The High Price of Disobedience
Samuel’s sons did not walk with the Lord. Therefore, the people wanted a king who would rule over them and fight their battles (1 Sam. 8:19–20). They wanted to be just like other nations. So the prophet Samuel, instructed by God, granted the request.
The first king of Israel was Saul, a promising, energetic man from a humble family in the tribe of Benjamin (9:1–2, 16; 10:1). Yet his life is the story of a reign that began well but, because of disobedience, ended in tragedy.
Saul began his reign like a judge. He delivered the people of Jabesh in Gilead from the vicious Ammonites (11:1–13). After this victory, the Israelites loved him and renewed and confirmed his kingship at Gilgal (vv. 12–15).
Saul provided impressive military victories for the Israelites, who wanted a king to fight their battles. Unfortunately, he behaved like the kings of other nations. He also failed to obey the Lord with his whole heart. In the end, he became yet another example of how God fulfills His promises, including the judgments.
The events in 1 Samuel 13—15 record King Saul’s transgressions. His first was offering an unlawful burnt sacrifice. “What have you done?” Samuel asked him (1 Sam. 13:11). He replied,
When I saw that the people were scattered from me, and that you did not come within the days appointed, and that the Philistines gathered together at Michmash, then I said, “The Philistines will now come down on me at Gilgal, and I have not made supplication to the Lᴏʀᴅ.” Therefore I felt compelled, and offered a burnt offering (vv. 11–12).
Since many pagan kings viewed themselves as priests of their religion or cult, Saul may have thought he also headed the national faith. But Israelite kings were forbidden to be priests (cf. 2 Chr. 26:18). Because of this sin, Samuel told Saul, “Now your kingdom shall not continue” (1 Sam. 13:14).
Another transgression was Saul’s failure to “utterly destroy” the Amalekites, as God had commanded (15:3).
But Saul and the people spared [King] Agag and the best of the sheep, the oxen, the fatlings, the lambs, and all that was good, and were unwilling to utterly destroy them. But everything despised and worthless, that they utterly destroyed (v. 9).
So God was finished with Saul. Through the prophet Samuel, God told Saul He rejected him as king:
Has the Lᴏʀᴅ as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lᴏʀᴅ? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lᴏʀᴅ, He also has rejected you from being king (vv. 22–23).
Even though Saul lost the kingship and the kingdom, his judgments did not come immediately. He reigned 40 years (Acts 13:21). His acts of disobedience occurred when he was fairly young, early in his reign. It is possible that 20 to 25 years may have passed between the time of his illegal sacrifice and his disregard of God’s command concerning the Amalekites.
Some scholars suggest that at least 28 years may have elapsed between God’s rejection of Saul and David’s ascension to the throne at Saul’s death.
God will keep His promises, even His impending judgments: “For God will bring every work into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil” (Eccl. 12:14).