King of the Darkest Night

I. Introduction

We are nearly finished with the Old Testament studies for this year. The Chronological Bible has brought us from the Garden of Eden to our study of Esther today. Through it all, God’s people have continually rebelled against the Lord, but the Lord remains faithful to His people.

But the Lord has continually warned Israel that disobedience leads to captivity, and the people of Jerusalem have been in captivity, primarily in Babylon, but Chris taught us last week about Daniel’s prophecy that the Persian empire is rising. Not to free Israel, but to defeat Babylon in accordance with Daniel’s prophecy. And now the people are in captivity under Persia. But through all this, God has not forgotten His people.

II. Background History

We going to need more than our thirty minutes together to recap the book of Esther. The history, the life lessons, the imagery, the symbology in Esther is amazing. I encourage you to read this story in its entirety to see God’s faithfulness.

We have a movie today to review, full of twist and turns, love and betrayal, good versus evil. There’s a large cast of characters with many conflicting motives. Let’s talk about the book itself. The book of Esther is a historical novella, intended to teach the Jewish people of the history and significance of the feast of Purim. The book is interesting for what it does not mention. It doesn’t mention God, or the Law, or the Torah, or Jerusalem. It’s a story. A story of a simple Jewish girl and her uncle and how they live by faith in a hostile land.

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Both lived in the ancient kingdom of Persia under the king Ahasuerus, probably from 486-465 BC. Persia at this time was huge; the book of Esther, chapter 1:1, says it included 127 provinces. Modern countries which were once part of the Persian Empire include northern Greece, Macedonia, Bulgaria, Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Israel and Palestine, Jordan, Turkey, Armenia, Georgia, Abkhazia, Chechnya, Ossetia regions, Azerbaijan, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Egypt, parts of Libya and Sudan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, parts of Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and parts of Kyrgyzstan.

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That’s a huge swath of civilization. And somehow a simple Jewish girl in exile become the Queen of Persia and saved her people from genocide.

Well, you can’t have a soap opera without a cast of characters.
The good:

Mordecai the Jew. He’s the son of Jair, tribe of Benjamin. He lives in Susa in the center of Persia. The Talmud records his name as Mordechai Bilshan, and he’s also mentioned in Ezra 2:2 and Nehemiah 7:7 as one of the exiles who returned to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple under the Persian king Cyrus. We know that was in approximately 537 BC, which means Mordecai is about 64 years old. Interestingly, the Talmud also lists Mordecai as a prophet who prophesied in the second year of King Darius, and also lists Mordecai as a direct descendant of Kish who is the father of the 1st king of Israel, Saul.

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In Esther 2:7,

“And he brought up Hadassah, that is, Esther, his uncle’s daughter: for she had neither father nor mother, and the maid was fair and beautiful; whom Mordecai, when her father and mother were dead, took for his own daughter.”

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So, Esther is actually Mordecai’s cousin, though Mordecai is the much older of the two, and since he adopted Esther as his own daughter, he’s also her uncle.

We also have Esther who is called Hadassah. She’s a Jewish orphan girl. Esther is her Persian name, Hadassah is her Hebrew name. Mordecai forbids Esther to reveal her nationality and family background, so when she’s around Persians, she’s Esther. She’s described as beautiful and having a lovely figure.

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The king of Persia is Ahasuerus, which is a weird name. Ahasuerus is a Latin word which is derived from a Hebrew word. Other translations begin with a Greek word and is translated Xerxes. Both are right, but since Ahasuerus is so hard to spell and pronounce, I’m going to call him Xerxes.

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Queen Vashti. Traditional Jewish teachings about Vashti describe her as wicked and vain, the great-granddaughter of Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon. She’s married to Xerxes.

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Attendant-guy. He doesn’t actually have a name, unless it’s Harbona from Esther 7:9. But we need him to be an extra in our movie, but he doesn’t get his name listed when the credits roll at the end.

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III. Scene 1, Esther 1. The Old Queen is Vanquished.

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As our story of Esther opens in Esther 1:1, Ahasuerus, I mean Xerxes, is holding a massive celebration. And I mean massive. It is a celebration that last 6 months long. The sole purpose of the celebration was to demonstrate that Xerxes had a lot of money and could party for 6 months. And at the end of the 6 months of partying, Xerxes isn’t done. Xerxes then throws a banquet in an enclosed garden of his palace for his closest friends and advisors. There are wall hangings of the finest linen, couches made of gold and silver, on floors made with marble and mother-of-pearl. And it says in verse 8,

“By the king’s command each guest was allowed to drink with no restrictions, for the king instructed all the wine stewards to serve each man what he wished.”

So at the end of this week long binge, Xerxes is completely drunk. He nudges his friends, “Man, my wife is hot. You guys want to see her? Hey, attendant-guy, whatever your name is, fetch my wife Vashti. Tell her to wear her crown.”

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Vashti is in the palace. She’s been holding her own banquet next door at the same time. The attendant-guy shows up and says to Vashti, “The Great and Powerful Xerxes summons you to the enclosed garden of drunk men. PS. Wear your crown.” Vashti says, “I don’t think so.”

So attendant-guy goes back to Xerxes and says, “Vashti says no.” And the king is mad. He’s furious that Queen Vashti won’t come parade before his drunk buddies wearing her crown. He asks his drunk friends what they think he should do, and they say, She can’t tell you ‘no,’ you’re the king. If this gets out, no wife will ever appear before their husband. On demand. Wearing a crown.”

I’m thinking that week-long drinking binge isn’t the best environment for making serious decisions. It’s clear from the context that Xerxes wasn’t trying to complement his wife, but to show her off as a trophy to his drunken friends. After she refuses, king Xerxes doesn’t lash out at her but instead looks for a way to manipulate the law of the land to punish her and redeem his pride.

Pretending he’s helping all husbands in the kingdom, Xerxes banished Vashti from ever seeing Xerxes again, and her position as Queen will be given to somebody else.

Exit Vashti, stage left. End Scene I.

IV. Scene 2, Esther 2. The New Queen is Appointed.

Slide12.JPGAs we move into chapter 2, Xerxes recovering from his hangover. One his advisors suggests that Xerxes should hold the world’s first Ms. Persia contest and then Xerxes can select whoever he wants. All of the beautiful young virgins throughout the kingdom are to be brought to the palace and given spa treatments until they’re ready to see the king.
Enter Mordecai and Esther. Esther’s taken to the palace and she placed in the trust of the king’s eunuch who takes special care of her. She’s provided with beauty treatments and special food and 7 girlfriends to take care of her, while Mordecai checks on her daily. He cautions her not to reveal that she’s a Jewish orphan. After a full year of beauty treatments, she’s taken to King Xerxes, who likes what he sees. Xerxes says, “Hey, attendant-guy, whatever your name is. Get this girl a crown.”

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Esther is made Queen of Persia. A simple Jewish orphan, now in the palace with a crown on her head. An incredible turn of events for her.
You know, we’ve been talking about how God equips us today for today, and the story of the faithful Jewish orphan girl demonstrates God’s gifts. Through a series of “coincidences,” Esther was elevated to a very high status, the Queen of Persia. How did she arrive here? Through submission to her faith, submission to her cousin who was her acting father, and because of her inner and external beauty. Her beauty was a gift from God, and like all gifts, we are entrusted by God to use it wisely, for His glory alone, in obedience to Him. The old Queen Vashti, we’re told, was very beautiful on the outside. But she was not going to use her God-given beauty to further God’s purposes, so she was removed, and Esther became queen. Esther has both external and internal beauty.

And Mordecai? He’s exactly where God wants him, too. During his daily visits to see Esther, he overhears a plot to assassinate the king. He passes the news to Esther who in turn reports it to the king. Mordecai’s courageous actions are recorded in the king’s diary in the presence of the king, Mordecai is given credit for thwarting an assassination, and he’s a hero. We’re supposed to be good citizens, for all governments serve at Gods command, and Mordecai is faithful to God. But by doing the right thing, Mordecai gains some unwanted attention. Up to now he’s been happy as just a simple Jew living in exile.

V. Scene 3, Esther 3. The Dark Side.

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In Chapter 3 of Esther, the plot thickens, mwahaha. Enter the villain of our lesson, Haman. In Esther 3:1-2,

After these events, King Xerxes honored Haman son of Hammedatha, the Agagite, elevating him and giving him a seat of honor higher than that of all the other nobles.

I’ve always wondered about this. Chapter 2 ends with Mordecai foiling the assassination, and Chapter 3 begins with “After these events,” and Haman is honored. Is it because Mordecai was a Jew? Was it because Haman took credit?

This is ominous. Haman’s father was Hammedatha the Agagite, which means he was a descendant of Agag the king of the Amalekites. The Amalekites were a tribe from Canaan who have constantly been harassing the Israelites throughout history, from the Exodus out of Egypt throughout the reign of David. In Exodus 17:8-16, around 1440 B.C, just after Moses struck the rock and the water flowed, the Amalekites attacked the Israelites. Joshua led the battle against the Amalekites, and Moses stood on top of a hill with his arms raised in glory to the Lord while Aaron and Hur held his arms up. When the Amalekite army fled, Exodus 17:14-16 says,

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.”

 

Slide15.JPGThese are the Amalekites from whom Haman is descended. Then, 400 years later around 1040 B.C, the book of 1 Samuel chapter 15, Saul is commanded by the Lord. This is the same Saul from whom Mordecai is related. 1 Samuel 15:1-3, it says,

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.’ “

God commanded Saul to put all of the Amalekites to death, but Saul gets this idea to spare King Agag of the Amalekites and keep the sheep and cattle and fat calves and lambs. The Lord was trying to protect Israel by ordering Israel to destroy the Amalekites, and the Amalekites kept coming back and attacking Israel.

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Now, another 500 years pass, and now we find Haman, an Amalekite and descendent of Agag, has been elevated to a position of power in the kingdom of Persia where the Israelites live. This is really bad news for the Jews like Mordecai and Esther living there.

King Xerxes orders all the royal officials to bow down and pay honor to Haman. Mordecai refuses to bow down. Now, it’s not against Jewish law to bow down and give respect. The Jews bowed down before their own kings in other books of the bible, like 1st and 2nd Samuel and in 1st Kings. And Mordecai also almost certainly bowed down to King Xerxes or he wouldn’t be alive.

Some scholars believe that one reason Mordecai would not bow may be that as a descendent of Agag, Haman would believe he was divine or semi-divine, a god. Mordecai would certainly not bow down before another god. Other scholars believe it was simply because Mordecai would not bow down before an enemy of God, an Amalekite who hated Jews.

Haman was enraged that this one man would not pay homage to him, and when Haman found out Mordecai was a Jew, he wasn’t satisfied with just killing Mordecai. No, Haman decided this would be his chance to destroy all the Jews. A religious, ethnic cleansing.  Verse 8-9,

Then Haman said to King Xerxes, “There is a certain people dispersed and scattered among the peoples in all the provinces of your kingdom whose customs are different from those of all other people and who do not obey the king’s laws; it is not in the king’s best interest to tolerate them. If it pleases the king, let a decree be issued to destroy them, and I will put ten thousand talents of silver into the royal treasury for the men who carry out this business.”

Haman could not come right out and tell King Xerxes he wanted to kill all the Jews. Xerxes would know that the Jews were loyal subjects; Mordecai had himself saved King Xerxes life. So Haman mixes in half-truths… a “certain” people. They’re… “different.” They don’t… “obey.” You shouldn’t have to “tolerate” them. By laying out an incomplete picture with half-truths, Haman was able to convince the King that these “certain people” should be killed, and King signs the death warrant.

Persia was a big empire, and this ethnic cleansing could not happen immediately. Haman decided the annihilation would occur in the twelfth month of Adar, about a year away. All the royal secretaries were summoned, and the decree was written in every language of Persia and then distributed to all the governors in all the provinces. The Jews have a year to live.

VI. Scene 4, Esther 4. If I Perish, I Perish.

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Mordecai is troubled. By refusing to bow down before Haman, he had set in motion the destruction of all of his people within the year. Esther 4:1 –

When Mordecai learned of all that had been done, he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and ashes, and went out into the city, wailing loudly and bitterly.

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Part of this was a public display against the orders of the king, but most of it was probably genuine grief. He’s going to die. All of his loved ones are going to die. All of the people of his faith are going to die. Verse 2,

But he went only as far as the king’s gate, because no one clothed in sackcloth was allowed to enter it.

Apparently they had some sort of dress code and Mordecai was not allowed inside. Verse 3,

In every province to which the edict and order of the king came, there was great mourning among the Jews, with fasting, weeping and wailing. Many lay in sackcloth and ashes.

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All of the Jewish people are scared, mourning, praying, crying. Mordecai sends a message to Esther, who’s protected inside the palace. Mordecai tells Esther to go to the king and beg for mercy for the Jews.
This is a terrifying request to Esther. As queen, Esther did not have a husband/wife relationship like we understand it today. Esther was a servant of the king, and she could only appear to him when summoned. The law was strict – if you crash the king’s party, you die. There was a possibility that the king could hold out his golden scepter and your life would be spared. But whatever relationship Esther and the king had, it was not currently in the best of conditions. Esther had not been summoned by the king for 30 days. She was certain that to appear before the king would mean her death.

How do we understand God, who created us and everything we see? Do we decide who He is, and then assume God will do our will? Or do we decide to be obedient and try to understand what God wants? Do we stay safe, keep silent, avoid taking risks? Or do we try to be obedient?

Fear not. God’s got this. God’s will be done, whether we obey or not. We can choose to participate, be a spectator, or deny Him altogether, but we cannot thwart God’s will. God sees history all at once, past, present and future. God creates us for a purpose and plants us right where we are. Your job, your family, your pretty face, your intelligent brain, your feelings, your money, your talents have all come together for this one instant, this one instant that will never occur again. In another minute, in another hour, this moment will have passed.

Mordecai knows all this. Esther is exactly where God put her. God removed Vashti and placed Esther as queen. She had every resource she needed to do God’s will. But will she do it? Will she risk everything given to her to do what God wants her to do? God had given Esther so much. God gave her external beauty, and it was her beauty that gave her and her alone access to the king. Would she put her beauty on the line and risk death? God gave her position – she was queen and had access like nobody else. Would she put her position as queen on the line and risk death? Esther also had her inner beauty and love for her people. Most important, Esther had the entire kingdom of heaven behind her. She had everything she needed, but would she risk it, or would fear hold her back?

Mordecai delivers at this point one of the most memorable lines of the bible. He tells Esther that God will accomplish His purpose, nothing she does or does not do will change that fact. If Esther will not do it, the God will save His chosen people another way. Esther’s choice is whether she is going to participate in God’s plan and realize that her entire being, her beauty and position, was orchestrated by God, and God will accomplish His will through His obedient people. Mordecai also tells her that if she’s trying to save her own skin, she’s probably going to lose that, too. She’s a Jew – if the Jews are eliminated, that includes her. She cannot save her own life. All she can do is choose to be obedient, or not.

Mordecai says in verse 13-14,

“Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?”

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The entire purpose of Esther’s life had come to a point of decision. Her entire existence had a purpose. What was more important, being queen, or being the liberator of the Jews? God will not fail to keep His promises or fall short of His purposes, therefore, the deliverance of the Jews was certain. God had made Esther queen so that she could deliver His people. God places people exactly where they can serve Him.
And here’s how to be faithful, Esther’s response to Mordecai is equally as famous as his question in verses 15-16 –

Then Esther sent this reply to Mordecai: “Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my attendants will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.”

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“If I perish, I perish.” Jesus says that his follower should not store up for ourselves treasure on earth, and that includes our very lives. And Jesus also says not to fear the ones who can kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Jesus holds our soul in the very palm of His hand, and nobody can snatch us away. As Christians, we are free of death so that we may live, and Esther’s response to the fear of losing her life is perfect. If I perish, I perish.

VII. Scene 5, Esther 5. Rise of the Queen

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Despite the decrees of the land and the fear of death, Esther dresses in her finest royal robes and enters the inner court of the palace in front of the king’s hall. And much to Esther’s surprise, the king is glad to see her. King Xerxes holds out his golden scepter, and Queen Esther approaches. And the king says, “Are you wearing a crown? That is so cool.”

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No seriously, he is so pleased to see her, the King tells Esther to ask for anything, and the king will give it to her.

Queen Esther bats her long lashes at Xerxes – actually, that part isn’t in scripture, but it’s easy to imagine it being true. She bats her eyes at Xerxes and says, “Would you like to come over to dinner tonight? I’d like to ask my favor of you over a nice candlelight dinner. Just you and me…. And Haman?”

And the king I’m sure is like, what? Haman? Sure. Why not. Let’s have dinner tonight. Somebody fetch Haman.

Haman’s should be having a good day. Scripture says in the latter half of Esther 5 that as soon as Haman sees Mordecai at the King’s gate, still sitting in sackcloth and ashes because of that dress code, Mordecai doesn’t rise for Haman, doesn’t bow to Haman, isn’t afraid of Haman. And Haman is filled with rage. And he is still filled with rage when he gets home.

Haman’s family and friends are there and Haman gets the invitation to the queen’s banquet. And Haman starts bragging. Look at all my wealth. Look at all my power. And I am the only person invited to have dinner with the King and Queen. But while Mordecai defies me, I will never be happy.

Haman’s wife says, just ask the king to hang him. You’re buddies, he’ll do that for you, right? And Haman smiles a wicked smile.

Haman erects a huge pole outside his house. Verse 14 days it’s 75 feet tall, and that’s like twice the size of a Texas pine tree and even bigger than the egos of most politicians! I mean, it’s huuuge. And when the king tells Haman it’s ok to hang Mordecai, he’s going to hang Mordecai high on this pole outside of his own house.

VIII. Scene 6, Esther 6. A Sleepless Night.

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Scene 6 opens with the King unable to sleep. I like to think the King is excited about his upcoming dinner date with his queen, Esther. And Haman. Apparently attendant-guy or somebody like him writes down everything that happens in the king’s life. Kind of like keeping a diary, but somebody else fills in the pages for you.

Do you remember all the way back to Scene 2 where Mordecai overheard about the plot to assassinate the king? The king is reading his own diary like it’s some sort of murder mystery novel and reads about this guy who saved his life. And the king says, did we give this guy a gold medal or something for saving my life? And attendant-guy says, nope. We didn’t do diddly squat for him. Diddly squat is the ancient Hebrew.

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So the king says, I need some ideas on how to honor this guy Mordecai. Who’s hanging around in the lobby? Haman, bring him in. Hey Haman, if I wanted to give somebody some special recognition, what do you think I should do?

And Haman thinks, “Wow, the king is thinking about me.” And Haman says, “A parade! A parade with horses and a special robe and trumpets and stuff!” And the king says, “Great idea! Haman, go get a fancy robe and throw a parade for Mordecai!”

And Haman does what the king says, but you know it just rotted his socks to put a fancy robe on Mordecai and parade him around the city. And after the parade, Haman rushes home and cries, I think. But he doesn’t get to cry long, the king’s eunuchs arrive to take Haman to that fancy schmancy dinner with the King and Esther.

End Scene 6.

IX. Scene 7, Esther 7. The Dark Side Destroyed.

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Scene 7, the banquet. The king is there. The queen is there, batting her eyes. Haman is there, grumpy from the parade he had to throw for Mordecai.

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The king and queen gaze longingly into each other’s eyes. And the king says, have you thought about what sort of present you would like?
Esther says, “There is a decree that all my people will be killed. Every one of us! Please spare me!”

Then verses 5&6, I think the King had no idea that there was a decree that would kill all the Jews,

King Xerxes asked Queen Esther, “Who is he? Where is he—the man who has dared to do such a thing?”
Esther said, “An adversary and enemy! This vile Haman!”

The king immediately has Haman arrested, and then attendant-guy says, you know, there’s this huge pole, taller than two Texas pine trees, just outside of Haman’s house. Verse 9b-10,

The king said, “Impale him on it!” So they impaled Haman on the pole he had set up for Mordecai. Then the king’s fury subsided.

X. Scene 8, Esther 8-10. They All Lived Happily Ever After. The End.

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Scene 8, they all lived happily ever after. The king gave Esther everything that Haman owned, Mordecai was given a place in the palace, and Haman’s order to destroy the Jews was revoked. The feast of Purim was established to memorialize the Jews rescued from certain death and destruction.

Even though God was not mentioned in the book of Esther, God’s hand was evident in the saving of His people. Even in captivity in a foreign land, God protected His people.

We, too, are protected, though we live in a foreign land. 1 Peter 2:11 calls Christians “foreigners and exiles” as we live in our pagan society. But God has not abandoned us here. His protection surrounds us, and God asks us to trust in Him for that protection.

And there’s still a huge pole that’s been erected, taller than two Texas pine trees, that saves us and destroys the enemy. Christ hangs upon that tree, defeating death and taking on our sins so that one day we too, live in eternity, happily ever after.

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The End. Or should I say, It is Finished.

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To God be the glory.

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The King Israel Wants

I. Introduction

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.
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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.”
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
Cow: Moo.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.”

VII. Conclusion

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.

 

The Many Ways We Disobey

Map of Canaan
Image via Wikipedia

Let’s recap the history in 1 Samuel so far and then continue reading in 1 Samuel 13-15. Today we’re going to focus on Saul, appointed by God and a man who gives every appearance to fear and obey the Lord, yet the Lord is displeased with him. Saul gives only the appearance of being obedient, yet we’re going to see how instead he is disobedient.

Last week, Fred taught us how the people of Israel asked Samuel to appoint a king over them; the elders wanted Israel to have a king just like their neighbors had. By appointing a king, the elders felt they felt that this would eliminate the organizational advantage their enemies had. Samuel warned them that the absolute power of a king held dangers, but the people wanted a king anyway. The Lord gave the people what they asked for, but considered this request just another of their rebellious choices. Samuel appointed Saul as the first king who had been hiding in baggage claim for some reason. The people of Israel eventually had to seize him and force him to be king.

When the Ammonites attacked, Saul finally acted, mobilizing an Israeli army and winning a decisive victory. During a national celebration at Gilgal, we see a transfer of political leadership. What used to be part of the judgeship and priesthood of Samuel now belongs to the monarchy of Saul. There is a division between Samuel and Saul that reflects their individual goals. Samuel is responsible to listening to the Lord and advising Saul what to do, and Saul is responsible for obeying the commands of the Lord and protecting the people. The prophet would receive instructions from God and relay them to the king; the king’s role was to protect the people from external enemies.

The Philistines mostly ignored the happenings within Israel, but the formation of a monarchy is about to renew the conflict with the Philistines. The Philistines totally controlled Israel from strategically placed garrisons. Saul divided his army and put his son Jonathon over one division. Jonathan was a devoted follower of the Lord and he faced a decision; the Lord had long commanded that the people of Israel occupy the land of Canaan, but the Philistines were intent in controlling the Israeli territory. And Jonathan displays fearless devotion to God and immediately attacks a Philistine outpost in 1 Samuel 13:5. While the victory was small, the confusion was great, and in the panic, the Philistines began to attack one another and the Philistine army was routed.

Israel has been repeatedly defeated in small battles against the Philistines, so a victory here over the Philistines is significant. Losing this garrison was not only humiliating to the Philistines, it also threatened the Philistine’s control of the region. While before small skirmishes erupted from time to time, this time the Philistines decide to eradicate the people of Israel. Now it’s war.

The Philistine outmatched the Israelis in numbers, strategy, organization, and weaponry. Let’s look at the Philistine army in 1 Samuel 13:5 –

The Philistines assembled to fight Israel, with three thousand chariots, six thousand charioteers, and soldiers as numerous as the sand on the seashore.

Some manuscripts say 30,000 chariots. Either way, this is the largest chariot force mentioned anywhere in the Old Testament. 1 Samuel 13:5-6 –

The Philistines assembled to fight Israel, with three thousand chariots, six thousand charioteers, and soldiers as numerous as the sand on the seashore. They went up and camped at Micmash, east of Beth Aven. When the men of Israel saw that their situation was critical and that their army was hard pressed, they hid in caves and thickets, among the rocks, and in pits and cisterns.

Whew. Israel expected some sort of punishment or military retaliation for their raid on the outpost, but this is a full-scale invasion that appears intent on eradicating Israel forever.

The Philistines had iron weapons and chariots; the Fighting Farmers had bronze pitchforks. Worse, Israel was dependent on Philistine blacksmiths for making and repairing tools they needed to farm. This was a strategic decision by the Philistines; it says in verse 19 there was not a blacksmith to be found in Israel to prevent them from making swords and spears. So the Philistines arrive in overwhelming numbers and defeat seems inevitable.

What are the Lord’s instructions? Let’s back up to last week’s lesson in 1 Samuel 10:5a,8; Samuel takes a flask of oil, anointing Saul in the name of the Lord, and then says –

After that you will go to Gibeah of God, where there is a Philistine outpost… “Go down ahead of me to Gilgal. I will surely come down to you to sacrifice burnt offerings and fellowship offerings, but you must wait seven days until I come to you and tell you what you are to do.”

But what does Saul actually do? 1 Samuel 13:7b-13 –

Saul remained at Gilgal, and all the troops with him were quaking with fear. He waited seven days, the time set by Samuel; but Samuel did not come to Gilgal, and Saul’s men began to scatter. So he said, “Bring me the burnt offering and the fellowship offerings. ” And Saul offered up the burnt offering. Just as he finished making the offering, Samuel arrived, and Saul went out to greet him.

“What have you done?” asked Samuel.

Saul replied, “When I saw that the men were scattering, and that you did not come at the set time, and that the Philistines were assembling at Micmash, I thought, ‘Now the Philistines will come down against me at Gilgal, and I have not sought the LORD’s favor.’ So I felt compelled to offer the burnt offering.”

“You acted foolishly,” Samuel said. “You have not kept the command the LORD your God gave you; if you had, he would have established your kingdom over Israel for all time.

God’s instructions through Samuel told Saul to Gilgal and wait seven days for Samuel to sacrifice burnt offerings. Faced with overwhelming odds from the Philistine army, Saul acts by assuming the role of the priest and offering a sacrifice. Saul foolishly disobeys God’s command out of fear, and his disobedience reveals that Saul has no comprehension of his responsibility to God. Saul feared the loss of his soldiers and he feared losing the battle. And what’s more, sacrificing a burnt offering indicated absolute dedication to God, so Saul’s offering had absolutely no meaning. If Saul was truly dedicated to God, he would have obeyed and waited on God.

FEAR

After Saul has completed his sacrifice, Samuel arrives and asks, “What have you done?” It’s not like Samuel didn’t know, the aroma of burned meat was still in the air. Ever come home at the end of the day and your neighbors are barbecuing? Samuel knows, but he asks Saul anyway to get the disobedient king to think about what he’s done.

But instead, Saul comes up with excuses, justifications for his disobedience. The 7th day was not over, yet Saul didn’t wait until the evening for Samuel to arrive; therefore, it must have been Samuel’s fault. Saul was forced to do what he did. When scholars write of Saul’s disobedience, they discuss failures ranging from taking on the role of the priest to failing to wait the full amount of time. But the real reason is Saul’s character. He didn’t trust the Lord to do what he was supposed to do. He feared the consequences of failing to sacrifice more than he trusted in the Lord to whom he was offering the sacrifice.

Proverbs 29:25 says that fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whover trusts in the Lord will be kept safe. Saul was afraid of the battle, afraid of the enemy, afraid his own men were not up to the task. And so out of fear, Saul was attempting to summon the Lord’s power with his sacrifice, to pull a miracle out of a hat. But one cannot conjure up a miracle from the Lord. One commentary called this “theological blackmail.” The Lord will save His people, not because He has been summoned through our actions, but because it is in His nature to do so. We cannot compel God. God acts because He loves us.

We still do this today, don’t we? How often out of fear, out of panic, out of lack of trust do we go to the Lord in prayer? Hurricane Ike bearing down on Houston; how many people went to the Lord in prayer for the first time in weeks or months or even years? Yet to seek the Lord’s favor only in times of panic is futile. God wants us to seek Him always. Fred also taught us last week that God does not want us to live in fear; 2 Timothy 1:7 says –

For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.

Samuel tells Saul that if he had obeyed, the Lord would have established Saul’s kingdom over Israel for all time, but because of his disobedience, Saul’s kingdom will not endure. Unfortunately, Saul doesn’t learn from his disobedience; I think Saul is in denial about his disobedience, especially since we’re about to see this disobedience continue.

REDEFINE OBEDIENCE

Let’s turn to 1 Samuel 15; the Lord has put Saul in charge of punishing the Amelekites; you have to go all the way back to Exodus 17; Moses, leading the Israelites out of Egypt in the Desert of Sinai, are attacked from the rear by the Amelekites who are picking off women and children that are straggling. You may recall Joshua led a battle against them while Moses held his hand in the air, held up by Aaron and Hur. Joshua wins that battle, but our God of infinite mercy is also a God of perfect justice. 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.”

Now is the time God has chosen for Saul to wipe out the Amelekites; 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.

Of course Saul obeyed the Lord, *if* you redefine what obedience means. 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.

DENIAL

In verse 10, the Lord tells Samuel that He is grieved because Saul didn’t carry out His commands, so Samuel goes to see Saul, who is verse 12 is told that Saul is building a monument in his own honor. And Saul says in verse 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.”

It’s like Saul is saying, “Hey, not only did I obey, but I improved upon the Lord’s instructions! I did so good, I awarded myself a trophy!”

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. “Forgive one another, up to seventy times seven.” And our response? Oh, I forgive him, I don’t hold any grudges. I just want to talk to him or ever see his face again. Sacrifice for our wives, submit to our husbands, love one another as Christ loves us. Are we really being obedient? Or are we in denial, too, redefining what it means to be obedient?

PARTIAL OBEDIENCE

One method of denial, a method of disobedience, is to be partially obedient. Samuel’s question – if you obeyed, why do I hear cows? – is a telling one. First in denial, Saul then explains that partial obedience is more than enough. Look at verse 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.

The Lord said to destroy the Amalekites; Saul said he destroyed them except their king.

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.

Those are the Lord’s instructions to us, these are the Amalekites of sin to us. 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 most of this, but leave kingdoms of sin in our lives.

Let me offer a question for you to ponder – rather than asking yourself how you obey God, ask God to show you where you do not obey. Husbands and wives treating each other the way God commands? Holding captive every thought so that we do not sin? Impure or critical thoughts about another? Being slow to speak so our tongue does not cause us to sin? We cannot think ourselves as obedient to God when we redefine to ourselves what it means to be obedient. If we’re partially obedient, we’re still disobedient.

BLAME OTHERS

Another way we are disobedient to is to blame our disobedience, our partial obedience, on somebody else. I could forgive him if he wasn’t such a jerk. It would be easier for me to be faithful if she wasn’t always, you know, that way toward me. Of course I respect and submit to my husband as long as he does what I tell him to. Verse 21, Saul says, “But I did obey the Lord” –

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.”

… but the soldiers didn’t do right. I had a great plan to obey the Lord, but somebody else messed it up. Of course I made a covenant with my spouse for better or worse, but I didn’t mean that. You don’t know my spouse. 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. Eve blamed it on the serpent. But we cannot blame our own disobedience on somebody else. God will see through that every time.

RELY ON RITUALS INSTEAD

And finally, we disobey because, well, that’s the way we’ve always done it. There’s no need to change if nobody’s complaining. Besides, as a Christian, I attend church, I go to bible study, I tithe, I serve, I pray, I teach. So those things cover up what little disobedience remains, right?

Verse 22-23, Samuel answers that question.

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.”

The Lord expects and receives sacrifices, but He does not delight in them. Sacrifices in the Old Testament atoned for sins. Sacrifices in the New Testament further the Kingdom of God. Those things are good, but God does not delight in them. God delights in obedience. God delights in the righteous who seek after Him. Jesus tells us that if we bring a sacrifice to the temple but we have something against our brother, we are to leave that sacrifice there and make amends with our brother. Only then are we to return and offer our sacrifice.

Look, making it up to somebody when you’ve wronged them is a good thing. But wouldn’t obedience in not wronging them in the first place be better? Sacrifices are payments for disobedience, sacrifices are accepted by God, but it’s not what He wants most. He doesn’t want this for His benefit, because the Lord needs nothing from us. He wants us to obey for our benefit.

A man wanted to help his son understand the importance of making right choices. He put a post up in the back yard, and when his son made a bad choice, he’d give him a nail and have him put a nail in the post. When he made a good choice, he’d get to remove a nail. As the boy grew, there were always a couple of nails in the post, but as he grew and matured, one day he pulled the last nail out of the post. He felt pretty good about it, too. But his dad asked him to take a good look at the post. The nails were gone, but the post was full of holes.

We’re forgiven of our bad choices. But the effects of our sins leave scars.

Six ways we disobey. Fear, redefine, denial, partial obedience, blame others, rely on rituals. Saul performs a perfect hat-trick in verse 15; denial, partial obedience, *and* blaming others all in one sentence, so we’re not limited to disobedience in one category.

Discussion time. What are some examples of disobedience in a Christian’s life, and which category does it fall in?

The Lord calls us to obedience, and sometimes we’re own own worst enemy when we try to obey. We act out of fear instead of trusting in the Lord. We deny our disobedience or try to redefine it. We make excuses, or we try to make up for it afterword. Don’t ask yourself in what ways you’re being obedient to the Lord; in some small ways, everybody is partially obedient. Ask yourself instead how you’re not obeying the Lord. Are you following God’s commands? Are you living a life of partial obedience to God’s commands? Do you find it easier to be obedient when you know people are looking? Have you been struggling with some area of your life that you know needs to be surrendered to God?

Don’t try to answer the question by listing all the things you do. I go to church, I sing in the choir or play in the band. I teach a class. I serve God most of the time. That is not the standard God wants for us. Partial obedience doesn’t cut it. God wants us to trust Him and follow Him with all of our heart, our soul, our mind and strength. Don’t settle for less.

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