Saul Violates Separation of State and Worship
Saul was punished swiftly with termination of his kingdom over Israel when he violated a principle of separation of state and worship. The punishment conveys a promise of God’s intervention to provide relief against a government that violates his principles. He provided principles to guide performance of individual responsibilities in government versus people relationships. Any person (leader or recipient of leadership) that violates the principles will be punished for the violation at a time and in a way of God’s choosing. Therefore, it is important to remain faithful and committed to Godliness even in the event of ‘bad’ government. The people must believe God and rely on him to guide interactions with the government.
The separation of state and worship (see previous study under Separation of State and Worship) introduces two principles in people versus government relationships. First, government does not have authority to regulate worship, therefore, has no role in a person’s relationship with God. Second, God establishes a hierarchy of worship leadership (referred to as the clergy in modern-day societies) independent of state authority. The clergy is self-regulating and determines the training and qualification requirements for its membership. A king (or any other person in rulership position) is not a member of the clergy unless duly qualified by the appropriate regulatory authority.
King Saul violated both principles. He violated the second principle first when he assumed the authority of the clergy to lead burnt offering. He was supposed to wait for Prophet Samuel but “…felt compelled to offer the burnt offering” [1 Samuel 13:12] because he was overcome by fear of the apparently superior Philistine army. He believed that the kingship conferred on him the authority to lead offering, which was a violation of the second principle of separation of state and worship. Samuel rebuked Saul and informed him God will terminate his kingdom because he disobeyed the principle [1 Samuel 13:13–14]: “You have done foolishly. You have not kept the commandment of the Lord your God, which He commanded you. For now the Lord would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. But now your kingdom shall not continue.”
Saul was not penitent after the violation and punishment because he went on to violate the first principle in a subsequent incident. The violation was that he failed to respect clergy independence. He was suspicious of an interaction between David and the priest of Nob, Ahimelek; assumed authority to interrogate the interaction; passed judgment against the clergy; and executed the judgment. On that day, he massacred 85 priests and destroyed their city, having accused one of them of conspiring against him with David [1 Samuel 22:13]: “Why have you conspired against me, you and the son of Jesse, in that you have given him bread and a sword, and have inquired of God for him, that he should rise against me, to lie in wait, as it is this day?”
We discuss Saul’s violation of the principles of separation of state and worship and his punishment for the violation. The punishment was swift and conveys a promise that God will provide relief against a ruler that disobeys his principles. The events provide two lessons regarding people versus government relationships. First, the principles of separation of state and worship are commandments of God. He frowns at any person that disobeys his commandments. Second, God has provided principles to guide performance of individual responsibilities in government versus people relationships. Any person (leader or recipient of leadership) that violates the principles will be punished for the violation at a time and in a way of God’s choosing.