And Samuel said, “What have you done?” Saul said, “When I saw that the people were scattered from me, and that you did not come within the days appointed, and that the Philistines gathered together at Michmash, then I said, ‘The Philistines will now come down on me at Gilgal, and I have not made supplication to the Lord.’ Therefore I felt compelled and offered a burnt offering.” (1 Samuel 13:11-12)
I Felt Compelled
Saul was the sovereign ruler of the nation of Israel. He was the anointed the Lord set over them to be their king. God knew the people would desire a king, but it was never His desire for His people to seek leadership from men. Because of their wickedness, they had asked for a king for themselves. Despite their desire for a king, the Lord would not forsake them. He promised to care for them, and Samuel said he would pray for the nation to be blessed. The warning from Samuel to Saul and the people is they must fear the Lord and serve Him in truth with all their hearts, and they will be blessed. If they did wicked in the sight of the Lord, He would punish them.
Two years into the reign of Saul, the king gathers an army of three thousand men. He attacks the Philistines in Geba and defeats the city. The Philistines gather an army of thirty thousand chariots, six thousand horsemen, and an army like the sand of the seashore. When the people saw the massive army of the Philistines encamped in Michmash for war, they were terrified. Saul remained in Gilgal with an army trembling in fear. He knew it would take the power of the Lord to defeat such a large army, and he waited for Samuel to make intercession for the nation.
Seven days passed, and Samuel had not come when he said he would show. With each passing day, the people were more afraid, and Saul watched his army diminish. As king, he must be a man of courage and show a decisive spirit to stand against the massive army of the Philistines. He waited for Samuel, but Saul became frustrated the prophet did not come at the prescribed time. Days passed, and no Samuel. After the seventh day, Saul could wait no longer. He ordered the burnt offering to be brought, and he would make the sacrifice to the Lord. As king, he believed he had the authority to carry out the work of the prophet, who had delayed his coming, and to fight against the Philistine army. He was wrong.
Just as Saul was finishing the burnt offering, Samuel arrived. Saul went out to meet and welcomed the prophet with great eagerness. Samuel knew what Saul had done and asked him why he had disobeyed the command of the Lord. Saul defended his actions suggesting the people were restless as the Philistine army stood ready before them. He was unsure if Samuel would arrive in time to make the sacrifice, and if the Philistines attacked, the people of God would be destroyed. Saul tells the prophet he was compelled or forced to make a decision to make the sacrifice since Samuel had delayed his coming.
Was there fear in the camp of Israel standing before the army of the Philistines? Samuel had promised to come in a certain amount of time to make the sacrifice, but he had not come in the time prescribed. Could the enemy attack God’s people and destroy them with such a vast army? Was there not a need for a sacrifice to be made imploring the intercession of the Lord? Did it matter in this time of danger if Samuel made the sacrifice, or could Saul, as king, make that decision? Was not the action of Saul in the best interest of the people? Many questions could be answered in favor of Saul making the sacrifice, with the exception of one vital part of the equation: Saul had no authority to usurp the will of God.
Saul felt compelled to make the sacrifice, but he did not keep the commandment of the Lord. His heart was not true to the word of God. Samuel was the one who should have made the sacrifice. The king had no right to take the authority of God’s divine plan to fit his own need. He stood condemned for challenging the word of the Lord for an action that human wisdom viewed as acceptable. The intention of Saul was noble, but it was wrong. His desire was right, but his actions were disobedient. It did not matter to God what Saul felt compelled to do if it was not in keeping with the word of God.
The decision of Saul to make an unlawful sacrifice is seen in the religious world where men have taken upon themselves their own kind of law. Saul made an unlawful sacrifice by fitting the law of God to his needs. He did not trust the Lord knew what He was doing. In the mind of Saul, God did not understand the situation. Often in the lives of God’s people, the will of the Lord is challenged because human wisdom knows better than God. People will change the word of God to fit their own wisdom. Look at all the religious division where supposed followers of Jesus make the Bible fit their own dogmas, doctrines, and decrees and then praise the Lord for His abundant mercies. Saul made a sacrifice, and it was probably exactly like the sacrifice should be made. What made the sacrifice unlawful was Saul had no authority. If there is no Biblical authority, men serve the will of men; not God. Let the Bible speak and let men’s hearts follow God’s will. An old saying fits the occasion: “Where the Bible speaks, we speak. Where the Bible is silent, we are silent” (Thomas Campbell, 1809). Good advice.