The Crown – Season One – Episode 4 - To Obey is Better than to Sacrifice

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Today we will continue looking at life and reign of King Saul, the first king of Israel. Today our text will be 1 Samuel 15 – so get out those Bibles and follow along. Chapter 15 is a sad, sad story. We saw last week that things were not going so well in chapters 11-13. It only gets worse!
Before we get to 15 I want to look at a summary statement made in 14:47-48:
1 Samuel 14:47–48 (NIV) — 47 After Saul had assumed rule over Israel, he fought against their enemies on every side: Moab, the Ammonites, Edom, the kings of Zobah, and the Philistines. Wherever he turned, he inflicted punishment on them. 48 He fought valiantly and defeated the Amalekites, delivering Israel from the hands of those who had plundered them.
On one hand Saul was a good king. He was a good military leader and we will see that again today as he has another convincing victory against the Amalekites. By one measure he was a success. But all these military victories was never the measure for a king of Israel. Let’s look back at God’s vision for a king was in Deuteronomy:
Deuteronomy 17:14–20 (NIV) — 14 When you enter the land the Lord your God is giving you and have taken possession of it and settled in it, and you say, “Let us set a king over us like all the nations around us,” 15 be sure to appoint over you a king the Lordyour God chooses. He must be from among your fellow Israelites. Do not place a foreigner over you, one who is not an Israelite. 16 The king, moreover, must not acquire great numbers of horses for himself or make the people return to Egypt to get more of them, for the Lordhas told you, “You are not to go back that way again.” 17 He must not take many wives, or his heart will be led astray. He must not accumulate large amounts of silver and gold. 18 When he takes the throne of his kingdom, he is to write for himself on a scroll a copy of this law, taken from that of the Levitical priests. 19 It is to be with him, and he is to read it all the days of his life so that he may learn to revere the Lord his God and follow carefully all the words of this law and these decrees 20 and not consider himself better than his fellow Israelites and turn from the law to the right or to the left. Then he and his descendants will reign a long time over his kingdom in Israel.
The primary role of the king was to be a spiritual leader and not a military leader. In fact, it seems like the king is discouraged to build up an army. He is supposed to work hand and hand with the Levites and be an expert in the Law. He is to model a life of humility and obedience. This is what grieved Samuel when the people asked for a king like the other nations. It wasn’t the request for a king, it was the request for a king like the other nations have – a military leader instead of a spiritual leader. Saul seems to be a military leader, but he fails as a spiritual leader, and we will see that all the more in today’s text.
Saul was a good military leader but didn’t provide spiritually for the nation of Israel and he demonstrates that again in our story from 1 Samuel 15.
I’m going to read through this account and pause every now and then to offer some commentary and then we will bring it home with some application for you and me.
1 Samuel 15:1–2 (NIV) — 1 Samuel said to Saul, “I am the one the Lordsent to anoint you king over his people Israel; so listen now to the message from the Lord. 2 This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel when they waylaid them as they came up from Egypt.
Amalek is right in the path from Egypt to the Promised Land. As the Israelites were fleeing Egypt they needed to pass through the Amalek territory and there they met resistance. (Exod. 17:14–16; cf. Num. 24:20; Deut. 25:17–19). You may remember the battle when the Hebrews were winning when Moses had his hands raised. Aaron and Hur stood at either side to help him. These people aggressively opposed the work of God. We might even label them terrorists in today’s language. In the Deuteronomy text Moses reminded the people that his nation need to be eliminated.
3 Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy all that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.’ ”
This is one of the most difficult concepts in the OT – the total destruction of people. This is not the only time. There were others who inhabited the land that God had commanded to be utterly destroyed. If we get a Q&A session in heaven this will probably be in the list of many people.
I won’t be able to resolve all the questions we have, but let’s keep in mind a couple of things as we grapple with this.
· This action limited and not repeatable. Passages like this should not be used to justify violence by believers. This is specific command for a specific time.
· This action reminds us that sin has consequences and that God is a just God.
God does not allow creation-destroying sin to go unchecked forever, as a quick read through the book of Revelation will make clear! God will go out and defeat evil because He is merciful to the plight of the suffering. Moreover, He does not act on a whim or out of an outburst of wrath.
Greear, J. D., & Thomas, H. A. (2016). Exalting Jesus in 1 & 2 Samuel (p. 106). Holman Reference.
This action is to remove obstacles that resist God’s plan. This is not for any personal gain. Everything is to be devoted to Lord. There is no financial gain here.
This is the sort of thing that happens when you set about thinking deeply about God. He refuses to be reduced into neat categories that can be shelved in a person’s mind. He is not a topic to be mastered. He is the Lord who commands obedience, whose ways are never contradictory but are ever mysterious.
Greear, J. D., & Thomas, H. A. (2016). Exalting Jesus in 1 & 2 Samuel (p. 110). Holman Reference.
This command is clear!
4 So Saul summoned the men and mustered them at Telaim—two hundred thousand foot soldiers and ten thousand from Judah. 5 Saul went to the city of Amalek and set an ambush in the ravine. 6 Then he said to the Kenites, “Go away, leave the Amalekites so that I do not destroy you along with them; for you showed kindness to all the Israelites when they came up out of Egypt.” So the Kenites moved away from the Amalekites.
The Kenites were another people group who were sympathetic, even helpful to the Israelites. Moises’ father-in-law was a Kenite. These were good people and given the opportunity to flee from the destruction. Another note, even in these commands of total destruction, people were given the opportunity to join with the Israelites. Rahab from Jericho is a classic example of this.
7 Then Saul attacked the Amalekites all the way from Havilah to Shur, near the eastern border of Egypt. 8 He took Agag king of the Amalekites alive, and all his people he totally destroyed with the sword. 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.
Saul has a victory but doesn’t carry out the command to utterly destroy. We can see trouble brewing.
10 Then the word of the Lord came to Samuel: 11 “I regret that I have made Saul king, because he has turned away from me and has not carried out my instructions.” Samuel was angry, and he cried out to the Lord all that night.
This is another interesting passage – God regrets. The important thing to know here is that God is compassionate. God regrets. Samuel is angry. The only one who doesn’t seem to have any remorse is Saul.
12 Early in the morning Samuel got up and went to meet Saul, but he was told, “Saul has gone to Carmel. There he has set up a monument in his own honor and has turned and gone on down to Gilgal.”
Saul setting up a monument for himself gives us some insight into his disposition. Even his sparing of Agag is motivated by pride. Kings would often capture the king and parade him around publicly to demonstrate to the people of the victory. Saul sparing Agag was not some act of mercy – it was an act of pride.
13 When Samuel reached him, Saul said, “The Lord bless you! I have carried out the Lord’s instructions.”
This is a scary verse. Saul actually has convinced himself that he has been obedient.
These next verse are some of the most well-known verses in the story of Saul and some of the most convicting.
14 But Samuel said, “What then is this bleating of sheep in my ears? What is this lowing of cattle that I hear?”
Saul starts his defense and in typical Saul style has excuse after excuse.
15 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.
Samuel’s response:
16 “Enough!” Samuel said to Saul. “Let me tell you what the Lord said to me last night.” “Tell me,” Saul replied. 17 Samuel said, “Although you were once small in your own eyes, did you not become the head of the tribes of Israel? The Lord anointed you king over Israel. 18 And he sent you on a mission, saying, ‘Go and completely destroy those wicked people, the Amalekites; wage war against them until you have wiped them out.’ 19 Why did you not obey the Lord? Why did you pounce on the plunder and do evil in the eyes of the Lord?” 20 “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. 21 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.”
We come to another well-known section of Scripture:
22 But Samuel replied: “Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the Lord? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams. 23 For rebellion is like the sin of divination, and arrogance like the evil of idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, he has rejected you as king.”
Saul finally comes clean but even his confession seems ungenuine. It’s more that he’s sad that he got caught rather than truly repentant.
24 Then Saul said to Samuel, “I have sinned. I violated the Lord’s command and your instructions. I was afraid of the men and so I gave in to them. 25 Now I beg you, forgive my sin and come back with me, so that I may worship the Lord.” 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!”
Next, we see a striking image of Saul’s decline.
27 As Samuel turned to leave, Saul caught hold of the hem of his robe, and it tore. 28 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. 29 He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie or change his mind; for he is not a human being, that he should change his mind.”
Saul tries to repent again. Too little, too late. Notice also how Saul refers to God as your God rather than my God or our God (cf. vv 15, 21). You really have to wonder about Saul’s relationship with the Lord. Notice also his desire to save face before the people. He seems to more concerned with public persona than personal faith.
30 Saul replied, “I have sinned. But please honor me before the elders of my people and before Israel; come back with me, so that I may worship the Lordyour God.” 31 So Samuel went back with Saul, and Saul worshiped the Lord. 32 Then Samuel said, “Bring me Agag king of the Amalekites.” Agag came to him in chains. And he thought, “Surely the bitterness of death is past.” 33 But Samuel said, “As your sword has made women childless, so will your mother be childless among women.” And Samuel put Agag to death before the Lord at Gilgal. 34 Then Samuel left for Ramah, but Saul went up to his home in Gibeah of Saul. 35 Until the day Samuel died, he did not go to see Saul again, though Samuel mourned for him. And the Lord regretted that he had made Saul king over Israel.
Last week the kingdom was taken from his family. This week Saul himself is rejected. This is the last time Saul will see Samuel until his death. He will continue to serve as king but has lost the support of God and of Samuel.
Sad story, but let’s bring it home to us. This is essentially a story of what not to do!

Saul is an example of how not to obey.

PARTIAL OBEDIENCE IS really only disobedience made to look acceptable.
Arnold, B. T. (2003). 1 & 2 Samuel (p. 220). Zondervan.
He picks and chooses what to obey using himself as the standard rather than the clear command of God. There are some clear commands of God in the Bible that we see are being twisted. And the sad thing is, Saul has actually convinced himself that he is obeying.
Beware! That can happen. You can talk yourself into disobedience thinking you are obeying. That is why it is so critical to be open to the convicting word of God. To examine yourself to see if there are areas in your life where you are partially obedient.

Saul is an example of how we use ritual to excuse sin.

To obey is better than to sacrifice. Saul thinks he can counter the effects of disobedience with sacrifices. The rituals and discipline of the faith are important but they are not a magic potion to cover up sin.
The same could be said for many people sitting in our churches today. God is not fired up about people singing some songs, giving some of their money. What thrills God is a heart that obeys Him. What thrills God is a surrendered heart.
Greear, J. D., & Thomas, H. A. (2016). Exalting Jesus in 1 & 2 Samuel (p. 112). Holman Reference.
I’m glad you are here today but to think you can live however you want and show up to church thinking that covers your sin is no better than what Saul is doing here.
Many people in our churches are giving 90-percent obedience, just like Saul, and are completely at peace with it. Some are cheating on their taxes or cheating on their school exams. Boyfriends and girlfriends are sleeping with one another under the excuse of being truly “in love.” Some people are holding on to bitterness, refusing to forgive someone they know they should forgive. Many have heard a call to ministry or missions but are actively refusing to answer. And all these seemingly small acts of disobedience are just as disgusting to God as blatant worship of the Devil.
Greear, J. D., & Thomas, H. A. (2016). Exalting Jesus in 1 & 2 Samuel (p. 112). Holman Reference.

Saul is an example of how not to confess.

The series of statements made by the king in his defense before Samuel in this passage reveals a pitiable soul who is sorry only that he has been caught.
Arnold, B. T. (2003). 1 & 2 Samuel (p. 221). Zondervan.
He blames others. He rationalizes his actions. He only shows a sign of remorse to try to save face. Saul is a classic example of the worldly sorrow that Paul references in 2
Corinthians 7:10 (NIV) — 10 Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.
This is sad, sad story and I don’t even like to preach it! But it is a reminder and a warning of how we can get off track. Here’s the thing – God wanted Saul to succeed and he wants you to succeed spiritually as well. But success never comes with half-hearted obedience, or ritualistic religion, and a refusal to confess.
Saul shows up in all of us a little. And when we see him we need to be reminded this is going to lead to my fall.
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