We never need to be taught how to rebel, it comes very naturally, and we seem to spend our whole lives trying to avoid obedience and submission, if not outwardly, than certainly inwardly. We want to do what is right in our own eyes.
The only thing worse than a people who do whatever is right in their own eyes are rulers who do whatever is right in their own eyes and ignore God’s clear instructions.
Saul had started out well, but in chapter 15, we see how he lost the blessing of God upon his life.
There are warnings for all of us who are tempted to rebel, to fight against God, and would rather do things our way than His.
1 – The Danger of Minimising God’s Judgement v. 1- 9
There is no denying the start of this section is a difficult one for us to look at. God commands the complete destruction of a people group. (15:3).
This is a hard topic, and one we would either usually skim over, dismiss, or misunderstand, all of which would be to our detriment. It is a key issue for many opponents to Christianity, in that they say that God commanded genocide.
That God commands the complete destruction of the Amalekites is clear.
Why would God command such a thing?
The reason given to Saul is that the Amalekites opposed Israel when they came up out of Egypt (v2). Exodus 17:8-16 gives the record of what they had done, so all of Israel to know this day was coming, their enemy would be defeated forever, blotted out from memory.
They were the archetypical enemy of God and His people all through the OT. Even in Esther, the name of Agag comes up again, as Haman is revealed as descendant (Esther 3:1).
Isn’t this just ethnic cleansing?
“To modern ears, this sounds alarmingly like ethnic cleansing.
But this is ethical cleansing rather than ethnic cleansing.
This is an act of judgement against sin.
Destruction will come to the Amalekites not because they are Amalekites, but because they are sinners.
In a sense, this should alarm us. Not because it is unfair, but because it is fair; and because while we are not Amalekites, we are sinners.
Their destruction is a picture of what humanity deserves, and faces, from God.
When judgement comes, nothing – nothing – is left.”
– Tim Chester
“If we are inclined to minimise divine judgement, it is perhaps because we are inclined to minimise human sin.” – Tim Chester
This was Saul’s problem. He did not see the seriousness of what the Amalekites had done, so he did not take seriously the command to execute judgement on them.
God’s judgement is never ‘half done’. It must be satisfied, and He must be obeyed.
2 – The King Who Excused Himself v. 10-34
It would seem initially that Saul obeyed God fully, as the Amalekites are defeated (v7), but it is revealed that he had spared Agag, as well as best livestock (v8).
The Lord tells Samuel that He ‘regrets’ making Saul king, and Samuel is sent to confront Saul.
Saul is brazen enough to say he has ‘performed the commandment of the Lord’ (v.13), but Samuel is neither fooled nor deaf. He can hear the evidence of Saul’s lie (v14).
From the start of human history, we have been tempted to doubt the word of God and the necessity of our obedience.
If you’re more worried about your reputation than you are your sanctification, you will never accept criticism or rebuke from God’s appointed leaders in your life, or more ultimately, His direct Word.
All you’ll have left are excuses.
Saul’s excuses start coming in thick and fast.
Look at what I HAVE done.
Saul effectively says, “Yes, I didn’t do ALL that God said, but I did MOST of what He said!”(v20).
We excuse our sin on the basis that we have not sinned in ‘worse’ ways. We think things like, “Yes, I got angry, but at least I didn’t hit anyone”.
We add up our good against our bad, and think we stack up ok, but partial obedience is disobedience.
Everyone else does it
Saul blames the people (v21). Finger pointing began in the garden, and we’re just as proficient at as Eve and Adam were.
“I got angry, but he said….”
“I lusted, but she…”
“I lied, but they…”
It’s amazing how nothing is ever really our fault when our inner lawyer takes over.
It seemed the right thing to do
Killing all those animals seemed like such a waste when they could be used to sacrifice to God (v15). It is when God’s Word doesn’t make sense to us that we should examine our hearts. Our sense will never trump God’s Word.
I did it for God
Yes, I technically may have sinned, but my motives were good. I did it for God, really.
We gossip and say it’s because someone should know the truth.
We purposefully manipulate others and say it’s so God’s Will can be fulfilled in their lives in ways only we can see.
We end relationships and leave churches on bad terms because, ‘God told me to.’
“God does not need us to break his laws in order for his will to be done.” – Tim Chester
I was afraid of other people
Saul’s final excuse for not obeying God was he was fearful of other people. (v24).
Fear of others is no justification for sin.
When we don’t fear God, we will be afraid of everyone, always second guessing whether they love us, respect us, like us, and we will not be wise.
What all of these excuses do in light of God’s direct commands is question His authority.
Most disobedience is not an absolute defiance, but a nibbling away at the edges of God’s authority – Eugene Peterson
We start to think we know better than God, and we end up cursing ourselves.
Saul failed not just in not obeying God, but in justifying his disobedience.
God weighs our actions, so proud, self-justifying talk is pointless as a defence against the God Who knows all things. ( 1 Samuel 2:3).
3 – What God Delights In v. 22-23
Samuel’s words to Saul are well known.
That ‘obedience is better than sacrifice’ is something we quote often,mostly out of context.
We look at obedience as something we can see. When someone disobeys the law, they are punished. When they obey, they are not punished. Modifying our behaviour has visible benefits, even just in a social sense.
But obedience to God is never just a matter of outward behaviour modification.
Behaviour modification without a heart motivation change never leads to lasting change, or worse still, only make a change for the worse.
Samuel’s challenge is that obedience to God can only come from a heart submitted to the Will and Word of God. That is a change that works from the inside, out.
Rejection of God’s Word is a rejection of God Himself.You can choose the path, you cannot choose the consequences. If you reject Him, knowing His judgement, you are without excuse.You choose your own rejection when you choose to reject God.
You may sacrifice much in the name of God, but if you’ve only done it out a manufactured repentance that only lasts as long as people are looking your way, you haven’t done anything for God’s glory really. Many will say “Lord, Lord, did we not”…but God doesn’t know them. (Matthew 7:21-23).
The faux repentance Saul had in v24-29 is revealed in that he still wants public honour before men, even though he has dishonoured God in such a public way (v.30). His heart was not tender.
The fact also that he still tries to change the mind of God, without wanting to change his own, shows that although God will not coerce us, we so often think we can coerce Him.
It is hard to resist the temptation, especially when we suppose that we are doing something special for God, to expect special favours from God, and on occasion, to use forms that are virtually equivalent to theological blackmail…A God who can be coerced is not much of a God. – Eugene Peterson
Samuel may have given in to Saul’s begging to go back with him, but Samuel’s main action is to finish what God had commanded. (v32-33).
When we are confronted with our sins, our first impulse is to defend, to justify ourselves.
We are always usually first concerned with our standing before men.
When we are not grieved by our sins, we will dismiss warnings and the coming consequences.
Saul was more concerned with appearing honourable before the elders than he was with grieving over his sins. Samuel did that for him (v35).
If we will not mourn over our sin, God will mourn over us.
Does God change His mind? (v.11, 35b)
It was Saul that had changed, not God. God alters His own actions ( from our perspective) in order to be consistent with his character. Because Saul had failed to obey, God responded by giving him the consequences of his sin.
Though evil and flawed men seek power and seem unaccountable, God will raise up His chosen king. (1 Samuel 2:10).
God had another king in mind, one who would not be outwardly good-looking, surrounded by approving people, tall, strong, and mighty in battle. He had someone ‘smaller’ in mind. Someone who was so obscure, they would forgotten by their own father, spurned by their own brothers, and face battles far more terrifying.
How long will you mourn over failed leaders, relationships, kings, politicians, failed plans?
Thankfully, in Jesus, we have a king Who obeyed God fully, completely satisfying His judgement for sin.
We have a King Who not only obeyed fully, but Who was Himself, the sacrifice.