The rise and fall of King Saul – part 3 (1 Sam 9-15)

Today is the final part of a three-part look at the rise and fall of King Saul. If you’re joining us now, you’d be best starting with the first in the series. Yesterday, we saw Saul listening to the people rather than God, and suffering the consequences. Yet God was gracious, allowing him to remain king. He gives him a second chance.

But what does Saul do with it? We’ll skip over a bit of the story and move to chapter 15, where Saul gets another chance to prove himself with God. Will this time be different?

15:2 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. Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy everything that belongs to them.’

Again, we have another clear command from God, as disturbing as it might be: kill everything, spare nothing! Not even their livestock – cattle, sheep, camels, and donkeys. It’s pretty clear. So what does Saul do?

15:8-9 He took Agag king of the Amalekites alive. 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—everything that was good. These they were unwilling to destroy completely, but everything that was despised and weak they totally destroyed.

Look how it says ‘they were unwilling’. It gives us a hint that Saul was still worried about what people were thinking; more worried about keeping his army happy, than keeping God happy:

15:10 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.”

So Samuel goes to meet Saul. And when he turns up, Saul claims to have done what was required. Now is it just me, or does he sound a little too eager to report back?

15:13 When Samuel reached him, Saul said, “The LORD bless you! I have carried out the LORD’S instructions.”

Oh, really??

15:14 But Samuel said, “What then is this bleating of sheep in my ears? What is this lowing of cattle that I hear?”

Again, it find it helps to imagine Saul as being English – possibly even a bit Basil Fawlty: What bleating? [baaa] Oh, those sheep. Ha ha. Well you see, long story, I’m sure you’ll see the funny side, but well my men here wanted to spare some of the best of the sheep to, er, to… to sacrifice, yes that was it, wasn’t it? Sacrifice to God. Thought he could do with a good sacrifice, you know, say thankyou for giving us victory in the battle and everything. I mean, if you just send flowers – looks like you haven’t put enough thought in. So, I think it was Roger here, said, ‘why not make a sacrifice’ and we all thought, jolly good, let’s save a few… er, but we, um, but we destroyed the rest of them… So you see, I did do what God said…

15:22-23 But Samuel replied: “Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices 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. 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.”

That is, God wants you to do what he tells you to do, not what you think is right. How many times do I have to say that to my kids:

Why didn’t you do what I said? Didn’t you hear?

Yes I did, but I was just going to…

In other words, you thought you knew better than me…

Well Saul realises he’s in trouble, and comes clean – particularly about his motivation:

15:24-25 Then Saul said to Samuel, “I have sinned. I violated the LORD’S command and 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.”

But Saul has had his chance. If he’d repented after the first sin – of not waiting for Samuel to offer sacrifices – he still could have been like Moses. He could have remained in God’s plan despite not getting to see the promised land.

Saul had already blown his chance of an enduring dynasty. But if Saul had taken Samuel’s first rebuke to heart, if he’d learned his lesson, he could have remained king throughout his life. He could have exercised his rule alongside the young man, David, who would eventually take over. But he didn’t learn from his mistakes. He persisted in his rebellion. He continued to fear the people more than he feared God. And so the kingship itself was going to be taken away from him, in a more violent way.

15:27-28 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 neighbours – to one better than you.”

Even after all that, Saul’s one last request of Samuel is telling:

15:30-31 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.” So Samuel went back with Saul, and Saul worshiped the LORD.

Even then, Saul shows how he’s too concerned with the people’s opinion than God’s. A characteristic that continues to intensify throughout the rest of his life. He ends up paranoid, jumping at shadows, a bitter and angry man. He resorts to consulting spirits for guidance. Ultimately, he’s driven mad and commits suicide.

Saul doesn’t respond well to his own sin; he doesn’t respond constructively when rebuked by God. And so he ends up missing out on being a part of God’s plan; he missing out on everything.

To think about

How do you respond to rebukes from God? Do you ignore them?

How do you respond to the consequences of your sinful choices? Do you lose heart?

Remember, it’s not the perfect people who are used by God. There aren’t any. But God uses those learn from their failures; who respond constructively to rebuke. Just like Israel’s next king, David.

If you’ve failed God, there’s still hope. You can still be part of what God is doing in his world. God still has a plan for your life. But it all depends on where you go from here.

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