And he tarried seven days, according to the set time that Samuel had appointed: but Samuel came not to Gilgal; and the people were scattered from him. And Saul said, Bring hither a burnt offering to me, and peace offerings. And he offered the burnt offering. And it came to pass, that as soon as he had made an end of offering the burnt offering, behold, Samuel came; and Saul went out to meet him, that he might salute him. And Samuel said, What hast thou done? And Saul said, Because I saw that the people were scattered from me, and that thou camest not within the days appointed, and that the Philistines gathered themselves together at Michmash; Therefore said I, The Philistines will come down now upon me to Gilgal, and I have not made supplication unto the Lord: I forced myself therefore, and offered a burnt offering. And Samuel said to Saul, Thou hast done foolishly: thou hast not kept the commandment of the Lord thy God, which he commanded thee: for now would the Lord have established thy kingdom upon Israel for ever. But now thy kingdom shall not continue: the Lord hath sought him a man after his own heart, and the Lord hath commanded him to be captain over his people, because thou hast not kept that which the Lord commanded thee. 1 Samuel 13:8-14
As I studied this passage for a sermon recently, I was struck by the fact that Saul attempted to use a sacrifice as a way to unify the people. In other words, he used worship to meet an objective for his kingdom.
I don’t deny that a result of congregational worship is unity of the brethren. I also agree that unity helps the brotherhood band together for the purpose of fighting spiritual battles. It almost sounds like Saul’s strategy was sound in philosophy—worship, unity, victory!
But we have a pronouncement from the prophet of God. “Thou hast done foolishly!” I am sure those words stung in the ears of Saul. He might have thought, “If I hadn’t done this, things would have fallen apart. I didn’t have a choice.” Does the result then justify the strategy? Most of us as fundamental believers would say ‘no'(as would I).
Saul had obviously trod into areas of responsibility that were not given to Him by God. It was the prophet’s place to lead the people in worship of God, not the king’s. But this seems to extend even further. Saul’s motivations are called into question. He gives his reasons for his actions: his own insecurity about the readiness of the people for battle and thus an uncertain victory. Winning was his goal. I also believe winning was God’s plan for the battle, but not His plan for worship.
God’s plan for worship is the worship itself. Worship is the purpose. As a pastor I have often planned services for our church to worship God corporately and at times found myself contemplating how the event would encourage unity and thus strengthen our church. I began to strategize how worship could be used to build up His church. Again, these are all admirable goals and even byproducts of true worship. But how dare we use them as strategies!
But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth. John 4:23, 24
God seeks worshippers, not winners! You may ask why. Because true worshippers are seeking God’s heart! God makes winners out of worshippers, but we cannot breeze by devotion to God even for an admirable goal—not in our personal devotion or our corporate worship.
Even Saul disagreed with his own decision. He “forced” himself to do something that he knew was wrong. How did he justify it? Because Samuel did not show up at the appointed time. Like Saul, we get nervous when we plan something and it seems God’s Spirit does not show up on our timetable. He should have waited, but he took things into his own hands. So, God said He would find someone after His heart and took the stewardship of the kingdom from Saul.
What can we learn? Let me give three areas that God has burdened me about:
1. Focus on worship, not winning. We all want to be winners for God and nothing makes us a winner like a personal devotion to Him alone. If we truly worship God, we will win at the things important to God and not be led down paths of our own ambition.
2. Don’t rationalize not following God’s Word. No one breaks God’s commands to meet God’s objectives. That is foolish. Only through obedience can we know that we are truly meeting the directives of God’s heart. If it is questionable, don’t do it! Follow the clearly revealed Word of God with no excuses.
3. Wait on God! If only Saul had waited a few more minutes. Samuel arrived just as he finished. He couldn’t see what God was doing so he tried to fix it—manipulate the ministry. How sad. How much more when we don’t wait on God and see what He will do!