Partial Obedience is still Disobedience

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Partial Obedience is still Disobedience

Anyone who has children knows what partial obedience is. We can send our children to clean their rooms and they come out after a couple of minutes and say it’s all done. When we check, we find they’ve taken all the stuff off the floor and thrown them into the cupboard; and that’s their idea of cleaning. The Lord gives us commands to obey. We think that we can just obey part way and the Lord will be happy. In this section of salvation history Saul discovered the hard way that the Lord doesn’t want partial obedience. Saul had become the king of Israel by God’s choice, but was struggling. From a militarily perspective he was courageous and successful, but in terms of godly character, he was a disaster. Why am I saying this: Friends consider his fearful impatience in chapter 13 that led to sin, and what about that foolish oath in chapter 14, now the coup de grâce [final blow] here in chapter 15! Walk with me through this passage.

The Orders (verses 1-5) God was not vague in His command. God called Saul, very specifically, to destroy the Amalekite nation. Notice three references to “the Lord” in verses 1-2. Hebrew YHWH, the unpronounceable name of God. Samuel said: “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.” Everything that made up this nation was to be destroyed, all the way down to the smallest animal. This was fulfilment of a promise God made hundreds of years earlier. We find this promise in Exodus 17:14 (NIV) “Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Write this on a scroll as something to be remembered and make sure that Joshua hears it, because I will completely blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven’.”

What was so bad about the Amalekites? We find the answer to this question in Deuteronomy 25:17-19: “Remember what the Amalekites did to you along the way when you came out of Egypt. 18 When you were weary and worn out, they met you on your journey and cut off all who were lagging behind; they had no fear of God. 19 When the Lord your God gives you rest from all the enemies around you in the land he is giving you to possess as an inheritance, you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven. Do not forget!”

These people had not given the Israelites help when they were travelling from Egypt to the Promised Land of Canaan. The Lord waited until they had conquered the land of Canaan and established a king before He sent them on this mission. The orders were plain. We might think it’s cruel of God to have all the people of a nation killed, but the Lord knew what the descendants of this nation would do in the future if they stayed alive (Esther 3:1). God, then, was more merciful to cut off the offspring of a rebellious nation than to allow them to continue to reproduce. They had passed “Redemption Point.” In any case, God knows every detail, and we can only guess at why He commanded as He did, but there’s no guessing as to whether it was the right thing! So God is calling Saul to be the tool through which He fulfils His promise. And Saul raised an army of 210,000 soldiers and began to obey.

The Battle (verses 5–9). Saul went to the valley outside the city of Amalek. He told the Kenites to leave the area before the battle because they had treated the Israelites well when they came out of Egypt. The Kenites left. Saul killed some of the Amalekites, but he took the king of the Amalekites, Agag, captive. They also saved the best of the sheep and other animals “… and were unwilling to totally destroy them. But everything despised and worthless, that they totally destroyed.” They didn’t obey the command. They saved the best of the animals and the king of the Amalekites.

The Road of Disobedience is a Deviation
They took a detour. [French word = “to turn aside”] According to verse 9, Saul decided to spare 1 man (Agag the king) and once that decision was made it was easy to decide to spare the best of the animals as well. But why? Friends, they argued with the command of God because it clashed with what they valued. They detoured into disobedience, led astray by a wrong value system. They placed their assessment of temporal values over trusting God’s value system and obedience to God’s value system

The Confrontation (verses 10–23). God told Samuel to go to Saul. He told Samuel that He greatly regretted making Saul king, because he has turned back from following God (verse 11a). It grieved Samuel so much that he cried to the Lord all night (verse 11b). Samuel rose early in the morning and went to Saul. Saul and Samuel’s conversation provides an excellent lesson for us. It teaches us that the road of disobediences is often littered with potholes of excuses.

The Road of Disobedience is littered with Excuses

But we must remember that “an excuse is the skin of a reason packed with a lie.” In our book, an excuse is a gaping reasonable pothole packed with a lie.

1 Samuel 15:9, 15-21 (NIV) 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…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.” 16 “Stop!” 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; make war on 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.”

God revealed the problem to Samuel in 1 Samuel 15:11 (NIV) “I am grieved that I have made Saul king, because he has turned away from me and has not carried out my instructions.”  Do you hear God’s assessment: “Saul has turned away…has not carried out…” however, when Samuel confronted Saul, Saul claimed innocence. Look at verse 15: “It wasn’t me ...the soldiers did it!” Yet, when we read verse 9 we find that Saul was included: “Saul and the army”. So Saul’s first excuse was a blatant lie. But dear friends even if it was true, we have to ask Saul who the commander was? Is it not true that in an Army the head of the army makes the decisions?

Saul’s second tier of defence was that the motive of the soldiers was admirable: “... they spared the best of the sheep and cattle to sacrifice to the Lord”... (Verse 15) He thought that this was such a good argument that he repeated it a second time: “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.”  Verse 21

Maybe that was true, maybe not, however, either way; it doesn’t matter, since that was not God’s explicit command. That’s not what God was looking for. Verse 3 records clearly what God demanded: “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.” And in verse 16 it is repeated again: “Go and completely destroy those wicked people, the Amalekites; make war on them until you have wiped them out.” After stating the mission Samuel asked Saul: Why did you not obey the Lord?

Friends, are you not utterly amazed by Saul’s response? “But I did obey the Lord!” verse 20. In his own mind Saul thought that he did pretty well! However, if we consider the original instructions in verse 3 and compare that with what they did. God said: “Destroy the Amalekites and everything that belongs to them”. Saul and his soldiers were unwilling to destroy completely – they spared Agag and the best of the sheep and cattle. On what grounds does he claim obedience? Saul claimed to have kept God’s command by winning the battle. What Saul didn’t acknowledge is that God wasn’t interested in who won; God was interested in His will being done! Saul reinterpreted God’s command to fit him.

Friends, disobedience often takes the form of reinterpretation of the original command. There is only one plausible reason for Saul’s argument: Saul really believed that partial obedience is the same as obedience. However, order to do so he had to reinterpret God initial command. Listen to Saul’s mind grinding: “I killed everything weak and despised that belonged to Agag. I completely destroyed the Amalekites and brought back Agag their king.  Everything that was good I didn’t destroy completely.” Saul thought “If I obey God 90% then I am obedient.”

But that’s not what God had in mind! God didn’t want Saul to complete this mission only partially! Successful completion of the mission required the total destruction of the Amalekites. God didn’t ask for anything else. Anything else would have been a failure. Saul had to learn that partial obedience is still disobedience.

What about us? Are we any different? Is it not true that we too, quite often, reinterpret God’s mission to us? Is it not true that like Saul we often desperately fill in the potholes of our disobedience with reasonable lies to keep our way smooth? When we have to make up excuses for our behaviour; blaming others, or the situation, we are on the road of disobedience.

The Road of Disobedience is sealed with the bitumen of Fear

1 Samuel 15:24-26 (NIV)
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. 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!”

When we read these verses superficially, it seems that Saul finally “quits” making excuses and confesses his wrongful acts in verse 24 and that his plea for forgiveness in verse 25 is genuine. Is it? I invite you to look again. Do you see, even here his confession is not confession in the true sense of the word. No, it is the classic confessional excuse; “I was afraid of the people – so I give in to them!” is this kind of confession acceptable to God? Do you still remember the parable of the talents? In Matthew 25:25 (NIV) the third servant told admitted that he did the wrong thing. His excuse was: “I was afraid and went out and hid your talent in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’ Because he was afraid he disobeyed. And what was the consequence?

Here in his final attempt to confess Saul did the same: his excuse with which he wished to justify his disobedience was still just that – An excuse! “I was afraid of the people,” Excuse me! Who is the king? Who is in charge? Who lays down the law?

This reminds me of a story I read: Sir Leonard Wood once visited the King of France and the King was so pleased with him he was invited for dinner the next day. Sir Leonard went to the palace and the King meeting him in one of the halls, said, “Why, Sir Leonard, I did not expect to see you. How is it that you are here?”“Did not your majesty invite me to dine with you?” said the astonished guest.“Yes,” replied the King, but you did not answer my invitation.Then it was that Sir Leonard Wood uttered one of the choicest sentences of his life. He replied, “A king’s invitation is never to be answered, but to be obeyed.”

Do you secondly observe that Saul did not explain why he was afraid of the people? Was he afraid they would kill him, was he afraid they wouldn’t like him, or was he afraid that they wouldn’t listen to him? Maybe underneath that fear of the people, was a fear that he could not control the results of his actions if he obeyed the Lord completely. If this is the case, what does this tell us about Saul’s relationship with God?

But there is a third aspect that we can miss very easily: Whose forgiveness did Saul seek? In verse 24 he finally admitted: “I have sinned. I violated the Lord’s command and your instructions.” Yet in the very next verse we find the crux of his plea: “I beg you, forgive my sin and come back with me, so that I may worship the Lord.”

Did you pick it up? He didn’t ask for God’s forgiveness! He was only seeking Samuel’s forgiveness! This shows that Saul still didn’t get it. Just listen what happens in true confession and repentance.

Psalm 38:1-4 (NIV) “O Lord, do not rebuke me in your anger or discipline me in your wrath.  For your arrows have pierced me, and your hand has come down upon me. Because of your wrath there is no health in my body; my bones have no soundness because of my sin.  My guilt has overwhelmed me like a burden too heavy to bear.”

Psalm 51:1-5 (NIV) “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me.  Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are proved right when you speak and justified when you judge. Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.”

Do you see the difference? The one [David] appeals to God the other [Saul] appeals to the prophet! This shed light on their relationships with God. David had an intimate relationship with God – Saul didn’t!

Saul’s inability to acknowledge his disobedience before God reveals a major flaw in Saul’s relationship with God. Saul didn’t trust God. Saul trusted his own instincts more that he trusted God!

Friends, there is no doubt in my mind: obedience requires trust, and fear is the enemy of trust! But the road of disobedience is paved with the bitumen of fear; a smooth, quiet surface that stills our fear with quick solutions that involve a little disobedience but promise great results. I have no doubt in my mind that Saul was truly sorrowful, filled with remorse, but I have also no doubt that Saul’s confession was not a true repentance. Although he acknowledged that he acted wrongfully, he believed that his explanation showed that under the circumstances his wrong behaviour was justified. However, that was not the case. God was not buying his excuses or his alleged fear.

God was looking for a man who trusted Him and Saul failed this test. Saul was so rebellious and arrogant that he failed to see his own faults and quickly passed blame to others. Saul tried to justify his disobedience with human reasoning. This led to his destruction Look at the results that came from this act of disobedience:

      God appointed the 16 year old David as king

      The Spirit of God left Saul

      Saul was tormented by evil spirits.

      Saul spent 16 years chasing David instead of fighting Philistines.

      He consulted the occult

      The tried to kill his son

      He was defeated in battle, his son killed got killed and he committed suicide.

What a sad end to a man that would not, could not trust God, but was driven by fear.


This historical account in the history of Israel has a lesson for us to learn. The Lord has not changed between Testaments. He is the same. He wants us to obey His commands on a regular basis. Samuel compares rebellion against the commands of the Lord with witchcraft and stubbornness against the commands of the Lord with idolatry.

After accepting Christ as our Saviour, we too have to live in a manner that is pleasing to the Lord. That life includes obeying the commands He has given us. Are we obeying the commands we find in the Word of God? Are we attending church on a regular basis? Are we tithing to the Lord on a regular basis? Are we witnessing to others about our Lord on a regular basis? Are we manifesting the fruit of the Spirit to each other on a regular basis? God has mot called us to do whatever we want. No, that is not the route He designed. God has a different route mapped out for us. It is quite simple to describe, but take the Holy Spirit’s power to accomplish. He calls us to stay by faith on the road of obedience – not because we understand it all, or even agree with it all – but because we trust the One who has called us to this life of surrender, of trust, of obedient faith.

Friends, this account in history reminds us that although we have a choice, obedience is not optional!  Those who belong to God obey Him.

Colossians 2:6 NLT And now, just as you accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord, you must continue to live in obedience to Him. Remember: Disobedience brings defeat, discouragement and ultimately death. In contrast the Outcome of Obedience is this:

      It produces peace

      I provides power

      It may be painful; and will cost me something (It cost Jesus His life)

      It brings freedom (Romans 6:16-18)

      It strengthens faith

      Our obedience to God today determines where we’ll be with God tomorrow! One step forward in obedience can alter the course of eternity for you!

Dear brothers and sisters, the Holy Spirit of God is telling us to “do whatever God commands us.” The Lord asks little of us besides obedience. As we read and study the Bible and we spend time in pray, God will give us direction for our life and for our situations. As we obey God’s direction, He will utilize our obedience and turn the ordinary into the extraordinary. Jesus will save, deliver, heal and set free. He will make a way where there does not seem to be any way. You will be blessed in season and out of season. You will be blessed when you come in and blessed when you go out. Jesus will make you the head and not the tail. Do you treasure you relationship with God? Is your heart pastured toward the love for Him and service to the saints? Does the example of Lord Jesus stir you to live for God?

Remember that a vassal’s proper answer to his / her King is obedience. God prices obedience. He delights when His servants willing and humbly choose Him. Why not start today? What area in your life do you need to submit to God? Remember! TO OBEY IS BETTER!  May our wonderful Lord be praised! Amen.

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