Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Saul and the premature sacrifice

1 Samuel 13
5  And the Philistines gathered themselves together to fight with Israel, thirty thousand chariots, and six thousand horsemen, and people as the sand which is on the sea shore in multitude: and they came up, and pitched in Michmash, eastward from Bethaven.
6  When the men of Israel saw that they were in a strait, (for the people were distressed,) then the people did hide themselves in caves, and in thickets, and in rocks, and in high paces, and in pits.
7  And some of the Hebrews went over Jordan ot the land of Gad and Gilead. As for Saul, he was yet in Gilgal, and all the people followed him trembling.
8  And he tarried seven days, according to the set time that Samuel had appointed: but Samuel came not to Gilgal; and the people were scattered from him.
9  And Saul said, Bring hither a burnt offering to me, and peace offerings. And he offered the burnt offering.
10  And it came to pass, that as soon as he had made an end of offering the burnt offering, behold, Samuel came; and Saul went out to meet him, that he might salute him.
11  And Samuel said, What hast thou done? And Saul said, Because I saw that the people were scattered from me, and that thou camest not within the days appointed, and that the Philistines gathered themselves together at Michmash;
12  Therefore said I, The Philistines will come down now upon me to Gilgal, and I have not made supplication unto the LORD: I forced myself therefore, and offered a burnt offering.
13  And Samuel said to Saul, Thou hast done foolishly: thou hast not kept the commandment of the LORD thy God, which he commanded thee: for now would the LORD have established thy kingdom upon Israel for ever.
14  But now thy kingdom shall not continue: the LORD hath sought him a man after his own heart, and the LORD hath commanded him to be captain over his people, because thou hast not kept that which the LORD commanded thee.

This is such a sad story, and it makes me think on so many levels.

Verse 5-7: There was truly a dire situation going on. Invasion of Philistine armies for Saul was objectively much more intimidating than anything I face (simple lack of income).

Verse 8: He did wait. He waited seven days. He waited past the point of logic or endurance. The situation was getting worse by the minute. The Philistines were encroaching upon him and the people were departing from him and he only had 600 men left. But this apparently hopeless situation was, as we see from Samuel’s words in verse 13, precisely God’s test on Saul to see if he would break and turn to himself or continue to trust in the Lord. He did not trust in the Lord, and God took the kingdom away from him. Are my impending dire circumstances merely the Lord’s pressing, merely the test of faith, merely a proving ground to see where I will break and turn back to self and worldly solutions? Then let me stand fast in the face of impending doom, at the risk of losing everything, even my life. Let me steadfastly look to the Lord for His deliverance, trusting purely and solely in Him, no matter how threatening the circumstances become.

Verse 9: Saul offered the burnt offering. On the outside, an offering is good, but the motive it sprang from proved that he was far from God. It shows how a person can offer lip service to God while all the time their heart is far from Him and their faith is nonexistent. Lip service, like burnt offerings, are not acceptable because of the right wording or the proper outward ceremony. They are only acceptable when they spring from faith.

Verse 10: At this point, Saul did not feel guilty for what he had done. He saw Samuel, and he went out to salute him. It was just, “Hi, how are you?” There was no hint of hiding from Samuel or avoiding him that would indicate that Saul felt ashamed. Saul was justifying himself in the thing that he had done, convincing himself that it was the only proper and necessary step, something anyone would have done, something that had a valid and understandable explanation, so surely God would understand.

Verse 11: Samuel said, “What hast thou done,” and Saul’s answer started with “Because.” Samuel asked “WHAT have you done,” but Saul answered as if the question was “WHY have you done it.” Objectively, the answer to “What hast thou done” is “I offered the sacrifice that I ought to have waited for you to offer, and that was disobedience. I recognize that that is a punishable offense in the eyes of the LORD.” Samuel is seeking to pin Saul down with the truth, and Saul is slithering out from being pinned down, protesting, “Oh, but wait until you hear the reason, and you will see why it was really the only option available to me.” How often have I made excuses and therefore evaded the clear and living truth? How often have I clouded up my own situation by rationalizing and redefining and explaining my justification for why I did it? How clear everything would be if I simply walked in the truth.

Verse 12: “I forced myself therefore.” Saul’s wording makes it sound like he only took this step reluctantly, as a last resort, and that he would not have done it if the situation had been different or if Samuel had come earlier. But is that not the precise thing that God was testing? What is he really saying? “I forced myself to take matters into my own hands.” It was a deliberate step away from trusting God, even while He was offering a sacrifice, calling it "his supplication unto the LORD."

Saul, as a picture of the flesh, gives us insight into the deeds of the flesh. The flesh waits seven days for the Lord, not as a gesture of trust, but as a symbolic gesture of proving to self that the LORD is not coming through and that if anything is to be done, self is going to have to do it. The LORD waits just longer than the flesh holds out in order to prove who is really controlling the man’s decisions. “I forced myself” is a revealing statement of whose dominion Saul was under. A man under the dominion of the flesh is subservient to the flesh. Self is shackled to the will of the flesh, and the flesh, as a vicious taskmaster, forces self to comply with its demands. The flesh is a ruthless dictator who rules with absolute authority and lets no prisoner escape. The flesh is enmity against God. It is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. The flesh forced Saul to commit an action that proved to Samuel and to God that Saul’s trust was not in the LORD. However, Saul does not say, “Somebody forced me,” he says, “I forced myself.” This is because the flesh and the man are inextricably linked. The flesh and “I” are synonymous. It is only when a man dies that he can be released from the flesh and freed to serve the Lord by faith. Glorious gift of the gospel! I can enter into Christ’s death by faith. I can be crucified and buried with Him, the flesh can be left behind, and I can rise to newness of life to serve God in purity and truth without anybody (my flesh) forcing me to live in the old way.

I have entered into this resurrection life, and therefore I am not subservient to the flesh, and therefore I do not have to listen to the flesh’s screeching calls that the Lord is not going to come through for me and that I must turn back to the world’s way of doing things. That is nothing more than so much noise. I am free from that. I can walk by faith, looking unto Jesus, my eyes fixed on Him, and my trust unabated, though the winds and waves rise boisterous to threaten to overwhelm me.

Verse 13: “Thou hast done foolishly.” Oh, how the wisdom of God is foolishness to the natural mind, and how the wisdom of the world is foolishness with God! To the natural mind, it seemed foolish to wait any longer on the sacrifice when the people were departing from him and the doom was increasing. But the real foolishness was departing from the trust in the LORD, who was the only one who could save the situation and bring victory against impossible odds.

“Thou hast not kept the commandment of the LORD thy God, which he commanded thee.” If Saul had walked in faith, then his obedience would have followed, for true faith always results in obedience, and true obedience is only possible to the man who believes his God. The disobedience was the proof of the lack of faith.

“For now would the LORD have established thy kingdom upon Israel for ever.” God was looking for a man of faith to rule his kingdom, and if Saul had been proved here and passed the test, then he would have had the kingdom forever. In that sense, the test was like a door. Would he go through the door or not? Would he turn back to the ways of the flesh, or would he place his trust unflinchingly in the Lord? He could press forward and get through that door and live by faith, or he could shrink back and stay on this side of the door and never cross the line into victory and blessedness and permanent stability. He chose a direction, and therefore he received the corresponding consequences. Oh, how necessary it is, how vital it is, how crucial it is to persevere in trusting the Lord, no matter how black the circumstances look! In each increasing test of faith, there is an additional proving ground. Will we go through the door of faith, and look at the situation from the secure position of being hidden in the strong tower, being built upon the rock, being clothed in impenetrable armor? Or will we shrink back from the door of faith and remain in the cold and windswept land of self-effort, where we will surely be defeated? It would be madness not to enter the Lord’s protection by faith. It would be foolishness! Let the flesh howl its protests. Let the natural world cast up all its arguments against the sufficiency of the Lord. I will not look at them. I will not listen. I will lose my gaze in the beauty of the Holy, Holy, Holy one, and look to Him to be my defense and my aid, and He will come through for me.

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