A foolish mistake

Saul, Israel’s first king, from a human perspective, fully satisfied the desires of the people. “He was a man of great stature from the most military-minded tribe in all Israel and was considered capable of leading the people in battle against their enemies” (note on 1 Samuel 10:20-24), but Saul lacked spiritual discernment and was prone to making rash decisions. Only a couple of years into his reign as king of Israel, Saul started to show signs of pride and seemed to be overconfident of his ability to defeat the Philistines, Israel’s most formidable enemy. 1 Samuel 13:5-7 tells us:

And the Philistines mustered to fight with Israel, thirty thousand chariots and six thousand horsemen and troops like the sand on the seashore in multitude. They came up and encamped in Michmash, to the east of Beth-aven. When the men of Israel saw that they were in trouble (for the people were hard pressed), the people hid themselves in caves and in holes and in rocks and in tombs and in cisterns, and some Hebrews crossed the fords of the Jordan to the land of Gad and Gilead. Saul was still at Gilgal, and all the people followed him trembling.

The Israelites were terrified of the Philistines and Saul’s leadership was little comfort to them. Samuel instructed Saul to go down to Gilgal and wait for him to come and offer sacrifices to God. 1 Samuel 13:8-10 states:

He waited seven days, the time appointed by Samuel. But Samuel did not come to Gilgal, and the people were scattering from him. So Saul said, “Bring the burnt offering here to me, and the peace offerings.” And he offered the burnt offering. As soon as he had finished offering the burnt offering, behold, Samuel came. And Saul went out to meet him and greet him.

Saul’s decision to offer the burnt offering himself was a violation of the Mosaic Law and an indication that his heart was not right with God. When Samuel arrived, he asked Saul:

“What have you done?” And Saul said, “When I saw that the people were scattering from me, and that you did not come within the days appointed, and that the Philistines had mustered at Michmash, I said, ‘Now the Philistines will come down against me at Gilgal, and I have not sought the favor of the Lord.’ So I forced myself, and offered the burnt offering.” And Samuel said to Saul, “You have done foolishly. You have not kept the command of the Lord your God, with which he commanded you. For then the Lord would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. But now your kingdom shall not continue. The Lord has sought out a man after his own heart, and the Lord has commanded him to be prince over his people, because you have not kept what the Lord commanded you.” (1 Samuel 13:11-14)

Saul told Samuel that he had forced himself to offer the burnt offering. The Hebrew word that is translated forced, ʾaphaq (aw-fakˊ) means “to contain, i.e (reflexive) abstain” (H662). The name Aphek is derived from ʾaphaq. In the sense of strength, the name Aphek means “fortress” (H663).

It seems that Saul had intentionally walled himself off from the promptings of the Holy Spirit when he decided to offer the burnt offering himself. Samuel’s reaction to Saul’s disobedience affirms this viewpoint. “Samuel said to Saul, ‘You have done foolishly. You have not kept the command of the LORD your God, with which he commanded you’” (1Samuel 13:13). Samuel’s assessment that Saul had made a foolish mistake when he went against the command of the LORD was probably based on an awareness of Saul’s motives. The Hebrew word that is translated foolishly, çakal (saw-kalˊ) means “to be silly” (H5528). Silliness is an indicator of spiritual immaturity or a lack of spiritual discernment. The Hebrew word kaçal (kaw-salˊ), another form of çakal, means “to be fat, i.e. (figuratively) silly” (H3688). The connection between fatness and silliness may be a lack of discipline or in a spiritual sense, mental exercise. A word that is derived from kaçal, keçel (kehˊ-sel) is properly translated as “fatness, i.e. by implication (literally) the loin (as the seat of the leaf fat) or (generally) the viscera; also (figuratively) silliness or (in a good sense) trustKecel means ‘stupidity; imperturbability; confidence” (H3689).

Peter’s second letter contained a reference to the prophetic word about Israel’s Messiah being confirmed by Jesus’ transfiguration (2 Peter 1:16-21). In this passage, Peter stated, “No prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:20-21). The phrase carried along means “impelled, by the Holy Spirit’s power, not acting according to their own wills, or simply expressing their own thoughts, but expressing the mind of God in words provided and ministered by Him” (G5342). It seems likely that when King Saul forced himself to offer the burnt offering, he was confident that he was doing the right thing, but Saul was acting according to his own will, not God’s will, as it had already been expressed to Saul that he should wait for Samuel to arrive and that he would offer the burnt offering (1 Samuel 10:8). The book of Proverbs discusses at length the foolish behavior of a man who is void of understanding. The fool has a knowledge of God but does not properly evaluate or understand what he knows (H3683). It says in Proverbs 13:16, “Wise people think before they act; fools don’t—and even brag about their foolishness” (NLT). Saul’s explanation of why he had offered the burnt offering himself instead of waiting as he had been told to made it seem as if Samuel was at fault and that Saul had saved the day. “Saul said, ‘When I saw the people were scattering from me, and that you did not come within the days appointed, and that the Philistines had mustered at Michmash, I said, “Now the Philistines will come down against me at Gilgal, and I have not sought the favor of the LORD.” So I forced myself, and offered the burnt offering’” (1 Samuel 13:11-12). Samuel’s reply made it clear that Saul was acting out of ignorance, rather than a desire to please God. He said, “But now your kingdom shall not continue. The LORD has sought out a man after his own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14). The Apostle Paul referred to Samuel’s declaration in a message he shared with the Jews at Antioch. Paul said:

“Men of Israel,” he said, “and you God-fearing Gentiles, listen to me.

“The God of this nation of Israel chose our ancestors and made them multiply and grow strong during their stay in Egypt. Then with a powerful arm he led them out of their slavery. He put up with them through forty years of wandering in the wilderness. Then he destroyed seven nations in Canaan and gave their land to Israel as an inheritance. All this took about 450 years.

“After that, God gave them judges to rule until the time of Samuel the prophet. Then the people begged for a king, and God gave them Saul son of Kish, a man of the tribe of Benjamin, who reigned for forty years. But God removed Saul and replaced him with David, a man about whom God said, ‘I have found David son of Jesse, a man after my own heart. He will do everything I want him to do.’

“And it is one of King David’s descendants, Jesus, who is God’s promised Savior of Israel! (Acts 13:16-23)

Paul identified David as a man after God’s own heart, someone that would do everything that God wanted him to, and connected him with God’s plan of salvation. It was important for the king of Israel to be completely committed to God, but what was really at stake was the execution of a plan that would result in Jesus’ birth. Samuel told Saul, “You have not kept the command of the LORD your God, with which he commanded you. For then the LORD would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. But now your kingdom shall not continue” (1 Samuel 13:13-14). Samuel referred to Saul’s kingdom as your kingdom, rather than the kingdom of God or heaven, and told him that it would not continue. Saul’s reign over Israel was a temporary arrangement that had to do with Israel’s request for a human leader to guide them into military success. Underlying God’s approval of their request was his intention of establishing an eternal kingdom that would be ruled by Jesus.

Jesus often talked about the kingdom of heaven and on more than one occasion associated it with God’s covenant with Abraham. Jesus said, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith. I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 8:10-12). Jesus used the phrase the sons of the kingdom to refer to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Israelites that were not members of the kingdom of heaven. The context of Jesus’ statement was the lack of faith among the Jews. “Jesus had just commended the great faith of a Gentile, the Roman centurion who came seeking healing for his servant (v. 10). The ‘sons of the kingdom’ may refer to unbelieving Jews who thought that their ancestry automatically entitled them to the kingdom of God (see John 8:31-59). The Jews thought that they were assured of special favor by God, but the Lord reminded them that they could be ‘last’ in the kingdom of God while those who thought themselves ‘last,’ such as tax collectors and prostitutes, would be ‘first’ if they exercised faith in him (Matthew 21:31). Furthermore, unbelieving Jews would be, ‘thrown into the outer darkness’ because of their hypocritical claim that they were the children and followers of Abraham. Abraham was the father of the faithful, and although these men were his physical descendants, they were not part of the family of faith” (note on Matthew 8:11, 12).

In the same way that the unbelieving Jews of Jesus’ day thought that their relationship to Abraham would assure them of special favor by God, so Saul thought that his position of king of Israel exempted him from obedience to God’s word. In the heat of a battle with the Philistines, Saul “laid an oath on the people, saying, ‘Cursed be the man who eats food until it is evening, and I am avenged on my enemies’” (1 Samuel 14:24). It says in 1 Samuel 14:27-30, “But Jonathon had not heard his father charge the people with the oath, so he put out the tip of the staff that was in his hand and dipped it in the honeycomb and put his hand to his mouth, and his eyes became bright. Then one of the people said, ‘Your father strictly charged the people with an oath, saying, “Cursed be the man who eats food this day.”’ And the people were faint. Then Jonathon said, ‘My father has troubled the land. See how my eyes have become bright because I tasted a little of this honey. How much better if the people had eaten freely today of the spoil of their enemies that they found. For now the defeat among the Philistines has not been great.’” When Saul inquired of the LORD and didn’t receive an answer from him, “Saul said, ‘Come here, all you leaders of the people, and know and see how this sin has arisen today. For as the LORD lives, who saves Israel, though it be in Jonathon my son, he shall surely die…Then Saul said, ‘Cast the lot between me and Jonathon.’ And Jonathon was taken. Then Saul said to Jonathon, ‘Tell me what you have done.’ And Jonathon told him, ‘I tasted a little honey with the tip of the staff that was in my hand. Here I am; I will die.’ And Saul said, ‘God do so to me and more also; you shall surely die, Jonathon.’ Then the people said to Saul, ‘Shall Jonathon die, who has worked this great salvation in Israel? Far from it! As the LORD lives, there shall not one hair of his head fall to the ground, for he has worked with God this day.’ So the people ransomed Jonathon, so that he did not die. Then Saul went up from pursuing the Philistines, and the Philistines went to their own place” (1 Samuel 14:38-46).

The quagmire of unbelief that resulted from Saul’s rash vow led to the LORD’s eventual rejection of Saul as king over Israel. During his confrontation of Saul, Samuel asked him:

“Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices,
    as in obeying the voice of the Lord?
Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice,
    and to listen than the fat of rams.
For rebellion is as the sin of divination,
    and presumption is as 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)

Samuel indicated that Saul had rejected the word of the LORD. “Although God had chosen Saul to be king, Saul’s response caused a change in God’s plan for Saul…Purity of heart and attitude are more important to God than perfection and beauty of ritual” (H3988).

Speaking through the prophet Jeremiah, God explained to the people of Israel, “For in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, I did not speak to your fathers or command them concerning burnt offerings and sacrifices. But this command I gave them: ‘Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be my people. And walk in the way that I command you, that it may be well with you’” (Jeremiah 7:22-23). The book of Hebrews further clarifies God’s point by showing that it was not Christ’s sacrifice that made us holy and acceptable to God, but Jesus’ obedience to his Father’s will. Hebrews 10:5-10 states:

Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said,

“Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired,
    but a body have you prepared for me;
in burnt offerings and sin offerings
    you have taken no pleasure.
Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God,
    as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.’”

When he said above, “You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law), then he added, “Behold, I have come to do your will.” He does away with the first in order to establish the second. And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

Sanctification is “spoken of persons: to consecrate as being set apart of God and sent by Him for the performance of His will.” The Greek word hagiazo (hag-ee-adˊ-zo) means “to make holy” and refers to “the sanctifying influences of the Holy Spirit on the heart” (G37).

Jesus told his disciples after he was gone, that his Father would give them “another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth” (John 14:16). Jesus went on to say, “These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:25-26). The Greek word that is translated Helper, parakletos (par-akˊ-lay-tos) “is the one summoned, called to one’s side, especially called to one’s aid and is used of Christ in his exaltation at God’s right hand, pleading with God the Father for the pardon of our sins (1 John 2:1); and the Holy Spirit destined to take the place Christ with the apostles (after Christ’s ascension to the Father), to lead them to a deeper knowledge of the gospel truth, and give them divine strength needed to enable them to undergo trials and persecutions on behalf of the divine kingdom (John 14:16; 14:26; 15:26; 16:7)” (G3875). The Holy Spirit’s role of Helper is said to be linked with believers gaining a deeper knowledge of the gospel truth.

Paul instructed Titus to “teach what accords with sound doctrine” (Titus 2:1). The concept of sound doctrine is related to nourishment, it is that which brings about health and vitality. Paul described the results of sound doctrine as being “sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness” (Titus 2:2). Paul repeated the attribute of self-controlled several times as he continued to talk about the result of sound doctrine on women, young men, and all people (Titus 2:5, 6, 12). The Greek words sophron (soˊ-frone), sophrosune (so-fros-ooˊ-nay), sophronos (so-fronˊ-oce), sophronizo (so-fron-idˊ-zo), and sophroneo (so-fron-ehˊ-o) are all derived from the same root word, sozo (sodeˊ-zo) which means “to save” (G4982). Another word that is derived from sozo is soma (soˊ-mah) which refers to “the body (as a sound whole)” (G4983). The connection between soundness and being saved was apparent in Jesus’ healing ministry. When the Pharisees asked Jesus’ disciples why he ate with tax collectors and sinners, he responded, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matthew 9:12-13). Later, Jesus was approached by a woman who had suffered from a discharge of blood for twelve years. Matthew tells us that she “came up behind him and touched the fringe of his garment, for she said to herself, ‘If I only touch his garment, I will be made well (sozo, to save).’ Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, ‘Take heart, daughter, your faith has made you well.’ And instantly the woman was made well (sozo, to save)” (Matthew 9:20-22).

The Greek word sophron (soˊ-frone), which is translated self-controlled in Titus 2:2, means “safe (sound) in mind” (G4998) and is derived from the base of sozo and phren (frane). Phren appears only in 1 Corinthians 14:20 where Paul told the Corinthian believers, “Brothers, do not be children in your thinking (phren). Be infants in evil, but in your thinking (phren) be mature.” Paul associated phren with immature Christians and conveyed the idea of making a foolish mistake. In the King James Version of the Bible, phren is translated understanding. Proverbs chapter eight focuses on the blessings of wisdom and states in verse five, “O child-like ones, learn to use wisdom. O fools, make your mind understand” (NLV). This verse seems to suggest that being self-controlled is the result of training our minds to think wisely and therefore, eliminating foolish mistakes. After Samuel confronted him, Saul admitted, “I have sinned, for I have transgressed the commandment of the LORD and your words, because I feared the people and obeyed their voice” (1 Samuel 15:24). Saul’s mistake was that he obeyed the voice of the people rather than the voice of God. It wasn’t that Saul didn’t know what God wanted him to do. Saul knew what God wanted him to do, but the people disagreed with it so, he chose to please the people instead of obeying God.

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