Absolute Obedience

I Samuel 15

Alan Lewis
Elon, North Carolina
September 2020

Today we come to an amazing chapter.  It records the rebellion and rejection of King Saul.  It is a passage full of incredible personal applications.  It is also a passage that raises some deep theological questions.  It is one of the chief passages on obedience in the Bible.  It is the chapter that contains the words “obedience is better than sacrifice.”  It is one of the most famous verses in the Bible.

It is a chapter that will completely challenge your view about God.  God gives Saul a command in this chapter.  What is the command?  Kill all of the Amalekites.  Wipe it out an entire nation.  Slaughter every man, woman and child.  Don’t spare anyone.  Don’t take any prisoners or hostages.

That is strange.  Is that what Jesus would do?  Kill babies.  Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight.  This sounds a little harsh.  It sounds a little unloving.  I thought God wasn’t mad at anyone. I thought He loved everybody.  Why is He killing everyone?  That doesn’t sound like a God of love.

The truth is that many Christians today do NOT have a biblical view of God.  The God that many Christians worship is not the God of I Samuel 15.  The truth is that if you want to know what God is like, you have the read the whole Bible.  You can’t just read the NT.  You have to read the OT. You have to read the whole book, not just your favorite passages.

This is one of the most violent chapters in the Bible.  Saul is not the only one who does some killing in this chapter.  The man of God, Samuel, kills someone.  The old prophet killed a man, and he killed him violently.  Samuel hacks Agag to pieces with a sword.  That doesn’t sound very nice.  It is too violent and too graphic for TV.  It is definitely too graphic for church.

I Samuel 15 is also one of the saddest stories in the Bible.  Saul is rejected.  He is rejected by God and this is the second time it happens.  He was rejected by God in I Samuel 13 and now he is rejected again in I Samuel 15.

Saul was not only king; he was an anointed king.  He was an anointed leader.  He was God’s anointed king.  He was God’s anointed king and yet now he was rejected by God. He was a leader who lost his anointing.  In the next chapter, the Holy Spirit leaves Saul.

That raises a very important question.  Could that happen today?  Could what happened to Saul happen to a Christian?  The answer is Yes and No.  There are some similarities and some differences.

One difference is that the Holy Spirit does leave us like He left Samson and Saul.  The Holy Spirit operates differently today in believers than he did in the OT.  He used to dwell WITH people and now He dwells IN people (John 14:17).  The Holy Spirit would come on people to do a specific job in the OT.  Today, He permanently indwells believers.

There are some similarities.  Believers today can disobey God just like King Saul did.  We can sin like Saul did today.  Leaders can also lose their anointing.  We can’t lose our salvation, but we can lose a special calling to ministry.  We can be disqualified from service. God can take that away from us.  That still happens today.

God did not reject Saul because he did not like him.  God rejected Saul because he repeatedly rebelled against God.  He refused to obey and even God does not reject Saul totally right away.  He gave him several chances.

In I Samuel 13, Saul completely blew it.  The king tried to be a priest and Samuel rebuked him.  He called him a fool.  In I Samuel 15, Saul gets another chance to prove himself.  He gets one final test.  It is a test of obedience.  He fails the test.

Samuel confronts Saul face to face, leaves and when he leaves, he is done with Saul.  He never sees him again.  He talks to him again until he dies, although he does talk to him after he dies, when he visits the witch of Endor.

Saul’s Commission

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. 2 This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel when they waylaid them as they came up from Egypt. 3 Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy all that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.’” (I Samuel 15:1-3 NIV)

This section raises all kinds of questions for skeptics of the Bible.  This chapter seems to make the Bible look bad.  It seems to make God look bad.  God seems to tell Saul to kill innocent people in cold blood.  Is genocide wrong.  If it is, how can God not only allow command genocide, how could He command it?  Is God sanctioning mass murder?  Isn’t God a love?

The problem is that our picture of God is all wrong.  Many Christians picture God as a doting grandfather who ignores sin and overlooks it.  He accepts everybody and doesn’t judge people.  That is not the God of the Bible. The God of the Bible LOVES people but He also JUDGES sin in the OT and in the NT.  That has been erased from much of modern Christianity.  God not only judges people; He judges nations.  God is the one who created life and can take it at any time.  God gave me life and can take it at any time.

That doesn’t mean that God is sadistic or that He likes to torture people.  Even this chapter, shows the mercy of God.  God is slow to anger.  He did not judge the Amalekites immediately.  He did not judge them for five hundred years.  He gave them plenty of time to repent but there was no change and the result was judgment.

What happens in I Samuel 15 is not genocide; it is judgment.  It is not jihad; it is judgment.  Jihads take place when people kill for God and they think that God will somehow reward them if they blow innocent people up.  That is not what is happening here.  God is the only one who has the right to take life.  We don’t have that right.  We do not have divine authorization to do this today.  God has not told us to do this.

Notice several facts about this commission.  Several things stand out.

First, Saul’s commission was GOD-GIVEN.  It was a divine commission.  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. 2 This is what the Lord Almighty says” (I Samuel 15:1-2 NIV).

This was not Saul’s idea.  This was not Samuel’s idea.  It was God’s idea. Samuel did not say, “This is what I say.”  He says, “This is what GOD says.” (I Samuel 15:2)

Second, Saul’s commission was ABSOLUE.  Saul was not only to kill the Amalekites; he was to kill ALL of them.  There were to be NO exceptions.  There were to be no survivors.

Third, Saul’s commission was very DETAILED.  It was specific.  Saul was to kill ALL of the people and ALL of the animals.  He was to kill ALL of the men and ALL of the women.  He was to kill ALL of the adults.  He was to kill ALL of the children and even babies and he wasn’t to spare anyone.

Four, Saul’s commission was completely JUSTIFIED.  God could have told Saul to do this without giving him a reason, but he gave him a reason.  What was the reason?

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. (I Samuel 15:2 NIV)

Now this seems strange.  God is going to judge the Amalekites for something they did five hundred years ago.  God predicted back then that they would be destroyed.

 Remember what the Amalekites did to you along the way when you came out of Egypt. 18 When you were weary and worn out, they met you on your journey and attacked all who were lagging behind; they had no fear of God. 19 When the Lord your God gives you rest from all the enemies around you in the land he is giving you to possess as an inheritance, you shall blot out the name of Amalek from under heaven. Do not forget! (Deuteronomy 25:17-19 NIV)

What did they do?  They were the TERRORISTS of the day.  They took advantage of the weak, the sick, the elderly and people who could not fight back or defend themselves, just like terrorists do today who blow up a plane in the sky.  God sees what people do to His people and He sees what they do to the weak and helpless.  They think they can get away with it but the day of reckoning is coming.

Saul’s Response

How did Saul respond to this commission?  Did he complain?  Did he argue with God?  Did he say, “I’m not going to do it.”  No.  He started out great.

So Saul summoned the men and mustered them at Telaim—two hundred thousand foot soldiers and ten thousand from Judah. 5 Saul went to the city of Amalek and set an ambush in the ravine. 6 Then he said to the Kenites, “Go away, leave the Amalekites so that I do not destroy you along with them; for you showed kindness to all the Israelites when they came up out of Egypt.” So the Kenites moved away from the Amalekites.

7 Then Saul attacked the Amalekites all the way from Havilah to Shur, near the eastern border of Egypt. He took Agag king of the Amalekites alive, and all his people he totally destroyed with the sword. 9 But Saul and the army spared Agag and the best of the sheep and cattle, the fat calves and lambs—everything that was good. These they were unwilling to destroy completely, but everything that was despised and weak they totally destroyed. (I Samuel 15:4-9 NIV)

Saul had no problem killing women.  He had no problem killing children or even babies but the one person he saved was the king.  He killed the animals but not all of them.  The sick ones he killed but the good ones he kept.  They were too good to destroy.

He obeyed but he obeyed selectively.  He obeyed the commands he wanted to obey but not the ones he didn’t want to obey.  From that standpoint, he is no different from any Christians today.  Many Christians pick and choose which commands they want to obey in the Bible.

12 Early in the morning Samuel got up and went to meet Saul, but he was told, “Saul has gone to Carmel. There he has set up a monument in his own honor and has turned and gone on down to Gilgal.”

13 When Samuel reached him, Saul said, “The Lord bless you! I have carried out the Lord’s instructions.”

14 But Samuel said, “What then is this bleating of sheep in my ears? What is this lowing of cattle that I hear?”

Saul disobeyed God and even sets up a monument in his own honor but Samuel confront him face-to-face and Saul argues with him.  Samuel says, “Why did you disobey God?  Saul says, “I didn’t disobey.”  Saul says, “Well if you killed all of the animals, then why can I hear some of them?”  He blamed other people for that.

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.” (I Samuel 15:15 NIV).

“But I did obey the Lord,” Saul said. I went on the mission the Lord assigned me. I completely destroyed the Amalekites and brought back Agag their king. 21 THE SOLDIERS took sheep and cattle from the plunder, the best of what was devoted to God, in order to sacrifice them to the Lord your God at Gilgal.” (I Samuel 15:20-21 NIV)

Essentials for Spiritual Leadership

1. Obedience

Real leaders obey God, even when it is hard and even when it is unpopular. Saul did not do that. He disobeyed God. Saul did not do the job, so Samuel did it. He became Agag’s executioner. Samuel doesn’t kill an innocent man. He killed a man that God said should be killed. He was a baby-killer. Samuel said that his sword made women childless (I Samuel 15:33). It is like taking out Osama bin Laden. The punishment fits the crime. Are we obedient? Do we do what God tells us to do?

2. Honesty

Saul was dishonest. He said that he obeyed the Lord when he didn’t obey the Lord. He would make a good politician today. Real leaders are completely honest and transparent. Are we honest with people?

3. Accountability

Real leaders take responsibility for their actions, even when they make mistakes. Saul did not do that. He blamed other people for his actions. He blames the people for things he did. He is the exact opposite of his son Jonathon.  Jonathon took responsibility for sinning and was willing to die, even though he sinned in ignorance (I Samuel 14:43).  Are we accountable to people?

4. Humility

Real leaders are humble.  They act like servants.  They do not draw attention to themselves.  Saul is out building monuments to himself.  Are we humble?  Proverbs 27:2 says, “Let someone else praise you, and not your own mouth; an outsider, and not your own lips” (NIV)

5. Authenticity

Real leaders are authentic. They are real. Poor leaders are fake. They are phony. They are not real. Saul was fake. He went around saying “Praise the Lord.” He used religious language. He used flattery. When he saw him, he said, “The Lord bless you” (I Samuel 15:13 NIV).

Applications for Today

1) Rebellion is serious to God

We live in a day in rebellion is common, rebellion against parents, rebellion against teachers, rebellion against churches, rebellion against police officers, rebellion against the government.  Today, many would not see it as wrong.  Our whole country was founded on rebellion.

This passage tells us what God thinks of rebellion. We find in this passage that He hates it.  For rebellion is like the sin of divination, and arrogance like the evil of idolatry (I Samuel 15:23 NIV).  Being a rebel is just like being a witch.  It is one of the worst sins on the planet. In the OT, it was a capital crime.

It is so bad that God compares it to witchcraft.  Many of us would not think of committing witchcraft.  We would never do something as bad as that, but we have no problem rebellion against God-appointed authorities in society.  The irony is that Saul is involved in rebellion in this chapter and is involved in witchcraft at the end of the book.  He participates in the occult.

2) Rebellion has consequences

You have rejected the word of the Lord, and the Lord has rejected you as king over Israel!” 27 As Samuel turned to leave, Saul caught hold of the hem of his robe, and it tore. 28 Samuel said to him, “The Lord has torn the kingdom of Israel from you today and has given it to one of your neighbors—to one better than you. (I Samuel 15:26-28 NIV)

Samuel says to Saul, “You rejected God and now He is rejecting you.”  That is the consequence of rebellion and this rejection is that it was permanent.  Many fallen pastors have been restored to leadership in the church.  Saul fell but he could NOT be restored.  He was rejected by God and this could NOT be changed.

Confession could not change it.  Saul said the words, “I have sinned.” In fact, he says those words, not once but twice in this chapter (I Samuel 15:24, 30).  Many say the words “I have sinned” when they are caught but it is not genuine.  Pharaoh said those words.  Judas said them. Bill Clinton said them.

Worship could not change it.  Saul worshipped God in this chapter.  Saul worships the Lord (I Samuel 15:31) and yet was still rejected by God.

Prayer could not change it.  Begging God for forgiveness could not change it.  Saul asked to be forgiven of his sin.   Now I beg you, forgive my sin (I Samuel 15:25).  He does not just ask for forgiveness; he begs for it.  He pleads for it.

Even the prayers of a prophet could not change it, even a prophet who prayed all night long.  Then the word of the Lord came to Samuel: 11 “I regret that I have made Saul king, because he has turned away from me and has not carried out my instructions.” Samuel was angry, and he cried out to the Lord all that night.  (I Samuel 15:10-11 NIV)

In fact, God said that He was not going to change His mind about it.  “He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie or change his mind; for he is not a human being, that he should change his mind.” (I Samuel 15:29 NIV).

You say, “That does not seem fair. The poor man admitted he sinned. he asked to be forgiven. He begged to be forgiven. He worshiped God. A prophet prayed for him for hours and none of it seemed to matter.   God can forgive any sin forgiven but there is a difference between forgiveness and consequences.  If I commit mass murder, God can forgive me, but I still have to deal with the consequences for my actions and so did Saul.  There are consequences for our actions.

You say, “But doesn’t God believe in second chances?”  Isn’t He the God of second chances? This was his second chance.  Saul blew it in I Samuel 13, so God gave him one more chance and he blew it again.

One of the consequences of Saul’s actions is that God rejected him as king.  Now that did not stop him from being king.  He continued to rule as king and he continued to rule for a long time but God was no longer with him.  In fact, when he remained as king, he was actually fighting the will of God.  Many Christians today do the same thing.  Many Christians fight the will of God in their life.

3) God wants full obedience

That is the whole point of the chapter.  God wants us to obey Him.  He wants us to obey Him completely.  He doesn’t want us to obey Him selectively and to pick and chooses which verses we want to follow.  We really should not call ourselves Christians if we are not going to obey God.  Jesus said, “Why do you call me Lord if you don’t do the things I say?” (Luke 6:46).

Saul did some things instead of obedience.  He was told to kill all of the animals but he kept some alive so he could sacrifice them to God.  Samuel said, “Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the Lord? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams. Obedience is better than sacrifice” (I Samuel 15:22 NIV).

What does that mean obedience is better than sacrifice?  What does it mean today?  We don’t have animal sacrifices today.  Today, we would say, obedience is better than worship.  Obedience is better than going to church.  Obedience is better than being religious.  Obedience is better than performing some religious ritual or religious ceremony.  Here are some liberal churches that don’t believe the Bible.  They throw out the Bible but they are big on ceremonies and ritual.

Hear the word of the Lord, you rulers of Sodom; listen to the instruction of our God, you people of Gomorrah! 11 “The multitude of your sacrifices—what are they to me?” says the Lord. “I have more than enough of burnt offerings, of rams and the fat of fattened animals; I have no pleasure in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats. 12 When you come to appear before me, who has asked this of you, this trampling of my courts?

13 Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me. New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations— I cannot bear your worthless assemblies. 14 Your New Moon feasts and your appointed festivals I hate with all my being. They have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them.

15 When you spread out your hands in prayer, I hide my eyes from you; even when you offer many prayers, I am not listening. Your hands are full of blood! 16 Wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight; stop doing wrong. 17 Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow. (Isaiah 1:10-17 NIV).

The Jews got to the point where they separated religion and morality and many still do today.  Muslim fanatics will commit all kids of unspeakable atrocities but will have the name of God on their lips.  Some Christians treat other Christians terribly in the world but will be the first people to go to church and be religious.

In biblical times, people would cheat, lie, seal and even kill but say, “That’s okay.  I am covered I went to the temple and offered some sacrifices.  I threw some sheep on the altar.”  It became the answer to everything. One pastor in Canada (Paul LeBoutillier), summarized it well.

“You mess up?  Sacrifice.  You do something you shouldn’t have done?  Sacrifice.  “Yeah, I know, I kind of did something I shouldn’t have done but I brought a sacrifice.  Just bring up a sacrifice because God loves those sacrifices.  All we got to do is to take him a sacrifice.  I don’t know what it is about sacrifices.  Something about blood.  I don’t know why but He likes it.  Just kill an animal.  I can probably sacrifice a sheep or two for having my fun.  It will be okay.” [1]  

What we learn from this is that God doesn’t just want a bunch of dead rituals from us.  He wants obedience.

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