Central Presbyterian Church

Massillon, Ohio

"WHEN THE DEADLINE PASSES"

1 Samuel 13:5-15a

Psalm 27:1-4, 13-14

         This morning, we read a story about King Saul of Israel and his armies at a place called

“Gilgal.”  That’s an area between the city of Jericho and the Jordan River to its east.  Saul was

waiting for the arrival of the priest Samuel who was going to sacrifice a burnt offering before the

Lord.  In Old Testament times, it was a common practice to make such an offering as a way of

invoking the support of God in military campaigns.  Saul and his troops were about to engage yet

again the army of the Philistines, which outnumbered Israeli forces at least ten to one.  This is

where we pick up the action as recorded in the 13th chapter of 1 Samuel.  (Read 1 Samuel 13:5-15a)

     The odds were against Saul; out-manned; out-armed; surrounded by Philistines who were

seeking vengeance for a beating they were handed by Saul’s son Jonathan at a place called

“Geba.”  Saul was on the edge of his seat waiting for Samuel to show up and make the offering

that would secure the Lord’s favor in combat.  But Samuel was delayed.  He missed Saul’s dead-

line.  We aren’t told why.  All we know is that the longer it took him to get there, the more

anxious and desperate Saul grew. Saul is not remembered as a man of great patience.  When he

decided he could wait no longer, Saul took upon himself the role of priest and offered the sacrifi-

ces himself.  Although he did not have the authority to carry out a priestly function, in Saul’s

mind, someone had to do something.  After all, the fate of the nation was at stake.  And we may

think, What’s the big deal?

      “As soon as he had finished offering the burnt offering, Samuel arrived.”  Wouldn’t you

know it.  If Saul had just waited a wee bit longer.  We’re told that Saul went out to meet Samuel,

maybe expecting that he’d be told how awesome he was for taking things into his own hands. 

But Samuel is not pleased.  I don’t think it was because Samuel was on some sort of ego trip, or

felt that his priestly territory had been invaded.  That wouldn’t have been in character for

Samuel.  For him, it was simply a matter of obedience to God’s command that only a priest offer

sacrifice on behalf of God’s people.  In fact, the basis of Saul’s very kingship – and for that mat-

ter, any leadership in Israel – was threefold:  paying attention to God’s word, waiting upon God,

and heeding God’s commandments.  That was, and is, the very basis of Judaism.  Samuel made it

quite clear that as far as he was concerned, Saul had fallen short on all three counts. 

      He begins by asking Saul, “What have you done?”  We might picture Saul with his thumbs

under his suspenders and his chin held high: “When I saw that the people were slipping away

from me and that you did not come within the days appointed….. I forced myself, and offered

the burnt offering.”  It was almost as if the king, whose ego we know swelled as he gained more

power, was implicitly saying: “You’re the heel, I’m the hero!  Hooray for me, to hell with you!”  

      Saul’s mouth must have dropped when instead of being congratulated, he was condemned. 

Samuel snaps out:  “You have done foolishly; you have not kept the commandment of the Lord

your God, which he commanded you.”  Then Samuel drops a bomb.  Because Saul had chosen

not to pay attention to the word of the Lord; because he had not waited upon the Lord; because

he had not heeded the Lord’s commandments, he had for all intents and purposes forfeited his

leadership; into which – by the way – Samuel had himself anointed Saul when he was just a

youngster.  I’m sure Samuel’s words sent chills up Saul’s spine:  Saul my boy, “The Lord would

have established your kingdom over Israel forever, but now your kingdom will not continue;

the Lord has sought out a man after his own heart; and the Lord has appointed him to be ruler

over his people, because you have not kept what the Lord commanded you.”  You blew it son.

Israel’s history, of course, tells us that David was the one who assumed Saul’s throne.

      We don’t know at this point how seriously Saul took Samuel’s threat.  But without incident,

after saying his piece, Samuel headed off into the sunset while Saul and his armies prepared for

battle against the Philistines.  Although Saul continued to have success militarily [he did whoop

the Philistines in that particular battle], and remained at some level effective as a leader, the fist

seemed to have been removed from Saul’s kingly glove.  After this very interaction between he

and Samuel, things began to go downhill.  Over time, King Saul acted with less care and discre-

tion, running his mouth; making enemies of allies, like David; descending deeper and deeper into

mental illness.  That day at Gilgal, Saul effectively sealed his own fate.

     Have you ever prayed desperately for God’s help, only to see a deadline pass with no reply?

And whose deadline?  Ours. We tend to establish our own deadlines for God’s action, in effect,

placing God on our time schedule.  Okay Lord, I trust you to take care of this thing, but we don’t

have much time.  If I don’t hear from You, receive a clear signal or convincing sign from You, see

a resolution to this, by say, this time next month, I’ll  have to seek an alternate route.  In the case

of King Saul, time was drawing short.  The Philistine armies were gathering.  The troops of Israel

were becoming restless, and fearful, and discouraged; many even going AWOL.  In accordance

with God’s will, Samuel was on the way to bring God’s blessing through his priestly function.  But

there was a limit to Saul’s patience.  When Samuel didn’t show up when he was expected, Saul

took the alternate route; presuming to take upon himself a role and acting in a manner which

was clearly contrary to God’s revealed plan.  And the consequences for Saul were disastrous. 

      My years in seminary were, in many ways, the best of times.  I was preparing to do what I felt

the Lord was calling me to do.  I had a lot of success in my academic endeavors.  With three kids

and four jobs between us, Vale and I were managing our lives and finances fairly well.  We had

plenty of prayer support from family, friends and church.  Even so, I had a lot of Saul in me

during those years.  I was inadvertently, but continually, trying to make my deadlines God’s

deadlines.  Now Lord, I know You’ve promised to provide the resources we need.  And I believe

that.  But this bill is due by the end of the month.  If I don’t hear from you soon, I’ll need to check

in with Pittsburgh National Bank.  Lord, I’m really struggling with this course in Hebrew.  I know

You’ve promised to open my mind to the things I need to know.  But if You don’t start making

some sense of this screwy language of Yours for me by week four, I may have to see the registrar

about dropping the course.  Lord, I know You’re calling me to be a minister in Your church. 

But this road is getting steeper and windier.  If  You don’t place me on a smoother road by the end

of this semester, I may just need to return to the steel industry.  I was very blessed to have in my

life one who, in her own ways, would clearly communicate to me:  Don’t give up.  Wait on the

Lord.  If it’s God’s will, as we believe it is, it’ll work out.  In large part, I have my wife to thank for

my staying the course, even when I felt like critical deadlines were passing.

      Yes, God’s providence is sometimes slow in being worked out, and His will delayed in being

revealed.  So in our anxiety and impatience, we tend to take control of the wheel, often and only

to find that we should have waited on the Lord just a wee bit longer.  Like Saul in his assumption

that Samuel had missed his deadline, we may assume God has missed ours, or that we’ve missed

the answer, so we feel compelled in our desperation to take matters out of God’s hands, and in-

to our own.  How often have we come to regret putting our deadline on God?  I sure have! In the

rear view, I’ve many times come to see that God’s perceived delays were for good reason -- to

protect me; to teach me; to give me time to mature and grow; to allow things to come into an

order and position where I could succeed.  My guess is you’ve had these rear view epiphanies as

well.  Maybe God’s perceived delay is a way of revealing and helping us recognize what’s driving

us: faith in, trust in and obedience to God, or our impatient desire for control and self-sufficiency

in spite of God.  As it did in the case of King Saul, that driving force will determine the trajectory

of our entire lives where our relationship with the Lord is concerned. 

      I suppose it comes down to this:  When things are really desperate, when our whole lives

seem to hang on a deadline, and our Samuel is nowhere in sight, what will we do?  Take it upon

ourselves to move, even if or when it’s clearly outside God’s will, or continue to wait on God?  

The Bible is pretty emphatic in its insistence that we “wait on the Lord.”  But as history has

taught us, and as we’ve recently learned, we don’t do waiting very well.  But God’s Kingdom calls

us to that very thing.  So let’s not set our deadlines for God.  What God wills in God’s providence

shall pass, and the time will be right.  Amen.