Saul’s disobedient actions involved at least three major errors.
First, kings weren’t supposed to offer sacrifices on behalf of the community. Kings could offer sacrifices for themselves, but never for the nation. That was done only by priests.
Second, it was Samuel who was to convey the Lord’s battle plans. Saul was to wait for him. However, since Saul kept his eye on the sundial and his dwindling army, he gave in to panic and rushed ahead on his own. This reduced the sacrifice to a pointless ritual that looked more pagan than Hebrew. Gentile generals decided where, when, and whom to attack, mobilized their troops, then sacrificed to their gods to gain favor. The Hebrew sacrifice was different; it was to be an act of submission, not bribery.
Third, and most important to our study, Saul made the decision to trust himself at the crisis point. His decision to sacrifice and attack was based on good common sense (from an earthly perspective). Just like Israel’s desire to have a human king and their ready acceptance of Saul based on his outward appearance, the new king was ready to advance on the enemy with a human strategy. Probably a good one, but human, nonetheless.
Saul’s faith failed. He saw his army evaporating like water and the town of Michmash teeming with his enemy. He saw that the appointed seven days had passed and that Samuel was late. So he tossed aside any pretense of decorum and protocol. He, in effect, put on the priestly garb along with his crown and signet and tried to make the altar his own special instrument of power—something he had no right to do.
Confrontation is rarely pleasant but frequently necessary. We all need a Samuel, someone who cares more about our character than our image or comfort. Often, that kind of loving honesty calls for sharp words. “You have played the fool” is never easy to hear, but when it comes from the mouth of a trusted, godly friend, we must hear it and take heed.
Excerpted from Charles R. Swindoll, Great Days with the Great Lives (Nashville: W Publishing Group, 2005). Copyright © 2005 by Charles R. Swindoll, Inc. All rights reserved. Used by permission.