LESSON 6 - 1 Sam. 15:7-15, 22-23 - THE KING'S DISOBEDIENCE
INTRODUCTION: Last week, in 1 Sam. 12:12-22, we covered the installation and confirmation of Saul, the Benjaminite, as the first human king of Israel. From a purely human perspective-tall, dark, and handsome, a man of both godly character and a commanding personality-he seemed to be the ideal choice. Although God called Saul to be their king and commanded Samuel to anoint him, we saw there were still two sides to this transaction: (1) that the people were getting the human king they wanted; but (2), in fact, God was giving them a king to represent Himself, not them-that whatever authority the king exercised came from Him solely. The underlying principle was that, despite the fact that they now had a human king, that nothing had changed in the covenant relationship between God and Israel; and God made it clear that people who trust human government rather than God are, in fact, rebelling against God. Do you see that? The final point we learned was that God didn't choose Israel as His people because they deserved it but chose them out of His mercy "on account of His great name"-God had chosen Israel before time began to administer His Divine Plan for the redemption of all mankind. Although God's blessing (or curses) on Israel would depend on their obedience to their Covenant, on a higher level, they would depend on His will in relation to His plan to redeem the whole world. Even after Israel ceased to exist as a theocratic entity, we know that God will restore them in the end-times (Ezek. 34-37; Dan. 8; and Rev. 11 and 12). It's all connected.
This week, in 1 Sam. 15:7-15, 22-23, we'll study the beginning of the what will eventually become the end of Saul's kingship over Israel, a process that actually transpired over a period of nearly 20 years. This is a lesson about obedience to God's commands. The major point we learn from it is the critical importance of obeying God's instructions down to the smallest details, without any kind of variation from them whatsoever. For Saul, it was a detailed order issued to him through God's prophet, Samuel; for you and me, it is what God commands us to do according to the precise instructions given by His Word.
Read 1 Sam. 15:7-9 - SAUL DEFEATED THE AMALEKITES...BUT
7 Then Saul defeated the Amalekites, from Havilah going toward Shur, which is east of Egypt. 8 He captured Agag the king of the Amalekites alive, and completely destroyed all the people with the edge of the sword. 9 But Saul and the people spared Agag and the best of the sheep, the oxen, the more valuable animals, the lambs, and everything that was good, and were unwilling to destroy them completely; but everything despicable and weak, that they completely destroyed.
v. 7: "Then Saul defeated the Amalekites, from Havilah going toward Shur, which is east of Egypt." - Scholars estimate that Saul had been king for several years when these events transpired. Verses 1-6 report that Samuel went to Saul with a mission God gave him to "totally" destroy the Amalekites, a process known as a "ban" (Heb. herem), when God deems a people to be so wicked that they should be removed from the face of the earth. The ban allowed no prisoners and included the destruction of all their animals and property. God previously vowed to do this when the Amalekites had attacked and ravaged the Israelites on several occasions in the past (Ex. 17, Num. 14, Judg. 3, 6 and 7).
v. 8: "He captured Agag the king of the Amalekites alive, and completely destroyed all the people with the edge of the sword. " - Saul started off right: He defeated Amalekites as a military threat and killed the people on the battlefield "with the edge of the sword," then he vacillated, taking their king, Agag, as a prisoner. This was his first mistake. Bible scholars explain that "Agag" was actually a title for Amalekite kings, like Pharaoh of Egypt. Then In second mistake, the Israelites only killed the Amalekites they encountered in battle and allowed others to escape, insofar as 1 Sam. 27 reports their reappearance later. Scholars believe that the Israelite soldiers became so preoccupied with taking the spoils of the battle, that they failed to chase down fleeing survivors. This was a sserous oversight in Saul's leadership of his army.
v. 9: "But Saul and the people spared Agag and the best of the sheep, the oxen, the more valuable animals, the lambs, and everything that was good, and were unwilling to destroy them completely;" - The word "spared" underscores Saul's disobedience; it directly disobeyed God's command through Samuel to "spare nothing," not a single person or animal. When Saul refused to obey God's command, the Israelites holy war against their historic enemy degenerated into a frenzy of plundering the best animals and "everything that was good." It was Saul's responsibility, as king, to prevent this very kind of thing-plundering of spoils typical in ancient warfare-from happening.
v. 9b: "but everything despicable and weak, that they completely destroyed." - This was an insult to God: instead of giving everything to God as the "ban' prescribed, they profaned Him by giving Him only what was considered "despicable and weak." Strike three for Saul's obedience.
Read 1 Sam. 15:10-15 - I REGRET THAT I HAVE MADE SAUL KING
10 Then the word of the LORD came to Samuel, saying, 11 "I regret that I have made Saul king, because he has turned back from following Me and has not carried out My commands." And Samuel was furious and cried out to the LORD all night.12 Samuel got up early in the morning to meet Saul; and it was reported to Samuel, saying, "Saul came to Carmel, and behold, he set up a monument for himself, then turned and proceeded on down to Gilgal." 13 So Samuel came to Saul, and Saul said to him, "Blessed are you of the LORD! I have carried out the command of the LORD." 14 But Samuel said, "What then is this bleating of the sheep in my ears, and the bellowing of the oxen which I hear?" 15 Saul said, "They have brought them from the Amalekites, for the people spared the best of the sheep and oxen to sacrifice to the LORD your God; but the rest we have completely destroyed."
vv. 10-11a: "Then the word of the LORD came to Samuel, saying, 11 "I regret that I have made Saul king, because he has turned back from following Me and has not carried out My commands." - This verse is tricky. When God issues a command to a person, the law of freewill applies, which means he or she (Saul in this case) is on probation until such time as the command is either performed or disobeyed. So, when Saul disobeyed early-on, God experienced "regret"; He was saddened that Saul had failed Him. At the same time, however, God is not saying He made a mistake, because He foreknew that his purposes for Israel-to be a light to the nations and redeem a lost world-would ultimately be carried out by someone else. We need to understand that from this point, God has written-off Saul's dynasty in Israel, even though he would remain king for many more years. In fact, God, will anoint a new king-David-while Saul still holds the office (see 1 Sam. 16 generally).
v. 11b: "And Samuel was furious and cried out to the LORD all night." - All of Samuel's well-laid plans, all of his careful work and planning reported in the last three chapters, have all come to nothing. So, he's "furious." Who is he furious with? Everyone, including God, but especially at Saul.
v. 12: Samuel got up early in the morning to meet Saul; and it was reported to Samuel, saying, "Saul came to Carmel, and behold, he set up a monument for himself, then turned and proceeded on down to Gilgal." - Samuel learned that Saul had gone Carmel (see map), a journey of several days. He was told that Saul, apparently very self-satisfied after the battle, had gone up on a mountaintop to build a monument to himself-apparently oblivious to the damage he's done to his relationship with God. As one commentator put it, Saul was zealous for himself, but lukewarm for the LORD. And Saul going to Gilgal next is ironic: it's the same place where Saul's kingship had been confirmed but will now be a place where he will be rejected by God.
v. 13: "So Samuel came to Saul, and Saul said to him, "Blessed are you of the LORD! I have carried out the command of the LORD." - Here we see Saul greet Samuel with due respect and even expects approval to be forthcoming with the boast, "I have carried out the command of the LORD!" Have you ever worked with someone on a project who told you, "I'm done," only to find that they had overlooked or skipped many details? And when asked about, they say, "Oh, was that little thing important?" In terms of following instructions, Saul had performed what we could term a "halfway job," and sadly, this is the way many Christians keep God's commandments. In Saul's mind, taking the enemy king captive as a trophy and keeping the spoils of the battle were emblems of his victory. He had allowed being king go to his head; he even built a shrine to himself. He became self-righteous.
v. 14: "But Samuel said, "What then is this bleating of the sheep in my ears, and the bellowing of the oxen which I hear?" - Samuel is referring to the sound or 'voice' and the sheep and cattle that Saul spared from slaughter. Metaphorically, Samuel is saying, in effect, "How come I can hear the voices that are crying out your disobedience?"
v. 15: "Saul said, "They have brought them from the Amalekites, for the people spared the best of the sheep and oxen to sacrifice to the LORD your God; but the rest we have completely destroyed." - Notice first that Saul says "the people spared..." Despite being king, despite being the battlefield commander, Saul shifts the blame to the "people," with the further excuse that they did it so they could use them to make sacrifices to the LORD. It's likely they intended peace offerings, where they would burn-up specified parts for the LORD, but eat the rest-an enormous barbeque (see Lev. 3).
In vv. 16-21 (skipped), Samuel summarily rebuts all of Saul's excuses by reiterating God's precise instructions to "completely" destroy the Amalekites and emphatically asked him, "Why then did you not obey the voice of the LORD? (v.19).
Read 1 Sam. 15:22-23 - HE HAS REJECTED YOU FROM BEING KING
22 Samuel said, "Does the LORD have as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices As in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than a sacrifice, And to pay attention is better than the fat of rams. 23 For rebellion is as reprehensible as the sin of divination, And insubordination is as reprehensible as false religion and idolatry. Since you have rejected the word of the LORD, He has also rejected you from being king."
v. 22a: "Samuel said, "Does the LORD have as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices As in obeying the voice of the LORD? " - The point Samuel makes is the LORD doesn't need sacrifices; no, the people needed to make sacrifices so they can atone for their sin and draw near to God. Obeying God's Word overrides everything, so that sacrifice without obedience is worthless.
v. 22b: "Behold, to obey is better than a sacrifice, And to pay attention is better than the fat of rams." - Samuel is saying that flagrant disobedience to God's express command-i.e., failing to pay attention in this case-cannot be wiped away by any type of sacrifice, even "the fat of rams."
v. 23a: "For rebellion is as reprehensible as the sin of divination, And insubordination is as reprehensible as false religion and idolatry." - "rebellion," as defined here is the equivalent of rejecting God or denying that He's all-powerful, which is apostasy; and "insubordination," the refusal to follow orders, is no better than worshiping a false religion or idolatry. Disobedience is in fact idolatry, because it elevates self-will into a god. Saul idolized himself with a monument.
v. 23b: "Since you have rejected the word of the LORD, He has also rejected you from being king." - This is God's conviction and sentence: Saul is rejected as King of Israel. He continued to serve as a political king until his death in a battle that also claimed his four sons and effectively terminated his lineage as a king of Israel (1 Chron. 10:1-5).
APPLICATION-The Consequences of Disobedience
1. Partial obedience to the Word of God amounts to disobedience. God's orders to Saul were unambiguous: to "utterly destroy" every man, woman, child, and animal of the Amalekites, a judgment known as a ban. (1 Sam. 15:3). By taking their king prisoner, keeping their best animals, and allowing many to flee, Saul failed to obey the voice of the LORD. By doing this, He failed as a servant of God and as a leader of his people.
2. Serving and giving is never an acceptable substitute for obeying the World of God. In today's lesson, Samuel made the point that offering the animals spared from destruction as sacrifices did in no way offset Saul's sin of disobedience in allowing them not to be destroyed in the first place. Very simply, obedience to the Word of God is primary and everything else is secondary.
3. Disobedience to the Word of God represents rebellion. In today's lesson Saul effectively rebelled against God when he failed pay attention and disregarded the details of God's command. Moreover, it also amounted to idolatry, because Saul has elevated his self-will over that of God. Many Christians do this today when they intentionally or negligently fail to obey God's commandments as expressed in His Word-the Bible.