First Samuel, chapters thirteen, fourteen and fifteen, tell the story of a prideful and disobedient young king and a faithful and fiery old prophet.
When Jonathan, Saul’s son, was victorious in battle, the headline news read, “Saul has attacked the Philistines” (1 Samuel 13:3-4, CSB). Saul was happy to take the credit!
Jonathan’s victory was akin to swatting a hornet’s nest. The Philistines “gathered to fight against Israel: three thousand chariots, six thousand horsemen, and troops as numerous as the sand on the seashore” (1 Samuel 13:5, CSB). When Saul’s troops saw that the Philistines were amassing for a war to end all wars, with their tails tucked between their legs, they ran liked whipped pups! “They hid in caves, in thickets, among rocks, and in holes and cisterns. Some Hebrews even crossed the Jordan to the land of Gad and Gilead” (1 Samuel 13:6–7, CSB).
“Saul, however, was still at Gilgal” (1 Samuel 13:7, CSB) waiting impatiently for Samuel to arrive. Samuel had given clear instruction to Saul. “Go ahead of me to Gilgal. I will come to you to offer burnt offerings and to sacrifice fellowship offerings. Wait seven days until I come to you and show you what to do” (1 Samuel 10:8, CSB).
Saul didn’t obey! He thumbed his nose at both Samuel and God! He said, “ ‘Bring me the burnt offering and the fellowship offerings.’ Then he offered the burnt offering. Just as he finished offering the burnt offering, Samuel arrived. So Saul went out to greet him, and Samuel asked, ‘What have you done?’ Saul answered, ‘When I saw that the troops were deserting me and you didn’t come within the appointed days and the Philistines were gathering’ ” (1 Samuel 13:9–11, CSB)
Samuel soundly rebuked the king! “You have been foolish. You have not kept the command the Lord your God gave you. It was at this time that the Lord would have permanently established your reign over Israel, but now your reign will not endure. The Lord has found a man after his own heart, and the Lord has appointed him as ruler over his people, because you have not done what the Lord commanded” (1 Samuel 13:13–14, CSB).
What’s the big deal? Saul was in a time-crunch! He just offered the sacrifice. He had a good excuse! Right? Was Samuel making a mountain out of a molehill?
God’s answer: “Does the Lord take pleasure in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the Lord? Look: to obey is better than sacrifice, to pay attention is better than the fat of rams. For rebellion is like the sin of divination, and defiance is like wickedness and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, he has rejected you as king” (1 Samuel 15:22–23, CSB).
The little things matter! Obedience matters! God is still looking for a “man (or woman or young person) after his own heart.”