“Be careful of what you ask for” is a way to begin our reflection upon these chapters. At the end of chapter 12 Samuel gives a succinct synopsis of the righteous deeds of the Lord and the peoples’ request for a king. Though they have God as their true King, they ask for another and the sad story of Saul’s kingship begins.
Two years into his reign Saul forsakes the word of the Lord communicated to him and the people of Israel: fear the Lord and be faithful to him, for he is faithful to you. This word is undeniably true, yet Saul and those with him are fearful, and he forsakes what he knows to be true and attempts to get ahead of God, to force God’s hand which never works (even though we all try it).
The scene is a tense one. Saul and the Israelites are understandably anxious as the Philistines are lined up to crush them with numbers likened to the sands on the seashore. At this point the people of Israel head for the hills – and for caves, rocks, tombs, and holes in the ground – to escape destruction (13:6).
Saul, afraid that the people are scattering, does not wait for the Lord’s appointed time for Samuel to make the burnt offering to the Lord, but instead offers it himself. As soon as he finishes Samuel arrives and Saul confesses that he has “forced himself” (13:12) and Samuel speaks the words that point the way to another king: “You have done foolishly. You have not kept the command of the Lord your God…the Lord would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. But now…the Lord has sought out a man after his own heart…” (13:13-14)
This man will be David, but beyond that we know that this change will ultimately lead the way back to God and to his eternal reign over his people. Jesus, the Son of David, the Son of God, will reign forever through his cross and resurrection. Our hope will be in what was always the only hope for the people of God: God’s own faithfulness.
In these chapters the faith and actions of Jonathan provide a stark contrast to those of his father Saul. Rather than getting ahead of God and relying on his own strength, Jonathan recognizes that God alone has the ability to save and he trusts the Lord to provide and to deliver: “for nothing can hinder the Lord from saving by many or by few.” (14:6) While Jonathan fears the Lord, Saul repeatedly fears the opinions of the people and seeks to please them.
I would venture to say we know that we need to be most concerned with pleasing God and being faithful to him, but do you not feel a twinge of concern when you think about your own heart – or am I the only one? Do you recognize Saul-like tendencies in yourself? Is there hope for us?
Thankfully, this is not a call to perfection. The Lord is well aware of our sins and shortcomings and the cross is his perfect answer. Our ultimate peace and joy is found in recognizing his sovereignty and provision.
He alone is the true King, the one who cares for us, who fights for us, the one to whom we can look and be saved. Waiting upon him is not inactivity or perfection, it is joyfully recognizing who he is and our need for him, gladly receiving the gift he has given to us, finding our strength in him.