Obedience Over Offerings – 1 Samuel 15

The failure to follow instructions had already put Saul in hot water as God did not respond to him either through the prophet or through the Urim and the Thummim. Saul was also on the outs with Samuel but after some time had passed, Samuel came to Saul with a message from the Lord. This time the instructions were for Saul to attack the Amalekites and totally destroy the people and all their belongings. This would be justice for what the Amalekites had put the Israelites through when they came up from Egypt. The instructions were crystal clear and left no room for ambiguity or misinterpretation. However, Saul found new ways to incur the wrath of Samuel and in the process was rejected by God as Israel’s king.

The Amalekites were a nomadic group that had descended from Esau’s line, Issac’s firstborn. They were savages who terrorised Israel back when they first came into the land. Israel was a tiny nation at that point but now after Saul’s conquest of the Philistines, it had become one of the most powerful nations of that region. God can use anyone to accomplish His will. He used prophets to send forth His message regarding impending destruction and then would swiftly act on it too. There have been times when He has used the Pagan countries that surround Israel to capture His own people as an act of judgment. He even uses the evil spirits (including satan) to accomplish His will. Like the time when Jesus gave permission to Judas to betray Him, satan entered into him (John 13:27) or when God sent an evil spirit to torment Saul (1 Samuel 18:10).

Outcome of Wars

In such wars, completely destroying a group of people left no scope for their descendants to exact revenge years later. Moses was a survivor of such a nationwide massacre and he came back to haunt the Egyptians years later. That being said we know that God usually waits for people to repent before taking this step.

Say to them, ‘As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, people of Israel?’

Ezekiel 33:11

For us, living long on this earth is a blessed life but from God’s perspective, spending every moment that we have on this earth accomplishing His will for our lives is what constitutes a blessed life. To accomplish His will we can be either on this earth or in heaven with our Father. From time to time God completely annihilated different parts of this world as an act of judgement or sometimes as a reminder for the rest of us that He is always in control of everything. This time it was the Amalekites who were facing the wrath of God and Saul was to be an instrument that carried out His will.

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.

1 Samuel 15:9 (NIV)

Saul brought back the spoils of his victory in the form of plunder from the Amalekites. Not only did he bring back their possessions and cattle, but he also brought Agag the king of the Amalekites back to Israel alive. After a successful battle, the kings of this world usually return home on a warhorse, parading the prisoners that they had captured and showcasing the plunder that they had brought back. This display of grandeur would instill not only respect amongst the people for their king but also a sense of pride and patriotism.

Israel wanted a king as they saw how other countries prospered under pagan rulers and now they had one, a king who was just like the other pagan kings. Saul knew that it was God who chose him to lead His country even when he was from the lowest of clans. All the battles that he had won were because of God who had given the other countries into his hand. Rather than acknowledging the real reason for his success, Saul was busy celebrating his own. He even constructed a monument in his honour in the time it took Samuel to reach Carmel.

God Regrets

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.

1 Samuel 15:10-11 (NIV)

God knew very well when Israel was asking Him for a king, who was the person who will be leading them. All humans are imperfect and all of Israel’s kings came with their own set of flaws. Saul’s failure to obey the voice of God was his downfall. God knows us inside out and is not surprised by our actions to obey or to reject Him. But He is pleased and saddened by those very same actions (respectively).

Saul’s failure to carry out God’s instruction made him an instrument in the hands of satan, as God gave his soul over to the enemy. He is mourning the lost soul that has been corrupted by its own ego and self-centeredness. God also mourns when we reject Him and choose to do things that are against His will. He does not regret creating us, forming us in our mother’s womb or sending Jesus to die for our sins but mourns our soul that has been separated from His fold.

Saul had set up a monument for himself at Carmel, the same place where he had been told by Samuel that the kingdom of Israel will not be passed down to his descendants. So erecting a shrine for himself in that place was tantamount to defiance of what Samuel had prophesied about him earlier. Samuel saw that Saul had not followed the instructions and had kept the best of the plunder for himself. On confronting Saul, he went into denial mode and started blaming the soldiers for the plunder they had brought back. Saul did not want to accept that he had done anything wrong but when Samuel said that the kingdom of Israel will be snatched from his hands his tone changed instantaneously.

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.”

1 Samuel 15:30 (NIV)

Keeping Up Appearances

Saul was actually thinking that he had successfully carried out the Lord’s instructions and is oblivious to the heart of God. Saul is not bothered by his disobedience of God’s instructions, instead, he is more worried about his people and the perception they have of him. Samuel’s presence alongside him would give his kingship legitimacy in the eyes of his countrymen. He is ready to put the blame on others like he did even in the last chapter, putting blame on the starving soldiers for God’s refusal to respond to him. He was more worried about his image in front of the elders if he did not return with Samuel as he had already lost the support of God and now Samuel.

Upon Saul’s request, Samuel went back with him and worshipped the Lord. What a hollow worship session that would have been with the two men still having bitterness between them. But that is the case in our churches where people fight with each other on regular basis but on the altar worship the Lord together. But Samuel had not come to only save face for Saul, he had also come to finish the instruction that God had given to Saul. He put Agag to death before the Lord at Gilgal and parted ways with Saul, never to see him again during his reign.

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.

1 Samuel 15:22 (NIV)

Like Saul, we also fall into the same trap not realising that offerings follow obedience. Offerings and sacraments are tools that God has given us to continue a relationship with Him. But we want to use the tools without having a relationship with God. We start thinking that following rituals are more important than obeying God’s direct instructions. Like Saul, we start lying to ourselves and to God, saying that technically we did not do anything wrong. We love to justify our actions thinking that we can pacify God and accomplish our will. We strive to please the world rather than even attempting to please God. The honour of the community around us is dearer than the approval from God. In the end, Saul was cut off from God’s fold completely and was given into the hands of satan. That will be our state too if we continue to fool ourselves by meaningless offerings and rituals without the actual obedience of God.

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. And the LORD regretted that he had made Saul king over Israel.

1 Samuel 15:34-35 (NIV)

Discussion Questions

V2: Why would God command to kill everyone including the innocent?
V8: Why would Saul bring back the king of the Amalekites and the plunder?
V11&35: Does God have regrets?
V25: Why is Saul begging Samuel to come back with him?
Takeaway: How do we fall into the same trap that Saul found himself in?

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