Summary: Those in positions of leadership answer to God. When they desert God and go their own way, God can humble them.
“To Obey is Better” I Samuel 15 -Pastor Bob Leroe, Cliftondale Congregational Church, Saugus, Massachusetts
In John’s Gospel, Jesus explains how to prove our commitment to Him: “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (14:15). In I Samuel 15 King Saul faced and failed this test. In so doing, he revealed his true colors.
In order to understand Saul, we need to appraise his spiritual condition. Was he a believer who suffered moral failure, or was he a person lacking genuine faith? There’s no consensus among Biblical scholars. I tend to see Saul as someone who was not a true believer, who was self-serving, abusing his authority. Those in positions of leadership answer to God. When they desert God and go their own way, God can humble them.
The chapter opens with the prophet Samuel reminding Saul of all God has done for him, verse 1: “I am the one the Lord sent to anoint you king over His people Israel.” God gave Saul his authority, and he is therefore obliged to rule justly. To whom much is given, much is required.
Saul’s been told to “totally destroy” the Amalekites, vs 3, and he is told why; otherwise this command might be seen as overly harsh. God explains, “I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel when they waylaid them as they came up from Egypt.” The Amalekites time and time again violently attacked Israel with unrelenting hostility. They were Israel’s #1 enemy, keeping them from entering the Promised Land. The survival of Israel was at stake. No one in those days had a problem with what sounds to us an excessively harsh order. The total destruction of an enemy was an accepted, standard practice; it would not have jarred the sensibilities of anyone, but it jars ours (E Peterson). Had these heathen nations of Canaan accepted Israel as the rightful owner of the land, an invasion would not have been necessary. There were some who acknowledged the God of Israel as the One Who miraculously delivered Israel from Egypt; they in turn trusted in God, and became part of the Jewish nation.
God also decreed the total destruction of Israel’s enemies because of their utter depravity and potential evil influence on the spiritual life of the Jewish nation. The armed conquest of Canaan became a means of divine judgment on wicked people. These were not innocent bystanders, in the wrong place at the wrong time. However, if God still seems unjust, we need to recall that divine wrath is something we all deserve. If God didn’t punish sin, that would make Him unjust or uninterested in morality. God doesn’t overlook human depravity. We can be grateful that our sins were punished in the Person of Christ upon the cross. When we trust Christ, we receive pardon and forgiveness. The option of forgiveness was offered by the Jews, but the idol-worshipping nations rejected God. To reject God’s mercy renders people without excuse.
One of the many titles of God in the OT is “Lord of hosts”, a military title. The “hosts” refer to armies, with God as their Commander. In the Law of Moses God spells out His expectations regarding wars of conquest, which call for total warfare. Success could only come when the enemy is pursued relentlessly and every military advantage is exploited. Saul was reprimanded for being moderate in his pursuit of combat victory. Saul disregarded God’s clear directives.
Saul went his own way as if he answered to no one; his prime intention in battle was to take all the credit and glory. Verse 12 describes the monument Saul erected to his own greatness, to commemorate a victory that was in fact granted him by God.
If we hadn’t known of Saul’s instructions, we might have commended him for his benevolence…but underneath his façade of mercy was rebellious self-interest. If God had allowed Saul the option to decide how to treat his captured foe, there’d be no cause for Samuel’s rebuke. By sparing king Agag, Saul may have planned to use him as a political hostage, hold him for ransom, or display the king as a trophy of war. This was common practice in those days--defeated kings and generals would be paraded through the streets, then kept as slaves. Saul allowed many Amalekites to escape, and helped himself to the spoils of war. Sometimes disobedience can be doing what seems like a good thing, but which isn’t the thing God wants us to do.
Saul greets the prophet by piously proclaiming in vs. 13, “The Lord bless you! I have carried out the Lord’s instructions.” Samuel looked over at the captured livestock as a witness against Saul. The exasperated prophet counters, “then what is all this bleating of sheep in my ears?” Saul insists that he was only sparing the sheep to offer them in sacrifice to God. He supposed that partial obedience was adequate.