“So I forced myself…”
Reading: 1 Samuel 13:1-–15:35
As I read about the actions and heart of Saul, I find similarities between his life and my own that I wish I did not. I’m willing to go out on a limb and say I’m probably not the only one, but I won’t project my thoughts on anyone else… at least not today, not in this post.
Reading in chapter thirteen, Saul had been given specific instructions by Samuel. The details of the instructions aren’t critically important, but Saul’s situation was deteriorating as was his patience. Saul felt as if he had to “do something,” so he did. Against Samuel’s instructions.
I think the interesting points I noted as I read this account was the wrestling it seems that Saul went through. It might not be obvious in the written account, but it certainly seems implied. It is evident that Saul knew his instructions because he waited as he had been told. Also, when he was confronted by Samuel, he began to explain himself and offer up an excuse…even to the point of projecting part of the blame on Samuel.
“When I saw that the people were slipping away, and that you did not come within the days appointed, and that the Philistines were mustering…” -1 Samuel 13:11 NRSV
Saul goes on to fully explain himself and then caps his excuse with the words that really caught my attention; “so I forced myself, and offered the burnt offering” (1 Samuel 13:12).
“I forced myself;” says Saul. Some versions read, “I felt compelled…” In either event, what comes across to me is there was a deliberate weighing of a decision to choose against what he knew to do. “I forced myself.” Indeed. As I reflect on the choices of my life, if I am transparent, I have done exactly as Saul did in this account. There have been more than a few occasions when I have known the right thing to do and I deliberately chose a different path. Some of these decisions were not so obviously blatant rebellion against something I was instructed to do, but I think there have been times when I had a strong sense of what God wanted from me… I sensed the Holy Spirit guiding me and I felt “compelled to go a different direction.” Like Saul.
This attitude in itself is bad enough, but when confronted and rebuked by Samuel for his actions of insolence and disobedience, Saul appears to simply shrug off the rebuke and go his way.
“Samuel said to Saul, ‘You have done foolishly; you have not kept the commandment of the LORD your God, which he commanded you…’ And Samuel left and went on his way…” (1 Samuel 13:13-15)
There are a number of lessons here for consideration, not the least of which is Saul’s continuing downward spiral toward complete self-absorption. Saul continued to “force himself” to make the decisions he wanted to make and then justify his disobedience in words that were couched in religious pontifications. He always did what he did for the glory of God… so he said. Interestingly, every choice he made “for God” was against the instructions and commandments of God.
I think the primary lesson I’m taking from this reading today was how easy it was for Saul to first turn his back to God. I wonder if he had been repentant when first confronted by Samuel if there would have been a different outcome. I also think while this might have been an obvious transgression, there are probably less obvious acts each of us might wrestle with, “feeling compelled” to do what we want to do that ultimately take us in a direction other than where God wished to take us. Perhaps when I “force myself” to do things my way, I don’t turn 180 degrees from God… I just turn 45 degrees away from him. And the slide begins.
I don’t want this to be me, not even a little bit. I’m in a season of seeking God’s direction for a new chapter of life for me and my wife. I don’t want to be second-guessing God and justifying guesses with religious reasoning. I don’t want to pontificate as Saul did that by doing what he did he could glorify God all the more. Samuel responded to Saul’s dogmatic excuses with these words:
“Has the Lord as great delight in burnt-offerings and sacrifices, as in obedience to the voice of the Lord? Surely, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams. For rebellion is no less a sin than divination, and stubbornness is like iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, he has also rejected you from being king.” (1 Samuel 15:22-23)
I do not want to take for granted hearing the Word of the Lord to me. When I ask God’s direction, I want to hear Him speak. I want to act in obedience to all He speaks to me. I do not want to reject His Word. I think paying attention to the little decisions and acting with integrity with those choices might be preparations for the bigger decisions. Getting the little decisions right and obedient might be what helps deter me from “forcing myself” to do what I think best instead of choosing to wait and obey God.