Understanding the Old Testament

King Saul's First Big Blunder

(All quotations are from the New American Standard Bible translation)

The separation of church and state is not something America invented. It dates back at least to the time of Samuel the priest-prophet and King Saul.

Saul had an army of 3,000 men, and placed 1,000 of them under the command of his son, Jonathan, at Gibeah. Saul and the other 2,000 men were north of there, in and near Michmash, which was north of Jerusalem. (1 Samuel 13:2)

Jonathan attacked a Philistine garrison that was at Geba, which was within the territory of Benjamin (1 Samuel 13:16), between Michmash and Gibeah. The Philistines naturally regarded this as an act of war and mobilized 30,000 chariots and 6,000 cavalrymen. As the Philistine army approached Michmash, Saul retreated to Gilgal and summoned Israel to meet this new threat. (1 Samuel 13:4-7)

By pre-arrangement Saul was to wait for seven days in Gilgal until Samuel arrived to offer sacrifices to the Lord before battle. 1 Samuel 10:8 mentions a similar pre-arrangement, but that occurred shortly before Saul’s commissioning as king and before his victory over the Ammonites. So perhaps this was merely their customary practice, to give Samuel time to travel from his home in Ramah to Gilgal.

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Seven days passed. The people panicked and some of Saul’s soldiers deserted. He decided he could not wait any longer. So he offered the burnt offering himself—which only a priest was permitted to do. (See for example Leviticus 1:3-17.)

Thus, King Saul, the civil authority, infringed on the religious authority of Samuel the priest. Neither Samuel nor God was happy about that.

When Samuel confronted Saul, he blamed everyone but himself: Samuel was late, the Philistines were bearing down, and the people were scattering. (1 Samuel 13:11-12) “So I forced myself and offered the burnt offering.” (1 Samuel 13:12) 

Because of Saul’s misstep, his descendants would not inherit his kingdom. It would instead pass to “a man after [God’s] own heart.” (1 Samuel 13:14)

Questions to ponder or discuss: How was King Saul’s response when confronted with his sin similar to that of Adam and Eve when God confronted them after they had eaten the forbidden fruit?

Copyright 2018 by Don Davidson

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Beyond Blind Faith: Reasons for the Hope We Have (1 Peter 3:15):




Why Reasonable People Should Consider Christianity


Stories of the Faithful (with some church history)


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Understanding the Old Testament


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