Why was God so mean to Saul? (1 Samuel 13, 15) Part 1

Why was God so mean to King Saul?  A premature sacrifice (1 Sam. 13) and an incomplete slaughter (1 Sam. 15).  As sins go, those seem mild.  David, “a man after God’s own heart”, committed adultery and murder, and he got off lightly compared to the judgment that fell upon Saul.  Why was God so mean to Saul?

Let’s look at 1 Samuel 13.  Saul had already defeated the Ammonites (1 Sam. 11), and a Philistine garrison.  Now he’s getting ready to fight the Philistine army.  The prophet Samuel told Saul to wait for seven days at Gilgal, then he would come and make a sacrifice before the battle.  Saul is outnumbered.  According to the text, Saul has about 3000 troops and the Philistines have about 30,000 chariots and 6000 horsemen.  Saul is seriously outnumbered.  The Philistine forces are “like sand on the seashore” (1 Sam. 13:5).

To make things worse, Saul’s forces are starting to panic and desert.  Saul realizes he needs to act fast, and he can’t wait for Samuel any longer.  It’s been seven days.  He needs to take matters into his own hands.  He offers the sacrifice to ensure that they have God’s favor for their military efforts.

The moment Saul’s sacrifice is over, Samuel shows up.  Was he watching Saul all this time?  Samuel blasts Saul, “What have you done?!?”  Then Samuel tells Saul that God would have given him an eternal dynastic promise (David got one of those: 2 Samuel 7), and his kingdom is going to be cut off.

Seems harsh, don’t you think?

Why do you think Samuel and God were so harsh toward Saul?  (to be continued…)

Image from

Clash of the Titans (1 Samuel 5)

The Israelites had just lost a battle to the Philistines, so they came up with the brilliant idea to get the Ark of the Covenant for the next battle (1 Samuel 4).  Surely, if they had the ark with them, they couldn’t lose.  (That’s what Hitler thought, according to the definitive source on these matters, Raiders of the Lost Ark.)

When the ark is brought into camp, the Israelites celebrate so vociferously, the Philistines hear the noise and panic when they realize Israel has the Ark of YHWH, the God who defeated Egypt.  (Apparently, they share Hitler’s perspective on the ark.)  The Philistines overcome their fear, defeat Israel and capture the Ark as a prize of victory.  It appears that the Philistine god, Dagon, is stronger than YHWH.  Clash of the Titans round 1 winner: Dagon. 

The Philistines decide to set up the ark next to Dagon in Dagon’s house (1 Samuel 5).  But YHWH doesn’t prove to be a nice guest.  The next morning Dagon has fallen over, face down, on the ground, before YHWH.  Dagon apparently lost and had to do homage.  Clash of the Titans round 2 winner: YHWH. 

Dagon’s servants set him back up next to YHWH, thinking surely YHWH will be a better guest this time.  Unfortunately for Dagon, that’s not the case.  The next morning, Dagon has taken a beating.  Like last time: facedown, on the ground, before YHWH.  This time, however, he’s lost his head and hands.  YHWH decided to send a message.  Don’t mess with me.  Clash of the Titans round 3 winner: YHWH.

Three points to make.  First, the text doesn’t tell us explicitly that YHWH knocked Dagon down, but merely suggests it.  Subtlety can be more powerful than clarity.  Show, don’t tell.

Second, this story is funny.  And people think the Bible doesn’t contain humor…

Third, the God of the Bible will tolerate no rivals.  (I don’t actually think YHWH actually lost in the first round–he was punishing his people.)

How does God humiliate his rivals elsewhere in the Bible?  How does he do it today?

Image of Dagon from Wikipedia (Dagon, the fish-god looks like a Weeble, he’ll wobble, but he won’t fall down?)