PARTIAL OBEDIENCE IS DISOBEDIENCE
1 Samuel 15
Sin Brings Death
The Lord sent Samuel to Saul with a divine pronouncement as he had in the past when he anointed Saul as king over Israel. Saul was instructed to listen to his prophet and heed the divine words that he brought. Sin will not go unpunished, and the Lord does not forget. Amalek was to be erased for the way they treated Israel when they came out of Egypt (Deuteronomy 25:17-19). Nothing would be spared. Saul wasted no time and quickly rallied his forces. Before going to war against the Amalekites, Saul warned the Kenites to leave lest they die during the battle. Saul and his army routed the Amalekites and executed everybody he could get hands on with one exception. Saul spared King Agag, and his troops were unwilling to destroy the best of the livestock. Saul partially obeyed and was guilty of the same sin Achan had committed during the conquest.
Regret And Rejection
God revealed to Samuel that Saul’s actions had caused Him to regret making him king. Saul had been warned that obedience would bring blessing and disobedience would mean rejection. God's change of attitude toward Saul was not a change of purpose. God is unchanging in his purpose, but he changed his attitude toward Saul because of his disobedience. Samuel was angry and cried out all night in prayer to the Lord. Early the next morning, Samuel set out to find Saul. Along the way, he learned that Saul had returned to Carmel and constructed a monument for himself to celebrate his victory. When Samuel finally reached Saul, he was warmly greeted, and Saul enthusiastically declared that he had carried out the commandment of God. Either Saul is bluffing, or he is part of that group in every age who think that partial obedience is acceptable to the Lord. Samuel went to the heart of the matter and called attention to the noise he heard coming from the livestock spared by Saul. The king blamed the people and proclaimed that they were kept to offer sacrifices to God. Saul seems to be arguing that religious sincerity is a viable substitute for obedience to God. Samuel cannot stand to listen to Saul's excuses, and he interrupts the king declaring that he must tell him what God had revealed. Saul stops and agrees to listen. Samuel reminds Saul that he was Israel's king and God had commanded him to fight against the Amalekites until they were exterminated, but he had disobeyed orders. Saul stubbornly rejects Samuel’s accusation that he disobeyed the Lord and excuses his actions. He had spared only Agag, and the people had spared the choicest livestock to sacrifice.
Religion Is No Substitute For Obedience
Samuel forcefully rejected Saul’s contention that religious intention justifies selective obedience. “To obey is better than sacrifice.” No amount of religious practice can substitute for doing what God commands, and external religious observance must reflect internal faith and piety. Rebellion and insubordination are compared with divination and idolatry. Conscious disobedience is like idolatry because it makes an idol out of selfish desires. The punishment must fit the crime. Saul had rejected the word of God, and therefore God rejected him as King. Samuel’s pronouncement causes Saul to realize the seriousness of his disobedience.
The Rejected King
Saul realizes the gravity of his disobedience and confesses his iniquity. He asked to be pardoned and invited Samuel to join him in public worship. Samuel refuses and in desperation Saul seizes Samuel’s robe. Samuel's robe ripped, and the prophet used it to illustrate the sad truth that God had torn the kingdom from Saul and given it to someone more worthy. For the second time, Saul confesses his sin and accepts his fate. He asks Samuel to honor him before the elders and the people by returning to Gilgal with him. Saul worshiped the Lord, but things would never be the same. When the service concluded, Samuel demanded to have Agag brought before him. Agag was cheerful, and he came to Samuel entirely convinced that his life was no longer in danger. The elderly Nazarite recited the charges and slew Agag before the Lord. Saul may have disobeyed the Lord, but Samuel faithfully executed the death sentence which the Lord had already pronounced against this king and his people. The scene ends with a rebellious, disobedient king juxtaposed against the faithful prophet of Yahweh. Samuel would not see Saul again until the day of his death, but he grieved over Saul, and the Lord regretted making Saul king. Man’s repentance implies a change of mind, but God’s regret reflects a change of circumstances and relationship. He has not changed; it is Saul who has changed his position to God. Saul may wear a crown, but he is no longer the king.
Thing To Consider:
- Why do you think God delayed in executing justice on the Amalekites?
- Why do you think God required complete annihilation?
- Why are small compromises a big deal?
- Why do you think Samuel cried to the Lord all night knowing that Saul had disobeyed?
- Why is partial obedience such a problem? Wouldn't God rather have some obedience than none at all?
- What are ways that we try to justify sin?
- How is religion used as an excuse to sin?
- What do we learn about obedience? Why is this an important lesson?
- How difficult do you think it was to hear that God was giving the kingdom to a neighbor that is better than you?
- How do you deal with the pain of losing a relationship to someone who is walking in ongoing sin?