SAUL: The Lost Man

Saul rips Samuel's robe

1 Samuel 15

Last time we looked at Saul, we discovered that he was, in his heart, a disobedient man.  He disobeyed the plain word of the Lord given to him through the prophet Samuel.  In chapter 13 we learned the high price he paid for his disobedience:  he would be denied a dynasty.  Nevertheless, Saul was still Israel’s king and God was not eager to withdraw His favor from His king.  Such is the Lord’s “lingering grace,” which gives the stubborn a little more time for repentance.  Saul would be given one more chance to show himself faithful to God.  Sadly, with chapter 15 Saul’s decline would be complete and irreversible; he was denied his dynasty in chapter 13, and now he will be denied his kingship.

Let’s consider—

1.  Saul’s clear mission, verse 3

Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy everything that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.

Samuel was sent with a message from the Lord to King Saul.  God’s patience had finally run out for the wicked, warlike Amalekites and He would choose Saul as His instrument to completely destroy them, as prophesied as far back as Exodus 17:8—16.

The Lord’s order to Saul was to not spare anything or anybody.  The Hebrew phrase (charam cherem) is somewhat complex but literally means “to put under the ban.”  It is usually used of people and objects that have been set aside as God’s personal property, either to be used of Him or destroyed by Him in an act of judgment.   It is a powerful phrase which to our modern sensibilities is difficult to fathom.  It is a concept that could be used to describe radical surgery performed by a skilled surgeon to prevent the spread of a malignant cancer.

This was no ordinary war; Israel was expressly commanded to take no booty, and all living creatures were to be killed.  This was to be a complete judgment of God upon an evil, godless race of people who were a blight on planet earth and a threat to the continued existence of God’s chosen people.  What a solemn responsibility Saul had been entrusted with!  God, as the sovereign owner of all He has created, may choose animate or inanimate objects to execute His will over His creation.  Sometimes, God had used earthquakes and storms to benefit His people or to judge them.  This time He will use Saul to deal with the Amalekites.

Neither personal feelings nor human reason should stand in the way of fulfilling God’s will and purpose.  When God tells us to do something, we must obey to the letter His command, not embellishing it with our ideas and reasoning.  If God should tell us to walk on the water, we need to be prepared to do just that.   If God should tell us to sell all we have and give the proceeds to the poor, we must obey that command, no matter how strange it may seem to us.  To not obey the word of God is to show Him the highest form of contempt.

2.  Saul’s disobedience, verse 9

But Saul and the army spared Agag and the best of the sheep and cattle, the fat calves and lambs—everything that was good. These they were unwilling to destroy completely, but everything that was despised and weak they totally destroyed.

The express command of God was to spare nothing, but Saul spared a lot.  He allowed his feelings and his eyes to determine his action and his level of obedience.  Saul allowed his natural instincts as a shepherd, and as a dealer in cattle, to overrule the direct command of God, which no doubt made no sense to Him all; he spared the very best, but destroyed the weak and useless.

How easy it is to give God the things we don’t want and to keep the best for ourselves.  God was not at all pleased that Saul partly obeyed; do you suppose God will accept our partial obedience?  Do you suppose God will accept the weak and the useless from us, even as we keep the best for our own purposes?  To partially obey is to disobey and whenever self-interest is allowed a place in our service to God, we are faithless and open to His rebuke.

3.  Saul’s lame excuses (more of the same), verses 13, 15 20, 21

When Samuel reached him, Saul said, “The LORD bless you! I have carried out the LORD’s instructions.”

Saul answered, “The soldiers brought them from the Amalekites; they spared the best of the sheep and cattle to sacrifice to the LORD your God, but we totally destroyed the rest.”

“But I did obey the LORD,” Saul said. “I went on the mission the LORD assigned me. I completely destroyed the Amalekites and brought back Agag their king.  The soldiers took sheep and cattle from the plunder, the best of what was devoted to God, in order to sacrifice them to the LORD your God at Gilgal.”

This singular event was Saul’s final probation; he had been warned many times before and repeatedly came up short.  It is quite possible that verse 11 is about the saddest verse in all of Scripture—

“I am grieved that I have made Saul king, because he has turned away from me and has not carried out my instructions.” Samuel was troubled, and he cried out to the LORD all that night.

The Hebrew for “grieved” is nacham, meaning “to sigh,” “to be sorry,” “to rue.”   It does not mean that God somehow changed His mind about Saul, as some have suggested.  God does not “learn” about us nor does God have to “adjust” His thinking toward us.   God interacts with human beings all the time and His reactions to what we do show that God is absolutely coherent in his thoughts and He is never caught off guard.  That is, we can predict how He will react with certainty if we act in a dishonoring manner or if we act in way that pleases Him.  The difference between God and human beings is that when we act we often have no idea what the unintended consequences of that action will be.  However, God does.  Our actions never catch Him off guard, and so He never has to change His mind about us.

Walter Kaiser:

God can and does change in His actions and emotions towards men so as not to be fickle, mutable, and variable in His nature and purpose.

God was broken hearted that Saul disobeyed, and Samuel’s reaction was a mirror reflection of how God was grieving.

When the prophet finally met up with Saul after Saul had erected a monument of his victory, the excuses came flowing out of Saul like wet cement.  Like the crowing of the rooster when Peter denied his Lord, so the bleating of the sheep mocked the Word of the Lord to Saul.  To make matters worse, Saul insisted that he had been obedient. Once again, he thought that partial obedience would be good enough for God.

It is pitiful when we, like Saul, justify our sins of disobedience when confronted.  But how many of us are masters of self-deception?  How many of us have actually convinced ourselves that partial obedience is good enough?   How many believers have deluded themselves into thinking they are “right with God” because He hasn’t sent a plague on them or struck them dead?   Galatians 6:7 is a frightening verse—

Do not be deceived:  God cannot be mocked.

You will reap what you sow; if you continually sow seeds of disobedience, you will reap what Saul is about to reap.  God is predictable in how He deals with disobedient sinners.  And God knows your heart, like He knew Saul’s.  We can’t delude Him.

If Saul had only obeyed, how different things would have been.  But most of us are about as reliable as Saul was.  Complete obedience is so hard.  Some Christians think complete obedience is impossible.  Is it really impossible?  Not according to this verse—

For the eyes of the LORD range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him.  (2 Chronicles 16:9)

That is all God wants from any of His children:  a full commitment.

4.  Saul’s “confession,” verse 24

Then Saul said to Samuel, “I have sinned. I violated the LORD’s command and your instructions. I was afraid of the people and so I gave in to them.

The more Saul spoke, the more his heart was revealed.  He was right to confess that he sinned; he had been caught.  But then the secret came out:  He feared the people, and the fear of man did him in.

Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is kept safe.  (Proverbs 29:25)

How many believers never accomplish anything for God because they fear what man will think?

  • I’m afraid to witness to my friend because I don’t want lose his friendship.
  • I don’t go to church because it might make my wife mad.
  • We don’t say grace in restaurants because it’s embarrassing.

We, who think things like this, need to pay heed to what the Lord said to the prophet—

“I, even I, am he who comforts you.
Who are you that you fear mortal men,
the sons of men, who are but grass.”  (Isaiah 51:12)

The child of God is clothed in the armor of God, but so-called Christians with no backbones are cowards.

The LORD is with me; I will not be afraid.
What can man do to me?  (Psalm 118:6)

5.  Saul’s final rejection, verse 26

But Samuel said to him, “I will not go back with you. You have rejected the word of the LORD, and the LORD has rejected you as king over Israel!”

According to Luke 9:26, to reject God’s Word is to be rejected of God—

If anyone is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.

Saul’s so-called confession and so-called repentance was too little to late.  Verse 27 shows the violence in Saul’s heart—

As Samuel turned to leave, Saul caught hold of the hem of his robe, and it tore.

The arrogance of the man!  The tearing of the robe dramatically illustrated the loss of the kingdom.  But God’s ever-faithful prophet had the last word—

Samuel said to him, “The LORD has torn the kingdom of Israel from you today and has given it to one of your neighbors—to one better than you.   (verse 28)

Of course, that neighbor was David.  Just as “obedience is better than sacrifice” so David was better than Saul.  How ironic that Saul “was better” and “without equal” when God first called him?  Saul’s downfall was his doing; he was his own worst enemy.

Verse 29 says more about Saul’s character than it does about God’s—

He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie or change his mind; for he is not a man, that he should change his mind.”

Everything good about God was nowhere to be found in Saul.

It is possible to be a Christian, full of the Holy Spirit, yet not live the kind of life that glorifies God and brings honor to His Name.  It is possible to be a Christian but live in disobedience to the revealed Word of God.  But be warned:  such believers live in danger of becoming lost at any moment; shipwrecked on an island of sinful isolation from the body of Christ, a stumbling block to the rest of us and an offense to God.  Someone once wrote:

There is line by us unseen,
That crosses every path;
The hidden boundary between
God’s patience and His wrath.

How close are you living to that line?

(c)  2009 WitzEnd

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