Samuel and Saul arrange to meet in Gilgal within seven days? Or does this mean that Samuel has some publically known schedule that would put him to arrive in Gibeah in that timeframe? We don’t know for certain. At any rate, in verse 8, it seems the time had come for Samuel to be there, and he was not there yet. This had a very practical ramification. Verse 8 connects this fact that Samuel hadn’t arrived yet, with the fact that the people were further scattering from King Saul.
In other words, put yourself in King Saul’s place. His army is already falling apart. With this huge enemy force coming down upon them, he’s been faced with a large amount of people deserting his army. It seems that he finally had some faithful people that are willing to stick around and wait for Samuel to come at the appointed time. Then they would inquire of the Lord and make offerings to him, and seek God’s help. The people wait and wait for the seven days. Each day is hard because you probably are thinking so much about the imminent danger of the Philistines. Finally the seven days go by, and on the seventh day Samuel is still not here. People are starting to grow impatient. Some of the people who probably barely had enough courage to stick around, are starting to have second thoughts. King Saul starts losing more and more forces. Add to all this the impending attack from the Philistines. They are on their way and will be here soon, per Saul’s explanation in verse 12.
So, what is King Saul to do? Can the army bear any more delay? Will there be anyone left in the army if they wait any long? And do they dare engage this
huge Philistine force without first making an offering to God? Evidently, Saul thinks that there must be no more delay. So he presumptuously proceeds to give the offering himself. In verse 12, we see that he felt compelled to this; in other words he seems to think he had no other choice; that he either proceed to give the offering himself, or he’ll lose his last few remaining men. And to again be fair to King Saul, it seems, practically speaking, this was a legitimate concern. Because in verse 15, we see that even after all this, he is down to only 600 men. That’s only 20% of the forces that he started with at the start of this chapter. Not good, from an earthly perspective.
And so look at verse 9. Verse 9, So Saul said, “‘Bring a burnt offering and peace offerings here to me.’ And he offered the burnt offering.” Saul thought it important to not delay any longer, and he also seems to think it important to have this offering to the Lord. And so he, not a priest, makes the offering.
And so this brings us to the third point: Samuel’s condemnation and verdict concerning King Saul. Look at verse 10. In great irony, as soon as Saul presents the burnt offering, guess who shows up? Yes, Samuel shows us right after the offering is given by Saul. If only Saul had exercised just a little more patience. And so it says that Saul immediately goes out to greet Samuel as he arrives. And notice the first words out of Samuel’s mouth. Verse 11, “What have you done?” King Saul of course is not without an explanation. He explains the circumstances and concerns that we just mentioned. From a human perspective, we can see the logic in his explanations. Saul seems very well intentioned here, even. And yet Samuel will not affirm his reasons. Samuel’s immediate assessment is in verse 13. Saul had acted foolishly. See the two perspectives here: Saul thought he was acting wisely, and in the best interest of the people, in light of the circumstances. But God’s perspective given through Samuel the prophet is that Saul had been foolish in this. Saul thought it wise; God thought it foolish. Samuel explains further why this was so foolish. Because it was a breaking of God’s command, verse 13.
Interestingly, this statement seems to have sparked a lot of scholarly discussions because Samuel doesn’t specify what command Saul broke here. Was there some command we are not told about here that God had told Saul to wait for Samuel’s arrival for him to offer the sacrifice? Some have wondered that. Others have offered other possibilities. But it seems to me that the most common interpretation and the correct one is simply that Saul was not a priest. Since he was not a priest, he had no business offering any such sacrifices. That was the job of the priests. We see this kind of issue again later in Israel’s history with another king. King Uzziah, in 2 Chronicles 26, goes into the temple and begins to burn incense on the altar of incense. Interestingly, it talks there in 2 Chronicles how King Uzziah had grown proud, which seems to be an increasingly developed point about King Saul in this book; that he went from young and humble to old and proud. At any rate, when King Uzziah proceeds to offer that incense in the temple, the priests try to stop him. They say that this was something God gave only to the sons of Aaron, who are consecrated for such priestly service. And so God struck Uzziah that day with leprosy. And so King Saul fell into the same sort of sin here. It was not for him as king to offer such sacrifices. He was not a priest. Saul seemed to have well intentions, but his actions were nonetheless foolish.
There is an application for all of us today. People often act like God doesn’t reject any well intentioned act of worship. Too often, if you confront someone about some well intentioned act of worship that is not quite right in terms of what the Bible says our worship should be, too often people get very defensive. They usually say, “But God knows the heart.” Well, that’s true. And God looked at Samuel’s heart and said it was both foolish and not a heart after his own heart. You see, a well-intentioned heart is not necessarily a heart after God’s own heart. Saul’s heart was not a heart after God’s own heart, and that showed it by his practical and well-intentioned efforts at religion and worship, but God said they were not according to his instructions for worship, and so they were wrong. If someone objects to this kind of perspective, it only further shows that their heart is not in the right place. Because this passage shows God’s heart for worship. As we see very clearly stated in John 4, worship must be worship in truth.
Well, Samuel goes on further in issuing a verdict to King Saul. This is verses 13-14. Not only was it wrong of Saul to do this, but there will be a consequence. The consequence is basically that Saul’s royal dynasty will not continue beyond himself. Saul’s sons will not be established in their kingdom. I mentioned this a few sermons back. This is an amazing statement. It is the language used later when Nathan the prophet brings word to King David that God will establish his kingdom through his sons forever. That was a promise looking to Jesus Christ, of course. But Samuel shows how this at least hypothetically could have come to Saul. But since Saul had disobeyed God in such a way as king, then God would not establish the kingdom of his descendants.
It is interesting then how the storyline in 1 Samuel will not turn. The next section in the book will turn to show us how commendable Saul’s son Jonathan is. Faced with this huge army, we’ll see how Jonathan is used by God to help overcome the Philistine horde. Jonathan’s faith in God is so evident and commendable. Then later on we’ll see how great of a friend Jonathan is to David. From Jonathan’s own abilities, we see that he would have surely made a very excellent king to follow in Saul’s place. And yet, because of his father’s sin here, Jonathan would not be the next king.
As we think about Samuel’s verdict here to King Saul, let me offer a clarification. This is not the end of Saul’s kingship. In fact, we have a lot more to see about Saul in this book. God is not even saying through Samuel at this point that he is rejecting Saul as king. Right now, the specific punishment that God is putting on Saul is that his kingdom will not endure long term. This is about his dynasty. He will not have an enduring dynasty succeeding him. It essentially won’t continue on into the next generation. Rather, his kingdom and dynasty will be coming to an end. But stay tuned for chapter 15. There, faced with another act of disobedience by Saul, God will at that point completely reject Saul as king and then immediately move to have Samuel anoint a new king.
And yet this passage looks forward to that, for sure. Verse 14 already tells Saul and us that God has a better king in mind. God says he wants a man after his own heart. That again reflects on Saul’s heart here, by the way. Even if Saul seems well intentioned in his actions here, God interprets Saul’s heart as not one like God’s heart. And so God says in verse 14 that he would be bringing a king after God’s own heart. That immediately looks to King David. God will then promise to establish King David’s kingdom forever! And yet as David will himself show himself to be a sinner, we are drawn to look beyond David to David’s greater son, the Lord Jesus Christ.
And that’s who Jesus is. He is truly a man and king after God’s own heart. And we know how this is especially the case. Jesus is not only the son of David, but he is also the Son of God. As the Son of God, of course he has the heart of God! And I love how Jesus brings together the kingship with the priesthood. We never see Jesus presumptuously offering a bull or goat in the temple. In terms of his divinity, it would be hard to say that it would have been wrong per se, but in terms of his humanity, he was not of the line of Aaron, a Levite. And so he did not engage in the Levitical priesthood. And yet, as we read in the book of Hebrews, we know Jesus was a priest. But it says there that he was of an even greater order of priests; not of the order of Levi, but of Melchizedek. And so Jesus did make an offering for sin; the offering was himself. And that offering was not offered in the earthly temple. Rather, it was offered in the flesh on Mt. Calvary, and in the spirit in the heavenly temple of God’s throne room in heaven.
And so in Christ, we will all know the blessings and promises of God. In Christ, we find help against all his and our enemies. In Christ, as our king, he will see to the overall victory. Yes, until the end, the enemies might seem like from time to time to rage in great earthly success. They might look like menacing hordes from a worldly perspective. Seen without faith, it might look like certain defeat. But from the perspective of faith, we know that in Christ the victory is sure. He is our king. He is our priest. He leads us forth in glorious battle, and we will not lose. And praise Him for how he helps to see those enemies that are from within. He brings his attention even to our own hearts. For we too struggle with having a heart after God’s own heart. But as we have come to know Christ as our king and savior, he turns his attentions even to those things within our hearts that are opposed to him and his ways. He is the Great Physician who came to bring victory not just over those external enemies of the world and Satan; but even against those remaining sinful corruptions of our hearts.
Saints of God, be renewed again today in the sweet gospel. Trust afresh in Jesus as your king and savior. Rejoice that on the cross he made the way for you to be in a right standing with God. And take great heart at his ongoing work on your heart by his spirit; a work that we look forward to him completing.
And so with that, I conclude our message with a final point of application. The question that sometimes comes up, is “Are we ever compelled to sin?” Saul says here that he was compelled to do what he did with the sacrifice. I think we can feel for him and relate to him. There are times were we feel compelled to some form of compromise. But is that theoretically true? That there are times when we have no choice but to sin? I don’t believe so. And my proof text is pretty straight forward. It’s 1 Corinthian 10:13:
No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it. (1 Corinthians 10:13)
Yes, in our struggles with our own hearts, the way out sometimes may be difficult to see. People have brain stormed some good scenarios that might seem at first like there is no way out of certain things, save some sin. But God is faithful. There is a way of escape. Let us not then give up to go the way of sin, so to speak, when a difficult situation arises. Seek to not be hasty. Seek to know and follow God’s laws. Beware of the choice that is only the practical one, and not the Scriptural one. Examine and reexamine your hearts that can think too highly of our own motivations and intentions. Be on guard against acting presumptuously.
To get us to think about such matters of the heart, only reinforces the overall point again. We need hearts that are after God’s own heart. That will be a heart cultivated in our union and relationship with Christ. Keep going back to him for your help. Trust that he is both the author and the perfecter of your faith, and that perfect king and priest able to attend to your hearts. Amen.
Copyright © 2015 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.