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.
23 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.”
1 Samuel 15:22-23

I feel really sorry for Saul.  He was handsome and strong and a head taller than everyone.  He looked good. In the eyes of the world he was the perfect leader, and yet he was an utter failure.  I think that’s why God chose him. Had Saul submitted to God when he made his decisions, he would have been blessed by the Lord.  But Saul had a lot more confidence in worldly strength than he did in God.

It’s sad, because on the surface it appears as though Saul did inquire of God.  He constantly inquired of the Lord after he made a decision to do something, he had the Arc of the Covenant with them, and he even had a priest traveling with him, ephod and all.  “…The people who were with him were about six hundred men, 3 including Ahijah the son of Ahitub, Ichabod’s brother, son of Phinehas, son of Eli, the priest of the Lord in Shiloh, wearing an ephod…” 1 Samuel 14:2-3 But appearances and tradition are never what God wants from us.   Saul never looked to God until after he’d made up his mind what he wanted to do. He decided his plans were great (probably because he’d been chosen by God, so who needs to ask God again, right?) and then asked God for a blessing after he’d made up his own mind. He did it when he performed the sacrifice to God, instead of waiting on Samuel.  And he did it before going into battle with the Philistines.

Saul’s son Jonathan, on the other hand, boldly moved forward to defeat his enemies by trusting in the power of God to provide the victory even against all odds.  We know this because Jonathan sees an oportunity to attack the Philistines in a really strategic way, and moves forward to act with only his armor bearer to help him!  But where Jonathan differed from Saul is in this: Jonathan inquired of the Lord before He asked. He felt confident that his plan was solid, but he still asked God to make it clear by asking for a sign, and didn’t move until he’d gotten the clear sign of God’s promised victory.  (See 1 Samuel 14 for all the details.)

And so we go back to poor Saul.  This earthly king, chosen by God, who looked the part well and surrounded himself with all kinds of powerful heroes in order to ensure his military victories.  He made sacrifices. He had the Arc. He had his priest. He even had a prophet. The people loved him! After all, they constantly deferred to him, saying, “Do what seems good to you!” (1 Samuel 14:41)  He had everything he needed to look and act like the best darn victorious king who ever lived. And that was his downfall. It became all about him and not about God.

Justifying our bad behavior for the sake of serving God is a terrible crime!  How many times have I justified an act of my own choosing because I had decided it was best without looking to God for wisdom and permission first?  Seriously! If I’m being honest with myself, I do it all the time! Even though the Lord has told me that I need to limit nutritionless food to honor him with my body, I justify dessert because I’m celebrating or I crave it, or I’m free in Christ.  I go on fad diets, justifying the extremes in order to get quick results. I make plans for vacation because I need a break instead of needing sabbath rest, or I read a book instead of read my Bible because I’m tired, or I don’t have time.  If I think about it too hard, I think I could quickly fall into shame over it all!

But that’s not why I’m here.  That’s not why God put me on this planet.  He put me here to worship Him, to partner with me in love and friendship, and to have us be together in all things.  He wants me to be unified with Him and with His Church. I make presumptions that I know what God wants from me, so I don’t need to inquire of Him, and that only leads to rebellion. Rebellion to my solitary purpose in Christ is a stepping stone for sin and more rebellion.  And that disobedience from good intentions leads me further and further away from my King, which is definitely not God’s good plan for me!

I look again to Samuel’s words to Saul after yet another huge failure with good intentions that would lead to God’s rejection of him as King:

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.
23 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.”
1 Samuel 15:22-23

Sadly, Saul’s response to this fall from grace is to blame the people he was leading.  

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. 25 Now therefore, please pardon my sin and return with me that I may bow before the Lord.” 26 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.”

His intentions were so pure, weren’t they?! (Yes that’s sarcasm.) And yet, how many times have I been blind to my own excuses and good intentions? So. Many. Times.  I’m so thankful to have the sealed promise of the Holy Spirit within me to convict me of my wrongdoing and correct the flaws of my thinking. Our Lord is not content to leave us where we are.  When we sin against Him and go to Him for guidance through repentance, He is quick to show us what we’ve done and what we need to do differently. It hurts. It’s no fun. Frankly, it sucks. But it is so good, too! Unlike Saul, I have the glorious forgiveness of Messiah, Jesus, to pay for my failings and shortcomings, to pay for my sin, and to give me life and victory.  And He is so quick to forgive and to teach, that the mercy that flows through Him to me would spill out of me into others, and thus share the fruit and life that comes from submitting to the will of God.

 

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