Unit: History of Israel (1 Samuel & 1 Chronicles)
Theme: A New King
Lesson Text: 1 Samuel 10:20-24; 13:13-14; 15:10-24
Supplemental Texts: 1 Samuel 13:1-12; Hosea 6:6; Psalm 119:29-36; Luke 11:28
Aim: Take care not to fall into disobedience.
_ _ _
Download a PDF of this week’s lesson material (the Study by Mark Scott, Application by David Faust, and Discovery Questions by Michael C. Mack): LOOKOUT_May9_2021
_ _ _
By Mark Scott
Retired Lincoln Christian University professor Tom Ewald said, “Hell is truth known too late.” Israel’s first king learned that lesson the hard way. And we learn a good lesson from his bad example. While Saul ruled Israel for 40 years and had many military successes, his reign was checkered with disobedience and neuroses.
Samuel acquiesced to the people’s desire for a king (1 Samuel 8). Saul’s mission to find his father’s donkeys was the means for Samuel to meet up with Saul and anoint him as king (1 Samuel 9). Saul did prophesy (1 Samuel 10:1-19) and (in his impatience) played the role of priest, but he did not fulfill his role as king nobly.
1 Samuel 10:20-24
When the Old Testament mentions physical features (e.g., Judges 3:15), there is usually a reason. Saul was tall. But he was “small in [his] own eyes” (1 Samuel 15:17). It may be like the people of Babel—they had to climb so high because they felt so low (from What the Bible Says About Self-Esteem, by Bruce Parmenter).
Samuel had already anointed Saul king. When the time came to formally introduce him to the nation, a ceremony involving the casting of lots was conducted. To us it might look like a game of chance, but the Lord guided the process (Proverbs 16:33). First the tribes came forward one by one. Then the tribe of Benjamin was chosen. (Was not the king to come from the line of Judah—Genesis 49:10?) Next the clans (kinds or families) came forward one by one. Next Matri’s family was chosen. Finally Kish’s son Saul was chosen.
But would the king miss his inauguration? Saul could not be found. The Lord himself ruined Saul’s game of hide-and-seek by revealing to the people that Saul was among the supplies (baggage or receptacles). Saul’s height may have made it hard for him to hide. When Samuel identified him, the people shouted, “Long live the king!”
1 Samuel 13:13-14
Not everyone was exuberant about the new king (1 Samuel 10:27). But Saul’s first military victory over the Ammonites delivered the city of Jabesh Gilead and solidified his reign. Saul’s reign was renewed in Gilgal (1 Samuel 11:14-15). Things were looking good for the tall king until Samuel gave his farewell speech (1 Samuel 12). From that moment, things went south for Saul.
Saul and his son Jonathan engaged the Philistines in battle in central Israel. But at Michmash (east of Bethel), the Philistines began to prevail. The Israelites ran scared into the caves, and Saul panicked. In Samuel’s absence, Saul presumptuously played the role of priest by offering a burnt offering. Whatever his motives, Saul was out of line. Samuel greeted him by saying, “You have done a foolish thing [i.e., played the fool].” Saul had disobeyed the Lord’s command (mitsvah, i.e., law). Saul’s kingship would now be compromised. He would be replaced by a man after God’s own heart and the next ruler of his people (prince, captain, or overseer). Disobedience to God is not only wrong; it is foolish.
1 Samuel 15:10-24
Saul would sink deeper into this disobedience with the Amalekites, but that saga was interrupted by Jonathan’s battles with the Philistines (1 Samuel 14). The army got out of sorts by eating meat with blood still in it, and then Jonathan ate honey without knowing his father’s decree of a fast and incurred his father’s wrath. Saul opted for killing Jonathan, but the soldiers would not do it. Saul’s prayers for God’s help went unanswered.
The nation of Amalek had been very evil. God commanded that the Amalekites be destroyed. Saul thought he had a better way—spare the king (Agag) and save the livestock. God was grieved (cf. Genesis 6:6), and Samuel was mad—in fact, Samuel cried about it all night. Saul went to Carmel (not Mt. Carmel) and set up a monument in his own honor.
When Samuel arrived at Saul’s camp (in Gilgal) the next morning, Saul lied, “I have carried out the Lord’s instructions” (dabar, i.e., word). But Samuel heard the sheep bleating and the cattle lowing. Saul had been caught with his hand in the cookie jar. Even after Samuel confronted him, Saul tried to justify himself: “We were going to devote these things to God.” Sometimes disobedience can sound so rational.
Samuel reminded Saul (and us) in poetic language that jumping through religious hoops does not appease God. “To obey is better than sacrifice.” Saul recognized his sin, but also blamed the men to whom he gave in (compare this with Genesis 3:12). Saul learned truth too late.
Image: A painting (“Portrait of a Bearded Man”) by Rembrandt, circa 1645, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.