1 Samuel 13-15
(Trouble in the King's Dominion)
March 24th

Produced by The Listening for God Ministry
Copyright 2016

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Please refer to one or more Bible versions of your choice to read this section. We recommend that you read at least two versions for added understanding. For your convenience, we have provided six links below, each of which takes you directly to today's chapters in a specific version:

Key Verse

The word of the Lord came to Samuel: “I regret that I made Saul king, for he has turned back from following me, and has not carried out my commands.” Samuel was angry; and he cried out to the Lord all night.

- 1 Samuel 15:10-11 (NRSV)

Summary of Chapters

In today’s group of chapters, we learn that Saul had ruled as the first king of Israel for forty-two years. In our readings over the last few months, we have read about the history of the leadership of Israel prior to Saul, beginning with the story of Moses, who led the people from bondage in Egypt into the desert. While in the desert, the people learned God's instructions and accepted his covenant of love and protection. After forty years in the desert the mantle of leadership was passed down to Joshua, who began the conquest of the Promised Land. His era was followed by hundreds of years without a national leader, as reported in the book of Judges and the early part of 1 Samuel.

God had endowed selected judges such as Ehud, Deborah, and Samson with his Spirit so that they could serve a broader community. Individual judges had ruled over parts of Israel, but not the whole nation and not on a continuous basis. When there was a gap between judges the people did want they wanted, irrespective of God's instructions. Samuel was the last judge of this type designated by God. We read yesterday that the people were not happy with Samuel's succession plan and therefore demanded a king. Through Samuel, God warned the people of the consequences of having a king, but nevertheless chose Saul to be the anointed one. The people were not immediately convinced of his worthiness, but were eventually enamored with Saul after he proved himself on the battlefield. However, perhaps Saul was too enamored with himself.

We read today about the beginning of the end of Saul's rule. Self-absorption and disobedience of the LORD’s commands were the root cause of the demise of Saul. The first occasion of disobedience that we learn about occurs when Saul became impatient while waiting for Samuel to lead him and his troops in worship, as detailed in chapter 13. The Philistines had gathered together a large force of men with their superior equipment and weapons. As a result the Israelites were frightened – many of the soldiers hid in caves and cisterns. In Saul’s case, fear drove him to take worship into his own hands, as he prepared the burnt offerings that were only supposed to be offered by a priest, as described in Leviticus. When Samuel arrives and finds out what had happened he explains to Saul that this single act would cost him the loss of his position as king, and he would be replaced by someone else:

    That was a fool thing to do," Samuel said to Saul. "If you had kept the appointment that your God commanded, by now God would have set a firm and lasting foundation under your kingly rule over Israel. As it is, your kingly rule is already falling to pieces. God is out looking for your replacement right now. This time he'll do the choosing. When he finds him, he'll appoint him leader of his people. And all because you didn't keep your appointment with God!"

    - 1 Samuel 13:13-14 (MSG)

In chapter 14, the author describes an incident in which Jonathan, the son of Saul leads an attack and victory over the Philistines. His actions were not authorized by Saul, but somehow Jonathan knew that the LORD was with him and indeed the LORD caused the superior forces of the Philistines to disperse in a panic-striken state. Saul then moved in for mop-up duty and the men who had been hiding came out of their pits to participate in the victory.

Another act of disobedience by Saul is recorded in chapter 15. Through Samuel, God had told Saul to “totally destroy” the Amalekites and “all that belongs to them (15:3 - NIV).” Saul went into battle, but allowed the men to take some of the plunder for themselves. Saul tried to spin the story of what happened, claiming that he and his men did “destroy” the Amalekites (depending on what you mean by destroy), and explained that the men kept some of the goods to offer sacrifice to God. Speaking as God’s representative, Samuel was not swayed by this argument. He reminded Saul of proper priorities: "Which does the LORD prefer: obedience or offerings and sacrifices? It is better to obey him than to sacrifice the best sheep to him. Rebellion against him is as bad as witchcraft, and arrogance is as sinful as idolatry. Because you rejected the LORD's command, he has rejected you as king (1 Sam 15:22-23 - GNB).” Saul pleaded for forgiveness, but it was too little too late. Samuel pronounced the consequences of Saul's actions:

    “The LORD has torn the kingdom of Israel from you today and has given it to one of your neighbors—to one better than you.”

    - 1 Samuel 15:28 (NIV)

In tomorrow’s reading we will meet the improbable choice of the better man who will eventually replace Saul.

Reflection and Application

One of the main themes in today’s reading is the importance of patience and trust in God and obedience to his commands, regardless of how we might interpret the situation.

The latter part of Chapter 13 partially explains why the Philistines held a technology advantage over Israel. They had a monopoly on blacksmith services and apparently retained the raw materials and/or intellectual property rights for the knowledge of how to create iron weapons. They sold the Israelites farm tools and sharpened these tools for a fee, but enforced an arms embargo so that no one would sell weapons to them.

    Not a blacksmith could be found in the whole land of Israel, because the Philistines had said, “Otherwise the Hebrews will make swords or spears!” So all Israel went down to the Philistines to have their plow points, mattocks, axes and sickles sharpened. The price was two-thirds of a shekel for sharpening plow points and mattocks, and a third of a shekel for sharpening forks and axes and for repointing goads.

    -1 Samuel 13:19-21 (NIV)

The mattock mentioned in this chapter is a variation of a pickaxe that is used for digging through earth, roots, and stumps. The goad is a stick with a pointed end that is used to motivate oxen and other livestock. These were useful farm instruments, but were generally not as effective as the weapons of the Philistines (except when a goad was in the hand of Shamgar, the judge, as described in Judges 3:31).

Given the disparity of weaponry, it was understandable why the Israelites felt inferior compared to their opponents. However, God has a monopoly on divine power. He can send an army of one million men into a psychological panic, as noted in 1 Samuel 14:15. We may not understand how he created the panic, but by faith we believe that he did it, as described in that verse, and also believe that he can do it again. God also has the monopoly on the ability to bestow power and wisdom on individuals of his choosing, as he did for the judges in the previous book. Therefore, we can turn to him in confidence when we find ourselves in a situation where we are outnumbered by superior forces and trust that he will guide us through the situation, as he did for Jonathan.

When God gives us instructions it is important that we follow them precisely. Apparently, Saul and his men were not familiar with the story of the plunder taken during the battle of Jericho (Joshua 7:10-25). The LORD had instructed the men not to take plunder, but Achan disobeyed and brought a curse upon the whole nation of tribes. Saul allowed his soldiers to make the same mistake in the battle with the Amalekites, and it cost him his job. You might wonder why Samuel did not explicitly accept Saul’s request for forgiveness and restoration. Presumably, Saul could have been forgiven by God (and perhaps was), but would still have the consequence of the loss of his prestigious position. The same protocol exists for us. We can be forgiven for any sin, if we sincerely confess, but there may be a consequence and loss of something important as a result of our actions.

"My God is Awesome," performed by the Central Church of God Choir, Charlotte NC

Questions and Prayers for Further Reflection

    Related Questions
    1. What is your favorite farming or gardening tool?
    2. What is the LORD asking you to be patient about today?
    3. What specific instructions is the LORD waiting for you to follow?
    Recommended Prayer
    Father in heaven, the lmits of your patience is beyond our understanding. We thank you for being patient with us. Please help us to be patient as we wait to hear from you.

    Suggested Prayer Concerns

    Looking Ahead

    Tomorrow's reading: 1 Samuel 16-17 (David and Goliath)

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