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I see similar questions have already been asked about this passage but there was a lack of definite answer, some see it as a series of mistakes.

I have been trying to understand the exact nature of Saul's sin surrounding the offering he sacrificed and his subsequent rejection. It seemed he was predestined to fail for David to be chosen.

-Was the sin the fact that he wasn't a priest, type of sacrifice, or that he didn't wait for Samuel to arrive (panicking because he was late), or was it the disobedience that caused God's anger? Or just that he had a lack of awareness of the presence of God and wasn't "after God's own heart"?

What was the commandment that Saul broke?

To be chosen and then rejected by the Most High God must have been the depths of misery, I cannot think of anything worse. I want to understand exactly what he did wrong.

And Samuel said, “What have you done?” Saul said, “When I saw that the people were scattered from me, and that you did not come within the days appointed, and that the Philistines gathered together at Michmash, then I said, ‘The Philistines will now come down on me at Gilgal, and I have not made supplication to the Lord.’ Therefore I felt compelled, and offered a burnt offering.”

And Samuel said to Saul, “You have done foolishly. You have not kept the commandment of the Lord your God, which He commanded you. For now the Lord would have established your kingdom over Israel forever.

But now your kingdom shall not continue. The Lord has sought for Himself a man after His own heart, and the Lord has commanded him to be commander over His people, because you have not kept what the Lord commanded you.”

I Samuel 13:11-14 NKJV https://bible.com/bible/114/1sa.13.11.NKJV

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  • I’ve wondered this as well. It seems like David was a much worse king if you look at the 2 kings’ body of work as a whole. Why is it that Saul’s disobedience was dealt with so quickly and harshly and David’s was not?
    – Joseph
    Commented Mar 27 at 22:06

4 Answers 4

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The events of 1 Samuel ch13 should be compared with Samuel's instructions in a a previous chapter.

"And you shall 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 shall come to you and show you what you shall do" (1 Samuel ch10 v8, RSV).

Despite the time interval, ch13 is the occasion when he is supposed to be following those instructions. The Philistines invade, and Saul fulfils the first line by summoning the host of Israel to Gilgal (v4). "He waited seven days" (v8). Unfortunately his estimate of "seven days" is a little short, perhaps by at least an hour. So Saul gets impatient, and makes the burnt offerings and peace offerings which he was supposed to leave to Samuel. Samuel arrives, just as he promised, finding that the offerings have only just been completed (v10).

The wording of Samuel's verdict is "You have not kept the commandment of the Lord your God" (v13).That is, Saul has not conformed with the instruction of ch10.

There is no suggestion that the act of sacrifice was wrong in itself. It was wrong for Saul on this occasion because it conflicted with his instructions. If we look ahead to ch14 we find another battle in which the people are in danger of offending God. They begin to slaughter and eat the captured animals, and the grievous fault is that they are doing this without offering sacrifice. They are not separating out the blood. Saul's remedy for this danger is to set up an altar, so that every man can kill his own animal with appropriate ritual (ch14 vv31-35). It would appear that this was still regarded as the norm, which explains why he felt comfortable about doing it in ch13.

Two other incidents throw light on God's rejection of Saul. In ch14 vv38-45, Saul has adjudged Jonathan as worthy of death, because he has, however accidentally, broken an oath which Saul swore in the people's name (v24). Jonathan is released because the crowd objects to his death. In ch15, the Lord commands the total destruction of Amalek, including all their animals. But in v15 of the same chapter the people are planning to use the best of the animals to "sacrifice to the Lord at Gilgal"; that is, to hold a massive celebratory feast from which the Lord will get his usual portions. That is not the commanded "destruction", as Samuel is quick to point out. And the key factor in ch13, let us remember, is that Saul was giving way to the impatience of the people.

In other words, the common element in those three incidents is that Saul is listening to the crowd and being swayed by them instead of listening to God. God deputes leaders to lead his people, not to follow them.

Finally, Saul's disobedience in ch13 was a symptom of insufficient faith. He was waiting for God to do something and got tired of waiting. There is good reason why Revelation (e.g. Revelation ch13 v10) demands patience (or endurance) from the saints. "Those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength" (Isaiah ch40 v31). "Faith" may be the real point of difference between David and Saul.

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  • Excellent answer thank you for taking the time to unpack and explain it to me, I appreciate it. Commented May 30, 2023 at 6:27
  • Additionally you'll note when Saul is later killed in battle .... He is beheaded by an Amalekite who brings his head to David. This is the group he was meant to totally destroy at Gods command in chapter 15. So he is killed by a man from tribe he was supposed to have destroyed but didn't through disobedience. Immediately after this specific failure Samuel tells him: You have refused the Lord's command and now he rejects you as King.
    – Marshall
    Commented Jun 15 at 9:40
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There is a toxic element to sin that is not repented of, if there is no turning back to God and away from disobedience to God's commands. Now, in the text in question, there is no mention of Saul expressing repentance, though he probably regretted his action, especially as it would result in God giving the kingdom to another.

It is not until chapter 15 that we learn of Saul later trying to excuse himself to Samuel for presumptuously and rashly acting disobediently once more, this time in dealing with the Amalekites. But Samuel will have none of it. He rebukes Saul again:

"Hath 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 hearken than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because thou hast rejected the word of the Lord, he hath also rejected thee from being king." 1 Samuel 15:22-23 A.V.

Only then does Saul express regret and admit that he has sinned, fearing the people more than he feared the Lord (vss. 24 & 30). Yet his motive is to save face before the people. This shows how Saul's sin is becoming toxic.

After other sins, it culminates in the sin of witchcraft (chapter 28).

While David also committed sins during his kingship, the difference between him and Saul was that David repented. David still had to suffer the consequences of his sins, but his genuine repentance stopped his sins becoming toxic.

The question is, "What exactly was Saul's sin that caused God to reject him and punish him - what was the commandment that Saul broke?" The answer is given in the passage quoted above, 1 Samuel 15:22-23: his stubborn rebellion (shown in disobedience) and rejecting the word of God, particularly in resorting to witchcraft.

But you have to get the whole picture about Saul demonstrating such sins, and not just look at that one particular event. God reads the hearts and knew the course Saul would end up taking, because Saul never truly repented of his various sins.

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  • Wow, this is a great answer, repentance is so important. I never thought about it like this, thanks for your answer. Commented Jun 6, 2023 at 0:06
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Saul was appointed king to represent the Lord.

It was his own idea to make an oath that no man should eat until the Philistine army was destroyed. The result was that the campaign was a failure. God honored Jonathan's faith in the campaign and used him to begin the victory that day. He wasn't present during the oath and that honey he ate could have refreshed many more men and led to total victory. Saul's willingness to put his own son to death shows how out of touch with God he was even then.

By offering the sacrifice himself he demonstrated that he had no fear or regard for the Lord. The destruction of the Amalekites was meant to be divine judgment not a military campaign for plunder. It sent the wrong message to the surrounding nations. Saul was seeking to bring honor and fame to himself by allowing the army to enjoy the spoils. He also flat out lies to Samuel that they intended to sacrifice the best livestock. And Saul chose to spare Agag as a trophy or perhaps to use his influence in some way for his own gain.

It was clear that Saul was using God's chosen people for his own gain. Yet God was so patient with him.

It was God's spirit in David when David challenged Goliath, even though Saul was the obvious choice to face the giant. David had two opportunities to kill Saul but God wouldn't let that sit well on his conscience. Instead of repenting Saul went further and further seeking his own way, and by trying to kill David he was making himself an absolute enemy of God. He was so mad and deluded that he still sought the Lord's council before the final battle when he died, as though God should assist someone who was working completely against Him.

He seemed to be unable to realize or admit how much he had failed and rebelled. A common side effect of evil is a darkened understanding and the inability to acknowledge any wrongdoing. Seeking the medium was the last straw. Now he was communing with the dead when at one time he had the full anointing of God. How far he fell!

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  • Welcome to the site, David, and for giving a direct answer to the question. I edited it merely to improve the format by providing paragraph breaks. This makes it more likely to be read than if just a solid block of text. You mentioned a few times about Saul not repenting, and I just wonder if you could add how God readily forgives the repentant, and David repented from his sin, which could indicate the fundamental sin of Saul - his refusal to repent? Just a suggestion.
    – Anne
    Commented Jun 15 at 9:01
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    – Community Bot
    Commented Jun 15 at 13:51
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Just to add on to Stephen Disraeli's answer, Saul in his impatience did the duty of a priest of God, even though he was not ordained to be a priest. In doing so he broke the commandment of God. The commandment in this case is the prophetic word spoken by Samuel. I learned this from an exegetic Prophetic teaching by Dr. Lovy Elias.

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  • @KarenSharma It is best to include the complete scripture reference to back up your answer. And add any further biblical proofs. While we are grateful for scholar's input in our research, the opinion of another teacher does not have the same weight as evidence. Note that Saul did several other evil things, so God's rejection may have been because of accumulative misdeeds. Keep contributing! Peace.
    – ray grant
    Commented Jun 1, 2023 at 21:54

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