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to him. They came together to him at Gilgal. And the Philistines came with their great host, and pitched over against him. Thus the two armies remained in sight of each other, and then it was that Saul's trial began.
Before Saul went to battle, it was necessary to offer a burnt sacrifice to the LORD, and to beg of Him a blessing on the arms of Israel. He could have no hope of victory, unless this act of religious worship was performed. Now priests only and prophets were God's ministers, and they alone could offer sacrifice. Kings could not, unless they were specially commanded to do so by Almighty God. Saul had no leave to offer sacrifice; yet a sacrifice must be offered before he could fight; what must he do? He must wait for Samuel, who had said that he would come to him for that purpose.
“ Thou shalt go down before me to Gilgal,” says Samuel to him, “and behold, I will come down unto thee, to offer burnt-offerings, and to sacrifice sacrifices of peace-offerings; seven days shalt thou tarry till I come unto thee, and show thee what thou shalt do?.” Saul, you see, was told to wait seven days till Samuel came; but meanwhile this great trial came upon him. The people he had gathered together to fight against the Philistines were far inferior to them in military qualities. They were not even soldiers; they were country people brought together, rising against a powerful enemy, who was used to rule, as they were used to subjection. And, as I have already observed, they had no regular arms : "it came to pass,” says Scripture, “in the day of battle, that there was neither sword nor spear found in the hand of any of the people that were with Saul and Jonathan.” No wonder, under these circumstances, that many did not come to Saul's army at all; many hid themselves; many fled out of the country; and of those who joined him, all were in a state of alarm, and numbers began to desert. " When the men of Israel,” says Scripture, saw that they were in a strait, then the people did hide themselves in caves, and in thickets, and in rocks, and in high places, and in pits. And some of the Hebrews went over Jordan to the land of Gad and Gilead; as for Saul, he was yet in Gilgal, and all the people followed him trembling. And he tarried seven days, according to the set time that Samuel had appointed; but Samuel came not to Gilgal, and the people were scattered from him.”
2 1 Samuel x. 8.
What a great trial this must have been! Here was a king who had been made king for the express purpose of destroying the Philistines ; he is in presence of his powerful enemy; he is anxious to fulfil his commission ; he fears to fail; his reputation is at stake; he has at best a most difficult task, as his soldiers are very bad ones, and are all afraid of the enemy. His only chance, humanly speaking, is to strike a blow; if he delays, he can expect nothing but total defeat ; the longer he delays, the more frightened his men will become. Yet he is told to wait seven days; seven long days must he wait; he does wait them ; and to his great mortification and despair, his soldiers begin to desert; day after day more and more leave him : what will be the end of this ? Yet does he govern his feelings so far, as to wait all through the seven days. So far he acquits himself well in the trial ; he was told simply to wait seven days, and in spite of the risk, he does wait. Though he sees his army crumbling away, and the enemy ready to attack him, he obeys God; he obeys His prophet; he does nothing; he looks out for Samuel's coming.
At length the seven days are gone and over ; those weary wearing days, that long trial of a week, through every hour of which he was tempted to advance against the enemy, yet every hour had to restrain his fierce and impatient spirit. Now then is the time for Samuel to come; he said he would come at the end of seven days, and the days are ended. Now at length is the time for Saul to be relieved. For seven days the Philistines, for
cause or other, have not attacked him ; a wonderful chance it is; he may breathe freely ; every hour, every minute he expects to hear that Samuel has joined the camp.
now, when his trial seemed over, behold a second trial—Samuel comes not. The prophet of God said he would come; the prophet of God does not come as he said.
Why Samuel did not come, we are not informed ; except that we see it was God's will to try Saul still further ; however, he did not come, and now let us observe what was Saul's conduct.
Hitherto he had acquitted himself well; he had obeyed to the letter the command of God by His prophet. He had waited in
faith though in fear; he feared the Philistines, but had faith in God. Othat he had continued in his faith! but his faith gave way, when his trial was prolonged.
When Samuel did not come, there was no one of course to offer sacrifice; what was to be done ? Saul ought to have waited still longer, till Samuel did come. He had had faith in God hitherto, he should have had faith still. He had hitherto trusted that God would save him from the enemy, though his army was scattered, in God's own way. God fights not with sword and bow; He can give victory to whom He will, and when He will, “ with His own right hand, and His holy arm,” can HE accomplish His purposes. Saul was God's servant, and therefore he might securely trust in God. He had trusted for seven days; he might go on trusting for eight, nine, or ten. And let it be observed, that this fresh trial was hardly a greater trial than before, for this reason—that his faith hitherto had met with its reward. Though the Philistines were in his front, and his own men were deserting, yet, strange to say, the Philistines had not attacked him. Thus he had had proof that God could defend him from them. HE who had kept him so safely for seven days, why should He not also on the eighth ? however, he did not feel this, and so he took a very rash and fatal step.
That step was as follows : since Samuel had not come, he determined to offer the burnt sacrifice instead of him ; he determined to do what he could not do without a great sin; viz. intrude into a sacred office to which he was not called ; nay, to do what he really could not do at all; for he might call it a sacrifice, but it would not be really such, unless a priest or prophet offered it. You know how great a crime it is for persons now to become teachers and preachers, or to baptize or administer the LORD's Supper without authority ; this was Saul's crime, he determined on sacrificing, without being an appointed minister of God. This is a crime often denounced in Scripture, as in the case of Korah, and Jeroboam, and Uzziah. Korah was swallowed up by the earth on account of it; Jeroboam had his hand withered, and was punished in his family; and Uzziah was smitten with leprosy. Yet this was Saul's sin. “ And Saul said,” in the words of the text, “Bring hither a burnt offering to me, and peace offerings ; and he offered the burnt offering." Now observe what happened immediately afterwards. “And it came to pass, that as soon as he had made an end of offering the burnt offering, behold, Samuel came, and Saul went out to meet him, that he might salute him." You see, if he had waited but one hour more, he would have been saved this sin; in other words, he would have succeeded in his trial instead of failing. But he failed, and the consequence was, he lost God's favour, and forfeited his kingdom.
Let us observe what Samuel said to him, and what he answered; “And Samuel said, What hast thou done? And Saul said, Because I saw that the people were scattered from me, and that thợu.camest not within the days appointed, and that the Philistines gathered themselves together to Michmash; therefore, said I, the Philistines will come down now upon me to Gilgal, and I have not made supplication unto the LORD: I forced myself, therefore, and offered a burnt offering.” Such was his excuse; and now hear what Samuel thought of it: “And Samuel said to Saul, Thou hast done foolishly : thou hast not kept the commandment of the LORD thy God, which HE commanded thee: for now would the Lord have established thy kingdom upon Israel for ever. But now thy kingdom shall not continue : the LORD hath sought Him a man after His own heart, and the Lord hath commanded him to be captain over His people, because thou hast not kept that which the Lord commanded thee.” Such was the end of Saul's trial : he fell; he was not obedient; and in consequence he forfeited God's favour.
How much is there in this melancholy history which applies to us, my brethren, at this day, though it happened some thousand years ago! Man is the same in every age, and God Almighty is the same; and thus what happened to Saul, king of Israel, is, alas, daily fulfilled in us, to our great shame. We all, as Saul, have been raised by God to great honour and glory; not, indeed, glory of this world, but unseen spiritual glory. We were born in sin, and the children of wrath ; and He has caused us to be baptized with water and the Spirit in the Name of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost: and as Saul, by being anointed with oil by Samuel was made king of Israel, so we, by baptism, are made kings, not kings of this world, but kings and princes in the heavenly kingdom of Christ. He is our head, and we are His brethren; He has sat down on His throne on high, and has been crowned by His Eternal Father as Lord and Christ; and we, too, by being made His brethren, partake His unseen, His heavenly glory. Though we be poor in this world, yet, when we were baptized, we, like Saul, were made strong in the LORD, powerful princes, with angels to wait upon us, and with a place on Christ's throne in prospect. Hence, I say, we are, like Saul, favoured by God's free grace; and in consequence we are put on our trial like Saul—we are all tried in one way or another ; and now consider how many there are who fall like Saul.
1. How many are there who, when in distress of any kind, in want of means, or of necessaries, forget, like Saul, that their distress, whatever it is, comes from God; that God brings it on them, and that God will remove it in His own way, if they trust in Him: but who, instead of waiting for His time, take their own way, their own bad way, and impatiently hasten the time, and thus bring on themselves judgment! Sometimes, telling an untruth will bring them out of their difficulties, and they are tempted to do so. They make light of the sin; they say they cannot help themselves, that they are forced to it, as Saul said to Samuel; they make excuses to quiet their conscience; and instead of bearing the trial well, enduring their poverty, or whatever the trouble may be, they do not shrink from a deliberate lie, which God hears. Or, again, in like circumstances, they are tempted to steal ; and they argue that they are in greater want than the party they injure, or that he will never miss what they take; and that they would not take it, were not their distress so great. Thus they act like Saul, and thus they tempt God in turn to deprive them of their heavenly inheritance. Or further, perhaps, they both steal and lie also ; first steal, and then lie in order to hide their theft.
2. Again, how many are there who, when in unpleasant situations, are tempted to do what is wrong in order to get out : of them, instead of patiently waiting God's time! They have, perhaps, unkind parents, and they are so uncomfortable at home, that they take the first opportunity which presents itself of getting away. They marry irreligious persons, not asking themselves the question whether they are irreligious, merely from impatience to get out of their present discomfort; “Any thing but