There’s a crack in my car windshield, on the passenger’s side. It looks exactly like a one-legged ostrich captured mid-squawk. Some stray pebble created a work of art. Had to get that out of the way. Whew!
Today, I read some 1 Samuel. I’m up to the teens. This is where Saul, the first king of Israel, entered the scene. I’ll pick it up in chapter 15.
Samuel anointed Saul as king. Coronation ceremony complete, Saul started his military campaigns to drive out the conquer Israel’s enemies. Samuel, Israel’s former judge and ruler, came to Saul with a message from God: “This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies has declared: I have decided to settle accounts with the nation of Amalek for opposing Israel when they came from Egypt. Now go and completely destroy the entire Amalekite nation – men, women, children, babies, cattle, sheep, goats, camels and donkeys” (v. 2-3). Whoa! Seems a bit harsh, doesn’t it?
Saul thought so. He mobilized his combined army of 210,000 and slaughtered the Amalekites. However…he kept King Agag alive, however, as well as the best of the sheep and goats, cattle, fat calves, lambs (v.8-9). It says “…everything, in fact, that appealed to them.”
Ooh. Kinda like a bloody five-finger discount.
But when you have a prophet for a spiritual leader, your junk will not stay a secret for long. God ratted out Saul to Samuel: “I am sorry that I ever made Saul king, for he has not been loyal to me and has refused to obey my command” (v.11). As a result, Samuel cried out to God all night long, no doubt pleading for Saul and Israel.
In verse 12, Samuel confronted Saul. Saul was in fine fettle: “May the Lord bless you. I have carried out the Lord’s command?” But he didn’t. Samuel mentioned hearing sheep and cattle. Saul tried to dodge this observation. “I only kept the best – to sacrifice to the Lord your God!” (v. 15).
Samuel couldn’t take anymore. He informed Saul of God’s disappointment and pointed out his disobedience. Saul continued to defend himself. “I carried out the mission! I spared the king, but killed everyone else. My troops (not me!) brought back these animals!”
The final blow came when Samuel spoke of the kingdom passing to another who would obey. Saul, distraught, pleaded for forgiveness. “Yes, I was wrong! I was afraid of the people (blaming again) and what they wanted. Please forgive me!” (v. 30).
Other times I’ve read this, I always focused on the call to obedience Samuel intoned in verse 23, that infamous “rebellion is as the sinful as witchcraft” line. Scary stuff. But I saw something new this time.
This wasn’t Saul’s battle. God wanted to settle a score with the Amalekites. They were completely out of control and heinous in His sight. They needed to be annihilated lock, stock and barrel. This was an offense hundreds of years old. Saul wasn’t alive back then. But to God, their sin glared on through the ages. As a result, Saul wasn’t invested. His obedience was half-hearted due to apathy or presumption. “Ho hum, who cares about those people?” or “I’m sure God will cover this. It’s His battle anyway.” I mean, if God asked you to fight a battle, you would believe the deck was stacked in your favor, right? A guaranteed win on your points card, right? I’m sure God won’t mind if I amend the plan a little.
This apathy and presumption cost Saul the kingdom. Saul failed the test of totally destroying the Amalekites. Even to the end, he blamed his army and his people. Not good qualities in a leader. Notice in God’s original message he calls the powerful force Saul will employ “Heaven’s Armies”. Huh. So it would be God’s victory after all, and He should decide who gets the spoils. It reminds me of the verse in Matthew 6:26: And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? From here, Saul lost Samuel’s good influence and God’s favor. He descended into madness, his kingdom handed to another who would serve God with his whole heart.
What would have happened if Saul manned up and owned his mistake? Could his humility have changed his destiny and the course of a nation? We will never know.