“Tell me,” Samuel said. “Does the Lord really want sacrifices and offerings? No! He doesn’t want your sacrifices. He wants you to obey him. Rebelling against God or disobeying him because you are proud is just as bad as worshiping idols or asking them for advice. You refused to do what God told you, so God has decided that you can no longer be king.”
“I have sinned,” Saul admitted. “I disobeyed both you and the Lord. I was afraid of the army, and I listened to them instead. Please forgive me and come back with me so I can worship the Lord.”
“No!” Samuel replied, “You disobeyed the Lord, and I won’t go back with you. Now the Lord has said that you can’t be king of Israel any longer.”
As Samuel turned to go, Saul grabbed the edge of Samuel’s robe. It tore! Samuel said, “The Lord has torn the kingdom of Israel away from you today, and he will give it to someone who is better than you. Besides, the eternal God of Israel isn’t a human being. He doesn’t tell lies or change his mind.”
Saul said, “I did sin, but please honor me in front of the leaders of the army and the people of Israel. Come back with me, so I can worship the Lord your God.”
Samuel followed Saul back, and Saul worshiped the Lord. (Contemporary English Version)
God had given Saul explicit instructions on how to handle a group of people called the Amalekites (the first nation to attack the Jewish people after the Exodus from Egypt, and viewed as the archetypal enemy of the Jews). Saul obeyed only some of the instructions, but not all of them.
King Saul rationalized his behavior as worship. But God would have none of it. The Lord rejected Saul as king. God wants no monkey business when it comes to obedience. (1 Samuel 15:1-21)
Whenever I come across biblical characters like Saul, I find myself trying to distance from them. Yet, oftentimes, when I take the time to sit a bit with the Scriptures, I realize I can have some of the same propensities as their behavior. In today’s Old Testament lesson, I am like Saul whenever:
- I say I will do something and then get busy and not do it. I sometimes rationalize my lack of follow through by explaining what good things I was doing with my time instead.
- I justify a purchase of something I do not really need, but want, with the excuse that I am generous with my money.
- I slander another person, even though its forbidden by God, with the knucklehead notion that I am protecting and helping others from that person’s evil ways.
- I keep quiet in the face of a bad situation when I should be speaking up. I dismiss the lack of engagement and involvement with needing to save my energy for people who want it….
I could keep going with this little exercise, but I’m too convicted to keep thinking about it anymore. So, before we get too uppity about saying we are not like Saul and would never be like him, perhaps we ought to sit with the story for a while, being mindful and aware of any unacknowledged disobedience.
Rationalization is the way of sinners. Repentance is the path of saints. Which road will you choose today?
Unfortunately, as the story of Saul’s life unfolds, we discover that the encounter with Samuel becomes a typical pattern of behavior in which Saul:
- Disobeys or ignores God’s commands
- Rationalizes his bad behavior by putting a spiritual spin on it
- Is confronted with his sin
- “Repents” with crocodile tears
- Then goes back to his old ways of doing whatever the heck he wants
It seems that whenever Saul feels threatened, or anxious, or jealous, or stressed, he crumbles into a heap of fear and ends up making boneheaded decisions, hurting people, or becoming complicit in somebody else’s sin.
Don’t be like Saul.
Instead, get to the root of the trouble by addressing your own anxiety.
Focus on What Is Within Your Control
We cannot control other people. Many circumstances are also outside our control. However, we are always in control of ourselves. Learn good self-care, focus on helpful attitudes, and use the adversity before you to strengthen your faith.
The Serenity Prayer is a good reminder in those times when we feel out of control:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.
Promote a Positive Mindset
Positive attitudes help us widen our perspective on things – and with a broader view of things comes more awareness of choices. Making spiritually and emotionally healthy choices for ourselves builds resilience and fortifies us for difficult situations down the road, without succumbing to old unhealthy coping mechanisms.
False humility looks a lot like what Saul did. But true humility isn’t about trying to save face or suck up to others. It’s about the willingness to ask for what you need and want without manipulation, to serve others without making sure everyone notices. Humility relates to, and empathizes with, others and doesn’t go out of the way to distance from folks on the lower end of society. And humility is always willing to accept the consequences of decisions and actions.
Rationalizing disobedience never ends well, especially with a God who holds everyone accountable for their words and behaviors. So, let’s all do ourselves a favor, and seek the good, the right, and the just with a spirit of meekness.
Holy God, you expect obedience to clear instructions. I am sorry for all those times I found creative ways to circumvent your teaching. Help me not to avoid your good commands, but to own them with vigor and vitality through Jesus Christ my Lord in the power of your Holy Spirit. Amen.