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A Regrettable Situation

1 Samuel: A Heart for God  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  53:04
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A Regrettable Situation - 1 Samuel 15

Let’s begin with a good story as a “hook” to draw you in so that you will stay attentive and awake. Oh look, we’re in narrative in our text of study. :-) Let’s read this interesting episode together.
Read 1 Samuel 15
PRAY
I’d like us to look at this text this morning in three ways. (Feel free to use this same approach in your own Bible study.)
What happens here? [or What does it mean? depending on the kind of passage…]
What’s hardest to understand in this passage?
What’s hardest for us to apply?

What happens here? (Outline)

God Tests Saul (vv. 1-3)
Through the punishment of the Amalekites (fulfilling the prophecy against them) - In their wilderness wandering, Israel had been savagely attacked in the rear of their traveling troop by none other than the Amalekites.
devote to destruction - to give over completely to God with the implication that it must be utterly destroyed to avoid human use
Giving Saul a chance to change his ways and prove his worship of God through obedience
Saul (Partially) Obeys (vv. 4-9)
He musters a large force and goes into battle against the Amalekites.
He even shows kindness to those who had shown kindness to Israel. (the Kenites, the family line of Moses’s father-in-law Jethro, who had supported and even journeyed some with Israel)
Saul and his army does soundly defeat the enemy, but their destruction is not complete - Twice in a row it mentions that Saul took/spared Agag. Not only that, but they keep the best of the spoil. - What were they supposed to do with it? Devote it ALL to the Lord by destroying ALL of it. (We also know the Amalekites aren’t fully annihilated because it’s a group of them later in 1 Samuel who attack David’s town of Ziklag and kidnap his wives and children — along with everybody else’s!)
The problem is incomplete obedience, an evidence of insincere worship. Partial obedience is in fact disobedience. And we soon learn that Saul’s motive is not as pure as he might like Samuel to believe.
God Regrets, Samuel Rebukes, & Saul Makes Excuses (vv. 10-21)
God regrets here means that God grieves (expresses genuine sorrow) - Anthropopathism (explaining God’s emotion in human terminology)
Samuel is angry. First he prays (which exactly fits what we’ve come to learn of him), then he goes to confront Saul.
Saul has already moved on from Carmel, I place where he decided to make a monument to himself! … before going on to Gilgal, which at this time was an important place of worship to God.
There Samuel confronts him, and before he can even get a word out, Saul is touting his obedience.
Samuel’s response is, “Are you kidding me right now? I can hear the blooming sheep and oxen!”
Saul lays the blame on the people, “they,” and he feigns sincere devotion, making the excuse that the best of the sheep and oxen were kept to sacrifice to God.
As Samuel’s rebuke gets more pointed, Saul’s excuses dig him into a deeper hole, only proving his failure more. (17-21)
God Rejects Saul (vv. 22-23)
Samuel’s words are piercing and timeless:
“Clearly the Torah integrated sacrifice into the life of obedience to God; however, it never envisioned it as a substitute for obedience.” - Bergen, R. D. (1996). 1, 2 Samuel (Vol. 7, p. 172). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
Hosea 6:6 ESV
For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.
Religion without relationship is just religion.
We get a glimpse also in v. 23a of the sins in Saul’s heart. - He is guilty of rebellion and presumption (or arrogance).
To reject God’s word is to reject God. Such faithlessness God rejects.
Saul Pleads in Desperation (vv. 24-31)
But what seems to be his motivation?
Ramifications for Sin Get Ugly (vv. 32-35)
Samuel, yes Samuel, hacked Agag to pieces (for everyone to see God’s judgment)
Samuel never goes before Saul again in a formal capacity. The split between them is symbolic of the the separation with God, and indicative the Samuel, as God has indicated, already views the end of Saul’s reign as having begun (even though it’s completion may take as many as 15 years yet).

What’s hardest to understand in this passage?

What are the most difficult elements in this passage for us to comprehend regarding God’s actions, his commands, etc. I’ve chosen two. [But just briefly, before I get to those…]
Sometimes there are questions within details of the text itself, such as how we translate a given phrase in its context. - In 1 Sam 15:32...
1 Samuel 15:32 ESV
Then Samuel said, “Bring here to me Agag the king of the Amalekites.” And Agag came to him cheerfully. Agag said, “Surely the bitterness of death is past.”
...Agag’s response to being brought before Samuel can be understood, and therefore translated, in two different ways. It can mean that he came confidently and cheerfully, thus his thinking is that surely the bitterness of death is past (as here in ESV). Or it can mean that he came bound (as in chains), thus altered in the Septuagint to mean he came haltingly or trembling, making his statement more of a question, “Would death have been as bitter as this?” - So Agag either came expecting not to be killed (perhaps because they now brought him before a priest), or he came expecting death or worse.
Such instances almost always end up being minor in terms of their overall affect on the main thrust of a passage, as is the case with this example. Other times, as is the case with the word regret used several times in our passage, the word and the corresponding concepts involved take more interpretive work. (That one will be my second point here.)
1. God’s justice in wiping out the Amalekites and in rejecting Saul
We must understand the severity of sin or else we cannot comprehend the justice of God. How serious is sin?
We are told in God’s word that the wages (earned payment) for sin is death in Rom. 6:23. Said death is not merely physical, but also spiritual, and it’s results are eternal: (the wicked, who are faithless toward God, will be separated out as goats and separated from his true sheep)
Matthew 25:46 ESV
And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
And who is under the reign of sin and therefore deserving of God’s just judgment?
Romans 5:12 ESV
Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned—
Romans 3:10–12 ESV
as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.”
To tolerate evil is to deny justice. So God may choose patience, God may provide opportunity for repentance. But God will not ultimately turn a blind eye to evil. Justice will be served.
But even with solid sense of justice, we still must admit a level of difficulty to our sensibilities with God wiping out entire cities. God’s “ban of holy war” judgment against the Amalekites can be traced to at least three points:
God had said to Abraham and his descendents “I will bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you” (Gen. 12:3)
Then through Moses after the Exodus he told his people Israel:
Deuteronomy 20:16–18 ESV
But in the cities of these peoples that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance, you shall save alive nothing that breathes, but you shall devote them to complete destruction, the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites, as the Lord your God has commanded, that they may not teach you to do according to all their abominable practices that they have done for their gods, and so you sin against the Lord your God.
More specifically regarding the Amalekites, he said:
Deuteronomy 25:17–19 ESV
“Remember what Amalek did to you on the way as you came out of Egypt, how he attacked you on the way when you were faint and weary, and cut off your tail, those who were lagging behind you, and he did not fear God. Therefore when the Lord your God has given you rest from all your enemies around you, in the land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance to possess, you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven; you shall not forget.
The time had come to fulfill that command, and God assigned the task to Saul.
But even with that understanding of God’s program for Isreal, I don’t want to pretend like this is easy. It’s not. For a few reasons that I can think of:
Can you fathom being Joshua (or Saul here) and those with them, who are actually responsible to carry this out?
After all, respect for the value of human life has been placed within us by God. (as he has commanded against murder, for example)
We must also admit that it is our NT perspective that makes this extra difficult for us, because we feel abundantly certain that God has no such program for his people in the church era. Christ said that his current program for his kingdom was not earthly but spiritual:
John 18:36 ESV
Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.”
Luke 17:21 ESV
nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.”
Furthermore, Christ not only died for his enemies but has essentially called on his people to be willing to suffer like him so that others may come to Christ by faith, not by force.
So… the issue remains… —> Is God justified in putting sinners to death? Is he justified in rejecting those who reject him? (v. 26) Why is death the penalty? Did God arbitrarily pick death to be the penalty? - God gave us life so that we would see him as he is, worship him for who he is, have sweet fellowship in relationship to him. But sin breaks the purpose for which we have life (to live for him), so death is the penalty for sin. - Not just their ancestors, but the current Amalekites are described as sinners (v. 18). God in his sovereignty knows how and when to give chances. (After all, God relented against the wicked Ninevites when they repented… much to the chagrin of Jonah.) But for the Amalekites, chances are past. Saul’s chances are now past. God in his perfect knowledge is judging justly. - Our difficulty with God is less that he is unfair but more that he is too fair, perfectly just.
2. God feeling regret/grieving without regretting/changing his decreed will
Notice the similarity between Samuel feeling and God feeling (v. 35)
Using the terminology differently then, Samuel says this:
1 Samuel 15:29 ESV
And also the Glory of Israel will not lie or have regret, for he is not a man, that he should have regret.”
(God will not change his mind regarding a decision once he has made it). Which Samuel here is actually saying to Saul to make a point that God has said that this is your punishment due to your lack of obedience and unrepentant heart, and God will not go back on it.
In other words, this is a statement about the character of God. God will not go against his decreed will because it is based on his character, which is not fickle and changing like the mind of man.
So God can and does grieve (feel the pain of regret) but he does not ultimately regret in the sense of repenting of any decision that he has made.

What’s hardest for us to apply?

1. Understanding God as he defines himself, not trying to make him in our own image
In this world (maybe in this room) there are folks like you and me saying that they can’t possibly worship a God who could call for the “mass slaughter” of “innocent” people.
Even for those of us who have come to trust in God implicitly, and even while God has given us some capacity to understand it, God’s just judgment in some scenarios is incredibly difficult for us… which we eventually must concede is due to our own limitation. However, it does become a little easi-er to comprehend the justice of God as our faith increases, as our trust in God deepens, as our comprehension of scripture is enhanced.
Then some will say that they won’t worship a God they can’t fully understand. To that we must answer, “Why would you worship a God that you CAN comprehend, who is as limited as you are?”
It comes down to listening to God as he has revealed himself, submitting to his means (the only way) of being restored to him, responding in faith, and worshiping him as he truly is.
2. Complete obedience, from the heart
As we said, partial obedience is fully disobedience. And obedience must be sincere, from the heart. Can you get away with pretending to obey? (maybe for a time, but not ultimately) - Even our heart motivations are laid bare before the Lord:
Hebrews 4:12–13 ESV
For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.
Complete heart obedience is a high standard. Will you obey completely all of the time? CAN you?
1 Corinthians 2:14 ESV
The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.
Romans 8:6–8 ESV
For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
Because of our sin, we find ourselves in a regrettable situation. We have failed the test and find ourselves wanting. Our situation is beyond our ability to fix. But is it beyond repair?

A Remarkable Solution

God’s perfect holiness and justice + man’s disobedience and inability = Christ’s perfect obedience, loving sacrifice, and resurrection life
God’s holiness requires perfect obedience. His justice requires retribution for disobedience. - Are the best intentions good enough? Why not? Because perfect justice requires perfect obedience.
Our heart of sin is a serious problem. God’s holiness plus our sin puts us in a place of separation from God and headed for destruction (due to God’s justice and wrath against sin). As we just reviewed, it’s a problem that we can’t solve.
But God has intervened to provide for us a remarkable solution:
Romans 5:8 ESV
but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Romans 5:6 ESV
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.
Romans 5:10 ESV
For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.
Christ did for us what we could not do for ourselves. (which part could we not do for ourselves - perfect obedience, payment that results in restoration, granting us spiritual life)
So while the wages of sin is indeed death...
Romans 6:23 ESV
For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
John 3:36 ESV
Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.
Through Christ, instead of us now being objects of God’s wrath devoted to destruction, we can become objects of his favor.
2 Corinthians 5:21 ESV
For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
Through belief in Christ, trusting in God through him and submitting our lives fully to God’s direction, God views us as his beloved children, for that is what we are! (1 John 3:2)
As a transformed child of God, can you then obey wholeheartedly some of the time? Absolutely, and as God’s beloved children that becomes our goal.
“Devote to destruction” made me think of Paul saying “put to death therefore what is earthly among you” - What should believers devote to destruction? The old self, that which is earthly in us: Col 3:5-6.
Colossians 3:5–6 ESV
Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming.
God’s solution for sin in your life even now is the life of Christ in you. We must see sin as it is and devote it to destruction.
Let’s pray for God to help us see the seriousness of our sin, to embrace the goodness of his character, to pursue him as what is best for us, and therefore to obey him with sincere hearts.
PRAY
[Closing remarks before benediction prayer]
We step back and survey the world and see the results of sin as indeed a regrettable situation, even as God himself sees it. But we don’t stop there. We also know and have received God’s remarkable solution…
2 Corinthians 5:20 ESV
Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.
There’s your mission. Let’s go and be the church.
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