We’ve been studying the bible chronologically this year, and we’ve covered a lot of ground. God desires a relationship with man, but Adam sinned against the Lord and was cast out of the Garden of Eden, demonstrating man’s fallen nature.
God continually reaches out toward man, but man continues rebel. Cain slew Abel. Men were so evil, the Lord flooded the earth and began again with Noah. The Lord promised Abraham his children would be as numerous as the stars, but Abraham got impatient and slept with his maid. Jacob was thrown into a well and sold into slavery, and the Lord reached out to rescue His people from Pharaoh through Moses.
And the people wandered in the wilderness until the unfaithful generation died off, then the people enter the Promised Land and begin the cycle that Chris taught about last week – rebellion leads to ruin, leads to repentance, leads to rescue, then repeat.
II. God’s Word about a King
All the way back in Deuteronomy, Moses gave the word of the Lord to the people that the day will come that they will need a king. Deuteronomy 17:14-20,
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,” be sure to appoint over you a king the Lord your God chooses. He must be from among your fellow Israelites. Do not place a foreigner over you, one who is not an Israelite. 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 Lord has told you, “You are not to go back that way again.” He must not take many wives, or his heart will be led astray. He must not accumulate large amounts of silver and gold.
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. 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 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.
In other words, the king should not build an army of horses which may give the people a false sense of security, nor build wealth. He wasn’t to have multiple wives so as not to turn his heart from the Lord. In short, this king was to be chosen by God from the people and lead by example of how to be a model follower of Yahweh.
III. The People’s Word about a King
So in 1 Samuel 8, the people finally ask the prophet Samuel for a king. The Lord tells Samuel this is a bad idea – a king will take their sons and make them join the military, he will force them to serve the king with weapons and food and the best of their flock and their grain and the people will become slaves. And the people will cry out to the Lord to be saved, but the Lord will not answer.
The people’s response? “All the cool nations have kings, we want one, too!”
Samuel: “What about Deuteronomy 17, about a humble king chosen by God?”
The people: “Pfft.”
The people wanted a king for all the wrong reasons, a king to lead them and fight battles. The Lord pointed out to Samuel that the people were turning from their true, heavenly King to a human king. But like so often happens between us and the Lord, I mean, between Israel and the Lord, the Lord gave them what they wanted, not what they needed.
The people chose Saul to be their king. Not because Saul was devout, or humble, or obedient to the Lord. No, the people chose Saul because he looked good. 1 Samuel 9:2 says,
Kish had a son named Saul, as handsome a young man as could be found anywhere in Israel, and he was a head taller than anyone else.
Instead of being the model servant of God, the people chose the man on the cover of the Israeli GQ magazine.
Well, like I said last time I taught, if you can’t be a good example, then try to be a horrible warning. What did Saul do wrong as Israel’s first king? And if we study Saul as a horrible warning, what lessons can we draw that would help us live as good examples?
IV. Failure to Follow God’s Commands
First, Saul fails to follow all of God’s commands. In 1 Samuel 15, the Lord has put Saul in charge of punishing the Amalekites. Who were the Amalekites? We have to go all the way back to the Exodus era in Exodus 17 to understand who the Amalekites are. They’re one of the many -ites that trouble Israel over the centuries. The Amalekites, the Amorites, the Canaanites. The Meteorites. The Snakebites. The Parasites. The Kryptonites. Oh and the Off-whites.
So the Israelites, led by Moses out of Egypt through the Desert of Sinai, are attacked from the rear by the Amalekites who are killing women and children that are straggling at the rear of the line. You may recall Joshua led a battle against the Amalekites while Moses held his hands in the air. Moses’ arms get tired so his arms are held up by Aaron and Hur. Joshua wins that battle, but our God isn’t pleased that while leading His people to freedom that they are attacked. In Exodus 17:14-16,
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.”
Moses built an altar and called it The LORD is my Banner. He said, “For hands were lifted up to the throne of the LORD. The LORD will be at war against the Amalekites from generation to generation.”
God’s justice will remove the Amalekites and blot out their memory. Anybody here know any Amalekites?
So after Israel asks for a king, God chooses their king Saul to wipe out the Amalekites; 1 Samuel 15:1-3,
Samuel said to Saul, “I am the one the LORD sent to anoint you king over his people Israel; so listen now to the message from the LORD. 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. 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.'”
The time for justice to be delivered to the Amalekites has come, but listen to how Saul carried out these instructions in 1 Samuel 15:7-9 –
Then Saul attacked the Amalekites all the way from Havilah to Shur, to the east of Egypt. He took Agag king of the Amalekites alive, and all his people he totally destroyed with the sword. 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. (April 13th, pg. 402)
In 1100 BC, capturing the king during a war meant riches for the winner. The king could be ransomed off for a handsome profit. And it would be a shame to kill all the animals, too, when there were so much better uses for them.
God sent a clear command to Saul through Samuel to completely wipe out the Amalekites and King Agog as an act of judgement. Completely, in their entirety, leaving nothing. Instead of obeying the Lord’s command, Saul keeps the spoils of war for himself.
Saul displayed a key character flaw during his time as king: he failed to fully obey the commands of God. Saul had a habit of listening to God’s commands, and only following them halfway or sometimes not at all. If Saul thought that he knew better than God, then he would do as he pleased. Saul did this multiple times in key moments of his rule over Israel. This disobedience from Saul grieved the heart of God so much so that God began to regret ever allowing Saul to become king over Israel.
Before we judge Saul too harshly, every one of us is tempted to disobey God. There are many times that the commands of God and the teaching of Scripture will seem inconvenient, untenable, or unpalatable to us. I see it in the news and it grieves me when entire churches decide which of God’s laws are acceptable and which ones are optional. When we come across a truth from God that doesn’t make sense to us, we become tempted to either ignore it or only partially obey it. We do this at our own risk. God’s laws are not given to us to be restrictive or to make life difficult, but they are given to protect us, to help us thrive and become the people that God made us to be. When we ignore God’s laws or pick and choose which law we will obey, it leads to destruction and pain for ourselves and those around us.
V. Giving Praise to Ourselves instead of to God
The second character flaw that Saul exhibited was his pride instead of humility. Saul believed it was all about him. In 1 Samuel 15:10, the Lord tells the prophet Samuel that the Lord is grieved because Saul didn’t carry out His command to wipe out the Amelekites, so Samuel goes to see Saul. Let’s see what Saul is up to, 1 Samuel 15:10-12,
Then the word of the Lord came to Samuel: “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.
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.” (April 13th, pg. 402)
Samuel went to Saul find out how the battle with the Amalekites ended. Samuel found out that Saul had won the battle and then built a monument to himself instead of worshipping God. Saul awarded himself a participation trophy.
We get another glimpse into Saul’s character flaws as a leader. Not only did Saul not fully obey the command of the Lord, but he also had the gall to build a monument to himself after his disobedience.
Saul’s priorities were not with following the Lord or honoring Him. Instead, Saul wanted to lift himself up to increase his own esteem and notoriety in the world. Saul was overtaken by the deadliest of sins: pride. Saul’s role king made him think that he was more important than anyone else in the world, and it is clear from his actions that he actually thought himself more important than God. His first instinct was to do what he wanted to do and to have people honor him. Saul wanted to worship himself instead of the God who gave him every good thing in his life.
Pride and self-importance are perhaps the deadliest traps for any of us who find ourselves in a place of leadership. A true leader looks to the best of others and seeks to accomplish the task at hand. An ungodly leader uses his status to elevate himself above others.
This trap lies in wait for any of us. Why do we serve? The bible has specific warnings to teachers who elevate themselves and who like to hear themselves talk, but the warnings are applicable to anybody who serves. If we serve because we think we will gain the recognition and approval of others, then our service to the Lord actually offends the Lord. Jesus tells us the same thing in Matthew 6:1-4,
“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.
“So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”
In other words, it’s not about you. We must all learn to walk in humility and do everything possible to avoid the trap of pride.
VI. Failing to Acknowledge Mistakes
Does Saul have any other character flaws we can learn from? I’m glad you asked. Remember, the Lord’s instructions to Saul were to utterly destroy the Amalekites. Leave nothing. And instead, Saul captured King Agog and kept the best livestock as spoils of war to make himself rich. In 1 Samuel 15:13-15 –
When Samuel reached him, Saul said, “The LORD bless you! I have carried out the LORD’s instructions.”
But Samuel said, “What then is this bleating of sheep in my ears? What is this lowing of cattle that I hear?”
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.”
Or in other words,
Samuel: So Saul, did you obey the Lord? Did you destroy all the cattle?
Saul: Why yes, I did. Completely.
Saul refused to acknowledge or take responsibility for his disobedience to the Lord. First, he told Samuel that he had obeyed the Lord, and he said that he only kept the animals in order to sacrifice to God. Saul’s denial is a form of “partial obedience.”
But did Saul obey? Saul is in denial about his obedience. “The Lord bless you, I have carried out the Lord’s instructions,” he says. As Christians today, we have specific instructions, too. But partial obedience is the same as disobedience.
If you told your child to do the dishes, how many dishes would he have to do for you to consider him to be obedient? One? Ten? Or all of the dishes?
How faithful does a spouse have to be to be considered faithful? Most of the time?
The scripture says we are to abstain from sexual immorality. And yes, that includes weekends.
Scripture says God hates gossip. God says we are to be patient. God says we are to be kind. God says to forgive one another. Not occasionally, not sometimes, not unless we have a good excuse, but all of the time.
Samuel’s question to Saul – if you obeyed, why do I hear cows? – is a telling one. First Saul denies he was disobedient, then Saul justifies to Samuel that partial obedience is more than enough. 1 Samuel 15:20 –
“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.”
That last sentence is almost incoherent. I obeyed except when I didn’t. The Lord said to destroy the Amalekites; Saul said of course he destroyed them except their king.
But you know what? If we want to live a godly life, if we want God’s blessings to flow, if we want to avoid sabotaging God’s plan for our lives, we will read the scripture, we will put on the whole armor of God daily, we will do our best to be obedient without excuse. We all have Amalekites of sin in our lives. Yet, too often, we believe that we can pick and choose among God’s instructions, and then we act as though God should be appreciative of the bits and pieces that we do. God defines obedience as total obedience. We obey mostly, but we leave entire Amalekite kingdoms of sin in our lives.
Colossians 3:5-6 says –
Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming.
When Samuel further confronted him, Saul then shifted the blame to the men who fought with him, saying that they kept the animals. 1 Samuel 15:21,
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.
Saul thought he could appease the Lord by giving Him sacrifices, and then when that explanation didn’t fly, he decided to blame those under his leadership. Worse, he claims his disobedience is actually for the Lord’s benefit. But if we are not careful, we can blame our own disobedience on others. I did obey the Lord, but the soldiers didn’t do right. I had this great plan to serve the Lord, but somebody else messed it up. Of course I made a covenant with my spouse for better or worse, but you don’t know my spouse. Of course I can forgive my friend as soon as she asks for forgiveness. Sometimes we even blame God. I lost my temper, sure, but God made me that way.
This disobedience is literally the oldest trick in the book. Adam blamed his disobedience on Eve. “It’s her fault!” And the Eve blamed it on the serpent. The serpent, of course, didn’t have a leg to stand on. But we cannot blame our own disobedience on somebody else. God will see through that every time.
I was recently reminded that this temptation to avoid taking responsibility and lay blame on others is ever present. Last week, I returned from a business trip to Japan. It was almost entirely business, but the weekend did have its benefits.
But eventually it was time to return, and that morning, I was responding to last-minute emails since I would be traveling for the next 14 hours or so. Then I shutdown, pulled the power plug (I always do that first since I read that is the most common thing left behind at hotels) and put it in my backpack.
Diane asked for some last minute assistance, a lidocaine patch for her shoulder to minimize pain on the return trip, and I was happy to help. Then grab our bags, then catch a taxi, then transfer to an airport bus, then the airport ticket counter, then customs and immigrations, then security. And if you have a laptop, you have to take it out of you bag for separate screening.
Imagine my shock when I opened my bag and there was no laptop. Did somebody somehow steal it? No, it was in my possession the whole time. I looked in every section of the bag, and resisted the urge to check even the tiny pockets on the side that were too small anyway.
I called the hotel, who transferred me to housekeeping, who confirmed I had left my laptop in the hotel room. Nothing that a dozen emails over the weekend and a credit card charge for a $200 to DHL couldn’t fix. Definitely not a laughing matter, but my laptop was returned to me within the week.
But when I told co-workers – and in a situation like this, you *must* tell co-workers, unless you can explain why you’re just sitting at your desk and staring at a blank wall for the next 3 days – I was surprised at some of the reactions. One person bluntly told me I should try to keep it a secret and not let anybody know I made a mistake. That never even crossed my mind, I never claim to be mistake free. I only claim to learn from my mistakes. I’m pretty sure I’ll never leave a laptop behind again.
But when they asked me why I left it behind, I found I was tempted to say it was because I was distracted. I was out of my routine. I was helping my wife. I felt the urge to find an excuse. Certainly those things were true, but the mistake was entirely mine, and the right thing to do was to own up to it. To be that horrible warning.
Saul, as our horrible warning today, first tried to claim he was obedient. And when that explanation didn’t fly, he threw others under the bus. If he failed, Saul reasoned, it was because of others.
God expects better of us. God wants our heart. 1 Samuel 15:22-23, Samuel tells Saul what God thinks of Saul’s disobedience:
But Samuel replied:
“Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices
as much as in obeying the voice of the LORD ?
To obey is better than sacrifice,
and to heed is better than the fat of rams.
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.”
In the life of Saul, we see an example of someone who wasted the opportunities given to him by the Lord. Saul had all the natural tools to successfully lead the people of God, but he failed because he did not obey the Lord. But we can use Saul as an example of a horrible warning because we are all capable of ignoring the Lord. God has a calling for each one of us, and if we are obedient and trusting and loving, then we can experience fulfillment and joy. However, if we are stubborn, selfish, and disobedient to the Lord, then we will lose our way and our walk with Him, just as Saul lost his opportunity to be a successful king of Israel.
Look to the Lord for His guidance, trust in His leadership, and be obedient to His Word.
To God be the glory.