Today, I am reading and commenting on 1 Samuel 11-13.
This passage starts with Saul demonstrating his ability to be king. While Saul was out in the fields word came to his town about the threat by a foreign power to mutilate the men of an Israelite city. Those who heard the news wept and mourned this terrible tragedy. Saul acted. His reaction to the news was anger and action. He called the fighting men of Israel to war. He then marched to the relief of his countrymen who were under attack. However, he showed his kingship in more than just his ability to make war. After his victory, there were those among his followers who wished to punish those who had questioned, and resisted, Saul’s kingship. Rather than use his victory as an opportunity to destroy his enemies, Saul used it to unify the people of Israel and refused to retaliate against those who had rejected his leadership.
Saul was a pragmatic leader, as shown by his actions after he won his first great victory and again when he gathered his army at Gilgal to face off against the Philistines. Saul waited for Samuel to come to make sacrifices and call on God to bless his army in it battle against the Philistines. When Samuel did not arrive after seven days (by the seventh day? the wording is ambiguous), Saul’s men began to leave his army. Looking at the situation pragmatically, Saul realized that if he did not do something he would soon not have an army. So, he decided to make the offerings himself. Saul’s decision may have been pragmatic, but it was not according to God’s will.
What should Saul have done? He waited seven days as Samuel had instructed him. His men were scattering in fear. He needed to do something. He needed to go into battle or he was going to lose his army, but he also needed to at least appear to have God’s blessing for the battle. What Saul failed to do was ask God for guidance. He looked at the situation, debated his options, and chose a course of action. He made a mistake which is all too easy for us to make. We think we have taken everything into account, but the problem is that we do not know what we do not know. Sometimes everything we know can point to a decision which is the wrong decision. That is what happened to Saul here. He relied on his own judgment rather than asking God to guide his decision.