1 Samuel 15:10-31 – Rationalizing Disobedience

King Saul by William Wetmore Story (1819-1895) at the North Carolina Museum of Art

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.”

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. “Enough!” Samuel said to Saul. “Let me tell you what the Lord said to me last night.”

“Tell me,” Saul replied.

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; wage war against 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?”

“But I did obey the Lord,” Saul said. “I went on the mission the Lord assigned me. I 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 God, to sacrifice them to the Lord your God at Gilgal.”

But Samuel replied:

“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.
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.”

Then Saul said to Samuel, “I have sinned. I violated the Lord’s command and your instructions. I was afraid of the men 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.”

But Samuel said to him, “I will not go back with you. You have rejected the word of the Lord, and the Lord has rejected you as king over Israel!”

As Samuel turned to leave, Saul caught hold of the hem of his robe, and it tore. 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. 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.”

Saul replied, “I have sinned. But please honor me before the elders of my people and before Israel; come back with me, so that I may worship the Lord your God.” So, Samuel went back with Saul, and Saul worshiped the Lord. (NIV)

“You cannot compensate by sacrifice what you lose through disobedience.”

edwin louis cole

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.

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 put a lot of money in the offering plate for God.
  • I slander another person, even though it is 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 have kept going with this little exercise, but I got 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?

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.

1 Chronicles 10:1-14

            The books of Samuel and Chronicles contain, for the most part, the same content and material concerning the kings of Israel and Judah. Yet, whereas 1 & 2 Samuel gives a more straightforward narrative, 1 & 2 Chronicles often provides the narrative with explanatory comments.  So, we have such a story in today’s Old Testament lesson.  The last chapter of 1 Samuel gives an account of King Saul’s death, along with his sons.  However, in 1 Chronicles 10, we get the narration of their deaths along with a clear concise note on why King Saul perished in battle:
“So, Saul died for his breach of faith.  He broke faith with the LORD in that he did not keep the command of the LORD, and also consulted a medium, seeking guidance.  He did not seek guidance from the LORD.  Therefore the LORD put him to death and turned the kingdom over to David the son of Jesse” (ESV).
            The original compiler of Chronicles did so for the Jewish exiles who were returning to Palestine.  He did not want to simply recount the important stories of the kings of Israel; he wanted the exiles to know exactly why they went into exile to begin with, and how in the future they could keep it from happening again.  So, Saul served as Exhibit A of the kind of person that erodes the true worship of God and lives against the grain of faithfulness to the Lord.
            The true measure of a person of God is not in titles, positions, or membership.  The real test of a God-follower is being faithful to the revealed will of God contained in Holy Scripture.  Thus, to read it, know it, and live it is one of our highest callings as God’s people.
            Eternal God, you remain the same throughout the ages of time.  Help me to be faithful to your standard of righteousness and live faithfully into the ways of Jesus, my Lord.  Amen.

1 Samuel 18:6-30

            Anxiety tends to warp our thinking.  Maybe that statement seems a bit harsh.  After all, everyone is anxious at some time or another.  Anxiety is part and parcel of the human experience; it is something we all have in common.  However, when anxiety takes root in the heart it bears the fruit of unholy fear.  Today’s Old Testament story illustrates the insecurity and irrationality that an unchecked anxious heart can produce.
            King Saul was jealous of David’s success in battle.  Behind Saul’s anxiety was the concern that David was in the limelight.  It made Saul angry that David was getting all the attention.  Since he was the one in charge, Saul kept putting David in situations where it seemed that he would certainly fail.  But instead of failure, David had wild success in everything he did.  The text makes it clear that this was because “the LORD was with him.”  This made Saul even more anxious and afraid to the degree that he had malevolent motives behind everything he did toward David.  Even though it might not have looked evil on the outside, in reality the interior life of Saul was a mess, and it made him stupid.
            When Saul saw and knew that God was with David, it only reinforced his fear and led him down a dark path.  In contrast to Saul, David had a character developed in the lonely place of the pasture.  Genuine integrity is always forged in the secret place where no one is looking.  If we are only concerned for outward performance and/or perfectionism, all kinds of anxieties can develop and warp our sense of reality.  But if we pay attention to the inner person and allow God to create a deep faith within, then we can stand strong even when there are those who have ill will against us.
            Search me, O God, and know my heart.  Test me and know my anxious thoughts.  See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.  Amen.

Confronting Courage

David and Goliath is one of the best known stories in the entire Bible (1 Samuel 17:1-50).  It is a classic example of what can be accomplished through one person who chooses to exercise the courage of faith.  This story has served as one of the greatest inspirations for believers down through the centuries to see God give victory to his people against dramatically overwhelming odds.  The New Testament exhorts us to live by faith; but this Old Testament chapter demonstrates to us what can happen when a person of faith chooses to put that faith into action.
            In the ancient world, a typical tactic of warfare was that, when the battle lines were drawn, a champion from each side was chosen and they would fight together, just the two of them, on behalf of the entire army.  It was a fight to the death, and the losing side would submit to the winning side.  This was a way of preventing the terrible carnage of war.  It also created some incredible individual champions.  A champion would be selected not only for his ability to fight, but also for his impressive stature so that there was an intimidation factor to it all.
            Saul was the King of Israel.  He was the logical choice for the combat since he was a head taller than all the other Israelites, and was a rather impressive looking soldier.  But compared to Goliath, Saul looked like a midget.  The intimidation factor worked.  Saul was downright afraid and was not about to put himself out there to face a giant.
            The explanation for the two contrasting responses between David and Saul toward Goliath is simple:  David was brave because of faith in God; Saul was fearful because he was not a man of faith in God.  The opposite of faith is not unbelief; it is fear.  As the muscle of faith grows and develops through trusting God in the daily stresses of life, fear begins to melt away.  The development of faith is a process, and it takes much time.  Through daily spiritual disciplines of Bible reading and prayer; and, putting what we read into practice; the faith muscle begins to grow large and strong so that God is preparing us to face down some pretty big giants.
            Men, in particular, need to confront two great fears:  being found inadequate; and, being controlled by another person or circumstance.  Those two fears were evident in Saul.  He felt inadequate because he compared himself to Goliath.  He felt controlled by the situation because the Philistines were picking a fight.  So, he did nothing.  There are many men who would rather do nothing in the church than be labelled as inadequate or controlled.
            David, in contrast, had practice at facing down foes, the bear and the lion, who threatened the sheep.  David was often out in the countryside all by himself as a shepherd, and his skills were developed in the place where no one was looking.  So, the way to deal with our development of faith is to be assertive in owning our relationship with God on a daily basis, as well as stepping out and serving the local church with courage. 
            It was not just Saul that was intimidated by Goliath; the entire army of Israel was hiding behind the battle lines cringing in fear.  In contrast, David discerned that there was no reason to avoid a big bullying blowhard.  It appears that David was the only person able to see Goliath as he really was:  a small person in comparison to a big God.  By faith, David understood that Goliath is no match for God.
            One person full of faith can accomplish the improbable while an army full of fear cannot accomplish a thing.  We might have a tendency to think that everything in church ministry has to be large with a big splash to it.  Somehow if we had an elaborate program with lots of people, then we could accomplish big things for God.  Yet, we need to step out in courageous faith.  Oftentimes we want an army of people because then we can still hide behind other people’s bravery while continuing to nurse our secret fears and insecurities. 


            Here is a reality check:  No other person can do our faith and relational work for us.  The Beaver Cleaver philosophy of life works something like this:  if I get in trouble or in a pickle of some sort, I’ll just ignore it and hope it goes away.  But Goliath is not going anywhere.  He will still be there tomorrow.  But if we will own the spiritual boot camp that God wants to put us through, then we will be prepared like David to take on the giant.  The greatest single element every church needs is people full of faith who have the wisdom to confront the true problems it faces.  Let that one sink into your forehead….