Written by Daniel Triestman
Read Samuel 13, Romans 5
So I said to myself, “Now the Philistines will come down against me at Gilgal, and I have not yet sought the Lord.” So I forced myself, and I offered the burnt offering. I Samuel 13:12
I like Saul. His latter-life cartoonish-villainy aside, I feel like I can understand where he is coming from. He never asked to be king. In fact, a few chapters earlier he was hiding from the job. He had no qualifications or royal credentials, but Israel needed a leader and so he “manned-up.” He took a group of frightened, barbarous tribes and forged them into a kingdom, united under God. Yet despite his best efforts, Saul's rule was destined for failure. The kingship that Israel should not have asked for was already promised to Judah and his descendants (Gen. 49:10), despite what Samuel says (1 Sam. 13:13). Saul's coronation seems to have been to teach Israel a lesson. However despite being placed in a lose/lose situation, Saul seemed to want to do what was right for the nation. He attempted to expand their borders and purge the land of the Philistine threat. He wanted to war in the best interest of the nation, yet refused to go to battle without first petitioning the Lord. Despite his countrymen abandoning him, Saul seemed to keep the faith.
I don't know what I would have done if I were Saul: “If I go to battle without petitioning the Lord then I am not regarding YHVH as the sovereign determinant of the outcome. Samuel said he would be here by now. Maybe he ran off as well. I could wait, but how long? The longer I wait the more the nation begins to lose faith, the more they think that we have reason to doubt God.” Saul's attitude as described in the text seems to suggest that he had a respect for Samuel, an appreciation for the importance of the offering and a faith in God. Saul seemed to have good motives. Saul's heart seemed to be in the right place. Saul appeared to think the situation through and want to make the decision that blesses Israel and honors God. But Saul blew it.
I don't know what I would have done if I were Saul, but I am fairly certain that whatever it was it would have been the wrong thing. I would have had the best intentions and still found a way to mess things up. Maybe I would have gone to war without petitioning God because I had too great a respect for the office of priest to offer a sacrifice. Maybe I would have scammed someone else into offering the sacrifice before we went to war. Maybe I would have waited for Samuel, but end up cursed because I yelled at him for being late.(I hate it when people are late). I would have spent my 42 year reign trying to do the right thing, to my own peril. However I want to believe that, unlike Saul, I would have acknowledged my royal blunders with humility. I hope I would have responded to my judgment by confessing my sin and stupidity, praising God for His righteousness and appealing to His mercy.
Humans, by nature, are short-sighted and mistaken. Good motives and best intentions are no guarantee to avoid sin or bring about desired outcomes. Yet it is realizing that we are incapable of righteousness that establishes our need for faith and our dependence on God's grace. The problem with our sin is not that it exists, but that we don't know that it exists. We ignore our sin, we excuse our sin, we forgive our sin or we simply are too stupid to know that it is sin. We trick ourselves into believing that because we want to do the right thing, the thing we ended up doing was right. What we need to do is realize that we are wrong, small and foolish. And the only real virtue we have is recognizing our own inadequacy. The lesson of Saul is, ironically, the story of grace.