THE BOOK OF 1 SAMUEL

Presuming upon God

1 Samuel 13:5-14 SCC 12/28/14

 

The land between is Godís testing ground of faith for the nation of Israel. Pressures on the security of Israel mounted before and during Saulís reign. Internal problems between tribes were exploited by an expanding Philistine control along the countryís main travel routes. This control even reached up into the hill country and now concentrated up into the Central Benjamin Plateau. This plateau was a piece of land between the two strongest tribes, Ephraim and Judah. The Philistine principle was to divide and conquer. Commanding this plateau was the most effective way the Philistines could exert control of the Israelites in the hills in the heart of the land. It was a brilliant strategy allowed to happen because the Israelites forgot who God is. This same region is the home territory of King Saul.

 

Given this situation its only a matter of time before pressure would be put on Saul to do something about this if he were to reassert Israelís control and bring security into the heartland. It was here in his home region that confrontation with the Philistines finally took place.

 

WHAT SEEMS AN IMPOSSIBLE SITUATION BECOMES AN OPPORTUNITY TO SHOW VALOR 1-4

The chapter opens by noting the Philistine military post at Geba just east of Ramah v 3. The situation on the ground was such that the Israelites were divided by this Philistine presence, part encamped with Saul in Michmash and in the hill country of Bethel v 2 and part with Jonathan at Gibeah. As we can see, Israel is still occupied by the Philistines. The Philistines maintained an outpost there, a symbol of their dominance and control over Israel, and a means of enforcement. Saul maintained a kind of ďskeleton army,Ē v 2 that would not be large enough to provoke the Philistines. They seemed to be a kind of police force for the nation, and more than anything, protection for Saul.

 

Jonathan brought things to a head by attacking the garrison of Philistines v 3. Unlike his father, the Philistines did not intimidate Jonathan. He attacked the Philistine outpost at Geba, and only then did Saul summon the Israelites for war v 3. What else could he do? Saulís army had attacked the Philistines, and he knew they were sure to retaliate in force. Reprisals would be forthcoming. Saul was made king to fight their battles but a lack of courage and faith had paralyzed him to act. Saul summoned Israel to meet at Gilgal in an area further east and removed from the scene of action v 4. This was the same place Joshua had encamped as a strategic base of operation to initially conquer the land.

 

Saulís choice of Gilgal and his reactions there reflect above all his own insecurity. In the situation in which he found himself, the most difficult he had yet faced, Saul like Joshua was called upon to recognize who God is. Unlike his father, the crown prince, Jonathan, did just that recognizing who God is and showed valor when all seemed impossible. That valor will continue in the next chapter. Ominously we are informed that Israel had become odious to the Philistines v 4.

 

PT: Situations may seem impossible to be righteous or pursue Godís will or stay faithful to Him. Those are moments to recognize who God is and show valor. Be courageous for God and His will and ways. Impossibility is never an excuse for reticence or unbelief.

 

ACTING WITH VALOR FORCES ISSUES TO BE FACED THAT OTHERWISE REMAIN 5-7

The Philistine response to the Israelite rebellion was massive. This mustering represents the greatest concentration of Philistine forces in the hill country known to us v 5. Note the description, and people like the sand, which is on the seashore in abundance. The important thing to note is that they were not content to remain on the Central Benjamin Plateau or at Bethel. They plunged further in and established their camp at Michmash where Saul just was with his skeleton army of 2000. He had sent the rest of the people back to their tents earlier v 2. It was in these small valleys north of the city that the Philistines found ample space for such a concentration of troops and equipment. This is exactly the type of thing Saul had been afraid of and had kept him from taking the offensive in the first place.

 

Saul seemed unwilling or unable to take the offensive. As a result, his soldiers were terrified and hid out wherever they could v 6. Those who do present themselves for battle are tentative in doing so. When the size of the Philistine army is known, the Israelites are terrified. The people were in a strait, and hard-pressed. The people begin to dessert, hiding in caves and thickets, in cliffs, cellars, and pits. Here some versions render cellars as tombs. Things would have to be desperate for an Israelite to hide in a tomb. Other soldiers dessert by crossing the Jordan v 7 a little further east of Gilgal into the Transjordan valley as far away from the Philistines as possible. But Saul remained in Gilgal contemplating what to do and all of the soldiers who remained with him were trembling presumably with dread.

 

Saul was definitely under pressure. The Philistines seemed to have the upper hand, and his army was vaporizing before his eyes. God had informed Saul that once the confirming signs had taken place, he was free to begin acting as Israelís king. In other words, he was free to commence war with the Philistines, as, in fact, his son Jonathan did. God promised to be with Saul as he did so. But what did Saul do? Virtually nothing, until prodded to do so. His most decisive action occurred when the Ammonites threatened the people of Jabesh Gilead, on the eastern side of the Jordan, but Saul did not take any initiative to attack the Philistines, who threatened Israel from the west.

 

NB: Valor is one way we can initiate change that is desperately needed. The situation with the Philistines was intolerable. Saul needed to be courageous. His son proved to be and it forced Saul, the Israelites and soldiers to make decisions to bring about that change. Initially their response looks bleak but Jonathanís action is forcing a change in action and policy. If you are stuck in sin of some kind that entraps you, act in valor to initiate a change of policy for yourself or others. It may be costly to do so and invite more trouble for you but like Jonathan valor forces repentance and change in your life.

 

LACKING VALOR TO FACE SITUATIONS NEEDING CHANGE REVEALS UNBELIEF

Before he was to wage this assault, Saul was instructed to go to Gilgal, where Samuel would offer peace offerings and burnt offerings. It was at this time that Samuel would give him more specific instructions concerning the battle. Saul was told to wait for Samuel seven days v 8. Saul had procrastinated so long to attack that his men were now deserting him. Now, due to his passivity, Saul felt he could not wait any longer for Samuel, and so he offered the sacrifices himself v 9. In so doing, Saul committed two sins. First, he clearly disobeyed Godís instructions. Second, he did not honor the ďseparation of powersĒ God had established. The king was not to usurp the function of the priests, and he was to be guided by prophetic revelation. He acted unilaterally, setting aside Godís division of power.

 

As a result of unbelief and disobedience, Saulís kingdom would not last beyond his own reign as king. He would have no lasting dynasty Ė his sons would not rule as king after him v 13. God sought a king who would obey His commands but Saul had disobeyed v 14. This matter will be dealt with decisively at the time of Saulís second great act of disobedience as king. Most distressing of all is that even when Samuel rebukes Saul for his sin, there is not so much as a hint of repentance. Saul does not confess that he has sinned. He and Samuel simply part ways v 15.

 

The rest of the chapter underscores two items: First, (1) from this strategic region north of Michmash the Philistines were in a position to send out units to plunder in all directions: to the north toward Ophrah v 17, (2) to the west toward Beth-horon (along the Michmash pass possibly to keep supply lines open to Philistia) and (3) to the east toward the wilderness v 18. Thus the wedge between Judah and Ephraim was made complete.

 

Second, the Israelites, in contrast to the Philistines, had no arms with which to fight v 19-22. This desperate situation in which Israel found herself is underscored by noting at the very end the utter lack of military equipment in Israelite hands at this time. They have allowed themselves to in effect become the slaves of the Philistines in the hopes that they could be left alone. Valor changed all of that and it needed changing. Someone needed to remember who God is and act. This discouraging chapter closes with the statement, and the garrison of the Philistines went out to the pass of Michmash v 23.

 

CONCLUSION:

1. Valor is needed because at times what God requires of us will seem too much. The Philistines seemed an impossible match for the Israelites but it became that way because they had tolerated bit by bit a situation that became convenient to leave alone. God was not content with Israelís sin and unbelief and Jonathan finally acted with valor to confront it. You will need to do the same with your sin and unbelief.

2. You will face moments in your life when you will need so show valor. Courage is often a prerequisite for acting that produces change in a godly direction. Eventually the time to act draws near. What will you do to change your character, shape your will, deal with sin, or determine to follow Godís will? Those moments are Gods testing ground of faith for us.

3. The only reason you refuse to act with valor is because of your unbelief. Like Saul you will dilly-dally for who knows how long. All the while you are creating more baggage you will have to deal with when and if you finally decide to act with valor. Unbelief accumulates consequences. It did for Saul but he was not ready to act when Jonathan was. Take initiative and commit yourself to follow Gods ways.