Samuel and Saul

Samuel and Saul August 28, 2015

photo credit: Caeseria aqueduct_0624 via photopin (license)
photo credit: Caeseria aqueduct_0624 via photopin (license)

(We are currently in a series on the life of David at Chelsea Village. As I’ve written before I attempt to write a full manuscript of my sermon before preaching. Throughout this series I’ll be posting some of the sermons I think will be helpful. If you would rather listen to the sermon, you can find it here.)

This week hackers released the database containing email addresses, user names, billing addresses, and credit card information for the users of the website Ashley Madison. The website, whose slogan is “Life is short; Have an affair,” is a place where people looking to step out on their spouses could meet each other. The first thing I heard about the release of the information was the number of .gov and .mil accounts in the leak. Next I heard people were scouring the information looking for politicians and other celebrities. Then we had a bombshell drop and Josh Duggar was a customer. He admitted what he had done. Next the head of the GOP in Louisiana turned out to be a customer and he claimed he was on it for research. Then the news came out that a credit card for a Montgomery mayoral candidate was in the list and he says he was the victim of credit card fraud.

Any man who would step out on his wife and any wife who would step out on their husband suffer from serious character deficiencies. At the same time, doesn’t it say something about us that we can’t wait to find out who might be on the list so we can wag our fingers and feel superior to them? Isn’t it fun to find out someone who holds themselves up as an example is actually an example of the kind of person you don’t want to be?

On the other side of the coin we have had the constant barrage of videos coming out from the Center for Medical Progress. They did an undercover sting on Planned Parenthood and have discovered they are taking part in some activities which are most likely illegal. Whether they are illegal or not is actually beside the point, as these videos have opened up for us in graphic detail the horrors of the abortion industry. Planned Parenthood and the politicians and celebrities who endorse them would have you believe the Center for Medical Progress are the bad guys. They claim the videos are underhanded and deceptive.

I bring up these potentially inflammatory issues up this morning because we are always discussing sin and the effects of sin. We don’t like to use the word, and in fact we like to make up other words for it. Notice Ashley Madison’s slogan is not “life is short; commit adultery!” They call it an affair because nobody likes to sign up for adultery. This is why the abortion lobby uses “fetus” and “embryo” instead of baby. Just so we hit even closer to home, I really appreciated the preaching and teaching of a pastor who is Billy Graham’s grandson. He was a pastor in south Florida and the week I was headed down there it came out that both he and his wife committed adultery. In preparation for his “Festival of Hope” in Birmingham, Franklin Graham, who would be this pastor’s uncle was asked whether this hurt the Graham family’s reputation. His response was, “this young boy and his wife have had a major failure in their life.” Go look at Franklin Graham’s Facebook page. Every day he calls something evil and says we need to repent. He advocates calling sin what it is, but when it is his family he calls a forty-one year old man a “young boy” and says he “had a major failure.” He said this after saying every family “has issues.” Do you see how it even affects people who say they believe the Bible? We always discuss sin, but we don’t like to call it that.

Every one of us has an innate sense of right and wrong. We look at things and know they are evil. I may not like to call my pet sin “sin,” but I instinctively know some things are right and others are wrong. The problem is we like to see the sin in everyone else. It’s easy for me to look at women walking into Planned Parenthood or a guy signing up for Ashley Madison and call what they are doing evil, but do I turn that same honest and intense eye on myself? Am I willing to look into he depths of my own heart and name what is going on inside of me? In addition, am I willing to be honest about my sin, knowing this is the only path to redemption?

Today we are going to talk about this from 1 Samuel 15:11-35. We are going to fast forward to the moment before we meet David. Israel cried out for a King, which we will discuss, and this king has turned aside from following the Lord and made the people complicit in his sin. As we look at the inner workings of Saul’s sin against the Lord, we will see the heart of our sin too, as well as the path to redemption and restoration.

The word of the Lord came to Samuel: “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. And 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.” And Samuel came to Saul, and Saul said to him, “Blessed be you to the Lord. I have performed the commandment of the Lord.” And Samuel said, “What then is this bleating of the sheep in my ears and the lowing of the oxen that I hear?” Saul 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.” Then Samuel said to Saul, “Stop! I will tell you what the Lord said to me this night.” And he said to him, “Speak.”

And 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. And 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.’ Why 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?” And 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. But 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.” And 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.

For rebellion is as the sin of divination,

and presumption is as iniquity and idolatry.

Because you have rejected the word of the Lord,

he has also rejected you from being king.”

Saul 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. Now therefore, please pardon my sin and return with me that I may bow before the Lord.” And 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.” As Samuel turned to go away, Saul seized the skirt of his robe, and it tore. And 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. And also the Glory of Israel will not lie or have regret, for he is not a man, that he should have regret.” Then 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.” So Samuel turned back after Saul, and Saul bowed before the Lord.

Then 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.” And 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.

Then Samuel went to Ramah, and Saul went up to his house in Gibeah of Saul. And Samuel did not see Saul again until the day of his death, but Samuel grieved over Saul. And the Lord regretted that he had made Saul king over Israel.
1 Samuel 15:11-35

The Heart of Our Sin

Though Saul’s fall here we see what lies at the heart of our sins. At the same time we should see how the sin of the people led to the Saul’s sin. This narrative begins in chapter 8 and in it we meet Samuel’s sons. His sons were not like their father. They were unfaithful to the Lord and cheated the people by taking bribes and perverting justice. The people began to cry out to Samuel and ask for a King so they could be like the other nations. Herein lies the first problem with the people’s request. God put them in the land to be different from the other nations around them. Being like the other nations is not a thing to be desired, but to be avoided. They asked for a king who would judge between them and go out to fight their battles for them.

What does it sound like they want to you? They essentially wanted someone to be for them who God could only be for them. Listen, can a person lead them into battle and judge between them in one sense? Sure, but ultimately they should instinctively know that the Lord is the one who brings justice and fights their battles for them. However they look at the nations around them and they long to have what they have. They see the King, the victorious warrior fighting for them and they want that too.

Right off we have a problem don’t we? They are going to raise Saul up to a level he should not inhabit to begin with. He looks up to the task. He is a strong, handsome, and heroic man. He stands a head taller than any of them. When I picture Saul I picture a taller version of Thor. He won some great battles but he began to go astray. He offered unlawful sacrifices and made a rash vow which could have cost his son’s life.

Ultimately the problem with Saul was the people’s expectations they placed on him. They looked for Saul to be for them what only God should be for them. We talked about this last week, but frankly we should probably talk about this every week. When we look to other people to be for us what God should be for us, we will crush them and ourselves. We crush other people because we put expectations on them they could never carry. How on earth could another person carry the expectation to be God for you? Do you know how hard it is to carry another person’s sense of acceptance and self-worth on your shoulders?

It also crushes you to put your expectations on another person like this. When you put expectations on another person that only God can carry do you think there is any chance they will ever deliver? Absolutely not. You will make them miserable and you will make yourself miserable, so look to God who is the only one who can be God for you. He is the only with shoulders broad enough for you to find your acceptance and identity in him. In fact he invites us to do this. He invites us to put all of our identity on him. He can handle it, in fact  he is the only one who is up to the task.

If I can have a brutally honest moment this morning, I couldn’t help but think as I was working on this about a particularly difficult time I was having recently. I was talking to one of my friends about what I was struggling with and he asked me, “how do you think God views you right now?” At the time I had to be honest and say it felt like God had abandoned me. As we worked through what was behind that, what I concluded was that was behind was I felt like I had earned God treating me a certain way. Once I got that out there I could hear how ridiculous it sounded. How often do we think God has abandoned us or is treating us in a way that is less than we deserve. Listen to me, if you have trusted in Jesus you are a child of God the father. We’re going to be adding a song in a few weeks called “A Son of God.” Do you know why it’s called “A Son of God” and not “A Son and Daughter of God?” Every single Christian receives an inheritance as if they were the first born son. There are no step sons of God and there are no black sheep in God’s family, we belong to him and so we rest in who he is for us.

You could see Saul’s downfall coming. In chapter 13 Saul wanted to make a sacrifice before going into war. He waited for Samuel to come down and make the sacrifice but he did not show up on Saul’s timeline. Instead of not making the sacrifice or waiting longer, Saul took on the role of priest and offered a sacrifice to the Lord himself. In fact the reason he do so was because he wanted the Lord’s favor in battle. Instead of doing God’s work God’s way, he wanted God’s blessing so he did his thing his way.  Samuel shows up right after Saul did this and tells Saul that the Lord is going to take his kingdom away from him and instead give it to someone who would be after God’s own heart.

Saul follows in a similar path in the passage we read. They are going up to defeat the Amalakites and the Lord instructed them through Samuel to devote the Amalekites to destruction. They were to wipe out everything and keep nothing for themselves. Samuel walks out to see what became of the battle and Saul meets him to say he had performed the command of the Lord. He had not performed the command of the Lord though. He saved the best and said he was going to offer it as a sacrifice.

Then though notice what he does; he blame shifts. “But the people took the spoil.” Oh, the people took the spoil. Heaven forbid the king could not tell the people not to take the spoil. What is Saul doing here? He blames the people for the thing that was his responsibility. He tries to downplay his sin by shifting the problem onto everyone else. Saul is not the first person to do this. In fact when the first sin took place Adam blamed Eve and Eve blamed the serpent. We have been trying to get out of our guilt since we fell in the garden.

Isn’t this a problem we all face? Don’t we all like to paint situations so it looks like we have some type of diminished capacity for our sins? Don’t we often blame our issues on someone else or on something else? We like to put ourselves in the best possible light even when there is no way to make ourselves look good. We must resist this. It’s only when we truly open ourselves up and are honest about our sins that we experience redemption.

Now sometimes you might wonder what the big deal is about Saul making the sacrifice instead of Samuel, but we have to remember the Lord is holy. He made us and not we ourselves. Because God is holy there is a certain way he must be approached. We know this instinctively. If you were going to meet the President you would probably take a bath and I doubt you would wear a Tapout shirt, jean shorts, sandals with socks, and a fanny pack. In the same way, but way more important, the Lord cares about how we approach him and our willingness to approach his in the right way shows something of our heart towards him.

Another great biblical example comes from the life of Moses. One time Israel had no water and they were whining to Moses about it. God told Moses to strike a rock and water flowed from the rock. All the people had plenty to drink. Down the road the people were complaining about a lack of water again. This time the Lord tells Moses to take up his staff and speak to the rock so that they might receive water from it. Instead of speaking to the rock Moses says, “Hear now you rebels, shall we bring forth water from this rock” and then he struck the rock. The Lord told Moses he would not be allowed to enter the land of promise because he did not treat the Lord as holy in the midst of the people. The issue was not just about Moses breaking the rules the Lord laid out for him. The Lord told Moses to speak to the rock. Moses arrogantly asked if he should bring forth water from the rock and struck the rock. His actions, breaking the Lord’s command, showed his heart towards the Lord. He did not treat the Lord as holy among the people. He did not love God, fear God, honor God, and obey God among the people.

This gets to the heart of our sin. We have idols and we are disobedient because we do not rightly love and esteem God. If we loved him, feared him, and honored him we would obey him. We cannot get to claim we love God while we do not live life in the manner he has deemed acceptable and in the manner he has prescribed.

If we are honest we spend a lot of time focusing on what the sin is “out there.” Conservatives think liberals are destroying the foundations of our culture with a lack of respect for life and authority and by jettisoning the way we have viewed moral issues for centuries. Liberals think conservatives are hypocrites and stand in the way of genuine social progress. They think if it wasn’t for conservatives there would be great education, healthcare, environment, and freedom. What we ignore in the midst of our finger pointing is that the greatest struggle I face is not with the people who disagree with me but with the person in the mirror. This rebellious idol factory in my chest is my gravest problem, and until I admit how much I share in common with Saul in this passage I will not be able to accurately see the way of redemption.

I just want to say a quick word about how this applies to parenting for a second. We spend a lot of time trying to keep the world out of our homes and out of our children’s lives. I feel this acutely, especially with a daughter who is essentially in her tween years. I understand that once she hears something she can’t unhear it and once she sees something she can’t unsee it. We rightly understand the music our kids listen to and the movies they watch effect them. We also know through social media how many avenues of evil and sin can be ushered into our children’s lives. The problem though for us as parents will come when we act as if all of the sin your kids need to worry about is the sin out there. Your kids can never watch TV, never listen to the radio, never touch the internet, never go the movies, and not have social media apps and still be plunged into all kinds of evil because our sin comes from within. Other things may fan the flame, but the spark and the gasoline all reside within us.

Honestly I think we all know this intuitively even if we don’t outwardly admit it. Look how much money we spend on self-improvement. We are constantly trying to work hard to make ourselves better because we know something is not right. Often our prescription is wrong, but we are moving towards an accurate diagnosis. The prophet Jeremiah says “the heart is deceitful and desperately wicked.” Once we come to grips with the depth of sin within us we can begin to see the way to redemption, restoration, and forgiveness.

The Rescue from Our Sin

The rescue for our sin is clearly laid out in this passage. Saul proved himself to be a poor excuse for a King. He made rash vows, half-heartedly obeyed, and showed himself to be a man who was unhappy with the Lord’s timing. The Lord regretted making Saul king and promised to depose him.

The Lord said he would set up a king who would be a man after his own heart. Now we know most immediately this is going to be David. David is going to give Israel rest in the land and the people will enjoy unparalleled times of peace and affluence under his leadership. At the same time you get the picture things won’t last this way forever. The Lord will not allow David to build the temple because he has shed too much blood. You know David is going to die because the Lord promises someone from his line will always sit on the throne. Then things fall apart for David, first with Bathsheba and then with one of his sons raping one of his daughters and his other son killing his brother. Then his son turns and tries to kill David so he can be King. David cannot be the forever King. You think it might be his son. He builds the temple and the Queen of Sheba comes to learn from him. Maybe he is the one in whom all the nations of the earth will be blessed as the Lord promised to Abraham. Then Solomon goes haywire and every king after him is a mixed bag at best.

Then Jesus comes on the scene. He proclaimed the kingdom was at hand, so the authorities became preoccupied with his claim to be a King. They thought they had snuffed out his claims to kingship when the nailed him to a cross, but actually they were paving the way for his kingship to become a reality. His people would not be able to stand before the king because of their sins, but Jesus paid the debt we owed by sacrificing himself. Jesus did not die as a helpless victim. He used his authority to lay down his life for his people, then he took his life up again when he was raised from the dead. Jesus ascended into heaven where he is seated on a throne, and when he comes he will come on a white horse to fight the final battle to free his people.

Interestingly enough Paul speaks of becoming a Christian as a transfer of kingdoms. We once were in the domain of darkness, but through faith we are transferred into the kingdom of God’s beloved son. Before coming to Christ we lived under the reign of sin and death, but when we trust in Christ we are brought under the reign of grace.

This is why when Paul wants to encourage Christians to put our sin to death, he doesn’t just tell us to try harder and do better. In Romans 6 Paul wants to show why the person who has experienced grace no longer walks in a pattern of sin. He reminds us of who we are in Christ. He reminds us that we have been united with Christ in the likeness of his death and resurrection. He doesn’t start with “get your act together,” but with a reminder that we are new creatures in Christ Jesus. Then he says since we are new people, “do not let sin reign in your mortal bodies that you should obey its lusts.” What did he do there? He reminded us that we are new people and because of this we should live as citizens of Jesus’ kingdom. We should live in such a way that is consistent with the kingdom transfer we have experienced. Sin does not reign over you any longer. The thing in your life that you hate the most does not have the final say; Jesus does. By the power of his grace and the Spirit he sent let us put sin to death!

This happens through faith and repentance. Saul bowed before the Lord after his sin. Samuel killed King Agag as Saul should have done. We can talk more about holy war another week, but here’s the main point. Samuel and Saul both modeled repentance for us. What does a Christian do when we sin? We mourn over our sin and we confess it to the Lord. Then we turn from the bondage of this sin and we walk in the freedom of God’s grace. We know holiness is freedom and sin is a prison, so we walk in holiness putting our sin to death. This is the constant cycle in the life of the Christian. We may sin, but we do not excuse it or coddle it. We repent, confess, and walk in freedom.

So today recognize who your king is. Bow your knee before this gracious king and walk in the power and freedom of his grace.

Related Posts:
Hannah and Samuel
Samuel, Eli, and the Ark of the Covenant

For Further Reading:
1 Samuel by Dale Ralph Davis
Counterfeit Gods by Tim Keller

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