Saul’s sins involved a premature sacrifice (1 Sam. 13) and an incomplete slaughter (1 Sam. 15). That doesn’t sound too bad, particularly in comparison to David’s murder and adultery. And yet as we observed in a recent blog, those are the sins that got Saul in big trouble with YHWH and his prophet Samuel.
So, why was God and Samuel so harsh in judging Saul? I see two reasons.
First, Saul as the initial king of Israel, his actions set a precedent for future kings. And, as we read the story in the books of Samuel and Kings, later rulers struggled to obey. Samuel had just made it clear to the people and their brand new king that they all need to obey diligently, and if they don’t, they’d be punished (1 Sam. 12:15, 25). So, Saul’s decision to disobey Samuel’s command to wait, had consequences. Leaders lead for good, or for ill.
Second, Saul should have known that he could trust YHWH and wait. The clues are there in the text. The description of the Philistine army, “like the sand of the seashore in multitude” is reminiscent of Gideon’s story where the Midianites are “countless as the sand of the seashore”. And what was Gideon’s big problem, according to YHWH? Too many soldiers. The fact that Saul was losing men was a good thing. He wasn’t going to need to do the lap like a dog trick. Saul had just been reminded of the story of Gideon by Samuel (1 Sam. 12:11; Gideon is called Jerubbaal by Samuel). Despite appearances, Saul should have trusted God.
The final thing to note here, is that Saul’s judgment wasn’t as harsh as it may seem. He was allowed to rule for another 15 years or so. The main punishment fell upon Jonathan, who wasn’t able to succeed his father. And Jonathan was an impressive guy.
But this is just the first judgment against Saul. Come back later for the discussion of why God judged Saul so harshly for not completely slaughtering the Amalekites. That’s a problem.
So, was Samuel too harsh or too lenient to Saul?
Image of Samuel Reproving Saul from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Samuel_reproving_Saul_.jpg