Called to Follow; Not to Figure
God is all knowing and has a plan for each of us (Jeremiah 29:11). In God’s plan, He knows exactly how the pieces of our lives fit together and how each event can and will impact the events of others. God has a master plan and it is perfect! But, we have a sin nature. Like Eve, we linger too long with the devil and devise our own interpretations of God’s Words and His plan for our lives. In doing so, we always end up in trouble. It didn’t work for Eve, which in turn had a negative impact on all of us. And, it didn’t work for Saul as we will see in this account in I Samuel 15:1-23.
Saul was given theses explicit instructions. “Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass,” (I Samuel 15:3). No doubt, the message is clear in this verse. Saul is to destroy Amelek and spare nothing. However, as we continue to read this account, we see that Saul begins to reason with the instructions, to try and interpret them in a way that makes more sense to him. In doing so, he concludes his strategy to be this. “But Saul and the people spared Agag, and the best of the sheep, and of the oxen, and of the fatlings, and the lambs, and all that was good, and would not utterly destroy them: but every thing that was vile and refuse, that they destroyed utterly,” (I Samuel 15:9). So, Saul hears and understands God’s instructions, but feels he can improve upon the outcome by adding what he thinks to be best. Instead of following the simple commandments of God, Saul reasoned within himself and felt his way was best.
We learn as we read further what God felt about Saul’s self-derived strategy. God says, “It repenteth me that I have set up Saul to be king: for he is turned back from following Me, and hath not performed My commandments. And it grieved Samuel; and he cried unto the Lord all night,” (I Samuel 15:11). Here is a perfect example of a person meaning to do the right thing, but unable to submit to God’s plan. He is unable to see that God’s plan is perfect because it doesn’t make logical sense when subjected to his human reasoning. This also shows how one person’s disobedience causes far reaching pain and trouble for those around them. Saul, in what seems to be a small departure from his God given instructions, causes great trouble for himself, but also causes Samuel to grieve.
What unfolds next is a multidirectional opportunity for learning. First, when Samuel hears from God, he listens and he seeks Him further. This is evidenced by the fact that God comes to Samuel and tells him that it repenteth Him that He set Saul to be King. Samuel’s immediate response was to cry unto the Lord all night. This is a lesson we all can learn. When God speaks, we need to seek Him even more! Notice Samuel’s response to the news that Saul had messed up terribly. Samuel didn’t pass the blame or shout his cause and praise. Nowhere does Samuel say, “I told him what to do.” “It isn’t my fault he did the wrong thing.” “I did my best.” No, Samuel cries unto the Lord, all night. When was the last time you cried unto the Lord on behalf of someone else? Do you seek to clear yourself first when trouble comes your way or run towards a solution by praying?
Secondly, Samuel confronts the perpetrator, not the community, not the elders of the church, just the perpetrator. In doing so, Samuel speaks to the facts. He leaves his emotions aside and only speaks to the facts. This is a valuable lesson we all must learn. When someone sins and mistakes are made and hearts are broken and lives are ruined, we must seek God and remain true to our faith and not let our emotions rule the situation. This is important, because what follows is the explanation of the perpetrator as they attempt to defend their actions. “And Saul said, They have brought them from the Amalekites: for the people spared the best of the sheep and of the oxen, to sacrifice unto the Lord thy God; and the rest we have utterly destroyed,” (I Samuel 15:15). And here we have it. Saul demonstrates that he thinks his ways and plans for his life are better than what God has planned for him. No, he doesn’t say that and neither do you or me. But, he set his life on a course directed by his thoughts, his wishes, and his feeling of what was best and completely ignored the commandments God gave him. Does this sound familiar? God has completely given us all the instruction we need in His Holy Word, yet many of us neither read it or heed it. In addition, He has invited us to come boldly to His throne (Hebrews 4:16) to get our instructions and to plan our course of action for each and every minute of each and every day. Yet, we often go it alone, wing it as it comes and ignore His commandment to “follow me.” “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me,” (John 10:27).
Finally, we see the consequences of disobedience. Rest assured there are always consequences for sin and they are always negative. We have been given a commandment to follow God. He has provided all we need to do so, and in doing so, gave us strict warning of what happens when we don’t. “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap,” (Galatians 6:7). This is clearly evidenced by what we see as this account of Saul’s disobedience continues to unfold. “And Samuel said, When thou wast little in thine own sight, wast thou not made the head of the tribes of Israel, and the Lord anointed thee king over Israel?” (I Samuel 15:17). Samuel reminds Saul that Saul was blessed because he was obedient. Then he pulls no punches and clearly reveals to Saul the error of his ways. “Wherefore then didst thou not obey the voice of the Lord, but didst fly upon the spoil, and didst evil in the sight of the Lord?” (I Samuel 15:19). Again, Samuel sticks to the facts and makes no room for judgement or emotion. You know that Samuel was hurting. He had been deeply betrayed by one he loved dearly. You know he was disappointed and frustrated. How could someone he taught, loved, and cared for, who had been so greatly blessed by God err in such egregious ways as to not obey the commandments of God? Yet, he stayed the course with what I believe was immense love. He continued to point the perpetrator to God. How could he do this? Well, I believe it was because he had cried unto the Lord all night prior to confronting his friend (I Samuel 15:11). A lesson we all must learn if we are to be an instrument of God.
But, self-will doesn’t give in easily. Human nature wants to win at any cost. So, now we see Saul begin his defense. “And Saul said unto Samuel, Yea, I have obeyed the voice of the Lord, and have gone the way which the Lord sent me, and have brought Agag the king of Amalek, and have utterly destroyed the Amalekites. But the people took of the spoil, sheep and oxen, the chief of the things which should have been utterly destroyed, to sacrifice unto the Lord thy God in Gilgal,” (I Samuel 15:20-21). Saul just can’t seem to let go of the thought that his ways are better than God’s ways. How long will you hold on to your pride, your intellect to get your way, or seemingly win? What will it take for you to understand that only by being in the center of God’s will can any Christian live in peace and prosperity? What does God have to do to get you to submit to Him and His will?
Samuel was just about to teach Saul a lesson that ALL of us must learn. “And Samuel said, Hath 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 hearken than the fat of rams,” (I Samuel 15:22). Obedience is the key to walking humbly with thy God!” Micah 6:8 tells us, “He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?”
Sin is costly. A dear pastor friend of mine always said, “Sin will take you further than you want to go, keep you longer than you want to stay and cost you more than you want to pay.” “For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because thou hast rejected the word of the Lord, He hath also rejected thee from being king” (I Samuel 15:23). Saul paid dearly for his sins and so do we. But praise be to God we are given I John 1:9,“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. We won’t escape the consequences of sin and our actions, but we are forgiven if we confess. Take joy in knowing that whom God sets free, they are free indeed (John 8:36). We are called to follow not to figure. God loves you! You are loved.