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Almost, But Lost (1 Samuel 15)

Series: 1 Samuel (The Coming King)

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ (Matt. 7:21–23 ESV)


Do you ever get the feeling like some of the things God tells us to do aren't that big of a deal? Maybe the instruction is only mentioned once or twice. Maybe it seems to be an odd instruction. Maybe no one else around you actually practices this instruction. It's not that you don't obey the LORD. But this instruction doesn't seem quite right, so you cast it aside.

Israel had been enduring hundreds of years of the "dark ages" because of sin, but they had a king that was trusting God and conquering their enemies. And it seemed that God was finally going to deal the final blow to Israel's ancient enemies and bring them into a new golden age. In our account today Saul almost obeys God completely, but yet again caves to pressures and makes the very mistake we are talking about... and as a result, Saul and Israel lose so much.


The Story (1 Samuel 15)

Samuel came to Saul and told him, "Remember, Yahweh sent me to anoint you as king over his people; now, listen to the words of Yahweh: I remember what Amalek did when Israel left Egypt. Now, go and strike Amalek destroy everything they have - when you destroy everything, it will be an offering to Yahweh. Don't spare them. Kill man, woman, child, infant, ox, sheep, camel, and donkey."

God calls Saul and Israel to be the executors of divine justice, and it's not easy to read. How could God tell Saul to do such a thing? First, as followers of Yahweh, we are agreeing to trust and obey Yahweh's voice whether or not it makes sense to us. Second, there is never anything easy about the few times God tells Israel to do this - it is awful - and yet, there is logic here. Amalek descended from Esau, so they were brothers with Israel. They showed they had no fear of God nor respect for people when they attacked Israel on their way out of Egypt. Now, they have had 300 years to think on it and amend their ways... and they are no different. Samuel describes them in verse 18 as "sinners- "and before he kills King Agag, Samuel describes him as one who has made women childless. Amalek has been producing snakes for hundreds of years and God is ready to end that now. Third, it isn't easy, but if God didn't destroy them completely, but continued allowing Amalek to make women childless, what kind of God would he be?

And so Saul jumped into action. He summoned 219000 soldiers and they slew every Amalekite they saw. Except king Agag. But they killed many of the animals, except of course the good ones. They destroyed everything that was worthless in Amalek.

The word of Yahweh came to Samuel," I regret making Saul King. He has turned back from following me. He has not performed my commands. "And Samuel was... angry. He cried to the LORD all night about it. Samuel went to Saul the next day and Saul said, "I have performed the command of Yahweh.'" To which Samuel replied, "Oh yeah? If you listened to tahueh's voice, why do I hear the voice of sheep and the voice of oxen in my ears?"

Saul blamed the people, "They are the ones - they took them to sacrifice to Yahweh your God... but the rest we did destroy!" Samuel had heard enough. "Stop! The Lord told me what happened. Though you are small in your eyes, are you not the head of the tribes of Israel? The Lord anointed you king and thetas sent you on a mission to destroy those sinners-the Amalekites. Why didn't you obey the voice of Yahweh? Why did you pounce on the spoil?"

Saul replied a second time, "I have obeyed Yahweh's voice. I have gone on the mission the Lord told me to go on. I have spared Agag, but I destroyed everyone else. The people took the best of the spoil to sacrifice to Yahweh!" That sounds pretty good, right? Let's be honest, we know the story so we know it is wrong, but if it were us, would we see any different from Saul?

So Samuel shoots it straight to Saul and to us: "Does the LORD love sacrifices more than when you obey his voice? Look! Obedience is better than sacrifice, To listen is better than the fat of rams. Rebellion is as bad as witchcraft, Arrogance is the same as idolatry. You have rejected Yahweh's word, so he has rejected you as king."

Finally, Saul admits, "Okay, I have sinned. I disobeyed the command of the Lord and your voice. I feared the people and obeyed their voice. Alright, now, pardon my sin and return with me to bow before the Lord." But Samuel refused and as he walked away Saul grabbed his robe and it tore. So Samuel turned and said, "The LORD has torn the kingdom of Israel from you and given It to your neighbor who is better than you. The Glory of Israel will not change his mind - he isn't like people who lie and have regret."

And yet, Saul seemed to still not grasp the gravity of what he had done, so he said, "I know I sinned, but come and honor me before the elders and then we can go worship together." But — though our English translations give the sense that Samuel went with him - Samuel turned from Saul. He would not worship the Loris with this man.

Now, King Agag thought he had escaped death, and he said cheerfully to Samuel, "Surely, the bitterness of death is past!" But Samuel retorted," As your sword has made women childless, so shall your mother be childless," and he hacked A gag to pieces as an offering to the LORD. And Samuel left. He never saw Saul again (until after he died). But Samuel grieved and grieved over Saul. And God regretted Saul.



One of the clearest contrasts in Samuel is between David and Saul. As God seeks to establish his own kingship in Israel to protect and care for them, David will later show himself to be more willing to bow before the LORD and correct his sins. About 5 years ago when we looked at 2nd Corinthians 7, we also considered this chapter and distinguished godly repentance from worldly repentance. Feel free to listen to that sermon to reflect more on that subject.

Yet, what struck me more this time was not how poor Saul's repentance was, but this question: why did he disobey in the first place? And why does he seem to genuinely not see why Samuel is so upset here? Saul's mistake here does not come from someone who appears to our eyes to have completely rejected God's voice, and yet, that's how Samuel treats him. If we explore what led Saul to this, I think we will be able to uncover some subtle areas of serious danger in our own lives.


Why does Saul not get it? Why is he not upset like Samuel?


1. Because he did mostly obey God's command.

The text says they devoted all the people to destruction. And they devoted nearly every­thing else to destruction in Amalek. No, they didn't get it all done, but they put in a good day's work. And Saul seems to be genuinely confused-saying twice that he DID obey God's voice. Why? Because he did 90% of what God said. When we obey 90% of what God tells us to do but decide in our hearts that he will be okay with that, God says," too have rejected my voice." And yet — this should alarm us: our minds more naturally say," I have obeyed his voice, get over it, I only left out a little."

It may be tough to understand God here, so let's step into his shoes for a moment: you hire someone to paint your house, they spend hours upon hours sweating and painting and then they tell you they have completed the job. You walk in to find they painted the whole house, but didn't edge in. We would be incredulous! Why is it tough to see God feels the same way? Maybe it's because our will seems a little more important than his.


2. Because he disobeyed in favor of extra service to God.

Saul says it twice in verses 15 and 21 and he seems to be genuinely confused at Samuel's reaction: don't you understand that the people spared the best of everything in order to sacrifice them to the Lord at Gilgal? Samuel, God, you should be a little more appreciative of what we have done here. But note Samuel's reply in us. 22," Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams." God says, "I want you to listen carefully and obey more than all the extra sacrifices," and yet, I think somehow our minds are drawn to not believe him. Yes, I know I didn't do this, but look at what I have done!"

  • It reminds me of what Jesus said in Matthew 7:22-23, “Did we not prophesy in your name and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?” 
  • If we ask someone to paint our house grey and they fail to paint the edges, it doesn't help if they painted large pink poka-dots and added an accent wall in each room.
  • We may make great sacrifices, give a lot, serve a lot, cross the sea preaching or serving, and even exercise miraculous gifts for Christ's honor, but if we disregard God's law - if we are lawless - it changes nothing.


3. Because he feared people more than God.

Saul had some fear of God-otherwise he wouldn't have gone on this mission at all. And yet-whether Saul is telling the truth or not-he said this whole thing was the people's idea, and he went along with it because he feared their voice. It is the same thing both Adam and Aaron did. (Later, asked Samuel to honor)

Part of the challenge here is to us when we have some form of leadership - notice vest. Maybe you are a father or a mother, a husband, a teacher, a deacon, an elder or an evangelist - wherever we have been appointed over people, this can be a real challenge. Who likes telling people-your kids or your chords:" this isn't right"? There is a need for humility when leading people. And yet, when the people in or care are disregarding God's instructions, God has put us in this position to stop them from doing what is right in their own eyes. He has put us here because that's what people will do. We will stay on the right track when we fear God more than people.


4. Because he didn't recognize the gravity of his sin.

Even after Saul admitted what he had done, he seemed to think an apology was good enough to allow him to return to worship the LORD. That's because he didn't let Samuel's words in vs. 23 sink in. We might think idolatry and witchcraft are the worst one can do... Samuel says that what Saul did here, quietly and arrogantly ignoring God's voice, was just as bad.

Oh, that we would classify sin in the way God does-it would help us fear him more. Then we would see that it is less about what we did and more about whether we were consciously thinking little of God's words. Rebellion and arrogance-presuming we know better... it is as idolatry.


5. Because he didn't see the longterm consequences of his sin.

I always thought Saul did most of the job here, but after this, you keep finding the people of Ama lek and Agag causing trouble. In 1 Samuel 30, we find they took a bunch of women, children, and possessions captive from a city in Israel. And that's just the start. God's command," Destroy them all, "seemed merciless because we don't understand... what is merciless is to keep the sinners alive and allow them to wreck havoc on God's world.

Speaking of longterm consequences, why is Samuel so upset? (15:11, 35, 16:1) Probably many reasons. Remember, the Israel Samuel grew up in was a dark place where the leaders of the people gave no need to the voice of Yahweh. As a result, God destroyed Shiloh, God's glory departed Israel, and Israel was plunged into darkness and affliction for years. Remember, Samuel went into this king thing unwillingly - he had judged Israel righteously for decade upon decade... Seeking righteousness, turning the people toward Yahweh continually. Yet, Yahweh told him to obey the voice of the people and to make Saul King. Now, as an old man, he is seeing the same kind of disregard for God's voice that he saw as a child, the same disregard that plunged Israel into darkness, the same darkness he worked to bring them out of. But there may be even more here. Back in Numbers 24:17-24 — Balaam had prophesied that one from Israel would rise, exercise dominion, and crush the enemies of Israel-including Moab, Edom, and A male K. It's possible Samuel thought he would anoint the king who would do all that. Now he has to grapple with the reality that he would not yet see the future he hoped for. So, yeah, he's upset. He is probably upset with God that things have gotten to this point; upset with Saul for disobeying; upset for what this will mean for Israel. To make matters worse, Saul is jovial and doesn't grasp what his sin has done.


Some people partially obey, partially disobey God thinking that it effects no one and that the people at the church or abroad don't really care. I can't say the speak for everyone, but I can speak for myself and anyone else here who prays "your Kingdom come": it is really discouraging. And yet all our hope is renewed when that same person turns to confess, "I haven't respected God's voice as I ought to.”


And so Samuel was discouraged, but what he didn't know is that he really would - in the very next chapter anoint the king who would crush these enemies, a king whose son world usher in a new age of peace and prosperity and trust in God that Israel had never seen. And though that age went into disarray because of sin, John the Baptist has baptized and proclaimed good news of the true king, the true son of David who always listens to God’s voice, the one who-at his second coming - will not spare the unrighteous and who will usher in the age and world to come permanently. Just as Samuel and John faced discouraging times, we will too - we are living in between this age and the age to come - but we have assurance by the resurrection of Jesus that God's promises are certain. They are yes. He will be faithful. They will continue, no matter what knuckleheads like Saul do. Let us carefully respect God's voice as he speaks to us through Scripture. Let us endure until the day when our faith becomes sight.

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