Refresher: Israel has demanded a monarchy, and, through the prophet/judge Samuel, God delivers it to them. They had to have been thrilled that the first king of Israel very much looked the part; the people basked in the fact that “there is none like him among all.” And he wasn’t just a handsome face: Saul immediately displays a graciousness to his opponents, courage in the face of his enemies, and a modesty that both disarmed and…something else.
Read 1 Samuel 13: 1-11
V. 2 – Recall that the first warning out of Samuel’s mouth when Israel pressed him for a monarchy was that some of the sons of Israel would be displaced out of their homes into the service of the king. (8: 11,12). And this is now happening. Remember, this side of Eden: always tradeoffs; never perfect solutions!
VV. 6-8 – Saul’s first big leadership test: leading a frightened people who are starting to abandon him. These kinds of things still happen.
VV. 9-11 – Saul fails his test by acting precipitously, even though his impatience is clothed in religiosity. Sometimes the thing to do is ….NOTHING. (Harder than its sounds, though.)
Read 1 Samuel 13: 12-23
V. 14 – A sad verse. Let’s try to render it in the vernacular: What you’re working on won’t last. God’s looking past you to someone else that is more in line with Him. That person will take your job. All because you messed up. The ways of God can seem severe sometimes. No, sometimes they are severe.
V. 17 – The Philistines are on the move, setting themselves up to surround and then strangle Israel. Big picture reminder: thus far the book of Samuel is presenting us with a series of bleak or already failed situations. But these will turn out to be props to portray this truth: “The bows of the mighty are broken/ but the feeble bind on strength” (1 Samuel 2:4). God reverses situations, and the arc of the universe bends towards mercy towards the humble and weak. Don’t give up, Christian.
V. 19ff – There were probably many ways to describe the desperate situation of Israel. Here, the author chooses one: Israel had no armaments and no means of manufacturing. They were at the mercy of their enemies… who were positioning themselves to throw the knockout punch. All hope is gone, wouldn’t you agree? And yet, and yet…
Read 1 Samuel 14: 1-15
A favorite passage of mine. (That’s not important.)
V. 1 – Saul has turned into/turned out to be jealous and petty. Fathers with these traits tend to rear sons who themselves are dispirited, lack initiative. But Jonathan is the opposite. Perhaps, in some good children we see the persons their parents might have been, had they but made good choices in crucial moments. Have mercy, O God.
V. 6 – I want this verse to stay with you. Indeed, I’ll mention it a few times over the years to come. People who make a bold move in the service of the Lord don’t always operate under 100% emotional certainty that their initiative will be successful. What they are convinced of is that God, in the absence of human resources, is still able to do great things. Remember that.
V. 12 – “Come up to us, and we will show you a thing.” Just the kind of coarse, unimaginative threat you’d expect from thugs who’ve spent more time killing than finetuning their ability to communicate. And these killers outnumber them at least 10: 1. SCARY! And yet when Jonathan hears them, his response is TomBradyish: Let’s go! God has given them to us. It all looked courageous, but also… reckless. What exactly is the difference between foolhardiness and faith?
Read 1 Samuel 14: 16-23
V. 18 – It’s unclear why Saul calls for the Ark when the uproar begins. Was his first instinct at the sign of trouble to protect it? Or was it still (4:4) considered a talisman that would bring victory if battle became necessary?
VV. 19, 20 – With the Ark now nearby, a priest begins some rite, presumably asking God for victory. In the middle of the religious activity the uproar outside grows, so that eventually Saul cancels the service and heads out to the battle. I can’t help but wonder if this little religious dance that ends abruptly gets to the heart of Saul’s problem: He rarely fully commits to an action. “A doubleminded man is unstable in all his ways.”
V. 20ff – Numbering the enemies of God is an inexact science. Numbering the hosts of God’s armies, that is, who will end up actually fighting His enemies, is also prone to failure. You’re on more solid ground simply by going this principle: The battle belongs to God.
V. 23 – “The LORD saved Israel that day”… and now look back at v. 1 to recall how it began: “One day Jonathan said…” Victory began with a single person who had faith. Mark 11: 22, 23: And Jesus answered them, “Have faith in God. Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him.”
Read 1 Samuel 14: 24-35
Short and sweet: more time to iron your church clothes and shave your legs or your face.
V. 24 – As explosive situations keep coming at him, Saul wilts. He’s becoming impulsive, making decisions on the fly, while also seeming to have lost track of some first principles. Ecclesiastes-ish wisdom is running away from him: Ecclesiastes 5:2 – Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God [a curse would fall into this category], for God is in heaven and you are on earth. Brothers and sisters, move slowly. Be slow to speak. Be single- minded and simple: Find out what God’s will is… and then don’t move from it.
VV. 29, 30 – Not only is Saul’s curse impulsive, theatric, unnecessary – it’s also positively unhelpful. Probably sounded awesome in the moment though.
VV. 33-35 – Unclear whether Saul’s making good choices here. But the reader is left with two impressions: a) that he’s making up things as he goes along b) and also that his sense of proportion is failing him.
Read 1 Samuel 14: 36-52
V. 41 – We’re not sure what exactly the “Urim” and “Thummim” were, other than objects that somehow made clear what God’s will was in certain situations. In the latter days of the Church Age we don’t have any such device. That’s ok. The Holy Spirit and the Word are sufficient for all that pertains to godliness. (2 Peter 1:1-3).
VV. 43ff – Saul’s doublemindedness and impulsiveness are taking away the rigidity and definition of his leadership. Now, people are starting to not take seriously even his most vigorous words. Of course, we’re relieved that Jonathan gets to stay alive, but then again, so what did all those big words mean anyway? Gravitas Gone. To quote the poet: “This is the way it ends, not with a bang but a whimper…” Fathers, learn from Saul: Know what you believe and be firm in it. Don’t cave into the moment.
V. 52 – Talent is pooling in the government (good) but it’s also leaving local community (bad). Tradeoffs, always tradeoffs!
Read 1 Samuel 15
VV. 1-3 –For their rude treatment of Israel leaving Egypt, the tribe of Amalek is finally getting what’s coming to them … some 400 years after the fact. See Deuteronomy 25: 17-19 for some context. What does this say about what kind of world we’re living in?
V. 9 – As we’re analyzing Saul in the hopes of avoiding his mistakes, we are presented with another manifestation of doublemindedness: incomplete obedience. Though, also don’t miss the fact that his failure to fully comply made a certain kind of sense.
V. 10 – “Samuel was angry and cried to God all night.” Angry, eh? What do you think: why exactly was he angry? And don’t miss “all night.” When was the last time you missed sleep in order to call out to God about some important matter?
V. 15 – “They.” We’ve heard this kind of blame shifting before. “It was the women You gave to me.” “The serpent deceived me, and I did eat.” Buying some time by blaming others is a “tale as old as time.” Be better, brothers and sisters, and learn to take as much responsibility as reality allows.
V. 16 – I’ve observed this in life: Good people are impatient with hemming and hawing, blame shifting, and other excuse making nonsense.