The blessing of God came as Moses and the people of Israel fully obeyed. But God’s servant-leaders were not always so submissive. Consider, for example, Saul, the first king of Israel.
Read the Scripture passages below and answer the corresponding questions.
Samuel said to Saul, “The Lord sent me to anoint you king over his people Israel; now therefore listen to the words of the Lord. Thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘I have noted what Amalek did to Israel in opposing them on the way when they came up out of Egypt. Now go and strike Amalek and devote to destruction all that they have. Do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey’” (1 Samuel 15:1–3 ESV).
[The Amalekites were descendants of Esau’s grandson Amalek. They lived in the Sinai Peninsula and the Negev Desert south of Israel. They stood under God’s judgment for their unprovoked attack on the Israelites in Moses’s time (Exodus 17:8–16; Deuteronomy 25:17–19).]
Whose word did Samuel speak to Saul? What, exactly, was Saul told to do?
And Saul came to the city of Amalek and lay in wait in the valley…. And Saul defeated the Amalekites from Havilah as far as Shur, which is east of Egypt. And he took Agag the king of the Amalekites alive and devoted to destruction all the people with the edge of the sword. But Saul and the people spared Agag and the best of the sheep and of the oxen and of the fattened calves and the lambs, and all that was good, and would not utterly destroy them. All that was despised and worthless they devoted to destruction (1 Samuel 15:5, 7–9).
Did Saul obey God? How would you support your answer?
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” (1 Samuel 15:10–15).
Why did God regret having made Saul king?
What evidences of Saul’s pride and hypocrisy do you see in this passage thus far?
No matter how much Saul claimed to have fully carried out God’s will, there was evidence that he had not. What tactic(s) did Saul use to attempt to explain his actions?
You may want to read the rest of 1 Samuel 15. When Samuel delivered his rebuke, Saul tried to “spiritualize” his disobedience. The best of the livestock had been spared so the people could worship God, he suggested (vv. 15, 21). And just in case that wasn’t an acceptable reason, Saul implied that it was not his idea but the people’s (v. 21).
Later in the conversation, Saul finally admitted that he had done wrong, but he still offered excuses: “I have sinned, for I have transgressed the commandment of the Lord and your words, because I feared the people and obeyed their voice” (1 Samuel 15:24).
First Samuel 15:22–23 reveals the “bottom line” from God’s perspective:
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 [witchcraft], and presumption is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, he has also rejected you from being king.”
In summary, consider some things we can learn about obedience from the life of Saul:
- Those who boast about their obedience may be trying to cover up disobedience.
- In God’s eyes, nothing is more important than obedience.
- Disobedience reveals a rebellious heart.
- The “smallest” point of disobedience is no small matter. As with witchcraft, rebellion opens us up to the realm and inﬂuence of Satan (v. 23a).
It is also important to understand that disobedience brings consequences. Saul lost his position; God took the kingdom from him. Saul had to stand by in shame and watch as someone else accomplished what God had told him to do (v. 28). Saul also lost the godly friendship and counsel of Samuel.
“Partial obedience, delayed obedience, and surface obedience to impress others are not acceptable to God. He is looking for men and women who will respond with instant, complete, wholehearted, and joyous obedience each time He speaks.” —Del Fehsenfeld Jr.
Excerpt from Seeking Him, © 2004 by Life Action Ministries, written by Nancy Leigh DeMoss and Tim Grissom with Life Action Ministries, published by Moody Publishers in Chicago, IL. Used by permission.