We left off chapter twelve with a solemn warning from Samuel: even with a king, Israel could prevail if they obeyed God, but if she disobeyed, both the nation and its king would perish. We noted in that chapter that this particular nation under this particular king would have a very difficult time with obedience. Chapter 13 reveals not only just how much this was the case, but also how quickly Saul dove into disobedience and was subsequently rejected by God from being king. The path to this rejection and its consequences hold important lessons for us today as well.
We will see Saul’s disobedience in regard to one particular test of his faith, but just as importantly we will see it also in more general notes that appear in the narrative. He fails by usurping the role of the priest and making sacrifices to God. For this he will earn the explicit denunciation of God coming through Samuel. But we will also see him acting like a pagan king in attempting to secure his own throne. We will also see him fail in protecting his country as the Philistines subjugate them culturally and politically through disarmament. Why Saul never addressed this problem is a very good question—one which may in fact condemn him just as roundly as Samuel’s pronouncement.
While the translation of 13:1 is difficult, the meaning is not so much: this was very early in Saul’s reign. The point is that all of the failures which follow in the narrative took place within a year or two of Saul’s ascension to the throne. He wasted no time in allowing his self-centeredness and other deficiencies to manifest and characterize his reign.
The imperial guard
The first thing Saul does is to create a standing army—something we have noted several times is contrary to God’s Law for kings (Deut. 17:16; 20:1–9). The battle with the Ammonites was over. Their threat was gone. The 330,000 soldiers mustered for that battle were no longer needed. Saul sends most of them back home. But instead of sending them all home, he selects 3,000 to remain as a continuing force.
This decision seems like a small thing when we compare the size of the force Saul retained to the numbers present before. It is less than one percent, and thus hardly seems like an infraction on Saul’s behalf when judged this way. Perhaps Saul could have even appealed to the spirit of the Law as opposed to the letter: he might have rationalized that the Law merely intended to prevent the monarchy from becoming an oppressive force, and a tiny army of 3,000 could hardly be an oppressive force in a nation which could supply a few hundred thousand to withstand it if necessary. But disobedience is disobedience. Nor was it devoid of possible negative consequences. Not only could the small standing force be a precedent for larger ones to come, it was also a temptation to engage in unnecessary military hostilities.
But the smallness of this small force is even more telling: 3,000 soldiers was too small a force to engage in large scale warfare (the kind Saul had just led against Nahash), to use for expanding the empire, or even to act as a deterrent to other would-be invaders (like the Philistines). Yet it seems far larger than needed for mere personal defense of the King. Saul’s reasoning is not given here directly, but this appears to be the erection of an ostentatious imperial guard. The fact that he led two thirds and gave the other thousand to his son, the apparent heir to the throne, seems to indicate the same. This was not about national defense or mere self-defense. This was about building up a palace that exhibited the greatness of the great reign of Saul.
Attack on Geba
What happens next illustrates the danger of the standing army. Jonathan, who is as faithful and zealous as they come, takes his thousand imperial guardsmen and leads an impromptu raid against a Philistine post in Geba. After all, if you have a standing army, the temptation is to use it. Even Jonathan falls into this temptation. The consequences would not be good.
While I admit this interpretation may seem a bit of a stretch, this is only on the surface. Consider: the defeat of the Philistines in 1 Samuel 7 was decisive. After that Israelite victory we are told that
the Philistines were subdued and did not again enter the territory of Israel. And the hand of the LORD was against the Philistines all the days of Samuel. The cities that the Philistines had taken from Israel were restored to Israel, from Ekron to Gath, and Israel delivered their territory from the hand of the Philistines (1 Sam. 7:13–14).
If this were true, then whatever presence the Philistines may have had within the land of Israel in 1 Samuel 13 could not have been too large and thus not much of a threat. Indeed, the translation “garrison” itself is not necessarily certain. In 1 Kings 4:19, the same Hebrew word is used to refer merely to an individual of some representative authority or rank. It is quite possible that this “garrison” was merely some kind of embassy or at best the residue of a previous military establishment that was now merely a symbolic presence after the subjugation of the Philistines.
If you look on a map at the cities mentioned so far, you will understand the setting even better. Saul was in Michmash, with Jonathan farther to the southwest in Gibeah. Jonathan leads a raid upon the Philistine “garrison”/remnant in Geba (this is probably the same “hill of the Lord” mentioned in 10:5). Geba is on a line halfway between Michmash and Gibeah. This means that the Philistine remnant was still standing well within Israelite territory—northeast of the area Jonathan was occupying, and even farther inland than the border cities of Ekron and Gath mentioned in 7:13–14. It is very likely that Jonathan, in patriotic zeal at this early point, looked upon even this remnant as too much to allow. It had to be wiped out. Jonathan and Saul had the enemy surrounded, and they had the force on hand. Why not wipe out the last vestige of Philistine presence among them? This is what Jonathan did.
But when the text says the Philistines heard of it, it means more than the mere spread of news. The implication is that they were very displeased at an, and probably immediately began amassing forces for a response. This is why Saul responded to Jonathan’s victory by blowing the trumpet (13:3): he knew the Philistines would respond, and he was trying to raise an army to meet them.
Further illustrating Saul’s self-centeredness, Saul takes credit for Jonathan’s victory (13:4). In addition, Saul’s seems to think his call would be answered just as enthusiastically as it had been before when in opposition to the Ammonites (11:8). But the people had also now heard that the Philistines were utterly disgusted with Israel. They were apparently all the more afraid. This time we are not told of 330,000 Israelites turning out. We are later told that Saul was left with only 600 soldiers. Many deserted Saul (13:8), including many of his elite 3,000. These were obviously not enthusiastic fighters committed to the cause.
But a weak response and a small, half-hearted army was only one side of Saul’s surprise. The other side was that the Philistines showed up with just the opposite: a force of unprecedented and unimaginable proportions: 30,000 chariots and 6,000 infantry in addition to foot soldiers innumerable. The Philistines stood here in the land of Israel as the Israelites should have been, but were not in this confrontation: like the sand of the seashore in multitude (13:5). The Israelites trusted in their outward appearances and outward measures of strength for the fulfillment of the promises of God—that is, their new government. But now God was showing them that apart from faithfulness these promises would not be had. Instead, even the enemy could inherit the blessings before Israel.
Saul’s surprise was Israel’s as well. Although, honestly, none of this should have come as any shock, for Israel had been forewarned on numerous occasions, one of the latest being recorded just in the last chapter. Nevertheless, for the fallen man, self-centered and set upon his own agenda, even the most obvious and most predictable repercussions against his will come as a surprise. And when the shock comes, fear comes with it. Thus, verses 6–7 tell us that the people who followed Saul were distressed, hid in caves, etc., some fled, and all were trembling. Disobedient Israel was gripped in the fear bred by unfaithfulness once again.
No rest for the wicked
Saul’s next failure also relates to God’s Law-boundaries: he usurped the role of the priests by offering sacrifices. Apparently, Samuel had appointed a set time upon the seventh day of which he would meet Saul and preside over the offerings to the Lord (13:8). This, of course, carries with it Sabbath imagery. Should Saul obey, God would bless him and establish the kingdom forever (13:13)—a type of eternal rest. Should he reject God’s commands, there would be no such rest.
It seems like a small test, but for Saul it was too much. The Philistines had amassed their monstrous forces nearby. The seventh day arrived, dragged on, and yet Samuel was nowhere in sight. Things looked so bleak that men began to desert (13:8). Saul snapped—no doubt thinking he was taking initiative in the style of good leadership. He had likely read John Maxwell.
But the minute Saul crossed the line, judgment appeared in the form of Samuel. Saul knew he had failed, but now moved to justify his offense. He did so brazenly and with a series of rationalizations—two approaches Samuel never falls for. So often is pride followed by poor judgment, and poor judgment by self-justification.
Saul’s brazenness is seen in that despite clearly defying the Law of God, he rushes out to greet Samuel. Unlike Adam who hid in shame after his transgression, Saul tried to put on the happy face as if nothing had happened. All is well, Samuel, we’re still best buds. But Samuel knew something was up, and asked very directly, “What have you done?” As Samuel consistently has done, he is not concerned with the outward appearance of things, or with pragmatic compromises or explanations. He is concerned about faithfulness.
But Saul’s response is just the opposite. He knows he’s been caught; Samuel saw through his façade. But instead of repenting, Saul manufactures a series of rationalizations for publicly defying God’s Law. The classic commentator Matthew Henry notes that these come as three distinct arguments: prudence, piety, and reluctant duty. In the first instance, Saul essentially blames Samuel: the prophet-priest had not shown up in a timely fashion according to his word. Because of Samuel’s alleged dereliction, the soldiers began to desert, the Philistines approached, and Saul had no choice: the only prudent action was to take up the duty where Samuel had failed, else the Israelites faced certain peril.
Secondly, Saul moves to show himself as devout and pious. The enemy with massive force encroached very near, and Saul, summoning the best he could remember from Sunday school, recalled that it is the Lord who fights Israel’s battles. So Saul noted, I have not sought the favor of the Lord. Thus he reasoned: Samuel has not shown, but someone must court the favor of the Lord. In this, he not only repeated the implication that it was Samuel’s fault, but he also exhibited a pharisaical view of the sacrifices and God’s favor. This is a works-based, and thus magical, view: if I just perform this sacrificial ceremony or ritual, God will automatically look upon me with favor. More than anything, however, it was a pious front. Saul was giving a religious justification for his disobedience. Imagine that: using the name of God as cover for disobeying God.
Finally, Saul tries to absolve himself by arguing that he only did these disobedient acts reluctantly, against his conscience, and out of a sense of duty. I forced myself, was his appeal. In other words, he would never have done this except under the most extreme of circumstances, and even then he only did so reluctantly. But in this, no matter how reasonable and religious sounding, all Saul ends up proving is that he knew better: his conscience told him not to do it, and yet he did it anyway.
All three of these excuses fall under the heading of the same single principle: necessity. Saul knew it was wrong, he knew it was unlawful, he knew Samuel would not approve, he knew God would not approve, and he knew he was acting against even his own conscience. What could overcome all of these spiritual and psychological forces? The appeal to necessity. By this Saul could argue he had no other choice. On such a foundation, Saul could erect all of his more specific arguments, the sum total of which is that under some circumstances, it is necessary to break God’s Law in order to survive, or in order to defend the country. So easily is God’s Law set aside in the name of national defense, or political urgency. An unstated presupposition here is that what man judges to be necessary, God must also approve as acceptable. This is assumed to be true even if what is judged necessary runs counter to God’s Law. In short, then, the assumption is that God will set aside His Law whenever we deem it necessary. Reduced to this most concise logical form, the argument reveals such a list of excuses for what it really is: self-worship, idolatry, humanism, and indeed, blasphemy.
The kingdom lost
Samuel responds immediately on these exact terms: Saul has acted foolishly (13:13). The word is chosen purposefully. It is a word too many Christians use improperly, but on the other extreme, too many are afraid of in general. Biblical foolishness is not mere senselessness as judged by men, nor acting against the prevailing establishment of military or political prudence as so many conservatives and Christians would mistakenly define it today. Biblical foolishness is simply what Samuel goes on to say: You have not kept the command of the Lord your God, with which he commanded you (13:13). Biblical foolishness is simply disobedience of God’s commandments.
Further, biblically-defined foolishness is true foolishness because it has both the legal-theological standard involved as well as negative practical consequences. As Samuel told Saul: if he had obeyed, God would have established the kingdom with him forever (a proper “establishment”!), but now it would not continue. Modern proponents of compromise in the name of political necessity ought to consider these things: the only absolute necessity is obedience to God’s Law. It is not foolish to stand against all current political trends in faithfulness to that Law, and people who do so should not be called shameful or idiots—especially by other Christians. Rather, it is biblically foolish to make such an unbiblical compromise; this is unlawful and will indeed lead to the very negative social consequences which the compromisers claim they wish to prevent with their compromises. Saul learned this the hard way, as have many modern supporters of Sauls as well.
Thus Saul learns that he has been rejected from being king. He has failed, and he will be replaced by another king—this time, a man after His own heart (13:14). This of course refers to David, who will appear to everyone’s surprise in chapter 16. Saul now had to address his immediate situation consciously deprived of everything he originally pretended to have. He had no prudence, as he was proven a fool. He had no favor of God, for God had just taken the kingdom from him. And from here on out he knew he could neither trust his own conscience nor bring himself to obey it if he could. In representation of all of this, Samuel the man of God departs the scene.
What follows in this narrative are further illustrations of the loss of the kingdom and of Saul’s mismanagement of it to begin with. We are brought to view the weakness of Saul’s force at this point. As we noted, earlier he could raise 330,000, but here he is left with but 600. This is not proof of ungodliness in itself, for God often delivers through small forces, or as we shall see in the next chapter, merely an individual or two. But here it parallels the great fall of Saul: he who was so successful through humanistic means at first has at last come to receive the true rewards of his methods. He who trusted in numbers and not God must now go face the enemy deprived of both.
Saul also now found himself in a position completely backwards from the beginning of this narrative. Then he was residing in Michmash and Jonathan at Gibeah. Jonathan moved and took the Philistine garrison between them in Geba. But now in verse 16 we learn that both Saul and Jonathan along with all of their forces were holed up in the former Philistine post. Meanwhile, the Philistines had moved farther inland and taken what Saul formerly possessed: Michmash. Whereas Saul and Jonathan had the Philistines surrounded before, the tables seem to have turned. One more image of Saul being dispossessed of the kingdom, and Israel along with her king.
From this situation, the enemy made quick guerilla advances against them. From the camp in Michmash, the places mentioned—Ophrah, Beth-Horon, and the Valley of Zeboim—represent all directions. In other words, the Philistines intended a thorough invasion and raid throughout all of Israel. Their plans will be foiled in the next chapter, but it would not come through Saul. At this point, the Israelites expected nothing but ruin. Against these forces, Saul was now impotent. For all of his head-taller-than-thou command presence and initial success, he had proven only to be an utter reject and failure of a civil ruler.
The kingdom disarmed
Saul’s broader political failure is most visible in that the entire nation of Israel at this point was disarmed. There were neither arms nor blacksmiths—the means of arms production—throughout all the land of Israel. And it is clear why. Like any tyrant, the Philistines feared an armed populace: for the Philistines said, “Lest the Hebrews make themselves swords or spears” (13:19).
Determining when exactly this policy had been imposed turns out to be important. It seems unlikely that the Philistines imposed this so quickly after they had just assembled in Michmash. They would have had to scour the entire land and round up every blacksmith and weapon. This would have been a nearly impossible feat of both intelligence and logistics in such a short time. This means that the policy had to have been implemented earlier. But the only prior time such a policy could have been imposed was under the Philistine oppression which had ended with the battle of Mizpah/Ebenezer in chapter 7. After that the Philistines never occupied Israel again. Prior to this seems to be the only likely time during which the Philistines could have imposed universal arms control in Israel.
But this means that Israel had remained disarmed even after chapter 7 and up until this point. This leaves us with two difficult questions. First, how did Saul’s forces rout the Ammonites in chapter 11 if Israel had no arms? There is no divine intervention mentioned there. The only other possibility is that the Israelites used their bare hands or farm implements in battle. Were God’s people really once a pitchfork mob? I don’t know the answer to this question.
The second question raised by Israel remaining disarmed between chapters 7 and 13 is why their great military leader Saul allowed them to stay that way. The most likely answer is that the total eradication of blacksmiths had meant also the total loss of the knowledge and skill of that profession throughout the land. Not only were there no smiths left, there was no one to train up a new generation of them. Even this scenario, however, would not have been irremediable. Blacksmithing would have been an easily importable technology. Why was this route neglected? Why was the Philistine monopoly on blacksmithing allowed to keep the Israeli populace in subjugation for tooling as well as disarmed?
The conspiratorial implications of the question are too suggestive to ignore: is it possible that Saul wanted the populace to remain unarmed? Knowing that he has been motivated by fear and selfishness, and seeing this recently manifest in the selection of a standing imperial guard, it is certainly not out of the picture. As we will see in future lessons, Saul lives in continual fear that he will be unseated. He takes defensive measures and even commits crimes including mass murder of his own people in an effort to secure or to exhibit the supremacy of his throne in Israel. It seems to me that such a ruler would not mind at all if his own people remained unable to defend themselves. It would have benefited him. While the measure had been imposed by the Philistines, Saul was in no hurry to undo it. Both parties enjoyed it for the same reason: without Second Amendment rights, the people could not resist the yoke of a tyrannical government. Disarmament is perfectly in concert with the warnings of tyranny in 1 Samuel 8, though not explicitly stated. Saul was showing that he was indeed a king like those of the pagan nations. Indeed, he would continue their explicit policies. He was no different than them.
We are told that the Philistines were charging the Israelites to sharpen their implements. This was a profitable little monopoly for some Philistine bureaucrat. Putting all of this together, it is possible that this is why Jonathan led an impromptu raid against the Philistine “garrison” (rather “post” or “office”) at Geba. Was this the place where the sharpening was done and the fees collected? Why else would an otherwise subdued Philistia retain an office here? This would also say much more about Saul’s administration: when he should have addressed this outstanding issue diplomatically, he failed. Instead, zealous young Jonathan took up the charge in the stead of his father, but in a rather reckless way.
Saul’s political priorities were far out of place. Instead of securing and defending his own people, he was already working to secure and defend only his own house. He and Jonathan both still had swords, but no one else did. Saul would not move to undo the tyrannies imposed by other parties. Instead, he would leave them in place for his own benefit. But as Samuel had warned: if the nation was disobedient, it would perish along with its king. So here the chapter ends, with Saul’s pitiful, unarmed, defenseless force of 600 having to face 30,000 Philistine chariots and 6,000 infantry. And the day of battle was at hand.
In our next sermon, you will see once again that the battle is the Lord’s, and that He works through the faithful remnant despite the failures of the godless establishment. The only hope in the midst of a government like Saul’s and a world of Philistines is God’s grace and the works which He has prepared that His faithful ones perform. When that time comes, we must be encouraged and emboldened to act according to those works. In the meantime, we need to learn from the failures of Saul’s godless administration.
We can summarize the lessons in this narrative under the same general principle: whereas civil government is supposed to be the servant of God, the godless state will seek to replace God and to be God. Hypocritical governments and leaders who wear the name of God on the surface are even worse. Godless states make it clear they are the enemy to be thrown off. Hypocritical, civic-religion states are just as much the enemy, but preach and demand otherwise. Saul exemplified these problems in ancient Israel, but we are hardly free from them today.
1. Gun control is for the godless and hypocrites
All godless regimes will seek to arm themselves but deny arms for the people. By “godless” here I include both those officially atheistic or secular humanist as well as those parties and politicians who retain a legacy of being “Christian” or religious in some way yet are devoid of a biblical worldview in substance. In other words, I also include the hypocrites under the heading “godless.” All such political organizations will in practice (even if not in word) favor gun control laws. It is the nature of the beast. Regimes that wish genuinely to protect the people will uphold their God-given right to defense, and thus to arms. Those which have any other view will eventually attempt to disarm the people for some reason or other—usually so that a ruling elite can reign unchallenged from the threat of armed revolt.
Christians should be aware that the use of force, even lethal force, in preservation of life is a biblical doctrine and upheld by the Law of God (Ex. 22:2–3; Prov. 24:10–12; Est. 8–9; Neh. 4; cp. John 15:13–14). Likewise, those who possessed weapons in Scripture are often said to be well skilled in the use of them (Judg. 20:15–16; 1 Chron. 12:1–2, 21–22). We can only surmise that 1) God gave them talent in this regard, and that 2) they engaged in target practice regularly.
What is true for individuals is virtually the same corporately in civil society. Not surprisingly, then, the idea of Christian society having an armed, skilled populace has deep historical roots. Alfred the Great codified the laws of England in the 9th Century, often resorting to biblical Law in order to do so (where he departed from biblical Law, the integrity of his famous law code is quite poor). Alfred applied the Deuteronomic laws of kings that forbad a standing army (Deut. 17), and as a result developed a national defense based on a militia raised from an armed citizenry:
By the Saxon laws, every freeman of an age capable of bearing arms, and not incapacitated by any bodily infirmity, was in case of a foreign invasion, internal insurrection, or other emergency, obliged to join the army. . . .
Every landholder was obliged to keep armor and weapons according to his rank and possessions; these he might neither sell, lend, nor pledge, nor even alienate from his heirs. In order to instruct them in the use of arms, they had their stated times for performing their military exercise; and once in a year, usually in the spring, there was a general review of arms, throughout each county.
The same relationship existed in Virginia and Massachusetts in the 1600s, and still prevailed during the period of the American Revolution. It was derived from the Christians elements in English common law and was enshrined as such in the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The Christian society emerging from the old laws of Alfred continued to include the ideal of an armed populace as a means of securing human liberties. The American constitutional framers, many of them lawyers, had studied that legal tradition and would have read William Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England (1765–1769). The first part of the first volume elaborates on the subject of our “principal absolute rights . . . of personal security, personal liberty, and private property [i.e. life, liberty, and property].” It then covers five means of securing and protecting these rights “inviolate”:
The fifth and last auxiliary right of the subject, that I shall at present mention, is that of having arms for their defence, suitable to their condition and degree, and such as are allowed by law. Which is also declared by the same statute I W. & M. st.2. c.2. and is indeed a public allowance, under due restrictions, of the natural right of resistance and self-preservation, when the sanctions of society and laws are found insufficient to restrain the violence of oppression.
Note that the Second Amendment is not rooted in the right to hunt or target shoot. It is not even about mere self-defense. It is about self-preservation extended to the scenario where the ordinary means of protection (that is, the civil government) is not sufficient to prevent oppression. In other words, the right to bear arms is the right to fight back against oppressive governments. The people naturally have and should exercise this right to the same degree their government does, and beyond.
From this it should be quite clear why would-be tyrants move especially for gun control laws before much else. An armed populace always presents the end to tyrannical and socialistic plans. Without this obstacle removed, there shall be no domination, no subjugation of the people, no elite-directed utopia.
It is equally important to note not only the origin and nature of gun controls, but the parties interested in imposing them. In Israel’s case, both the Philistines and, it appears, their own establishment desired them. We must, first, not be surprised by this, and second, learn a lesson from it. Even those so-called conservatives today, including some who pay major lip-service to the Second Amendment, are quite capable of secretly favoring gun controls, compromising in favor of them, and working to ensure the slow erosion of our rights in the name of national security. Without question, many Christians are simply scared of guns, misunderstand them, or are swayed by liberal thinking into favoring gun control measures of many types. This is true without question of the mainline liberal denominations, but is increasingly true also among general evangelical bodies as well. These groups are large and have growing numbers of feminist women and effeminate males (I will not to call these “men”). They discern things only emotionally and, as such, often shrink in fear at things that go “bang.” They then judge those things to be evil due to the fact that their whole bodies (beginning at the wrist) shivered limply at just the thought of report and recoil. Worse yet, they never even really consider home defense, tyrannies, or militias; the thought of bleeding Bambi was enough to convince them God would not approve.
Such forces will readily join with liberal leftists and statist neoconservatives to erode and destroy the right to bear arms. Those who wish to maintain the biblical worldview will do good to recognize them in their own party first. Those among the leftists are obvious and easy to bring ourselves to oppose. Those with the Republican Party, however, for example, are more dangerous. They may still speak the message of Constitution and liberty, God and country, but at the same time will team up with the left to deliver crushing blows to those very ideals. Again, the hypocrites are much more dangerous than the open enemies. The Christian will remember that these rights are God-given, not state-given. This will lead them to certain questions that need to be asked and answered.
2. Get your priorities straight
One of those questions is about political priorities. These will determine how rulers rule and legislators legislate, and also how citizens vote and communicate with their leaders. In all cases, no matter what the issue, we must remain like Samuel: perfectly intent upon strict obedience to God’s Law. Nothing else should suffice for us as the ultimate goal.
This means that we will have to take some stands during the course of our own political timelines. We saw Saul living through a time in which his people were disarmed, yet he did nothing about it. Instead, he was building an elite guard for himself. His priorities were out of order. In our own time, there are professing Christians in error and even hypocritical forces who embrace compromise too readily in the name of some promised political victory. The compromise always materializes, but the victories rarely do.
Political compromises almost always favor the godless. Some people speak of the lesser of two evils way too loosely. They rarely consider the fact that both evils may in fact be far too evil for any Christian to entertain to begin with. A compromise in such a situation is not a small step to victory; it is another big step to long-term defeat. There is a time to take a stand otherwise, even if it means losing an election or suffering some other form of political defeat. This is difficult to do, and in fact, it separates men from boys. There are two types of people who lust for victory no matter the cost: one group will accept any fleeting victory no matter that the cost is of their principles and integrity. The second will fight only for the victory of God’s principles at the cost of popularity and personal prestige. This is the group of men.
3. Civic (magical) religion is a destructive failure
Perhaps the centerpiece of this narrative is Saul’s failure with the sacrifices. He could not pass the test even of Samuel’s mere delay, so he presumed upon the role of the priest and offered the sacrifice to God. We noted how Saul used a pious argument to justify his failure: God’s favor was needed and somebody had to go about the sacrificing, didn’t they? We also noted how this act and argument revealed Saul’s view of his religion to be mechanical and thus magical.
This problem plagues us just as much today, even among so-called “grace not works” evangelicals. It is exacerbated in the social arena. Christians all agree that stealing is wrong, yet tax-funded, compulsory attendance public schools are considered not only necessary, but a great mission field by many Christians. Somehow the mere presence of Christians within this corrupt system is supposed to leaven it and liven it into a healthy, robust environment for pagan and Christian children alike. This is magical thinking.
Many Christians treat the political sphere in general in the same way. If we can just study the right demographics, we can elect the right guy. And if we can just elect this right guy, we will have freedom and sanity in government again. This is magical thinking, and it ignores the one thing that all magical thinking ignores: the Law of God. Magical thinking is the attempt to achieve individual goals by manipulating the environment in some way—just the right way. It always fails, even when the right demographics and the right candidate all fall into place. And the reason it fails is the same reason Samuel told Saul that the kingdom was lost to him: failure to uphold God’s Law. God’s social order is judicial and ethical according to His Word, not mystical and mechanical according to tweaks and manipulations made by man. All of Saul’s political and religious rationalizations meant nothing and prospered nothing at this point. The basic reality was that he refused to obey God, and God refused to give him the favor he wanted. The same is true today: the more we try to achieve political means apart from God’s Law, the more we will fail, and the more we will hear various rationalizations from our political leaders. Christians must be prepared to respond to them, “You have done foolishly. You have not kept the commandment of the Lord you God.” Start here and get serious about it, or else understand that you shall lose the battle and the war sooner or later. In short, your priority if God’s Word. This holds true for politics, too. So get your priorities straight.
4. Civil disobedience
A final point that we will only touch on here is that sometimes the situation calls for Christians to engage in civil disobedience. We’ll visit this at more length in the next chapter, but it first raises its head here. The Philistines had disarmed the people, yet we learn that Saul and Jonathan were yet armed. From Saul’s perspective, we can surely understand this as royal prerogative, or reason of state; but from Jonathan we may understand it also as a zealous case of civil disobedience as well.
The issue was disarmament, which we have seen is very keenly an infraction of biblical rights. Yet Saul had done nothing. The prevailing law of the land was the practice of the Philistine oppression. Jonathan disobeyed, and as we shall see next time, he used this very issue as a means of frightening the entire Philistine army into retreat.
This highlights the biblical view of the relationship between church and state: the Word of God must rule both, and when the state ignores God’s Law, Christians have a right to obey God and not the state. This was the view of the New Testament Apostles who famously argued, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). Jonathan held this view. It means that sometimes civil disobedience is necessary. The necessity is not to be judged by the whims of man, but by the Word of God. Civil disobedience is a reality, but it is never justified if it goes against God’s Word. But this means also that sometimes, God’s Word may require civil disobedience as it goes against the state.
There is more we could say in application, particularly in regard to the types of rationalizations Saul gives for his defiance of God’s Law, and also in regard to the nature of his defiance as blasphemy. We will save this for when we cover his even more robust rebellion in chapter 15.
In the big picture, the question is one of priorities. This question will be answered at the levels of both the individual and the society. Who is God? Who represents this God? What is His Law? What are His remedies and sanctions? Who shall inherit? Our views of safety, defense, tyranny, freedom, political priorities, and religious devotion itself will be shaped by the way we answer those questions. Let us answer them like Samuel, not Saul. Let us live faithfully despite both Saul and Philistine.
 The literal Hebrew could mean that Saul was only one year old when he began to reign. If so, this would most likely be counting from the point in time at which Saul became a “new man” (1 Sam. 10:6). But the text could also mean that Saul was one year into his reign, and now in the second year, the following events took place.
 Francis Grose, Military Antiquities Respecting a History of the British Army, from the Conquest to the Present Time, 2 vol. (London: Egerton and Kearsley, 1801), 1:1–2.
 William Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England, 4 vol., 1:139.