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Hebrew scholars consider that either something is missing from verse 1 in the Hebrew manuscripts or that the whole verse was not originally in the text. After Saul's victory at Jabesh-Gilead he sent most of his army home, but chose 3000 from among them, 2000 to remain with him and 1000 to be under the leadership of his son Jonathan. The case of Jabesh-Gilead was a one time matter quickly accomplished, though there had been no previous organization. But a standing army would require capable organization. Saul confined this likely so as not to attract too much attention from the Philistines who were at this time strong enough to consider Israel virtually under their domination.
Immediately we hear of Jonathan, however, he is seen attacking a garrison of the Philistines. His faith stands in refreshing contrast to his father's rationalizing and indecision. Typically the Philistines speak of mere formal religion, a form of godliness with no spiritual power. Can faith submit to this? Certainly not. But of course Jonathan's action awakened the displeasure of the Philistines. Saul, however, who had not the faith to initiate this, blew the trumpet to inform Israel: he is ready to take advantage of Jonathan's faith to the extant that Israel understood that it was Saul who had taken the action. Israel then gathers to Saul in Gilgal, while the Philistines gather a great army that would seem invincible by its very size. Today too we know that formal religion gains multitudes in contrast to the few who claim Christ as their Center. Yet Jonathan had not been afraid to attack this formidable foe. It seems amazing that they could gather 30,000 chariots, six thousand horsemen and footmen virtually unnumbered.
This array strikes fear into the hearts of the men of Israel, and they seek every possible hiding place, whether caves, thickets rocks, high places or pits. Why should the faith of God's people be so weakened because of being outnumbered? "If God be for us, who can be against us?" (Romans 8:31). Would faith not cry to God in firm confidence? Some of Israel even deserted their own land, choosing to cross the Jordan to avoid possible conflict. Let us remember that God does not provide us with armour for our backs! (Ephesians 6:11-17). Those who remained with Saul did so trembling! Yet there was the courage to follow in spite of fear.
Samuel had told Saul to wait for him at Gilgal for seven days -- "till I come down unto thee, to offer burnt offerings and to sacrifice sacrifices of peace offerings" (ch.10:8). Saul waited just the seven days, then instead of depending on the word of Samuel, took matters into his own hands and offered a burnt offering. Samuel arrived just as he had finished sacrificing.
Samuel's question, "What hast thou done?" seems to indicate that he realized something was amiss. Saul's answer, however, is prefaced by rationalistic excuses. He was alarmed because the people were being scattered while the Philistines were gathering ready for battle, and that Samuel had not arrived more quickly. He realized that if the Philistines attacked he would need the help of God; but instead of simply asking God's direction as to this matter, he says, "I forced myself therefore, and offered a burnt offering." He ignored any thought of HEART DEPENDENCE on God, but forced himself to resort to the outward formality of worshipping God, as though that would be of some magical value. Such is man in the flesh: he recognizes nothing but formalism in the worship of God and thinks he is honoring God while disobeying His plain word.
Samuel solemnly reproves this disobedience, telling Saul that he had done foolishly; for certainly at any time disobeying God's commands is foolishness. The issue is deeply serious. If Saul had simply obeyed, his kingdom would have been permanently established; but his disobedience to God settled the fact that his kingdom would not continue. So soon after the beginning of his reign Saul is forewarned that the Lord has sought a man after His own heart, to make him captain over His people. This refers directly to David, as we see in Chapter 16; but it is typical of the fact that the kingdoms of men must all be set aside by God, who will eventually bring in the Man after His own heart, the Lord Jesus Christ, who alone can be trusted with the responsibility of reigning fully for God.
Though God had given sentence that Saul was to lose his kingship, yet he was not deposed immediately: he was allowed to remain for some years in the place of rule. In fact, David was not yet pointed out as the man to succeed him: this awaited Chapter 16 where David was anointed, though not reigning for some time.
Samuel then left Saul, going to Gibeah, and Saul is seen now to have only six hundred men, over two-thirds depleted from the former number. Vastly outnumbered by the Philistines, he has no heart whatever to proceed to the attack. The Philistines, on the other hand, do not seem inclined to attack Saul, but use maneuvers evidently intended to intimidate Israel without direct confrontation three companies of "spoilers" came from their camp, going in different directions, evidently to plunder the villages of Israel. Saul's army was no protection for these oppressed people: the Philistines had them at their mercy while Saul was trembling under a threat of an attack by the camp of the Philistines.
A major complication also was that the Philistines had deprived Israel of metal workers, so that Israel's army had no swords or spears. Even to sharpen their farm implements they had to go to the Philistines, except for those that could be sharpened with a file. There is of course a serious spiritual lesson in this. Mere formalistic religion will always deprive us of any true spiritual defense. Forms are substituted for the pure truth of God, "the sword of the Spirit", and in this case the people of God are left powerless. In the day of battle, therefore, only the two leaders, Saul and Jonathan, possessed weapons. How similar to formalistic religion! Only clergymen are expected to have any knowledge of the Word of God. The laity depend on the clergy to interpret the Bible for them, so that they can only follow blindly and helplessly, having no clear grasp of the Word of God for themselves. They are virtually under the domination of the Philistines.
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Grant, L. M. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 13". Grant's Commentary on the Bible. https://studylight.org/
the Second Week of Advent