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 gathered themselves together at Michmash;
Therefore said I, The Philistines will come down now upon me to Gilgal, and I have not made supplication unto the Lord: I forced myself therefore, and offered a burnt offering.
In my quest to answer the question, "What would the Lord have me do?" I naturally was drawn to the story of Saul. Here we see a man anointed by a prophet to be King. Saul actually begins to find some leadership skills following a military victory. But then sins in the Lord's eyes... twice. (Well twice that we know, perhaps more.)
The first, Samuel had told Saul that after seven days he would meet Saul and he offer a sacrifice. He would then instruct Saul how the Lord would have him fight his enemies. But when the Philistines encroached and Saul's army began to flee for safety, Saul feared he cannot wait any longer for Samuel. He took it upon himself to offer the sacrifice, hoping to muster the flagging fighters.
I had always thought that Saul's sin was trying to use Priesthood he didn't hold. This belief was reinforced by the following quote used in both the Old Testament Institute and Gospel Doctrine manuals. (So basically every four years we heard this quote.)
Elder James E. Talmadge taught that "growing impatient at Samuel’s delay, Saul prepared the burnt offering himself, forgetting that though he occupied the throne, wore the crown, and bore the scepter, these insignia of kingly power gave him no right to officiate even as a deacon in the Priesthood of God."
Given this quote it is obvious why I might think Saul's sin was officiating an ordinance he was not authorized to do. But perhaps this wasn't the case. Several commentaries on this chapter point out that the sacrifice could have been performed by an authorized Levite even though the record says Saul made the offering. Saul definitely authorized it, but is this really his great big sin?
If Saul's sin wasn't related to usurping authority, what was it? I think the lesson this Biblical author wants us to take away is that Saul feared man more than God. God would have us not worry about the opinions of man; He wants us to trust Him.
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.
But now thy kingdom shall not continue: the Lord hath sought him a man after his own heart, and the Lord hath commanded him to be captain over his people, because thou hast not kept that which the Lord commanded thee.
It's easy to put ourselves in Saul's shoes. The Philistines were clearly a formidable enemy. He was losing men fast. And Saul was a man of action. I too am sometimes prone to act before thinking through a situation thoroughly.
How else am I like Saul? Do I worry about what man thinks, what my boss, my coworkers, my fellow Saints think, more than what God wants from me?