Ellen G. White Writings

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The Signs of the Times

August 3, 1882

The Forbidden Sacrifice

By Mrs. E. G. White

When Saul was crowned at Gilgal, the nation seemed unanimous in his support, and he felt that his throne was firmly established. He now dismissed to their homes the vast army that had arisen at his call to overthrow the Ammonites, reserving only two thousand men to be stationed under his command at Michmash, and one thousand to attend his son Jonathan at Gibeah of Benjamin.

Elated with the honor of the recent victory, Saul was disposed to relax his efforts. He preferred the enjoyment of ease and the pomp of royalty to the toil, uncertainty, and danger of the field of battle. Here was a serious error. While his army was filled with hope and courage, he should have proceeded at once to make war upon other enemies of Israel. By neglecting to do this, he lost the opportunity to strike a telling blow for the honor of God and the liberties of the nation.

Meanwhile their warlike neighbors, the Philistines, were active. After the defeat at Ebenezer, they had still retained possession of some hill fortresses in the land of Israel; and now taking advantage of the somewhat disorganized condition of the Hebrew nation, consequent upon the change in the government, these powerful foes had established themselves in the very heart of the country. Yet they were filled with fear at the defeat of the fierce and cruel Ammonites, and had they been attacked with the same courage and energy, they might then have been subdued.

In facilities, arms, and equipments, the Philistines had great advantages over Israel. During the long period of their oppressive rule, they had endeavored to strengthen their power, by forbidding the Israelites to practice the trade of smiths, lest they should make weapons of war. At the conclusion of peace, they had still kept the trade in their own hands, the Hebrews resorting to the Philistine garrisons for such work as needed to be done. Had the men of Israel possessed proper energy and foresight, they would, during the long interval of peace, have secured the services of skilled workmen, and furnished themselves with weapons of war. But love of ease, and the abject spirit induced by long oppression, controlled them. Hence they had suffered even their agricultural implements to become blunt, and none among the Israelites, except Saul and his son Jonathan, possessed a spear or sword.

It was not until the second year of Saul's reign that an attempt was made to subdue the Philistines. The first blow was struck by Jonathan, who at the command of his father attacked and overcame their garrison of Geba. The Philistines were greatly exasperated by this defeat, and they made ready for a speedy attack upon Israel.

Saul was now aroused to the necessity of immediate action. He caused war to be proclaimed by the sound of the trumpet throughout the land, and also issued a proclamation calling upon all the men of war, including the tribes across the Jordan, to assemble immediately at Gilgal. This summons was obeyed.

The Philistines had gathered an immense force at Michmash—“thirty thousand chariots, and six thousand horsemen, and people as the sand which is upon the sea-shore innumerable.” When the Hebrews became apprised of the strength and numbers of the opposing force, and then considered their own defenseless condition, they became terrified and disheartened. Every day saw the army of Saul diminishing, as multitudes of the people stole away to hide themselves in caves, thickets, and pits; and some even fled across the Jordan, to the land of Gad and Gilead. Those who still remained “followed him trembling.”

Where was now Israel's pride and confidence in their king, demanded, as they had declared, “that we may be like all the nations, and that our king may judge us, and go out before us and fight our battles”? Alas, how utterly worthless are all hopes based on human pomp or pride!

Samuel had appointed to meet the king at Gilgal, there to “offer burnt- offerings and sacrifices, and to show him what he should do.” The prophet did not arrive within the allotted time, and as Saul saw their dangers increasing, and the hearts of the people failing for fear, he became impatient. Instead of resorting to prayer, and humbling his soul before God, he determined to do something himself to relieve the difficulties of the situation.

Here is where many have failed, and continue to fail. They will not wait patiently for the Lord to work for them. They desire to be active, and if God does not give them something to do, they will venture to do even what he has forbidden. The Lord had detained his servant, in order to test the faith and obedience of the king. Saul did not stand the test. God had promised to be with him, if he would be obedient. He should have trusted this promise, and waited patiently for divine instruction and guidance. But thinking that something must be done at once to inspire the people with courage, he commanded them to bring forward their victims for sacrifice, and then he presumptuously took the place of priest, and himself offered them upon the altar. This act was a flagrant violation of the divine command that only those should offer sacrifice who had been sacredly consecrated to the work. Moreover, the public nature of the act, as well as the high position of the offender, added greatly to the pernicious influence of his example, and rendered prompt punishment indispensably necessary.

No sooner had Saul made an end of offering sacrifice, than he heard of Samuel's approach, and went out to meet him. But though greeted with demonstrations of reverence and affection, the prophet understood that all was not right. In answer to his pointed inquiry, “What hast thou done?” Saul endeavored to excuse his own course, by depicting the terror of the people and the danger of an immediate attack from the Philistines. But the prophet returned the stern and solemn answer,

“Thou hast done foolishly. Thou hast not kept the commandment of the Lord thy God, which he commanded thee; for now would the Lord have established thy kingdom upon Israel forever. But now thy kingdom shall not continue; the Lord hath sought him a man after his own heart, and the Lord hath commanded him to be captain over his people, because thou has not kept that which the Lord commanded thee.”

Saul's transgression proved him unworthy to be intrusted with sacred responsibilities. One who had himself so little reverence for God's requirements, could not be a wise or safe leader for the nation. Had he patiently endured the divine test, the crown would have been confirmed to him and to his house. In fact, Samuel had come to Gilgal for this very purpose. But Saul had been weighed in the balance, and found wanting. He must be removed to make way for one who would sacredly regard the divine honor and authority.

An all-wise God had foreseen these events, yet Saul's threatened humiliation was chargeable only to his own sin and folly. God had given him great advantages to develop a right character. The Holy Spirit had enlightened his understanding, giving him clear views of the divine character and requirements, and of his own duty. All this made his sin more grievous.

Had Saul cherished the light which Christ had given him, he would have trusted less to the performance of religious rites, and would have felt more deeply the importance of humbling his heart before God. Impulse would have been guided by reason, and chastened and purified by conscience. But it is difficult for a man whose habits are fixed, to unlearn what he has for years been learning. Divine grace only can effect this transformation.

In the faithful performance of God's will, all the powers of the mind, all the emotions of the heart, will be called forth into their noblest, purest, happiest exercise. Great are the privileges of the Christian, and great the change which must be wrought by the Holy Spirit, ere men sinful by nature can become the sons of God. Mental abilities and spiritual affections, the treasures of memory and the anticipations of hope, are alike to be sanctified by the spirit of Christ, and consecrated to his service. The life of Christ's disciple is begun by faith and continued by obedience.

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