We’ve all been there: the heat of the moment when we have to make a quick decision. When we do, we actually learn a lot about ourselves. Our emotions, fears, and struggles can rise up, and the decision we make reflects where our heart is at.
We see an example of this in the life of Israel’s first king, Saul. To get the fullness of what happened, we need to take a brief broad view of the events leading up to 1 Samuel 13. We’re familiar with how Samuel grew up, how the Lord called to him in the night, and how he judged Israel. Through those years, the hearts of Israel turned back to the Lord.
However, all was not well. Although Samuel was leading the nation, it seems that he was not leading his sons. We can speculate about what and why, but the Scripture is clear that Samuel’s “sons…did not walk in his ways” (1 Samuel 8:3, 5). They started perverting “justice” and lining their own pockets (v. 3). As we might imagine, this caused quite a stir in Israel. The people come to Samuel and basically say, “Look, this isn’t working. We need a solution, and from what we have seen, a king is the answer” (paraphrase of verse 5).
We need to realize a few things about this request. Interestingly, God had already provided for a king. In Deuteronomy 17:14-20, the Lord had given specific instructions for the king. So the people could have looked at that and said, “Aha! See—God’s allowed it, so we must be on the right track.” While it is true that God did permit a king and greatly used the second line—Jesus came from the line of David—having a king over Israel was not His best. How do we know that? Well, let’s look at the language.
God starts off the above passage in Deuteronomy this way:
“When you enter the land which the Lord your God gives you, and you possess it and live in it, and you say, ‘I will set a king over me like all the nations who are around me,’ you shall surely set a king over you whom the Lord your God chooses” (Deuteronomy 17:14, 15).
This was given on the eve of Israel crossing the Jordan to possess Canaan, and there is a very important phrase. That phrase is, “Like all the nations who are around me” (v. 14). And you know what? That is the exact justification Israel used years later when they demanded a king (1 Samuel 8:5). Rather than taking their problems to God and seeking His wisdom, they looked at the world around them for the solution. As a result, God tells Samuel, “They have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me from being king over them” (1 Samuel 8:7). Convicting words.
Yet the Lord in His mercy did not abandon His people. Throughout the whole process of the anointing of Saul and his first military conquest, the Spirit of the Lord is seen at work. In 1 Samuel 9:15-17, God shows Samuel that Saul indeed is the one chosen. Samuel then predicts three very specific signs that will confirm this call (1 Samuel 10:1-7). When Saul leaves Samuel, it says that “God changed his heart” (v. 9). In reference to the fulfillment of the third sign, twice the text says that “the Spirit of God came upon him mightily” (vv. 6, 10). When Saul hears the news of a Ammonite conquest, “the Spirit of God came upon Saul mightily” (1 Samuel 11:6). And when the Lord delivers their enemies into his hands, Saul says, “Today the Lord has accomplished deliverance in Israel” (v. 13). The Lord is at work and His servant is praising Him.
Then years go by, and Saul begins to change. The Philistines gather together a great force, and Israel prepares to meet them. Samuel tells Saul to wait “seven days,” then he will come to offer sacrifices (1 Samuel 13:8). The only thing was, Samuel did not show up when Saul expected, and the Israelite army began to dwindle. They were incredibly outnumbered and outpowered, and their numbers began dwindling at a rapid speed. Saul sees the situation, and instead of being obedient, he goes ahead and offers the sacrifice (v. 9). He was not permitted to do this, but he did it anyway.
And ironically, the text says that “as soon as he finished offering the burnt offering, behold, Samuel came” (v. 10). The first recorded words out of Samuel’s mouth are, “What have you done?” (v. 11). Samuel knew the significance of what had just happened, a significance completely lost on Saul.
When confronted, Saul justified the decision by blaming everybody but himself, and tries to say he was being spiritual by that act of disobedience (vv. 11, 12). The thought was, “I need to seek God, but since the appointed one to sacrifice is not here, I’ll just go ahead and do it myself.” However, there were other ways for Saul to have sought the Lord, ways that were permissible for him. Yet Scripture does not record him doing those. Like Israel, he had a problem, but rather than trusting God and seeking His wisdom, Saul went ahead with what seemed best to him.
The result was that the “kingdom” was taken from him (v. 14). The consequences were devastating for Saul’s family, but they didn’t come because he made one disobedient act. Rather, the kingdom was taken from him because he had chosen to serve himself rather than God. Samuel says plainly, “You have not kept the commandment of the Lord your God” (v. 13). And from then on, we see Saul slip farther and farther away from the Lord. One small act of disobedience becomes a larger one, and so on. He continues his spiral downward until he ends up in his final days seeking insight—of all things—from the dead Samuel through the work of a medium (1 Samuel 28:8-19). Samuel does speak to Saul then and tells him, “The Lord has departed from you and become your adversary” (v. 16). Shocking words.
But what happened? What caused this man who was used by God to fall into such a state? It was because he turned from trusting in the Lord to trusting in himself. There are times when things seem impossible and we do not know how the Lord is going to work, yet we cannot compromise. Remember the story of Shadrack, Meshach, and Abed-nego? They were obedient in not bowing to the idol and were literally thrown into the furnace of fire, yet God brought them safely out (Daniel 3:16-27). They trusted and were obedient in the face of what seemed impossible.
Will God always miraculously deliver us in a physical way? No, but He gives grace to bare whatever trial comes upon us (2 Corinthians 12:9, 10). He will “never desert…nor will [He] ever forsake’ (Hebrews 13:5). Our responsibility is to be faithful, no matter what.
Now let’s tie all this back together. While we can describe why the specific act of asking for a king or offering that sacrifice were wrong, the real heart issue is that Israel and Saul looked for wisdom and guidance elsewhere rather than from God. There were issues they didn’t know how to face, but the Lord would have given wisdom had they sought Him. In His mercy, He did not abandon them when they were disobedient, and He doesn’t abandon us either. Yet it is so much better for us to seek the Lord first, to rely upon His wisdom alone.
So let us consider—where are we looking to for council? Are we seeking the Lord and godly counsellors He has placed around us, or are we looking at the world and relying upon our intellect. God will give “wisdom” to all who “ask in faith” (James 1:5, 6). His wisdom is there, so let’s ask for it and seek Him alone.