We began our current sermon series titled “The United Church - A Study of Ancient Israel” just over a month ago. Thus far we have learned how the 12 tribes consolidated with one another to form a single nation called Israel. This happened around 1050 BC. Under God’s direction, the priest Samuel anointed a Benjaminite named Saul to serve as Israel’s first king. Saul was a wealthy, handsome, and stately young man. He became king when he was 30 years old. His reign lasted 42 years and was marked by constant warfare.
Saul enjoyed his first victory over the Ammonites when he delivered the besieged city of Jabesh-gilead. Later on, with the aid of his courageous son Jonathan, Saul defeated the Philistines at the pass near Michmash. The king had won back-to-back conflicts, but in so doing had demonstrated several character flaws. Saul was extremely egotistical, impulsive, and impatient. Because of his foolish and sinful behavior, Samuel warned Saul that his kingdom would not endure.
Some 400 years earlier, during the exodus from Egypt, the Amalekites had attacked the children of Israel as they journeyed toward Mt. Sinai. Joshua led the children of Israel in battle against them, while Moses observed from an overlooking hilltop. When Moses held his hands up Israel prevailed and when they dropped Amalek prevailed. Aaron and Hur assisted by holding Moses’ arms up as the fighting waged on. Ultimately, the Israelites won the victory and the surviving Amalekites retreated. At that time, the LORD told Moses that one day He’d completely
annihilate all of these vicious Amalekites and forever “blot out their memory” because of their aggression towards His people.
In today’s message, we will see that God remembered this centuries-old promise. The LORD would use the militaristic King Saul to again battle against these dreaded Amalekites. Would Saul be able to completely destroy these hated enemies of Israel? Let’s find out...
I. DISOBEDIENT (1 Samuel 15:1-9)
God spoke to Samuel, who in turn spoke to King Saul, and told him to strike the Amalekites and to utterly destroy them. He was to show no mercy, but rather to kill them all - men, women, children, infants, and animals. Though this may have seemed extremely harsh, it was God’s promised judgment upon the Amalekites for their wickedness against Israel. It was probably long overdue. The LORD is long-suffering, but at some point He will judge rebellious nations.
Saul rallied together an army of over 200,000 soldiers. They proceeded to the city of Amalek, where they set an ambush in the valley. The Kenites also lived in this area, dispersed among the Amalekites. Unlike the Amalekites, the Kenites were not hostile toward Israel. Not wanting to harm a friend, Saul asked the Kenites to leave before engaging in the conflict. After they’d safely gone, Saul attacked the Amalekites and soundly defeated them. In the process Saul killed most of them, but not all. He took King Agag alive as a hostage and spared many of their
Saul failed to carry out God’s instructions. He was supposed to completely destroy all of the Amalekites - both man and beast. There were to be absolutely no survivors. Instead, some of them remained. Anything less than complete obedience is, in fact, disobedience. God does not ask us to partially keep His commandments, but rather to obey them fully!
II. DISAPPROVED (1 Samuel 15:10-21)
God was disappointed with Saul’s continued disobedience and expressed His frustration to Samuel. Hearing this, Samuel also became distressed and cried out to the LORD all night. Meanwhile, Saul had built a monument for himself at Carmel and then gone down to Gilgal. Samuel went to meet Saul there. The king began to boast about his great victory and wholehearted obedience to God, but Samuel interrupted by asking, “Then why do I hear the
sounds of sheep and oxen?” Saul answered that the people had chosen to keep these animals alive in order to make sacrifices to God.
Samuel began to tell Saul all of the things that God had said to him the night before. The aging prophet reminded Saul of his humble beginnings and how God had exalted him to the kingship of Israel. Samuel then repeated the LORD’s original instructions to Saul regarding the heathen Amalekites - to exterminate them all including their animals. Samuel then asked, “Why have you not obeyed the LORD’s command?”
The stunned king began offering excuses for his behavior. He insisted that he had utterly destroyed the Amalekites just as God desired, and had only brought back King Agag as a hostage. He then blamed the people for sparing the lives of certain animals, arguing that it had been done for a noble reason. They wanted to offer these beasts to the LORD as sacrifices. Despite Saul’s attempts to justify his disobedience, God disapproved.
III. DISMISSED (1 Samuel 15:22-35)
Samuel had heard enough rhetoric. He spoke boldly saying, “Does the LORD find more delight in the sacrifices made by His people or in their obedience to Him?” As this applied specifically to the situation at hand, Samuel was asking whether God would be more pleased by their sacrifices of these animals than He would have been if’d they’d killed them when they were supposed to. Without waiting for a response, Samuel then answered his question by proclaiming an important truth - “Obedience is better than sacrifice.” Whatsmore, he also told
Saul that God had rejected him as king over Israel because of his sinful rebellion against the LORD’s word.
Saul urged Samuel to forgive him, again blaming his people for what had happened, but Samuel refused. As he turned to leave, the desperate king grabbed Samuel’s robe and it tore. Seeing this, Samuel stated that the LORD had torn the kingdom of Israel away from Saul and had given it to someone else. Though his fate had already been sealed, still Saul pleaded with Samuel to stay and worship with him. Samuel reluctantly agreed.
Samuel asked that Saul’s prisoner, King Agag, the ruler of the Amalekites, be brought to him. The defeated king stood before Samuel confident that he himself would be spared. But Samuel, the man of God, took a sword and cut Agag into pieces. Unlike Saul, Samuel obeyed the will of God completely. After this bloody incident, Samuel and Saul parted ways and did not see each other again until the day of Saul’s death. Samuel grieved for Saul, who the LORD had dismissed as king over Israel.
Apparently, King Saul had spared other Amalekites too or perhaps allowed some to escape. He did not fulfill the promise that God had made to Moses. The Amalekites are mentioned again during the reigns of King David and King Hezekiah. The final reference to the Amalekites is found in the story of Esther, which took place some 600 years later. Haman, the evil villain who sought to destroy all of the Jews, was an Agagite - a descendant of the brutal King Agag. Because of Saul’s disobedience, many more Israelites died and the hands of the Amalekites
before they were finally blotted out completely.
There are a couple of really important principles embedded in the passage of Scripture that we read and discussed this morning. Let me conclude the service this morning by pointing them out briefly.
First, Saul had chosen to disobey God by sparing the enemy’s best animals. He insisted that his heart was in the right place because he just wanted to sacrifice them to God. After all, wouldn’t this be pleasing to the LORD? In other words, Saul believed that his misbehavior was acceptable because it was done with good intentions. But Samuel refuted this flawed thinking. Beloved, please learn this lesson from the text - Good intentions do not justify bad behavior. It is never okay to disobey God’s commands, even if you think there is a good reason for doing so.
Second, God desires our obedience more than our sacrifices. In ancient times, sacrifices were primarily offered in the temple as and act of worship to God. A modern equivalent would be the sacrifices of praise that we bring to Him each Sunday at church. The principle is this - God is more pleased when we obey Him by doing what He says than He is by our participation in a weekend worship service. This is not to minimize the importance of church attendance and worship, but rather to point out the much greater importance of continual obedience to God’s commands.
Finally, though Saul was still literally the king over Israel and would continue as such for many more years, God had spiritually rejected him and chosen another. The LORD’s favor and blessing had been removed. As such, Saul’s remaining years would be characterized largely by crazed jealousy and bitter obsession. This new king would be “better” than Saul, more righteous, more godly, a man after God’s own heart… Next week we will be introduced to this young man for the first time.