The horse is prepared for the day of battle,
But victory belongs to the Lord.
Proverbs are statements of wisdom, they are to be memorized, mulled-over, and digested. You do not read a proverb, you ponder it. Proverbs 21:31 helps us consider preparation versus victory. We consider how a horse is prepared for battle; this is not done in a day, but over a period of years. The day of the battle is the culmination of preparation. This proverb helps us understand that without the Lord, all preparation is futile. Conversely, wisdom suggests that part of preparing for battle is to seek victory in the Lord—if you have a horse to help you in a fight, use it well, but remember the Lord.
Long before our passage today, God chose for himself a peculiar people, a nation that was to be a kingdom of priests. To this people he gave his Law. God’s Law accomplished many things, but preeminently, it reflected his heart “that it may go well with you” (Dt 4:40, 5:16, 33, 6:3, 18, 12:28). God wants things to go well with his people—victory belongs to the Lord.
1 Samuel 13 is a critical juncture in Saul’s reign as king. It is important to understand that, while God wanted to be the sole ruler of the nation of Israel, he understood the fickle hearts of his people. In Deuteronomy 17:14–20, God provided laws concerning a king. In these laws, God commanded that the king should write out for himself a copy of God’s Law (Dt. 17:18) to read and observe all the days of his life (Dt. 17:19). As a horse is prepared for battle, so a king is prepared with God’s Law.
In 1 Samuel 13, we read of the brutal fighting between Israel and the Philistines. While Israel has some victories (13:2–3), the Philistines are poised for an overwhelming counter-attack (13:5). Bearing in mind, also, that the Philistines had prevented Israel from having blacksmiths and, thus, no real weapons (13:19). Only Saul and Jonathan had advanced weaponry, everyone else had gardening tools (13:22).
Saul and his troops were stationed in Gilgal, quivering in the face of the Philistine forces. The last Judge of Israel, Samuel, had told Saul to wait for him there for seven days so that he might offer a sacrifice to the Lord on Israel’s behalf (10:8). After waiting for the appointed seven days, Saul grew impatient and took it upon himself to offer the sacrifice (13:9). In verse 10, the Hebrew word translated “behold” in the NASB and ESV (untranslated in the NIV and NLT), is a storytelling device that adds a bit of drama. Like in a movie, Samuel busts into the scene just in time to catch Saul red-handed doing what he should not be doing, disobeying God’s Law in Leviticus 6:8–13—the Law that he should have copied out by hand and been reading every day since his inauguration.
Saul had no excuse for his actions, but that didn’t stop him from trying to explain it away. He gave two reasons: the people were scattering, and you, Samuel, didn’t come when you were supposed to. This may sound valid to the casual observer, however, if Saul had his handwritten copy of God’s Law, he would read in Deuteronomy 20:4–8 that not everybody should be commanded to fight, and if people wanted to leave, he should let them go. In addition, he had surely heard the story of Gideon, and his army of thousands whittled down to only 300 so that God could show what he could do with only a few hundred people who were severely outmatched (Judges 7:2–8).
Saul, similar to Adam in the garden, blamed someone else for his failure—“You, Samuel, weren’t here;” “You, God, gave me this woman.” For his actions, the blessing of kingship was removed from Saul’s lineage (13:14). As one commentator writes, “It is ironic—and symptomatic of Saul’s spiritual dullness—that the king believed he could obtain the Lord’s favor through an act of disobedience.” (New American Commentary) In an attempt to prepare his “horse” for the day of battle, Saul forgot that victory belongs to the Lord.
By: Tyler Short