God anoints Saul as king through Samuel(1 Samuel 9). Saul experiences God quite profoundly during his years as King and has a godly prophet in Samuel who guides, instructs according to God’s word and prays for him. And yet in 1 Samuel 15 we read that Saul did not obey God as he should and God rejects him as king.
Reading Saul’s story made me dwell on the question – Is Partial Obedience to God obedience to Him at all?
1 Samuel 15 begins with Samuel sharing God’s message to Saul. The Lord was going to punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel and it was God’s judgment upon the Amalekites that Saul was to carry out. God clearly mentions that everyone and everything was to be destroyed.
Saul goes on to attack the Amalekites, but we go on to read in verse 8 and 9 that he spares the Amalekite king Agag and takes the “best of the sheep, cattle, calves and lambs – everything that was good. These they were unwilling to destroy completely, but everything that was despised and weak they totally destroyed.”
Saul clearly did not follow the Lord’s directive entirely. I want us to take note of two words in the verse above; good and unwilling.
Saul seems to have made a choice to deem what was good and what was not for them on his own. And the word ‘unwilling’ used to describe how they felt about the plunder, even though was not according to God’s will and Saul knowingly choosing to ignore it is reflective of his heart towards God.
For us: Even if something seems good to us and for us, if it is not the Lord’s will, may we turn from it and trust and surrender to His will and wisdom to know what is good for us. However tempted we feel to pull in the direction opposite of His will, may we surrender our hearts to Him to enable us to be obedient to our Lord in all aspects and not only in those suited to us.
Saul’s action grieved the Lord and it grieved Samuel too. In verse 12 we go on to read that Saul goes to Carmel, where he sets up a monument in his honour. Again, these actions are reflective of Saul’s heart and where it truly lies with, in relation to God. He disobeys God, did what suited him and probably gained him favour among his men. He does not seem conflicted about it and goes on to demonstrate prideful and glory seeking behaviour by setting up his monument.
His actions and achievements as king no more seem to him as solely because of the Lord’s hand on him but rather his pride is leading him down a path of sin and rebellion towards God.
When Samuel goes to Saul, he says to Samuel “I have carried out the Lord’s instructions.” Saul either thinks he can fool Samuel by lying or he believes that he did nothing wrong.
Pride can lead us to disobedience and can make us blind to sin.
Knowing what Saul did, Samuel questions him about the sheep and the cattle taken. But Saul seems quick with excuses as he says that “the soldiers brought them back so that they could offer sacrifices to the Lord your God.” (verse 15)
Firstly, there is a clear exclusion of himself in the explanation seeming to place all blame on the soldiers, not very reflective of a king or a leader. Secondly, notice that Saul says, it was to sacrifice to the Lord your God. Did Saul not consider the Lord as his God too? His actions before and his words now are a reflection of what is in his heart that seems to say that God is not Lord over his life.
Samuel further questions Saul by asking in verse 19 “Why did you not obey the Lord? Why did you pounce on the plunder and do evil in the eyes of the Lord?”
Saul replies “But I did obey the Lord, I went on the mission the Lord assigned me and completely destroyed the Amalekites and brought back Agag their king. 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 in Gilgal.” (verse 20-21)
Notice Saul trying to emphasise a lot of himself in the obedience and carrying out the mission part whereas he mentions only the soldiers when talking about taking the plunder. And again, we see him mention God as Samuel’s Lord and not his.
Shifting blame is not reflective of a repentant heart. If Saul held what God said higher than the need to please his men, he would have ensured that the Lord’s directive was carried out. A godly leader is first a godly follower and spurs others to follow in God’s ways.
To this Samuel replies “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 the rams. 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.”(verses 22-23)
Samuel points out that sacrifice is acceptable to the Lord when it is accompanied with an attitude of true devotion, and honest worship and not just for the sake of it.
The best sacrifice we can offer is a repentant heart followed by that reflected in our actions.
‘You have rejected the word of God and he has rejected you as king’ – Someone who sets his own will before that of the Lord ceases to be God’s instrument.
Saul confesses, as we read in verses 24 and 25, but his confession is laced with justification. He also seemed to be more concerned that Samuel will break ties with him openly thereby undermining his authority as king in front of the people. Saul does not seem to be truly repentant at all.
In verse 29 we read Samuel say “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.”
Our God is a steadfast God who does not swivel his faithfulness towards us on a whim. Also, just take note of how Samuel refers to God in this verse “He who is the Glory of Israel”. With the backdrop of Saul’s story in the chapter who seemed quick to set up a monument in his honour instead of honouring God with obedience and Samuel referring to God as the Glory of Israel, it emphasises that all Glory should and rightly belongs only to God.
One can make many sacrifices on the outside to God but if our hearts are not truly surrendered to Him and if He does not hold a position of pre-eminence in our lives, does it truly matter?
How do we as followers of Christ view the need for obedience? We do see some of the principles of godly living not applied to Christians lives today. Would not that be called partial obedience. We saw that partial obedience was disobedience in the eyes of God. No one can come close to perfect obedience to God but God sees the heart of a person and may our hearts reflect what Psalm 40:8 says “I desire to do your will, my God, your law is within my heart.”