5 The Philistines also were gathered to fight against Israel. They brought thirty thousand chariots with them, six thousand cavalry, and as many soldiers as there is sand on the seashore to fight Israel. They marched up and camped at Michmash, east of Beth-aven. 6 When the Israelites saw that they were in trouble and that their troops were threatened, they hid in caves, in thickets, among rocks, in tunnels, and in cisterns. 7 Some Hebrews even crossed the Jordan River, going into the land of Gad and Gilead.
Saul stayed at Gilgal, and the troops followed him anxiously. 8 He waited seven days, the time appointed by Samuel, but Samuel didn’t come to Gilgal, and his troops began to desert. 9 So Saul ordered, “Bring me the entirely burned offering and the well-being sacrifices.” Then he offered the entirely burned offering.
10 The very moment Saul finished offering up the entirely burned offering, Samuel arrived. Saul went out to meet him and welcome him. 11 But Samuel said, “What have you done?”
“I saw that my troops were deserting,” Saul replied. “You hadn’t arrived by the appointed time, and the Philistines were gathering at Michmash. 12 I thought, The Philistines are about to march against me at Gilgal and I haven’t yet sought the Lord’s favor. So I took control of myself and offered the entirely burned offering.”
13 “How stupid of you to have broken the commands the Lord your God gave you!” Samuel told Saul. “The Lord would have established your rule over Israel forever, 14 but now your rule won’t last. The Lord will search for a man following the Lord’s own heart, and the Lord will commission him as leader over God’s people, because you didn’t keep the Lord’s command.”
15 Samuel got up and went on his way from Gilgal, but the rest of the people followed Saul to join the army, and they went from Gilgal to Gibeah in Benjamin. Saul counted about six hundred men still with him.
34 Then Samuel went to Ramah, but Saul went up to his home in Gibeah. 35 Samuel never saw Saul again before he died, but he grieved over Saul. However, the Lord regretted making Saul king over Israel.
1 The Lord said to Samuel, “How long are you going to grieve over Saul? I have rejected him as king over Israel. Fill your horn with oil and get going. I’m sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem because I have found my next king among his sons.”
Samuel was a great transitional figure for Israel—a judge (1 Samuel 7:15-16), a prophet (1 Samuel 3:20), a priest (1 Samuel 2:18, Psalm 99:6). It was he who sensed God’s leading to anoint tall, handsome Saul as Israel’s first king. But, to his great sadness, he later had to bluntly tell Saul that his many bad, self-serving choices had ruined Saul’s family’s place as Israel’s royal family.
Lord God, thank you for the scary, priceless gift of freedom—the ability to make moral choices with real consequences for good or ill. Help me to use my freedom to serve you more faithfully than Saul did. Amen.
There was a social psychology experiment conducted in the mid-1960s that sheds some light on today’s passage. In the experiment, researchers went door-to-door asking homeowners if they would allow the researcher’s (fictional) company to put an enormous billboard in their yard reminding drivers to drive safely. They were shown pictures of other houses almost completely obscured by these signs. As you can guess, their success rate was abysmal: only 17%.
Later, in another neighborhood, they did something different. The researchers went door-to-door and asked if homeowners would put a small, unnoticeable sign in their yard with the same message. Almost every homeowner agreed to this request. But then, two weeks later, the researchers went to those same houses and asked if they would then allow the enormous billboard to be placed in their yard. The result? 76% said yes.
You see, our brains hate inconsistency, which is a psychological way of saying that we hate admitting we were wrong about something. Once we commit to something, we’re much more likely to keep going down that road, wherever it will take us, even if the place we end up is somewhere we never would have agreed to at the start of the journey.
When reading today’s passage about the prophet Samuel denouncing King Saul—a king he had put in place—it can be easy to focus on how Samuel made a mistake. I don’t think that’s the point. Everyone makes mistakes, even God’s prophets. The thing we’re supposed to look at and learn from is how quickly Samuel was to speak out against Saul when it became clear that he broke God’s commandments. We can even see from 1 Samuel chapters 15 and 16 that Samuel was genuinely sad when Saul died. That could not have been an easy decision for him—but he made it anyway.
It’s never an easy thing to admit that we were wrong about something, and it’s ten times harder when it’s something we fought for and worked to put in place ourselves—and may face ridicule for when we do come around. It’s always going to feel easier to take one more step than to admit that you’ve been walking in the wrong direction for two miles, but that’s how you end up three or more miles off course. And, on the flip side of that, if someone you know has been walking down the wrong path for quite some time and wants to step away from it, be welcoming and encouraging, because many of their friends won’t be.
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