Saul and the Power of Obedience
Today we begin a new sermon series entitled Powerplay: Powerful Lesson from Powerful Men. Over the next few weeks, we’ll examine the lives of the most politically powerful men in the Old Testament. From Saul to Josiah, we will learn some lessons from the men who, for better or worse, shaped the direction of God’s Choses. Today we look at Saul, the first King of Israel who knew the importance, but never really learned the lesson of obedience. Just why is obedience so important, and why is it so easy to say we want it when we really don’t. Maybe this will explain it.
THE STOOL - SERMON SPICE VIDEO OR SKIT ADAPTED FROM IT
Have you been there? You know the right thing to do, and you know that all the excuses you’ve been making for why you’re about to pull the trigger on this bad decision or that one are nothing but lame rationalizations, yet you find if hard, almost impossible to change course. What is up with that? Why do we find it so hard to do the things we know are right and, actually, in our best interests?
Well, there are a number of reasons. They shout at us from a humorously tragic story of the first king of Israel. Read his story with me:
Samuel also said to Saul, “The Lord sent me to anoint you king over His people, over Israel. Now therefore, heed the voice of the words of the Lord. 2 Thus says the Lord of hosts: ‘I will punish Amalek for what he did to Israel, how he ambushed him on the way when he came up from Egypt. 3 Now go and attack Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and do not spare them. But kill both man and woman, infant and nursing child, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.’
9 But Saul and the people spared Agag and the best of the sheep, the oxen, the fatlings, the lambs, and all that was good, and were unwilling to utterly destroy them. But everything despised and worthless, that they utterly destroyed. 10 Now the word of the Lord came to Samuel, saying, 11 “I greatly regret that I have set up Saul as king, for he has turned back from following Me, and has not performed My commandments.” And it grieved Samuel, and he cried out to the Lord all night. 12 So when Samuel rose early in the morning to meet Saul, it was told Samuel, saying, “Saul went to Carmel, and indeed, he set up a monument for himself; and he has gone on around, passed by, and gone down to Gilgal.” 13 Then Samuel went to Saul, and Saul said to him, “Blessed are you of the Lord! I have performed the commandment of the Lord.”
14 But Samuel said, “What then is this bleating of the sheep in my ears, and the lowing of the oxen which I hear?”
15 And Saul said, “They have brought them from the Amalekites; for the people spared the best of the sheep and the oxen, to sacrifice to the Lord your God; and the rest we have utterly destroyed.”
16 Then Samuel said to Saul, “Be quiet! And I will tell you what the Lord said to me last night.”
And he said to him, “Speak on.”
17 So Samuel said, “When you were little in your own eyes, were you not head of the tribes of Israel? And did not the Lord anoint you king over Israel? 18 Now the Lord sent you on a mission, and said, ‘Go, and utterly destroy the sinners, the Amalekites, and fight against them until they are consumed.’ 19 Why then did you not obey the voice of the Lord? Why did you swoop down on the spoil, and do evil in the sight of the Lord?”
20 And Saul said to Samuel, “But I have obeyed the voice of the Lord, and gone on the mission on which the Lord sent me, and brought back Agag king of Amalek; I have utterly destroyed the Amalekites. 21 But the people took of the plunder, sheep and oxen, the best of the things which should have been utterly destroyed, to sacrifice to the Lord your God in Gilgal.”
22 So 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 heed than the fat of rams.
23 For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft,
And stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry.
Because you have rejected the word of the Lord,
He also has rejected you from being king.”
These moments around God’s word could be life changing for some of us this morning, and Oh how we need lives to change! Some of us need a wake up call. We’ve been sleep walking close to the cliff of defection and disobedience in our lives. We’ve been flirting with that woman at work, or that man in our office; we’ve been rolling around this or that sin in our minds and we’re about to walk right off the cliff of disobedience and you need Saul’s story to be for you a divine slap in the face. You need to wake up.
Otherse need to be rescued. You’ve already walked off the cliff of disobedience. You’re free-falling towards a hard landing that may see you lose your home and everything you own. You know that when you’re found out, you may even land in prison. As you are falling you need to know that all along the cliff face, God has put his branches of forgiveness, but you’ve got to reach out and grab one. That’s what today’s sermon is for you. It’s an opportunity to be rescued from the disaster that’s coming if you don’t’ repent.
Others of us have already landed. Sin has already ravaged your life. You are here this morning because you are in despair over the consequences you brought on yourself, and your life seems absolutely hopeless. You need hope, the hope of forgiveness. To those who need a wake up call; to those who need rescue, and to those who need hope, God’s word gives it to us in this story.
A careful study of this story from Saul’s life reveals not only how important it is to obey God, it also shows you how you can do it, by His grace. There are three pathways to obedience, the kind of obedience that rescues you and brings hope. The power of obedience can be found, first of all,
DIV 1: WHEN YOU FEAR GOD:
Since Saul was so disobedient to God, the obvious implication of this point is that he was disobedient because he did not fear God. If you read the whole story of Saul, you’ll find that, over and over again, he displayed a complete lack of the fear of God. Now, it wasn’t that he didn’t have fear, its that he had the wrong kind of fear. His life demonstrates for us the alternatives we all have when it comes to fear. What are those alternatives? Basically, there are two. You will either fear God, or you will fear man. And the principle that flows from these alternatives is this: If you fear God, you will not fear man; and if you fear man, you cannot fear God. The two are mutually exclusive and their truth is clearly seen in the life of Saul.
Simply put, Saul was a people-pleaser and a man-fearer. His life, and especially the sins he committed, flowed from his fear of men. You see his first major blunder in chapter 13 of 1 Samuel. Saul assembles the men of Israel to go to war against the Philistines. Before he could begin the battle, he had to wait for Samuel to come and offer a sacrifice to God. So he gets there with 3000 men ready to go to war. He waits one day for Samuel, and he doesn’t come. He’s getting impatient. Here he is with his people all primed and ready for battle. If he doesn’t move quickly, they may have time to think about this battle in which they are about to engage. They can look across the line and see them. The Bible says in 1 Sam 13:
Then the Philistines gathered together to fight with Israel, thirty thousand chariots and six thousand horsemen, and people as the sand which is on the seashore in multitude. And they came up and encamped in Michmash, to the east of Beth Aven. 6 When the men of Israel saw that they were in danger (for the people were distressed), then the people hid in caves, in thickets, in rocks, in holes, and in pits. 7 And some of the Hebrews crossed over the Jordan to the land of Gad and Gilead.
Hey! The rats are fleeing the ship. If they don’t attack fast, all will be lost.
Day two passes, still no Samuel. He begins to wonder why he hasn’t shown up. “Maybe something’s happened to him, he thinks.” Still he waits. Day three passes, no Samuel. The people are getting more and more afraid. In fact 1 Sam 13 goes on to say:
As for Saul, he was still in Gilgal, and all the people followed him trembling. 8 Then he waited seven days, according to the time set by Samuel. But Samuel did not come to Gilgal; and the people were scattered from him
Things are going downhill fast, so what does Saul do? Instead of obeying and because he was afraid of the people the Bible says:
So Saul said, “Bring a burnt offering and peace offerings here to me.” And he offered the burnt offering. 10 Now it happened, as soon as he had finished presenting the burnt offering, that Samuel came; and Saul went out to meet him, that he might greet him.And Samuel said, “What have you done?” Saul said, “When I saw that the people were scattered from me, and that you did not come within the days appointed, and that the Philistines gathered together at Michmash, 12 then I said, ‘The Philistines will now come down on me at Gilgal, and I have not made supplication to the Lord.’ Therefore I felt compelled, and offered a burnt offering.”
13 And Samuel said to Saul, “You have done foolishly. You have not kept the commandment of the Lord your God, which He commanded you.
Saul’s fear caused him to disobey. It happens again in chapter 15. When Saul is confronted for his disobedience, notice what he says in 15:9
But Saul and the people spared Agag and the best of the sheep, the oxen, the fatlings, the lambs, and all that was good, and were unwilling to utterly destroy them. But everything despised and worthless, that they utterly destroyed.
The word “spared” is a fateful word in that verse because it is a direct contradiction of what Saul was told to do in verse 3. And why did he disobey? Well notice what he says in 15:21: But the people took of the plunder, sheep and oxen, the best of the things which should have been utterly destroyed, to sacrifice to the Lord your God in Gilgal.”
Now wait just a minute Saul! Who was in charge here? Who had the authority and the obligation to put a stop to what the people were doing? Well, it was the man in charge. It was Saul, but instead of owning up to his responsibility, he points the finger at the people and shows himself to be more concerned about their happiness than about his obedience. And even when Samuel tells him that because of his sin he has forfeited his privilege to be king, he’s still more afraid of the people than he is of God. In v 24, he says to Samuel:
“I have sinned; yet honor me now, please, before the elders of my people and before Israel, and return with me, that I may worship the Lord your God.”
In every case Saul’s disobedience flowed from the wrong kind of fear. You see, he feared man more than he feared God!
Hey, if you’re here today and you are not a follower of Jesus Christ, I bet I know the reason. I know, I know, it’s pretty presumptuous for me to say that, but I really have good reason for saying so. If you are not a Christ-follower, the one primary reason you are not saved is because you just don’t really fear God. Let me prove it to you:
In Romans 3:9, The Bible says that God has concluded that we are all sinners. He follows that statement with a laundry list of descriptions of a person who is all about living for themselves. In unflattering terms he calls them murderers and adulterers and, when he gets down to v 18, he tells us why we are like we are. He says, “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” In other words, the unbeliever is lacking the respect for God that recognizes Him and gives Him the place in their lives that He deserves. Now you can blame the fact that you are not on your way to heaven this morning on a lot of things, but you want to know the primary reason? It’s because there is no fear of God before your eyes; you are not willing to give God His rightful place in your life.
And some of us, even as believers, struggle with this question too. We know that Christ is supposed to be the one in charge of us, but we keep trying to run our own lives. We lack the fear of God too. We refuse to submit ourselves to Him. Oh, we give lip service to our love. We talk about how much the Lord means to us and just how precious He is, but the truth is, we really don’t live it! Listen, Christian, you will always be disobedient until you settle Who is going to be at the center of your life. When you really fear God, He becomes your focus.
Many of you have heard of Andrew Jackson, the former president of the United States. It was Jackson who earned the name “Old Hickory” because his personality and rugged manner reminded people of a tough old hickory tree. Needless to say, he had little tolerance for fools or those who weren’t fools, but just weren’t impressed with him. You’ve heard of Andrew Jackson, yes, but have you heard of Peter Cartwright?
He was the pioneer evangelist Peter Cartwright spent 70 years in the work of the Lord and always preached the Word of God with great fear of God and without any fear of man. One Sunday he was asked to speak at a Methodist church in the southern part of the United States. During the song just before the message, the pastor leaned over and whispered in his ear. “President Andrew Jackson just walked in. Be careful what you say. Don’t offend him.”
The evangelist, however, knowing that “the fear of man brings a snare” (Prov. 29:25), was determined not to compromise the truth. He also knew that great leaders need the Lord as much as anyone, so he boldly proclaimed the gospel. In fact, halfway though his sermon he said, “I understand that Andrew Jackson is present in the congregation today. If he does not repent of his sins and accept Jesus Christ as his personal Savior, he will be just as lost as anyone else who has never asked God for His forgiveness.”
Instead of becoming angry, Jackson admired the preacher for his courage. He listened with keen interest to the message and felt such deep conviction that after the service Cartwright was able to lead him to the Lord. From that moment on, the two became the best of friends.
DIV 2: WHEN YOU UNDERSTAND YOURSELF
You’ve heard it before, probably. It’s the rephrasing of the quote from U.S. Navy Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry to Army General William Henry Harrison in 1813 after winning the Battle of Lake Erie that stated. “We have met the enemy and he is ours”. In the 20th century a cartoonist commenting on the McCarthyism of the 1950's rephrased Commodore Perry’s statement. He said, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”
Saul proved that statement. His greatest enemy were not the thousands of fierce Philistines arrayed against him but his own heart which was desperately wicked. He understood the damage an enemy warrier could do to his country, but he never understood the damage he could cause himself. His greatest enemy was himself.
You see that reflected in the pride he developed. Saul started out doubting his own ability, but by the time you get to this battle against the Amalekites, he’s feeling his oats, you might say. If you read v 12, it says:
So when Samuel rose early in the morning to meet Saul, it was told Samuel, saying, “Saul went to Carmel, and indeed, (watch!) he set up a monument for himself; and he has gone on around, passed by, and gone down to Gilgal.” . .
He began to think that he was the cause of his own success. Samuel tells him that when he catches up with him. He says in 15:17: “When you were little in your own eyes, were you not head of the tribes of Israel? And did not the Lord anoint you king over Israel?” Samuel is saying, “Hey, Saul, there was a time when you knew you were nothing; there was a time when you depended on God because you knew you had no one else to turn to. Now, you have become big in your own eyes.” In other words, he has begun to think that he is his own best asset when really, he’s his own worst enemy. He’s filled with pride.
And because he’s filled with pride, he is also self-deceived. You see his self-deception in 15:13. When Samuel shows up, read how Saul greets him by saying: “Blessed are you of the Lord! I have performed the commandment of the Lord.” Now I don’t believe that Saul was lying here. No, I think he really believed that he had fulfilled the commandment of the Lord. He had deceived himself.
And his self deception continues in the next verse. Samuel, to the self-deluded King, presents in controvertible evidence. He says: What then is this bleating of the sheep in my ears, and the lowing of the oxen which I hear?” Notice how Saul keeps on lying to himself. He shifts the blame to the people for the wrong that was done, and identifies himself with the right that was done. Notice v 15: “ . . . And Saul said, They have brought them from the Amalekites; for the people spared the best of the sheep . . .” In other words, “It’s not my fault, they did wrong, but I did right. “And the rest we utterly destroyed.”
You see, his pride had caused him to deceive himself, and in the middle of his self-deception, he could not perceive his own sinfulness. Samuel’s not going to let him get by with it though. He, in a figurative sense, takes Saul’s face and rubs it in his own sin. He says in v 16, “Saul, BE QUIET!” In other words, “Stop the lies Saul! Stop telling yourself this baloney! Saul, YOU ARE LYING TO YOURSELF!” And Samuel gets to the real issue in v 19. He reveals to this self-deceiving King the real reason Saul did what he did. It wasn’t to pacify his people; it wasn’t to bring back sacrifices for the Lord. No! Look at what Samuel tells him in v 19. He says, “Why then did you not obey the voice of the Lord? Why did you swoop down on the spoil, and do evil in the sight of the Lord?” Samuel says, “Saul, you’re like a giant vulture, swooping down to get for yourself what God said you should not touch. Your heart is wicked Saul, and you don’t even know it.”
And, again, if you don’t know the Lord as your Savior this morning, I can tell you why! For many of you, its because you have never really seen the need. I mean you’re as good as most people you know. Besides, you say, “this ‘goodbad, rightwrong’ thing is just an irrelevant relic of the past. Nobody really thinks that way anymore.” Well, you’re right! The world doesn’t think that way because the world is like Saul: they are deceiving themselves. The Bible says that all of us have sinned and come short of the glory of God. All of us have desperately wicked hearts. All of us are filled with pride, lie to ourselves about ourselves, and have hearts that want to “swoop down” on God’s spoil. You see, Saul never really saw his need for God after he became big in his own eyes.
The best thing you could do this morning is come to see yourself as the desperately wicked person you really are.
If you ever get to take a mission trip to Iglesia Paz in Juarez, Mx, pictures like this will break your heart. These people live in unsanitary conditions in homes made of cardboard and fork-lift slats. The desease, the squalor, the bugs, the stench, the rotten food and the prized garbage possessions will bring tears to your eyes. And yet, they don’t know how bad it is, in some cases. Why not? Because everyone around them lives that way. They have never really been given a picture of what it means to be a genuinely healthy human being. They don’t know what abundance looks, smells, and feels like.
That’s our problem too. It's the reason we think of ourselves as largely innocent people—people who have little to do with bringing about the Cross of Christ. We don't get how sick and undeveloped we are spiritually. In Psalm 14, David says that the one fully-healthy Being in the universe views the human race as we might view those Quechua villagers—only the gap between his life and that of our village is so much larger. "The Lord looks down from heaven on the sons of men to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God. But all have turned aside. They have together become corrupt. There is no one who does good, not even one." In other words, we are condemned, and we don't even know it. The reason we are disobedient is that we sometimes do not really understand just how desperately wicked we are. You see, the power of obedience will be released in your life when you come to truly fear God, when you see yourself the way he does, and
DIV 3: WHEN YOU TAKE RESPONSIBILITY
Now that is something Saul never does, not really. Instead, he makes all kinds of excuses for his sin. You see at least two excuses that he makes in these verses. The first is the excuse of reason. Evidently, it just didn’t seem reasonable to him and the people to do what God said to do. 15:9 says, “ But Saul and the people spared Agag and the best of the sheep, the oxen, the fatlings, the lambs, and all that was good, and were unwilling to utterly destroy them. But everything despised and worthless, that they utterly destroyed.” I can imagine that they thought things like, “Why waste a perfectly good sheep? I can sacrifice this to God. Why kill this pair of oxen, when I need something to plow my fields with? Why kill this lamb? The Passover’s coming!” God’s command just seemed completely unreasonable.
Had the experience? You know what God says. He says homosexuality is a sin, but that seems to harsh. He says to give Him the firstfruits of your increase, but that seems so foolish. He says that sex before marriage is sin, but living together makes so much financial sense to you. And because God’s command seems unreasonable, we excuse our disobedience. The first excuse Saul offers is the excuse of reason
The second excuse is the excuse of redefinition. Saul doesn’t like God’s command, so he redefines God’s command. You see that in v 20. When Samuel confronts Saul with his obvious sin, Saul objects. He says: “But I have obeyed the voice of the Lord, and gone on the mission on which the Lord sent me, (notice!) and brought back Agag king of Amalek; I have utterly destroyed the Amalekites. Notice how Saul just redefines God’s command? Isn’t that amazing? Listen, people try to avoid their responsibility to God like that all the time. They try to redefine what God said. And I want you to know that you will never be obedient to God; you will never discover the power of obedience in your life untily you stop reasoning away and redefining God’s commands and simply take responsibility for your actions.
My first attempt at home ownership almost ended in disaster. I bought a repossessed house in LaVergne, Tennessee, only to find out that everyone’s water drained into my back yard. I had never known that I had actually purchased lake front property till the spring rains came and I had to wade through my driveway to get to my car. Needless to say, when I managed to sell that home, with full disclosure, to someone else (at a loss, I might add), I vowed never again to buy a piece of property that was in any danger of ever flooding. From now on, any house I bought would have to be on the highest hill in town.
But there years passed, and we moved to Wilson. When we first came here, we lived in an apartment for about three or four months. We just couldn’t find a home we were really happy with that we could actually afford. We looked all over town. Finally we found a relo. That’s a relo not a repo. It was a house that was being offered at a very good price by a relocation company. There was only one thing about the home. It wasn’t on a hill. In fact, it was sort of down on the bottom of a cul-de-sac that was a pretty low area. Still the price was good, so I thought to myself, “It’ll be ok.”
I found out that there was one corner of my lot that was actually in the flood plain, but everyone told me that lots of house in Wilson were on the flood plain. Besides, it was only a corner of the lot and I didn’t even have to have flood insurance. I thought, “It’ll be ok”.
When I rode back behind the cul-de-sac in the swamp that backed up to the end of our street I noticed that the man hole covers stuck way up in the air. But I told myself, “It’ll be ok.”
I even asked the neighbors if they’d ever had a flood and you know what they said? “It’ll be ok”
And it was ok. For six years I lived there from 1993 till 1999 and all the while I told myself, “It’ll be ok.” But then came Hurricane Floyd, and guess what? It wasn’t ok. You see, for six years I had suspected that I might have a problem, but in my desire to have the home at a good price, I told myself “it’ll be ok.”
That’s the way we do with our sin. We say,
I know that living together before marriage is not what God says I should do, but “it’ll be ok.”
I know that I shouldn’t cheat on my taxes. I know God tells me to be honest, but the government is so rotten, “it’ll be ok.”
I know I shouldn’t look at porn on the internet. I know God calls that adultery, but at least I’m not involving another person, “it’ll be ok.”
I know I shouldn’t charge all that stuff up on my credit card. I know its like idolatry to want something I don’t really need so bad that I’m willing to mortgage my future, but how else am I going to get the 60' flat screen? “it’ll be ok.”
I know I shouldn’t divorce my husband. I know the Bible doesn’t give me actual permission, but my circumstances are so different. How else will I teach him to respect me, “it’ll be ok.”
And we say, “ I know I shouldn’t put off receiving Christ as my Savior. I know I am not promised tomorrow, and I could drop dead today, but certainly God would not send a person like me to hell, “it’ll be ok!”
But there’s a hurricane coming. Just like Saul was rejected from being the king of Israel, God will reject you if you go on in your disobedience. The flood’s on the way, and no matter how many times you tell yourself, “it’ll be ok,” IT WON’T BE OK!
And you need to know this morning that, if you are living in some disobedience, God knows it and He is going to judge it. Your only hope is to come to Him in full repentance and confess your sin to Him. That’s the only way it’ll be ok!
And what happens when you repent of your disobedience, fear God, understand your sin, and stop making excuses? Well just consider W. P. Mackay. He writes:
My dear mother … had been a godly, pious woman, quite often telling me of the Savior, and many times I had been a witness to her wrestling in prayer for my soul’s salvation.
But nothing had made a deep impression on me. The older I grew the more wicked I became. For the God of my mother I did not care in the least, but rather sought by all means to drive Him out of my thoughts. I was in danger of becoming a thorough infidel, but for the voice of my conscience ever accusing and reproaching me.
Then something happened that changed my life. One day a guy who had fallen off a ladder at work was brought into the hospital. He was badly injured and had no hope of survival. I asked him if there was anyone we could notify. He said, “No,” but aasked me for “The Book.”
“What book?” the doctor asked
“Oh, just ask her for the Book, she will know,” was his reply.
After a week of such suffering, he died. I went to see him on my regular visits at least once a day. What struck me most was the quiet, almost happy expression which was constantly on his face. I knew he was a Christian, but of course, I never brought that up
After the man had died, the nurse asked
“What shall we do with this?”, holding up a book in her hand.
“What kind of book is it?” I asked.
“The Bible of the poor man. His landlady brought it on her second visit. As long as he was able to read it, he did so, and when he was unable to do so anymore, he kept it under his bed cover.”
I took the Bible and—could I trust my eyes? It was my own Bible! The Bible which my mother had given me when I left my parents’ home, and which later, when short of money, I sold for a small amount. My name was still in it, written in my mother’s hand. Beneath my name was the verse she had selected for me. I stood as if in a dream, but I regained my self-control, managing to conceal before those present my deep emotion. In seemingly indifferent manner and tone I answered the nurse, “The book is old and has hardly any value, let me keep it, and I will see about the rest.”
I took the Bible to my room. It had been used frequently. Many leaves were loose, others were torn; the cover was also damaged. Almost every page gave evidence that it had been read very often. Many places were underscored, and while looking through it, I read some of the precious verses, and a word I had heard in the days of my youth came back to memory.
With a deep sense of shame I looked upon the Book, the precious Book. It has given comfort and refreshing to the unfortunate man in his last hours. It has been a guide to him into eternal life, so that he had been enabled to die in peace and happiness. And this Book, the last gift of my mother, I had actually sold for a ridiculous price.
I need not add much more. I’ll just say that reclaiming that Bible was the cause of my conversion.
It was this man, Dr. W. P. Mackay, who later wrote the famous hymn Revive Us Again:
Revive us again,
Fill each heart with Thy love
May each soul be rekindled
With fire from above.
Hallelujah! Thine the glory
Hallelujah! Thine the glory
Revive us again.
If you are in the middle of rebellion, I want you to know that there is a God who loves you and who is pursuing you, but He is a God who will never, under any circumstances, compromise with you! A return to Him is a return to obedience, to letting Him call the shots in your life, and it’s a decision you’ll only make when you see Him for the God He is, see yourself for the sinner you are, and see all your excuses for the lies they are.