Sabbatical 2017

Sabbatical 2017
Arc de Triumph

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Canonical Reading Plan for Mar 30, 1 Sam 13-14

Today's readings are 1 Sam 13-14.

Through his son Jonathan, Saul wins a decisive military victory against the Philistines at Geba, leading Israel to sing the praises of Saul (1 Sam 13:1-4). This causes the Philistines to muster a huge force and prepare for an all-out war with Israel (1 Sam 13:5).

The Hebrews respond by running scared. Israel's mood has changed with breathtaking speed. Under their new king they have moved from heady victory to trembling, cowering in caves and escaping across the river (1 Sam 13:6-7). These events are harbingers of Saul’s downfall.

Desperate to reunite his people, Saul performs a sacrifice at Gilgal (1 Sam 13:9-9), rather than waiting for Samuel as he had been instructed to do in 1 Sam 10:8. When Samuel arrives and sees what Saul has done, he prophesies that the new king’s reign will not be enduring (1 Sam 13:14). Saul’s struggle seems to be that he views his royal position as having the prerogative to act independently from God, or in this case, God’s prophet Samuel. Saul doesn’t understand that he is actually a “prince” in God’s eyes (1 Sam 9:16; 10:1), one who serves the true King. Saul believes he is in charge!

As if to emphasize his independence, Saul immediately numbers his men as he prepares for war (1 Sam 13:15). Note that God did not instruct Saul to do this. Saul’s desire to know the size of his group is an early peek at his pride and a clear indication that he is acting apart from God and Samuel.

Saul is not only outnumbered by the Philistines, but they also have superior weapons. Furthermore, having control over the amount of iron Saul has for spears and swords, they are aware of their advantage over Israel’s army (1 Sam 13:19-22). The Philistines take position over a crucial pass at Michmash (1 Sam 13:23), very near Geba, the site of the initial Philistine defeat.

While Saul hides in a cave (1 Sam 14:2) Jonathan and his armor bearer, trusting in God to guide and empower them, scale a cliff and fight the Philistines (1 Sam 14:3-16).

As their victory becomes apparent, but not before, Saul and all those who initially ran and hid join the attack (1 Sam 14:16-22). It seems everyone wants to share in the victory, but no one was interested in the possibility of defeat.

These are the cliffs at Geba and Michmash. Jonathan would have had to climb down the sheer wall of the far cliff and back up the even steeper, closer one. Having successfully completed the near-impossible climb, Jonathan relied on God for the outcome of the battle.

The author rightly gives credit for the victory to neither Jonathan nor Saul but to God (1 Sam 14:23).

A serious flaw in character has been unearthed in Saul. He is willing to compromise to remain king but can be fearful of fulfilling the duties of a king. He also seems comfortable taking credit for the efforts and work of others. We also see as we have before, that Saul has to be repeatedly prompted before inquiring of the Lord (1 Sam 14:36-37). Apparently, prayer is not among his first options, but self-reliance and self-determinism are.

We also see a strong indication that Saul is a man pleaser when he relents of making a foolish vow (1 Sam 14:24) when he encounters the objections of his people (1 Sam 14:43-46).

Israel does not entirely defeat the Philistines. Yet, Saul enjoys victories over other enemies of Israel (1 Sam 14:47-48). Throughout his career, Saul will have some success in building and strengthening his army but will be unable to overcome the Philistines (1 Sam 14:52). That victory will have to wait for another king.

Ultimately, Saul’s downfall will come not from the way he handles his people and his armies.  He’s a decent strategist and commander. No, his comeuppance will result from his neglect of God’s word.

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