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Don't Panic!

by Dennis Pollock

The life of king Saul is a fascinating Scriptural study. He started out with so much promise! He was anointed by the great prophet Samuel to be the first king of Israel. And during this exciting time in his life, the Bible says that he was given another heart – the closest thing we find in the Old Testament to the New Testament concept of salvation. In 1 Samuel we read, "So it was, when he had turned his back to go from Samuel, that God gave him another heart…" (1 Samuel 10:9).

Not only was he given another heart; he was also filled with the Holy Spirit. Samuel told Saul, "the Spirit of the LORD will come upon you, and you will prophesy with them and be turned into another man…" (1 Samuel 10:6). Young Saul seemed fully equipped to lead Israel. And yet with all his promise, Saul's leadership of Israel was an absolute disaster. His reign was filled with glaring mistakes, foolish actions, jealousy, and failure. Sometimes we naively assume that men or women that are filled with the Holy Spirit must be nearly perfect. They must walk several inches above the ground, their marriages must be heavenly, and their personalities must be exemplary. Surely they would never lose their temper, become impatient, or be tempted toward sexual immorality. That may sound right, but anyone who knows either the Bible or the history of the church will see it for the falsehood that it is. The power of the Spirit is a marvelous help for accomplishing God's calling and assigned tasks, but by itself it is not enough. We must also develop the fruits of the Spirit through a life of abiding in the Lord Jesus. Saul was anointed, he was powerful, but he had no consistent walk with the Lord that led to maturity of character. And he paid a terrible price for this.

After reigning as king for two years, Saul attacked the Philistines, who immediately assembled a huge army and prepared for war with Israel. The Bible tells us: "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" (1 Samuel 13:5). This was a major challenge for the new king. It seems this is pretty much a general rule – when we move forward in God to a new ministry, a new opportunity, or a new blessing Satan will be there to meet us and challenge that which God has done in our lives. How we respond to these challenges will determine whether the ministry or blessing will endure or be prematurely cut off.

Help!

When the Israelites saw the huge army that was gathered against them they began to panic. Leaving their homes, they went into the wilderness areas and hid in thickets and caves. Some crossed over the Jordan and fled to the neighboring land of Gilead. Those men who stayed with Saul and made up his army were in terror, and the Bible says "all the people followed him trembling." It looked like, in attacking the Philistines, Saul had bitten off more than he could chew. Who could possibly stand before this massive Philistine army?

Meanwhile Saul had another issue that greatly troubled him. He was facing an imminent battle and the prophet Samuel had not shown up as he had promised. Samuel was to have offered a sacrifice to the Lord and sought God's favor on their military endeavors. It was bad enough to face such overwhelming odds, but to go into battle without seeking the favor of YHWH was unthinkable.

Saul waited seven days for Samuel, the time they had agreed upon, but Samuel was a no-show. The pressure mounted. The people were scattering and Israel's meager army was getting smaller with each passing day. The combination of mounting pressure, a diminishing army, and the prophet's lateness was too much for Saul. He decided that if Samuel wasn't going to come and offer a sacrifice to the Lord, he would do it himself. At least they would have one burnt offering to their credit as they marched into battle to face this enormous and terrifying Philistine army.

Nothing bothers us so much as when things aren't happening when we think they should. We have time frames in which we feel life ought to move, but God does not always submit to our personal schedules and plans. You may have a personal organizer in which you can organize your days in thirty minute and one hour increments. You can plan the timing of your meetings, plan your lunch hours, and organize your daily activities almost to the minute. But you will find that it is pointless and entirely useless to put God in any of those boxes of time. He who is all powerful and immutable laughs at our schedules, chuckles at our plans, and ignores our whining cries for Him to come and work on our timetable. And when the Almighty appears to be late it is but an illusion. God has never been late for anything or anyone – He is always perfectly on time, but the time is His time.

Saul's act of offering a sacrifice to God doesn't appear to be so bad; in fact, it seems kind of spiritual – this man desperately wants the favor and blessing of God. The problem is that Saul's sacrifice is coming from a place of disobedience and unbelief. It is the act of a desperate and fearful man who is willing to break the divine protocols in order to save himself. Saul is in full panic mode, and he does what panicky people always do – he gets himself in more trouble than he was before.

The Prophet Arrives

No sooner does Saul offer the sacrifice than Samuel arrives. It turns out the old prophet wasn't all that late after all, arriving perhaps just a few hours after he said that he would. We read:

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

The people of Israel scattering into the wilderness, the huge enemy army, and the fact that Samuel was late had all led to Samuel's state of panic. The inexperienced king said to himself, "Things are falling apart – and I need to do something!" Perhaps he debated in his mind for a few hours whether he would be right to offer a sacrifice, but finally the caution he felt over offering an unlawful sacrifice was overruled by the obvious need to seek divine favor. Most of the time a crisis does call for action. If your health is unraveling eat more fruits and vegetables, throw away your doughnuts and MoonPies, start walking every morning, and do some pushups. It is very much right that we take appropriate actions in the face of potential disaster. But there will be certain times when God simply calls us to stand, to wait, and to trust Him to bring us the victory.

Saul was eventually going to need to lead his army into battle. But during those critical days before they engaged, his number one job was to wait – to simply allow the necessary time to pass until Samuel showed up and did what he promised he would do – offer a burnt offering to the Lord and seek His favor. Most of the time action is easier for us than waiting. Waiting is such a slow process, waiting seems kind of wimpy, and makes us feel so helpless. But in the mind of God waiting is one of the greatest acts we can ever do.

This Saul would not do. The pressure was great, the men were scattering, and Saul offered the sacrifice himself. When Samuel showed up, the prophet was not happy. After asking Saul what he had done and hearing the king's multiple excuses, his first words were "You have done foolishly." Disobedience is always foolish, regardless of how necessary it may seem. Samuel goes on to say, "The LORD would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. But now your kingdom shall not continue. The LORD has sought for Himself a man after His own heart…" (1 Samuel 13:13,14). For lack of waiting a few extra hours, Saul lost the kingdom blessing that would have belonged to him and his family forever. Had he waited and gone on to follow God, Jesus would have been born to one of his descendants rather than David's. Our Lord would have been the lion of the tribe of Benjamin rather than the lion of the tribe of Judah. But Saul could not wait.

Pressure

Pressure reveals the man or the woman. And when pressure is combined with a seeming delay on God's part it can easily lead to panic which will always result in very bad decisions. Sarah had been told by God that she and Abraham would have a son who would be a blessing to all the nations. When she passed the age of child-bearing she began to question God's original promise. Surely He didn't mean exactly what He said! He must have had some other meaning. Finally she could wait no longer. She came up with a solution of her own. She told her husband to take her maid as a concubine and produce an heir through her. Sarah would call the child her own and they would help God fulfill His promise this way. Of course this wasn't the way she and Abraham had envisioned it, but what else could they do? Time was passing, she wasn't getting any younger, and God had not shown up. And so Ishmael was born.  Years later God kept His promise, physically renewed both Abraham and Sarah, and gave them the child He had originally promised, whom they named Isaac. It turned out God wasn't late at all; He was precisely on time. His personal organizer just wasn't synched with Abraham's and Sarah's.

The opposite of panic is found in the words "patient waiting." One of my favorite Psalms includes this praise declaration by David: "I waited patiently for the LORD; and He inclined to me, and heard my cry. He also brought me up out of a horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my steps. He has put a new song in my mouth…" (Psalm 40:1-3). Unlike Saul, David had learned the wisdom of waiting. The pit was a "horrible pit," and the clay was "miry clay," but still David waited. He did not thrash about, he did not curse, he did not waste his energy with futile attempts to deliver himself." He waited on the Lord, and the Lord inclined unto him, delivered him, and put "a new song in his mouth."

When our Lord Jesus faced the cross it surely seemed a time for panic. His disciples had left Him, His own Jewish people were calling for His crucifixion, and it even seemed that the Heavenly Father had forsaken Him. Yet there was no panic. The Bible tells us, "He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth" (Isaiah 53:7). While the soldiers beat Him, Jesus waited patiently for the Father to vindicate Him. While the stripes were laid on His back, still He waited. When He died on the cross it must have seemed to many that God was way too late this time. If He was going to rescue His Son, He should have done it while He was still alive. But now it was too late.

But of course it is never too late for God. On the third day after His death, God raised Jesus from the dead. God came to His Son exactly on time. So He will do for us. The Christ we serve and love may not show up when we want Him to, but He will always be on time. God provides great and wonderful things for those who refuse to panic, and have the wisdom to wait for Him.

 


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