By Raymond Harris
Regarding Scripture: I Samuel 13, 14, 15
Note to the Reader – I encourage you to invest additional time reading the Books of Samuel in conjunction with this article.
Three Strikes: He’s Out
This week we will be looking at chapters 13, 14, and 15 of I Samuel. While each chapter contains valuable independent lessons, these three chapters should be seen as a whole in order to best examine Sha’ul’s kingly temperament and downfall.
Sha’ul the Priest
Chapter 13 reveals that Saul was in Gilgal and waiting for Samuel (Sh’mu’el) so that Israel could fight the Philistines. Saul was told to wait seven days, but in the anxiety of the moment and facing the challenge of a dispersing army, Saul took it upon himself to fulfill a role that was not his: offering burnt and peace offerings. These were to be administered by the priests (Leviticus). This incident reveals, what seems to be the first time that Jehovah speaks against Saul’s reign, chapter 13.13-14 records:
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. 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.
Sha’ul the Bloodthirsty
While chapter 14 reveals that Jonathan (Y’honatan) trusted in Jehovah and helped bring victory to Israel, it seems that the larger lesson is, again, focused on Saul. This time the lesson revolves around Saul’s unwillingness to permit his army to eat and regain their strength. So intent was Saul on defeating the Philistines that he commanded the army not to eat.1
It seems that Saul’s only objective was to defeat the Philistines,2 and inquired of God if victory would be theirs.3 But when Jehovah provided no answer, Saul determined that someone had sinned. Saul was so determined at gaining victory over the Philistines that if his very own son sinned, he would execute him.4 However, the army refused to answer, but encouraged Saul to do what is right to him. Lots were cast to find the violator, and the lot fell on Jonathan. Jonathon would have been executed had the army not intervened and saved him from his bloodthirsty father.
While chapter 14 does not seem to reveal any particular trespass of Saul, it does reveal his singular focus. And that focus prevented him from being circumspect and wise with Jehovah’s army by providing for their physical needs.
Sha’ul the Merciful
While chapter 13 revealed accusations from Jehovah against Saul, chapter 15 opens with what seems to be an offer at redemption, if only Saul would do what Jehovah commanded.
It is important to see that in this chapter, Saul is commanded to destroy everything and not spare anyone.5 Saul reasons that it would be good to spare the king, and to save the best of the flocks for sacrifice. But perhaps the last part of 15.15 reveals Saul’s true temperament (carefully note his closing words about the rest):
the people spared the best of the sheep and of the oxen, to sacrifice unto the LORD thy God; and the rest we have utterly destroyed.
From this chapter, we can see Saul refuse Jehovah’s command, lay the quilt on the army, and blatantly claim Jehovah is Samuel’s God by using the second-person possessive pronoun “your” instead of the third-person possessive “our”. This statement seems to reveal that Saul had been distancing himself from Jehovah. I Samuel 15.22-23 seals Saul’s fate as king:
And Samuel said, Hath the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because thou hast rejected the word of the LORD, he hath also rejected thee from being king.
While Jehovah has the ability to remove the unrepentant person from their position after three strikes, it would be a mistake to think that humanity has the same authority. Although Saul technically lost his kingdom in three strikes, it took several more years for Jehovah to remove Saul from the throne. During that time, David had several opportunities to overthrow the failed king and install himself, but never seized the opportunity; he rightfully left the timing of the administration change to God. We need to be like David, allowing God to work his righteousness in his time.
Furthermore, just because Jehovah reveals a “three strikes and you’re out” policy with Saul, we should not make the mistake that we can do the same with our fellow humanity. While it becomes burdensome to have another trespass against us (lying, cheating, stealing, etc.), each person is exhorted to be forgiving. In Matthew 18.21-22, Peter asks how many times must we forgive, seven? And Yeshua’s (Jesus’) reply was no, seventy times seven. One of the hardest things a person will ever do is extend and offer forgiveness to the one who committed the wrong.
From Sha’ul we can see that Jehovah is serious about leadership. Jehovah expects his leaders to be upright, repentant when convicted of trespassing, temperate in executing the responsibilities of the office, and, it seems most of all, a willingness to remain humble. While these three brief chapters do not reveal the time span of Sha’ul’s mistakes, they do reveal that the mistakes were severe enough for Jehovah to remove Sha’ul as king. How tragic it is to see the development of this man who would be king. May we learn from his mistakes, and may we become better servants of Jehovah.
1. “Do not eat” – I Samuel 14.24
2. “Saul’s theme: Destroy the Philistines” – I Samuel 14.52
3. “Saul’s inquiry: Israel’s victory over the Philistines?” – I Samuel 14.36-37
4. “Saul’s resolution: Execute his son” – I Samuel 14.38-39
5. “Destroy everything; Spare not” – I Samuel 15.3