Saul's First MistakeBy Rabbi Jack Abramowitz
Shaul selected 3,000 troops for his standing army and sent the rest of the people home. Shaul’s son Jonathan, looking to provoke a battle with the Philistines, assassinated a Philistine commander. Saul gathered his army in Gilgal, while the Philistines mounted their forces. The people of Israel were massively intimidated by the size of the Philistine army, with 30,000 chariots and endless foot soldiers. Many of the Jews hid in caves, pits and towers. Some even ran to Trans-Jordan. Shaul was instructed by Shmuel to wait seven days for him. When Shmuel didn’t arrive, people started to desert. Shaul took matters into his own hands and offered the sacrifice to G-d. As he was finishing, Shmuel arrived.
Shmuel became angry because Shaul had “jumped the gun.” Shaul had what he felt was the best of reasons, but he didn’t follow the instructions of G-d’s prophet. This was the first step in Shaul losing the kingship. Shmuel informed Shaul that G-d had chosen another to succeed him as king, then he departed. (Shaul followed Shmuel, a fact that is not directly stated, but is evident from subsequent verses.)
Shaul counted what remained of his army and it was only 600 men. Furthermore, the Philistines had kept the Jews from employing blacksmiths, so the army of Israel had no swords or spears. (They had to go to Philistine blacksmiths to sharpen their farm tools.) So things looked pretty bleak, but appearances can be deceiving.