This week, we pick up in 1 Samuel 15, which marks a transition in the book itself. In prior podcasts, we discussed how Saul was the king that the people of Israel wanted. They wanted to be like the nations around them, so God allowed them to have a king of their own making. We now will find out what happens when we take something that God is okay with and then remove Him from the equation in order to fulfill our own desires:
One day Samuel said to Saul, “It was the Lord who told me to anoint you as king of his people, Israel. Now listen to this message from the Lord! 2 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. 3 Now go and completely destroy the entire Amalekite nation—men, women, children, babies, cattle, sheep, goats, camels, and donkeys.”
So, we see Samuel transitioning from his role as Judge over Israel to Prophet – the “spiritual police force” of the nation, and the king was to carry out the Lord’s commands. But, here’s how this applies to our lives today: we’re going to see how Saul tries to achieve God’s work, but through his own flesh. For us (and Saul, too), it is absolutely impossible to do the things that God calls us to do without the Holy Spirit. God must be a part of everything we do if we want to see the results that He has in store for us. God wants perfect obedience.
Now that doesn’t make God an ogre-like overlord. It simply means that God is perfect. He is perfect in His nature, His character and His qualities. Therefore, when He calls us to obey, He wants us to obey perfectly.
But, Jesus is the only one who can do this! He’s the only one who has ever lived perfectly. Therefore, we need Him to help us every day.
Have you ever had one of those Sunday mornings when nothing is going right and you’re in a terrible mood, and all of a sudden you’re supposed to show up at church and smile? You may be smiling on the outside, but on the inside you don’t even want to be there. Without going before God and surrendering to His will, we’re done for – even while attending church.
Saul does this very thing. He tries to do what God wants him to do, but in his own way, with his own motives, and for his own rewards. And too often, we’re no different than Saul.
And God wants none of that.
4 So Saul mobilized his army at Telaim. There were 200,000 soldiers from Israel and 10,000 men from Judah. 5 Then Saul and his army went to a town of the Amalekites and lay in wait in the valley. 6 Saul sent this warning to the Kenites: “Move away from where the Amalekites live, or you will die with them. For you showed kindness to all the people of Israel when they came up from Egypt.” So the Kenites packed up and left.
When we read these verses, it becomes very evident that everything is written in Scripture for a reason. Saul knew that he needed to tell the Kenites to get out of town because he had heard the teachings and law from Israel’s priests. He knew that while God was leading the Israelites out of Egypt, the Kenites had been kind to them. So, we know that Saul knows Scripture. Therefore, Saul knows God’s will. That’s going to be important for what comes next:
7 Then Saul slaughtered the Amalekites from Havilah all the way to Shur, east of Egypt. 8 He captured Agag, the Amalekite king, but completely destroyed everyone else. 9 Saul and his men spared Agag’s life and kept the best of the sheep and goats, the cattle, the fat calves, and the lambs—everything, in fact, that appealed to them. They destroyed only what was worthless or of poor quality.
So, we see Saul carrying out the Lord’s commands, not go obey and glorify God, but to benefit himself. Saul says “yes” to God, as long as it benefits him at the end of the day. He destroyed what was worthless (what he didn’t want), but he kept whatever he wanted, which wasn’t in perfect obedience to God’s command.
Are we any different?
I’ve actually heard several Christian teachings throughout my life that basically says that if you do certain things, then God is beholden to you. In other words, if you give a certain amount, then God is going to give you back a certain amount. He has to. Then, in the lives of good, God-fearing, church-going Christ followers, when things turn upside down and don’t go well, we tend to turn and yell at God, “Why?! Why is this happening to me? I’m your servant. I do this… I do that…” We hold up to God how good we are, which calls into question the reasons why we obey Him.
10 Then the Lord said to Samuel, 11 “I am sorry that I ever made Saul king, for he has not been loyal to me and has refused to obey my command.” Samuel was so deeply moved when he heard this that he cried out to the Lord all night.
Now, when God says that He is sorry, that doesn’t mean that He didn’t know that Saul was going to disobey Him. It doesn’t mean that He made a wrong decision in the past. It means that He feels for us. He feels for the nation of Israel. He feels for Saul, personally. And He’s saying, “This grieves Me that this process has played out.”
So, our takeaway is this: even when we are making wrong decisions, struggling in our relationship with God and disobeying Him, God is grieved that we have to go through what we go through in order for the opportunity for us to learn to turn back to Him.
12 Early the next morning Samuel went to find Saul. Someone told him, “Saul went to the town of Carmel to set up a monument to himself; then he went on to Gilgal.”
So, obviously, there’s some trouble here. Anytime that you do something that God has called you to do and then you set up a monument (or statue or alter) to yourself… you’re in the danger zone.
13 When Samuel finally found him, Saul greeted him cheerfully. “May the Lord bless you,” he said. “I have carried out the Lord’s command!”
Well, that’s just a lie.
14 “Then what is all the bleating of sheep and goats and the lowing of cattle I hear?” Samuel demanded.
15 “It’s true that the army spared the best of the sheep, goats, and cattle,” Saul admitted. “But they are going to sacrifice them to the Lord your God. We have destroyed everything else.”
16 Then Samuel said to Saul, “Stop! Listen to what the Lord told me last night!”
“What did he tell you?” Saul asked.
17 And Samuel told him, “Although you may think little of yourself, are you not the leader of the tribes of Israel? The Lord has anointed you king of Israel. 18 And the Lord sent you on a mission and told you, ‘Go and completely destroy the sinners, the Amalekites, until they are all dead.’ 19 Why haven’t you obeyed the Lord? Why did you rush for the plunder and do what was evil in the Lord’s sight?”
Right here is where Samuel brought the hammer down on Saul and told him that he wasn’t doing what God had called him to do at all, and his motives were selfish. Saul responds, as he often did and we often do, defensively. His unwillingness to change is the key factor and difference between him and Israel’s next king, David.
20 “But I did obey the Lord,” Saul insisted. “I carried out the mission he gave me. I brought back King Agag, but I destroyed everyone else. 21 Then my troops brought in the best of the sheep, goats, cattle, and plunder to sacrifice to the Lord your God in Gilgal.”
It may have seemed, on the outside, that Saul had justified reasons for doing what he did. Too often, we’re no different. I’ve known people who have told me things like, “When my business makes more money, I’m going to give so much more to the Lord.” I hope that this is true, but we are often less generous than we think that we are, and God often will want to test us in smaller things before blessing us with larger things. If this same businessman were to cheat a little here or there on his books in order to increase his profits, he’s no different than Saul.
22 But Samuel replied,
“What is more pleasing to the Lord:
your burnt offerings and sacrifices
or your obedience to his voice?
Listen! Obedience is better than sacrifice,
and submission is better than offering the fat of rams.
23 Rebellion is as sinful as witchcraft,
and stubbornness as bad as worshiping idols.
So because you have rejected the command of the Lord,
he has rejected you as king.”
24 Then Saul admitted to Samuel, “Yes, I have sinned. I have disobeyed your instructions and the Lord’s command, for I was afraid of the people and did what they demanded.
So, Samuel lays down the hammer and says, “You’re done. Your reign as king will end and your bloodline will not continue as king.” Then, Saul classically responds with an, “It’s not my fault!” reply.
Do you see how Saul is entirely self-centered and victimizes himself? Do you see how we do the same thing, instead of introspectively examining our hearts and realizing that we are at fault?
25 But now, please forgive my sin and come back with me so that I may worship the Lord.”
26 But Samuel replied, “I will not go back with you! Since you have rejected the Lord’s command, he has rejected you as king of Israel.”
27 As Samuel turned to go, Saul tried to hold him back and tore the hem of his robe. 28 And Samuel said to him, “The Lord has torn the kingdom of Israel from you today and has given it to someone else—one who is better than you. 29 And he who is the Glory of Israel will not lie, nor will he change his mind, for he is not human that he should change his mind!”
30 Then Saul pleaded again, “I know I have sinned. But please, at least honor me before the elders of my people and before Israel by coming back with me so that I may worship the Lord your God.” 31 So Samuel finally agreed and went back with him, and Saul worshiped the Lord.
32 Then Samuel said, “Bring King Agag to me.” Agag arrived full of hope, for he thought, “Surely the worst is over, and I have been spared!”[b] 33 But Samuel said, “As your sword has killed the sons of many mothers, now your mother will be childless.” And Samuel cut Agag to pieces before the Lord at Gilgal.
Samuel was to be feared as a prophet of God, and he was willing to carry out the Lord’s commands – even the ones Saul wasn’t willing to do.
34 Then Samuel went home to Ramah, and Saul returned to his house at Gibeah of Saul. 35 Samuel never went to meet with Saul again, but he mourned constantly for him. And the Lord was sorry he had ever made Saul king of Israel.
When one person wants to follow God and another person chooses not to, there is an inevitable separation that occurs – today just as it was thousands of years ago.
In today’s podcast I want to conclude my focus on social issues, the issues that challenge our faith and our God in very different ways.
On my previous podcasts I focused on two categories of social issues, one being ‘megaphone’ social issues, issues that confront us at full volume, and another category I call ‘ear bud’ social issues, those that appeal to us quietly and in secret.
Now, to wrap up my series on social issues, I promised you my take on the ultimate social issue, one that faces us loudly as a culture and church, quietly as individuals and families, and at every other level in between. It’s an issue that has only begun to have ramifications and consequences at every level of society, families and relationships. It’s also something that God, in His infinite wisdom, thought important enough to mention more than any other subject in the Bible.
So now that I’ve teased you enough, here we go with social issues podcast #3: The Ultimate Social Issue.
And that issue is, if you haven’t figured it out already, money.
We rarely think of money or finances as spiritual issues, but I don’t know why.
As I mentioned, the Bible has more to say about money than any other subject.
By a long shot!
Crown Ministries has listed 2,350 verses in the Bible that mention some expression of wealth or money, either directly as to how to manage money, or using money as illustrations or parables to teach spiritual truth.
Money is all over the Word of God.
Every aspect imaginable is covered , from budgeting to business planning, taxes to tithing, savings to success.
Twenty percent of the Ten Commandments deal with wealth (specifically that your neighbors wealth is his, not yours) and fully one-third of Jesus’ parables dealt with money or riches.
It’s clear that the Bible sees how we view and handle money as a key, maybe even THE key, to our spiritual lives.
Now why would that be?
Well, I think the answer is clear as we look at what’s happening with money in our society today.
Of all the principles of traditional Judeo-Christian culture that our society has abandoned, money – and more specifically debt – is the biggest.
The levels of spending and debt we are incurring as a society and as individuals is beyond staggering. As Jay Carty put it in his new book “Prayer For Rookies”:
“Immediate gratification and a selfish sense of entitlement form the core of our mindset as a nation. Neither the people nor the government will stop overspending; continually surging credit card debt and the growing national deficit are proof of this. The tanking of the economy is representative of our spiritual condition as a nation. Selfish ‘living for the moment’ has left us economically and spiritually bankrupt. Several generations to follow will find themselves knee-deep in debt because of our lifestyles.”
Now Jay is 6’ -8” tall, so knee deep to him is waste deep to the rest of us, but he’s spot on with what he says.
But I want to go further and state that western society’s addiction to over-spending will eventually lead to a breakdown of society as a whole.
History does not paint a pretty picture of economies that collapse.
That picture is beginning to come into focus now in Greece, for instance. A news article caught mine and my wife’s attention recently. It reported on the desperate state of Greek families this winter, as they’ve had to resort to burning furniture and chopped-down trees from local parks and forests to heat their homes, as the price of oil has skyrocketed due to the countries failing economy. Smog is covering the city of Athens as a result.
If you’ve been following the modern Greek tragedy of debt and bankruptcy sweeping across Europe, you can fairly well predict that there will be more and more social upheaval and desperation in western societies, most prominently our own, that have followed the same over-spending habits of Greece.
And it is an over-spending problem.
Many will say it is a problem of not enough revenue, in other words ‘taxes’. But folks, we, with our childish, irrational and irresponsible addiction to spending, have racked up multiple trillions of dollars in debt.
That’s trillion with a capital ‘T’.
There isn’t enough money in the entire world to pay off the debts of western society, which means eventually we will have Greece on a world-wide scale.
And with the abandonment of most of the other restraining tenets of the Judeo Christian worldview, we can fairly well predict chaos.
Are we as a society ready for that?
Are we as the Church, ready for that?
And finally, are we as believers ready for the hard times and persecution that will surely come.
And, yes it will come, because in hard times, those without faith, without eternal perspective or accountability to a just God, will seek scapegoats. And historically, they’ve always found them in people who do have that faith and perspective.
And also, for my fellow Christians who embrace so many of today’s progressive causes, let me say that in the wake of the collapse of Western economies, especially the U.S., there will be very little social justice anywhere in the world. The environment will be thoroughly polluted and human trafficking will flourish, with no one able to stop it.
It’s very chic and trendy these days to trash western civilization as the root of most or all injustice and exploitation in the world, but reality, and history, are demanding now that we come to grips with the fact that the same ideological and cultural pillars that have caused the west to prosper have also been holding back monstrous forces of evil around the globe.
Collapse those pillars with bankruptcy, and that protection will be gone.
Now maybe that’s God’s plan. And He is definitely in control of the future, and in the end, He wins.
But as for me, I can’t assume that that fact absolves or protects me as an individual, or us as a Church and society, from the consequences and accountability for reckless and sinful abuse of the precious resource that God’s Word has the so much to say about, and that’s money, the Ultimate Social Issue.
In closing, I want to bring to you the Great Cloud Of Witnesses, the segment of our podcast where we meet and hear the stories of those who have given, and some who are still giving, their lives by faith in the promises of God, and of whom the world was and is not worthy (if you don’t know that reference, please check out Hebrews chapters 11 and 12 in your Bible).
Today’s witness is Dominguez – a 20-year-old Bible student beaten by Islamic attackers. He said that while he laid on the ground, almost decapitated by a sickle, he was carried to heaven by angels. He did not feel pain or fear, but instead peace. Then he heard, “It is not time for you to serve me here.”
As workers debated what to do with Dominguez’s body, he fought to utter the words, “I am a Christian”, to the amazement of the workers who had thought him dead.
Today, he has fully recovered. He is closer to God and actively praying for his Muslim neighbors – even those who attacked him with a newfound forgiveness that can only come from God Himself.
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