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TO OBEY IS BETTER THAN SACRIFICE

1 Samuel 15:1-16:23
Key Verse: 15:22

In chapters 13 and 14 we studied about Saul and Jonathan. Saul was a man of no faith, while his son Jonathan, a man of faith. In today’s passage we will think more about Saul. In this study we will see his final downfall before God, and the rise of David as God’s chosen one. We can learn very clearly how God evaluates people, which is different from man’s evaluation.

First, God wants obedience rather than sacrifice (15:1-35). Look at verse 1. “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.’” Here Samuel reminds Saul of his relationship with Saul in the LORD, as the one the LORD sent to anoint Saul king over his people. Thus he prepares Saul to listen to the message from the LORD. We see his shepherd heart for Saul, as his shepherd.

Then in verses 2 and 3, “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’s command to Saul was very specific with a clear reason, and also empathic with triple emphasis, “destroy everything,” “do not spare,” and “put to death” even women, infants and animals. The Amalekites, a nomadic people of the desert and descendants of Esau (Gen 36:12), became a marked people when they attacked Israel in the wilderness after Israelites’ leaving Egypt.

How did Saul respond to this message from the LORD? So Saul summoned the men and mustered them at Telaim—two hundred thousand foot soldiers and ten thousand men from Judah. Saul went to the city of Amalek and set an ambush in the ravine. His preparation for the attack was excellent. 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. The LORD had said, “Go, attack the Amalekites.” So letting the Kenites who showed kindness to Israel move away from the Amalekites was an admirable move on his part. Then what did Saul do? Saul attacked the Amalekites all the way from Havilah to Sur, 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. The author commented, “—everything that was good. These they were unwilling to destroy completely, but everything that was despised and weak they totally destroyed.” How would we evaluate his performance on the task? Maybe he did it 70% or 80%. What was God’s evaluation?

Look at verse 10. Then the word of the LORD came to Samuel: ‘I am grieved that I have made Saul king, because he has turned away from me and has not carried out my instructions.’” This response of God makes us shudder. The LORD said, “He has turned away from me and has not carried out my instructions.” To God what Saul said counted nothing. Samuel was troubled, and he cried out to the LORD all that night. Actually God gave Saul the second chance to recover from his failure (written in chapter 13), but Saul failed again, doing God’s given task in his own way. God was grieved that he had made Saul king. We should know that God has heart. He grieves and rejoices.

Then 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 honour and has turned and gone on down to Gilgal.” This revealed Saul’s hidden desire in doing the task God had given him. It was for his honour. As for Saul doing God’s given task in his own way and seeking his own honour was a serious problem to God.

When Samuel reached him, Saul said, “The LORD bless you! I have carried out the LORD’s instructions.” The LORD had said to Samuel the previous night, “he has not carried out my instructions.” But here Saul said encountering Samuel, “I have carried out the LORD’s instructions.” Saul’s way of thinking and evaluating himself was quite opposite to the LORD’s. According to the LORD, Saul had turned away from the LORD. Yet, he spoke first to Samuel, saying, “The LORD bless you!” But Samuel said, “What then is this bleating of sheep in my ears? What is this lowing of cattle that I hear?” Samuel was helping Saul to have self-realization of what he did, recognizing the evidence.

At this 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.” Saul continually revealed the colour of his person: he rallied his responsibility on his soldiers, saying, “The soldiers brought…they spared.” Then he said, “…to sacrifice to the LORD your God.” In saying this, he seemed to have in mind the LORD and Samuel. Yet, it would be doubtful. In this passage Saul mentioned “the LORD your God” three times. He never said, “the LORD my God.” To him the LORD was the third person. And then he subtly said, “we totally destroyed the rest,” although God had said in in his command, “totally destroy everything.” There was a lot of spiritual miscommunication. Samuel could not hear Saul anymore. So he said to Saul, “Stop!” and then said, “Let me tell you what the LORD said to me last night.” When Saul replied, “Tell me,” Samuel said, “Although you were once small in your own eyes, did you not become the head of the tribes of Israel? The LORD anointed you king over Israel. And he sent you on a mission, saying, ‘Go and completely destroy those wicked people, the Amalekites; make war on them until you have wiped them out.” Why did you not obey the LORD? Why did you pounce on the plunder and do evil in the eyes of the LORD?” God’s message to Saul through Samuel was heartfelt, reminding him know who he was and how God had poured his grace upon him appointing him king over Israel despite his lowly state. And God’s message was straightforward, saying, “Why did you not obey the LORD?...Why did you do evil in the eyes of the LORD?”

At this Saul said, “But I did obey the LORD.” He completely ignored what God had said. The communication problems seemed to be more and more serious in self-deception. We cannot communicate when there is self-deception. We all should watch out self-deception. Saul even explained how he obeyed the LORD, “I went on the mission the LORD assigned me. I completely destroyed the Amalekites and brought back Agag their king. The soldiers took sheep and cattle from the plunder, the best of what was devoted to the God, in order to sacrifice them to the LORD your God at Gilgal.” Saul was justifying himself continually with many words. And he is like those who insist, “All the bad things others did; the good things I did.” He did not know how to stand before God as an individual. Spiritually speaking, it seems that Saul’s eyes and ears were completely blocked.

Yet, Samuel does his best to help Saul. Samuel did not further talk about whether Saul obeyed the LORD. Since Saul mentioned repeatedly about sacrificing the LORD, Samuel picked up on this theme and replied: “Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifice 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.” It is the LORD who made the sacrifice system. In sacrifice the most important thing is the heart of the one who brings sacrifice to God. So David confessed in Psalm 51:16-17, “You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” Also, God said in Hosea 6:6 says, “For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgement of God rather than burnt offerings.” When the Pharisees seemed to be so zealous for God and meticulously serve him to the point of opposing Jesus who associated with tax collectors and sinners. Jesus said, “Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice’” (Mt 9:13). And it is also written in Micah 6:6-8, “With what shall I come before the LORD…Shall I come before him with burnt offerings…Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams…He has shown me, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Sacrifices and all the services are to be the expression of one’s heart for God. Indeed God wants the heart of man, and one’s obedience and loving heart go together. Jesus said in John 14:21, “Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me…” So Samuel said to Saul, “Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifice 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.”

And then Samuel said, “For rebellion is like the sin of divination, and arrogance like the evil of idolatry.” Not obeying the LORD is rebellion against him, and it is like the sin of divination. Those who disobey and rebel have high view of themselves and low view of God. Those who disobey are to perish, but they do not think so. They merely expect that their future days still will be fine as they go on their way, though their destiny is solely in the hand of God. In their disobedience they are committing the sin of divination. And disobedience and rebellion stem from a proud or arrogant heart. They themselves are in the centre of their hearts, and so their self is the idol in them. They are self-worshippers and self-glory seekers. They are doing the evil of idolatry. According to the Bible the sin of divination and the evil of idolatry are all worthy of death.

Then finally Samuel said, “Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, he has rejected you as king.” Ultimately one’s attitude toward the word of God shows everything about himself or herself. Eve did not pay attention to the word of God. Then she doubted God’s love and became vulnerable and finally was deceived by the devil. Adam listened to his wife, not holding to God’s command in the centre of his heart and tragically fell. Cain rejected the gentle words of God to the end and so was rejected by God, being driven out from the presence of the LORD. He became a restless wanderer on the earth. In the previous lesson we learned that Saul’s critical problem was no faith in God. This is related to his poor attitude toward the word of God. He treated the word of God lightly and in his own way out of his proud heart. From God’s viewpoint he rejected the word of God, and in return was rejected by God. Jesus rebuked the Pharisees that the word of God did not dwell in their hearts. Judas Iscariot heard so many words of God through Jesus, but in fact he did not receive even one word of God into his heart and finally betrayed Jesus. As for Abraham the word of God’s promise was planted in his heart and grew so that his life could be rooted in the promise of God’s word and finally bore a wonderful fruit and became a source of blessing for many as God promised. There was a crucial time in Jesus’ ministry with many people’s leaving. Then Jesus asked the Twelve, “You do not want to leave too, do you?” At this Simon Peter answered, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” Peter found the words of eternal life in Jesus, so he could not leave Jesus. Jesus said in Luke 9:23, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” Denying myself means to respect God’s word more than my own ideas and follow Jesus, who obeyed God unto death. Isaiah 66:2 says, “‘Has not my hand made all these things, and so they came into being?’ declares the LORD. ‘This is the one I esteem: he who is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at my word.’” We need specifically to believe one word of God absolutely, particularly at the crucial time of our life so as to obey it and be rooted in the word and bear good fruit in life.

Look at verses 24 and 25. “Then Saul said to Samuel, ‘I have sinned. I violated the LORD’s command your instructions. I was afraid of the people and so I gave in to them. Now I beg you, forgive my sin and come back with me, so that I may worship the LORD.’ This overdue confession appears to be generated more by a concern over consequences (regret) than by sorrow over having offended his holy God (repentance). Saul bypasses his personal responsibility by shifting blame to the people. His words seemed to be right, but his heart, problematic. In verse 26 Samuel said to him, “I will not go with back with you. You have rejected the word of the LORD, and the LORD has rejected you as king over Israel.” Samuel reiterated God’s rejecting Saul because his rejecting the word of God. As Samuel turned to leave, Saul caught hold of the hem of his robe, and it tore. Then Samuel gave a very graphic message, “The LORD has torn the kingdom of Israel from you today and has given it to one of your neighbours—to one better than you.” And then he said, “He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie or change his mind; for he is not a man, that he should change his mind.” Samuel confirmed the unchanging word of God that had been spoken.

In verse 30 Saul replied, “I have sinned. But please honour me before the elders of my people and before Israel; come back with me, so that I may worship the LORD your God.” Saul was still thinking of himself and how he could best salvage the situation for self-gain. Saul was concerned about having Samuel’s visible presence as a show of support in front of the people (cf. 15:30). He still valued human relationship, though his relationship with God was broken. Samuel agreed to follow Saul, perhaps seeing this as the wisest course of action for the nation at that time.

Samuel put Agag to death before the LORD. This was an act of divine judgment to show the holy wrath of God against wanton sin. In verses 34 and 35, “Then Samuel left for Ramah, but Saul went up to his home in Gibeah of Saul. Until the day Samuel died, he did not go to see Saul again, though Samuel mourned for him. This is also Samuel’s beautiful shepherd life. Samuel remained as God’s servant to the end. And the LORD was grieved that he had made Saul king over Israel.”

In his part we see the nature of sinful human beings, who neglect the word of God and try to do in their own way and are not willing to recognize sins though obvious, trying to justify themselves with many words and remain unrepentant in self-worship to the end. May God have mercy on us to learn simple repentance and personal obedience to the word of God, having God in the centre of our hearts.

Second, God looks at the heart, not the outward appearance (16:1-23). Look at verse 1. “The LORD said to Samuel, ‘How long will you mourn for Saul, since I have rejected him as king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil and be on your way; I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem. I have chosen one of his sons to be king.’” We see yet again Samuel’s beautiful and unceasing shepherd heart for Saul. In verse 3 the LORD said, “Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what to do. You are to anoint for me the one I indicate.” We see that God’s revelation is gradual. When we obey him, we reveals his plan more and more specifically. Samuel did what the LORD said. He was obedient to God to the end. Samuel came to Bethlehem and invited Jesse and his sons to the sacrifice. When they arrived, Samuel saw Eliab and thought, ‘Surely the LORD’s anointed stands here before the LORD.” But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” Even such a spiritual man as Samuel could not have a clear discernment to see a right one. Most people are deceived by outward appearance. We should constantly remember that the LORD looks at the heart, not the outward appearance. God never fails to see the heart of repentance and obedience.

It seemed that Samuel spent a considerable amount of time looking at Eliab the first one, but let the second and the third and all others quickly pass before him, saying, “The LORD has not chosen this one either,” “Nor has the LORD chosen this one,” and “The LORD has not chosen these.” When seven of Jesse’s sons passed, Samuel asked Jesse, “Are those all the sons you have?” “There is still the youngest,” Jesse answered, “but he is tending the sheep.” Samuel said, “Send for him; we will not sit down until he arrives.” So Jesse sent and had him brought in. He was ruddy (freshly or healthily red), with a fine appearance and handsome features. Then the LORD said, “Rise and anoint him; he is the one.” Here nothing is written about the heart of Jesse’s youngest, but only about his appearance. It seems that God saw the youngest one’s appearance and chose him. But we believe that God saw his heart. His tending the sheep could be an expression of his heart. Although even his name was not mentioned at this point, the youngest one was a man after God’s own heart as Samuel said to Saul in 13:14, “But now your kingdom will not endure; the LORD has sought out a man after his own heart and appointed him lead of his people.” Probably his ruddiness, fine appearance and handsome features were the reflection of his beautiful heart. Anyway, he is the one God has chosen. So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of the LORD came upon David in power. Samuel then went to Ramah.

In verses 14-23, how miserable Saul became with the departure of the Spirit of the LORD and the coming and tormenting of an evil spirit, and how David could go into the service for King Saul. Here evil spirit is mentioned four times. Fundamentally human beings are not independent beings as many claim. They are controlled by the Holy Spirit or evil spirits. As for believers the most dreadful thing is the departing of the Holy Spirit. And humans are helpless under the torment of evil spirit. When the Spirit of the LORD had departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the LORD tormented him. Saul’s attendants suggested that he be treated with music therapy for relief. Then David was found as one who could play the harp and entered Saul’s service. And David also became one of his armor-bearers, since David was a brave man and a warrior. Saul became miserable with the torment of evil spirit regardless of his position as king over Israel, but God was paving a way for David in this connection according his purpose.

May we have a right attitude toward the word of God as of first importance and show personal obedience to it out of loving heart for God and live a life with the Holy Spirit.

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