Saul: Acting Foolishly out of Fear

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1 Samuel 13:1-15 (Samuel rebukes Saul)

INTRODUCTION: Our message series is called “The Rise and Fall of Saul,” and so far we have been looking at Saul’s rise to leadership. But today we reach the other side of that equation and Saul begins the slip-and-slide down from the top. Up to this point, Saul has done everything right, and God has blessed his rise to leadership as the first king of Israel. But starting with today’s chapter Saul’s life begins to unravel, and in chapters 13-15 we trace Saul’s’ fall from leadership and his eventual rejection by God as Israel’s first king. (Read 1 Samuel 13:7b-11a and pray.)

The story of Saul is a frustrating one but also very instructive. Saul did so well at the start of these chapters. He was humble; he was responsible; he relied on God’s Spirit; he was a good leader. And sadly, everything that happens in these next chapters is completely unnecessary. What goes up doesn’t have to come down. God gave Saul everything he needed in order to succeed, but Saul is brought down by his own wrong choices. And it all began when Saul gave in to fear.

Giving in to fear can hurt us in so many ways as a Christian. When we are afraid to step out in faith, we can cripple God’s plans to use us. When we are afraid of what others think, we can hold back on sharing the gospel. When we are afraid of the circumstances around us, we can be tempted to do the wrong thing and go against God’s word. That third one was Saul’s problem in this chapter and it’s a temptation that we all face as well.

Fear is a problem for us as Christians, because we are called to live by faith, and fear is the opposite of faith. So I want to talk with you very frankly this morning about fear and what happens when, like Saul, you act foolishly out of fear. And my prayer is that God’s word will strengthen you in your trials, show you the way out, and encourage you to choose faith over fear in your own life. So let’s look at some important principles from our passage this morning.

I. You will experience times of testing (1-4)

First of all, know that you will experience times of testing. Every Christian goes through times of trial. It doesn’t mean that you’ve messed up or that God has forgotten you. It simply means that you still live here on earth and you haven’t gone to heaven yet. And it’s during these times of testing that we especially need to choose between fear and faith. Will I give in to fear and fall away from God? Or will I trust God to pull me through this situation? Here are a couple principles from our passage that will help you deal with the times of testing in your life.

   A. Prepare yourself for battle (1-2)
      – Ephesians 6:10-11

First of all, prepare yourself for battle. Look at verses 1-2 in our passage.

Saul was thirty years old when he became king, and he reigned over Israel forty-two years. 2 Saul chose three thousand men from Israel; two thousand were with him at Micmash and in the hill country of Bethel, and a thousand were with Jonathan at Gibeah in Benjamin. The rest of the men he sent back to their homes. (1 Samuel 13:1-2)

Saul was king over Israel for a long time, which meant he was going to have plenty of battles as king. So he chose three thousand men to form an initial standing army. He sent the rest of the men home, but they were still on call in times of need.

Saul divided the troops between himself and his son, Jonathan. This is the first time Jonathan’s name appears in Scripture. We are not told that he is Saul’s son here, but any good Israelite reading this account would already know this is Saul’s son.

Saul was realistic. He knew there battles coming, and he prepared for them. As a Christian, the Bible tells you also to be ready. Ephesians 6 says this: “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.” (Ephesians 6:10-11) You will experience times of testing in your life, so you need to prepare yourself for battle.

   B. When you fight the enemy, the enemy fights back (3-4)
      – Ephesians 6:12

Another important principle to learn from this passage is that when you fight the enemy, the enemy fights back. Look at verses 3-4:

Jonathan attacked the Philistine outpost at Geba, and the Philistines heard about it. Then Saul had the trumpet blown throughout the land and said, “Let the Hebrews hear!” 4 So all Israel heard the news: “Saul has attacked the Philistine outpost, and now Israel has become a stench to the Philistines.” And the people were summoned to join Saul at Gilgal. (1 Samuel 13:3-4)

According to verse 3, it was Jonathan who attacked the Philistines first. You would expect it to be Saul, not Jonathan, and so this is perhaps the first clue that all is not right with Saul as king. We’re told Jonathan attacked the Philistine outpost at Geba. Geba originally belonged to Israel, so this was an attack aimed at recovering land that the Philistines had taken away first.

Jonathan attacks in verse 3, but notice that Saul gets the credit in verse 4. “Saul has attacked the Philistine outpost, and now Israel has become a stench to the Philistines.” I love that phrase “Israel has become a stench to the Philistines.” As long as the Israelites were passive and not fighting, the Philistines could care less about them. But as soon as the Israelites attacked, they became a stench to the enemy.

Which raises the question: is that true of you? Are you a stench to the enemy? Are you living for Christ so boldly and fully that you are a stench to Satan and his forces? As long as you are passive and not growing in your Christian life, the enemy could care less about you. But once you start growing and having an influence for God, you also will become a stench to the enemy. You may never have thought about it this way, but one of your goals as a Christian should be to stink real bad to Satan! You should smell so bad to the enemy that he can’t stand it.

Notice Saul summons the people to Gilgal. This was the place where Saul was confirmed as king. (1 Samuel 11:15) It is also the place that Samuel warned Saul about back in 1 Samuel 10:8, when he gave Saul a prophetic warning about the incident which would eventually mark the beginning of Saul’s fall.

When you fight the enemy, the enemy fights back. Ephesians 6:12 says: “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Ephesians 6:12)

It’s been said: “The devil won’t bother you while you’re living in sin… Only when you’re trying to get out.” You will experience times of testing. So prepare yourself for battle. And know that when you fight the enemy, the enemy fights back.

II. You will be tempted at times to give in to fear (5-10)

Which bring us to our second point this morning. Because you will experience times of testing in life, that means you will be tempted at times to give in to fear. There are many reasons why you may be tempted like this, and we find several of them in our passage this morning.

   A. Your problems may seem overwhelming (5)
      – 2 Corinthians 4:8-9

First of all, your problems may seem overwhelming. Look at verse 5:

The Philistines assembled to fight Israel, with three thousand chariots, six thousand charioteers, and soldiers as numerous as the sand on the seashore. They went up and camped at Micmash, east of Beth Aven. (1 Samuel 13:5)

You think you’ve got problems? How would you like to have Saul’s problems! Saul had three thousand men in his standing army. The Philistines had three thousand chariots! Plus six thousand charioteers to drive them. Plus soldiers as numerous as the sand on the shore. Saul is outnumbered and outgunned, and so we can see how easy it was for him to give in to fear.

Notice the text says the Philistines went up and camped at Micmash. Well Micmash was where Saul and his men were camped back in verse 2. The Philistines have displaced Saul and his men from their own camp! In other words, Saul and his army have already lost ground in this battle.

Sometimes we lose ground in our spiritual life. We make so much progress in an area, and then we find ourselves falling back into old habits. That’s the way the Christian life is sometimes. Chuck Swindoll once wrote a book on the Christian life called Three Steps Forward, Two Steps Back. The Christian life isn’t easy. It’s not supposed to be. It’s a battle. And sometimes it feels like you’re taking three steps forward and two steps back. But the important thing is to keep moving forward, to keep making progress!

Sometimes the problems we face in life seem overwhelming. We don’t know the way forward. We don’t know how we can cope. We don’t know how we can get up and face another day. The apostle Paul certainly felt that way at times. Listen to his testimony from 2 Corinthians 4: “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.” (2 Corinthians 4:8-9)

When your problems seem overwhelming, you will be tempted to give in to fear. That’s what Saul was facing in our passage, and it’s what each of us faces at various times in our lives.

   B. Everyone around you may be responding in fear (6-7)
      – Proverbs 28:1

A second reason you may be tempted to give in to fear is that everyone around you may be responding in fear. Look at verses 6-7:

When the men of Israel saw that their situation was critical and that their army was hard pressed, they hid in caves and thickets, among the rocks, and in pits and cisterns. 7 Some Hebrews even crossed the Jordan to the land of Gad and Gilead. Saul remained at Gilgal, and all the troops with him were quaking with fear. (1 Samuel 13:6-7)

Poor Saul. Not only was he losing ground to the enemy, he was losing the support of his people as well. Instead of standing strong together against the enemy, his men are hiding in the rocks and thickets. Some of them are climbing down into the bottoms of wells to hide. Not only that but he is also struggling with deserters. A number of his men go A.W.O.L across the Jordan to escape the battle.

Proverbs 28:1 says: “The wicked flee though no one pursues, but the righteous are as bold as a lion.” (Proverbs 28:1) It’s hard enough to fight the battle when you have your support system in place. But when everyone around you is responding fear, it is very tempting to join them.

   C. God may not deliver you right away (8)
      – Psalm 31:14-15

A third reason you may be tempted to give in to fear is that God may not deliver you right away. Look at verse 8:

He waited seven days, the time set by Samuel; but Samuel did not come to Gilgal, and Saul’s men began to scatter. (1 Samuel 13:8)

Samuel had told Saul to wait seven days for him at Gilgal. Seven days may not seem like much, but every day is difficult when you are under the gun. And as each day passed and Samuel still didn’t come, Saul was getting desperate. The enemy was pressing, his men were beginning to scatter, and Samuel still didn’t come.

I don’t know why God sometimes makes us wait. Part of it, of course, is to strengthen our faith. Part of it is because God’s plan is bigger than us, and so he is working in other people’s lives as well. However, I do know that God is sovereign and that he is good, and that I can trust him with the details of my life.

We need adopt the same attitude David did when he wrote in Psalm 31: “But I trust in you, O Lord; I say, ‘You are my God.’ My times are in your hands; deliver me from my enemies and from those who pursue me.” (Psalm 31:14-15) God may not deliver you right away, but he will deliver you. Your times are in his hands. He is your God. He is your Lord. You can trust him even when he does not deliver you right away.

   D. Fear can lead you to do the wrong thing (9-10)
      – Proverbs 29:25

And then the fourth thing we learn about fear in this section of our passage is that fear can lead you to do the wrong thing. Look at verses 9-10:

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. (1 Samuel 13:9-10)

Saul ran out of patience. The enemy was pressing, his men were scattering, so he took matters into his own hands. Instead of waiting for Samuel to arrive, he began to offer the sacrifices himself.

If only he had waited just a little bit longer. He waited seven days, but the seventh day wasn’t over yet. Saul had only made the burnt offering, he hadn’t even started the fellowship offerings yet, when Samuel finally arrived and Saul went out to greet him.

Proverbs 29:25 says: “Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is kept safe.” (Proverbs 29:25) Actually fear of any kind will prove to be a temptation and a snare, but you are always safe when you trust in the Lord. You will experience times of testing in life. And when you do, you will be tempted at times to give in to fear. That’s when you especially have to choose faith over fear, because as with Saul, fear can lead you to do the wrong thing.

III. It is foolish to let go of God and his Word in your time of need (11-15)

And that leads us to our third point this morning. It is foolish to let go of God and his word in your time of need. Are your problems overwhelming? Is everyone else around you responding in fear? Is God not delivering you right away? Are you tempted to give in to fear and do the wrong thing? Then that’s when you need God the most! It is foolish to let go of God and his word in your time of need.

   A. Don’t try to justify your wrong actions (11-12)
      – Proverbs 21:2; Luke 16:15

There are a couple things we can learn about this in the final section of our passage this morning. First of all, don’t try to justify your wrong actions. Look at verses 11-12:

“What have you done?” asked Samuel. Saul replied, “When I saw that the men were scattering, and that you did not come at the set time, and that the Philistines were assembling at Micmash, 12 I thought, ‘Now the Philistines will come down against me at Gilgal, and I have not sought the LORD’s favor.’ So I felt compelled to offer the burnt offering.” (1 Samuel 13:11-12)

Samuel’s opening question cuts right to the heart of the issue. No greeting. No small talk. No discussion of the battle and how it is going. Simply: “What have you done?” Samuel is aghast at Saul’s actions. Saul had disobeyed a direct command from God through Samuel to wait the full seven days until Samuel arrived to offer the sacrifice. And now it is Samuel’s unpleasant job to confront Saul with his wrong actions. And so Samuel asks Saul: “What have you done?”

Now the correct answer here would be: “I have sinned.” Saul has an opportunity here to confess his sin and repent. But instead of confessing, Saul chooses to blame everyone else. He blames the Philistines for getting ready to attack. He blames his own men for scattering. He even blames Samuel for not getting there earlier! What is Saul doing here? He is trying to justify his wrong actions. He is putting his own justifications over the word of God.

Notice Saul says: “I felt compelled to offer the burnt offering.” Let’s set the record straight here. You are never forced to do the wrong thing. You can be tempted, and the temptation may be strong, but you are never compelled to sin. You choose to sin.

Saul thought he could seek the Lord’s favor through an act of disobedience. But you can never please God by disobeying his word. Here’s a great principle to hold on to: It’s not the will of God if it goes against the Word of God.

Proverbs 21:2 says: “All a man’s ways seem right to him, but the Lord weighs the heart.” (Proverbs 21:2) We are so good at justifying ourselves and our sin. I can’t tell you how many times I have confronted someone with their sin, and they will even agree with me that what they’re doing is wrong, but then they will go on and explain to me why their situation is different, why they don’t really have a choice, whey they’re the exception to the rule.

Jesus said to the Pharisees of his time: “You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of men, but God knows your hearts.” (Luke 16:15) Notice the emphasis in both of these verses about justifying yourself is that God looks at your heart, God weighs your heart, God knows your heart. It’s a heart problem, and this will become an important part of Samuel’s response to Saul’s justification.

Folks, when you’ve done something wrong, don’t add to your sin by trying to justify it as well. When you’ve done wrong, it’s time to confess, time to own up to your sin, time to take responsibility for your actions. Don’t try to justify your wrong actions instead.

   B. There may be long-term consequences (13-14)
      – Galatians 6:8

Secondly, understand there may be long-term consequences for your actions. Look at verses 13-14:

“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.” (1 Samuel 13:13-14)

Samuel told Saul: “You have acted foolishly.” There it is – it is foolish to let go of God and his word in your time of need. As a result of Saul’s disobedience, Saul will no longer have a lasting dynasty. God has chosen someone else – “a man after God’s own heart” – as opposed to Saul who was “a king like all the other nations.”

Saul’s problem is not that the Philistines are assembling for war. God was going to take care of that anyways. His real problem is disobedience to God’s commands. He did not listen to the word of God as given through Samuel. As we said earlier, it is a heart problem. He has placed himself as the authority over God’s word instead of making God’s word his authority. And so Saul loses the opportunity for his family to remain on the throne. It’s a shame, because as we will see next week, his son Jonathan would have made a fine king.

Remember, this all happens at Gilgal, so Saul is rejected by God in the same place where he was initially made king. Talk about losing ground! It may seem like a harsh penalty to us for such a little sin, but as John Wesley once said, “There is no [such thing as a] little sin, because there is no little God to sin against.” At this time, only Saul’s dynasty and family is rejected. Remember, this is only the beginning of Saul’s fall. Saul will still remain on the throne. It is not until chapter 15 that Saul himself will be rejected as king.

When you sin, God will forgive you, but understand that there may be long-term consequences. We looked at Galatians 6:8 last week: “The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.” (Galatians 6:8) There are always consequences to our actions, but we must learn to seek God’s forgiveness, accept the consequences, and move forward with our life.

   C. You may need to start all over again (15)
      – Proverbs 24:16; Luke 22:31-32

Which brings us to our final point this morning. Depending on the severity of the consequences, you may need to start all over again. Look at verse 15:

Then Samuel left Gilgal and went up to Gibeah in Benjamin, and Saul counted the men who were with him. They numbered about six hundred. (1 Samuel 13:15)

Saul started off this chapter so strong. He prepared himself for battle. He had a standing army of three thousand. He waited almost the whole seven days for Samuel. But then he acted foolishly out of fear. And the consequences were devastating. The loss of Samuel was a crushing blow. Not only that, when he counted the men remaining, he was down to only 600 men. Saul basically had to start all over again.

When you make wrong choices in life, you may find that you need to start all over again, too. And that’s okay. It’s hard to start over, but praise God he gives us the grace to start over! Our God is the God of second chances, third chances, of many chances! God is never through with you.

Proverbs 24:16 says: “Though a righteous man falls seven times, he rises again.” (Proverbs 24:16) If you fall down, get back up again. If you need to start over, start over. Sometimes it’s three steps forward, two steps back. But the main thing is you keep moving forward.

Probably no one has ever fallen harder or hurt Jesus more severely as the apostle Peter did when he denied Christ. And yet even Peter was given grace to start over again. Jesus said to Peter: “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” (Luke 22:31-32)

In fact the gospel of Jesus Christ is all about starting over. When you put your faith in Christ, God forgives you of all your sin and gives you a brand new start. You become a brand new person in Christ with a new direction, a new goal, new power for living, and a new eternal destiny. The good news of the gospel is that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead, and you can start over by coming to him today.

So when you’ve done wrong, don’t try to justify your actions. Understand there may be long-term consequences. Know that you may need to start all over again. And that’s okay. God will take you back. He will forgive you. He will strengthen your faith. He will use you again for his kingdom and his glory.

CONCLUSION: You are going to face some difficult times in the future. Or perhaps you are going through a severe trial right now. You are going to feel afraid, and you will be tempted to give in to fear. Don’t do it! It is foolish to let go of God and his word in your time of need. So stand strong. Trust God’s timing. Follow God’s word. Choose faith over fear.

© Ray Fowler

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