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1 Samuel 13-15: The King Rejects the King Print E-mail
1 Samuel
Sunday, 21 May 2017

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It is sometimes difficult to admit what our actions reveal about our hearts. We have all heard it said that Ďactions reveal more than wordsí and we believe that to be true for the most part. Yet, we often struggle to faithfully apply to it to our own lives. We explain away our actions as mistakes or temporary setbacks or Ďjust being human.í We want to have control over any negative ideas that our actions might reveal. The hearts of others might be revealed by their actions, but not ours. It takes humility to actually admit that our actions do reveal what is true about us. And it takes the power and grace of God to do something about it.

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The heart of Saul is revealed by his actions in chapters 13-15. He has recently been crowned the first King of Israel. He has had some military success which lead to renewed commitment from the people. Yet, Samuel warned him and the people about future disobedience from the king. Look at 12:25. This warning stands as a prophetic introduction to what will happen next in the history of Israel. In each of the next three chapters we see blatant disobedience from Saul. Letís consider his actions this morning and seek to learn from his mistakes.
Saul offers an unlawful sacrifice (ch. 13)

This chapter begins with an odd occurrence in the Scriptures. The original text is simply unknown, so we are unclear on the numbers mentioned. From there, the story moves to Saulís continual struggle with the Philistines. Jonathan has a victory against them and they decide to gather all their strength and attack Israel, which has Saul worried. His army is fleeing because they are afraid of what the Philistines are going to do. Samuel had told him to wait in Gilgal (see 10:8), but Saul gets tired of waiting. So he takes matters into his own hand. Look at verses 8-12. It was not lawful for Saul to make this sacrifice. He was supposed to wait for Samuel. But he gives three reasons for his actions: the army was scattering, Samuel was delayed, and the Philistines were ready to fight. These seemed like good justifications to Saul for disobeying the Lord. But they were not. His actions revealed that he feared men more than he feared the Lord. He lacked patience and he disregarded the Lordís commands. His actions make that plain.
Samuel tells him his punishment in verses 13-15. Look at those with me. Because of his disobedience, Saulís kingly line will end with him. The Kingdom will be taken from him and the Lord will give it to one who is after his own heart, which we know will be David. We surely are tempted to wonder if the punishment is too strong. All Saul did was offer a sacrifice to the Lord. He just happened to do it in a way that went against the Lordís laws. Surely that is not that big of a deal. We may be tempted to think that way, but it would be a wrong conclusion. We will consider this more in a moment. After Samuel departs from Saul, the author gives us some more details about the relationship between the Philistines and the Israelites. It seems that the Philistines controlled the technology of the day. They were the only ones who could sharpen the weapons and they were charging a small fortune to do it. These details highlight the difficult situation that Israel faced, which only amazes us more when God gives them victory.
Saul makes a rash vow (ch. 14)

The focus of the next part of the text is God giving Israel victory over the Philistines. Yet, He does it through Jonathan and not Saul. The author is intentionally contrasting the father and the son by their actions (or inaction in this case). While Saul is hanging out under a pomegranate tree, Jonathan decides to act in faith. Look at verse 6. Jonathan is ready to fight for Godís people and he believes that God can rescue Israel by many or by few. He does not presume on the Lord and what He will choose to do, but he does act in faith, believing in the Lordís saving power. So what do they do? Look at verses 7-10. They set up a test to try and discern the Lordís will. If the Philistines challenge them, then they will go up. If not, then it is not of the Lord. So how does it play out? Look at verses 11-15. Apparently, the Lord can save by many or by few, even just two. With this beginning, the Lord gives Israel victory over the Philistines.
But even in the midst of this great victory, we see the foolish actions of Saul. When he sees that something is going on among the Philistines and figures out that it was Jonathan, he summons a priest to come and pray for the upcoming fight. Yet, he gets impatient again and stops the priest mid-prayer. Look at verse 19. Again we see his disobedience, for Israel was not supposed to fight until the priest blessed the people. Even so, God gives them victory. The Philistines turn on themselves and begin fleeing the Israelites. But once again, Saul does something foolish. Look at verse 24. It had been a difficult day of fighting and chasing the Philistines. Saul did not want the people to let their hunger end their pursuit. Thus, Saul vows to curse anyone who eats before evening. With this, he curses his own army and minimizes their success.
Jonathan had not heard his fatherís vow. So when he comes upon some wild honey, he eats it, and breaks the vow. After the fighting is over, the people are eating meat with blood still in it because they are so hungry. When Saul is told about their sin, he makes provision for them to stop and builds an altar to the Lord. Yet, when he asks the Lord about whether or not they should keep pursuing the Philistines, he gets no answer (it seems the lot could give that response). Saul takes that to mean that there is some sort of sin in the camp (perhaps he was familiar with the Achan story). And look at what he says in verses 38-39. Of course, when he casts the lot to try and find out what is going on, he finds out about Jonathan breaking the vow. It seems that Jonathan will now have to pay for his fatherís foolishness. But the people intervene. Look at verses 43-45. Once again we see the strength of Jonathan in his willingness to die. But the people see the foolishness of Saulís vow and redeem Jonathan so that Saul does not kill him. The chapter concludes with a summary of Saulís reign and a list of his family.
Saul disobeys a direct command (ch. 15)

Things do not get better for Saul in chapter 15. Through Samuel the Lord gives Saul a direct command to devote the Amalekites to destruction. Look at verses 1-3. The Lord had cursed the descendants of Amalek for their attempt to take out Israel in Exodus 17. Now God is commanding Israelís first king to carry out that curse. Although such a command seems very harsh to us today, we must remember the holiness of God and the sin of Amalek. Although we may not be able to see it, we can trust in the justice of Godís judgments.
And Saul carries out the command, well, at least most of it. Look at verse 9. He has all of the people killed except for their king, Agag, and he devotes everything else to destruction except for the best of the livestock and all that was good. It was like 90% obedience. But 90% obedience to God is still 100% disobedience. You cannot obey Him half-way or even most of the way. He expects and demands complete obedience. Anything less is disobedience.
Because of Saulís repeated disobedience, the Lord rejects Him as king. Look at verse 10. After praying all night, Samuel goes and confronts Saul. Once again, Saul tries to explain away his disobedience. Look at verses 13-16. Saul blames the people and then tries to cover his tracks by claiming that they only kept the animals for the purpose of making sacrifices. The confrontation continues in verses 17-23. Look at those with me. To obey is better than sacrifice. These are important words from Samuel and they will be repeated by Godís people to later generations. It was not wrong to sacrifice, but it was better to obey the Lord. Saul was trying to get away with partially obeying the Lord and that is not enough. Even though Saul confesses his sin, the damage has been done. He will remain the king for now, but he has been rejected by the true King. His actions have repeatedly revealed his wicked heart. The Lord will replace him with one who is better than him (v. 28). The story ends with Samuel killing Agag and departing from Saul. He will not see him again until his death.
The story of Saulís rejection is sad. There were times when it seemed that he would be a good king and obey the Lord, but eventually his rebellious heart was revealed. His partial obedience is lacking and his repentance seems hollow. Yet, what does this mean for us? Like with Saul, the Lord expects total obedience to His commands. Good enough does not exist in Godís economy. A person must be holy just as He is holy. We cannot keep most of His commands and expect that to be enough. It was not enough for Saul and it will not be enough for us. Unfortunately, we are all born with hearts like Saulís. We might tip our hats to a Creator, but our allegiance lies with ourselves. We will give Him credit for victories when doing so looks good for us as well. We are at best half-hearted in our devotion to anything. In Saul and his actions we see ourselves. And if left to ourselves we will have no place in Godís Kingdom.
But the good news is that God will send us the Savior we need through the better king that He is about to raise up. Great Davidís greater Son will perfectly obey His Father. He will keep Godís commands 100% of the time, even to the point of death on the cross. And through His death and resurrection, His righteousness, His obedience, can be credited to our accounts. We can be holy through repentance and faith in Him. Only pure hearts and perfect obedience will lead to glory. And we can only have this through faith in Jesus, our perfect Savior. I plead with you to repent and believe today. What do your actions say about your relationship with God? If we are honest with ourselves, then our need for faith in Jesus will be obvious. Believe in Him today as the perfectly obedient King that you need. Amen. 

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Friday, 09 June 2017 )

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