Why Did God Reject The Heroic, Tall and Brave King Saul? #238
Hello friends and Happy Friday to you. We are on the verge of another weekend, time is flying and the world is burning. I guess that’s ok, because it is not our permanent home now, is it? Our Bible readings for the day include 1 Samuel 13, Jeremiah 50, Psalms 28-29 and Romans 11. We have glossed over the issue of predestination a bit as we’ve travelled through Romans this time, but I do want to point you to an excellent podcast that discusses how pastor John Piper deals with Romans 9. It is short and sweet and powerful, and worth grappling with. Check it out here: https://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/how-did-john-piper-become-a-calvinist
I think we will be back in Romans tomorrow, but for today, we will remain in 1st Samuel and ask a very important question about Saul, who was the first king of Israel. As we’ve seen with Saul over the past few days, he seems like a pretty decent guy at first. He is tall and powerful, but also fairly humble and self-effacing. He seems to have a great amount of respect for Samuel, the man of God. He is brave, and a good leader in battle, and we can possibly conclude that he was a good father, because his son Jonathan, David’s best friend, seems like a great guy. Unfortunately, we get to a bad situation here in 1 Samuel 13, and it is going to be difficult to fully understand the situation, because it seems like we are missing a pretty big chunk of context. Let’s read 1 Samuel 13, and then see if we can fill in some of the missing context, and discuss what exactly Saul did that caused God to reject him as king.
Let’s put on our detective’s hat, shall we? Samuel had given Saul the order to wait for seven days – and then Samuel would come to him and offer burnt offerings on his behalf. You might have forgotten that, because we read it a couple of days ago, but it was right there in 1 Samuel 10:8, “Afterward, go ahead of me to Gilgal. I will come to you to offer burnt offerings and to sacrifice fellowship offerings. Wait seven days until I come to you and show you what to do.” Saul, however, got rash and impatient and scared because things were desperate, and he went ahead without Samuel and offered the sacrifices himself:
8 He waited seven days for the appointed time that Samuel had set, but Samuel didn’t come to Gilgal, and the troops were deserting him. 9 So Saul said, “Bring me the burnt offering and the fellowship offerings.” Then he offered the burnt offering. 10 Just as he finished offering the burnt offering, Samuel arrived. So Saul went out to greet him, 11 and Samuel asked, “What have you done?” Saul answered, “When I saw that the troops were deserting me and you didn’t come within the appointed days and the Philistines were gathering at Michmash, 12 I thought, ‘The Philistines will now descend on me at Gilgal, and I haven’t sought the Lord’s favor.’ So I forced myself to offer the burnt offering.” 13 Samuel said to Saul, “You have been foolish. You have not kept the command the Lord your God gave you. It was at this time that the Lord would have permanently established your reign over Israel, 14 but now your reign will not endure. The Lord has found a man after his own heart, and the Lord has appointed him as ruler over his people, because you have not done what the Lord commanded.”
1 Samuel 13:8-14
What’s the big deal? Yes, Saul didn’t do what he was told, but he did try to please God by offering up a burnt offering and doing a religious thing, so God should be at least somewhat happy with that, right? Isn’t God pleased with us when we do religious things? Well, actually, as Samuel will tell us in a couple of chapters:
“Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices,
as in obeying the voice of the Lord?
Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice,
and to listen than the fat of rams.
23 For rebellion is as the sin of divination,
and presumption is as iniquity and idolatry.
Because you have rejected the word of the Lord,
he has also rejected you from being king.”
1 Samuel 15:22-23
Samuel tells Saul this after he AGAIN disregarded the word of the Lord and tried to do something that seemed best in his own eyes. Saul would develop a pattern in his life of doing that over and over again – doing what was right in his own eyes, rather than following the command of God, and it would ultimately lead to his downfall. Indeed, Saul would commit the sin of divination and attempting to speak to the dead before all was said and done.
Other than the fact that God commanded Saul (through Samuel) to wait for Samuel to make the sacrifices, what was so bad about Saul doing it? The answer is deep, maybe a little complicated, and as profound and important as an Old Testament question could be. With two* exceptions in the Bible, no king was allowed to perform the duties of the priest. This was the Bible version of the separation between church and state. Let’s listen to Tim Keller tell us about the two different roles of king and priest and why they were separate in all but two named king-priests:
The Lord has sworn
and will not change his mind,
“You are a priest forever
after the order of Melchizedek.” Psalms 110:4
People who read Psalm 110 when it was new, before the time of Jesus and during the time of Jesus, would have been shocked by this. Why? Because in Israel, kings were not priests, and priests were not kings. No one was allowed to do sacrifices in the temple (or the tabernacle before that) unless you were a Levite or a priest. It was illegal.
The fact that kings and priests had different jobs was not simply just a technical difference. The calling of kings and the calling of priests, you might say the office, the very mission of kings and priests, were almost the opposite. Kings represented God to the people. Priests represented the people to God. Kings were coming from God to the people. Kings ruled in the place of God. Kings were figures of strength and judgment, because kings enforced the law of God in Israel. If you disobeyed the law of God, you were punished.
So kings were figures of strength who brought judgment on people, but priests were exactly the opposite. The priesthood was an office of sympathy and service. Priests offered sacrifices and prayers for the people. Priests got atonement and forgiveness for sins. Priests cared for the poor and the sick. In the Old Testament, when you wanted to give your money to the poor, you gave it to the priests, and the priests distributed it.
When Jesus heals the leper, he tells the leper, “Go and show yourself to the priest.” Why? Because the priests were the health officers of society. They were the social workers. They were exactly the opposite. By the way, even today … Some of you might be social workers. Some of you might be policemen. You’re very often working with the same people, and you’re working at loggerheads. One of you, in a sense, represents the king. It’s your job to punish. It’s your job to enforce the law. One of you is an advocate. One of you is trying to get this person okay.
The king was a figure of strength and judgment. The priest was a figure of love and mercy and forgiveness. Therefore, you don’t have priests who are kings. You don’t have a priest king. But you will never understand Jesus Christ, you will never understand the gospel, unless you understand that Jesus Christ was deeply, profoundly, radically, and equally both. In fact, I’d go so far as to say if your heart basically thinks of Jesus more as a priest than a king or more of a king than a priest, you are injecting distortions into your life.
Jesus Christ combines things nobody else can combine, and unless you see that he’s both a king and a priest, you will not understand his person or his work. One of the great sermons Jonathan Edwards wrote and preached years ago was called, The Excellency of Christ. In that sermon he says this. “There is an admirable conjunction of diverse excellencies in Jesus Christ.” Do you hear that? He says there is a beautiful combination of excellencies that we would never think could be combined in one person, but because they are combined in Jesus Christ, he is overwhelmingly beautiful. Then Edwards goes on and explains them.
Jesus combines infinite majesty and glory yet the lowest humility and meekness. He combines infinite justice yet boundless grace. He combines absolute sovereign dominion yet perfect submission and obedience. He combines transcendent self-sufficiency yet entire trust and reliance upon his Father. He’s a lamb and he’s a lion. He’s a priest and he’s a king. He is a judge and he’s the one who offers sacrifice for forgiveness of sin, all at once. Not one or the other … both.
You can’t understand his person or his work unless you understand he’s both a priest and a king. Come with me. Ninety seconds. Let’s start with his person. With this model of he’s a priest and a king, just walk through the Gospels and look at him. On the one hand, you see Jesus Christ, in front of the Pharisees, in front of the religious authorities, in front of Pilate, in front of people who could kill him, is undaunted. He is bold.
He says to the religious authorities, “You whitened sepulchers.” He goes into the temple, makes a whip, and throws out the moneychangers in the temple. He is bold. He is undaunted. And then … oh my … look at him going to the little dead girl and taking her by the hand and saying, “Talitha koum,” which means, “Honey, it’s time to get up.” Look at him going to the deaf-mute and sighing and touching him as he heals him. Look at him going to the tomb of Lazarus. Mary says, “Lord, if you’d been here, my brother wouldn’t be dead,” and Jesus just weeps, speechlessly.
Look at Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane. He brings his disciples in and says to them, “This is the hour of my greatest need. I am under so much pressure. I have never needed friends like I need you right now. Please just stay awake with me and pray with me.” He goes to pray and he looks around, and they’ve all gone to sleep on him. What does he say? He says, “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” That is a King James archaism to say, “I know you meant well.”
Here is absolute power, undaunted boldness, and yet melt-in-your-mouth sweetness. He’s a king and a priest. You will never see his beauty unless you see both of those and how he brings them together in a way that no one else does. By the way, you won’t really understand Palm Sunday very well if you don’t see this. Think about it.
When Simon Maccabeus, two centuries before Jesus, overthrew the Seleucid dynasty and restored independence to Judea, he rode into Jerusalem, and they waved palms at him and shouted, “Hosanna,” and made him a king. Now, 200 years later, Jesus Christ rides into Jerusalem, and he accepts them saying, “Hosanna.” Palm branches. Unless he knew he was a king, he would never have allowed that.
But he didn’t ride in the same way Simon Maccabeus did, did he? He rode in on a little baby donkey deliberately. One commentator on the passage in Matthew that describes Jesus riding in, triumphant, on a little baby donkey says, “Victors in battle do not ride into their capital city riding on asses. They come in on fearsome horses. But this king, Jesus, will not triumph through force of arms.”
The commentator goes on and says what Jesus is saying by riding in triumphant and at the same time on a baby donkey … He’s the counterintuitive strong/weak King. The commentator says Jesus is saying by riding in that way, “I will triumph. I will save you, but through weakness. I’m a king not going to a throne but to a cross, because I’m a king and a priest. I’m a judge, but I also offer sacrifice for sin
Timothy J. Keller, “The True King,” in The Timothy Keller Sermon Archive, 2014–2015 (New York: Redeemer Presbyterian Church, 2015), Ps 110.
- Really, just the one exception with two different names