Saul rejected the word of the Lord and found that the Lord God rejected him. Don’t reject God; obey Him through the power of the Holy Spirit!

Who Rejects Whom?

Posted: June 17, 2021 in 1 Samuel

1 Samuel 15, “Who Rejects Whom?”

Although the TV show was before my time, as a dad I have greatly grown to appreciate the phrase (and title) “father knows best.” On one hand, the idea of it is downright frightening. After all, I am very aware of the fact that I do not often know what is best. On the other hand, I love the idea of trust being extended to a wise and loving father, who attempts to lead his family in the things of God.

Of course, there is one Father who always knows best: our heavenly Father. The will and word of the Lord God is perfect, and ought to be received gladly and obeyed willingly. Yet as experience tells us, that isn’t always the case. In fact, it is rarely the case. There is a reason that the model prayer taught by Jesus to the disciples included the line, “Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”: we do not often do the will of God! Instead, we think we know what is best and we try to alter and adapt God’s ideas to our own lives and preferences.

There is a word for that kind of behavior: sin. Why? Because it is a rejection of God’s will. Sure, we might intellectually know and understand the will and word of God, able to interpret what it means; we just don’t want it for us. We want what we want for our lives, and if that means God’s will gets pushed to the side, so be it. We can always ask forgiveness later (or so we think).

That attitude is not new with us. It was shared by ancient king Saul of Israel. He believed he could alter and compromise God’s specific word and command, and it led to disastrous results. He rejected God, so God rejected him.

Saul had a spotty track-record as Israel’s first king. On one hand, he raised an army to rescue Jabesh Gilead and commanded mercy shown on those who initially opposed him (Ch 11). On the other hand, he demonstrated a lack of the fear of God when he chose to officiate sacrifices apart from the priest (Ch 13) and when he almost had his own son killed, following an unwise oath rashly sworn (Ch 14).

The latter two events were part of the same battle, of which the Philistines had assembled in overwhelming numbers against Israel. The men of Israel feared and fled, with even Saul removing himself from the battle lines. It was only because of the faith of two men (Saul’s son Jonathan and Jonathan’s armorbearer) that Israel saw God route the Philistines. Yet the pursuit of the enemies was cut short because of Saul’s foolish oaths and egotistical flesh.

Saul demonstrated that he was unfit to lead…something that would be tragically confirmed in the later battle described in Chapter 15. In this battle, Saul received clear commands from God, but they were commands that Saul attempted to compromise. He soon learned that God’s word cannot be ignored nor substituted. God will see His will completed (be it through us, or through someone else who will be willing to obey).

Like Saul, we often try to compromise God’s word, watering it down with our fleshly desires. How we need Jesus’ help to put to death the desires of our flesh, that we might follow after God alone! Do not reject God and His word…obey Him!

1 Samuel 15

  • Saul fights the Amalekites (1-9). God commands no compromise with the flesh.

1 Samuel also said to Saul, “The LORD sent me to anoint you king over His people, over Israel. Now therefore, heed the voice of the words of the LORD. 2 Thus says the LORD of hosts: ‘I will punish Amalek for what he did to Israel, how he ambushed him on the way when he came up from Egypt. 3 Now go and attack Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and do not spare them. But kill both man and woman, infant and nursing child, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.’ ”

  1. God gave three words to Saul through Samuel. First: Saul was king, but God was in charge. This is what was meant by Samuel being sent to anoint Saul as king. Saul was not born into this position, nor had he achieved it on his own. It all came by the hand and will of Almighty God. YHWH God had all authority in Israel because He installed the king. Thus, He also had the right to command the king. Saul was a man under authority because he was supposed to be under the authority of God Himself.
  2. Second: God remembered Amalek’s crime against Israel. Who were the Amalekites? They were persistent enemies of Israel, with their conflict stemming back to Israel’s initial exodus out of Egyptian slavery. Early in their journeys after crossing the Red Sea, receiving manna from heaven, and drinking water from the rock, the people of Israel journeyed through the Wilderness of Ṣin in the region of Rephidim when they were attacked by the armies of Amalek. This was when as long as Moses held out his hands, Israel was victorious in battle, and Aaron and Hur and to get on either side of Moses and help support his hands that Israel might see victory at the end of the day. At that time, God pronounced an everlasting judgment on Amalek: Exodus 17:14–16, “(14) Then the LORD said to Moses, “Write this for a memorial in the book and recount it in the hearing of Joshua, that I will utterly blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven.” (15) And Moses built an altar and called its name, The-LORD-Is-My-Banner; (16) for he said, “Because the LORD has sworn: the LORD will have war with Amalek from generation to generation.”” There was never to be peace between Israel and Amalek, never any compromise. To compromise with Amalek was like the people of God compromising with their flesh, something that could not be done. Just like the flesh has to be put to death, so it was with the Amalekites, otherwise there would remain constant danger for God’s people. – With Israel now in their promised land ruled by God’s anointed king, the time had come for retribution, which was what God commanded.
  3. Third: God rightly judged Amalek, with Saul being God’s instrument of judgment. Saul was to “attack Amalek, and utterly destroy” them and their possessions. This is the same language and instruction received by Joshua concerning many of the peoples in the initial conquest of the land. Amalek was considered ḥerem (חָרַם), being “under the ban” of God. The entire nation, along with all their possessions belonged to the Lord, devoted to destruction. The fate that awaited the ancient city of Jericho was shared by Amalek, and Saul was to be like Joshua, destroying it all and taking nothing for himself. The directions were clear, with no room for misunderstanding.
    1. What was commanded to be destroyed? Men, women, children, babies, and all their livestock. Was this cruel? By our standards today, certainly. This would violate all kinds of modern standards of war. But according to ancient standards of the time? No. It was not unusual at all. Moreover, we need to remember that this was not commanded by a sinful human king, but by the Righteous God. This was His perfect judgment, intended to address current sin, provide retribution for past sin, and prevent any future generational sin. Those who might survive from Amalek would continue to seek Israel’s destruction (and indeed, they did!). It was right for God to order their destruction, as well as merciful of Him not to allow future generations of children to be born into such wickedness.

4 So Saul gathered the people together and numbered them in Telaim, two hundred thousand foot soldiers and ten thousand men of Judah. 5 And Saul came to a city of Amalek, and lay in wait in the valley.

  1. The army was gathered, with numbers large enough to deal a crushing blow. The numbers were lower than the force assembled earlier in Saul’s career for Jabesh Gilead (300,000 – 11:8), but much larger than what was recently recorded against the Philistines (5,000 initially, which dwindled to 600 – Ch 13). Even so, an army of 210,000 was enough for the battle ahead of them. It was a good start.
  2. Why were Judah’s numbers listed as separate from that of the rest of Israel? It isn’t said. Nationally speaking, Saul commanded one united kingdom, although the “unity” was still fairly loose at the time. This perhaps serves as a bit of foreshadowing of David, showing how he would not only come from the tribe of Judah, but would eventually serve as a truly unifying king between Judah and the rest of Israel.

6 Then Saul said to the Kenites, “Go, depart, get down from among the Amalekites, lest I destroy you with them. For you showed kindness to all the children of Israel when they came up out of Egypt.” So the Kenites departed from among the Amalekites.

  1. Again, for all of the wrong done by Saul, we need to take care to notice the few righteous things he did. In this case, he demonstrated righteous mercy toward “the Kenites.” Who were the Kenites, and what “kindness” had they shown Israel (as opposed to the Amalekites who had been cruel to Israel)? The term Kenites is sometimes used as another description of the Midianites, particularly as it relates to the family of the father-in-law of Moses (Judg 1:16). 
  2. In any case, Saul’s specific command from the Lord was to utterly destroy the Amalekites; not the Kenites. It was not a statement that 100% of the Kenites were always spared by God and were included in the covenant; it just meant that this particular judgment of God was meant for a particular people. Anyone among the Kenites who were in rebellion against God had a reprieve and a window of opportunity for them to recognize God’s mercy and repent. Whether anyone did is anybody’s guess. All the Bible tells us is that they “departed” from the upcoming battlefield.
    1. Perhaps you have seen how God has administered judgment and/or discipline on someone else, whereas He has not yet exposed your own sins. This is not a time for you to get cocky; it is an opportunity for you to humble yourself before God while you still have a chance. Today’s merciful reprieve is not guaranteed for tomorrow. Do not waste your opportunity to be reconciled to God through Jesus Christ!

7 And Saul attacked the Amalekites, from Havilah all the way to Shur, which is east of Egypt. 8 He also took Agag king of the Amalekites alive, and utterly destroyed all the people with the edge of the sword. 9 But Saul and the people spared Agag and the best of the sheep, the oxen, the fatlings, the lambs, and all that was good, and were unwilling to utterly destroy them. But everything despised and worthless, that they utterly destroyed.

  1. By nearly all measures, the attack was successful. Saul and the Israelites not only descended upon the initial Amalekite city, but pursued the army in a campaign that reached almost to the borders of Egypt. Agag the king was defeated and untold scores of his people were destroyed. Yet for all the success of Israel, the success was limited. How? …
  2. Saul’s obedience was a failure. He (along with the people) “spared Agag” and much of the Amalekite livestock. Keep in mind that God’s specific command to Saul was not to spare them (v3). Yet Saul chose otherwise. Objection: “How can this be termed a failure? Isn’t it a good thing for Saul to show mercy?” Not at the expense of rejecting God’s specific command. This was not mercy on Saul’s part; this was disobedience. Saul was merciful to the Kenites; he was rebellious regarding King Agag and the livestock. Why? Because Saul was a man under authority. He did not have the right to pick and choose which commands of God to obey and which to alter or amend. Saul had many rights as the king, but that was not one of them.
    1. Nor is it one of ours! As born-again believers, we have been blessed many ways in Christ. Simply the fact that we have the entire written word of God in our hands to read with our own eyes is a blessing (one that was not enjoyed by most Christians in history!). As privileged as we are, we need to remember our place. We are blessed to read and to hear God’s word; not to change it. We do not have that right. We are neither to ignore, to add to, nor take away from, nor do anything else that would change the word of God. What God said, He intended to say. What God commands, we are intended to obey. It is part of calling Jesus our “Lord.” That is not His first name; it is His title and His role. Jesus is our true King and we are to do what He says, when He says it, in the manner that He intends it. Might we have questions? Sure…but it does not absolve us from the responsibility to obey what He has said.
  3. What Saul did had a massive ripple effect. Notice that Saul’s failure was not his alone; it spread to the entire nation. All kinds of people took for themselves what God considered ḥerem (under the ban). Saul had taken the king; the people took the livestock. Again, remember that God’s command to Israel was nothing new – it was no different than what God commanded Joshua regarding Jericho. But recall that there was one Israelite who committed a similar sin at Jericho, stealing some of the devoted spoil to himself: Achan, who was later stoned to death at Ai (Josh 7). This time, it wasn’t only one man; it was much of the nation. They all followed in the sin of Saul and Achan, eventually committing far more violations than Achan ever did.
    1. It is a sad reminder that sin is contagious. When one person sins (particularly a leader), then more sin is sure to follow. Other people join in the example, and like yeast in a lump of dough, the sin ferments and rots and spreads to places unknown. Far better to stop sin in its tracks! Confess it now before you become contagious to someone else.
  4. Of course, the Hebrews did not keep everything as spoil. Notice what it was the Israelites did destroy: “everything despised and worthless.” If it was easy to destroy, they didn’t mind doing it. Yet if it was valuable, they sinned and kept it for themselves.
    1. It is reminiscent of how many people treat their worship. They are happy to give God the leftovers, but they want the best for themselves. They will give God their time, only when they believe they gave themselves enough rest or leisure. Or money, or service, or attention, or any number of issues. Once we have satisfied ourselves, then we give God the stuff we don’t care about or don’t want. We might call that many things, but don’t call it “worship.” That, it is not.

God’s will and word to Saul was clear: destroy Amalek, showing no mercy. No compromise was to be made with them, or their stuff, or with the fleshly desires of Saul or the Hebrews to keep it for themselves. All of it was supposed to go to God. It didn’t.

God’s word is no less clear to us. What He commands, we are to do. We are not to make ourselves the judges over what commands we wish to obey and which we don’t. We are simply to obey, giving Him everything

  • God rejects Saul as king (10-31). God’s commands cannot be substituted with our flesh.

10 Now the word of the LORD came to Samuel, saying, 11 “I greatly regret that I have set up Saul as king, for he has turned back from following Me, and has not performed My commandments.” And it grieved Samuel, and he cried out to the LORD all night.

  1. If we were watching this on TV, there would have been a change in scene. We had just witnessed the battle between Israel and Amalek, with Saul winning a mighty victory (even if he did compromise God’s clear command). At verse 10, the scene changes away from the battlefield to the privacy of Samuel and his home (or wherever he was). Samuel was not present to witness the fighting, but God knew exactly what took place. God tells Samuel of Saul’s sin, as well as Saul’s rejection as king. God knew what had happened, and He already knew what He intended to do about it, Thus, He informed His prophet in advance so that Samuel would be prepared as to what to say when he finally saw Saul face-to-face.
  2. Interestingly, the Scripture tells us that God regretted making Saul king. More will be said on the specific word for “regret” later in the chapter, but for now, we need to ask the question of why. Why did God regret this? Why did He feel sadness? Did God not know that this would happen? Of course He did. God knew from before the foundations of the earth that He would send His Son to be born King of Israel through the line of David, thus there was never any question that Saul’s kingdom would not endure. This was hinted even back in Genesis, when it was prophesied that a lion would come from Judah and the scepter of leadership would not depart from him (Gen 49:9). Thus, the kingdom could never remain with Saul, who was of the tribe of Benjamin. So again, why was God regretful? Because any sin is something that brings regret. There is not a sin that takes place on planet earth that does not grieve God. He is not surprised by it, and He certainly allows it as He grants us free will within this fallen world, but it still is a tragic thing. For God to experience regret over Saul’s kingdom is not for God to question Himself; it is God expressing His own perfect holiness.
    1. May we see sin as God sees sin! It might keep us further from it!
  3. While God regretted, Samuel “grieved.” Depending on the context, another way of translating this word is to say that Samuel was “angered” by Saul and the situation. And why not? Not only was Samuel’s own trust in Saul destroyed, but Saul’s sin hurt the entire nation. Saul set a terrible example in which the people followed and Saul endangered the entire nation by leaving Agag (and other Amalekites) alive. It was a righteous reason for Samuel to anger. It is no wonder that he spent all night in prayer, pouring out his heart to the Lord. Perhaps he was interceding for Saul – perhaps he was crying out for justice. Either way, Samuel’s righteous anger and grief was expressed righteously when he gave it to the Lord. 

12 So when Samuel rose early in the morning to meet Saul, it was told Samuel, saying, “Saul went to Carmel, and indeed, he set up a monument for himself; and he has gone on around, passed by, and gone down to Gilgal.”

  1. There is no small amount of arrogance in all of this. After a flagrant act of disobedience, Saul saw himself as a victorious success, worthy of his own monument. Saul doesn’t even bother giving any credit to God for the battle; this was just “a monument for himself.” Instead of waiting for others to praise him, he praised himself. What a massive act of his ego and flesh! (Indicative of his words to come!)

13 Then Samuel went to Saul, and Saul said to him, “Blessed are you of the LORD! I have performed the commandment of the LORD.” 14 But Samuel said, “What then is this bleating of the sheep in my ears, and the lowing of the oxen which I hear?” 15 And Saul said, “They have brought them from the Amalekites; for the people spared the best of the sheep and the oxen, to sacrifice to the LORD your God; and the rest we have utterly destroyed.”

  1. Saul greeted Samuel with pious language, exalting his obedience and victory. The king was ready to kick up his feet and enjoy his accolades, taking no thought as to the sin that he blatantly committed. Samuel pointed out the obvious, that there were sheep and oxen that should not have been there. It was a not-so-subtle reminder that God’s specific orders included destroying “ox and sheep, camel and donkey,” (v3). What was Samuel doing? He gave Saul an opportunity to repent…one which he did not take.
  2. Instead, Saul made excuses, claiming this was all done for the Lord. It was the “best of the sheep and the oxen” that had been spared, to give to the Lord in sacrifice. This itself was a blatant lie, in that the people already kept the best for themselves. They destroyed the worthless stuff, and likely kept the next-to-worst for use of sacrifice. Either way, the excuse is pathetic. Already, cracks are showing up in Saul’s veneer of arrogant pride.
  3. Notice a red flag pointing to Saul’s lack of faith, as he speaks to Samuel of “the LORD your” Not “my God;” nor “our God,” but “your God.” By itself, this isn’t necessarily a bad statement. After all, Saul was speaking to the prophet of the Lord, and it might be natural to defer to Samuel’s own relationship to God, especially in terms of judging potential sin. When Saul acted in his role as God’s representative, his terminology may have been different. In this case, Saul was looking to Samuel’s role as God’s representative, so this is perhaps why he described God as being Samuel’s God. Even so, the pattern set by this is telling. It will repeat throughout the chapter.

16 Then Samuel said to Saul, “Be quiet! And I will tell you what the LORD said to me last night.” And he said to him, “Speak on.”

  1. Samuel directly called Saul out on the lie. God already knew the truth and had already declared His judgment. God knew Saul’s sin and told it to Samuel “last night.” Saul’s attempt to hide the truth from the Lord was pathetic, demonstrating his faulty view of God.
  2. When caught in sin, one of the best things we can do is shut up. Just “be quiet.” Stop with the excuses, stop blaming others – just take responsibility for yourself and own up to it. This is when we follow the steps of 1 John 1:9, confessing our sins (agreeing with God that we have indeed sinned, and it is awful), and receiving the forgiveness and cleansing of God through faith in Jesus Christ. The longer we make excuses, the longer we continue in rebellion against our God. Why spend one more second in that state than necessary? Especially as a born-again Christian, be forgiven, renewed, and reconciled unto God through Christ! Be done with your sin and stop running your mouth about all the “reasons” why you sinned. There are no good reasons; only a bunch of excuses. (I know, because I’ve used them too!) We cannot justify our sin; we can only confess it. So repent from it, confess it, and be done with it!

17 So Samuel said, “When you were little in your own eyes, were you not head of the tribes of Israel? And did not the LORD anoint you king over Israel? 18 Now the LORD sent you on a mission, and said, ‘Go, and utterly destroy the sinners, the Amalekites, and fight against them until they are consumed.’ 19 Why then did you not obey the voice of the LORD? Why did you swoop down on the spoil, and do evil in the sight of the LORD?”

  1. Samuel gave Saul several reminders. (1) God had made Saul king. This had been stated at the beginning of the chapter, but it became a necessary repetition. Saul had not started out life as king; he started out small and unknown. It was God who raised him to this place. (2) God had given Saul a command. The God who had authority over Saul had given him clear orders. It was nothing less than mutiny for Saul to discard the word of the Lord and substitute his own plans.
  2. So why did he do it? Why disobey? What did it accomplish? What had Saul hoped it would accomplish? No doubt, anything Saul believed he would achieve was quickly crumbling before his eyes. This was not the response he expected from Samuel or the Lord, but it was exactly what was deserved.
  3. Notice that to disobey is to “do evil.” Saul did not have to go out and murder someone to commit evil in the sight of God. In fact, Saul killed less people than what God commanded. This too, was “evil” sin. It was wickedness. There are sins of commission and sins of omission. Both are sin. Both are equally wicked. (And both require the forgiveness of Jesus Christ!)

20 And Saul said to Samuel, “But I have obeyed the voice of the LORD, and gone on the mission on which the LORD sent me, and brought back Agag king of Amalek; I have utterly destroyed the Amalekites. 21 But the people took of the plunder, sheep and oxen, the best of the things which should have been utterly destroyed, to sacrifice to the LORD your God in Gilgal.”

  1. Saul protested/disputed the charge. In his mind, the mission was successful. The massacre had been massive. Hadn’t he obeyed the spirit of the command, if not the letter? Not only were the specific details of God’s command disobeyed, so was the spirit and intent behind it. How so? Because God was executing His righteous wrath on a dangerous threat to His own beloved people. Saul violated God’s love for Israel when Saul showed mercy to Amalek. Saul endangered God’s people by allowing people from Amalek to survive. Saul put himself directly in opposition to the intended work of God, all by violating what Saul believed were “minor” details.
    1. How careful we need to be, picking and choosing what commands of God to obey! To be sure, we need to interpret the word of God correctly, within its proper historical and Biblical contexts. We cannot impose the laws of the ancient theocratic kingdom of Israel upon the New Testament Church today. Yet, when it comes to the clear commands of the New Testament, we cannot pick and choose. When Jesus says to love, we love – when He says to forgive, we forgive – when He says to obey Him, we obey. We don’t strike our neighbor in vengeance, we do pay our taxes and respect our national rulers, husbands to love their wives as Christ does the church, etc. We do all the things that He tells us to do because He tells us to do them. We do not decide for ourselves which is best; we follow the word of God as the word of God.
  2. Question: Was Saul telling the truth (at least, as he conceived it)? Had he at least destroyed the nation of Amalek, leaving only Agag alive? Was the nation utterly destroyed? Perhaps Saul believed so, but he was most certainly wrong. Evidence of this is seen at least as early as the tail end of Saul’s reign. When David was pretending to fight with the Philistines, yet forbidden from going to battle against Israel (itself being a sign of God’s sovereign protection on David), David was away from one of his home cities of Ziklag when it was attacked by the Amalekites (1 Sam 30:1). And that does not even begin to get into the historical context of the book of Esther. The entire drama that runs through the book shows the survivors of the Amalekites (known then as the Agagites, from King Agag) attempt to commit genocide against all the Jews in the Persian empire. – And why does it all happen? It came from the sinful neglect of one man: King Saul.
  3. As to Saul’s excuses, notice how he continues to blame the people. It was the people who were disobedient; not Saul. The people took the spoil. Saul was just doing what he believed was right in offering sacrifices. (Again, to “the LORD your”) It was all a lie, of which Samuel saw straight through.

22 So Samuel said: “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 heed than the fat of rams. 23 For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, And stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, He also has rejected you from being king.”

  1. Did God not want sacrifice? No, that wasn’t what Samuel was saying. The first 5+ chapters of Leviticus go into great detail about the sacrificial system of ancient Israel. Yes, the nation was supposed to sacrifice. But sacrifice was never intended to be a substitute for obedience. (Nor is prayer or singing or Bible reading today!) God delights in obedience. Technically, the word for “obey” is word often translated “to hear.” Thus, Biblical obedience = hearing that leads to doing. It is knowing God’s word and applying it. For us, we might read the words in the Bible, but having comprehension of those words does not do much for us. We need to put them into action. And yes, this kind of obedience still pleases God. John 14:21, “He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him.” Do you want to demonstrate your love for Christ? Then do what He says!
    1. Question: Is this legalism? This is not the Bible telling Saul (or us) how to be saved. For that, there is only one way: by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, who is the way, the truth, and the life. But as to how we please God once we are saved? For that, we need to be obedient. No parent is pleased with a consistently disobedient child. Why would we expect any difference with God? God delights in us when we delight ourselves in Him and in doing what He says.
  2. If God delights in obedience, then the opposite is true as well. He despises disobedience. Disobedience is no less than any other form of wickedness, be it witchcraft or anything else. This is true theologically, but it is true practically as well. The reason that “stubbornness” is the same as “idolatry” is because the stubborn, disobedient man or woman among God’s people is an individual acting as if he/she does not know God in the first place.
  3. The judgment? Just as the word of the Lord made Saul king, the word of the Lord rejected Saul as king. Like our parents may have said to us, “I brought you into this world, and I can take you out!” God brought Saul into the monarchy and God would remove Saul (and his lineage) from the monarchy just as easily.
    1. Notice that this was comeuppance. Saul had rejected God; God was now rejecting Saul. Saul was reaping what he sowed.

24 Then Saul said to Samuel, “I have sinned, for I have transgressed the commandment of the LORD and your words, because I feared the people and obeyed their voice. 25 Now therefore, please pardon my sin, and return with me, that I may worship the LORD.”

  1. Saul’s excuses don’t stop. He changes his story from speaking of the people passively taking the plunder to actively threatening Saul against stopping them. “I feared the people.” Really? Saul was king and he never before showed any sign of fearing his subjects.
  2. Question: Is this confession or evasion? It is not clear here at the first, but soon is clarified in Saul’s later responses. Saul may have desired to worship the Lord, but his confession seems void of vital elements. Yes, he agrees that he has sinned, but where is his repentance and turning? Where is his admission of guilt requiring forgiveness? To this point (and beyond), Saul seems to go through the motions of confession, even using the “right” words, but his heart is far from the reality.
    1. It is little different than how some people treat the “sinner’s prayer.” They say the words but have no repentance and true faith in their hearts. Know this: words save no one. We must know Jesus in truth.

26 But Samuel said to Saul, “I will not return with you, for you have rejected the word of the LORD, and the LORD has rejected you from being king over Israel.” 27 And as Samuel turned around to go away, Saul seized the edge of his robe, and it tore. 28 So Samuel said to him, “The LORD has torn the kingdom of Israel from you today, and has given it to a neighbor of yours, who is better than you. 29 And also the Strength of Israel will not lie nor relent. For He is not a man, that He should relent.”

  1. Samuel confirms God’s judgment, not once, but twice. When Saul grabbed for Samuel’s robe, it tore. It had been an act of desperation on Saul’s part, which became a prophetic illustration of what God was doing with him. God had ripped the kingdom away from Saul. Nothing Saul could do in his own strength could counteract the decree of God.
  2. As for the 2nd confirmation, Samuel describes God as “the Strength of Israel” who neither lies nor relents. The word for “strength” could refer to eminence, glory, splendor, all of which apply wonderfully to the God of Israel. Truly He is the glorious covenant-keeping God of Israel Who is Himself their source of strength and power. YHWH has unending glory, unlike the rejected king Saul whose unfaithfulness saw his own glory/strength stripped from him.
  3. Of perhaps more interest than the Hebrew word for “Strength” is the word for “relent.” This is literally the same word as what was translated “regret” in verse 11. Both “relent” and “regret” are similar grammatical forms of naḥam (נחם), a word often translated “comfort” or “console.” Here, different translations are used, serving as a reminder that context is key to translation. The same word might have a different meaning in a different situation, even within the same chapter. Such is the case here. In the first example (which will be schooled in the final verse of the chapter), God describes His own feelings regarding Saul. When theologians describe God as being “impassionate,” it does not mean that God has no emotions or passions. He does, as seen through the many descriptions of either His pleasure or His anger, or how the Holy Spirit might be grieved (Eph 4:30). God does have emotions, but God is not ruled by His emotions, as is so often the case with us. God is not subject to mood swings based on circumstances. Yet He still expresses emotions in certain circumstances. This was what happened with Saul. This is why it could be said that God “regretted” making Saul king. God was not repenting in the same way we do, meaning that we turn away from or forsake an action which was wrong, for God does nothing wrong. It was Saul who did evil, thus bringing regret and sorrow to God as His will and mercy was defiled. – At the same time, Samuel said of God in the second example that God is not a God who relents (or per the NASB, “change His mind,”), using the same word (נחם). Here, Samuel did not describe God’s emotions; he described God’s actions. As Balaam the pagan prophet said of God: Numbers 23:19, “God is not a man, that He should lie, Nor a son of man, that He should repent. Has He said, and will He not do? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?”  God’s decrees and judgments do not change. He cannot be bribed nor persuaded. What God has determined, remains determined. Thus, in terms of His judgment of Saul’s sin, this was not regretted by the Lord, for He would never relent from it. God can be grieved over the existence of Saul’s sin without turning (repenting) from His righteous judgment of that sin.
    1. It is no different with us. Some might object, saying, “But God does indeed relent from judging us when we believe upon Jesus Christ.” Yes and no. While it is true that we no longer suffer God’s wrath in judgment, God’s wrath is still fulfilled. It is only that Jesus takes our punishment in our place as our substitute. 

30 Then he said, “I have sinned; yet honor me now, please, before the elders of my people and before Israel, and return with me, that I may worship the LORD your God.” 31 So Samuel turned back after Saul, and Saul worshiped the LORD.

  1. Saul confessed again. Yet again, we need to question the sincerity. Although he desires to worship the Lord, it seems that his true desire is to publicly worship the Lord. Because God had Samuel anoint Saul as king, Saul worried that any public rejection from Samuel would lead to his public downfall. The people might actually depose him from his throne. Although God had rejected Saul, the fallout from God’s rejection was gradual. Saul feared something more immediate from the people. To this, Samuel acquiesced and publicly worshipped the Lord alongside Saul.
  2. What does this tell us? That Saul was more concerned about his reputation than his reconciliation. His heart was not humbly broken before God; he wanted only his worldly position to be maintained. (Beware a hardened heart of pride! It might be hardened to a point of no return.)

We cannot, in our flesh, pick and choose which commands of God to obey. His word is not to be replaced with the desires of our will. It was what Saul chose to do, and it was for that he paid a massive price: the kingdom. Saul usurped God’s place in his life, and God does not share His throne. (Not with Saul, nor with us!)

  • Samuel’s acts of judgment (32-35). God’s commands will be completed.

32 Then Samuel said, “Bring Agag king of the Amalekites here to me.” So Agag came to him cautiously. And Agag said, “Surely the bitterness of death is past.” 33 But Samuel said, “As your sword has made women childless, so shall your mother be childless among women.” And Samuel hacked Agag in pieces before the LORD in Gilgal.

  1. The first act of judgment was the completion of God’s judgment on Agag of Amalek. Samuel did what Saul refused to do: execute him to the death. Agag believed the danger had passed; Agag was wrong. The aging prophet of God and former judge of Israel once again took up a sword, and “hacked Agag to pieces.” It was no quick stabbing or beheading; it was a brutal and violent act. Even so, it was a righteous This was the punishment that the evil king of Amalek deserved. And if Saul was unwilling to administer it, Samuel would pick up the slack.
    1. Symbolically, how is it you and I should treat the desires of our flesh? As Samuel did with Agag. Don’t just quietly smother it out – don’t treat it with gentleness; hack it to pieces! As Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount regarding temptations of the eye and hand, pluck it out or cut it off. Show fleshly temptation no mercy, doing what it takes to forever get it out of your life.

34 Then Samuel went to Ramah, and Saul went up to his house at Gibeah of Saul. 35 And Samuel went no more to see Saul until the day of his death. Nevertheless Samuel mourned for Saul, and the LORD regretted that He had made Saul king over Israel.

  1. Although Samuel worshipped alongside Saul on the field of battle, that was their last public appearance together. There was a near-permanent separation between the two men. The mention of their respective hometowns is interesting in that Ramah and Gibeah were only a couple of miles from each other in the tribal lands of Benjamin. At any time, Saul could have walked maybe 30 minutes to see Samuel, express true repentance, and be reconciled unto God (even if his judgment was not removed). Yet there is no indication he ever did so. The Bible tells us that Saul made a trip to see Samuel only once, and that not of his own accord, but only when the Holy Spirit rushed upon him for prophecy (19:24). When it was Saul’s own choice, he sought Samuel only one other time: through an act of witchcraft after Samuel’s death. Truly Saul’s sin remained unrepentant till the day he died.
  2. As for Samuel, he never once made the trip to see Saul. There was no reason for him to do so. It was Saul who was under God’s discipline and judgment; not Samuel. Samuel had a responsibility to the Lord not to lend God’s credibility to Saul by showing up on Saul’s doorstep. (It is not unlike how unrepentant Christians who have been placed under church discipline need to be cast out of the congregation and treated like unbelievers until they finally come to their senses and repent.) This is the judgment of God and it needs to be enforced.

God’s commands will be completed. They will be fulfilled…period.


Don’t reject the word of the Lord! Do not alter nor ignore His command. Obey Him, as He intends for you to obey Him.

One of the worst things we can do when reading the Old Testament is to read these stories thinking that they are just nice stories – morality tales, with no real meaning or application today. Not so! These were real things that happened to real people, demonstrating real truths that impact God’s people in every age. Saul really did disobey the Lord, rejecting His word. And Saul really was rejected by the Lord as king, losing out on wonderful opportunities he could have enjoyed the rest of his life.

Are we Saul, that we might be rejected by God? Not exactly. As born-again believers in Jesus Christ, we have a different covenant, as we live in a different dispensation, for which we praise God. Even so, we dare not take our fellowship and relationship with God for granted! We too, can reject God’s word in our lives. And we too, can experience God’s own rejection. He will reject us from certain opportunities He might otherwise have extended to us. He will reject us from fellowship that we could enjoy. He will reject our prayers, when we offer them up in unrepentant disobedience.

Will it affect our salvation? Not necessarily, but that isn’t the point. The true Christian does not look for permission to sin right up to the point of pushing the envelope to see when/if God rejects him from heaven; the true Christian does not want to sin against God at all. It ought to grieve us to sin against our Lord and King, and any broken fellowship with Him is awful. That is something to be restored immediately.

So we confess and receive Jesus’ forgiveness and cleansing. But more than that, we guard ourselves from sin in the first place! When we find ourselves tempted to compromise the word of God with the desires of our flesh, we cry out to God asking for help to put our flesh to death. As with Amalek, we declare no quarter upon it, showing it no mercy. By the power of the Spirit, we put our flesh to death, that we might walk in obedience to God.

As Christians, we are in a grand victory parade led by God, testifying to the glory and gospel of Jesus Christ. May we be active participants, aware that we are the aroma of Jesus going into every corner of our culture!

Join the Parade

Posted: June 13, 2021 in 2 Corinthians

2 Corinthians 2:12-17, “Join the Parade”

Who doesn’t like a parade? I suppose it depends on what it being paraded. I remember as a kid, my parents taking us to the Foley’s Thanksgiving parade in downtown Houston. Although the marching bands and TV stars were fun, what I loved most were the massive floats of various cartoon characters. It was incredible to see something that huge, especially of several characters I loved to read. Other parades are far more sober, depending on one’s point of view. There are the various “Pride” parades that rejoice in rebellion against the Holy God – in which the participants revel while many others grieve. There are also the various military parades often seen in dictatorships, when the national leader decides to flex his military muscle by showcasing the weaponry he commands. Once again, for those who support the regime, it is wonderful; for those who do not, it is grievous.

Paul writes to the Corinthians of a similar kind of parade: one that is either joyful or grievous, depending on one’s point-of-view. To those who worship the true God through Jesus Christ, it is a celebration of victory. To those who maintain their rebellion against God, it is a reminder of death. Whether we love God or not, we need to remember this: this parade cannot be ignored. Jesus is the Victor giving glory to God, and we will either rejoice in Him or be judged by Him…but this victory parade is certain, no matter what.

Why did this come up for the apostle Paul? Because he had difficulties in his own ministry, which affected his relationship with the Corinthians. He needed to remind them (and himself) of God’s ultimate victory in Christ.

Paul had been explaining his change of plans to the Corinthians, about which they were not pleased. Originally, Paul had planned to sail directly from Ephesus to Corinth, spend some dedicated time there, using it as his base of ministry while he was in Greece and Macedonia. After going north to Macedonia, he would return to Corinth for some additional time before sailing to Jerusalem. However, things radically changed. First was an unscheduled visit to Corinth direct from Ephesus, although not in joy but in rebuke and discipline. And that was not the only unpleasantness. Once back in Ephesus, Paul wrote a painful and sorrowful letter to Corinth (probably sent by the hand of Titus), continuing to address these disciplinary issues.

The good news was that at least some of this rebuke and discipline was effective. One man in particular raised himself in opposition against Paul, being at the center of some unknown offense against the apostle. To their credit, the Corinthian church addressed the issue (probably through excommunication). Their punishment proved to be effective, as the man showed himself to be sincerely repentant, and was now at the point of requiring restoration to fellowship. Paul had already forgiven him, so now it was time for the local church to do the same. This kind of sincere forgiveness was good, even being a safeguard against the divisive tactics of the devil.

What that said, Paul gets back to the subject of his travel plans, showing that God was doing something amazing even in all the difficulties: demonstrating His victory. God was leading a mighty victory parade and Paul, along with every other Christian, play a part in it as witnesses of Christ.

Come join the parade!

2 Corinthians 2:12–17

  • Difficulties in ministry (12-13). Be steadfast.

12 Furthermore, when I came to Troas to preach Christ’s gospel, and a door was opened to me by the Lord, 13 I had no rest in my spirit, because I did not find Titus my brother; but taking my leave of them, I departed for Macedonia.

  1. Here, Paul wrote of his first visit to Troas during his 3rd missionary journey. Because of his travel changes, he ended up going through the city twice, using it as his gateway between east and west (modern-day Turkey and Greece). What Paul found when he arrived as a wonderful “door” of ministry opportunity. What exactly it was, we aren’t told, but Paul certainly recognized it as something good. He had been enough places and faced enough resistance to know when he had an easier opportunity, an “open door” from the Lord. He was always looking for a chance to “preach Christ’s gospel,” and Troas had fertile ground ready for the seed of the word.
  2. Sadly, it was not a door of which Paul could use at the time. He worried for Titus, as his young friend and co-laborer was nowhere to be found. They were supposed to meet in Troas, yet didn’t. Thus, Paul “had no rest in [his] spirit.” In other words, he had no relief, nor was he able to relax. As he waited in Troas, he was constantly uneasy. For someone who elsewhere wrote about the peace that passes understanding (Phil 4:7), Paul was not experiencing it in this moment. Why? Because he was human! Paul may have been an apostle and one of the very best examples of a Christian in all history, but at the end of the day, he was still a man. He struggled with the same anxieties and worries as anyone else. Paul certainly knew what to do with his anxieties by casting them onto the Lord in prayer, praying with thanksgiving, but even he had his struggles from time to time. And he had good reason to do so, in this case. It seems likely that Titus was the one who had been sent to Corinth with the tearful/painful letter, and Titus was supposed to meet Paul in Troas with the news of how Corinth received it. Titus was bringing with him all of the latest updates from this church that was in such turmoil. Paul probably found himself too distracted by all of the drama to be of much use in Troas.
    1. Maybe you’ve experienced the same thing. On one hand, you know about this great opportunity that you’ve got right in front of you. On the other hand, you have this other thing in your life that is nothing but a total distraction. You try to do something good for the Lord, only to have things take you off-task. How many times have you screwed up your courage to share Jesus with someone, just to have an argument break out? Or you spent wonderful time with the Lord in your personal devotions, only to start bickering with your spouse or kids 5 minutes later? Where do these distractions and difficulties come from? In some cases (though not all), these are spiritual attacks. Remember that when we serve Jesus as Lord, we also have an enemy known as the devil and his minions. We are constantly engaged in spiritual warfare, whether we choose to recognize that fact or not. The devil wants to distract you from doing what is good. He hates the gospel, so he wants to keep you from sharing it, or from serving Jesus in other ways. And if he can trip you up just enough to get your eyes off of Jesus and onto yourself and your own stresses, all the better. Of course, at other times we are our own worst enemies. None of us has to be distracted from the work God has given us; we just are. We have not disciplined ourselves to truly follow Jesus as Lord. Consider the solider on the battlefield: he/she is repeatedly trained to follow orders, no matter what. The solider is not there to debate his commanding officer; she is not there to have a discussion with her drill sergeant; those soldiers are to obey and obey immediately. How much better it would be for us, if we simply obeyed Jesus rather than debating with Him! When He gives us that opportunity and open door, that ought to be our cue to simply walk in it; not get distracted and start thinking of all the reasons we shouldn’t do it.
    2. Again, we can take comfort in the fact that even the apostle Paul struggled in these things. For as much as he did right, Paul was not perfect. For as often as he shared the gospel in difficult areas (even being stoned by an angry mob and left for dead), not even Paul was able to take advantage of this open door in Troas. Yes, he had good reason being that he was concerned both for his friend and for the church from which his friend had gone, but it was still an opportunity from the Lord that Paul was not able to fulfill. Was it a failure on Paul’s part? Perhaps – it is debatable. Even so, Paul was not a failure. One missed opportunity did not disqualify him as a servant of the Lord Jesus. It was simply a learning experience for him and an opportunity to be comforted by the Lord and begin again the next day. 
  3. The good news is that this was not Paul’s final visit to Troas. The open door he missed the first time around, he took great advantage of the second time around. Acts 20 records what happened when Paul returned after his trip through Macedonia and Corinth, as he doubled back along the same route. When he got back, Paul was finally able to take advantage of that open door. This time, he remained a week and dove into teaching a week-long Bible seminar. This was when he taught so long into a Sunday night that the young man Eutychus fell asleep and dropped from the 2nd story window to what appeared to be his death. Paul stopped his teaching, healed the young man, and seemingly went right back to teaching until dawn!

Overall, the picture painted by Paul from his time in Troas was rather rough. His missionary ministry was not easy, being filled with stress. He had to remain steadfast – he had to keep his eyes on Jesus, no matter what circumstances unfolded before him.

So do we. We have our own difficulties and distractions – we have our own fleshly anxieties and temptations that take our eyes off of Christ. What do we do? Confess those things to the Lord and remain steadfast. Don’t let the failures of yesterday define you. Confess them, be cleansed, and start new in Christ. This day is a new opportunity to serve Jesus, so use the opportunity you have!

At this point in the letter, Paul begins a digression that lasts all the way until 2 Corinthians 7:5. Paul had been writing of his travel plans and experiences, but now launches into a defense of his ministry. In Chapter 7, he will return to the subject of his travel plans, picking up right where he left off with his discussion of the events in Troas. But in the meantime, he goes in a different direction. Does this mean that the digression has nothing to do with the previous context? No. It was partly because of Paul’s travel changes that the Corinthians questioned Paul’s credentials. One led directly to the other. 

  • Triumph in ministry (14-16a). Be fragrant.

14 Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place.

  1. What exactly is Paul thanking God for? On one hand, there is this idea of triumph, while on the other hand, there is the idea of a fragrance? What is Paul talking about? Is this a battlefield, or just the hassle of trying to walk through the perfume section of a department store at the mall? Although to 21st century eyes, the picture Paul paints might seem strange, to the 1st century Roman culture, this was nothing less than the standard description of a victory parade. To write that God “leads us in triumph” is to use a single word that “meant the triumphal procession of a ruler which his defeated enemies had to follow,” (NIDNTT). Basically, this was the Roman military victory parade. When the generals conquered various cities, they would parade their might through the streets with soldiers leading the way, having prisoners in-tow, burning incense in the temples surrounding the streets as they thanked their pagan gods for the continuing Roman conquest. Paul takes that same picture and turns it around. Although the Romans could claim to be the conqueror of the ancient world, it was really God who was the Victor and Conqueror through the gospel of Christ. There was indeed a victory parade, but it was not one of military strength; it was one of the divine power of God to save through the news of Jesus. Thus, God led the parade, and Paul was one of those in it. In what role? That is a bit more ambiguous. On one hand, Paul (like all born-again believers) could have been led as a soldier in the army of the Lord (which is a great gospel song!) – or, he (again, like all born-again believers) could have been led as one captured by Christ, himself conquered by the all-prevailing power of the gospel.
    1. No doubt, we are both triumphant in, and conquered by, Christ Jesus! Those who are followers of Jesus are only followers of Him because He has lovingly conquered us. We were convicted of the sinfulness of our sin, knowing our guilt before God, and we surrendered ourselves to the King of kings for Him to be our Lord and Savior. What is that, other than the language of the vanquished? Our sin deserves wrath and death, so we surrender ourselves to Jesus asking for the mercy of God, which He graciously gives. We have been conquered. Yet, we are also triumphant! Instead of being cast into hell, Jesus has taken us to Himself, called us His friends, made us the children of God, and causes us to share in His own inheritance. In Christ, we receive grace upon grace and blessing upon blessing. We are promised new eternal bodies in the resurrection and we will walk in peace with God upon streets of gold. What is that, other than the language of victory and triumph? Thus, we are both conquered and triumphant, all in the gospel of Jesus!
    2. Is this something you have known and in which you hope? Is this something you experience? If you do not have the solid assurance that you partake in Jesus’ promises, then you need to surrender your life to Jesus today!
  2. Notice the continual nature of how God “always” leads us in triumph. God’s victory parade is not something that we await at the end of the Great Tribulation, when Jesus returns in power and glory. No doubt, that day will be fearful and awesome to behold and there will be much cause for a triumphal parade of conquest! Even so, the analogy of which Paul writes is something that currently happens in this present day and age. This is what God does with us as born-again Christians right now. Because we are “in Christ” right now, God “always leads us in triumph in Christ.” As we go through our day-to-day, we are in God’s victory parade. Each day is a parade day – each day is a day that God displays us to all the world as being conquered and victorious in Jesus.
  3. That display has a purpose: defusal. What the NKJV translates as “diffuses” is a word that more properly means “to manifest, to reveal,” (phaneroō / φανερόω). Prisoners are displayed in a parade to demonstrate the conquest. How might “fragrance” or aroma be displayed/revealed? As it is diffused and spreads among the gathered audience. Again, this hearkens back to the idea of the Roman victory parade, when it was common to have all kinds of incense burning in the temples along the route, and even along the road itself. The Roman pagans wanted the scent in the air to be that which proclaimed the victory of Rome in the nostrils of those who were conquered. Everything about that day (sight, sound, and smell) was to tell the singular news that Rome was supreme. That idea is what Paul uses for the aroma of God’s victory parade. That is how God uses us in the parade itself. We are not only participants as the conquered and victor, but we are also the aroma that rises into the air displaying and manifesting the victory of Christ. How so? Through the Great Commission. God uses us to diffuse the fragrance of the gospel (v14: “His knowledge”). As followers of Jesus, we spread (reveal, manifest, display, diffuse) the knowledge of Christ and His victory into all the world, and we spread like the smoke of incense that flows into every corner and crevice. We are to infuse our world with the news of the knowledge of Jesus, to the point that everyone everywhere has at least some knowledge of the gospel and knows what it is to either believe or reject Christ.
    1. Although the illustration is different, this is exactly the same concept as what Jesus told the disciples. Where were they to go in their own disciple-making? Into “all the nations,” (Mt 28:19) – into Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and “to the end of the earth,” (Acts 1:8). Like smoke, the disciples were to proceed into every corner of the world and invade every culture on earth, taking the news of Jesus and making disciples of all those who would respond in faith. – This is still our commission. This is still our duty, and our purpose as given us by God. We are those who represent Jesus to all the world, telling them the news of His arrival, sacrifice, and resurrection. And we are still to be like that same incense smoke that goes everywhere, diffusing and revealing the gospel of Jesus into all the corners of the world.
    2. I wonder how much more faithful and obedient we (I!) would be at evangelism if we properly understood the role God has given us? More often than not, we don’t act like that rising smoke and fragrance; we act as if we’re fizzled out and extinguished. Ever notice at a campground that no matter where you sit around a fire, eventually the wind will shift and the smoke will blow into your eyes? Eventually you make your peace with the fact that you can’t escape it and you enjoy the smell. The problem with many of us is that we aren’t blowing into the eyes of our culture. Instead of allowing ourselves to diffuse the knowledge of Jesus (even to people who do not initially want to hear it), we confine ourselves to boxes from which the scent of the smoke cannot be smelled. Oh, they are pretty boxes, some of which have grand sanctuaries and decorations – and on the inside, there is no question that the gospel is strong and predominant…you just can’t smell it on the outside. Beloved (and this is to me, too!), God does not intend for us to be inside smoke! We are to be the fragrance of Christ unto the outside world. For that, we need to go there!

15 For we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing.

  1. First, we are the “fragrance of Christ.” Interestingly, the word Paul uses in verse 15 for “fragrance” is different than the one he used in verse 14. That word is a general word for “smell or odor,” neither good nor bad (depending on the context). This word, however, is more often used regarding sacrifice. In fact, in the two other times the word is used in the New Testament (both by Paul), it is specifically in the context of a “sweet smelling aroma” and sacrifice to God. Combined with the victory parade of verse 14, the idea of a sweet sacrificial aroma tends to sanctify the Roman idea of burning incense to their pagan gods in victory. We are not the Roman odor; we are the Godly fragrance, giving honor and glory to Him as He works through us.
  2. While we are the fragrance of Christ unto God, our aroma diffuses among all the people around us, which are divided into two camps: (1) “those who are being saved,” and (2) “those who are perishing.” There are many ways groups of people divide (men and women; adults and children; independent and dependent; etc.), but most important is regarding our relationship with God. People are either being saved by Christ, or they are perishing without Christ. There is no in-between status. We either saved or lost…period. Does that sound harsh? Perhaps, but it is true. Being told by your doctor that you have a 90% blockage in your arteries and you need to clean up your diet or die is harsh, too…but it is the truth that will likely save your life. What the Bible declares of our eternal condition is a binary issue (off/on, east/west, 1/0) which sounds harsh, yet it is absolutely true. We all start off lost, perishing. This is the same for everyone, no matter what religion is claimed by their household, where they were born, etc. We all have a fallen sinful nature, and we start sinning from the moment we exit our mothers’ wombs. (Have doubts? Ask a mother of a newborn if her baby is selfish and demanding!) Our “lostness” is equal for everyone. What makes some people different is that somewhere along the line, we moved from being “those who are perishing,” to “those who are being saved.” At some point, we came to saving faith in Jesus Christ, having realized that He is the true Son of God, being God Himself who literally died for our sins at the cross as a substitute for our sins, and then literally rose to life from the grave three days after being buried. We realized that He lives today at God’s right hand and offers to save anyone who turns to Him in repentance and faith. And thus, we did. We turned from our sins to place all our faith and trust in Him, asking Him to be our Lord, knowing that He is our only hope for forgiveness and eternal life. When we did that, He saved us, and now we have become “those who are being saved.” — Of course, that contrasts with “those who are perishing.” If someone is being “saved,” it means they are being saved from something, which in this case means death (“perishing”). Again, this describes all of us prior to putting our faith in Christ. We are all lost – we all face eternal death – we are all perishing. Why? Because that is the result of our sin. Our sinful condition makes us enemies of God. We are both fallen in our sin, as well as actively committing sins against the God who made us and who made heaven and earth. We have used the breath He gave us to blaspheme Him. We have used the bodies He entrusted to us to commit wickedness. We have used the eyes He gave us to lust after people and things. We have sinned in innumerable ways, horrible ways. And there is a righteous punishment for those things: the wrath of God which ends in eternal death. It ends an everlasting state of dying in hell where there is outer darkness, fire, along with weeping and gnashing of teeth. When the Bible speaks of sinners perishing, that is the meaning. It is awful – it is tragic – and it is righteously just, because it is the only fit punishment for those who have committed a lifetime of treason against God. YET…it is from that which men and women might be saved! No one need fear eternal death when he/she fears the Righteous God through Jesus Christ! Through Christ and Christ alone, we can be saved.
    1. Notice the present tense. The two groups are those who are “being saved,” and “perishing.” Although there is an aspect to both eternal salvation and eternal damnation that begins at the end of the age, there is another aspect that takes place right now. Those who are “perishing” are currently perishing. They already exist as enemies of the Most Holy God, and are already under His wrath. The fact that God allows anyone to wake up in the morning apart from Jesus is an act of divine mercy, one that should not be taken for granted. Additionally, every day they live in that state is another day that they continually compound their sins against God. They continue to rack up debts against Him, more for which they must answer at His great white throne. On the other hand, for those who are “being saved,” this speaks to the fact that there is an aspect of our salvation that takes place in the present. In fact, the Bible describes our salvation in three tenses: past, present, future. We have been saved, when we believed upon Jesus and were immediately justified from the penalty that we deserved. We will be saved, when we stand before Jesus in heaven having been glorified by His power and given marvelous new bodies forever free from the presence and temptation of sin. And right now, today, we are being saved as Jesus continually sanctifies us, having set us apart to Himself and molding us and shaping us into the men and women He desires us to be. In this, we are set free from the power of sin in our lives, now being made free to live for the glory of God. This is a present day action.
    2. The point? Although as Christians we wait for heaven, we do not wait for our salvation. We experience the benefits of that right now. This is yet one more reason for us to rejoice! It is also one more reason we need to share the gospel with others, because they can move from the state of actively perishing to the state of actively being saved. It happens in the twinkling of an eye, all by the grace of God in Jesus!

16 To the one we are the aroma of death leading to death, and to the other the aroma of life leading to life. …

  1. The second way Paul describes this parade fragrance is that he shows that we are the aroma of death and life. Break it down…
  2. First, is “the aroma of death leading to death.” This seems rather macabre and dreary. How might we be the aroma of death leading to death? The idea of the gospel of Jesus making us the aroma of life leading to life might make sense. But why death? Because as born-again believers in Jesus Christ, we are ourselves reminders to the rest of this world of the inevitable result of sin. As Paul wrote to the Romans, Romans 6:23, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” That we hold fast to the gospel of Jesus and the Scriptures is a glaring reminder to the world that there is such a thing called sin and it does lead unto death. Generally speaking, the world does not like that message. In fact, the world hates it. Why all the hate? (Hate being an ironic response from people who claim to be the most tolerant!) Because they hate the idea of sin. That they cannot set their own standard and decide their own morality is galling to them. It is offensive that there is such a thing as objective truth and objective right/wrong, and that this standard is revealed in the pages of the Bible. This is the very things that some people in our city are currently protesting. They hate that the Bible clearly labels some of their “preferences” as perversion. They rebel against the standards of the Scripture, taking pride in what the Bible calls sin. And to consider that there are eternal consequences for sinning against the Almighty God? It is unthinkable to them. This is why they rail against the gospel as though it is hate speech. They hate the gospel because the gospel tells them that the perversions they love, God hates. – And this is why we are (to them) the aroma of death leading to death. For those who persist in their rejection of God, we are naught but the stench of death. In their nostrils, we carry a reminder of their own inevitable death, and they want nothing to do with us.
    1. Question: What should the response of Christians be to this? Knowing that we are hated by the world, being inherently offensive to them, what do we do? Yes, we are offensive and this is something that will remain unchanged because Jesus Himself is a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense (1 Pt 2:8). But we ought to be careful not to go out of our way to be even more offensive. Let their offense be taken at the truth of Christ; not at the obnoxiousness of some Christians. We need to be mindful not to be baited into conflict nor provoked into arguments. Moreover, we need to know when to speak and when to step aside, brushing the dust off our feet. Jesus told His disciples not to cast pearls before swine (Mt 7:6), meaning not to give the gospel to people who are plainly unwilling to listen. We will never argue or debate anyone into the kingdom of God, so our interaction with those in our rebellious culture needs to be soaked in wisdom.
    2. In all of this, we never back down from the truth. We stand fast in the gospel promises of Christ, standing fast in the Scripture itself, never compromising on the truth of God. In a different context with a different opposition, Martin Luther also stood against the loudest voices in his culture. When the Pope and other Roman Catholics demanded that Luther recant his view of the gospel, along with Luther’s condemnation of papal sin and other false teachings of Catholicism, he stood his ground, reportedly saying, “Here I stand. I can do no other.” When our culture tries to browbeat you into agreeing with them that sexual perversion is not sin, or that racist philosophies are not racist, or that the Bible does not teach an exclusive gospel being a book filled with oppression, sexism, racism, intolerance, etc., do not give in. Do not back down one inch. When presented with lies, do not water down the truth. You need not shout nor get angry nor violent (which accomplishes nothing apart from destroying your own credibility). Instead, pray to God and calmly state, “Here I stand, I can do no other.” Then, like Luther and others who have gone before us, continue to preach and represent Jesus to the world!
  3. Second (and conversely), we are “the aroma of life leading to life.” This, of course, sounds better to our ears, as well it should. Far better to rejoice in life than to mourn over death! How does this work? We might think of it in a couple of different ways. First, is how the gospel is received among the church (i.e., those who are being saved). It is no wonder we smell life when we think of the good news of Jesus, for it is by Him that we have life. And do not doubt that the gospel is to be preached to Christians. The good news of Jesus is not something we share with someone just to get them saved for heaven and start coming to church; it is something that born-again Christians need to remind ourselves of every day. When we are born of the Holy Spirit, an incredible miracle takes place in that we now have new natures that are alive in Christ and no longer forced to sin. Yet we still sin. We still struggle with our own internal battles, still finding ourselves rebelling against God. Thus, we need the gospel. We preach the gospel to ourselves and to one another, reminding each other that Jesus died for our sins (yes, even the ones we committed yesterday and this morning), and that the promise we have in Him that is when we as Christians confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 Jn 1:9). So yes, we need this gospel, and it is an aroma of life to our nostrils! Secondly, there are those who are currently outside the church who will be brought inside the moment they respond to the gospel and put their faith in Christ. Think of the unconverted man or woman who comes to the realization of their great sin and the great Savior in Jesus, who repents of his/her sin and places his/her trust fully in Jesus for forgiveness and as Lord. To that person, the gospel as also been the aroma of life leading to life. That person can rejoice that although they were once dead, they heard the news that brought them to life. This is a mighty gospel, a powerful gospel. It is no wonder that Paul earlier wrote to the Corinthians, 1 Corinthians 1:18, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” It is indeed a message of death unto death, and life unto life!

To think of this victory parade of Jesus with us as the aroma of the gospel rising to the nations, what a marvelous illustration! It is His victory in which we share, and His victory which we proclaim by our presence and through our proclamation. This is how we take the message of Jesus to the world: not from a position of defeat, but from that of victory! How so? Because the war has already been won! Yes, we face skirmishes and battles today, but these are minor battles in the meantime. The outcome has already been determined. Jesus decisively won the war against sin and death after He died on the cross and rose from the grave. From that point on, the victory parade has gone forth!

How we need to remember that we have our own role to play in the parade. In it, as believers in Jesus, we take Jesus to the world. We march as those conquered by Jesus and victorious in Jesus – we rise as fragrant incense to the world, taking the news of Christ with us everywhere we go. Thus, BE fragrant! May God help us exude the aroma of Christ, that men and women might smell Him on us, wherever we go!

  • Sincerity in ministry (16b-17). Be sincere.

… And who is sufficient for these things? 17 For we are not, as so many, peddling the word of God; but as of sincerity, but as from God, we speak in the sight of God in Christ.

  1. Verse 16 ends with a somewhat rhetorical question. “Who is sufficient for these things?” e., who is sufficient/fit/competent to preach the gospel and diffuse the fragrance of Christ to the world? In ourselves, no one. In the power of God, anyone who belongs to Jesus. In himself, not even Paul was sufficient to preach the gospel of Jesus. After all, remember who Paul was prior to coming to faith: a violent persecutor of the church. He actively rounded up Jewish Christians, taking them prisoner back to Jerusalem, even overseeing their deaths. Was he a scholar in the Scriptures? Yes. Was he eminently trained by the best rabbis? Yes. Was he fluent in several languages, having true Roman citizenship, able to traverse the far reaches of the Roman Empire? Yes, yes, and yes. But none of that qualified him to be a minister of the gospel. Prior to his conversion, Paul was a perishing sinner, just like everyone else. He was himself under the wrath of God. But then there was Jesus! Jesus confronted Paul on the road to Damascus, convicted him of his sin against God, brought him to saving faith, and it was Jesus Himself who commissioned Paul for his apostolic ministry. It was not Paul who was sufficient for the proclamation of the gospel; it was Jesus Christ Himself! And Jesus then made Paul sufficient and fit for service, just as Jesus does with you and me. Who are we, other than wretched sinners? Who are we, other than those who ought to be thrown into the fires of hell for our massive sins and rebellion against God? But then there was Jesus! He saved us, cleansed us, sanctified us, and made us fit to serve Him!
    1. Did you know that Jesus made you fit to serve Him? If He called you to Himself in salvation, then He also called you to service. It doesn’t have to be a public pastoral ministry; it might not be “up front” at all. But be assured that if you are saved by Christ, God desires you to serve Christ. And through the Holy Spirit, He equips you to do so. He Himself qualifies you for whatever service He appoints to you. The key for us is to walk humbly and faithfully in that calling!
  2. Paul understood that humility was required in gospel service, for no one is inherently sufficient. ALL of us are insufficient, requiring the grace and calling of Christ. Yet some don’t view it that way. Some are insufficient, unworthy in gospel ministry – not in the way that everyone is unworthy apart from Christ, but because they abuse the message of Christ, showing themselves to not know Christ. These are those who are “peddling the word of God,” trying to profit off of the gospel. Describing the term for “peddling,” one dictionary writes, “[it] comes from the retailer who sells on the market wares which he has bought…it means ‘to engage’ in trade.’ [It] carries with [it] the suggestion of trickery and avarice,” (TDNT). In other words, it was the idea of sales, but inauthentic sales. This was the equivalent of the over-the-top used car salesman on TV or the commercials for the ambulance-chasing lawyers. Ancient philosophers and intellectuals would sell their teachings for money, promoting themselves and saying anything so they could get paid. – As to Paul’s context, he was not referring to the Athenian philosophers; he was referring to some of the teachers creeping into the church. His concern wasn’t for the secular academics in Athens or Corinth; Paul’s concern was for the church of the Lord Jesus. As becomes clear through the rest of the letter, the Christians in Corinth had taken in exactly this kind of peddler-teacher. They received men who promoted themselves as super-apostles, super-spiritual Christians who would be happy to share everything they learned about walking with Jesus…for a price. They were selling the gospel (which wasn’t even the real gospel in the first place), and it was wrong.
    1. If that was true in Corinth, how much more do we see the same thing today? Men and women alike stand in pulpits in both local churches and “Christian” TV selling themselves. They cheapen the gospel, trading the truth of Christ for the Almighty Dollar, selling themselves to the highest bidder that they might live in the most luxury. They claim super-spiritual experiences for themselves, that they would be happy to teach you for your “seed” gift of $50. If you just purchase their book for $19.95, they would be happy to share with you the secrets of a successful Christian life. And for those who really want to know what the power of the Holy Spirit is like, all they need to do is give a faith-gift of $500 or more, and the “minister” will personally contact you. Beloved, please beware! These are wolves and deceivers of the worst sort. They are no different than the money changers whom Jesus threw out of the Jerusalem temple. They devour widows’ houses, taking joy in profiting off others in God’s name. We need to recognize these charlatans and peddlers for what they are, mark them, and avoid them.
  3. Paul wasn’t like them. He was sincere in his ministry and gospel proclamation. We might remember this word for “sincerity” from earlier in the letter (1:12): heilikrinea (εἰλικρίνεια) = helios/sun + krino/to judge = judge in the light of the sun. It speaks of something that is truly pure, of unmixed quality. Was Paul a peddler of the gospel, a huckster hawking his wares? Not on your life! His preaching was sincere, with motives that were above reproach. Paul did not preach himself, but Christ and Him crucified. The apostle sent by Jesus preached Jesus, proclaiming Him alone. He understood that he had not only been sent by God, but he was also accountable unto God. Every word he spoke and doctrine he taught would be held up to scrutiny not by men, but by God Himself. Yes, as a Christian, Paul was forgiven; as a preacher of the word of God he would be held to a stricter judgment. What effect did this have? A sobering one – a purifying one! It caused Paul to treat his calling with holy fear, never taking for granted the privilege it was to represent Christ.

A few of us are (or have been) missionaries; none of us are apostles. Similarly, when it comes to teaching the word of God. Yet each of us still needs to be sincere in what we do for Christ. We dare not be those who preach ourselves, presenting our own agendas according to our own egos. Because we have been called by Christ, we are to present Him alone, and present Him sincerely.

“But I’m not a pastor or a missionary.” You don’t have to be! If you are a born-again believer, you have been made a witness of Jesus. You do witness of Christ everywhere you go. Sometimes you witness of Him well; other times, not so much. The picture we present of Christ to our friends and neighbors is something we will be accountable to God for. Not that we will lose our salvation, but it will most certainly affect our reward (something which Paul will teach in more detail in Chapter 5). Let us be mindful to present Jesus clearly and sincerely!


Beloved, we are in a grand parade testifying of Jesus. May we be good witnesses, faithful witnesses! Let us persevere and press on during difficulties – let us be fragrant Christians, taking Christ into every corner of the world – let us be those who are sincere in both our faith and our witness as we present Jesus to others.

Keep in mind that as Paul wrote of these things, he wasn’t writing as someone who had perfected all of this. This came from his own difficulties and struggles – it came from his own experience in ministry. Ministry isn’t always easy. It wasn’t for Paul, nor will it be for us. But what was the one constant? God is victorious! Jesus is the Grand Victor! Thus, no matter what we go through, we can have confidence in how God will use all of these things for His glory.

Come join the parade! If you are already a born-again Christian, then you are already in the parade. You have been conquered by Christ in your conversion, and you have been made triumphant in Christ in your salvation. You are already His aroma, going forth into all the world. Thus, we rejoice in the grace we have received and we are mindfully reverent of the responsibility we have been given.

If you are not yet a born-again Christian, then you need to ask yourself in which camp you reside? Right now, you are already among the perishing. To you, is the gospel of Jesus the aroma of death leading unto death, or life leading unto life? If you bristle at the idea of God’s judgment, bucking against the Biblical definition of sin, then beware. Right now you are dead headed for death. Wake up to your need to be saved! You are like one who is drowning, denying your danger even as you spit water out of your lungs. Pray to God that He remove your blindness and give you a heart to cry out to Him.

Yet if you tremble at the idea of judgment, being fearful of what God will say to you in that day, then there is good news…wonderful news! The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and the wisest thing you can do is surrender yourself to the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation. Being mindful of your sins, confess those things to God, and turn away from them, committing yourself to Jesus. Believe the Bible when it says that Jesus is the Son of God who died for your sins at the cross and rose for your justification from the grave. Today, you can be forgiven and eternally saved. All you need do is respond to Jesus in repentance and faith.

What does it mean to walk by faith? Or what does it mean to walk in the flesh? Scripture gives us an example of each in Jonathan and his father King Saul. Our natural tendency is to walk according to the flesh; we need Jesus’ help to put our flesh to death and walk by faith!

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Faith vs. Flesh

Posted: June 10, 2021 in 1 Samuel

1 Samuel 14, “Faith vs. Flesh”

What does it mean to “walk by faith”? There are certain words and phrases we use in the church that we just assume make sense to everyone listening. It is our own language, our own “Christianese.” We use the words but don’t often think about what they mean. Such might be the case with the idea of walking by faith. It sounds good and holy – it sounds like what a Christian ought to do. We just don’t have the foggiest clue of what it looks like.

Thankfully, God teaches us exactly what it looks like in the Bible. He gives us many examples of what it is to walk by faith, one of the most famous being the account of Jonathan in 1 Samuel 14. Here, we see one of the sons of Saul put his trust in the promises and character of God and act according to that same trust. Jonathan’s trust was not in himself; it was in the Lord. But it was more than a catchy religious phrase or idea for him; he put his proverbial money where his mouth was and acted upon that belief. 

As great as Jonathan’s faith in the Lord was, it is immediately contrasted by his father Saul. Saul’s trust was not in God; it was in himself. Saul did not walk by faith; he walked according to his flesh. (Another phrase often used but undefined…something else plainly illustrated for us in this chapter!)

Saul had been anointed by God through Samuel to be king in Israel. He had a rocky beginning, not being quite willing to serve in the role, but when danger presented itself, the Spirit of God rushed upon Saul and he rose to the occasion. At that point, he was well-received by the people, as Samuel took his own step back from being Israel’s national judge and de-facto leader. He was, however, still a priest and prophet, and he would ensure that both king and nation would know the decrees of God.

Time passed, and again the time came for war, now from a massive company of Philistines. They did not appreciate the Israelites bucking their oppression and their choice of a king, so they arrived en masse to crush the far-smaller forces of Saul and his son Jonathan. The nation feared and fled, and soon Saul wondered if he would have anyone remaining in his army after the desertions. Although he was supposed to wait for Samuel to arrive before offering the pre-battle sacrifices, he did not. Saul presumptuously took it upon himself to officiate the animal sacrifices…something that was illegal for him to do. He was a king; not a priest.

Sure enough, the priest and prophet Samuel arrived just in time to catch Saul in the act, and he pronounced God’s judgment. Saul would not have a royal dynasty. In fact, God was already seeking his replacement: a man that would be after God’s own heart.

In the meantime, war with the Philistines was still looming. Things looked bad for Israel. They were outnumbered, out-armed, and out-maneuvered. What could they do? Victory would require a miracle. Thankfully, there was at least one man among Israel who was willing to look to God for just such a miracle. He was willing to walk by faith.

May God help us be those who walk by faith! Too often, we try to manipulate things in our flesh, which only serves to spoil the things God desires to accomplish in our lives. We need Jesus’ help to put our flesh to death, that we might walk by faith in the Spirit of God!

1 Samuel 14

  • Jonathan’s victory over the Philistines (1-23). Faith’s victory.

1 Now it happened one day that Jonathan the son of Saul said to the young man who bore his armor, “Come, let us go over to the Philistines’ garrison that is on the other side.” But he did not tell his father.

  1. Right from the beginning, we see Jonathan’s first act of faith. Faith-full act #1: He was willing to go. Keep in mind that the events of Chapter 14 go hand-in-hand with the overwhelming odds of Chapter 13. Faced with the massive army of the Philistines, literally thousands of Hebrews had fled, hiding in caves and going to the far borders of Israel. Contrast that with Jonathan: when everyone else had run away, he went forward. This was courageous faith.
    1. Just being willing to go is sometimes half the battle! If we aren’t willing to even see how God might use us, we’ve already taken ourselves out of the equation. (If you aren’t willing, pray for a heart that is!)

2 And Saul was sitting in the outskirts of Gibeah under a pomegranate tree which is in Migron. The people who were with him were about six hundred men. 3 Ahijah the son of Ahitub, Ichabod’s brother, the son of Phinehas, the son of Eli, the LORD’s priest in Shiloh, was wearing an ephod. But the people did not know that Jonathan had gone.

  1. What was Saul doing? Basically nothing. Jonathan was being proactive, at least scouting out the situation. Saul was far from the battle lines relaxing under a fruit tree. He may have had the title of “king,” but he certainly wasn’t acting like one. Leaders lead, and Saul was not.
  2. How many soldiers were with him at the time? 600 (Per 13:15). Again, thousands of Hebrew soldiers had fled, which may have left Saul depressed and despondent. It didn’t matter. He had the responsibility to lead his people and set an example of what it meant to trust God, but he wasn’t doing it.
    1. Ignoring problems don’t make them go away. Yet that seemed to be Saul’s attitude toward the whole thing. Better to take a step of faith and fail than do nothing and be destroyed!
  3. Notice that some family of Eli the priest survived. Samuel was not the only priest in the land; there were men who were legitimately of the priestly bloodline. (Samuel was a Levite, but more or less “adopted” into the priestly family when he was a toddler.)

4 Between the passes, by which Jonathan sought to go over to the Philistines’ garrison, there was a sharp rock on one side and a sharp rock on the other side. And the name of one was Bozez, and the name of the other Seneh. 5 The front of one faced northward opposite Michmash, and the other southward opposite Gibeah.

  1. The rocks were well-known, considering they were named! The meaning of the names is relatively unimportant. What is important is that this was a location readily identifiable to the original readers of this book. The Hebrews could go to this very place and see where God had given a great victory.
  2. Practically speaking, the sharp rocks offered some protection to Jonathan and his armorbearer as they hid. It helped the two men take the next step of faith…

6 Then Jonathan said to the young man who bore his armor, “Come, let us go over to the garrison of these uncircumcised; it may be that the LORD will work for us. For nothing restrains the LORD from saving by many or by few.”

  1. Faith-full act #2: Jonathan trusting God’s power and God’s promise. That he trusted in God’s power might be easy enough to understand, after all, Jonathan understood that he served the Almighty Creator God whose power is limitless. But what about God’s promise? This is seen in the latter part of his statement when he knew that “nothing restrains the LORD from saving by many or by few.” It seems that Jonathan remembered the commission of Joshua to the nation of Israel: Joshua 23:9–10, “(9) For the LORD has driven out from before you great and strong nations; but as for you, no one has been able to stand against you to this day. (10) One man of you shall chase a thousand, for the LORD your God is He who fights for you, as He promised you.” God had not abandoned His people during the initial conquest of the land, and His promise remained true for all the children of Israel when it came to defending their homeland. Jonathan knew the promises of God and believed them. Jonathan had faith! If God promised that one man could put 1000 to flight, then certainly God could use two Hebrews against a bunch of Philistines. He did not need an army; he only needed YHWH God.
  2. Interesting contrast with Jonathan’s father. Saul was cowed by his lack of numbers; Jonathan was emboldened by them. The lack of numbers only meant it was a greater opportunity for God to work. The glory for God would be even more magnificent, if God decided to grant victory. That itself was reason enough for Jonathan to get excited and get moving!

7 So his armorbearer said to him, “Do all that is in your heart. Go then; here I am with you, according to your heart.”

  1. Notice the unnamed armorbearer also had faith! He could have easily had let his master run to his death. Yet if Jonathan had faith, that was enough to encourage faith in the heart of this other man. — Faith can be contagious! How many times have you been around another Christian and were encouraged by his/her prayers or actions? This one of the great reasons to go out in pairs to share the gospel. As one person shares, the other can pray. Or if that other person is uncertain, having the first to break the ice can encourage him/her to speak up.
    1. Who might you encourage if you were to take a step of faith? Although we like to receive a bit of encouragement, it always requires someone to step out first. Maybe that can be you. Try it and see what happens!

8 Then Jonathan said, “Very well, let us cross over to these men, and we will show ourselves to them. 9 If they say thus to us, ‘Wait until we come to you,’ then we will stand still in our place and not go up to them. 10 But if they say thus, ‘Come up to us,’ then we will go up. For the LORD has delivered them into our hand, and this will be a sign to us.”

  1. This was the proposal. Jonathan would wait for a direct invitation from the Philistines to come up to them. If the Philistines asked the Hebrews to step forward, they would…only they would come out fighting!
  2. Question: How much faith was really involved here? After all, Jonathan had a 50/50 shot once he revealed himself to the Philistines. Maybe the Philistines would say “Wait,” to which Jonathan and his armorbearer would run the other direction. Be careful not to discount the two Hebrews on this. It took a step of faith even to do this much. They were willing to put themselves on the line for the glory of God. If God decided not to deliver a victory, then so be it. The two Hebrews trusted God to do what He thought best. Jonathan wasn’t seeking to glorify himself, but the Lord. That required faith indeed!

11 So both of them showed themselves to the garrison of the Philistines. And the Philistines said, “Look, the Hebrews are coming out of the holes where they have hidden.” 12 Then the men of the garrison called to Jonathan and his armorbearer, and said, “Come up to us, and we will show you something.” …

  1. Faith-full act #3: Jonathan and his armorbearer “both…showed themselves.” This was the start of the plan and again, they showed themselves willing. They stepped out, exposing themselves to the enemy, making themselves vulnerable.
    1. It isn’t unlike when those who share the gospel make themselves a bit vulnerable when striking up a conversation. It takes courage to even do that much, especially if you aren’t comfortable speaking with strangers. But just this first small step is still God-honoring.
  2. What was the response from the Philistines? Remember from Chapter 13 that the Hebrews had indeed hidden themselves in the caves. This gave the Philistines a false sense of security, believing themselves to be superior and equally frightening to all Hebrews. They started boasting, egging the two men to come out. What would the Philistines “show” to Jonathan and his armorbearer? Not what they planned! They were about to get a giant surprise…

… Jonathan said to his armorbearer, “Come up after me, for the LORD has delivered them into the hand of Israel.” 13 And Jonathan climbed up on his hands and knees with his armorbearer after him; and they fell before Jonathan. And as he came after him, his armorbearer killed them. 14 That first slaughter which Jonathan and his armorbearer made was about twenty men within about half an acre of land.

  1. Faith-full act #4: Follow through! At this point, Jonathan had all the confirmation he needed. Keep in mind that to this point, he still could have run away. He was behind the protection of the rocks and could probably have escaped. But that wasn’t on his agenda. The only thing Jonathan wanted to do was walk in the power of the Lord God…and he did! And notice that it wasn’t even convenient to do so. The two Hebrews did not start from a strong position. They had to climb on their hands and knees to get into the open. Even so, they still trusted the Lord and charged the Philistines in battle.
  2. What a victory it was! Two men killed twenty. Apparently, Jonathan rushed forward, slashing his sword as he went. The armorbearer went close behind, finishing off those who fell wounded to the ground.

15 And there was trembling in the camp, in the field, and among all the people. The garrison and the raiders also trembled; and the earth quaked, so that it was a very great trembling. 16 Now the watchmen of Saul in Gibeah of Benjamin looked, and there was the multitude, melting away; and they went here and there.

  1. It wasn’t only Jonathan and his armorbearer who fought; it was also the Lord God (exactly according to His promise). A supernatural earthquake caused the Philistines to flee. — Depending on the Bible version you read, verse 15 can read very different. Both the NKJV and NASB refer to “a very great trembling”; the ESV, “a great panic”; the HCSB, “terror spread from God.” The issue is one of translation, as the Hebrew might literally refer to “from/to trembling/fear, Elohim.” The footnotes of the NET explain the variety: “It is possible…that the word ‘God’ functions here simply to intensify the accompanying word ‘fear.’ … It is clear on some occasions that the divine name carries such a superlative nature.” Regardless how one chooses to translate the Hebrew, there is no question that God personally involved Himself in the battle. The earth does not quake at precisely the moment of the fight without the move of God. The trembling of the ground was matched only by the trembling of the hearts of the Philistines. All of this was brought to pass by Almighty God.

17 Then Saul said to the people who were with him, “Now call the roll and see who has gone from us.” And when they had called the roll, surprisingly, Jonathan and his armorbearer were not there. 18 And Saul said to Ahijah, “Bring the ark of God here” (for at that time the ark of God was with the children of Israel). 19 Now it happened, while Saul talked to the priest, that the noise which was in the camp of the Philistines continued to increase; so Saul said to the priest, “Withdraw your hand.”

  1. Saul likely wanted to check the rolls to see if the Hebrews were leaving, too. He already had a massive amount of deserters bleed off from the camp, and if the Philistines were panicked and running, perhaps the Hebrews would do the same. It would have been surprising indeed, if his own son Jonathan was among the deserters. This whole situation didn’t make sense to Saul, which is probably why he called for the ark and the priest, that he might inquire of the Lord.
  2. Yet something stopped Saul from fully inquiring of God. As the “noise” of the Philistines’ fleeing grew louder and louder, that probably told Saul all he needed to know. This was now a strategic advantage for him. He knew he still had nearly 600 men, while the massive army of the Philistines was quickly dwindling down to nothing. If he was going to strike, the time was now.

20 Then Saul and all the people who were with him assembled, and they went to the battle; and indeed every man’s sword was against his neighbor, and there was very great confusion. 21 Moreover the Hebrews who were with the Philistines before that time, who went up with them into the camp from the surrounding country, they also joined the Israelites who were with Saul and Jonathan. 22 Likewise all the men of Israel who had hidden in the mountains of Ephraim, when they heard that the Philistines fled, they also followed hard after them in the battle.

  1. Israel proceeded to great victory. They descended upon the panicking Philistines and had easy pickings from their enemies, soon engaging in hot pursuit. News of the battle quickly spread and even some of the previously deserting Hebrew soldiers returned. Jonathan’s step of faith not only helped his armorbearer; it galvanized the entire nation! 

23 So the LORD saved Israel that day, and the battle shifted to Beth Aven.

  1. In all of this, we need to give credit where credit is due: the Lord! It was neither Jonathan nor Saul who saved Israel; it was YHWH God. This was divine salvation.
  2. Interestingly, the conjugation for “saved” is yeshua (יּ֧וֹשַׁע), with the Hebrew text literally reading yeshua YHWH (וַיּ֧וֹשַׁע יְהוָ֛ה). This is the very name of our Lord Jesus! He is YHWH God who saves!

What a morning! This was wonderful victory, all of which stemmed from a few acts of faith from a couple of Israelites. Two regular guys looked past their own weaknesses to the power of the infinite God and saw God work miracles. They knew who God is and what God said He would do, and they made the conscious decision to trust in that.

This is what it means to walk by faith. It means to put our money where our mouth is, and act according to the things we say we believe. It means to take God at His word and believe it for what it says. It means that whatever it is we do in this life, we do it with the conscious acknowledgment that we are children and servants of the Most High God. So we act like them. Walking by faith is more than knowing the truth; it is changing our actions to be obedient to it, by the power of the Holy Spirit.

  • Saul spoils the victory (24-46). Fleshly ruin.

24 And the men of Israel were distressed that day, for Saul had placed the people under oath, saying, “Cursed is the man who eats any food until evening, before I have taken vengeance on my enemies.” So none of the people tasted food. 25 Now all the people of the land came to a forest; and there was honey on the ground. 26 And when the people had come into the woods, there was the honey, dripping; but no one put his hand to his mouth, for the people feared the oath.

  1. Fleshly act #1: a rash oath instituting an unnecessary fast. How might a fast be an act of the flesh? Typically, this is a spiritual practice. Answer: it is only spiritual when it is done for the right reasons. Saul wasn’t engaging in national humility before God seeking His help in battle; he was engaging in a pagan practice to enforce his own “” This was spiritual manipulation; not prayerful worship. Thus, it was an act of Saul’s flesh…one that would bring much harm on his people.
  2. But because it was commanded by the king, it was honored by the people. They abstained from all food that day, even purposefully keeping themselves from the delicacy of honey when it was freely available. Can you imagine coming across the stash of honey in your state of hunger? As you watch the golden liquid drip, all you could do would think of how much you desired it. Yet your fear of a curse from your king was what kept you in check. It was an awful way to manipulate his people, but that was exactly what Saul did.

27 But Jonathan had not heard his father charge the people with the oath; therefore he stretched out the end of the rod that was in his hand and dipped it in a honeycomb, and put his hand to his mouth; and his countenance brightened. 28 Then one of the people said, “Your father strictly charged the people with an oath, saying, ‘Cursed is the man who eats food this day.’ ” And the people were faint.

  1. Jonathan saw the honey and ate it. Remember that he wasn’t present with the army to receive the command to fast; he was too busy stepping out in faith. He was walking in his trust of God while his father was attempting to manipulate God. Quite a contrast!
  2. Although Jonathan was likely alone when he discovered and ate of the honey, it was quickly obvious that he had eaten. Everyone else was faint from hunger, and Jonathan would have been the same way. Yet when the people saw him again after a few minutes, “his countenance brightened,” having received a bit of nourishment and quick energy from the sugar. The people quickly told him of the danger. They feared what Saul might do with Jonathan, for they understood what Saul would do with them if any of them had broken the fast.

29 But Jonathan said, “My father has troubled the land. Look now, how my countenance has brightened because I tasted a little of this honey. 30 How much better if the people had eaten freely today of the spoil of their enemies which they found! For now would there not have been a much greater slaughter among the Philistines?”

  1. Jonathan recognized the foolishness for what it was. He understood that it was far better to have strong soldiers than men weakened from hunger. He also understood the proven detriment it already had on the battle. As great as the victory over the Philistines had been, Jonathan perceived that it could have been even greater. The Israelites stopped too soon. Why? Because of their hunger. They simply did not have the strength to keep pressing on.

31 Now they had driven back the Philistines that day from Michmash to Aijalon. So the people were very faint. 32 And the people rushed on the spoil, and took sheep, oxen, and calves, and slaughtered them on the ground; and the people ate them with the blood. 33 Then they told Saul, saying, “Look, the people are sinning against the LORD by eating with the blood!” So he said, “You have dealt treacherously; roll a large stone to me this day.”

  1. The Israelites had gone a great distance, but they were too weak to go further. Michmash to Aijalon was roughly 20 miles. [PPT] By the time they arrived, they were famished and started slaughtering animals for dinner immediately. And that led to problems. That the Israelites were eating their slaughtered animals “with the blood” does not meant that they were freely drinking blood like pagans. Rather, they were so hungry that they did not take the necessary time to drain the blood from the animals. They rushed the process and thus defiled themselves.
  2. Question: At this point, were the Hebrews breaking Saul’s imposed fast? Not necessarily. Although the Bible does not directly say what time of day this was, it is not unreasonable to assume it was evening. After all, covering 20 miles by foot can take the better part of the day. Considering that Saul commanded the people not to eat until evening, the Israelites were not breaking Saul’s command. However, they were breaking God’s command not to eat meat with the blood (Gen 9:4, Lev 17:12, Dt 12:23, etc.). This sin was far worse than even the potential of violating Saul’s foolish oath. This was a sin against God Himself.
    1. FYI: This command carries over to the New Testament. The Jerusalem church council in Acts 15 gave great freedom to the Gentiles coming to faith in Christ, ensuring that they did not need to convert to Judaism nor keep the kosher laws or other Jewish ceremonial aspects to be saved. However, they did specify four things from which the Gentiles were to abstain: from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality (Acts 15:29). The basic idea is that born-again believers are to steer clear of associations with paganism. It had nothing to do with how rare someone liked their steak; it had everything to do with eating real blood.
  3. Keep in mind that this sin was completely unnecessary. If Saul had not placed these men under the oath, they would not have been famished at the end of the day. They had labored hard and were understandably hungry. Ultimately, the sin of the nation stemmed from a failure of leadership. Saul was trusting in works of his flesh, which simply was not necessary. The sin of the people was his own fault.
    1. How careful we need to be not to lead others into sin! Just like faith can be contagious, so can acts of the flesh. This is one reason sin is often described as leaven and the Bible repeatedly warns that a little leaven can leaven the whole lump (1 Cor 5:6, Gal 5:9). The sin of one can spread to another, and so forth. – We need far less outbreaks of sin and far more of faith! Let us be those who example faith!

34 Then Saul said, “Disperse yourselves among the people, and say to them, ‘Bring me here every man’s ox and every man’s sheep, slaughter them here, and eat; and do not sin against the LORD by eating with the blood.’ ” So every one of the people brought his ox with him that night, and slaughtered it there. 35 Then Saul built an altar to the LORD. This was the first altar that he built to the LORD.

  1. To his credit, Saul quickly addressed the issue attempting to restore order. The stone he had brought to him could serve as a temporary altar, one that could be used for humane slaughter and an elevated surface from which to drain the blood.
  2. The Scripture notes that this was an “altar to the LORD,” yet there is not any indication it was used for worship. Remember that the animals slain on it were not given in sacrificial worship; these were animals slaughtered for dinnertime. Even so, it was done according to the righteous command of God as seen in Scripture, so it could rightly be labeled as an altar.

36 Now Saul said, “Let us go down after the Philistines by night, and plunder them until the morning light; and let us not leave a man of them.” And they said, “Do whatever seems good to you.” Then the priest said, “Let us draw near to God here.” 37 So Saul asked counsel of God, “Shall I go down after the Philistines? Will You deliver them into the hand of Israel?” But He did not answer him that day.

  1. With the people having eaten and refreshed themselves, it seems that Saul hoped to pick up the pursuit of the Philistines and perhaps strike a killing blow. The people were all for the idea, when the priest suggested that it was best to first ask God. Saul did, only to be met with silence. At the time, whenever someone (usually the king) desired to inquire of the Lord, they would ask for the priest to draw out the Urim and Thummim from the priestly ephod. In a sense, it was like casting lots – ultimately, it was a way to let God divinely direct various yes/no decisions. Yet this time, there was trouble. For whatever reason, the Urim and Thummim didn’t work. Something held back God’s answer, which was an indication to Saul to conduct further inquiry.

38 And Saul said, “Come over here, all you chiefs of the people, and know and see what this sin was today. 39 For as the LORD lives, who saves Israel, though it be in Jonathan my son, he shall surely die.” But not a man among all the people answered him. 40 Then he said to all Israel, “You be on one side, and my son Jonathan and I will be on the other side.” And the people said to Saul, “Do what seems good to you.” 41 Therefore Saul said to the LORD God of Israel, “Give a perfect lot.” So Saul and Jonathan were taken, but the people escaped. 42 And Saul said, “Cast lots between my son Jonathan and me.” So Jonathan was taken.

  1. Fleshly act #2: another rash oath! The first was commanding the unnecessary fast; the second was commanding an unnecessary execution. Before Saul even had a clue what the issue was, he swore that whoever had the issue would be put to death, even if it was his own son. There was no small amount of irony in his words. Indeed, the perceived “problem” was in his son Jonathan, and this was discovered through the process of elimination. Surely this was an unwelcome surprise for Saul and his heart likely sank as he saw Jonathan exposed as the reason for God’s silence.
  2. Question: What was Jonathan’s sin, that God refused to answer Saul through priestly inquiry? Since it was Saul’s oath that was foolish, why hadn’t the Urim and Thummim pointed to Saul as the issue? We need to remember that even with all his faults, Saul was still God’s anointed king over Israel. Like the priests, Saul served as a representative of God to the people. No, Jonathan had not sinned against God, but he had inadvertently broken the command of his king, which remained unconfessed. Moreover, Saul was his father, so Jonathan’s action dishonored him, in violation of the 10th Although it was ultimately Saul’s fault that everyone was in this predicament, there was still a break between the king and one of his trusted commanders. This needed to be resolved before God would give any further revelation.
    1. Sometimes, stuff happens. It may not be our fault but sometimes it is still our problem, and we need to deal with it. The key is to do so in a way that is God-honoring rather than face-saving. Too often, we’re most concerned with protecting our own reputation. We ought to be more concerned with obeying the Lord!

43 Then Saul said to Jonathan, “Tell me what you have done.” And Jonathan told him, and said, “I only tasted a little honey with the end of the rod that was in my hand. So now I must die!” 44 Saul answered, “God do so and more also; for you shall surely die, Jonathan.”

  1. Jonathan recognized that the situation was unjust. By acknowledging that he “must die,” he wasn’t justifying the verdict; he was pointing out how wrong it was. It would be one thing to be executed for bringing death to Israel; it was something totally different to be put to death for having a snack.
  2. Even so, Saul was stubborn. He refused to relent, being set to keep his oath even when it meant the death of his son. It is reminiscent of Jephthah and his own foolish vow which condemned his daughter to death (Jdg 11). And just like Jephthah could have taken responsibility for his vow and offered a sacrifice to God when breaking it, so could Saul have done the same. Yet he was so caught up in his flesh and ego that he refused.

45 But the people said to Saul, “Shall Jonathan die, who has accomplished this great deliverance in Israel? Certainly not! As the LORD lives, not one hair of his head shall fall to the ground, for he has worked with God this day.” So the people rescued Jonathan, and he did not die.

  1. The people were more just than their king! They recognized that Jonathan was God’s instrument in the “great deliverance” they experienced that day. Think of it: when the Hebrews woke up that morning, each one of them was dreading the day, expecting to die at the hand of the Philistines. Yet because of the faith of two men (led by Jonathan), they were delivered. The people were free from death, which was reason to rejoice; not to destroy their deliverer! They “rescued Jonathan,” or it could be translated, they “ransomed” him. 

46 Then Saul returned from pursuing the Philistines, and the Philistines went to their own place.

  1. Wraps up the narrative on the battle. There was no further pursuit of the Philistines that day, which seems to indicate that the process of casting lots to shine the spotlight on Jonathan cost them precious time. Their window of opportunity was gone. Thus, Saul’s rash oath twice interfered with a potential greater victory. First, it caused the Israelite army to be too hungry to be effective. Second, it caused a needless delay to find out why God wasn’t answering Saul. What could have been a crippling blow against the Philistines, potentially saving Israel many future battles and death, never came to pass…all because of Saul acted out in his flesh.

Our flesh ruins wonderful victories! The things God does in our lives can and should be celebrated, giving glory to Him. But it’s difficult to do it when we get caught up in our flesh. Maybe you get the chance to reconcile with a brother in the Lord, but then you start rehearsing the fight all over again and refuse to do it. Maybe you get the chance to speak up for Jesus but then start thinking of all the ways you feel uncomfortable. Whatever it is, you have the opportunity to do something right, trusting the Lord in His promises…but you let yourself get in the way and the opportunity is lost. (I know. I’ve been there too many times!)

May God help us put our flesh to death! As Paul writes in a different context: Romans 8:12–13, “(12) Therefore, brethren, we are debtors—not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. (13) For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” The things of the flesh pull us into sin; the things of the Spirit help us glorify God.

  • Saul’s reign and family (47-52).

47 So Saul established his sovereignty over Israel, and fought against all his enemies on every side, against Moab, against the people of Ammon, against Edom, against the kings of Zobah, and against the Philistines. Wherever he turned, he harassed them. 48 And he gathered an army and attacked the Amalekites, and delivered Israel from the hands of those who plundered them.

  1. This seems to be a general summary of Saul’s various battles that lasted throughout his reign. Although 1 Samuel has only provided a few chapters detailing Saul’s events as king, the next chapter will see the promise of the kingdom taken from him and the primary narrative centers on David. Thus, the writer gives the summary of Saul up-front.
  2. Notice the specific call-out of the battle against the Amalekites (v48). This foreshadows the narrative of Chapter 15.

49 The sons of Saul were Jonathan, Jishui, and Malchishua. And the names of his two daughters were these: the name of the firstborn Merab, and the name of the younger Michal. 50 The name of Saul’s wife was Ahinoam the daughter of Ahimaaz. And the name of the commander of his army was Abner the son of Ner, Saul’s uncle. 51 Kish was the father of Saul, and Ner the father of Abner was the son of Abiel.

  1. As with later kings, we get a brief account of Saul’s family, including even his uncle Abner, who becomes a central figure in Saul’s administration as the commander of his armies. A bit of a question rises regarding the names of Saul’s sons. Jonathan has already been mentioned and Malchishua gets a brief mention elsewhere as being one of Saul’s sons (and Abinadab is not mentioned at all), but it is Jishui (or Ishvi) who is ambiguous. This name is not mentioned again, whereas it is obvious that Saul had another son: Ishbosheth, who initially inherited the kingdom after Saul’s death. It seems that Ishbosheth was known by several names, including Jishui and Esh-baal.

52 Now there was fierce war with the Philistines all the days of Saul. And when Saul saw any strong man or any valiant man, he took him for himself.

  1. For all the wars fought by Saul, the one constant was that against the Philistines. If the events of Chapter 14 had gone differently, who knows what would have happened in the future? How many battles might Israel have been spared?
  2. The chapter ends on one final note of foreshadowing, as Saul took all the valiant men to himself in his army (exactly as Samuel warned the king would do – 8:11). We will soon be introduced to one such strong and valiant warrior: David, who would demonstrate himself against Goliath.


Two men, two very different ways of responding to challenges. Jonathan took several steps of faith, trusting God to show His mighty power and glorify Himself. Saul walked in his flesh, trying to manipulate things to his advantage, only to fail and even spoil something beautiful God had already accomplished.

We have the same choice when facing challenges: walk by faith or by our flesh. One is blessed by God; the other only causes problems.

Question: Must we always seek obvious supernatural miracles when walking by faith? Are we to expect the same sort of things as Jonathan and his armorbearer experienced? Not necessarily. We are neither in the Hebrew covenant where God promised to physically fight for us and have one person chase a thousand out of the promised land, nor are we in a literal war against Philistines where we are in need of such a miracle. Yet even as New Testament believers, we still see men and women taking various steps of faith and experiencing the blessings of God. The apostles witnessed miraculous healings, deacons like Philip was spoken to by the Spirit, men and women prophesied and exercised various spiritual gifts. All of it required various steps of faith, being obedient to the command of God and available to the opportunities God placed before them.

Even here, we might object, saying that those were Biblical times; not today. Understand this: we are still in Biblical times! After all, the events of Revelation are yet to come to pass, meaning that we are still in the Biblical narrative (even though we are close to the end). So yes, God still blesses steps of faith. And likewise, carnal works of the flesh still get in the way. And we don’t need a miracle to see it; we see it every day. Everything about our relationship with Jesus is to be a walk of faith! When we walk in the faith, we will not fulfill the lust of the flesh (Gal 5:16). The opposite is true, as well. When we engage the lusts of our flesh, we do not and cannot glorify God. To walk by faith is something we must choose. We choose to believe God’s promises; we choose to forgive as we’ve been forgiven; we choose to love others as Jesus has loved us; we choose to be obedient to the Great Commission as we share the gospel, etc. All of it is walking by faith.

May God help us choose it more and more!

Church discipline is sorrowful but necessary, as sin among us brings sorrow and grief. But sorrow can be turned to joy with sincere repentance, at which the church should extend forgiveness unto the goal of restoration.

From Sorrow to Forgiveness

Posted: June 6, 2021 in 2 Corinthians

2 Corinthians 2:1-11, “From Sorrow to Forgiveness”

As much as I love being a father, the part I like least about parenting is discipline. Nothing was more upsetting to me as a dad of a young girl whom I love deeply, than the need to punish her for wrongdoing. I did not always do it well or in wisdom, but both Marilyn and I tried to do what was Biblical and necessary at the times it was required, regardless that neither of us enjoyed it. It is no different in my experience with pastoral ministry. Of all the wonderful things I have the privilege of doing in ministering to the Lord, the part I like absolutely the least is church discipline. When it is received well, it is a massive relief. When it isn’t, it is sorrowful and grievous.

That does not mean it is to be avoided. By no means! Church discipline is necessary and vial for church health. Is it fun? No. Are we the better for it? Yes. I know that I have personally benefitted from the times I have been under discipline when I was younger and far more foolish – and I know other Christians who have matured from going through the process of discipline. Again, it isn’t fun, but it is necessary and worthwhile.

The apostle Paul was no different in his dislike of church discipline. By no means did he shy away from it, but when it was necessary, it brought him no pleasure at the time. It wasn’t fun for anyone involved. But it led to wonderful results! Just like a bit of self-discipline in the gym leads to great gains and bodily strength, so can the appropriate application of church discipline lead to great gain and spiritual blessing.

How did we get to this point in the letter? Paul was explaining why his original travel plans had changed regarding Corinth. Life for the apostle was typically not easy, not that he was making excuses for himself. But his life was frequently in danger and he had a constant need for the comfort of God. Moreover, Paul was not insincere nor duplicitous with Corinth. He was not wishy-washy and double-minded. When he initially wrote of visiting Corinth earlier, that was truly his intent. Yet, as in all things, Paul’s plans were subject to the superior and sovereign plan of God. Thus, although he hoped to bless Corinth twice on this particular missionary journey, it simply was not possible.

The good news, however, is that despite all the changing promises of men and women, the word of God and His gospel never changes. Every Biblical and apostolic word spoken of Jesus is true. Every promise of God in Christ is Yes and Amen. With all the changes experienced by the Corinthians, they could have confident assurance of their salvation, knowing that the promises are firm.

With that bit of digression concluded, Paul returned to the general topic of his issues with Corinth. It was to “spare” the church that he refrained from visiting at this time. As will be seen in Chapter 2, there were some disciplinary issues in the church, of which Paul wanted to minimize any difficulties. He was not attempting to set himself in opposition to the church or in lordship over the church; he wanted to help them as a brother and fellow worker.

That brings us to Chapter 2 as Paul finishes his explanation of his travel changes, as it all related to the issue of church discipline among the Corinthians. Everything he and this congregation had gone through to this point had made for many sorrowful experiences, but all of the sorrow and grief had a purpose: repentance and restoration. And it worked, to the glory of God!

What we see with Paul and Corinth is the example and pattern set for the rest of us in the church. Church discipline is sorrowful but necessary, as sin among us brings sorrow and grief. But sorrow can be turned to joy with sincere repentance, at which the church should extend forgiveness unto the goal of restoration.

Praise God for how He not only makes this possible, but He is the one who examples this for us in Christ!

2 Corinthians 2:1–11

  • Sorrow is not desired (1-5).

1 But I determined this within myself, that I would not come again to you in sorrow.

  1. The words “come again” set the stage for what we need to know in this. Aside from Paul’s initial visit to Corinth recorded in Acts 18, there had been another visit that was not recorded in Acts. This particular visit was filled with “” It was difficult on both Paul and the Corinthians, and it was a situation he was “determined” to avoid, if at all possible.
  2. What made the last trip difficult? The “” This word is extremely important in these verses as it is used in various grammatical forms no less than 8 times. It could be translated either as “sorrow,” or “pain,” and could also refer to grief, distress, vex, inflict pain, etc. In other words, it isn’t anything good! For Paul and the Corinthians, it no doubt referred to the conflict between them due to the application of stern, but necessary, apostolic discipline. It may have been necessary, but it didn’t mean that Paul enjoyed it. Remember that Paul had a true pastoral heart. He did not shy away from conflict with those who opposed the gospel (as seen in his interaction with Elymas Bar-Jesus in Antioch Pisidia, when Paul accused him of being full of deceit and fraud, pronouncing blindness upon him in judgment – Acts 13). But he did not enjoy conflict, especially with his beloved brothers and sisters in Christ. No doubt the rift between he and Barnabas over John Mark (Acts 15:37-40) greatly grieved him, especially since there was no issue of sin between the two men. (Of course, God used this split to further the gospel and there is evidence of reconciliation not only between Paul and Barnabas, but also between Paul and John Mark.) Overall, when Paul wrote to the Romans to live at peace with all men, as much as it is possible (Rom 12:18), he meant it. He meant it for himself as much as he meant it for others. If he could avoid sorrow and pain in relationships, then he would do what he could.

2 For if I make you sorrowful, then who is he who makes me glad but the one who is made sorrowful by me?

  1. Repentant sinners made Paul glad. AT Robertson explained it this way: “So long as their moral condition compelled him to come, bringing rebuke and pain, they could not be a source of joy to him. If I must needs make you sorry with merited rebuke, who can give me joy save you who are thus made sorry?” The church (and the individual) who first started Paul on this road to sorrow were also the ones who could bring him joy, bringing an end to the rebuke and harsh words. Like the well-used phrase of parents about to punish their disobedient children: “This is going to hurt me more than it hurts you,” Paul hated having to administer discipline in Corinth and elsewhere. But if he had to do it, he would do it. What would make him feel better? If the discipline was no longer necessary. If Corinth (or whomever) started doing what was right, that would bring him joy.
  2. Notice that Paul had made the entire church sorrowful (plural “you”), but there was one particular man whose sin was at the center of it all (singular “he who…one who”). – One person’s sin can affect an entire church! A little leaven (yeast) can leaven a whole lump of dough and one person’s unconfessed unrepentant sin can damage an entire congregation. How so? The public reputation of one is linked to the public reputation of all. (“He/she goes to that church? What are they teaching over there?”) Or the cover-up of the sin is the source of additional problems. (“How could they let that abuser keep going from place to place?”) Or the refusal to deal with the sin of one person causes others to follow in the same footsteps, etc. The examples could go on indefinitely. It all stems from a refusal to deal with sin Biblically and quickly. Sin is like cancer. The longer you allow it to continue unchecked, the more damage it causes.
    1. This is as much true on an individual level as a congregational one. When is the best time to deal with sin in your life? Immediately! The moment you are aware of it is the moment you need to deal with it. The moment that you get that moment of clarity, when the Holy Spirit brings conviction to your heart, that is the very minute you need to respond. You confess it to the Lord, agreeing with Him that it is sin – you turn away from it, meaning that you stop engaging in it both changing your mind and your actions regarding it (i.e., repentance). And when necessary, you seek reconciliation with others and even make restitution when it is appropriate. In other words, you cast yourself upon Jesus for forgiveness and you take responsibility for your actions. Moreover, you don’t wait. Don’t put it off – don’t push it aside. When the Holy Spirit brings conviction, that is the time to act. Why? Because little choices lead to long-term habits. The quicker you are to respond to the Holy Spirit, the more likely you are to do it in the future. Yet the more often you silence the conviction of the Spirit in your heart, the more likely you are to do that, too. As we’ve said in the past: the more you say no to God now, the more you will say no to Him in the future. Yet the more you say yes to God today, the more you will say yes in the future. Say yes! Beware of hardening your heart and allowing sin to fester in your life. The corruption you allow today will only fester and rot.

3 And I wrote this very thing to you, lest, when I came, I should have sorrow over those from whom I ought to have joy, having confidence in you all that my joy is the joy of you all. 4 For out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote to you, with many tears, not that you should be grieved, but that you might know the love which I have so abundantly for you.

  1. Apparently, Paul wrote an additional letter to Corinth which dealt with this issue, a letter we do not possess. Does this mean we have a lost letter to the Bible, and should a sorrowful/painful letter from Paul to Corinth be discovered tomorrow, that we should alter our Bibles to include it? First, it would be difficult (if not impossible) to verify that any purported letter from Paul to Corinth would be authentic. Far too much time has elapsed for that kind of authentication to take place. When these letters initially circulated among the churches, there were multiple people at the time who could verify that these letters were from Paul (or Peter or John, etc.), rather than forgeries. Point of fact, there were many Gnostic letters and books written in the names of the apostles, which the early church easily identified as forgeries and cast aside. None of the Gnostic gospels are lost; they are rejected…that’s a big difference! Second, the way God gave the New Testament to the church is itself a miracle, one that will not be duplicated. The books of the New Testament did not come down from the sky to the early church, nor did some ecumenical council decree what books were “approved” to be received into the New Testament. The books of the New Testament were universally recognized by the various local churches around the Roman empire, and the original church councils merely recorded the list of books the churches were already using. This is why we can affirm today, without hesitation, that the canon of Scripture is closed. There is no way any new document will be found and universally affirmed by born-again believers as being both (1) apostolic and authentic, and (2) true. So, no…we are not missing anything in our Bibles by not possessing this letter from Paul. It was apostolic and authentic being that Paul wrote it, but it was not preserved by God and intended to be circulated to the universal body of Christ.
  2. Moreover, it was not even a letter that Paul enjoyed writing! As difficult as his sorrowful visit to Corinth was, so also was this epistle. It was written “out of much affliction and anguish of heart…with many tears.” No doubt, that was difficult reading for the church, but it was also difficult writing from the author. It was not written to purposefully cause pain, but Paul understood that it would be painful. Some things that need to be said are simply difficult to say.
    1. Again, church discipline is always In my 17 years as a pastor, there has not been a single instance in which I have enjoyed it. And I doubt there has ever been a single person that enjoyed going through it with me (and the other elders, when necessary). But just because something is painful does not mean that it should not be done. Surgery is painful, yet often necessary. If it was not painful, then there would be no need for an anesthesiologist. Yet a tumor cannot be removed without a skilled surgeon slicing it out of the body. Painful? Without question. Necessary? Also, without question. So too, is church discipline.
    2. What should you do if you find yourself on the receiving end of it? Receive it willingly. Don’t rebel. Especially in terms of church discipline, what we are speaking of is God’s discipline, as administered through the local church. Thus, when we rebel against church discipline, we are really rebelling against God. That is unwise at best, and dangerous at worst. God does not discipline us because He hates us; He disciplines us because He loves us. The writer of Hebrews makes this point when quoting Proverbs 3:11-12: Hebrews 12:5–6, “(5) And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to sons: “My son, do not despise the chastening of the LORD, Nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him; (6) For whom the LORD loves He chastens, And scourges every son whom He receives.”” If you are chastened by the Lord God, it means you are a child of God. If you were God’s enemy, you would be judged. Yet if you are a Christian, Jesus has already taken your judgment, so now you are chastened/disciplined as a son or daughter of God. That is a sign of God’s love for you. (And when done properly, it is a sign of love from the elders of a local church, that they care about you enough to call your attention to sin that you might repent from it and be done with it.)
  3. Was it painful? Grievous? Yes. But notice that grief was not the goal: “not that you should be grieved.” Paul was not purposefully trying to cause additional pain. He only did what was necessary to be done. Just like a skilled surgeon cuts only the minimal amount to get the maximum benefit, so does loving and appropriate church discipline seek the minimal yet most effective means of addressing sin. If it can be dealt with through seeing individual contrition and repentance, great. If it requires a broader discussion with the elders and those involved, but it is resolved at that level, also great. Might it ultimately require excommunication and removal? Yes, but that is not the first action taken. It ought to be the last resort, done only when necessary.

5 But if anyone has caused grief, he has not grieved me, but all of you to some extent—not to be too severe.

  1. One man in Corinth was a cause for congregational sorrow. He hurt Paul and he hurt everyone else. On one hand, Paul wrote “he has not grieved me,” but from the context it is clear that the offense was primarily directed at Paul; Paul simply did not take it offensively nor did he harbor any grudges. If anything, this one man’s offense caused a rift between Paul and the entire church, thus hurting “all” of them. Like a wild shot from a shotgun, pellets went every which direction, causing far more harm to far more people than what the man originally intended.
  2. If you’re following in the KJV, the wording can seem a bit confusing: “that I may not overcharge you all.” To the original readers of the KJV, a “charge” was a load, as in how a load might be placed on a wagon. Thus, in the minds of the KJV translators, to “overcharge” was to overburden, which is indeed the idea behind the Greek term. Because of the context, it can also be thought of as severity (being its own type of burden), which is how other Bible versions render it. – The basic idea is that Paul was trying not to exaggerate the impact of the offending person and his offense. When Paul noted that the man had grieved all the church, even to a greater extent than his offense against Paul himself, that was the truth. The apostle was not pushing the issue – he wasn’t making a mountain out of a molehill – this was simply a fact. Just like sin affects and spreads among a congregation, so can sin offend an entire congregation. It causes harm to all.
    1. How so? Who cares if one person sins in his/her own life? What does that have to do with anyone else? Much! Marriages that end in divorce force other people to pick sides. Fathers that abandon their homes leave families that require ministry. Men that give themselves over to pornography need to have protections between them and others. Those who gossip inevitably start rumors which wreak all kinds of havoc, etc. No sin is truly private. No sin is victimless. All sin within a church eventually affects the whole church. Maybe not immediately, but eventually the actions of one person ripple out to the whole.
    2. This was why Paul described it as “” These things are sorrowful and painful – and not just to one person, but to so many others along the way. This is why it is so important to deal with these issues Biblically. We cannot allow griefs like this to fester. They hurt so many more people the longer they are allowed to persist.
    3. To deal with these things Biblically is key. There are many people in the church who seem to feel it is their calling in life to point out the sins of others and expose them in unbiblical ways. Or they want to mete out punishment that gratifies their desire for revenge, rather than seeking the heart of God in repentance and restoration. People who are not interested in the Biblical process of church discipline aren’t really interested in church discipline at all. 
  3. At some point, we need to ask the question of the sinner and his sin. Who was the man and what had he done? Because the letter of 1 Corinthians also deals with at least one specific issue of church discipline (1 Cor 5), some though the years have equated that sinner with this sinner, believing them to be the same individual. (I once held that view myself.) The problem is the differences in the circumstances that are described. 1 Corinthians 5 refers to a man committing incest with his step-mother, as well as the problems resulting from a church that was not only unwilling to condemn the act but even take pride in allowing this man to remain among them. Yet the circumstances in 2 Corinthians 2 describe a man who had somehow personally offended the apostle Paul. Not once in this section does Paul name him nor does he describe the details of the man’s offense. But we are told that it was an offense against Paul that affected the entire church. It simply does not match with the man of 1 Corinthians 5. That man grieved Paul in the same way that any sin in a church grieves the rest of the members in a church (including its founding pastor), but it was not personally directed against Paul. Thus, it seems unlikely to be the same man. – Even so, between the events of 1 Corinthians 5 and 2 Corinthians 2, we see a full picture of church discipline. We see the entire life-cycle, as it were. The reader is shown what church discipline ought to look like, what it entails. And we are shown the outcome of it, when it works. Church discipline is not excommunicating someone only to forget about him/her. It is a penalty given in the hopes of effectiveness unto repentance and restoration. It does not always happen, but that it is the hope. And when it does happen, it is wonderful!

Sin is sorrowful and church discipline is sorrowful, and sorrow is not desired. No one likes it: not the person under discipline, nor the person administering it. That much was evident from Paul. He neither enjoyed his unscheduled visit, nor did he enjoy writing the unknown letter. It hurt him to do it, even as it was necessary.

This is the attitude that we ought to see in every church regarding discipline. Some churches avoid it completely, not wanting to offend anyone. After all, if you call out a man on his sin, he might leave the church and take his tithe/offering with him. If you take aside a woman in discipline, she might get offended, tell a bunch of her friends, and take a whole group of people out the door. (Which is sadly not uncommon in some disciplinary situations. Some people need to leave, but they never leave alone.) But that is not sufficient grounds for a church to avoid discipline. For a church and its elders to avoid administering discipline is for them to neglect their responsibilities. It ultimately does more harm to a congregation, leaving them unprotected and unloved by the very people God raised up in leadership and service.

At the same time, other churches go overboard, calling out every little thing as massive sin against God, engaging in legalism and publicly shaming people. Let it be known that this kind of practice is not church discipline, but spiritual abuse. It harms people, grieves God, and will itself be judged by God in the last day.

What is needed is loving discipline, Godly discipline as instructed in the Bible. It might cause sorrow in the moment, but that sorrow is temporary. 

  • Forgiveness is desired (6-11).

6 This punishment which was inflicted by the majority is sufficient for such a man, 7 so that, on the contrary, you ought rather to forgive and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one be swallowed up with too much sorrow.

  1. As for Corinth, they neither ignored this particular case requiring discipline, nor did they abuse the man who had sinned. The church congregation had punished the man, but that punishment was “” Of course, Paul wanted to ensure that the church did not go too far. Punishment might be necessary, but punishment is to be limited. Forgiveness is the goal, leading to restoration. For all their faults, the church at Corinth had done something noble in actually administering discipline to this man, but they needed to be careful not to push it past the point of being beneficial. It was possible that even after this man repented, he might “be swallowed up with too much sorrow.” When a person is truly repentant, what is needed is not further discipline, but abundant grace. Constant sorrow is a terrible burden to bear, and it is not meant for any Christian. After all, once Jesus forgives someone their sins, who are we to continue holding their sins against them? Once the consequence is fulfilled, it is finished. No ongoing guilt or permanent label ought to be borne by the person; such a thing is anti-gospel.
  2. What did Paul mean by “punishment”? It is a bit of a mystery, as this is the only instance of this noun in the New Testament, and it is used only once in the LXX (and that, in an apocryphal book). Classically, the word can refer to “penalty, value, honor, and respect,” with the idea of “censure” also being in view (NIDNTT). The verb form of the word is used 29x in the New Testament, often in the gospel when describing various forms of rebuke (i.e., the disciples rebuking children from coming to Jesus, or when Peter rebuked Jesus for prophesying of His death, etc.). With all that in mind, the term “punishment” means exactly that. There was some act and/or formalized judgment involved against the offending party. The local church decreed that some form of punishment needed to be applied in this circumstance…and it was exactly the right thing to do. Notice that Paul never rebukes the Corinthians for their rebuke of this man; instead, he affirms it as being right and “sufficient” for the circumstance. There was a potential danger of the punishment going too far, but whatever it was initially, it was justified and appropriate. Is there a difference between church discipline and church punishment? Not really. The punishment is merely the application of the discipline. Perhaps the term “discipline” describes the process whereas “punishment” describes the penalty that results from the process. In the grand scheme of things, one flows straight into the other.
    1. What was this punishment? Based off Paul’s own example that he set forth in 1 Corinthians 5, it was most likely excommunication. Regarding the incestuous man, Paul judged the sin even when the church leadership at the time had not: 1 Corinthians 5:4–5, “(4) In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when you are gathered together, along with my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, (5) deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.” The man was to be put out of the church, cut off from church fellowship, not treated as one of the body. For the man to continue in proud, unrepentant sin as he did, he needed to be treated like a tax-collector or heathen, for that was what was acting like (Mt 18:17). What was to be done? Put him out of the church, allowing him to experience all the consequences that Satan might throw at him. Allow him to live through the results of his actions. Not for cruelty’s sake, but in love. How so? Because those consequences might be the very things that cause him to turn back to Jesus in true repentance and faith! Smelling the filth of his sins might cause him to wake up, come to his senses, and (like the prodigal son) seek the forgiveness of God.
    2. Again, we see the purpose of discipline/punishment: repentance and restoration. No church should discipline someone out of a sadistic glee, simply to watch a man or woman squirm. Even to a lesser extent, neither should a church kick someone out and cease to care about him/her. No…Paul commanded that the incestuous man be put out, that eventually he might be saved. In the case of the man in 2 Corinthians, whatever punishment had been applied had worked. Now it was time to move to the next phase of reconciliation and restoration, because that was always supposed to be the goal the entire time.
  3. When should forgiveness be extended? When the offender is repentant. Question: Considering that Paul never uses the word “repentance” in this section, how do we know that the offender in view was himself repentant? Answer: Like everything else, we need to look at the context. Verse 2 refers to the one who was “made sorrowful” by Paul who now made “him glad.Something happened to make that change. Similarly, Paul wrote in verse 6 that the punishment inflicted by the church was “sufficient” to the point that the church should not “forgive and comfort him.” How could the church verify if the punishment was sufficient, as Paul said? They had apostolic instruction for this instance, but what was the principle that they could apply in the future? How could they know when forgiveness was appropriate? There is only one logical possibility: the sinner in question was publicly repentant and his repentance was understood to be sincere.
    1. What does sincere repentance look like? What is involved? It involves a change of mind that leads to a change of action. The New Testament concept of repentance is a change of thinking; the Old Testament concept is a change of direction. Put the two together, and we have a Biblical idea of repentance. Is it being sorry? Yes, but it is more than sorrow alone. Paul will write on this more in Chapter 7, but sorrow by itself is not repentance; godly sorrow is something that produces repentance (2 Cor 7:10). Godly sorrow leads to repentance. Repentance is something that has fruit/evidence (Mt 3:8). Zacchaeus demonstrated repentance when he not only turned away from his corruption and tax-theft to faith in Jesus, but also when he offered to restore four-fold what he had cheated from others (Lk 19:8). What does it look like for us? The same. It is being sorry over sin, but also changing your actions so that you don’t engage in that sin again. It is going to people you’ve wronged, humbling yourself before them, and making it right. How public does it need to be? Consider this: how public was your sin? Your repentance ought to at least mirror the same scope.
    2. Again, it is not an expectation that you constantly flagellate yourself until the end of time; it is forsaking your sin, and being reconciled to both God and your brothers and sisters in the church. When true repentance happens, it is wonderful and should lead to wonderful free forgiveness!
  4. Just like the word for “sorrow” is repeated several times in this section, so is the word for “forgive,” (although to a lesser extent). This word is used a total of 4 times: once in v7 and three times more in v10. What makes this particular term interesting is that it is not the usual word for “forgive” seen throughout the New Testament. It is not entirely uncommon, but in the vast majority of instances the term for forgiveness refers to “release,” as in you release someone’s offenses against you, no longer holding it against them. This time, the word speaks of giving graciously, being related to both the terms for “gift” and “grace.” If elsewhere, forgiveness takes place when we release someone’s offenses (i.e., a passive response), this time forgiveness takes place when we purposefully extend grace to someone who has offended us (i.e., a more active response). In both cases, forgiveness is a choice that needs to be made. In this particular case, it is a choice not only to forget the sins of the past but also to purposefully move forward in grace ahead.
    1. I wonder how many Christians are willing to forgive in this sense of the word? It is one thing not to hold a grudge; it is another to reach out in grace. Yet is this not how God forgives us in Christ? Not only does He refrain from pouring out His wrath on us, He also proactively makes us His children allowing us to share in the inheritance of Jesus. May God help us extend the same kind of grace as we forgive others!

8 Therefore I urge you to reaffirm your love to him.

  1. First: Forgiveness is loving. Obviously, the word “forgiveness” is not used in this verse, but that is the immediate context. If the offending man is to be loved and comforted (v7) after experiencing sufficient punishment, it surely refers to an aspect of forgiveness. AT Robertson writes of the term “reaffirm,” that it is from a word (κυροω) meaning “supreme power, authority. Hence, to take judicial resolution to treat the offender with brotherly love.” To “reaffirm your love” is to intentionally and purposefully affirm/resolve to love the repentant sinner. It is not to wait until you ‘feel’ like being loving and forgiving; it is to knowingly do it now. Again, this gets to the idea of choice. We choose to lovingly forgive, in the same way that we choose to walk, run, sing, pray, or any other sort of action. We don’t wait for this to come upon us by osmosis; we make the conscious decision to engage in it. Remember, that this was one of the main points Paul made in 1 Corinthians regarding the concept of agape love (1 Cor 13). We engage in true agape love when we choose to act towards others as Jesus acted toward us.
  2. To Paul’s point, this was what the Corinthians were to do with this former offender. The punishment he received was enough. The church had done its part with discipline. Now it was time for the church to do its part with love. They needed to reach out to this man, bring him back into the fold, and love him with the love of Christ. Again, like the prodigal son, when the man was repentant, it was time for rejoicing. The congregation needed to affirm and reaffirm their love for him in the Lord.

9 For to this end I also wrote, that I might put you to the test, whether you are obedient in all things.

  1. Second: Forgiveness is an act of obedience. Is it a choice? Is it an obedient choice? Yes, also. One of the reasons Paul wrote that harsh letter to Corinth was to give them clear commands to obey, and he wanted to see if they would do it. They did, which was one more reason for Paul’s joy – and their doing so confirmed that they understood they were commanded to forgive and they were willing to obey.
  2. Without question, we are commanded to forgive. So much so, in fact, that Jesus put it straight into the model prayer as well as His follow-up commentary: Matthew 6:12,14-15 “(12) And forgive us our debts, As we forgive our debtors. … (14) For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. (15) But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” Time forbids a thorough discussion of all that Jesus meant in this kind of forgiveness, as His context was personal forgiveness; rather than corporate forgiveness as the church. Even so, the idea of obedience is clear. This is not optional for the Christian. It is not optional for the local church. When a man or woman is truly repentant of his/her sin, then forgiveness must be extended. Does it mean that there are zero ongoing ramifications? Not necessarily, depending on the circumstance. For instance: a pastor who has fallen into adultery yet truly repents should indeed be received into a local church fellowship, but he has forever disqualified himself from the pastorate. Yet the cloud of his sin should not hang over everything he ever does. He can serve his local church in marvelous ways, living in the true freedom that comes from forgiveness. But that forgiveness absolutely needs to be given, when the person is repentant. It is a matter of simple obedience.

10 Now whom you forgive anything, I also forgive. For if indeed I have forgiven anything, I have forgiven that one for your sakes in the presence of Christ, 11 lest Satan should take advantage of us; for we are not ignorant of his devices.

  1. Third: Forgiveness is beneficial. Notice how Paul forgave this particular man, and that he did it “for your sakes in the presence of Christ.” It was good for everyone in the church of Corinth that Paul forgave this man fully and freely. Such is the case with all forgiveness after church discipline. It benefits everyone in the church body. How so? Simple: the entire church is free to rejoice! It grieves everyone when one member is removed from fellowship. It is difficult on the entire body when such a thing needs to be announced to the congregation. But when it is apparent that former sinner is repentant and restored, it is wonderful! It is a testimony to the grace and power of God, and all the church is blessed through it.
  2. Fourth: Forgiveness is a safeguard against the devil. This is another aspect of the church-wide benefit of forgiveness. It guards the body from Satanic attack. How so? Because otherwise, Satan might “take advantage” of the church. Interestingly, out of the five times this term is used in the New Testament, four of them are in the letter of 2 Corinthians (2:11, 7:2, 12:17-18). This is a word that refers to exploitation, defrauding, and cheating. Satan looks for opportunities to exploit the church. Grudges and unforgiveness are open invitations to the devil for this kind of exploitation. These are the sorts of things he uses to drive wedges of division between believers and to bring a stain on the reputation of the church. Yet when we freely forgive as we have been forgiven, we rob Satan of his weapons of exploitation…a good thing, indeed!


Is church discipline difficult? Yes. Is it necessary? Yes, also. And when it leads to repentance, restoration, and forgiveness, it is wonderful! Sorrow may not be desired, but forgiveness is. We just need to remember that the latter might not be possible without the former. Just like a splinter might need to be painfully removed for healing to take place, so does sorrowful discipline need to be administered for both a sinner and congregation to be healed. And when it works – when it is done rightly and Biblically on all sides, it is truly amazing and glorious!

You need to know that at Calvary Chapel Tyler, we practice Biblical church discipline…at least, that is our desire. By no mean am I, nor any other elder, perfect. We make our own mistakes. But we try to abide by the word of God, doing things according to the Holy Scriptures. We love you enough to step in when things are going wrong. Not that we want to be in your business, nor that we want to lord over your faith (no more than Paul desired to lord over the faith of the Corinthians – 1:24). But if things have gone haywire, that is the point you (and anyone else) need help, and we love you enough to help. In humility, by the grace of Christ, in mutual submission to the Scriptures, yes…but also taking our Scriptural responsibility seriously.

Some have not received this well. In some cases, they have removed themselves; in other cases, we have removed them. Those instances still grieve me to this day and I pray for their repentance and reconciliation – if not with me personally, than at least to their families and friends, and most importantly to God.

On the other hand, some have received it well and they have been restored. I praise God for each one! What now, is our responsibility as a church congregation? To truly forgive them as Christ has forgiven us. To love them and extend grace to them, knowing that it is right and beneficial to all.

Forgiveness is such a freeing act! And it is to be practiced not only as a church body in issues of discipline, but by each of us as individual Christians on a daily basis. From whom have you withheld true forgiveness? Who is it, that you consciously refused to give grace? Beware! You are not only harming yourself, but you are yourself being disobedient to God. May we be those who rejoice in true repentance, giving not only praise to God, but true forgiveness to men!

Faced with a massive problem, Saul fell back on his flesh, trusting himself instead of God. We are called to a walk of faith. Trust Christ and walk by the Spirit in obedience to God. That is what it is to be a man or woman after God’s own heart.

The Untrusting King

Posted: June 3, 2021 in 1 Samuel

1 Samuel 13, “The Untrusting King”

I always hated the game of “trust.” It was routinely played by gym teachers or done at company retreats. This is when you would be blindfolded and fall backwards, “trusting” that the group gathered behind you would catch you and break the fall. Maybe it reveals my cynicism about human nature, but I was never one that could simply fall without throwing back my leg to catch myself. I could never put myself totally in the hands of my co-workers.

That kind of attitude might be understandable with people; it is detrimental when it comes to God. We cannot move forward in our walk with Jesus when we are unwilling to trust Him. After all, our walk is to be by faith. If we are not willing to trust Jesus fully and without reservation, then we aren’t really trusting Him at all. We are never truly submitting to Him as our God and King, always holding back a bit of our own kingdom for ourselves. We see it revealed in our lives when we allow ourselves outbursts of wrath, rather than trusting God as our defense – or when we tell the “little white lies” to guard our reputation, rather than trusting God to vindicate Himself through truth – or when we insist in pushing our own way in a situation, rather than trusting our sovereign God to work things out for His glory. When we have to be in control, we have a problem. It is a not-so-subtle statement that we don’t trust God to be in control, that we have to be our own king.

This is why the Bible tells us to put our flesh to death, why we are commanded to pick up our crosses and follow Jesus. It is when we treat our fleshly desires as dead that we finally begin trusting God as God. That is when we put our lives in His hands, knowing that He knows best and that He will glorify Himself.

This was a lesson Saul never learned, for which he paid a huge price. Contextually, Saul had only recently been introduced in the narrative of 1 Samuel. Israel had demanded a king and God graciously gave them one. Initially, Saul did not see himself in the role, being reluctant to obey God’s clear calling and command. Eventually he rose to the occasion after one of the cities among the Transjordan tribes was besieged by the Ammonites. The Spirit of the Lord rushed upon Saul when hearing the news and he quickly raised an army to rescue the city with much success.

Afterwards, the prophet Samuel let an official coronation ceremony where he reminded the people that their original demand for a king was sinful, in that it was an insulting rejection of God as their direct king. Just in case the people doubted Samuel’s word, God confirmed it through unexpected peel of thunder exactly at that moment, according to Samuel’s call. Yet God’s mercy was clear as the people were not destroyed; only threatened. God was faithful to His promises toward Israel, no matter what. Even so, the people (along with its king) were still commanded to obedience. This too, was part of the covenant and God would enforce His word, one way or the other.

Now that Saul was officially made king and finally serving in his kingly role, the question now became if/how he would fulfill the command to obey God. Samuel’s final words in the coronation address were, “But if you still do wickedly, you shall be swept away, both you and your king,” (1 Sam 12:25). Saul was the king in question. Would he act wickedly? The reader need not wait long for an answer as it is revealed in Chapter 13.

Although Saul’s wickedness was subtle (compared to other kings who would follow in the future), he was still sinful. He trusted in his flesh instead of trusting in God. He looked to himself and to ritual to solve his problems, rather than waiting upon the Lord. And this was something that had lasting ramifications in his life.

It becomes clear as Saul’s (lack of faith) is put to the test as he faces a terrible situation. In the crux of the moment, he falls back on his flesh and makes excuses for himself. What should he have done? Forsaken his flesh and trusted the Lord! Likewise, with us. Instead of trusting ourselves and our flesh, we need to put our trust and faith in our Lord Jesus, following Him in simple obedience.

1 Samuel 13

  • Israel and Philistines prepare for battle (1-7). Saul’s problem.

1 Saul reigned one year; and when he had reigned two years over Israel,

  1. Although this is a minor note in the overall narrative, there is a glaring difference among Bible translations that needs to be addressed. The NKJV and ESV each refer to a three-year total (perhaps Saul serving unofficially for one year prior to his coronation, with two years following the victory at Jabesh Gilead and “official” rise to power). The NASB and NIV (and others) refer to Saul being 30 years old when he became king and a 42-year total reign over Israel. That is no minor difference! Why the confusion? The Hebrew text is notoriously unusual in its wording on this verse, literally saying, “Son of a year, Saul, and two years king over Israel.” Other ancient versions are little help, with a few Greek copies referring to the 30-year age of Saul, but the main Greek version (the LXX) leaving out this verse entirely. We know from the book of Acts that Saul did serve for 40+ years as king, per Paul’s sermon in Antioch Pisidia (Acts 13:21). Yet that is not directly stated in the Hebrew text of 1 Samuel 13:1. Some believe that the text is missing some words, yet without evidence other than conjecture. Every major translation must assume something about the text to write in a way that makes sense; the idea conveyed by the KJV, NKJV, and ESV seems best and closest to the text (IMO). 
  2. Does it matter in the grand scheme of things? It is a difference of interpretation; not a flaw in the text itself. Be it a statement of when the events of Chapter 13 took place, or be it a summary statement of Saul’s total reign in Israel, what is not disputed is that Saul was indeed king in Israel and that the failure that follows happened on his watch. Chapter 13 begins a description of Saul’s downfall and that is the main point for the reader to understand.
    1. Be careful not to let translation differences such as this cause you to doubt the accuracy of the Scripture. Although there are difference of opinions of how best to translate or interpret the Bible, there is no doubt as to the veracity and integrity of the Bible. It is the most tested and proven book in all of history!

2 Saul chose for himself three thousand men of Israel. Two thousand were with Saul in Michmash and in the mountains of Bethel, and a thousand were with Jonathan in Gibeah of Benjamin. The rest of the people he sent away, every man to his tent.

  1. Whenever it took place, eventually Saul gathered his standing armies, ending up with 3000 total men, divided between himself and his son Jonathan in Gibeah. Interestingly, Saul seemed not to venture far beyond the tribal lands of Benjamin. Even Bethel, which is sometimes thought to have been in Ephraim, was basically on the border between the two tribes, and could be thought of being in either one. Considering that Saul’s kingdom eventually stretched from Dan to Beersheba (north and south), in the beginning of his reign he seemed to stick close to his own ancestral home. Whether that was simply where the enemies were to fight, or because that was where he was most comfortable, is speculation. Whatever the reason, that was where he placed his forces and where he was prepared to fight.
  2. Question: Why did Saul send some people away, “every man to his tent”? Did he think he had too many? Verse 5 will show the Philistines having many more thousands than Israel, so surely Saul could have used the extra fighters. Why did he send them home? The text does not specify, but it seems possible that Saul and Jonathan kept on hand only the men they could support. They could feed and supply 3,000; they couldn’t do the same for the rest. They were sent home as a kind of reserve unit, to be called up at the time of need. Otherwise, the men would tend for themselves at their homes.
  3. The overall picture painted here of Saul’s army is one that isn’t that impressive. He may have been king of Israel, but he only commanded a few thousand men in a relatively tiny area. The Philistines may have thought of Saul, “They call him king, but king of what? What does he actually rule?” It wasn’t much to look at. Back when Saul led the rescue of Jabesh Gilead, he commanded 300,000; at this point he had 100x less. It seemed pitifully small, thus Saul seemed pitifully small. Yet do not forget: it was all according to God’s choosing. God chose Saul for this moment in Israel’s history and God empowered Saul for the times it was required. When Saul needed to fight, God more than equipped him to do so. But…it meant that Saul was totally reliant on the Lord God. If Saul was self-reliant, his strength was pitiful; if he was God-reliant, then God was more than enough.
    1. If only Saul had remained God-reliant! How much trouble would he have spared himself? If only we would remain God-reliant! Surely, we would spare ourselves much trouble and heartache, too. When we rely on our own efforts, it is no wonder we fail. After all, what do we have to bring to the table? Even the strongest and prettiest and most handsome among us are still weak little boys and girls at heart. The most self-disciplined among us still bow the knee to sinful desires. Without the strength of God, we have no strength. Thus every day and night, we need to remind ourselves of our reliance on Christ. Without Him, we can do nothing!

3 And Jonathan attacked the garrison of the Philistines that was in Geba, and the Philistines heard of it. Then Saul blew the trumpet throughout all the land, saying, “Let the Hebrews hear!” 4 Now all Israel heard it said that Saul had attacked a garrison of the Philistines, and that Israel had also become an abomination to the Philistines. And the people were called together to Saul at Gilgal.

  1. It is interesting that out of Saul and Jonathan, it was Jonathan who took the first move. As we’ll see in Chapter 14, Jonathan was a man of true faith. In this particular case, we are not told if God commanded Jonathan to attack the Philistines, but no doubt Jonathan believed he had a standing mandate from the Lord to do so. These were enemy oppressors, and he was the son of the Israelite king, meant to lead God’s people. If anyone was supposed to act in the role of a deliverer, it was him. He took the initiative and it apparently made an impact.
  2. Saul used the opportunity to blow the shofar trumpet throughout the nation. He likely intended to be a rallying cry to Israel. It had the opposite effect. The Israelites were not so much encouraged as they were dismayed that they had “become an abomination to the Philistines.” Another way of translating this is that Israel had become “odious” to the Philistines, becoming something abhorrent and full of stench. In other words, Israel was not on board with Jonathan’s step of faith. They believed that Saul and Jonathan had gone too far and they understood there was no more going back to normal. The everyday Israelite may not have liked having the Philistines oppress them, but at least they knew what to expect. Now everything would change. The Philistines would come to decisively destroy them, and it caused them to fear (as seen in verse 5).
    1. How often do we put up with the effects and slavery of sin, simply because we’re used to it? It has become so habitual in our lives that it just feels normal. Sin should never be normal for the Christian! Will we engage in it and stumble in old habits? That is simply the struggle of living in this present world. But because we are born-again Christians with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, we ought to have a new normal. Sin and its effects are what ought to feel abnormal and uncomfortable. When it doesn’t, it is a red flag warning of a problem. That is the time to get on your knees and repent!
  3. Notice where Saul and the people went, according to verse 4: Gilgal. This ought to sound familiar, from Chapter 10. Gilgal was often used as a place of renewal for Israel. This was the place where Joshua and the nation set up the pillar of memorial stones after crossing the Jordan river and where they renewed their covenant (Josh 4-5). This was the place that Joshua used as a base of operations from which they launched many of their battle campaigns (Josh 10). And, this was a place specifically mentioned by Samuel to Saul on the day that Samuel first anointed Saul to be king (10:8 – on which, more will be said in a moment). With that in mind, consider how the Israelites with Saul would have responded when told they were going to Gilgal. This was meant as an encouragement – it was good news. Good things happened to Israel in Gilgal. In light of everything that seemed to be going wrong in war, the move to Gilgal was supposed to be a good development. 

5 Then the Philistines gathered together to fight with Israel, thirty thousand chariots and six thousand horsemen, and people as the sand which is on the seashore in multitude. And they came up and encamped in Michmash, to the east of Beth Aven.

  1. The Philistines respond to Saul and Benjamin by gathering armies of their own. And what they gathered was impressive! Remember that Saul and Jonathan had 3,000 in their standing army; the Philistines had 10x that many chariots alone. The number of foot soldiers was more than the Israelites could count. They swarmed the countryside, descending on Michmash in Benjamin as their base of operations.

6 When the men of Israel saw that they were in danger (for the people were distressed), then the people hid in caves, in thickets, in rocks, in holes, and in pits. 7 And some of the Hebrews crossed over the Jordan to the land of Gad and Gilead. As for Saul, he was still in Gilgal, and all the people followed him trembling.

  1. That the men of Israel feared comes as no surprise, based on the size of the Philistine forces. If you looked out on the horizon to see enemy forces dotting the landscape as far as you could see, with thousands upon thousands of tanks and artillery, you would be frightened too! Not only did they fear; they fled. “Some of the Hebrews” ran from the battlefield in Benjamin and kept running until they crossed the Jordan river as they escaped “to the land of Gad and Gilead.” They went as far away from the battle as they could, while still remaining among fellow Hebrews. These men were scared senseless!
  2. Consider the magnitude of the fear of Israel. They were hiding everywhere and under everything: “in caves, in thickets, in rocks, in hold, and in pits.” Anywhere that a hole existed, that was where a Hebrew climbed. It was all they could do to get out of sight of the Philistines as they feared the judgment that was about to fall. — It calls to mind how the people of the world will respond during the Great Tribulation when they understand that the wrath of God is being poured out on the earth. They will hide in the caves and in the rocks of the mountains, even crying out to the rocks to fall on them, that they might try to avoid the wrath of the Lamb of God (Rev 6:15-16). Yet even then, people will not repent. They will attempt to run from God rather than running to God…and it will mean their doom.
  3. As for the Israelites, even when the ones who stayed behind still feared. Those who remained with King Saul still trembled. Fear had taken hold of the Hebrews and it would not let go.
    1. Fear can be overwhelming. Sometimes, we might feel like running. The key is to run to God rather than away from Him. There is no indication in the text that the Hebrews were seeking the Lord, asking Him for miraculous deliverance; they simply ran away. We will never be able to truly run away from our problems. What we can do is run to God in the midst of them. When sitting in the ER, we can pray. When waiting for news, we can read psalms. When driving to what you know is bad news, you can sing praises. Fearful circumstances can never be avoided, so what do we do? Go into those circumstances with God, rather than without Him.

Things looked bad. Saul had a huge problem with an innumerable army of the Philistines on his doorstep who were ticked off and looking to fight. And that wasn’t all. His own army was small and his nation was scared spitless. What would happen? What could Saul do?

  • Saul’s sin and Samuel’s confrontation (8-15). Saul’s failed solution.

8 Then he waited seven days, according to the time set by Samuel. But Samuel did not come to Gilgal; and the people were scattered from him.

  1. Saul waited for Samuel to arrive…and waited…and waited. Why did he wait? Because that was what he was told to do. Saul “waited seven days, according to the time set by Samuel.” He and Samuel had a pre-arranged agreement that when he went to Gilgal, he would wait a full seven-day week for Samuel to arrive. This calls back to that initial meeting in Chapter 10, when Samuel prophesied over Saul regarding the many signs that confirmed God’s calling upon him and anointing upon him that he was to be king over Israel. 1 Samuel 10:7–8, “(7) And let it be, when these signs come to you, that you do as the occasion demands; for God is with you. (8) You shall go down before me to Gilgal; and surely I will come down to you to offer burnt offerings and make sacrifices of peace offerings. Seven days you shall wait, till I come to you and show you what you should do.” Samuel’s command to Saul seems straight-forward. The problem for the modern reader is lining up his commands with the timeframe of when the meeting in Chapter 13 took place. Even setting aside the various debates over the number of years described in verse 1, there is no doubt that there was a minimum of three years that elapsed since Samuel’s initial instruction and this particular meeting in Gilgal. Did Samuel initially prophesy this particular meeting in Chapter 13? Or was this a standing agreement between he and Saul, that every time Saul went to Gilgal he would wait a week? Or perhaps there was a separate, unrecorded instruction that mirrored what Samuel spoke years earlier. There are many possibilities, of which the Bible does not clarify. What we do know is that Samuel had set a timeframe of seven days to wait, of which Saul was well aware. The point? Saul knew he was supposed to wait for Samuel. Thus, Saul knew what he was doing when Samuel didn’t arrive according to Saul’s expectation.
  2. And that was the problem. Samuel was nowhere to be found. Saul waited seven days, “but Samuel did not come to Gilgal.” We can imagine Saul scanning the horizon for six days straight, looking for any sign of Samuel. Each of those six days, Saul likely thought, “I had hoped he would come today, but that’s okay. He told me to wait seven days, so I’ll wait seven days.” Yet on the morning of the seventh day, Samuel still wasn’t there. That was when Saul’s heart sank, wondering what to do.
  3. And Saul believed something had to be done. After all, his army was dissolving before his very eyes. The text says, “the people were scattered from him.” Saul was in a situation where his enemies vastly outnumbered him on his doorstep, his national subjects were fleeing the countryside, and even his own soldiers were deserting him on the brink of battle. As the king, he had to do something, right? Leaders lead, after all. Saul had to take some initiative and do something. Doing “something” was better than doing nothing and dying. Right? Sometimes the very best thing we can do is sit still and wait on the Lord. If doing something means doing something in our flesh, then doing nothing is far better! Yet, we need not do “nothing.” It is not “nothing” to pray, to meditate on the Scripture, to fast, to worship God with His people. That is not “nothing.” On the contrary, it is the most powerful action in which we can engage! When we seek the Almighty God of the Universe, that is not nothing; that is appealing to the highest court, participating in unseen spiritual battles. This is what Saul could have (and should have) done. What he ended up doing got himself into a lot of trouble.

9 So Saul said, “Bring a burnt offering and peace offerings here to me.” And he offered the burnt offering. 10 Now it happened, as soon as he had finished presenting the burnt offering, that Samuel came; and Saul went out to meet him, that he might greet him.

  1. What did Saul do? He officiated a series of sacrifices. Keep in mind he did not command any Levites who were present (and surely there were some) to conduct a burnt offering and peace offerings; he wanted them brought to himself. Saul determined that he would personally officiate the offering, and that is what he did. And upon completion, he received a rude awakening. Just as he got done offering the first sacrifice (“the burnt offering” – we do not know if he also offered the peace offerings, or just had them brought to him and he was just about to get to them), guess who arrived on the scene? That is either terrible timing or perfect timing, depending on your point of view!
    1. Notice that Samuel’s arrival vindicates his absence. When did he arrive in Gilgal? After seven days, just as he promised. Saul waited the seven days but didn’t give Samuel the full amount of time on the last day to arrive. If Saul had waited only a few more hours, Samuel would have shown up and performed the sacrifices himself.
  2. As Samuel arrived, Saul likely knew immediately that he was in trouble. The king went out to personally meet him, bringing him into the camp. He greeted Samuel, with the text literally saying “that he might bless” Samuel, treating this as a joyous occasion with not a thing going on unlawfully. There was nothing to worry about, everything was just fine…not. Saul did his best to spin the circumstances to his advantage, but failed.

11 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, 12 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.”

  1. Samuel asked the obvious question and Saul responded with nothing but excuses. The question wasn’t really necessary. Samuel could look with his own eyes and know exactly what had happened. He saw the burning animal carcass on the altar, smelled the acrid air, and knew from his priestly experience without doubt that this was a burnt offering. Samuel wasn’t asking for information; he was asking about Saul’s motivation. What was this he had done and how could he have done it? Saul may not have been the sharpest tack in the drawer, but he understood this was illegal. Not only had Saul known specifically to wait for Samuel’s arrival, but he also knew that he was Israel’s king; he wasn’t Israel’s priest. Saul had no right to officiate over a national sacrifice. He could bring an animal to the priests for sacrifice, but he could not personally sacrifice the animal himself. That was not his role – it wasn’t his anointing. God had anointed priests for that task; Saul was the anointed king. The two roles did not, and could not, mix.
    1. They do not mix except for one Man: the Lord Jesus! Jesus is both King and Priest, being of the order of Melchizedek who was both king and priest in Salem. From among Israel, Jesus is the only one who can fulfill the roles of King and Priest, making Him unique from all other kings in Israel’s history.
  2. As for Saul’s excuses, he had a list of them: (1) the people were deserting him, (2) Samuel was nowhere to be found, (3) the Philistines had a huge army, (4) Saul believed he needed to pray before going to battle. At first glance, any one of these things seem good justifications to offer the sacrifices. Saul obviously needed God’s help and the way that people sought God’s help in the Old Testament was through sacrifice. Why shouldn’t Saul have done what he did? Some might even raise the objection: “Wasn’t it better for him to seek the Lord imperfectly, rather than not seek God at all?” Answer: Nothing stopped Saul from seeking the Lord! What stopped him from praying? He didn’t need Samuel present to fast and pray. Saul did not require Samuel around for him to seek the Lord in humility. He required Samuel as a priest for sacrifice and offering, but Saul could have still done much on his own. He could have waited on the Lord. But that was his problem: Saul wasn’t willing to wait. He wasn’t willing to trust God; all of his trust was in himself with him thinking that he was in control.
    1. Saul had an attachment to religious ritual, but not an active relationship with God. Saul put more value in the animal sacrifice than in obedience and trust in God alone. His view of making supplication to the Lord was the act of animal sacrifice; not actually seeking the Lord in prayer. It shows that Saul followed a works-based religion, with his faith being in what he himself could do.
    2. This is always the problem in works-based religions, even in works-based versions of Christianity. The person’s trust is not in Christ alone, but in what he/she can do for Christ (or for whatever deity is in the religion). Consider the Roman doctrine of purgatory: if a person must work off his/her sins in the afterlife, then Jesus’ work on the cross only accomplished part of that person’s salvation; not the whole thing. In the end, the individual must trust in him/herself, maintaining the illusion of control.
    3. This is not Biblical Christianity! In Biblical Christianity, our trust is in Christ alone or we are not saved. If He does not do 100% of the work, then we have no hope. This is why it His statement from the cross is so amazing: Tetelestai! It is finished! Jesus has done the work, having paid the price in full. Our response is simple trust in Him, yet full trust in Him, casting ourselves on Him knowing we have no other hope than His love and grace. We do not snatch control for ourselves because we realize we have no control. It belongs solely to Jesus and we trust Him completely.

13 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. 14 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.”

  1. Samuel gave Saul two major pronouncements. First was chastisement. Saul had acted wrongly: “You have done foolishly.” This was nothing less than foolish sin. It was flagrant disobedience. Not only was it written in the law that the priests were the ones to make the sacrifice, but it was also a blatant rebellion against the command from Samuel to Saul to wait until he arrived in Gilgal. Remember that although Saul was king of Israel, he himself was under the authority of God. It was the word of God (spoken through the prophet) that Saul disobeyed; this was treason committed against the Lord God Himself.
    1. Again, this shows a lack of faith for Saul. Disobedience almost always indicates a lack of faith. This is true even for born-again Christians. If we truly believed God’s word for what it said, we would never stray from it. How could we? If we had a proper ongoing fear and reverence of God, we would see God’s command with the authority that it contains, and we would no more disobey His word than we would run across the middle of a crowded interstate highway. If we are not tempted to cross a crowded road, why are we tempted to cross the word of our Lord and God? How insidious is our sinful nature!
  2. Second was a word of punishment. God had rejected Saul as king and would be replacing Saul as king. Saul originally had the opportunity to have a lasting dynasty. Now that opportunity was gone as God would seek out someone else. – Question: Knowing that prophecy reaching as back to Genesis declares that the Messiah would come from the tribe of Judah (Gen 49:10), how is it that Saul had an opportunity to have his own lineage established as an everlasting kingdom? This gets into the mysteries of God’s preordained plan and its interactions with Man’s freewill. What God extended to Saul was a true offer, a legitimate offer. But God always knew that Saul would not receive it. Remember that God is outside of time. His eternal plan was not waiting on Saul, to determine what decision Saul would make as to if he would obey God. From before the foundations of the world, God determined the family line of the Messiah Jesus, knowing that He would come from the tribe of Judah through the lineage of David. Even so, God extended true mercy and an invitation to Saul. It was Saul’s own failings that caused him to miss out on God’s grace and blessings.
    1. We can never blame God for the results of our sin! Is He sovereign? Did He know what was going to happen? Yes. Did He allow it to happen? Yes. But we are the only ones responsible for the sins we commit. We cannot blame God for it.
  3. For what kind of person did the Lord seek? “A man after His own heart.” How did God define that quality? Obedience: “Because you have not kept what the LORD commanded you.” An obedient Christian is a God-honoring Christian. An obedient Christian is a Christian following after the heart of God. In this case, Samuel spoke of David, who would become the forerunner of Christ. Objection: “But David wasn’t fully obedient! Considering his sin with Uriah the Hittite and Bathsheba, how could he be considered a man after God’s heart?” No, David was not perfectly obedient. He sinned, not just once, but often (just like everyone else). David was a flawed man and his flaws brought forth terrible and lasting consequences both upon his family and his nation. But notice a difference between the sins of Saul and David. When Saul was confronted in his sin, he made excuses. When David was confronted in his sin, he confessed and was repentant. He quickly returned to the path of obedience and trust (by God’s help), whereas Saul never did.
    1. Will we fail? There are days I feel as if I stumble constantly and that it would have been better if I never got out of bed that morning. How do you handle those times? You could get callous and uncaring, as did Saul. Or you could humble your heart, confess your sin in brokenness, and receive the cleansing of Jesus. That was the example of David, and it is one we should follow. That is when we can know we are following after God’s own heart.

15 Then Samuel arose and went up from Gilgal to Gibeah of Benjamin. And Saul numbered the people present with him, about six hundred men.

  1. Considering the confrontation that just concluded between Samuel and Saul, their unified move from Gilgal to Gibeah is interesting. Technically, verse 15 does not state that Saul went with Samuel to Gibeah, but Saul’s presence in Gibeah is directly stated in verse 16. Thus, it seems that the two leaders of Israel went together. And that seems to have been the point. Although there was undoubtedly friction between the two men, the rest of the nation was not to be punished for Saul’s personal failings. (That was not always the case, as the nation of Israel often suffered consequences for the sins of their kings.) The two men went to Gibeah in unity as they led the nation, preparing them for the battle that was certain to come.
  2. Yet there was already evidence of massive trouble for Saul. How many men were present with him? That was down from 2000 in his own personal company (13:2). It is no wonder Saul was trying to do something to stop the bleeding. He was losing soldiers by the bucketful, and he was willing to try anything to get the people to stay. Sadly, his actions were foolish and ultimately, fruitless.

Although the battle should have been on the outside, Saul fought and lost a battle on the inside: against himself. He tried to do something and ended up doing the wrong thing as he trusted his own flesh instead of trusting the Lord God.

Why do we so often try to solve our problems using our own solutions and methods? We look to ourselves rather than God, and inevitably make things worse as we not only fail to solve the problem but also put ourselves in opposition to our Lord. Like cars stuck in the mud, we spin our wheels hoping to get out, but we end up sinking deeper into the mire. We need to understand we can’t get ourselves out; we can’t trust ourselves at all. Who we can trust is our Lord Jesus and we need to cast ourselves upon Him alone.

  • Israel’s disadvantage in battle (16-23). No hope but God.

16 Saul, Jonathan his son, and the people present with them remained in Gibeah of Benjamin. But the Philistines encamped in Michmash. 17 Then raiders came out of the camp of the Philistines in three companies. One company turned onto the road to Ophrah, to the land of Shual, 18 another company turned to the road to Beth Horon, and another company turned to the road of the border that overlooks the Valley of Zeboim toward the wilderness.

  1. The Israelites were outnumbered and out-maneuvered. Remember that the number of Philistine soldiers was as the sand of the sea (v5). It was no better with their elite “raiders.” Different teams came out of the camp, going every which way. They went on all sides of Israel’s army, zooming past them to threaten cities in the region. Saul and Jonathan seemed powerless to stop them. What could the Hebrew king do against so many?

19 Now there was no blacksmith to be found throughout all the land of Israel, for the Philistines said, “Lest the Hebrews make swords or spears.” 20 But all the Israelites would go down to the Philistines to sharpen each man’s plowshare, his mattock, his ax, and his sickle; 21 and the charge for a sharpening was a pim for the plowshares, the mattocks, the forks, and the axes, and to set the points of the goads.

  1. The Hebrews did not even have a way to properly defend themselves from the Philistine raiders (much less the Philistine army). In their oppression of the people, the Philistines forbade anyone from practicing the skill of blacksmithing among them, forcing the Israelites to go to Philistine blacksmiths for all their metal needs. Moreover, the Israelites had an upcharge on the price of service, simply because they were Israelites. It was a way for the Philistines to remind the Hebrews who was in charge, humiliating them as an oppressed and occupied people.
  2. How does all of this relate to the context of war in Chapter 13? No blacksmiths = no weapons. The Philistines controlled the metalworks of Israel. They were allowed tools to work the fields, but the Philistines controlled how much they were sharpened. It was enough to break up the ground, but it was less than efficient in terms of battle.

22 So it came about, on the day of battle, that there was neither sword nor spear found in the hand of any of the people who were with Saul and Jonathan. But they were found with Saul and Jonathan his son. 23 And the garrison of the Philistines went out to the pass of Michmash.

  1. Generally speaking, there were only two swords found among Israel at the time: with Saul and Jonathan. Every other man would have been carrying farming tools like their axes and sickles. Efficient? Desirable? Hardly. But it was what they had. (And God could use it, if they only trusted Him! God will use it, as the narrative will go on to show in Chapter 14.)
  2. Meanwhile, the “garrison of the Philistines” continued their preparation for battle. Their army was highly trained and fully armed. By comparison, Saul’s group looked pathetically small and ragtag. How could a bunch of farmers take down Philistine soldiers? What hope did they have? Apart from God, none.

Things looked hopeless. Were they? From Saul’s perspective, perhaps, but not from the perspective of his son Jonathan (as we’ll see in the next chapter). Things were hopeless enough for Israel to understand that their only hope was in the Lord. Not in Saul, nor in any warrior; but in God Himself.

And that was where Israel’s and Saul’s hope should have been all along! Not in religious ritual, nor in the actions of any human king, but in God alone.


Without question, Saul and Israel faced a monumental problem as the Philistines gathered en masse for battle. Saul’s biggest problem, however, was himself. He fell back on his own flesh, determined not to walk by faith, and had his trust in himself rather than in God. It led to his loss of a royal dynasty and a guaranteed replacement by another man. It all left Israel in the same place where they began: with no hope apart from God.

How we need to have our trust in Jesus! Not in ourselves or our abilities. Not in our strength (for we have none). Certainly not in our own self-righteousness (for we are not!). We need our trust to be in Christ alone.

For eternal salvation? Yes, but for more than that. We need our trust to be in Christ for every situation in every day. Why? Because problems surround us, and fear threatens to swallow us whole. There are very few born-again Christians that get saved one moment and wake up the next moment in heaven. For the vast majority of us, we have to live with the circumstances around us, which are often overwhelming. We have to respond to the people who push our buttons. We have to endure the difficult supervisors and co-workers. We have to deal with rebellious kids. We have to hold fast under societal pressure, political upheaval, and potential persecution. And that doesn’t even begin to speak of the stresses of finances, health, and everything else. These are real trials that lead to real fear, requiring real solutions.

Our real solutions are found in the peace of the Lord! We need not fall back on our flesh. In Christ, we are free to fall back into the arms of God, trusting Him to carry us. Our responsibility is simply to trust Him, walking (by His Spirit) in obedience to His word.