1 Samuel 13: 10-22
Just as he finished making the offering, Samuel arrived, and Saul went out to greet him.
‘What have you done?’ asked Samuel.
Saul replied, ‘When I saw that the men were scattering, and that you did not come at the set time, and that the Philistines were assembling at Michmash, I thought, “Now the Philistines will come down against me at Gilgal, and I have not sought the Lord’s favour.” So I felt compelled to offer the burnt offering.’
‘You have done a foolish thing,’ Samuel said. ‘You have not kept the command the Lord your God gave you; if you had, he would have established your kingdom over Israel for all time. But now your kingdom will not endure; the Lord has sought out a man after his own heart and appointed him ruler of his people, because you have not kept the Lord’s command.’
Then Samuel left Gilgal and went up to Gibeah in Benjamin, and Saul counted the men who were with him. They numbered about six hundred.
Saul and his son Jonathan and the men with them were staying in Gibeah of Benjamin, while the Philistines camped at Michmash. Raiding parties went out from the Philistine camp in three detachments. One turned towards Ophrah in the vicinity of Shual, another towards Beth Horon, and the third towards the borderland overlooking the Valley of Zeboyim facing the wilderness.
Not a blacksmith could be found in the whole land of Israel, because the Philistines had said, ‘Otherwise the Hebrews will make swords or spears!’ So all Israel went down to the Philistines to have their ploughshares, mattocks, axes and sickles sharpened. The price was two-thirds of a shekel for sharpening ploughshares and mattocks, and a third of a shekel for sharpening forks and axes and for repointing goads.
So on the day of the battle not a soldier with Saul and Jonathan had a sword or spear in his hand; only Saul and his son Jonathan had them.
Saul has been made the first King of Israel and it’s not going great for him. His constant struggle with deep insecurity and people pleasing leads to him making bad decisions. He’s more concerned with what people think than with what God thinks and so God tells him that his days as king are numbered:
“You have done a foolish thing,’ Samuel said. ‘You have not kept the command the Lord your God gave you; if you had, he would have established your kingdom over Israel for all time. But now your kingdom will not endure; the Lord has sought out a man after his own heart and appointed him ruler of his people, because you have not kept the Lord’s command.’” (1 Sam 13: 13-14)
As if that wasn’t bad enough for him, the greatest enemies of the Israelites, the Philistines, have been attacking them from all angles and have left them pretty much defenceless. They’ve confiscated all of the Israelite weapons to the point where we read this:
“…not a soldier with Saul and Jonathan had a sword or spear in his hand; only Saul and his son Jonathan had them.” (13:22)
A whole army and they have only two swords to share among them all. It is a picture of desperation and despair. They are defenceless and vulnerable.
The worst part is that we read this about Saul, their King, their military leader, the one who should have been inspiring them with courage and bravery to stand up for themselves:
“Saul was staying on the outskirts of Gibeah under a pomegranate tree in Migron. With him were about six hundred men, among whom was Ahijah, who was wearing an ephod. He was a son of Ichabod’s brother Ahitub son of Phinehas, the son of Eli, the Lord’s priest in Shiloh.” (1 Sam 14: 2-3)
Saul and his 600 soldiers aren’t preparing for battle, they’re not coming up with a strategy or making weapons or practising hand to hand combat. What are they doing? They are camping under a tree. They are just sitting there, in the shade, paralysed by passivity – but trying to look spiritual at the same time.
We read about Ahijah who was the priest and it says that he’s wearing an ephod. The ephod was an ornamental breastplate that the priest traditionally wore when they needed God to guide them or tell them what to do.
So Saul, the King, is sitting under a tree with 600 men trying to look spiritual - like he’s seeking to know God’s will: 'God – what do you want me to do? Where do you want me to go? What’s your will for my life?'
The thing was, he already knew what God’s will was for him.
Back when he was made king we read this is chapter 9:
“…he will deliver them from the hand of the Philistines.” (9: 16)
His calling was to fight, to lead the people into battle, to take hold of what God had given them. So while this prayer meeting he’s having under a pomegranate tree might look really spiritual, it’s actually just Saul disobeying God and avoiding what he has been called to do.
I’m all for prayer. Prayer is really good. But sometimes praying is a way to avoid obeying.
Praying can become an excuse for passivity and inactivity. Prayer can become a way of resisting God’s will rather than of doing God’s will.
We’ve all done it. Someone in church asks us to serve somewhere or to help with something, to meet a need. They’ve caught us off guard and we don’t have time to think of an excuse quick enough – so what do we say: 'I’ll pray about it and get back to you.' Which often means: 'I don’t want to do it, but I don’t want to just say no, so I’ll spiritualise it and come back next week and tell you I don’t feel led to do it.'
I’m being slightly facetious here because I’ve done it myself. Sometimes we pray about stuff that God has already made clear, we spiritualise our disobedience. For example:
“I know I shouldn’t be going out with this person but I think God might use me to reach them for Him.”
“I know I really shouldn’t be getting drunk but I’m showing the world that you can be a Christian and have fun too.”
“I know that I’ve told nobody I’m a Christian and I never share my faith – but my lifestyle is making an impact on people in my office. And didn’t Jesus say – 'preach the Gospel at all times and use words if necessary'?”
Actually no – Jesus didn’t say that. He was too busy telling people about God’s Kingdom AND showing it through his actions.
Where God has made things clear, we don’t need to pray for clarity. You’re not going to be the one exception He makes to what He has already said in His Word.
Of course there are times when we do need guidance and when we should seek God’s will. But let’s not spiritualise our disobedience to what He has already made plain and clear.