Disobedience, Pride, Self-Deception, Rejection

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1 Samuel 15:1-35 (Saul disobeys God)

INTRODUCTION: This is the last message in our series on “The Rise and Fall of Saul.” It has been an interesting journey as we have traced Saul’s rise to leadership and then his eventual falling away from the Lord. Earlier in this series we saw how God took away Saul’s dynasty because Saul acted foolishly out of fear. (1 Samuel 13:13-14) But now we come to the final stage in God’s rejection of Saul as king as Saul completes his downward slide. (Read 1 Samuel 15:22-23)

One of the things we have emphasized in this series is that God gave Saul everything he needed in order to succeed as king, but Saul fell because of his own foolish choices. 1 Samuel 15 breaks Saul’s final downward slide into four distinct steps: disobedience, pride, self-deception and then finally rejection. As we trace Saul’s final descent today, we will look at each of these steps and see how they apply to the decisions we make in our own lives.

I. Partial obedience is still disobedience (1-9)

We begin with the step of disobedience and the insight today’s passage especially teaches us is this: partial obedience is still disobedience. Sometimes we think if we’ve obeyed part of what God says, then that counts as obedience. But that’s not what God says. Partial obedience is still disobedience in God’s eyes.

   A. God’s commands are not always easy to obey (1-6)
      – Matthew 16:24

This is a difficult truth for us to accept because God’s commands are not always easy to obey. Look at verses 1-6:

Samuel said to Saul, “I am the one the Lord sent to anoint you king over his people Israel; so listen now to the message from the Lord. 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. 3 Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy everything that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.’ ”

4 So Saul summoned the men and mustered them at Telaim – two hundred thousand foot soldiers and ten thousand men from Judah. 5 Saul went to the city of Amalek and set an ambush in the ravine. 6 Then he said to the Kenites, “Go away, leave the Amalekites so that I do not destroy you along with them; for you showed kindness to all the Israelites when they came up out of Egypt.” So the Kenites moved away from the Amalekites. (1 Samuel 15:1-6)

Now this is a difficult section of Scripture and we do not have time this morning to unpack it all. We wonder about God commanding the Israelites to totally destroy the enemy, including all the women and children. How can that possibly be right? If we were presenting a message just on these six verses, then we would take some more time to talk about God as the giver and taker of life, and God’s righteous judgment on sin, and how these were rare instances in the Old Testament where God brought his final judgment of sin forward into the present time as signs and warnings of the judgment to come. (See Gregory K. Beale: The Morality of God in the Old Testament.)

Suffice it to say: God is always just in his actions; that this was a unique time in Old Testament history; that God chose to bring his just judgment for sin upon the Amalekites at this time; and he was using the nation of Israel to do it. But that doesn’t make it any easier for us to understand, nor did it make it any easier for Saul to obey.

God’s commands are not always easy to obey. Jesus said to his disciples in Matthew 16:24: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24) Denying yourself, taking up your cross, following Jesus – those are not easy commands, and yet they are life-giving commands when we listen to the voice of Jesus and follow him.

   B. God’s commands are to be fully obeyed (7-9)
      – Psalm 119:4-5

God’s commands are not always easy to obey, and yet Scripture teaches us that God’s commands are to be fully obeyed. Look at verses 7-9:

7 Then Saul attacked the Amalekites all the way from Havilah to Shur, to the east of Egypt. 8 He took Agag king of the Amalekites alive, and all his people he totally destroyed with the sword. 9 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. (1 Samuel 15:7-9)

Saul did some of what God told him to do, but he didn’t do all of it. He spared King Agag and the best of the animals. He kept whatever he considered good, and destroyed whatever he considered bad. In other words, Saul’s obedience was only partial obedience, and as we have already said, partial obedience is still disobedience.

In Psalm 119 the Psalmist says to the Lord: “You have laid down precepts that are to be fully obeyed. Oh, that my ways were steadfast in obeying your decrees!” (Psalm 119:4-5) God’s commands are to be fully obeyed. Which is why we need a Savior, isn’t it? Only Jesus perfectly obeyed all God’s commands. When Jesus died on the cross, he offered up his perfect life as a sacrifice for our sins, so that everyone who believes in him might be saved. Only Jesus obeyed perfectly. The rest of us are all operating on partial obedience. And partial obedience is still disobedience. That’s our first principle this morning.

II. Pride goes before a fall (10-12)

Our second principle is this: prides goes before a fall. We read in Proverbs 16:18: “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.” (Proverbs 16:18) We are studying the rise and fall of Saul, and so we shouldn’t be surprised that pride was part of his fall.

   A. You grieve God when you sin (10-11)
      – Ephesians 4:30

There are a couple things we can learn from this next section of our passage. First of all, know that you grieve God when you sin. Have you ever thought about that? You grieve God when you sin. Look at verses 10-11:

10 Then the word of the Lord came to Samuel: 11 “I am grieved that I have made Saul king, because he has turned away from me and has not carried out my instructions.” Samuel was troubled, and he cried out to the Lord all that night. (1 Samuel 15:10-11)

Now God knows all things, so he knew that Saul was going to turn away from him. But even though God knew Saul was going to fall, he was still grieved when he did.

We need to remember that we also grieve God when we sin. Ephesians 4:30 says: “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” (Ephesians 4:30) If we remembered how much it grieves God when we sin, perhaps we would be motivated to greater obedience to him.

   B. Pride and sin always go together (12)
      – Proverbs 8:13

Know that you grieve God when you sin, and then secondly, know that pride and sin always go together. Look at verse 12:

12 Early in the morning Samuel got up and went to meet Saul, but he was told, “Saul has gone to Carmel. There he has set up a monument in his own honor and has turned and gone on down to Gilgal.” (1 Samuel 15:12)

Samuel goes out to find Saul but Saul is out building statues. Instead of giving God the glory for the victory, he has set up a monument in his own honor. Now you may never go around building statutes of yourself, but there are other ways we build monuments in our own honor today. When you brag about your own accomplishments, you are setting up a monument in your own honor. When you refuse to give someone else the credit, you are setting up a monument in your own honor. For those of you who use social media, look at your social media feeds. Are you using your influence to encourage and serve others or is your entire feed really just one big monument set up in your own honor? If so, that is pride, and pride and sin always go together.

Pride is sinful, and sin is prideful. Think about it. Whenever you choose to sin, you are choosing your way over God’s way. If that’s not pride, I don’t know what is!

We read the following in Proverbs 8:13: “To fear the Lord is to hate evil; I hate pride and arrogance, evil behavior and perverse speech.” (Proverbs 8:13) Notice how pride and sin and evil are all intertwined together. You cannot separate sin from pride. So that’s our second principle this morning. Pride goes before a fall, and Saul’s pride certainly contributed to his downfall.

III. Sin is deceptive (13-19)

Our third principle is this: sin is deceptive. Sin is deceptive, and we are especially prone to self-deception when it comes to sin. Have you ever noticed how you are bothered more by other people’s sin than your own? That’s because we are self-deceived when it comes to our own sin.

   A. Don’t try to justify your sin (13-16)
      – Proverbs 16:2

There are a couple things we can learn from this step in Saul’s downward cycle, and the first is this: Don’t try to justify your sin. Don’t be deceived about your own sin. Look at verses 13-16:

13 When Samuel reached him, Saul said, “The Lord bless you! I have carried out the Lord’s instructions.”

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

15 Saul answered, “The soldiers brought them from the Amalekites; they spared the best of the sheep and cattle to sacrifice to the Lord your God, but we totally destroyed the rest.”

16 “Stop!” Samuel said to Saul. “Let me tell you what the Lord said to me last night.”
“Tell me,” Saul replied. (1 Samuel 15:13-16)

Saul was blinded to his own sin. He actually had the gall to walk right up to Samuel and tell him he had obeyed God. Samuel wasn’t buying it. He responded: “Then what about the sheep I hear bleating? What about the cattle? God said to destroy everything.” At that point Saul moved from misdirection to justification. “Oh, the sheep. That was the soldiers. They spared the best to sacrifice to God, but we totally destroyed everything else!” And then Samuel said, “Stop! Just stop!” and proceeded to give him a word from the Lord.

Proverbs 16:2 says: “All a man’s ways seem innocent to him, but motives are weighed by the Lord.” (Proverbs 16:2) When you sin against God, don’t try to justify your sin. As Samuel would say, just stop! Stop and confess your sin to God so you can move forward again.

   B. God’s kindness should prompt you to obedience (17-19)
      – Romans 2:4

And then the second thing we learn from this section is that God’s kindness should prompt you to obedience. Look at verses 17-19:

17 Samuel said, “Although you were once small in your own eyes, did you not become the head of the tribes of Israel? The Lord anointed you king over Israel. 18 And he sent you on a mission, saying, ‘Go and completely destroy those wicked people, the Amalekites; make war on them until you have wiped them out.’ 19 Why did you not obey the Lord? Why did you pounce on the plunder and do evil in the eyes of the Lord?” (1 Samuel 15:17-19)

God had been so good to Saul. He took him from nothing and anointed him as king. He gave him everything he needed in order to succeed. And yet Saul still fell because of his own poor decisions. One of those poor decisions was forgetting God’s kindness to him.

We read in Romans 2:4: “Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance?” (Romans 2:4) Sin is deceptive, and we can sometimes forget all that God has done for us and how much we owe him. God’s kindness should prompt you to obedience.

IV. To obey is better than sacrifice (20-35)

We are looking at four principles that line up with Saul’s final four steps to his rejection as king. 1) Partial obedience is still disobedience. 2) Pride goes before a fall. 3) Sin is deceptive. And then finally 4) To obey is better than sacrifice. And there are two things we need to learn here.

   A. Rejecting God’s word is rebellion against God (20-23)
      – 1 Thessalonians 4:8

First of all, rejecting God’s word is rebellion against God. Look at verses 20-23:

20 “But I did obey the Lord,” Saul said. “I went on the mission the Lord assigned me. I completely destroyed the Amalekites and brought back Agag their king. 21 The soldiers took sheep and cattle from the plunder, the best of what was devoted to God, in order to sacrifice them to the Lord your God at Gilgal.”

22 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. 23 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.” (1 Samuel 15:20-23)

Saul still doesn’t get it. He still thinks partial obedience is obedience rather than disobedience. So Samuel cuts right to the heart of the matter. Saul has rejected God’s word, and therefore God has rejected him. Rejecting God’s word is rebellion against God.

Your sacrifices to God are meaningless without obedience. Keith Green once wrote a song with these words as written from God’s persepctive: “To obey is better than sacrifice, I don’t need your money, I want your life.” You can’t just write a check to God and then live however you want. You need to follow God’s word. 1 Thessalonians 4:8 says: “Therefore, he who rejects this instruction does not reject man but God, who gives you his Holy Spirit.” (1 Thessalonians 4:8) Rejecting God’s word is rebellion against God.

   B. The consequences for disobedience can be lasting and painful (24-35)
      – Galatians 6:7-8

And then finally, the consequences for disobedience can be lasting and painful. Look at verses 24-31:

24 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. 25 Now I beg you, forgive my sin and come back with me, so that I may worship the Lord.”

26 But Samuel said to him, “I will not go back with you. You have rejected the word of the Lord, and the Lord has rejected you as king over Israel!” 27 As Samuel turned to leave, Saul caught hold of the hem of his robe, and it tore. 28 Samuel said to him, “The Lord has torn the kingdom of Israel from you today and has given it to one of your neighbors – to one better than you. 29 He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie or change his mind; for he is not a man, that he should change his mind.”

30 Saul replied, “I have sinned. But please honor me before the elders of my people and before Israel; come back with me, so that I may worship the Lord your God.” 31 So Samuel went back with Saul, and Saul worshiped the Lord. (1 Samuel 15:24-31)

When Saul in one final act of desperation reached out and tore the corner of Samuel’s robe, his downfall was complete. By God’s grace he had risen all the way to the king of Israel, but now through a series of bad choices the kingdom was torn from him and given to another.

Galatians 6:7-8 says: “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.” (Galatians 6:7-8) A man reaps what he sows. As a Christian, God forgives all your sin, but he doesn’t always remove the consequences. And those consequences can be lasting and painful.

King Agag is another person in our story who reaped what he sowed. Look at verses 32-35, the final verses in our whole series:

32 Then Samuel said, “Bring me Agag king of the Amalekites.” Agag came to him confidently, thinking, “Surely the bitterness of death is past.” 33 But Samuel said, “As your sword has made women childless, so will your mother be childless among women.” And Samuel put Agag to death before the Lord at Gilgal.

34 Then Samuel left for Ramah, but Saul went up to his home in Gibeah of Saul. 35 Until the day Samuel died, he did not go to see Saul again, though Samuel mourned for him. And the Lord was grieved that he had made Saul king over Israel. (1 Samuel 15:32-35)

CONCLUSION: The story of Saul is a sad and tragic story because it was all so unnecessary. God raised up Saul from humble beginnings, gave Saul everything he needed to succeed as king, and Saul brought himself down because of his own foolish choices.

It’s the same way with us today. God has given you everything you need. He gave you his Son, Jesus, for your salvation. He gives you his Holy Spirit to help you grow. He gives you his Word to guide you and keep you on the right path. If we fall, it’s not God’s fault, but our own fault and the choices we make.

Saul’s story arc was one of rising and then falling, but the Bible tells you a better way. Here’s a verse about you from James 4:10: “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.” (James 4:10) You see, that’s the proper arc for the Christian. Instead of going up and then down, you go down and then up. You humble yourself before God, confessing your sin and your need of a Savior, and God will lift you up.

That’s a verse about you, and here’s a verse about Jesus: “He humbled himself and became obedient to death … Therefore God exalted him to the highest place.” (Philippians 2:8-9) Jesus’ story is the exact reverse of Saul’s. Jesus is the perfect example of someone who humbled himself and then was lifted up by God. Saul is a negative example, but Jesus is our positive example. So as we leave the rise and fall of Saul this morning, let us fix our eyes on Jesus who humbled himself and has been exalted by God forever. Let us pray.

© Ray Fowler

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