By Al R. Hodges
Retired IMB Missionary
In I Samuel chapters 13-14 we see over time that Saul fought the Philistines and established his reign over Israel. Despite the fact that he stood head and shoulders taller than the average man, his heart lacked complete loyalty to God. At times, he acted foolishly and seemed to have allowed success to go to his head (ch. 13:9-13; ch. 14:28-30). When Saul appropriated for himself the role of priest in offering a sacrifice to the Lord, Samuel confronted him with his sin and told him of God’s judgment. “Your kingdom will not continue. The Lord has sought for Himself a man after His own heart …” (ch. 13:14). Even though judgment was pronounced on Saul, God still sent him on a special assignment. He was to annihilate the Amalekites, bringing God’s judgment on them for their attack on the Israelites years before (Exodus 17:14; I Samuel 15:1-3).
Saul’s disobedience is difficult to understand (vv. 7-9). He had been specifically instructed to utterly destroy every living Amalekite, along with all their livestock. However Saul spared Agag, the Amalekite king, along with the best of the livestock. Many Christians even today are not careful in their obedience to God. It is easy to get caught up in struggles or busyness and believe that partial obedience is okay with God. Like Saul, some have come to think that God’s Word is optional, and His commands are flexible for one’s own desires. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The moment of reckoning came as God spoke to Samuel (vv. 10-15). God regretted He had made Saul king over Israel and told Samuel so. Samuel was also greatly grieved and with a heavy heart, went to confront the king with God’s message. Our sin grieves God. We are instructed in the New Testament to not grieve the Holy Spirit of God (Ephesians 4:30). When Samuel found Saul, Saul’s greeting was a thinly veiled cover for the disobedience he harbored in his heart. He also tried to cover his sin with a lie. Yet, there were the Amalekite cattle and sheep! There was Agag, the Amalekite king! It was all too obvious Saul had deliberately rejected God’s command. Furthermore, he refused to humbly confess his sin. He lied and sought to deflect responsibility to the men under his leadership.
God’s judgment was severe and just (vv. 22-23). It always is. Perhaps the greatest verse is the question: “Does the Lord take pleasure in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the Lord? To obey is better than sacrifice and to pay attention is better than the fat of rams.” Blatant disobedience of God’s Word is rebellion, like divination or idolatry. Because Saul had rejected God’s Word, God rejected him as king.
God graciously gives us His Word, and opportunities to obey and serve Him. If we refuse, He will remove from us that very opportunity and use another person who is willing to love and serve Him. In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul recognized this possibility even concerning his own life and calling. He took care to discipline his life before the Lord, lest after preaching to others, he himself should become disqualified (I Corinthians 9:27).