The story of Saul begins with much hope.
Samuel is led to find the chosen king of Israel when he meets Saul. Saul is everything you expect in a king. Tall, handsome, strong, the appearance and demeanor of a natural born leader. He looks the part and has the qualities to accept and thrive in such a position.
The people rejoice at their new king and Saul quickly leads them to victories. They triumph over their enemies, finally uniting as a nation again and being strengthened by God’s power. They defend against and attack surrounding nations, gaining victory after victory. Everything is going so well.
That is when Samuel decides to step down. The period of judges is now over and a new season has come upon Israel. Kings were now the official leaders, physically and spiritually. They would set the example as well as direct the nation as a whole.
But Samuel is very aware of the evil that can come from one person having so much power. His farewell speech is filled with warnings and a call to repent. Do not forget who your real leader is; do not forget who your real judge is. Because whether or not the king punishes you for the sins you have committed, one day you are going to have to answer to God for them.
And if the king turns from God, if the king decides to ignore God, who will he have to answer to? That alone is the cause of so much evil: people believing they are the only judge on what is right or wrong.
There are three events recorded in Saul’s reign which lead to his downfall, God’s choosing of another king, and finally something worse than death.
The first is in Chapter 13.
Saul was made king. His army had attacked a Philistine outpost at Geba and now the whole of Philistia or Plest was getting ready for war. They assembled an enormous army: six thousand charioteers and soldiers as numerous as the sand. And what did the Israelites do when they heard about their army? They hid. They hid like animals and some ran away, getting clear out of Israel. Already many had forgotten that the LORD would fight for them if they were faithful to him. They didn’t look for God in this situation, they only saw the circumstances. They only saw what was impossible for them and fear shot through their veins.
A few men remained with Saul, ready to fight. It was custom to sacrifice before battles, to gain God’s favor. The high priest would come and go through the ritual, and as long as it was accepted the army would do well. Reasons for it not being accepted were: the priest was engaging in sin, the offering is the wrong type or not what was specified, or the wrong person was leading it.
Saul was told to wait for Samuel (v.8) and he did, mostly. He waited a week. For six days he obeyed, but on the seventh one the pressure had become too much. On the seventh day his men began to depart and he doubted Samuel. So he did what pride will always lead us to do: He took matters into his own hands. He did it his way, rather than waiting and depending on someone else. (read v9)
Saul offered the sacrifices – his first mistake, and the first sign that his devotion to God was waning.
His leadership skills and talent were becoming the source of his power, not the LORD.