PSA: Life Really Is a Pressure Cooker

Do you ever wonder why it sometimes seems as though God turns up the pressure on our lives or why there seem to be so many trials in this life? Yesterday, Kati and I participated in a “walk to remember.” October is Pregnancy and Child Loss Awareness Month. We did this to honor the child that she miscarried earlier this year. This has been, probably, the most prominent personal struggle for us this year. We have other friends in our community who are going through this struggle as well, and I hope they get to hear or read this sermon. There are others who have lost loved ones, a brother or a father. We have other friends dealing with brain injuries or problems resulting from brain injuries, fighting against cancer, dealing with feelings of betrayal, fighting various addictions, trying to get over being burned by a local church or by people in a local church. The text for today is comforting because the narrative provides an example of what God is doing through the many pressures of life. There is a purpose.

1 Samuel 13:1-23

Saul was thirty years old when he began to reign, and he reigned forty two years over Israel. Now Saul chose for himself 3,000 men of Israel, of which 2,000 were with Saul in Michmash and in the hill country of Bethel, while 1,000 were with Jonathan at Gibeah of Benjamin. But he sent away the rest of the people, each to his tent. Jonathan smote the garrison of the Philistines that was in Geba, and the Philistines heard of it. Then Saul blew the trumpet throughout the land, saying, “Let the Hebrews hear.” All Israel heard the news that Saul had smitten the garrison of the Philistines, and also that Israel had become odious to the Philistines. The people were then summoned to Saul at Gilgal.

Now the Philistines assembled to fight with Israel, 30,000 chariots and 6,000 horsemen, and people like the sand which is on the seashore in abundance; and they came up and camped in Michmash, east of Beth-aven.

When the men of Israel saw that they were in a strait (for the people were hard-pressed), then the people hid themselves in caves, in thickets, in cliffs, in cellars, and in pits. Also some of the Hebrews crossed the Jordan into the land of Gad and Gilead. But as for Saul, he was still in Gilgal, and all the people followed him trembling.

Now he waited seven days, according to the appointed time set by Samuel, but Samuel did not come to Gilgal; and the people were scattering from him.

So Saul said, “Bring to me the burnt offering and the peace offerings.” And he offered the burnt offering. As soon as he finished offering the burnt offering, behold, Samuel came; and Saul went out to meet him and to greet him.

But Samuel said, “What have you done?” And Saul said, “Because I saw that the people were scattering from me, and that you did not come within the appointed days, and that the Philistines were assembling at Michmash, therefore I said, ‘Now the Philistines will come down against me at Gilgal, and I have not asked the favor of the Lord.’ So I forced myself and offered the burnt offering.”

Samuel said to Saul, “You have acted 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. But now your kingdom shall not endure. The Lord has sought out for Himself a man after His own heart, and the Lord has appointed him as ruler over His people, because you have not kept what the Lord commanded you.”

Then Samuel arose and went up from Gilgal to Gibeah of Benjamin. And Saul numbered the people who were present with him, about six hundred men. Now Saul and his son Jonathan and the people who were present with them were staying in Geba of Benjamin while the Philistines camped at Michmash. And the raiders came from the camp of the Philistines in three companies: one company turned toward Ophrah, to the land of Shual, and another company turned toward Beth-horon, and another company turned toward the border which overlooks the valley of Zeboim toward the wilderness.

Now no blacksmith could be found in all the land of Israel, for the Philistines said, “Otherwise the Hebrews will make swords or spears.”

So all Israel went down to the Philistines, each to sharpen his plowshare, his mattock, his axe, and his hoe. The charge was two-thirds of a shekel for the plowshares, the mattocks, the forks, and the axes, and to fix the hoes.

So it came about on the day of battle that neither sword nor spear was found in the hands of any of the people who were with Saul and Jonathan, but they were found with Saul and his son Jonathan.

And the garrison of the Philistines went out to the pass of Michmash.

The labor of humankind (v. 1-4)

Saul was thirty years old when he began to reign, and he reigned forty two years over Israel.

Before we think about this verse together, we need to be aware of a translation difference. Translations like the King James translate this verse, “Saul reigned one year; and when he had reigned two years over Israel…” The English Standard Version omits the numbers altogether. The differences are stark. The reason for this difference is that the numbers in the Hebrew are absent and translators are having to fill in the blancs. The Septuagint is unhelpful in this case because it omits verse 1 altogether. While the translators of the King James have assumed that the numbers are implied and used in the way that they have translated them to be used, the translators of other English versions looked to see how the Biblical authors translated this text. We receive our answer in Acts 13:21, where Luke states that Saul served as king for about 40 years before David was raised up. It is almost certain that Saul reigned 42 years. Furthermore, Saul must have been a young adult by our standards because he was still living with his father but able to, himself, lead a military expedition. So, it is likely that Saul was a young adult when he began to reign, and this fits the timeframe given by the rest of the narrative. So, translators use a Biblical hermeneutic and healthy textual criticism to fill in the blanks. This translation makes particular sense in light of the fact that Saul has now borne a son who has come of age and is, himself, leading a company of soldiers. One to two years does not allow time for this. Furthermore, the translators of the King James had to change the language in order to get these numbers to fit, otherwise their plain translation would read, “Saul was one year old when he began to reign, and he reigned two years over Israel.” So, there seems to be some manipulation like we see in other parts of the King James Version in order to force a certain translation. This is the most prominent reason one should not use the King James as the primary text for study or for preaching. Though other versions will insert different numbers, here, for various reasons, virtually every common and non-heretical version other than the King James translates this verse well.

Saul’s life as king is marked by routine. We saw the same truth with Samuel in chapter 7, verses 15-17. The narrative has skipped over 42 years of Saul’s reign. There was something about it that was simply normal and not worthy of specific record. God’s plan from the Garden has been human contentment in labor. What seems to us in our malcontent to be monotonous is God’s plan for human service to Him. Most of our lives won’t be marked by great worldly achievements or by moving up the ladder of success. Instead, it will be marked by contentment. One of the things that causes Saul’s fall is his malcontent and impatience. This idea applies in our homes, workplaces, and local churches. I might illustrate this by simply describing my own week for your as it happens week-after-week. Perhaps your own routine will resonate with mine even though there are different specific details about our lives and we serve in different roles in God’s kingdom.

  • I preach in service to my congregation on Sunday morning, working diligently to rightly divide the word of truth for the good of the body. 
  • I go home and review the sermon for personal growth, and begin study for Wednesday evening and for the next Sunday.
  • Monday, I prepare to pour into our elders so that we can all be trained together for service in God’s church, send the weekly information to our personnel, and contact visitors and church members that I need to contact. Our elders are discipled together according to what I have prepared, we cast vision together and deal with the elder’s responsibilities as we lead this local congregation, and then I go to men’s Systematic Theology.
  • On Tuesday, I do what I want and, intentionally, take a break from doing church stuff unless I can’t. This is my ‘Sabbath’ (or rest) Day.
  • On Wednesday, I finish preparing for Wednesday evening Bible study, make contacts if needed, and continue preparing for Sunday and studying for the good of the congregation.
  • On Thursday, I devote my time to study and preparation.
  • On Friday, I do the things that I did not get to during the week for any number of reasons.
  • On Saturday, I reserve the day for my family.
  • Throughout the week, people call or need to visit and I am able to set what I am doing aside for them when I am needed. We often have people over for dinner (BTW, you are all invited to our Reformation Party at the end of the month!).

This has been my routine since I started pastoring at TCATS and I have had a very similar routine since I started in ministry. Every week is basically the same. We walk through the Scriptures, here, so the content of each sermon is even predictable. By any standard, this is monotony. This is what God has designed the servant’s labor to be. It is meant to teach us contentment and to show us that our lives are not about our glory. We can be, in fact it is desirable to be satisfied with and excited about the daily grind.

Now Saul chose for himself 3,000 men of Israel, of which 2,000 were with Saul in Michmash and in the hill country of Bethel, while 1,000 were with Jonathan at Gibeah of Benjamin. But he sent away the rest of the people, each to his tent. Jonathan smote the garrison of the Philistines that was in Geba, and the Philistines heard of it. Then Saul blew the trumpet throughout the land, saying, “Let the Hebrews hear.” All Israel heard the news that Saul had smitten the garrison of the Philistines, and also that Israel had become odious to the Philistines. The people were then summoned to Saul at Gilgal.

Saul is now 72 years old. 42 years prior to this, God revealed that He had chosen Saul to deliver the nation of Israel from the hand of the Philistines (8:16). Up to this point, there has been no significant progress as we tend to measure progress. So, Saul takes the work of God into his own hands. He did not learn from the story of Abraham and Hagar (Genesis 16-17). He takes the initiative to instigate war against the Philistines. It’s been 42 years and God has neither commanded it nor brought the Philistines against Israel. So, it is his own malcontent, not the leadership of the Holy Spirit, that causes Saul to move in this part of the story. We also see that credit is given to Saul for his son’s victory.

Saul’s malcontent (v. 5-14)

Now the Philistines assembled to fight with Israel, 30,000 chariots and 6,000 horsemen, and people like the sand which is on the seashore in abundance; and they came up and camped in Michmash, east of Beth-aven.

When the men of Israel saw that they were in a strait (for the people were hard-pressed), then the people hid themselves in caves, in thickets, in cliffs, in cellars, and in pits. Also some of the Hebrews crossed the Jordan into the land of Gad and Gilead. But as for Saul, he was still in Gilgal, and all the people followed him trembling.

Between Saul and Jonathan, there were about 3,000 soldiers. The parties were divided such that Saul and his 2,000 men were not present in this strait. So, we see Jonathan and his 1,000 men, still weary from battle against the first garrison of Philistines now hard-pressed by a Philistine army of 36,000. These are not very good odds. Jonathan’s soldiers are hiding in caves or wherever else they can hide, and Saul’s soldiers are trembling with fear because of the great army they must march against. Saul’s malcontent caused an immediate victory, but worse circumstances followed. We experience this as children when we try to grow up too quickly. We experience it at work when we sacrifice quality for quantity. We experience it when we buy things we cannot afford or live beyond our means. Many churches in our day experience this when they try to achieve quick growth rather than quality growth through proper missions and discipleship. The final condition is worse for us than where we started. The people of God would do well to learn Christian contentment.

Now he waited seven days, according to the appointed time set by Samuel, but Samuel did not come to Gilgal; and the people were scattering from him.

So Saul said, “Bring to me the burnt offering and the peace offerings.” And he offered the burnt offering. As soon as he finished offering the burnt offering, behold, Samuel came; and Saul went out to meet him and to greet him.

The pressure is on. Things aren’t happening the way we think they ought to happen. Our circumstances are dire. These are the moments when our obedience is tested. Why does God test the obedience of His people? James answers this question for us:

“Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2-4).

Whatever the trial on this earth, God reveals to us in His word that He turns the pressure up in order to produce endurance within His chosen spiritual people. This is how sanctification happens. So, there will be persecution, financial difficulty, unfaithfulness from people, failure, stress, sickness, and so on by God’s design on this earth. These difficulties are used to produce endurance in God’s elect people. Endurance according to what? It is not the idea that we merely get through something or survive through trial; the endurance James writes about is one’s endurance in his or her obedience to God’s Law (cf. James 1:22). So, trials are not given for the purpose of God discovering whether we are for Him or against Him. He is omniscient (all-knowing). Trials are given in order to increase our endurance in keeping God’s Law. The perfect result of growing endurance is that the people of God become perfect and complete, lacking nothing according to God’s Law. This is sanctification. Since the testing of the true Christian’s faith does produce endurance (James 1:3), we can make this doctrinal observation: when those who are actually Christians experience trials of various kinds, they become more obedient to God’s Law as a result of God’s sanctifying work. When those who are not actually Christians experience trials of various kinds, they are like Saul because they are drawn more into sin and into worldly ways. They are not really devoted or committed to God’s instruction or to the people of God. Their true hearts are revealed. So, by this Biblical doctrine, we can posit that, even though the Holy Spirit worked in Saul’s life, Saul was not part of God’s true, spiritual people (though we must concede that the narrative is not explicit on this point). The testing of Saul’s faith reveals that he is a ravenous wolf as Samuel has predicted by the word of the Lord.Just because the Holy Spirit moves Saul to worship and to action on two occasions does not equal the Holy Spirit’s indwelling, nor does it necessitate salvation. The Holy Spirit is not limited in His work. The Holy Spirit is not merely doing the work of bringing people into salvation. The Holy Spirit is moving in every nation and in every arena of human life in order to carry out the will of the Father according to the revelation of the Son.The Holy Spirit could, as before, cause Saul to do what honors God, but He does not because God has already chosen that Saul will be a ravenous wolf. Instead of submitting himself moreso to God’s Law as a result of this trial, Saul has broken the direct instruction that God has given (cf. 1 Samuel 10:8).

But Samuel said, “What have you done?” And Saul said, “Because I saw that the people were scattering from me, and that you did not come within the appointed days, and that the Philistines were assembling at Michmash, therefore I said, ‘Now the Philistines will come down against me at Gilgal, and I have not asked the favor of the Lord.’ So I forced myself and offered the burnt offering.”

In verses 11-12, Saul explains his reasoning. The circumstances of the world frightened him into doing things in a worldly way by worshipping God like the Philistines worshipped their gods- to gain something form Him. We do this sort of thing all the time in this world: at home, at work, and in the local church. When there is fear of loss, we take it upon ourselves to figure things out and do what we think is necessary to keep children from rebelling, keep or get a job, win a battle, increase revenue or donations, increase attendance, keep the doors open, etc… Like Saul, we dive into disobedience without giving it much thought because we take our eyes off of God in order to focus primarily on these momentary things. Most of the time, these aren’t things that we can fix anyway and it is because we fear loss. We are not a content species. Yet, the people of God are called to contentment in all things.

Samuel said to Saul, “You have acted 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. But now your kingdom shall not endure. The Lord has sought out for Himself a man after His own heart, and the Lord has appointed him as ruler over His people, because you have not kept what the Lord commanded you.”

Last week we learned that when Samuel gave the condition of the Law to the people, it served a purpose- that the people may know their unrighteousness. Here, we see that Saul’s unrighteousness is revealed because he is unable to keep the standard of the Law. Even though the Holy Spirit has helped him, Saul remains in his own unrighteousness and in his own sin. So, we see the necessity of regeneration. There are some who teach or believe that people are somewhat capable of coming to God on their own, and that they simply need the help of the Holy Spirit. This part of the narrative implies otherwise. Our hearts must be completely regenerated before we can even seek after God or follow after Him in any genuine and meaningful way. 

Saul was not able to keep the commandment of God. If he were truly regenerate and a man after God’s own heart and a king according to Deuteronomy 17, God would have established his kingdom forever. Saul remained a slave to sin as God had foreordained (cf. 8:10-22). So, according to His own plan (cf. Genesis 49, Deuteronomy 17), God had already sought out for Himself a man after His own heart and has already appointed him as ruler over His people. The Scriptures clarify, here, that it is because Saul has not obeyed God, which reveals the state of Saul’s own heart and his slavery to sin. Though this has been foreordained by God, Saul is held responsible for his own actions. He is, indeed, responsible. For, we willfully choose that which is in accordance with our nature, and Saul has not been regenerated.

God was preparing a true servant in whose line the Messiah would come and sit perpetually on the throne within God’s creation.

The vicious pride cycle (v. 15-23)

Then Samuel arose and went up from Gilgal to Gibeah of Benjamin. And Saul numbered the people who were present with him, about six hundred men. Now Saul and his son Jonathan and the people who were present with them were staying in Geba of Benjamin while the Philistines camped at Michmash. And the raiders came from the camp of the Philistines in three companies: one company turned toward Ophrah, to the land of Shual, and another company turned toward Beth-horon, and another company turned toward the border which overlooks the valley of Zeboim toward the wilderness.

Now no blacksmith could be found in all the land of Israel, for the Philistines said, “Otherwise the Hebrews will make swords or spears.”

So all Israel went down to the Philistines, each to sharpen his plowshare, his mattock, his axe, and his hoe. The charge was two-thirds of a shekel for the plowshares, the mattocks, the forks, and the axes, and to fix the hoes.

So it came about on the day of battle that neither sword nor spear was found in the hands of any of the people who were with Saul and Jonathan, but they were found with Saul and his son Jonathan.

And the garrison of the Philistines went out to the pass of Michmash.

Slavery to sin is a terrible thing. This trial does not accomplish for Saul what it does in the lives of believers. Instead, it causes Saul to rebel against God. Upon hearing that he had broken God’s command, Saul doubled down, even having the people of Israel sharpen their harvesting tools for battle in response to the Philistine incursion. This is what human pride and self-righteousness does. If we are slaves to sin, we dive deeper and deeper into false religion, works-righteousness, self-identity, self-pleasure, and have a growing need to experience personal victory. We are self-condemning and become greater Law-breakers; even justifying our rebellion by contorting the doctrine of salvation by grace alone. Those who are free from sin become content. Contentment leads to godly humility. Endurance is produced, and we are made perfect and complete according to the Law by God’s sanctifying work. Let us strive to live, work, and do church as a people who have been freed from sin in the regeneration of our hearts. Like what is prophesied concerning these last days in Isaiah, let the people of God learn the ways of God that we may walk in them. Let His Law go forth from Zion that He may judge between nations. Let the outcome be a reversal of human sin, that we will hammer our swords into plowshares and our spears into pruning hooks (cf. Isaiah 2:3-4).

People will often say that they rely on Christ to hold them together. I have a more amazing truth. Christ doesn’t merely hold His people together. He uses the hurt to make us perfect and complete.

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