1 Samuel 13 is most notably the chapter in which King Saul sins against the Lord by offering a burnt offering instead of waiting for Samuel to do so, thereby forfeiting a generational claim to the throne of Israel.
His offering of unauthorized, strange fire, and the subsequent blame-shifting, excuse-making, is not Saul’s singular sin in the chapter, though.
Verse 7 reads, “As for Saul, he was yet in Gilgal, and all the people followed him trembling.”
Where is Saul’s sin here? Saul sins by leading fearful men into battle. This violates God’s instruction in Deuteronomy 20:8, which says, “And the officers shall speak further unto the people, and they shall say, What man is there that is fearful and fainthearted? let him go and return unto his house, lest his brethren’s heart faint as well as his heart.” Fear is a disease of faithlessness. Men who were afraid of the enemy were not to go into battle, lest they spread their sickness among the men. Saul disobeys blatantly. All the men who followed him were trembling at the prospect of battle. There were no Nesbits, Wallaces, or Cameron’s. They trembled.
Why would Saul break such clear instruction? He chose to lead fearful men because he himself was a fearful man. He was afraid of the enemy, and so thought not of the law. He should have started with 3,000 men from his standing army, plus all the men of Israel he called to gather in Gilgal. But the people hid themselves from the Philistines and Saul had become afraid, to face such a foe with only 600. You see this fear come out when excusing his sinful offering to Samuel.
"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."
How had this situation come about, that Israel’s army, the army of the Lord of hosts, would be marked by trembling and cowardice? At least two structural changes set Israel up for this sinful embarrassment. First, we’re right on the back end of Israel rejecting God as her King. Sin has consequence. And the consequence of a nation rejecting God as King is that the nation becomes vulnerable to all sorts of terrors. Lions are on the streets, and horses and chariots are mighty. The foundation of the prohibition of fear in God’s army is that God leads it.
Deuteronomy 20:1-4 reads,
When thou goest out to battle against thine enemies, and seest horses, and chariots, and a people more than thou, be not afraid of them: for the Lord thy God is with thee, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt. And it shall be, when ye are come nigh unto the battle, that the priest shall approach and speak unto the people, And shall say unto them, Hear, O Israel, ye approach this day unto battle against your enemies: let not your hearts faint, fear not, and do not tremble, neither be ye terrified because of them; For the Lord your God is he that goeth with you, to fight for you against your enemies, to save you.
Who or what is there to fear when Jehovah goes with you, to fight for you against your enemies, to save you? He can put an entire army to flight simply by bringing thunder from on high on their heads. But Israel loved Baal and Ashtaroth. They forsook God. They didn’t want him as King. They wanted a king like the nations. And, so, they got one, a king who was afraid leading a people afraid.
Second, Saul was in the process of building his standing army. Not only is a standing army necessary to guard the long term aspirations of tyrants, it’s also necessary to make battle a professional, instead of voluntary, matter. If you belong to a standing army and a battle is before you, you must fight, scared or not. But, as God instructed Israel in Deuteronomy, if battle presents itself to a people whose defense is mustered voluntarily, it frees up only the brave to meet the enemy’s charge.
Covenant with Christ. Christ as King. A nation of free men, free of fear, free to do battle when the need arises.
The order of the day.