1 Samuel 15: Saul Sins

Saul disappointing God to the point he loses his throne is more like us today than we like to think.


Saul had already committed a sin, when he decided to present the offerings instead of waiting on the priest (Samuel) in 1 Samuel 13, and God had already made it known to Saul that he would be replaced. You would think this would drive Saul to be better, to prove that his sin was one moment of poor judgment, not his normal behavior. Perhaps that was Saul's intent with the fast he imposed upon his soldiers before their battle; of course that, too, backfired, causing them to sin when they finally could eat. 1 Samuel 15 tells us how Samuel fell into sin, once again.


1 Samuel 15 finds the Israelites at war once again, this time with the Amalekites. Samuel relays a message from God to Saul that they are to attack the Amalekites. God reminds them of how Amalek unjustly attacked Israel during their time in the wilderness, though He does not specify why the Israelites are to attack them now. It is possible that the Amalekites were thinking of attacking Israel, so God was moving Israel to attack first. It is also possible that the Amalekites were still in sin; most of the nations, including Israel, worshipped pagan gods. In the latter instance, God may have been using Israel to render punishment.

Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass.1 Samuel 15:3 KJV
As with most battles Israel entered, God command them to destroy everything. Whatever the Amalekites' sin was, it had defiled everything around them.

Why Kill Everything?

Death to all sounds harsh; I'm pretty sure that would be considered a war crime in today's world (of course, only the losers ever get tried for war crimes). God Himself told us not to kill, so why does He tell the Israelites to kill everyone when in battle? That's hard logic to follow, and perhaps why Saul didn't follow God's instructions. Let's think about the situation for a minute.

Per God's design, and especially in that era, men were supposed to be leaders and warriors. Anyone left after a battle would harbor resentment and desire revenge, but the men would be the ones to carry it out. A perfect example of this is in the movie 10,000 BC. Whn an army attacks a village, carrying off many of their residents, the men that were left behind form a small army and set off in pursuit of the stolen villagers. Spoiler alert: in the end, that small army recruits other small armies in the same position, and together they defeat a massive empire. This is likely why God wanted all the men killed; to put a final end to the conflict. Afterall, once Jesus wins the final battle for the Earth, everyone who opposes God will be killed, too.

What threat did the women possess that they should be killed? In Numbers 25, we see it is the women that lead the Israelites into idolatry. Once their men were killed, they would have to seek out Israelite men or men in neighboring kingdoms for husbands, which would also make them low hanging fruit for the Israelite men to pluck. Lust and love can have a tremendous affect on a person's behaviors. Just a few years ago, I was talking to a friend of mine about the holidays. When I asked what he was going to do about holidays such as Christmas (we'll skip the discussion that it has pagan origins and is not really Christian) when he had children, he started saying it would depend on his wife. He kept talking about how "normal" it was for people to change their beliefs and stance on beliefs for their spouse. "People change all the time," he argued. This is why we are told not to be unequally yoked! We are to chose partners who are following God so that we are not tempted away from God. God knew that the Amalekite women would provide just that, temptations and gateways to paganism.

Which brings us to the animals. If anyone was completely innocent in the matter, the animals were. Why should they die? For the same reason God sent Jesus to die; after all of the killing the Israelites did, there had to be sacrifices to cleanse the Earth (Numbers 35:33). If they kept the spoils of war without atoning for the bloodshed, it would be detrimental to the Earth, and thus themselves. The animals' blood would cover the blood of the Israelites who should have otherwise send their own blood to atone for the massacre.

Saul's Response

Photocredit: Wan
Saul gathers an army of 210,000 men to advance against the Amalekites. Though they are victorious, Saul does not kill the king of the Amalekites (Agag) and keeps the best of the livestock. If my assumption about the livestock acting as a sacrifice for the blood spilled, he withheld the best from God! Needless to say, God was not happy about Saul's decision to forgo His instructions.

Samuel weeps for Saul when he learns from God of Saul's disgraceful behavior. When Samuel confronts Saul, Saul's excuse for saving the livestock is that they were going to use it as a sacrifice. The sacrifice, however, was supposed to have happened on the battle field; it was the Amalekite's land that needed cleansing, not the Israelites. God didn't want "stolen" goods for the sacrifices in His tabernacle.

Samuel reveals God's disappointment to Saul. Suddenly, Saul changes his tune, and says it was "the people" that kept the spoils. This is like many before him, and many of us today. We often try to excuse our behavior by deflecting the blame to others (sometimes I think this is a subconscious decision and we don't even realize we're doing this). One of the most important verses of the Bible follows Saul's deflections.
And Samuel said, Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams.1 Samuel 15:22
God would rather see us be obedient than have us shed the blood of animals. Justice may require bloodshed at times, but God's preference is that we obey so we don't need to shed blood. Saul's inability to follow God's orders constituted a rebellion and a rejection of God. Since Saul was rejecting God, God rejected Saul as king.

Upon hearing this, Saul begins to repent, claiming he was afraid of the people. Samuel doesn't seems to believe Saul at first. It is only after Saul's second declaration of repentance that Samuel agrees to pray with him. While Saul may have been genuinely sorry for his actions, his position required better. As king of Israel, he shouldn't have ever been so weak that the citizens were dictating how he was to lead. Whether God forgave him or not, he had proven himself to be inadequate as a leader. When we are placed in positions of power, we inherit higher standards. If we are easily swayed by the masses, we are not fit to lead God's people.

The End of a Friendship

Even after Saul's declaration of repentance, it is Samuel who is forced to kill Agag and put an end to the conflict. Once Samuel leaves Saul this time, he doesn't go in search of Saul again until Saul's death. Saul seeks out Samuel in 1 Samuel 19, but from this point on, Samuel's view of Saul is forever altered. This was the breaking point of their friendship. Saul had chosen to lead a life where he disobeyed God, whereas Samuel had chosen to follow God in everything; they were no longer compatible. This happens in our friendships today. The closer we get to God, the farther away some of our friends will become. Our friends who do not believe or who chose to disobey God can serve as tethers to sin. Like Samuel, we must continue to pray for them, and sometimes our example may bring such a friend to Christ. However, we must be wary of seeking these people out and continuing to fellowship with them as though we agree with their choices.

Getting Up After A Fall

When I was an undergraduate, I miraculously was able to earn a 4.0 for quite some time. At the end of my junior year, however, I earned a B in one class. That killed my 4.0 forever. I could have come back my senior year and churned out two more 4.0 semesters, but in the end, my GPA would have only been a 3.99. Some people probably would have went for that 3.99, but for me, that initial B was like permission to make other Bs. Suddenly, there was no need to be perfect, because I'd already messed that up, and as I watched my GPA dip, it didn't seem important any more. The first semester of my senior year, I ended up with 2 Bs, and the final semester, I let myself slide with 3 Bs. It wasn't until I started graduate school that I refocused my attention.

Sinning can be the same way. The devil has a way of convincing us that once we sin, we're hopeless. Once we get that first taste of sin, we wonder if it's really so bad—especially if we don't see immediate consequences. This is the process of drifting away from God. Most of my agnostic and atheist friends call it being enlightened, but really it's the fall all over again. The sin is like the forbidden fruit, and eating it opens your eyes to the knowledge that yes you can sin. You may reap positive consequences at first, maybe for so long you forget the connection. However, if you never repent, judgment day will bring the promised negative consequence of permanent death.

When we sin, we have to remember that God still loves us, that we aren't hopeless. We have to remind ourselves that unlike my 4.0 situation, Jesus can restore us to perfection. The whole purpose of Jesus dying on the cross was that we could be made new and wash away our sins.

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