Fear before faith
Saul has been installed as King and has gathered a small army (2000 with him and 1000 with his son Jonathan). Jonathan attacked a Philistine outpost and the Philistines responded with a massive counter-attack. The news went out to Israel: "Saul has attacked the Philistines and become a stench to them". Saul and his army waited for the men of Israel to come to their aid, but the men, seeing the impossible odds, hid in caves and fled across the border....
Saul remained at Gilgal, and all the troops with him were quaking with fear. 8 He waited seven days, the time set by Samuel; but Samuel did not come to Gilgal, and Saul's men began to scatter. 9 So he said, "Bring me the burnt offering and the fellowship offerings. " And Saul offered up the burnt offering. 10 Just as he finished making the offering, Samuel arrived, and Saul went out to greet him.
11 "What have you done?" asked Samuel. (1Samuel13:7-11)
One has some measure of sympathy for Saul. His little army of 3000 is faced with the Philistine army which has 3000 chariots, 6000 charioteers and soldiers "as numerous as the sand on the seashore." He is completely and utterly outnumbered.
And Samuel is late!
And Saul's soldiers are beginning to leave...
So Saul calls for the appropriate offerings and fellowship offerings and offers them up himself.
This is a presumptuous move fuelled by desperation and a desire to save face in the eyes of his troops.
I have a measure of sympathy for Saul - I am the kind of person who is good at improvising when circumstances change. I think about alternatives and try to come up with the most efficient solutions. But there are some lines that mustn't be crossed...
Saul's end (receiving God's blessing for the battle) didn't justify the means (presumptously taking over Samuel's role).
By his actions Saul indicates that:
- He assumed that Samuel wasn't coming and that Samuel didn't care
- He worried more about departing soldiers than he trusted God
- He believed that he was worthy/entitled to offer the sacrifices
It's a classic case of fear before faith and Samuel summarises it well: "You acted foolishly," Samuel said. "You have not kept the command the LORD your God gave you; if you had, he would have established your kingdom over Israel for all time. 14 But now your kingdom will not endure; the LORD has sought out a man after his own heart and appointed him leader of his people, because you have not kept the LORD's command."