Here is, I. Saul’s offence in offering sacrifice before Samuel came. Samuel, when he anointed him, had ordered him to tarry for him seven days in Gilgal, promising that, at the end of those days, he would be sure to come to him, and both offer sacrifices for him and direct him what he should do. This we had 1 Sam. 10:8. Perhaps that order, though inserted there, was given him afterwards, or was given him as a general rule to be observed in every public congress at Gilgal, or, as is most probable, though not mentioned again, was lately repeated with reference to this particular occasion; for it is plain that Saul himself understood it as obliging him from God now to stay till Samuel came, else he would not have made so many excuses as he did for not staying, 1 Sam. 13:11. This order Saul broke. He staid till the seventh day, yet had not patience to wait till the end of the seventh day. Perhaps he began to reproach Samuel as false to his word, careless of his country, and disrespectful of his prince, and thought it more fit that Samuel should wait for him than he for Samuel. However, 1. He presumed to offer sacrifice without Samuel, and nothing appears to the contrary but that he did it himself, though he was neither priest nor prophet, as if, because he was a king, he might do any thing, a piece of presumption which king Uzziah paid dearly for, 2 Chron. 26:16-23 2. He determined to engage the Philistines without Samuel’s directions, though he had promised to show him what he should do. So self-sufficient Saul was that he thought it not worth while to stay for a prophet of the Lord, either to pray for him or to advise him. This was Saul’s offence, and that which aggravated it was, (1.) That for aught that appears, he did not send any messenger to Samuel, to know his mind, to represent the case to him, and to receive fresh directions from him, though he had enough about him that were swift enough of foot at this time. (2.) That when Samuel came he rather seemed to boast of what he had done than to repent of it; for he went forth to salute him, as his brother-sacrificer, and seemed pleased with the opportunity he had of letting Samuel know that he needed him not, but could do well enough without him. He went out to bless him, so the word is, as if he now thought himself a complete priest, empowered to bless as well as sacrifice, whereas he should have gone out to be blessed by him. (3.) That he charged Samuel with breach of promise: Thou camest not within the days appointed (1 Sam. 13:11), and therefore if any thing was amiss Samuel must bear the blame, who was God’s minister; whereas he did come according to his word, before the seven days had expired. Thus the scoffers of the latter days think the promise of Christ’s coming is broken, because he does not come in their time, though it is certain he will come at the set time. (4.) That when he was charged with disobedience he justified himself in what he had done, and gave no sign at all of repentance for it. It is not sinning that ruins men, but sinning and not repenting, falling and not getting up again. See what excuses he made, 1 Sam. 13:11, 12. He would have this act of disobedience pass, [1.] For an instance of his prudence. The people were most of them scattered from him, and he had no other way than this to keep those with him that remained and to prevent their deserting too. If Samuel neglected the public concerns, he would not. [2.] For an instance of his piety. He would be thought very devout, and in great care not to engage the Philistines till he had by prayer and sacrifice engaged God on his side: “The Philistines,” said he, “will come down upon me, before I have made my supplication to the Lord, and then I am undone. What! go to war before I have said my prayers!” Thus he covered his disobedience to God’s command with a pretence of concern for God’s favour. Hypocrites lay a great stress upon the external performances of religion, thinking thereby to excuse their neglect of the weightier matters of the law. And yet, lastly, He owns it went against his conscience to do it: I forced myself and offered a burnt-offering, perhaps boasting that he had broken through his convictions and got the better of them, or at least thinking this extenuated his fault, that he knew he should not have done as he did, but did it with reluctancy. Foolish man! to think that God would be well pleased with sacrifices offered in direct opposition both to his general and particular command.
II. The sentence passed upon Saul for this offence. Samuel found him standing by his burnt-offering, but, instead of an answer of peace, was sent to him with heavy tidings, and let him know that the sacrifice of the wicked is abomination to the Lord, much more when he brings it, as Saul did, with a wicked mind. 1. He shows him the aggravations of his crime, and says to this king, Thou art wicked, which it is not for any but a prophet of the Lord to say, Job 34:18. He charges him with being an enemy to himself and his interest—Thou hast done foolishly, and a rebel to God and his government—“Thou hast not kept the commandment of the Lord thy God, that commandment wherewith he intended to try thy obedience.” Note, Those that disobey the commandments of God do foolishly for themselves. Sin is folly, and sinners are the greatest fools. 2. He reads his doom (1 Sam. 13:14): “Thy kingdom shall not continue long to thee or thy family; God has his eye upon another, a man after his own heart, and not like thee, that will have thy own will and way.” The sentence is in effect the same with Mene tekel, only now there seems room left for Saul’s repentance, upon which this sentence would have been reversed; but, upon the next act of disobedience, it was made irreversible, 1 Sam. 15:29. And now, better a thousand times he had continued in obscurity tending his asses than to be enthroned and so soon dethroned. But was not this hard, to pass so severe a sentence upon him and his house for a single error, an error that seemed so small, and in excuse for which he had so much to say? No, The Lord is righteous in all his ways and does no man any wrong, will be justified when he speaks and clear when he judges. By this, (1.) He shows that there is no sin little, because no little god to sin against; but that every sin is a forfeiture of the heavenly kingdom, for which we stood fair. (2.) He shows that disobedience to an express command, though in a small matter, is a great provocation, as in the case of our first parents. (3.) He warns us to take heed of our spirits, for that which to men may seem but a small offence, yet to him that knows from what principle and with what disposition of mind it is done, may appear a heinous crime. (4.) God, in rejecting Saul for an error seemingly little, sets off, as by a foil, the lustre of his mercy in forgiving such great sins as those of David, Manasseh, and others. (5.) We are taught hereby how necessary it is that we wait on our God continually. Saul lost his kingdom for want of two or three hours’ patience.