Samuel is late and Saul is getting nervous. The people NEED the favor of the Lord to believe they have any chance in this battle. They will be going against a well-armed force with farm tools!
I’m going to come right out and say I have found myself in Saul’s place; impatience. I’m sure I have fallen into his sin too; moving ahead in MY plans because the one to advise me didn’t come on MY timetable. Patience is NOT my strong suit. (I can see my mother’s head nodding from here as she whole heartedly agrees with this statement. It’s nodding so fervently that it could snap off at any minute, so calm down now mom.) I do have to share that I have grown in this area over the years. I still don’t enjoy the waiting but I am getting better a sitting with the discomfort, sometimes.
I have a question here (surprised?). Did Saul wait an additional day or did he step in after the hour he expected Samuel? How ‘late’ was Samuel? And was this a test from the Lord for Saul?
One more question before we jump into the deep end with Saul. Why were there only 600 men with him? We saw last time that he had commissioned his first army of 3,000 men. Two thousand were with him and the last thousand with his son Jonathan. When Saul joins Jonathan in our reading today “Saul numbered the people who were present with him, about six hundred men” (verse 15b). Is this referencing the people who came out of hiding to follow him or his entire fighting force? Either way they are outnumbered by the Philistines at Michmash.
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Saul is wringing his hands. He and his army had to retreat from Michmash before the Philistines got there. Their numbers were too great. As they were leaving Samuel parted company from them. He told Saul that he would rejoin him in seven days at Gilgal. Samuel had other things he needed to attend to. But the seven days are nearly spent and there is NO sign of Samuel.
To make matters worse, the people who had followed Saul from their hiding places and his own army are frightened. They are leaving, fleeing the Philistines before even stepping foot on the battlefield. Saul NEEDS every man for this battle. He can’t afford to lose even one. But what can he do to make them stay?
“Where are you Samuel” Saul asks the open air before him. “What’s taking you so long? You promised you would be here!” Saul keeps looking turning his face to the road into Gilgal every few minutes but no matter how many times he looks, Samuel is not there.
Saul is beyond desperate at this point. It is past midday, no Samuel, and the people are running away by the droves. He HAS to do SOMETHING! The only thing Saul can think of that will draw the people beck in is to offer the sacrifice. He KNOWS it will anger Samuel and possibly the Lord too but Saul is desperate. Saul has made up his mind. It is often easier to beg forgiveness than ask permission.
Saul steps over to the space that has been prepared for Samuel’s arrival. He calls out to all who will listen. “Bring the burnt offering here to me, and the peace offerings” (verse 9b).
The people stop in their tracks and turn to him. “Samuel must have sent word for Saul to do this” is the prevailing thought beyond “It’s about time!” The people are ready to grasp at any hope that is offered. The Lord’s favor is the BEST hope that they could receive!
The people that remained reassemble around the altar where the animals are brought. Saul takes his knife that he keeps in the folds of his robe and slits the first bull’s throat. The blood is collected in a bowl and then Saul begins dismembering the animal. He then lays all the pieces on the altar and puts a torch to the wood beneath it. The people stand back to watch as the meat is consumed. The burnt offering is to be completely consumed including the animal’s hide. This takes time and the people patiently watch. Once it is completely consumed Saul will offer the peace offerings for the people.
Everyone is watching the sacrifice and don’t notice Samuel as he approaches them.
His voice full of anger and sorrow, Samuel cries out, “What have you done?”
Saul is startled by Samuel’s voice. He had not heard him approach. Shame burns his face hotter than the fire he had been watching. He has to answer Samuel but not in front of the people. He moves away from the people with Samuel following close at his heals.
“When I saw that the people were scattering from me, and that you did not come within the days appointed, and that the Philistines had mustered at Michmash, I said, ‘Now the Philistines will come down against me at Gilgal, and I have not sought the favor of the Lord.’ So I forced myself, and offered the burnt offering” (verses 11b-12, emphasis added by me).
Samuel fixed Saul with an angry glare. “You have done foolishly. You have not kept the command of the Lord your God, with which He commanded you. For then the Lord would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. But now your kingdom shall not continue.” Samuel pauses to let that sink into Saul’s heart. “The Lord has sought out a man after His own heart, and the Lord has commanded him to be prince over His people, because you have not kept what the Lord commanded you” (verses 13-14).
Saul wanted to plead for Samuel to change his mind. Saul wanted to tell Samuel that if he had been on time none of this would have happened. Saul wanted to rage at Samuel. Saul also wanted to break down and weep before Samuel and beg his and the Lord’s forgiveness. But he did none of these things. He simply stood there, burning with shame and anger.
Samuel turned from Saul and walked right back out of Gilgal. He didn’t tell Saul where he was going or when he would return. Saul returned to the group that was watching the burnt offering as it was consumed by the fire. Saul felt his heart being consumed too; with the fire of shame.
“We will wait on presenting the peace offerings until after our victory” Saul informs all those gathered around. He is afraid that if he continues with the offerings after Samuel’s displeasure that the Lord may take his life as He had done with Aaron’s sons. He will NOT take that chance. Maybe Saul’s decision to wait on the other sacrifices will weigh in his favor with Samuel and the Lord.
As soon as the last parts of the burnt offering have become ash Saul calls for the people to prepare to move out. He will meet up with Jonathan in Gibeah. They will need the troops who are with Jonathan for this battle as his have dwindled significantly. As it is very late in the day their march will begin at first light. They should be able to reach Jonathan by this time tomorrow.
Morning breaks and so does the camp of Saul. Saul and those who remain with him carefully make their way to Jonathan. They don’t want to run into any Philistine patrols until they are ready. This march will have to be done quickly and as quietly as possible.
That evening Saul and his company arrive in Gilgal. Jonathan is glad to see them. Saul is disappointed to see that Jonathan’s numbers had suffered as severely as his own. Both armies are combined and their number that once were in the thousands now reached only into the hundreds; around six hundred.
Saul is saddened to see their dwindled numbers but he is not totally surprised by it. These men are not hardened soldiers like the Philistines. They haven’t spent years of their lives drilling in service. They don’t even have proper weapons! They have farm implements; axes, plowshares, mattocks, sickles, ANYTHING that can be sharpened to a blade or a point including ox goads. Even these had to be turned by the hands of the Philistine blacksmiths.
Jonathan doesn’t appear to be discouraged by the lack of numbers. He is trusting in the Lord for this battle. With his father by his side he is ready for whatever may come. The Philistines have encroached far enough into Israel’s territory Jonathan means to see them removed.
Saul’s arrival at Gibeah didn’t go unnoticed by the Philistines. They saw Saul’s numbers and were very pleased. They outnumber him so severely that it is laughable but they remember the stories of Israel’s God, including the latest one regarding the Ammonites. They KNOW there were more Israelites ready to do battle and they don’t want to give their new king a chance to call them out.
Now that Israel’s ‘fighting force’ have been assembled in one area, the commanders of the Philistines devise a tactic to surround them and cut off any help. Saul and his captains have to be put down, NOW.
“We cannot use the chariots in this territory but that shouldn’t be a problem. Let the foot soldiers and horsemen be broken into three divisions of two thousand each. One division will march towards Ophrah. A second will move towards Beth-horon. The last company will move towards the Valley of Zeboim towards the wilderness. Two of these divisions will flank Saul and his army while the last will draw them forward so we can spring the trap closed behind them.”
This strategy sounded very good to the commanders. They broke up and immediately began organizing their men.
(to be continued)
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After looking further into the story I discovered that the answer to my last question was that Saul and Jonathan’s armies both suffered severe attrition issues. There were not 3,600 men facing the Philistines 36,000 troops but 600 to 36,000. Do you feel a “miracle on the way”? I do and I’m excited by it.
I cannot imagine being in Saul’s place! The tension and fear radiating off the men must have been so strong that you could reach out and take hold of it! The forces he had gathered in expectation of battle melted away like wax of a candle. The one act he felt compelled to do to stop the attrition cost him the Lord’s continued favor. He had no way of knowing if Samuel’s words meant this battle would end in defeat. He had no idea what the cumulative cost of his sin would be. I can almost smell the fear emanating from Saul. He NEEDS a miracle if ever anyone did! He NEEDS a sign to help him hold on.
Sometimes God doesn’t send that sign right away. Sometimes He lets the wind and the waves go WILD on our storms so we will turn to Him. Saul saw the wind and the waves. Jonathan saw those same things too but we will see that he didn’t let them rule him. He let God calm him instead of the storm.
Without the wind and waves the miracle wouldn’t be as dramatic or necessary. Sometimes God brings us to the place where we HAVE to trust Him just to get our attention. Sometimes He calm the storm; other times He calms His child.
Thank You Father God! Thank You for calming the storms. Thank You for calming me in the midst of the storms too. And thank You for showing me which storms I’m creating on my own with my own actions, inactions or perceptions. Help me see things as You do! Remind me daily that my answers lie within You!
Thank You Holy Spirit for taking me into the story once again. I look forward to seeing where You will take me next!