Saul’s response to Samuel’s declaration about his rejection as king---his exile from God’s intended purposes for him---presents interesting parallels to multiple events from Israel’s past through which we glimpse additional instances of exile and exodus. Saul says to Samuel, “I have sinned, for I have disobeyed what the Lord commanded and what you said as well. For I was afraid of the army, and I followed their wishes. Now please forgive my sin! Go back with me so I can worship the Lord” (1 Samuel 15:24-25).
To draw the parallels, we can turn back a bit to the thirteenth chapter of 1st Samuel. There, a battle with the Philistines is at hand, and apparently, Samuel had promised to arrive at an appointed time to make an offering on behalf of Saul and the army of Israel. Saul “waited for seven days, the time period indicated by Samuel. But Samuel did not come to Gilgal, and the army began to abandon Saul” (13:8). Saul, not wanting to go to battle without making an offering to the Lord, said “Bring me the burnt offering and the peace offerings” (13:9a), taking it upon himself to do what it was that Samuel had promised to do. “Just when he had finished offering the burnt offering, Samuel appeared on the scene. Saul went out to meet him and greet him” (13:10). Naturally, Saul thought Samuel would be pleased, but instead hears Samuel say, “What have you done?” (13:11b) Saul, perhaps a bit surprised at Samuel’s demeanor at this point, says “When I saw the army had started to abandon me and that you didn’t come at the appointed time and that the Philistines had assembled… I thought, ‘Now the Philistines will come down on me… and I have not sought the Lord’s favor.’ So I felt obligated to offer the burnt offering” (13:11c,12).
This particular instance should remind us of Aaron and the golden calf. In that situation, Moses had been on Mt. Sinai for quite some time. “When the people saw that Moses delayed in coming down from the mountain, they gathered and said to him (Aaron), “Get up, make us gods that will go before us. As for this fellow Moses, the man who brought us up from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him!’” (Exodus 32:1) Like Samuel, Moses was delayed. Aaron, as we know, responded poorly, acceding to the wishes of the people and fashioning a golden calf. It is not difficult to imagine that members of his army were applying the same type of pressure to Saul as well, saying “Samuel’s late. We don’t know where he is. The battle is upon us. We do not want to be subjugated. Make the sacrifice.” This, of course would be no excuse, as we can see with Aaron. What did Aaron say to Moses? For all practical purposes, he voiced the same words that would later come from Saul, saying in essence, “The people had started to abandon me and you didn’t come at the appointed time.” At the end of his life, Aaron would be stripped of his priestly garments and die without entering into God’s full purposes for him. Likewise, Saul would be stripped of his kingship and suffer the same fate. For both, exodus turned to exile.
Turning to the book of Numbers, we recount the story of the spies that were sent into the promised land, in order to bring back a report to God’s people. When they did so, the majority report was “We are not able to go up against these people, because they are stronger than we are!” (13:31b) It is said that they “presented the Israelites with a discouraging report of the land they had investigated” (13:32a). In response, “all the community raised a loud cry, and the people wept that night. And all the Israelites murmured against Moses and Aaron, and the whole congregation said to them, ‘If only we had died in the land of Egypt, or if only we had perished in this wilderness!’” (14:1-2) Though in the midst of exodus, they spoke longingly of returning to exile. In the end, their response committed them to a state of exile from the true exodus that was their entrance into the promised land. In response, Moses was instructed by God to inform the people “You will by no means enter into the land where I swore to settle you… as for you, your dead bodies will fall in this wilderness, and your children will wander in the wilderness forty years and suffer for your unfaithfulness, until your dead bodies lie finished in the wilderness” (14:30a,32-33). This was the language of exile, as Moses turned their words of dying in the wilderness back upon them.
Upon hearing such things, the people produced a natural response. The next morning, pretending as if nothing had happened and God had not spoken the words of re-exile through Moses, they committed themselves to bringing about their own exodus, in further defiance of God, saying “Here we are, and we will go up to the place that the Lord commanded, for we have sinned” (14:40b). Moses replied to this by saying, “Do not go up, for the Lord is not among you, and you will be defeated before your enemies… Because you have turned away from the Lord, the Lord will not be with you” (14:42,43b). This sounds remarkably similar to what we see with Saul, the Amalekites, Samuel’s words of Saul’s rejection as king, and his response to those words. Just as Israel said, “we have sinned,” so too did Saul. Just as Moses told the people that the Lord was not going to go with them, so did Samuel say the same thing to Saul (though he would later return with Saul so as to execute Agag). Just as Moses told Israel that they had turned away from the Lord and that the Lord would not be with them, so too did Samuel tell Saul that he had rejected the Lord, and that the Lord had rejected him. Just as Israel was cursed with forty years of additional wilderness wandering, it would not be long before Saul would be subjugated by “an evil spirit from the Lord” (16:14b).