Shaul's Sin in Gilgal


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Losing the Kingship

Only a week into Shaul's reign, he loses his kingship for what appears to be a minor transgression. Shaul had been commanded to wait for Shemuel in Gilgal for seven days, at which point the prophet would offer sacrifices (Shemuel I 10:7-8). Shaul waits the allotted time, but Shemuel does not arrive. Since war has broken out against the Philistines and Shaul sees that his army is beginning to desert him, he makes the decision to bring the sacrifices on his own. At precisely that moment the prophet arrives and rebukes him (Shemuel I 13):

(יא) וַיֹּאמֶר שְׁמוּאֵל מֶה עָשִׂיתָ וַיֹּאמֶר שָׁאוּל כִּי רָאִיתִי כִי נָפַץ הָעָם מֵעָלַי וְאַתָּה לֹא בָאתָ לְמוֹעֵד הַיָּמִים וּפְלִשְׁתִּים נֶאֱסָפִים מִכְמָשׂ. (יב) וָאֹמַר עַתָּה יֵרְדוּ פְלִשְׁתִּים אֵלַי הַגִּלְגָּל וּפְנֵי י"י לֹא חִלִּיתִי וָאֶתְאַפַּק וָאַעֲלֶה הָעֹלָה. (יג) וַיֹּאמֶר שְׁמוּאֵל אֶל שָׁאוּל נִסְכָּלְתָּ לֹא שָׁמַרְתָּ אֶת מִצְוַת י"י אֱלֹהֶיךָ אֲשֶׁר צִוָּךְ כִּי עַתָּה הֵכִין י"י אֶת מַמְלַכְתְּךָ אֶל יִשְׂרָאֵל עַד עוֹלָם. (יד) וְעַתָּה מַמְלַכְתְּךָ לֹא תָקוּם בִּקֵּשׁ י"י לוֹ אִישׁ כִּלְבָבוֹ וַיְצַוֵּהוּ י"י לְנָגִיד עַל עַמּוֹ כִּי לֹא שָׁמַרְתָּ אֵת אֲשֶׁר צִוְּךָ י"י.
(11) And Samuel said: 'What hast thou done?' And Saul said: 'Because I saw that the people were scattered from me, and that thou camest not within the days appointed, and that the Philistines assembled themselves together against Michmas; (12) therefore said I: Now will the Philistines come down upon me to Gilgal, and I have not entreated the favour of the Lord; I forced myself therefore, and offered the burnt-offering.' (13) And Samuel said to Saul: '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 for ever. (14) But now thy kingdom shall not continue; the Lord hath sought him a man after His own heart, and the Lord hath appointed him to be prince over His people, because thou hast not kept that which the Lord commanded thee.'

Why is Shaul judged so severely?  After all, he did wait the full week, and only decided to act due to the approaching Philistines and his dwindling army.  Should not such extenuating circumstances, if not totally excuse his actions, at least mitigate the punishment?

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