The last straw: Saul is rejected as king. 1 Samuel 15:10-35

The literary structure of 1 Samuel 15:10-35

We’re coming to the end of our series on 1 Samuel, at least for now. We’ve been looking at Saul’s downfall, and since we haven’t gone over this since the beginning of October, I think a bit of review is in order.

We saw how –

Saul’s core weakness is fear

This was his main temptation and struggle. In chapter 10 after God gave him three providential signs and the Holy Spirit came upon him, out of fear, he hesitated to attack the Philistines. Also, in chapter 10 he was afraid of being chosen as king, so he hid in the baggage when the lots were drawn.

His fear eventually led him to outright disobedience to God. In chapter 13, because he was afraid that the Philistines would attack quickly, he didn’t obey God and wait for Samuel to come before the battle. He offered up his own offering to God. If God was merciful before, here he is judged. He will not have a dynasty. After him, his kingdom will be over.

Saul continued to walk in foolishness (13:13), doing what he thought was right, regardless of God’s will – making his army swear a foolish oath and nearly killing his son Jonathan because of this foolish oath.

And today we reach the breaking point, when out of fear, once again, he disobeys explicit instructions from God. We saw last time how God commanded Saul to devote to destruction the Amalekites and how he did this, except that he left king Agag alive, and the best of the livestock.

So God sends the prophet Samuel to confront him – and it’s an epic confrontation.

1 Samuel 15:10-35

Samuel finds Saul

10The word of the Lord came to Samuel: 11“I regret that I have made Saul king, for he has turned back from following me and has not performed my commandments.” And Samuel was angry, and he cried to the Lord all night.

Regret can be translated “change your mind,” although this doesn’t really fit here. God had set up the terms for Saul to be king and these included him being obedient (12:14-15). So, God is just recognizing that Saul has broken these conditions and judgment is about to happen. And God is sad about this. (God’s regret here echoes Genesis 6:6 regarding the creation of humanity, just before the judgment of the flood.)

God is saying, ‘he just won’t do what I tell him to do.’ He does what he thinks is right based on the circumstances and his fears.

Samuel was upset also. He invested a lot in Saul and was genuinely rooting for him.

12And Samuel rose early to meet Saul in the morning. And it was told Samuel, “Saul came to Carmel, and behold, he set up a monument for himself and turned and passed on and went down to Gilgal.”

Setting up such monuments was common among ancient kings. Saul certainly seems set on exalting himself for the victory. (The Carmel here is not the mountain in the North but a small town in Judah. Gilgal is the site of their last confrontation.)

The confrontation: part one

13And Samuel came to Saul, and Saul said to him, “Blessed be you to the Lord. I have performed the commandment of the Lord.”

If Samuel and God are unhappy, Saul is pretty happy with himself. He seems to really think that he’s obeyed God, even though he hasn’t. Is he self-deceived?

Samuel points out the obvious –

14And Samuel said, “What then is this bleating of the sheep in my ears and the lowing of the oxen that I hear?”

There was to be no livestock left; no plunder. All Samuel had to do was listen, to know that Saul didn’t listen to God (Bruce Birch).

Saul then deflects and rationalizes –

15Saul said, “They have brought them from the Amalekites, for the people spared the best of the sheep and of the oxen to sacrifice to the Lord your God, and the rest we have devoted to destruction.”

His deflection is saying that the people did it (not him). It’s the soldiers’ fault, if there is any. And he rationalizes that these are for sacrifice, which is a good thing, right? Even though God told him to destroy them all and take no plunder. And note – even if they are sacrificed, Saul and the men would get some of the food (Tsumura)

16Then Samuel said to Saul, “Stop! I will tell you what the Lord said to me this night.” And he said to him, “Speak.” 17And Samuel said, “Though you are little in your own eyes, are you not the head of the tribes of Israel? The Lord anointed you king over Israel. 18And the Lord sent you on a mission and said, ‘Go, devote to destruction the sinners, the Amalekites, and fight against them until they are consumed.’ 19Why then did you not obey the voice of the Lord? Why did you pounce on the spoil and do what was evil in the sight of the Lord?”

Stop deflecting. You are in charge of “the people.” You were given the mission. You are responsible. And stop rationalizing. You pounced on the spoil, you did what was evil in God’s sight. When, in a similar context Achan took spoil from Jericho, he was killed for it.

Saul goes on to insist he was obedient, even while undermining his defense . . .

20And Saul said to Samuel, “I have obeyed the voice of the Lord. I have gone on the mission on which the Lord sent me. I have brought Agag the king of Amalek, and I have devoted the Amalekites to destruction. 21But the people took of the spoil, sheep and oxen, the best of the things devoted to destruction, to sacrifice to the Lord your God in Gilgal.”

Now we learn that the king, Agag was spared – probably as a trophy of war, which is another evidence, along with the monument, to Saul’s pride. And he continues to deflect and rationalize. The people did it. It was for sacrifice.

Then Samuel destroys his pretense with what has become one of the most well-known OT passages –

22And Samuel said, “Has 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 listen than the fat of rams. 23For rebellion is as the sin of divination, and presumption is as the evil of idolatry (italics NIV).”

Sacrifice is good, but obedience is better. And besides what good is sacrifice if it comes from a disobedient heart? God is not interested in mere outward ritual, but with a heart of love for him that is expressed in obedience.

  • Saul has rebelled. He willfully refused to do what God said, which is a rejection of God similar to divination.
  • And he has presumed to do what he thought was right, instead of God’s will, which is a rejection of God similar to the evil of idolatry.

This is no little matter. These are capital crimes. And because of this he is judged.

“Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, he has also rejected you from being king.”

He may continue on in the role, but not under God’s blessing.

The confrontation: part two

With his pretense shattered, Saul fesses up.

24Saul said to Samuel, “I have sinned, for I have transgressed the commandment of the Lord and your words, because I feared the people and obeyed their voice.

He went from insisting, “I have obeyed” to “I have not obeyed.” And he even confesses why – he feared the people. (The conditions for his kingship were that he was to fear God and obey his voice. Here he feared the people and obeyed their voice – 1 Samuel 12:14.)

25Now therefore, please pardon my sin and return with me that I may bow before the Lord.” 26And Samuel said to Saul, “I will not return with you. For you have rejected the word of the Lord, and the Lord has rejected you from being king over Israel.”

Saul asks for forgiveness, but is it sincere? Saul wants Samuel to come with him for his own reasons. To project that everything is OK. Which is why Samuel refuses. His repentance isn’t right, because he’s using it to get what he wants – his status.

27As Samuel turned to go away, Saul seized the skirt of his robe, and it tore. 28And Samuel said to him, “The Lord has torn the kingdom of Israel from you this day and has given it to a neighbor of yours, who is better than you.”

To grab the hem or skirt of someone’s robe is to take up the position of a supplicant. He wants Samuel to change his mind. But this accidental tearing becomes a metaphor of God’s judgment. The kingdom has been torn from him and given to another, that is, David.

29And also the Glory of Israel will not lie or have regret, for he is not a man, that he should have regret.”

God regrets making Saul king in vs. 11 and 35, but here God doesn’t have regret? (It’s the same Hebrew word). As we saw in v. 11, it is not so much that God changed his mind, as it is that he was sorrowful because Saul broke the conditions of his kingship.

Here Samuel seems to mean that, as opposed to Saul, whose kingship was conditional, David’s kingship will be unconditional. God will not change his mind about choosing David and his line. (2 Samuel 7:15) (See Terrence Fretheim)

30Then he said, “I have sinned; yet honor me now before the elders of my people and before Israel, and return with me, that I may bow before the Lord your God.” 31So Samuel turned back after Saul, and Saul bowed before the Lord.

Here we see more clearly his real motive is not forgiveness. He drops this request. What he really wants is to be honored before the elders. He is interested in his status.

Samuel acquiesces, because Saul finally gets it that he has been rejected and that God will not restore his kingship.

 Conclusion

32Then Samuel said, “Bring here to me Agag the king of the Amalekites.” And Agag came to him cheerfully. Agag said, “Surely the bitterness of death is past.” 33And Samuel said, “As your sword has made women childless, so shall your mother be childless among women.” And Samuel hacked Agag to pieces before the Lord in Gilgal.

Samuel finishes what Saul left incomplete.

34Then Samuel went to Ramah, and Saul went up to his house in Gibeah of Saul. 35And Samuel did not see Saul again until the day of his death . . .

This represents a full break in their relationship. Samuel no longer recognizes him as the rightful king. (And notice throughout this passage Saul’s use of “your” God (vs. 15, 21, 30), which his own recognition that he is alienated from God.)

And then our story ends as it began –

but Samuel grieved over Saul. And the Lord regretted that he had made Saul king over Israel.

Lessons

What do we learn from this. Let me highlight three things.

1. Saul show us how not to respond when we sin. Even when caught in the act, he blamed others, he rationalized his wrong choices, he made excuses and he lied. Even when he confessed, it was to get what he wanted from Samuel.

This is a portrait of the sad state of humanity. And we do these very things ourselves when we are caught in our sin.

The right way to respond to sin is displayed by David, Saul’s replacement. When Nathan the prophet confronted him, he simply said, “I have sinned against the Lord” 2 Samuel 12:15. He confesses with no strings attached. And then he accepted the consequences.

2. God’s patience has an end. And then comes judgment.

God was very patient with Saul. He told Saul ,do what I tell you and your kingdom will be established forever over Israel (13:13). But Saul chose to disobey God’s specific commands over and over. And judgment came.

When we are not obeying God, we ought not test God’s patience with us. Paul tells us in Romans 2:4 that God’s patience and kindness is meant to lead us to repentance. But if we don’t repent, eventually we will be judged.

Are any of us here this morning presuming upon God’s patience?

3. God demands our full obedience.

Saul gave partial obedience. But partial obedience is no different than disobedience. We don’t get to pick and choose which parts of God’s will be put into practice.

And outward expressions of religion will not make up for our disobedience – going to church, saying you are a Christian, feigning respect for God, wearing a cross or a Christian T-shirt.

What delights God is a heart set on loving him, expressed in careful obedience to his Word. Do we keep “the word of the Lord?” Do we obey “the voice of the Lord?”

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