Ellen G. White Writings

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The Youth’s Instructor

December 1, 1898

The First King of Israel—No. 4

The Final Test

During this time, Saul, in discontent and fear, had been sitting with his six hundred men under a pomegranate-tree. Now he said “unto the people that were with him, Number now, and see who is gone from us. And when they had numbered, behold, Jonathan and his armor-bearer were not there. And Saul said unto Ahiah, Bring hither the ark of God. For the ark of God was at that time with the children of Israel. And it came to pass, while Saul talked unto the priest, that the noise that was in the host of the Philistines went on and increased: and Saul said unto the priest, Withdraw thine hand. And Saul and all the people that were with him assembled themselves, and they came to the battle: and, behold, every man's sword was against his fellow, and there was a very great discomfiture.”

When they came to the place of conflict, lo, they saw the men in the Philistine army fighting one another, and not discerning that they were fighting their own army. And there was a very great battle.

“Moreover the Hebrews that were with the Philistines before that time, which went up with them into the camp from the country round about, even they also turned to be with the Israelites that were with Saul and Jonathan. Likewise all the men of Israel which had hid themselves in Mount Ephraim, when they heard that the Philistines fled, even they also followed hard after them in battle. So the Lord saved Israel that day.”

Saul now became very zealous, and gave command, saying, “Cursed be the man that eateth any food until evening, that I may be avenged on mine enemies. So none of the people tasted any food.” This rash oath of Saul's was a human invention. It was not inspired of God, and God was displeased with it. Jonathan and his armor-bearer, who, through God, had wrought deliverance for Israel that day, had become weak through hunger. The people also were weary and hungry.

“And all they of the land came to a wood; and there was honey upon the ground.” This honey was of God's own providing. He desired that the armies of Israel should partake of this food, and receive strength. But Saul, who was not under the direction of God, had interposed his rash oath, saying: “Cursed be the man that eateth any food until evening, that I may be avenged on mine enemies.... And all they of the land came to a wood; and there was honey upon the ground. And when the people were come into the wood, behold, the honey dropped; but no man put his hand to his mouth: for the people feared the oath.”

Jonathan had not heard his father's charge to the people; and “he put forth the end of the rod that was in his hand, and dipped it in an honeycomb, and put his hand to his mouth; and his eyes were enlightened.” His whole system was strengthened to do the work before him.

“Then answered one of the people, and said, Thy father straitly charged the people with an oath, saying, Cursed be the man that eateth any food this day.... Then said Jonathan, My father hath troubled the land: see, I pray you, how mine eyes have been enlightened, because I tasted a little of this honey. How much more, if haply the people had eaten freely today of the spoil of their enemies which they found? for had there not been now a much greater slaughter among the Philistines?”

After this lesson, another test was prepared for Saul. The time had come for the Lord to punish the Amalekites, and Samuel brought Saul the message that Amalek was to be utterly destroyed. God gave commandment unto Saul: “Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass.”

But Saul did not do the work which the Lord had given him to do. He brought in his own human judgment against God's commandments. “And Saul gathered the people together, and numbered them in Telaim, two hundred thousand footmen, and ten thousand men of Judah. And Saul came to a city of Amalek, and laid wait in the valley. And Saul said unto the Kenites, Go, depart, get you down from among the Amalekites, lest I destroy you with them: for ye showed kindness to all the children of Israel, when they came up out of Egypt. So the Kenites departed from among the Amalekites. And Saul smote the Amalekites from Havilah until thou comest to Shur, that is over against Egypt. And he took Agag the king of the Amalekites alive, and utterly destroyed all the people with the edge of the sword. But Saul and the people spared Agag, and the best of the sheep, and of the oxen, and of the fatlings, and the lambs, and all that was good, and would not utterly destroy them: but everything that was vile and refuse, that they destroyed utterly.”

God had commanded Saul to go and smite the Amalekites, and utterly destroy all their possessions; and he was watching his course to see if Saul could be trusted with his work as king of Israel. But Saul only partially obeyed the command; he destroyed the inferior cattle, but reserved the best, and spared the wicked king. And God said to Samuel, “It repenteth me that I have set up Saul to be king: for he is turned back from following me, and hath not performed my commandments.”

This message grieved the prophet, and he cried unto the Lord all night. He saw that the people of Israel were to have their trial very soon after coming under the rule of a king. Samuel had concluded that because of Saul's stature and beauty of countenance, he would be in favor with God; but the displeasure of the Lord was kindled against Saul because of his lack of keen perception to distinguish between sacred and profane things, to recognize the requirements of God as supreme,—because, when tried, he showed that he did not properly estimate the word given through God's faithful servant.

The next day Saul met the prophet Samuel with flattery and self-congratulations. Said he, “Blessed be thou of the Lord: I have performed the commandment of the Lord.” But the prophet immediately answered, “What meaneth then this bleating of the sheep in mine ears, and the lowing of the oxen which I hear?”

Saul was confused, and sought to shirk responsibility by answering: “They have brought them from the Amalekites: for the people spared the best of the sheep and of the oxen, to sacrifice unto the Lord thy God; and the rest we have utterly destroyed.”

Samuel reproved the king, reminding him of the explicit command of God to destroy all things belonging to Amalek. He pointed out his transgression, and declared that he had disobeyed the Lord. But Saul refused to acknowledge that he had done wrong; he again excused his sin by pleading that he had reserved the best cattle to sacrifice to the Lord.

The prophet was grieved to the heart by the persistency with which the king refused to see and confess his sin. He sorrowfully asked: “Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt-offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to harken than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because thou hast rejected the word of the Lord, he hath also rejected thee from being king.”

Mrs. E. G. White

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