Extenuating Circumstances

When we want to sin, we will find reasons.  We will convince ourselves that the reasons are valid and that we simply had extenuating circumstances that people must understand.  More times than not, however, there are no extenuating circumstances, there are merely excuses we like to call extenuating circumstances.  To extenuate something means to weaken or lessen, thus an extenuating circumstances lessens or weakens the offense that was committed.  We have our reasons that sound good in our head, but when spoken they tend to fall flat, or even worse, they simply make everyone cringe, like when Aaron told Moses that he was at a loss since Moses was gone for so long the people gave him gold, he threw it in the fire and out popped a golden calf.  That’s cringe-worthy.  Or as I was reading today, King Saul’s excuses masquerading as extenuating circumstances.


A massive Philistine army is about to make war with the Israelites.  Saul’s army is vastly outnumbered, and they are confident that they will lose.  Fear is spreading throughout the Israelite camp and people are beginning to abandon Saul and head home.  Apparently at some point, Samuel, the prophet-priest, told Saul to wait for him.  He would be there within seven days and make a burnt offering unto God.  Seven days came and there was no Samuel.  The troops were abandoning him, Samuel seemed to have abandoned him, would God abandon him too?

The Law

Saul decided he would make the burnt offering.  “So Saul said, ‘Bring me the burnt offering and the fellowship offerings.’  Then he offered the burnt offering,” (1 Samuel 13:9, HCSB).  Besides just being impatient, Saul actually broke the law.  Leviticus 1 designates the practice of the burnt offering.  The burnt offering was considered the most important offering (outside the Day of Atonement). It was to make atonement for sin.  Sometimes it would be used in thanksgiving and sometimes it would be used in crises such as this.  But it was to be done by a priest, not a king.  So in reality, Saul is sacrificing this burnt offering that is to atone for sin but is giving it sinfully.

The Consequences

Samuel showed up immediately after the sacrifice was done and asked “What have you done,” (1 Samuel 13:11, HCSB).  Saul gave his excuse–extenuating circumstances?–“Saul answered, ‘When I saw that the troops were deserting me and you didn’t come within the appointed days and the Philistines were gathering at Michmash, I thought: The Philistines will now descend on me at Gilgal, and I haven’t sought the LORD’s favor.  So I forced myself to offer the burn offering,” (1 Samuel 13:11-12, HCSB).

Saul, according to his excuse (and I’m sure it sounded good in his head) wanted to seek God’s favor and so he disobeyed God!  He forced himself to sin.  I shake my head at the whole idea, but I wonder how often I have done such a thing.  I gave in to my own fears, my own anger, my own doubts, my own passions or lusts, my own “extenuating circumstances,” and thus forced myself to sin.

Saul lost his position as king.  God would have given him a throne that his son and grandson and great-grandson, would sit on, but it was lost because of “extenuating circumstances.”  Saul lost the kingdom.  He also lost his power.  He lost the blessings that God would have given him if he had simply remained faithful.

Having read this, I immediately had to look at my heart and seek to confess my pitiful excuses for disobedience.  Is any sin worth losing out on a blessing from the Most High?  Truly there is not one.   So, “finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable–if there is any moral excellence and if there is any praise–dwell on these things,” (Philippians 4:8, HCSB).

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