“When I saw that the people were scattering from me, and that you did not come within the days appointed, and that the Philistines had mustered at Michmash, I said, ‘Now the Philistines will come down against me at Gilgal, and I have not sought the favor of the Lord.’ So I forced myself, and offered the burnt offering.” (ch.13)It all seemed so reasonable, and duly religious, at the time. But Samuel said, "You have done foolishly." It seemed reasonable, but it wasn't wisdom. Why? Because Saul forgot whose servant he was. He forgot the LORD was God. He behaved as if there was a god of mere religion - you should make him happy before a war with a sacrifice, or during a war win him over by fasting, or after a war make up for compromise by sacrifice. Samuel said, "To obey is better than sacrifice." This reasonable leader knew how to do religion, but in fact, he acted as if God wasn't really there and hadn't really spoken.
...one of the people said, “Your father strictly charged the people with an oath, saying, ‘Cursed be the man who eats food this day.’” And the people were faint. Then Jonathan said, “My father has troubled the land. See how my eyes have become bright because I tasted a little of this honey. How much better if the people had eaten freely today of the spoil of their enemies that they found. For now the defeat among the Philistines has not been great.” (ch.14)
"I have obeyed the voice of the Lord. I have gone on the mission on which the Lord sent me. I have brought Agag the king of Amalek, and I have devoted the Amalekites to destruction. But the people took of the spoil, sheep and oxen, the best of the things devoted to destruction, to sacrifice to the Lord your God in Gilgal." (ch.15)
The people had asked for a man to be king over them like the other nations, and that's what they got. The other nations had kings who believed the gods could be disobeyed or ignored - the king was the real sovereign - and then appeased by sacrifice and fasting. Gods who could be swayed, who served the king. So that was how Saul acted. As if YHWH had been surplanted by him. As if YHWH had never spoken.
That can seem like the reasonable thing, today, too: everyone around us acts as if God isn't really there and hasn't really spoken. We can even do it while being religious, while saying we're on God's mission! But how easily we're foolish, forgetting his word, his prerogative. We imagine we're passionately about his work, while shutting out his rule.
Saul realised his foolishness to his cost:
"...you have rejected the word of the Lord, and the Lord has rejected you from being king over Israel." (ch.15)The Lord was the One who led the people, whom they followed in and out. That was what they would do for a King: he commands, and you willingly follow him in and out. (See also Numbers 27.15-23) But as YHWH left Saul, and was with David, His annointed King (Messiah), in effect, he was their leader, their King. The difference? David acted on the assumption that YHWH was living and had spoken:
[...] Saul was afraid of David because the Lord was with him but had departed from Saul. So Saul removed him from his presence and made him a commander of a thousand. And he went out and came in before the people. And David had success in all his undertakings, for the Lord was with him. And when Saul saw that he had great success, he stood in fearful awe of him. But all Israel and Judah loved David, for he went out and came in before them. (Ch.18)
And Saul said to David, “You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him, for you are but a youth, and he has been a man of war from his youth.” But David said to Saul, “Your servant used to keep sheep for his father. And when there came a lion, or a bear, and took a lamb from the flock, I went after him and struck him and delivered it out of his mouth. And if he arose against me, I caught him by his beard and struck him and killed him. Your servant has struck down both lions and bears, and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them, for he has defied the armies of the living God.” And David said, “The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.” And Saul said to David, “Go, and the Lord be with you!”No matter how reasonable it can seem to be like people around us, wisdom is to act on the truth that the LORD lives, and has spoken.