1 Samuel 13: Saul Disobeys
Saul and the people of Israel were having serious troubles with their neighbors the Philistines. You know the home of the Philistines in these meadows by the Mediterranean Sea, but Philistine soldiers were also in many towns of Israel. The Philistines would not let any blacksmith among the people of Israel work at his trade; even the farmers had to go down to the Philistine country to get their farm tools sharpened. They had themselves only files for keeping their tools in order. The Philistines did this so that the people of Israel would have no swords and spears, and there would be no one to make them any when there was war.
The story takes us to an interesting place, to this steep rocky gorge among the hills, where a brook runs down toward the Jordan. The Philistines had gathered a great army at Michmash on the northern side of this gorge. They brought many chariots, which struck terror to the hearts of Israel. The people were so frightened that many of them were hiding in caves and in thickets, among the rocks, and in pits in the ground. Some of the people went over Jordan to the land of Gilead.
Saul called for soldiers and gathered the few that he could about him at Gilgal in the plain of Jordan. Saul was very fearful as the days passed, while he was waiting for Samuel. For Samuel had told Saul to wait seven days for him, and that he would come and offer sacrifices for him to the Lord, for Samuel was the priest and he was the one to offer sacrifices. But Saul was fearful and impatient and did not wait. His men were leaving him. The Philistines on the hills might easily come down upon him at Gilgal. He was afraid to wait. Samuel came and was displeased because Saul had disobeyed, and told Saul that the kingdom would be taken from him and given to one who would be more faithful. "The Lord hath sought Him a man after His own heart."
Saul went up, sad hearted, with the men that were still with him, to the gorge among the hills. Saul and Jonathan, his son, and their small army were on the south side of the steep, rough valley. The Philistines with their army and chariots were on the north side of the valley, and they were sending out companies of men spoiling the country. But victory would come soon through the bravery of Jonathan.
We remember that on his way home after searching for the asses Saul passed a hill where there was a garrison of the Philistines. (1 Sam. 10:5) It seems that there were Philistine officers and soldiers in other towns. And not only that, but the Philistines would not let any blacksmith work at his trade in all the land of Israel. Even the farmers had to go down to the Philistine country to get their farm tools sharpened by Philistine blacksmiths. (The exact meaning of the verses about the tools is not very sure, as you will see by comparing the Revised translation.) They did this so that the children of Israel would have no swords and spears, and there would be no one to make them any when there was war between the countries.
One of the things that Saul did as king was to raise an army against the Philistines. He chose three thousand men, "whereof two thousand were with Saul in Michmash and in Mount Bethel, and a thousand were with Jonathan in Gibeah of Benjamin." If you go toward the northeast from Jerusalem through the country that belonged to Benjamin you come to a deep gorge with rough rocky sides and a brook in the bottom running down to the Jordan. On the south of this gorge was Gibeah, Saul's home, which we think of as a district including several towns. One of these towns was Geba. On the north of the gorge, nearly opposite Geba, was the town of Michmash, and still to the northwest were Ai and Bethel.
The army with Saul was on the north of this gorge, in Michmash and Bethel; Jonathan and his men were on the south side of the gorge. Jonathan was Saul's son and we shall learn many brave and noble things about him. "And Jonathan smote the garrison of the Philistines that was in Geba." Some understand the words to mean rather that he smote the officer, perhaps the collector of tribute, who was stationed in Geba. It was in any case an attack on the enemy. The news spread among the Philistines and they gathered a great army against Israel. They came up from their meadows with thousands of chariots, horsemen, and soldiers and camped on Michmash where Saul's army had been. But Saul was not now there, for he had sounded a call through all Israel to gather to him at Gilgal in the Jordan valley.
There was terror everywhere at the sight of the great army of the Philistines. Some of the Israelites hid "in caves, and in thickets, and in rocks, and in high places, and in pits." We remember the empty cistern called a pit where Joseph was put by his brethren, and the winepress in which Gideon hid his grain. Some even fled beyond Jordan to the land of Gilead where the tribe of Gad had its home. The men who came to Saul in Gilgal did so trembling.
Samuel had told Saul to wait for him seven days in Gilgal, and that he would come and offer sacrifices and would tell Saul what he should do (1 Sam. 10:8), for although Saul was king, Samuel was still to teach "he good and the right way." (1 Sam. 12:23) Saul waited in Gilgal. The days seemed long; the people were frightened and were leaving him. The Philistine army in the hills above might come down upon him at any moment. He grew impatient and offered sacrifice himself without waiting till the appointed time when Samuel would come.
Samuel was displeased and grieved. He told Saul that he had been disobedient and that his kingdom should not continue. The Lord had chosen another king. It seems a small thing that Saul had done and a small reason for taking away his kingdom. But it was serious, because it showed that he did not fully trust the Lord. He was afraid to do as he was told to do.
We are back again at the deep gorge in the hills of Benjamin. The great host of the Philistines with chariots and horsemen was on the north side at Michmash. Saul and Jonathan and their little frightened army were at Geba (see margin and Revision) on the south side. The Philistines boldly sent out companies to spoil the country. One company went to the northeast, toward Ophrah which was east of Bethel; another went westward toward Beth-horon, and another to the east toward Jericho. We cannot wonder that Saul's little army and the people of Israel were faint-hearted.
1. Show me Michmash; Geba, Bethel, Gilgal, Gilead.
2. In what ways were the Philistines oppressing the people of Israel?
3. Why did they come with a great army? What were in their army? Where did they camp?
4. What did Saul do at Gilgal? What should he have done?
5. Who was Jonathan?
As you read in Isa. 10:28-32 of the approach of the Assyrians toward Jerusalem, you find yourselves at this same gorge in the land of Benjamin. "At Michmash he hath laid up his carriages: they are gone over the passage: they have taken up their lodging at Geba; Ramah is afraid; Gibeah of Saul is fled."
The Philistines were always enemies of Saul and they finally caused his death. We see a reason for this when we remember that Saul stands for the power of natural reason such as is developed in youth, and that the Philistines represent a pride in learning and intelligence. It is very difficult for a young personís understanding to free itself altogether from self trust, which makes one proud when things seem to go well and anxious when they go hard. There is need for a wiser understanding, stronger in its trust in the Lord, to rule the life. This will be represented by David, who will overcome the Philistines as Saul is not able to do. (A. 8770, 9340)
The Philistines made use of chariots in their level country, and you will remember the chariots of the Canaanites under Sisera, in the plain of Esdraelon, which were conquered by Deborah and Barak. You are familiar with horses as types of the power of understanding, of thinking and reasoning, sometimes of a high spiritual understanding; but fighting against Israel in the army of the Egyptians, the Canaanites, or the Philistines, horses represent intellectual power used to justify evil and to destroy good. The chariots represent false principles and arguments used in such thinking and reasoning. How sure the spiritual Philistines are to use them! (E. 355; A. 5321, 8146)
"They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks." (Isa. 2:4; Micah 4:3) Swords and spears in a good sense represent principles of truth from the Lord with which we may resist and overcome what is wrong. The Ten Commandments are such weapons in our hands. In peaceful states we must not throw away the commandments; the same Divine truths are needed to cultivate the heavenly spirit and to guide it in doing good. What spiritual condition is pictured when the Israelites depend upon the Philistines for their weapons, and to sharpen their garden tools? (R. 52; E. 734)
In verse 9 we read of burnt offerings and peace offerings. They are so often mentioned together, burnt offerings being sacrifices offered wholly upon the altar to the Lord, and peace offerings being sacrifices which were consecrated by offering a part upon the altar, but the larger part was eaten as a sacred feast. The two kinds of offerings represented worship from love to the Lord and love to one another.
Saul's offering the sacrifices for himself without waiting for Samuel was a grievous offense. The whole of life is an offering; everything we do and say. To wait for Samuel the Lord's priest to offer the sacrifices is the expression of our need of the Lord's help to live and worship in those loves of the great commandments. To assume to offer sacrifice without the priest expresses a confidence that we can live and worship worthily of ourselves. Such self-confidence cannot safely rule the life; it must give place to a humbler and a stronger spirit. In connection with this impatience of Saul consider Ps. 37:7; Lam. 3:26, 27; Luke 21:19. Such verses have a lesson for Saul and for us. (R. 593; E. 813)