One of the big themes running through the Bible is the need to wait. We have a God who could instantly meet every need of His people. We also have a God who desires for us to learn trust and obedience. This desire of God seems to present us with a God who is slow, and in our opinion often late. The impact of failing to trust and learning to wait can be quite serious.
This was certainly true in the case of Saul. While Saul is willing to assemble an army while choosing, at the same time, to appease the enemy, his son Jonathan takes his troops and attacks the Philistines. Jonathan is one of the great heroes of the Old Testament. He is courageous, and his courage seems to flow from his trust in God. Unfortunately, he will never have the opportunity to serve his people as king because his father does not share his character.
Jonathan’s attack on the Philistines drove his father to assemble the army for war because the Philistines were gathering to attack. King Saul was struggling to build confidence in his troops. In this kind of situation it was common to perform some religious duty to attract the favorable attention of the gods. In this case, Saul was attempting to attract the favor of the God of Israel. Unfortunately, Saul was not a priest and he was unwilling to wait for Samuel the priest to arrive.
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. So he said, “Bring me the burnt offering and the fellowship offerings.” And Saul offered up the burnt offering. (1 Samuel 13:7-9 NIV)
From Saul’s perspective Samuel was late, but only a little late. Just as Saul finishes making the sacrifice Samuel arrives. Saul directly disobeyed God by offering the sacrifice. Attempting to pacify his troops through a disobedient act produced consequences that might appear harsh to us. If we compare Saul’s sin with David’s many transgressions we might even think that God is being unfair. There is a principle here that we should not miss. Saul, filled with fear rejects God’s instruction and attempts to solve a problem on his own. This is something God will not accept from His anointed king. The result is that the kingdom is taken away from Saul.
What about us?
Is pragmatism a good thing or a bad thing? I would argue that there are some places where pragmatism, focusing on the results, is a good thing. Unfortunately, a narrow focus on results often blinds us to the damage done to people and relationships on the way to achieving those results. Even more serious is the tendency for us to focus on results while being unwilling to wait for God. For a person following Jesus, no end result will ever justify sinful means.
Last weekend we attended a homeschool convention to promote products and services from mygrandmatime. We spent much of our time waiting. From a pragmatic perspective the results were not what we were after. However, on Friday we had a conversation with a young man exploring the possibility of moving to a foreign country as a missionary. My hope is that God used this conversation to provide him with some encouragement and support. We will probably never know the result, and that is the point. We spent most of that day waiting and that may have been what we were waiting for.
My father had many admirable qualities, but he was terrible at waiting. Even at 91 he had to have his watch on so he could observe the passage of time. He looked at that watch often. Looking did not make the wait time any shorter, but somehow it was comforting to him. Rather than being comforted by looking at a watch, which I tend to do, we would be better if we spent the wait time in conversation with God. The more confident we are in God the more patient we can be while we wait, and I believe that waiting is our natural state of being.