Updated: Oct 30, 2022
I know you’ve heard the expression divide and conquer. That is exactly the strategy used by King Saul and his son Jonathan to fight the Philistines, however, Saul failed to acknowledge his dependence upon God and lost any ground that had been gained.
1. Saul reigned one year; and when he had reigned two years over Israel,
2 Saul chose him three thousand men of Israel; whereof two thousand were with Saul in Michmash and in mount Bethel, and a thousand were with Jonathan in Gibeah of Benjamin: and the rest of the people he sent every man to his tent.
3 And Jonathan smote the garrison of the Philistines that was in Geba, and the Philistines heard of it. And Saul blew the trumpet throughout all the land, saying, Let the Hebrews hear.
When he divided the forces he had gathered, he took two-thirds of the army, and his son Jonathan was given one-third. Jonathan was victorious over the Philistines who had taken over Gibeah, which belonged to the tribe of Benjamin, Saul's family, and this victory emboldened King Saul, who announced it to the nation.
4 And all Israel heard say that Saul had smitten a garrison of the Philistines, and that Israel also was had in abomination with the Philistines. And the people were called together after Saul to Gilgal.
A first blow had been struck, and the indication is that it was a heroic and unexpected victory for Jonathan’s small band of warriors. But now the backlash was coming. The armies of the Philistines far outnumbered the armies of Israel. Interestingly, as the rumors spread of the victory, Saul is given the credit. This would be a flaw of Saul’s character that would follow him throughout his life. He was interested in taking the glory, whether it was deserved or not. It is also a huge mistake for Saul to move from Michmash to Gilgal. He is surrendering the high ground. It doesn’t take the enemy long to take advantage of his mistake.
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.
The chariots of the Philistines alone outnumbered Saul and Jonathan’s band of warriors. The number of their foot soldiers was too great to be counted. The Philistines have Saul surrounded. Saul unwisely is camped in Gilgal, which is a low valley. Michmash, ten miles from his encampment, rests on the top of a high hill. In other words, the Philistines have a strategic advantage as well as greater numbers.
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 places, and in pits.
The situation the warriors of Israel find themselves in speaks to Saul’s failure in leadership. After a victory, they are now trembling and hiding; they are in distress. Many are leaving the field of battle in a vote of no confidence. Saul has yet to prove himself as a king or as a general.
7 And some of the Hebrews went over Jordan to 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.
Samuel, who had anointed Saul King, and who spoke the word of God as a prophet, was on his way to Saul to offer guidance and direction from the Lord, but he had been delayed. The right thing for Saul to do was wait. The hardest thing to do in this life is to wait. Often we do the wrong thing because we feel it’s better to do something. However, Isaiah 40:31 reads, “ But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.” This was an intense test of Saul’s obedience.
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.
Saul, from the house of Benjamin, had no authority to offer sacrifices and offerings unto God. God had designated the tribe of Levi for that office. In impatience, in disregard for the instructions of God, and in arrogance Saul took upon himself the position of King and Priest. I’m sure he must have felt justified, after all his men were facing annihilation in the face of an insurmountable foe. He did want to calm their fears. He needed to have them believe that God was on their side. His presumptuous sin was made in haste and in pride. It has been my experience that sin has a way of presenting itself as the best option, right up until the moment you engage in it, by immediately afterward the ugliness and regret appear. As soon as he has finished his sinful act, Samuel arrives and Saul must look him in the eyes and admit what he has done.
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.
Saul’s reasoning is that he had no other choice. He didn’t want to disobey God by offering a sacrifice, but he was “forced” to do so. The situation called for action, and Samuel was late. Surely, the law of God was not more important than the reassurance of his soldiers. Notice, that there is no repentance, only an impassioned defense. When he is aware that he has offended God, his response is to explain his guilt away. It reveals that Saul trusts his own heart and his own judgment more than he trusts God.
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.
Please notice the heart of God toward Saul. God desired to establish Saul as king forever, God was willing to bless him and bring victory through him to the nation, but God will not bless the man who refuses to acknowledge his dependence on Him. The idea of stewardship is presented. Saul is king, by the appointment and anointing of the Lord. He is not the ultimate authority, but he is supposed to seek the will of the true king, the Lord of Hosts. Because Saul has shown, and continually showed, that he wouldn’t obey the Lord, but trusted in his own wisdom, God removed him from his position and replaced him with a king whose heart would align with his own. God can use a poor man, a powerless man, an inexperienced man, and even a sinful man, but He resists the proud man. Saul, “head and shoulders above the nation” had made the assumption that God was there to serve his will, instead of humbling himself and confessing that he was God’s creation anointed to bring God glory and honor.
It is easy to feel offended for Saul. It was a mistake, he was in a terrible situation. His armies were in danger. However, this is a critical error to make. When we place ourselves on the throne of our own lives, when we reject the clear instructions found in the word of God, when we justify our sinful actions instead of confessing our sin to God, we forfeit the right to expect the blessings of God. God will accomplish his purpose, he’ll just give someone else the honor of being a part of it.
Thank you for studying with us! God bless!