I’ve often thought that Saul got a bum rap in 1 Samuel 13. You know the story: Samuel has reluctantly installed Saul as king. Jonathan, Saul’s son, engages the Philistines in battle and routs them. Saul is mustering an army to defeat them and rid Israel of this constant thorn in their flesh. Samuel had told Saul he would come in seven days to conduct the offerings before battle. The appointed days come and pass. The Philistines are as numerous as the “sand on the seashore.” Some of Saul’s troops begin to desert, thinking this is not going to end well. As leader, Saul takes it upon himself to offer the sacrifices to “entreat the LORD’s favor.” As soon as Saul finishes offering the sacrifices, Samuel appears and admonishes him for not waiting, for impatiently forging ahead.
Perhaps it is because I can become impatient that it seems Saul is treated unfairly in this passage. No one calls Samuel to task for being late. No one pleads Saul’s case by suggesting that the job of a leader is not just to stand there, but to do something.
As I read this story again in light of preparing to observe Pentecost Sunday, I am reminded of what Jesus told the assembled disciples in Acts 1:4-5. They were to wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit. On Pentecost this Holy Spirit came upon them in remarkable ways, unifying them and empowering them to begin a new movement that attracted more followers in a few months than Jesus had enlisted with his earthly ministry in a few years.
Paul later goes on to remind the believers in his letters how the Holy Spirit brings unity to the many diverse gifts that it gives to the members of the church (cf. 1 Cor 12). These gifts find their origin in the Holy Spirit, and they are given not to only a few but to all the believers in the new faith community. These gifts are to be used for the building up of the one body, as a testimony to the continuing work of Jesus Christ in the world.
As I’ve observed before, the biblical story speaks of time in two distinct ways. There is chronos time, which represents the regular movement and marking of time by seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months and years. And then there is kyros time, which denotes those special, or holy, occasions that are unique and worthy of remembrance (think birthdays, when faith commitments are made, etc.)
The more I think about Saul’s story, the more I believe what we are to learn from it is that Saul was more concerned about chronos time, and Samuel wanted him to be guided by kyros time. In God’s timing (kyros) he would be delivered from his enemies. By taking matters into his own hands and trying to do things on his own time schedule, he was not allowing God to lead and guide.
Could that be why Jesus instructs the disciples to wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit before taking the next steps toward creating the new faith community? Only after the in-dwelling of the Holy Spirit were they able to move forward in faith in the powerful ways they did.
When Paul reminds the early church that the Holy Spirit works for the unity of the church, and gifts the members to work in that direction, perhaps we too need to hear his words again. Whatever the circumstance or situation, if there is not unity in the church, it may be because we are not listening to the LORD. But it very well may also be that we are not waiting on the LORD, waiting to function on kyros time rather than forging ahead with our own chronos time. I think I’ll take some time to ponder this!