A. In every generation there are things which the society believes so firmly and yet which are contrary to the Bible that it becomes very tempting to find a way around what the Bible says.
II. Explanation of 1Samuel 15:1-23
A. The story begins way back in the days when Israel was on the way to the promised land.
B. When Israel was traveling through their territory on the way to the promised land, the Amalekites (the descendants of Esau’s grandson Amalek) did a dastardly deed:
1. “Remember what Amalek did to you on the way as you came out of Egypt, 18 how he attacked you on the way when you were faint and weary, and cut off your tail, those who were lagging behind you, and he did not fear God. 19 Therefore when the Lord your God has given you rest from all your enemies around you, in the land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance to possess, you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven; you shall not forget.” (Deuteronomy 25:17-20 – See Exodus 17:14-16.)
C. Well, now that the people of Israel have had a few hundred years to settle into their new homeland, now that they finally have a king, God declares that it’s time to fulfill this prophecy against the Amalekites. So He sends the prophet Samuel to Israel’s first king, King Saul, with these instructions:
1. “I have noted what Amalek did to Israel in opposing them on the way when they came up out of Egypt. Now go and strike Amalek and devote to destruction all that they have. Do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.” – 1Sam.15:2-3
D. So Saul marshaled his army: over 200,000 of them, and attacked the Amalekites, routing them and chasing them almost all the way down to Egypt. (v.4-7)
E. He had all the Amalekites killed except the king, Agag. He also hated to let all those good animals go to waste. So he spared some of the animals: the best of the sheep, oxen, fattened calves and lambs, all the good animals, and destroyed all the bad ones. Not what the Lord had asked him to do.
F. And so God sent Samuel to confront Saul. And a very interesting conversation takes place between the two men:
1. First Saul comes right up to Samuel and says, “I have done as the Lord commanded.”
2. And then Samuel says, “Then what then is this bleating of sheep and lowing of oxen I hear?”
3. And Saul answers, “Oh that’s the animals we brought from the Amalekites. You see, we destroyed most of them, but the people spared the best of the animals to sacrifice to the Lord.”
4. So Samuel says to Saul, “The Lord anointed you king over Israel. And the Lord sent you on a mission and said, ‘Go, destroy the Amalekites, fight against them until they are consumed.’ Why didn’t you obey the voice of the Lord? Why did you do evil by pouncing upon the spoil?”
5. But Saul pleaded with him, “I HAVE obeyed the voice of the Lord. I have gone on the mission on which the Lord sent me. Sure, I spared Agag the king. But it was the people who took the sheep and oxen, to sacrifice to the Lord.”
6. And to this Samuel responded with words worthy of memorizing, “Does the Lord delight in offerings and sacrifices, as much as He does in obeying His voice? Truly, it is better to listen and obey than to offer sacrifices. For your sins of rebellion and presumption are just as bad as the sins of divination and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, He has also rejected you from being king.”
A. Some people are offended by stories like this in the OT, where God commands people to go and kill other people.
1. Can a good God really command people to kill?
2. Can it really be a sin to not kill someone?
3. None of the original attackers were still alive. And would God really punish the descendants of the guilty instead of the guilty themselves?
4. Would He really command the killing of an entire people, including women and children?
B. We could spend a lot of time on this question, but let me just touch on it this morning by asking this question: What ultimately makes something right or wrong?
1. What makes murder wrong? What makes extramarital sex wrong?
2. Eventually it has to come back to God: He determines what is right and wrong.
3. So ultimately when is it wrong to kill? When God says it’s wrong.
4. When is it right to kill? When God says to do it.
5. We have no other basis for determining what is right and wrong.
C. In other words, it was morally wrong for Saul to not kill the Amalekites. It was immoral for Saul to spare even one Amalekite. Because God said, DO NOT SPARE THEM!
1. Killing is not wrong in and of itself. It is wrong because God says it’s wrong.
2. God is the One who gives life and it is His right to take it away.
D. God knew their hearts. He knew that the present ones were guilty as well and ripe for His judgment.
E. I think the objectors are looking at this story wrong. This story is all about love: I will curse those who curse you, I will fight those who fight you. (Gen.12:3; 27:29; Num.24:9)
1. God does this because He loves His people so much.
2. And the enemies of Christ should not use this story to charge God with wrongdoing, they should use it as a reminder not to abuse God’s dear ones.
IV. What can we learn about God’s word from this story?
1. Do you think God cares about obedience?
2. Saul did most of what God told him to do but he wasn’t too scrupulous in the particulars, he didn’t pay attention to what he considered to be minor details of God’s command.
a. In v.23 God calls the incomplete obedience of Saul “rebellion and arrogance.”
3. We’re often the same way today, aren’t we?
a. We think God isn’t very concerned with our “little mistakes and imperfections” even though Jesus Himself said, “He who is faithful in the very little things will also be faithful in the big things. He who is unrighteous in the very little things will be unrighteous in the big things.” (Luke 16:10)
b. It is arrogant to take the word of God lightly or to refuse to submit to it.
4. “To obey is better than sacrifice.”
a. When Saul came back from the battle he was expecting praise from Samuel but instead he was rebuked. Good intentions were not enough to cover up his disobedience.
b. True obedience includes both behavior and motives. If you do the right thing with the wrong motive, that’s worthless. 1Cor.13:1-3 makes that clear. But doing the wrong thing with the right motive is equally problematic.
c. Good motives can become a cop-out for not being diligent to listen to & obey God’s commands.
d. God not only tells us to do good, He tells us what good is.
e. God not only tells us to love one another, He tells us how to love one another.
f. God not only tells us to believe, He tells us what to believe.
g. God not only tells us to please Him, He tells us how to please Him.
h. God not only tells us to do His will, He tells us what His will is.
i. A lot of times doing good and obeying God aren’t the same thing, because when you’re doing good you can still be following your own ideas and not God’s.
j. Do you remember the Bible’s assessment of Israel during the days of the judges? “Every man did that which was right in his own eyes.” They didn’t go around doing what they thought was wrong; they just did what was right in their own eyes rather than what was right in God’s eyes.
B. Listening to God
1. Do you think God cares about us listening to Him?
2. The first part of obedience is listening.
a. The word for listen in Greek is AKOUO. The word for obey is HUP-AKOUO, like hyper-listening.
3. Saul’s first sin was not listening enough to God, and his second sin is listening too much to others.
a. In 15:24 Saul says “I have sinned...because I feared the people and listened to their voice.”
4. Again, we are often the same way, listening to the voices of men rather than the voice of God.
a. Like Saul, it’s not that we completely turn our backs on God and obey someone else, we just adjust God’s word a little bit according to some other opinions.
b. Sometimes the things God says seem so simplistic, so old-fashioned, so harsh, so out-of-step. So we adapt God’s word based on popular opinion or modern scholarship.
c. Like Saul, it is very hard for us to accept what God says when the virtual consensus of those around us is against it, and when it just seems a little unreasonable to us.
5. We see in this story that God wants us to learn to trust His word and not our own sense of things.
6. My favorite illustration of this comes from The Silver Chair by CS Lewis.
a. Aslan calls two children into Narnia: Eustace Scubb and Jill Pole, to find a lost prince.
b. Jill is given four instructions by Aslan and required to learn them and exhorted to keep them.
c. She and Eustace and Puddleglum the Marsh-wiggle “muff” the first three.
d. #4: “The first time someone tells you to do something in the name of Aslan, you must do it.”
e. In a land far underground, they meet a knight who tells them that each day for an hour he has to be retrained in a silver chair, because he goes berserk. He makes them promise not to free him no matter how much he begs them or reasons with them.
f. When he goes into his spell, he does beg them to set him free with many pleadings & urgings.
g. “Once and for all,”said the prisoner, “I adjure you to set me free. By the great Lion, by Aslan himself, I charge you—”“Oh!”cried the three travelers as though they had been hurt. “It’s the sign,”said Puddleglum. “It was the words of the sign,”said Scrubb more cautiously. “Oh, what are we to do?”said Jill. It was a dreadful question. What had been the use of promising one another that they would not on any account set the Knight free, if they were now to do so the first time he happened to call upon a name they really cared about? On the other hand, what had been the use of learning the signs if they weren’t going to obey them? Yet could Aslan have really meant them to unbind anyone who asked it in his name —even a lunatic? Could it be a mere accident? Or how if the Queen of the Underworld knew all about the signs and had made the Knight learn this name simply in order to entrap them? But then, supposing this was the real sign? …They had muffed three already; they daren’t muff the fourth. “Oh, if only we knew!”said Jill. “I think we do know,”said Puddleglum. “Do you mean you think everything will come right if we do untie him?”said Scrubb. “I don’t know about that,”said Puddleglum. “You see, Aslan didn’t tell Pole what would happen. He only told her what to do. That fellow will be the death of us once he’s free, I shouldn’t wonder. But that doesn’t free us from having to following the sign.”They all stood looking at one another with bright eyes. It was a sickening moment. “All right!”said Jill suddenly. “Let’s get it over. Good-bye, everyone! …” They all shook hands. The Knight was screaming by now; there was foam on his cheeks. “Come on, Scrubb,”said Puddleglum. He and Scrubb drew their swords and went over to the captive. “In the name of Aslan,” they said and began methodically cutting the cords. The instant the prisoner was free, he crossed the room in a single bound, seized his own sword (which had been taken from him and laid on the table), and drew it. “You first!” he cried and fell upon the silver chair. That must have been a good sword. The silver gave way before its edge like string, and in a moment a few twisted fragments, shining on the floor, were all that was left. But as the chair broke, there came from it a bright flash, a sound like small thunder, and (for one moment) a loathsome smell. “Lie there, vile engine of sorcery,” he said, “lest your mistress should ever use you for another victim.” Then he turned and surveyed his rescuers; and the something wrong, whatever it was, had vanished from his face. “What?” he cried, turning to Puddleglum. “Do I see before me a Marsh-wiggle— a real, live, honest, Narnian Marsh-wiggle?”
7. God knows what He’s doing when He tells us what is true, and tells us what to do.
8. It doesn’t always make sense to us, but His thoughts are high above our thoughts!
9. One of the great errors which is fast growing in the church today and threatens to do great harm to the church is the notion that Christians must not rely on an objective examination of the Bible as their source of truth, but must listen to the Spirit speaking in their hearts.
10. Because we are so susceptible to our own preferences and impressions, we need to discipline ourselves to listen to God speaking to us through His word.
11. God’s people need to read and know and study the Bible.
a. God wants us to be students of this book.
b. And He gives His church the gift of teaching to help us to get it.
c. And the job of the teacher is not only to study the text and try to figure out what it’s saying and what it means, but also to listen to the teachers of the church down through the ages, to gain insight from godly men who have given their lives to the study of God’s word.
A. If we can’t trust God for the hard stuff, how are we going to trust Him for the wonderful stuff?
1. E.g. the person who can’t believe what God says in His word even when the world is scandalized by it will also not be able to believe what God says in His word about the triumphant vindication which is coming for God’s people on the last day.
2. The person who can’t obey God’s word even when many other voices are crying out for him not to also won’t be able to trust God’s love even when his own heart condemns him. He’s not going to be able to believe in God’s goodness even when his circumstances are crying out that bad things are happening and everything is out of control.