In 1 Samuel 13, Saul and his army were waiting for Samuel to arrive to offer a sacrifice before going to war. Samuel had not yet come, and the soldiers were preparing to flee rather than fight the Philistines. Growing impatient, Saul chose to offer a sacrifice on his own.
Just as Saul finished the sacrifice, Samuel arrived and said, “You have done a foolish thing. . . . You have not kept the command the LORD your God gave you” (1 Samuel 13:13). Why was offering a sacrifice foolish? Because Saul had disobeyed a direct command from the prophet Samuel given in 1 Samuel 10:8: “Go down ahead of me to Gilgal. I will surely come down to you to sacrifice burnt offerings and fellowship offerings, but you must wait seven days until I come to you and tell you what you are to do.”
These seven days were evidently to teach Saul patience and dependence upon God. He waited the seven days, but just barely. As soon as the week was up, he offered the sacrifice on his own, refusing to wait any longer for Samuel. In this presumptuous act, Saul showed a variety of weaknesses that made him unfit to be king, including impatience and self-reliance. His offering showed that he did not want to work together with Samuel or obey God; rather, he wanted to take control of the situation himself. The king was to follow the Lord’s commands, yet Saul felt he could do as he chose and thus made a foolish mistake.
Another, indirect reason that Saul’s action was wrong is that Saul was not a priest or Levite. Thus, he could not legally offer a burnt offering or peace offering. Saul was of the tribe of Benjamin and was not to do the work of a priest. However, the biblical text notes that the direct reason why Saul’s sacrifice was sinful was that Saul disobeyed Samuel’s command. Samuel was a prophet and person of authority, and the word of the Lord had been spoken through him to Saul.
In fact, King David, the king who followed Saul, offered a burnt offering to the Lord. In 2 Samuel 24:25, we read, “David built an altar to the LORD there and sacrificed burnt offerings and fellowship offerings.” In this case, however, David did so in obedience to the command of the prophet Gad (2 Samuel 24:18–19).
Many valuable lessons can be learned from Saul’s situation. First, it is clear that God desires our obedience. Second, much patience is often needed to fully follow God’s Word. Third, there are negative consequences when we choose our own way instead of God’s. Though it may not be easy or convenient, obeying God’s Word is the best choice for our lives and for our service to others.