Saul at Gilgal

The Holy Spirit’s chief theme in the books of Samuel is that there are two very different hearts: the “David” heart and the “Saul” heart..

No mortal man has ever been able to maintain a David heart attitude all the time, not even David. And not even Saul was always “Saul.” The first “David heart” in First Samuel was not David; it was a broken, barren woman named Hannah, a truly “desperate housewife”. The original Saul in First Samuel was not King Saul, the tallest man in the kingdom, but Eli, the High Priest of Israel, who was probably the fattest!

The Pharisees in the New Testament had Saul hearts. Saul was all about outward appearance, and, consequently, the fear of man ruled him. The hearts of the various Sauls of the Books of Samuel seethe with fear, pride, and self focus.

Later on in this book, we will see that Israel’s neighbors, the “uncircumcised Philistines”, were completely given over to the Saul heart. As strange as it may seem, the sanctimonious Pharisees and “the uncircumcised Philistines” had a lot in common!

The Davidic heart is the heart “after God’s own heart,” as the prophet said. The heart of a David is absolutely, blissfully confident that God’s love and affection are focused on him. Consequently, this heart is DEEPLY in love with Jehovah, and cares only for what He thinks. A David has no secret life apart from God. A David knows that everything is open and laid bare before the eyes of the Lord, and he/she wouldn’t want it any other way. “Davids” also know instinctively that no power or strategy can succeed against the Lord. They believe that God’s knowledge and power are as WIDE as the horizon. They have no fear that God will drop them, or that they will have some kind of accident that their God failed to see coming. Therefore, trust in the Lord is both DEEP and WIDE for a David heart.

At one point in our study, we will see Saul with the grace to be a David. Sadly, he will not choose to embrace his cross, be circumcised in heart, and remain a David. We will also see God permitting David to be overwhelmed and become a Saul. David will, nonetheless, rise from the ashes of his weakness and return to turning his heart toward God’s heart; David will become really “David” once again!

Several lenses must be properly lined up in a barrel in order for a telescope to function and allow us to see what is otherwise unseeable. There are three special “lens” verses in this book, each of which has an over arching significance. We will eventually get them lined up. Through them we will eventually be able to focus in and see the big picture of what God is saying in this very special book.

These three verses are:

“So it became a saying: ‘Is Saul also among the prophets?'” (I Samuel 10:12)

“The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (I Samuel 16:7).

“May my lord pay no attention to that wicked man Nabal. He is just like his name—his name is fool and folly goes with him” (I Samuel 25:25).

We will have several chapters under our belts before we get these verses lined up, but I need to mention their pre-eminent importance in order to prepare us for the time when they will begin to bring some things into focus.

Though we really begin our in-depth study in First Samuel 13, let’s take a brief overview of the preceding chapters and the context they create.

In chapter eight of First Samuel, Israel insisted on having a king in their own time frame.

In chapter nine, Saul was selected by God to be that king.

In the tenth chapter, Saul was anointed king, though he was despised by some of the troublemakers in the kingdom.

The eleventh chapter of First Samuel opens with Saul, the anointed king, humbly pursuing the farming that had been his life before he was anointed. This was a very “Davidic” thing for Saul to do. Young David later quietly pursued shepherding even after he had been anointed king. True to the nature of the cross, neither man insisted on immediately being given the prerogatives of kingship.

Then, (in chapter eleven), when Saul learned that Israel was being attacked at Jabesh Gilead, he dropped his plow, mustered an army, and led the previously hopeless Hebrews to a stunning victory! After the battle, Saul protected and defended those who had earlier despised his fledgling kingship. (Being “despised” by “Sauls” is the peculiar fate of “Davids” in both First and Second Samuel.) Again, Saul was at this point very “Davidic.”

In chapter twelve, Samuel delivered a word of correction and warning to Israel and their king. In God’s kindness this word had been withheld till the young man Saul had a chance to gain some credibility as the leader of Israel. Samuel warned them that this particular kingship had been established out of a desire for good “outward appearance, the fear of man, and reliance on their own strength and mind” (my paraphrase). He told them that they were thus out of step with the perfect will of God. Samuel dramatized the Lord’s displeasure by calling for a display of thunder and rain in the midst of the harvest season, (a serious material loss). He told them that they “must…fear the Lord and serve Him faithfully with all [their] heart …lest they and their king…be swept away.” Thus, the Word of the Lord to Saul and company at this point was that they had started “Saulishly”. The only way for Israel to rewind and get off their disastrous course was to be spiritually circumcised and receive a new, devoted heart.

It is worth pointing out at this juncture that the saying, “where God guides, He provides,” is false. God is our Father, and sometimes fathers will help us carry out something they know will eventually hurt us. This is because He treats “adult” children differently from little children. God chose Saul when the people insisted on a king in their own timing. They were not being “guided” by God concerning the timing of the beginning of the kingship. God nevertheless “guided” them to His choice for them WITHIN THE PARAMETERS OF THE LIMITED OBEDIENCE THEY WERE WALKING IN.

In First Kings 19 Elijah became afraid of Jezebel and ran from her. He cut a trail to Mt. Horeb, complaining to God about how things were going all the way. He even asked the Lord to kill him and take him home. In God’s grace, He provided supernatural food for Elijah to sustain him on his trip, even though every step he made took him further from God’s perfect will for his life.

This truth should put the holy fear of God into our hearts. Did we miss a turn at that last fork in the road? Did we move in presumption concerning that last decision? Does it seem like God is helping us do what we are doing, and yet at the same time it seems like we are walking in mud? Are we eventually going to achieve our purpose only to find it was never God’s purpose? THE WORST PLACE TO MAKE THIS MISTAKE IS IN CHOOSING A MATE. Millions have spent 50 years regretting their presumption in this arena.

Now, we are ready for First Samuel 13:1 –

Saul was thirty years old when he became king, and he reigned over Israel forty-two years. Saul chose three thousand men from Israel; two thousand were with him at Micmash and in the hill country of Bethel, and a thousand were with Jonathan at Gibeah in Benjamin. The rest of the men he sent back to their homes. Jonathan attacked the Philistine outpost at Geba, and the Philistines heard about it. Then Saul had the trumpet blown throughout the land and said, “Let the Hebrews hear!” So all Israel heard the news: “Saul has attacked the Philistine outpost, and now Israel has become a stench to the Philistines.” And the people were summoned to join Saul at Gilgal. The Philistines assembled to fight Israel, with three thousand chariots, six thousand charioteers, and soldiers as numerous as the sand on the seashore. They went up and camped at Micmash, east of Beth Aven. (I Samuel 13: 1-5)

It was prophetically significant that Israel and her king had been called to the Gilgal region. In the days of Joshua, Gilgal had been the point of entry for the nation of Israel into the Promised Land. God had miraculously parted the waters of the Jordan at flood stage to enable them to cross the Jordan and to make camp at Gilgal. This meant they were in Canaan with all routes of retreat cut off. Additionally, God commanded that there, in a strange land, and in the presence of an overwhelming host of enemies, all the men, both young and old, had to be circumcised in their flesh. This mass surgery made them physically helpless before their enemies. They had to submit, in faith, to being put into a very impractical position. Their situation was such that if God did not come through, they were lost.

There’s a special kind of test we see both Saul and David have to take. It involves facing a problem caused by the past sin of one’s self or one’s family. Part of the reason the Israelites, under Joshua, had to be circumcised at Gilgal was their parents’ general lack of obedience in the wilderness. During their forty years of wandering, they had failed to practice circumcision. Circumcision is best performed when a baby is eight days old. When a guy is forty and in active service in the army, circumcision is a little hard on him, to put it mildly! It could make a fellow wish Dad and Mom had been a little more Orthodox when he was born, especially if he was expecting a fight to the death at any moment!. Similarly, Saul at Gilgal was leading an army that the Prophet of God had just said was on “thin ice” because of their sin. This rebuke had shaken their confidence. Additionally, the Philistines had them out numbered and completely “out gunned” so to speak – the Hebrew’s weapons and armor were vastly inferior to those of their enemies. Like Joshua before him, Saul at Gilgal was nose to nose with the consequences of Israel’s unbelief. Often, failure to muster a LITTLE faith, (like circumcising baby boys for Israelites), precipitated a test for their children that can only be passed by walking in GREAT faith.

It is built in to the ways of God that if you fail a test you get to take a make-up test. Make-up tests, however, are always harder than the original test. A David is generally so contrite for failing a test, or his ancestors failing a test,that he will rejoice in taking the make-up test, not even noticing that it is harder. A Saul heart, on the other hand, sees both the failure of the original test and having to take the make-up test as rejection by the Lord. A Saul will be fearful and resentful. This is because he does not know the faithful love of the Lord. He does not believe he is the favorite of an Omnipotent God.

When the men of Israel saw that their situation was critical and that their army was hard pressed, they hid in caves and thickets, among the rocks, and in pits and cisterns. Some Hebrews even crossed the Jordan to the land of Gad and Gilead. Saul remained at Gilgal, and all the troops with him were quaking with fear. He waited seven days, the time set by Samuel; but Samuel did not come to Gilgal, and Saul’s men began to scatter. (I Samuel 13:5-8)

Up to this point Saul had been as “Davidic” as David. But under the pressure of what follows, the “Saul” in his heart came out. The following verses will reveal that his heart was more man-conscious than God-conscious, and that he feared man’s rejection more than he feared God. The form of the rejection he so feared was the desertion of his soldiers. Thus, when his men began to scatter he said,


“Bring me the burnt offering and the fellowship offerings.” And Saul offered up the burnt offering (I Samuel 13:9)

Heretofore Saul had not fallen to the sin of manipulation. At this point, however, he had heard God’s warning that the circumstances that brought about his kingship were grievous to the Lord. Though this situation was the result of no sin on his own part, the Saul heart forming in him interpreted this as a personal rejection by God. Since he had no real intimate, confident relationship with Jehovah in the Most Holy Place of his heart, he had nothing and no one else to fall back on. He fell back on using manipulation, (as we are about to see), because the only thing he really knew was reliance on his own strength. (Manipulation is the illegitimate use of spiritual things to obtain power over men, and is the rough equivalent of witchcraft.)

In this particular case, Saul’s manipulation took the form of doing something “spiritual” before his men to pacify them, control them, and give them a psychological boost. As I said, a distinguishing mark between a Saul and a David is how they handle trials that come to them through the sin of others. Saul felt the pain of inheriting a kingship of questionable legitimacy. David knew a certain second-class status in his father’s house. Saul was afraid and drew into himself. David lost himself in his love for his heavenly Father. God was not unjust in his timing of Saul’s present trial. He did not confront Saul and the people with the questionable nature of their kingship until after they had the kingship well established and had the victory at Jabesh Gilead under their belts. At this point Saul was forced to see that he and Israel had not been circumcised for many years in their particular wilderness. His failure was that he would not submit to letting God make him weak, (circumcise him), in the presence of his enemies.


Just as he finished making the offering, Samuel arrived, and Saul went out to greet him (I Samuel 13:10).

Here, as is so often true in life, the difference between a hero and a heel is about five minutes of being still and quiet. But Saul’s inability to endure a short waiting test proved that he was not just an innocent victim of the circumstances that caused his kingship to have questionable roots; he was personally guilty of the sin that made it questionable. The test he failed in not waiting for Samuel is similar in a couple of ways to the test the people failed when they insisted on having an immediate kingship. Their test came to them by way of a godly man: Samuel himself.

Let me describe Samuel’s sin that pushed the people over the edge and caused them to sin by insisting on an immediate kingship.

It was wrong for any judge to set his (or her) children in as judges after him. Judges, unlike kings were supposed to be hand picked by God and were therefore one generational. It was even more serious sin for Samuel to give his wicked sons lifetime judgeships. No one can make anyone sin, but Samuel’s sin in this matter tempted an already carnal people to say in effect, “Samuel, if you’re going to make your judgeship multi-generational, and put in wicked leaders on top of that, then give us a full fledge multi-generational kingship to reign over us.” In the present scenario at Gilgal, Samuel was a little late, at least by Saul’s watch. And thus Saul was tempted by the tardiness of Samuel to not wait. And so he gave in to taking matters into his own hands. Do not misunderstand me. It was sin for the people to ask for a king, just as it was sin for their king to try to manipulate them by a “spiritual act”. Both were tempted to fall by the weakness of others.

Jesus laid out a vital truth we need to get into our hearts in Matthew’s awesome eighteenth chapter. He said that:

1./ Causing someone to stumble is a major spiritual sin.

But, in the next breath He said, basically, that

2./ No one can cause YOU to sin! If you have to, cut off your hand to stop from sinning, but don’t sin

This seeming paradox is true. As far as you and God are concerned, nobody can make you sin. But, as far as you and God are concerned, He may hold you accountable for causing someone else to sin, particularly a person who is a “little one,” either spiritually or physically. But the person you “caused to sin” is not necessarily off the hook just because you are on the hook. In the same way, Samuel’s shortcomings tempted the people to insist on a king. But Samuel showing up a little late also tempted Saul after he became king. Both they were accountable to God for their sin nonetheless.

“What have you done?” asked Samuel. Saul replied, “When I saw that the men were scattering, and that you did not come at the set time, and that the Philistines were assembling at Micmash, I thought, ‘Now the Philistines will come down against me at Gilgal, and I have not sought the LORD’s favor.’ So I felt compelled to offer the burnt offering”. (I Samuel 13:11-12).

When a David falls, he is at once very aware of his own sin, and yet even more aware of being in the hands of a Father eager to forgive. The Davidic heart will be so aware of his own sin that he will be effectively unaware of anyone else contributing to his fall. The Saul heart can hardly be forced to see its own sin, and will, like father Adam, quickly list those who, supposedly, “caused” him to sin. David intimately knew the heart of the One eager to forgive. Saul labored, fearfully and resentfully, under the demonic delusion that God was eager to judge and condemn him.

When Adam sinned, he blamed both God and Eve. Saul blamed in order, “the men,” then Samuel, and finally “the Philistines.” Since this blatant blame shifting was fundamentally a deception, it was only a small step further into a full fledged lie. Though it was veiled to mortal men, before the eyes of the Heart Searcher it was an outright lie for Saul to say that his motive was to seek “the Lord’s favor.” But again, the Saul heart is oblivious to the unseen, and slavishly cognizant of the eyes of men.

“You acted foolishly,” Samuel said. “You have not kept the command the LORD your God gave you; if you had, he would have established your kingdom over Israel for all time. But now your kingdom will not endure; the LORD has sought out a man after his own heart and appointed him leader of his people, because you have not kept the LORD’s command” (I Samuel 13:13-14).

Saul had not at this point lost the kingship. And there was nothing here that said he could not have a dynasty. He had only disqualified himself from having an ETERNAL dynasty, something that probably never had on his radar anyway.

In 2 Samuel 7, King David was lovingly blundering toward building God a house, when he was jerked up short by the Lord, who said, basically, “No, no, David, I’m going to build YOU a house!” He was then promised an eternal dynasty. His throne would receive the Messiah, the eternal God Man. The foundation of Saul’s throne was herein shown to be based on the sand of what is seen, which is temporary, and not on the Rock of the Unseen One. Thus, Samuel prophesied that Saul’s “kingdom will not endure.”

What was “the command the Lord gave you” that Saul had not “kept”? We don’t read anywhere that God told Saul “Wait about offering the sacrifice till the old guy gets there – even if he is a mite tardy.” The book of Samuel is replete with instances where David tramples the letter of the law, and yet is guiltless. Even Jesus referred to him eating the holy bread, and yet being innocent. And yet Saul is “only” breaking a law that can only be known by being sensitive to God’s Spirit  Saul should have asked himself, “If I do this sacrifice to keep the men from scattering – to whom am I really offering it? Who would I in effect be worshipping?”


Then Samuel left Gilgal and went up to Gibeah in Benjamin, and Saul counted the men who were with him. They numbered about six hundred (I Samuel 13:15).

Ahh…the Saul heart! Suppose the Lord rebukes someone for the love of money, and that person was truly contrite for committing this sin. Obviously the last thing that person would want to do would be to go get their moneybags and sit around and count cash. Likewise, Saul had been rebuked for caring more about how many supporters he had with him than about what the Lord Himself desired. That he immediately turned around and counted the troops tells us that the rebuke of the Lord went right “over his heart.” Tragically, he was in fact worse off for the Gilgal experience. Because he refused to be broken and repent, this trial took him away from the Lord instead of toward the Lord. The action he had taken to preserve his position in the eyes of his men caused him to get rebuked before his men by the foremost spiritual leader in the land. Thus, trying to prevent what he was trying to prevent made it happen.

Saul’s fear of losing status caused him to lose status. Sinning exacerbates sinning. A David heart would throw himself before the Lord who is administering the discipline and repent deeply.

But here, Saul decided to be a Saul, for his heart said, “I couldn’t bear to be abandoned by the people, so I did something to keep it from happening, (he offered the sacrifice). What I did didn’t work, and the thing I greatly feared came upon me! So now I will have to try even harder next time to keep it from happening.” He was drawing into himself, and trying to “save his own life,” instead of trusting the “God Who justifies the wicked.” (Romans 4:5) This was the defining moment in Saul’s life.


Not a blacksmith could be found in the whole land of Israel, because the Philistines had said, “Otherwise the Hebrews will make swords or spears!” So all Israel went down to the Philistines to have their plowshares, mattocks, axes and sickles sharpened. The price was two thirds of a shekel for sharpening plowshares and mattocks, and a third of a shekel for sharpening forks and axes and for repointing goads. So on the day of the battle not a soldier with Saul and Jonathan had a sword or spear in his hand; only Saul and his son Jonathan had them. Now a detachment of Philistines had gone out to the pass at Micmash (I Samuel 13:16-23).

For the moment, all I want to point out in the above Scripture is the strong emphasis on the fact that only Saul and Jonathan had swords. This will be important as we move through the coming chapters.