The background to this occasion is found in 1 Samuel 10:8: ‘Then go down before me to Gilgal. And behold, I am coming to you to offer burnt offerings and to sacrifice peace offerings. Seven days you shall wait, until I come to you and show you what you shall do.’ These words were said by Samuel to Saul when he was anointed privately as king. I suspect they mean that whenever Saul as king had to make a difficult decision he and the people were to gather in Gilgal for a week to prepare themselves before the Lord, and then Samuel would arrive, offer sacrifices indicating their dedication to God and fellowship with God, and tell them what to do. Saul recalled these words of Samuel and implemented them.
There is no doubt that Saul was in a difficult situation, and we may be tempted to sympathise with him in his dilemma. A king should be seen to be doing something and not hanging around waiting for an old prophet to appear. Therefore, he took charge of the offerings. This looks like partial obedience, which is the same as disobedience. It is interesting that Samuel arrived after the burnt offering but before the peace offering (13:10), which perhaps points to the fact that wrong dedication never results in peace.
As we look at Saul’s attempt to invoke the Lord’s help, we should remind ourselves that the way to become a leader in the area assigned to us involves not attempting to lead in areas not assigned to us. Saul was not called by God to be a priest, and therefore he should not have attempted to arrange the offerings.
We see here in Saul the sin of impatience. Now it is true that time seemed to be short and was becoming continually shorter. But that did not justify him attempting to make a sacrifice. Patience takes on board the full extent of God’s promises and recognises that often God’s guidance comes at the last minute. I suspect that patience is one of the most difficult Christian traits to exercise in our instant society, but God’s word requires it of both laypeople and leaders.
Saul also attempted to blame Samuel for what had gone wrong, so he was guilty of the sin of shifting the blame. Self-justification often uses religious language (v. 12). Saul’s failure to admit wrong meant he could not repent of his sin to God. Sadly it is often the case that the desire not to lose face with men means that we cannot see the face of God by repentance.
God’s judgment in this situation was that Saul would not become a hereditary monarch. The judgment was mitigated in that for the present he would retain the kingdom. But there is a principle here, which is our actions can deprive us of future spiritual blessings. Therefore we should be careful in our decisions.