1 Samuel 15
1One day Samuel said to Saul, “I anointed you king of Israel because the LORD told me to. Now listen to this message from the LORD! 2This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘I have decided to settle accounts with the nation of Amalek for opposing Israel when they came from Egypt. 3Now go and completely destroy the entire Amalekite nation—men, women, children, babies, cattle, sheep, camels, and donkeys.’”
4So Saul mobilized his army at Telaim. There were 200,000 troops in addition to 10,000 men from Judah. 5Then Saul went to the city of Amalek and lay in wait in the valley. 6Saul sent this message to the Kenites: “Move away from where the Amalekites live or else you will die with them. For you were kind to the people of Israel when they came up from Egypt.” So the Kenites packed up and left.
7Then Saul slaughtered the Amalekites from Havilah all the way to Shur, east of Egypt. 8He captured Agag, the Amalekite king, but completely destroyed everyone else. 9Saul and his men spared Agag’s life and kept the best of the sheep and cattle, the fat calves and lambs—everything, in fact, that appealed to them. They destroyed only what was worthless or of poor quality.
10Then the LORD said to Samuel, 11“I am sorry that I ever made Saul king, for he has not been loyal to me and has again refused to obey me.” Samuel was so deeply moved when he heard this that he cried out to the LORD all night.
12Early the next morning Samuel went to find Saul. Someone told him, “Saul went to Carmel to set up a monument to himself; then he went on to Gilgal.”
13When Samuel finally found him, Saul greeted him cheerfully. “May the LORD bless you,” he said. “I have carried out the LORD’s command!”
14“Then what is all the bleating of sheep and lowing of cattle I hear?” Samuel demanded.
15“It’s true that the army spared the best of the sheep and cattle,” Saul admitted. “But they are going to sacrifice them to the LORD your God. We have destroyed everything else.”
16Then Samuel said to Saul, “Stop! Listen to what the LORD told me last night!”
“What was it?” Saul asked.
17And Samuel told him, “Although you may think little of yourself, are you not the leader of the tribes of Israel? The LORD has anointed you king of Israel. 18And the LORD sent you on a mission and told you, ‘Go and completely destroy the sinners, the Amalekites, until they are all dead.’ 19Why haven’t you obeyed the LORD? Why did you rush for the plunder and do exactly what the LORD said not to do?”
20“But I did obey the LORD,” Saul insisted. “I carried out the mission he gave me. I brought back King Agag, but I destroyed everyone else. 21Then my troops brought in the best of the sheep and cattle and plunder to sacrifice to the LORD your God in Gilgal.”
22But Samuel replied, “What is more pleasing to the LORD: your burnt offerings and sacrifices or your obedience to his voice? Obedience is far better than sacrifice. Listening to him is much better than offering the fat of rams. 23Rebellion is as bad as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as bad as worshiping idols. So because you have rejected the word of the LORD, he has rejected you from being king.” (1 Samuel 15:1-23, NLT)
The Daily DAVEotional
Have you ever seen a meme with the phrase, “You had one job” stamped on it? Usually, it’s a humorous photo of something that has been completely botched (like the photo above) because whoever was responsible for doing that task was obviously not paying attention to what they were doing.
The idea is that the instructions for the task aren’t that complicated so success in the task should be rather high.
In this chapter of 1 Samuel, Saul’s response to the Lord’s command could be portrayed in a meme with the words, “You had one job” stamped across it.
Saul had ONE command from the Lord – completely destroy the Amalekite nation, including all people and their livestock. These instructions weren’t vague or subject to misinterpretation. It was a straightforward command, the outcome of which was not dependent on factors outside of Saul’s control. Therefore, the end result should have been straightforward as well.
However, when Samuel arrives on the scene after Saul and his men have finished their task, he sees that not only has much of the Amalekite’s livestock been spared but Agag, the Amalekite king has been spared as well.
Notice that when Samuel shows up Saul says, “I have carried out the LORD’s command!”
Samuel knows this isn’t true so he questions Saul about the sheep and cattle he sees and hears.
Saul rationalizes his behavior – he seeks to justify his actions in an attempt to circumvent the obvious truth that he and his men have not fully obeyed the Lord’s command.
The text tells us that the reason they spared the livestock was because it appealed to them. They destroyed only what was worthless and kept what was valuable – the fat lambs and calves.
Saul tells Samuel that the reason they haven’t destroyed the sheep and cattle is because they were intending to sacrifice them to the Lord. There are two reasons why we know this is not true, one practical and one logical.
Practically speaking, it doesn’t make sense that they kept all the sheep and cattle in order to sacrifice them. We’re talking about thousands of animals, not just a handful. Since this doesn’t make sense practically, we have reason to be suspicious about the veracity of Saul’s claim.
Secondly, a sacrifice is really only a sacrifice if you’re offering up something of your own to the Lord. None of these cattle or sheep belonged to Saul or his men so there is no logical way that they can say they are making sacrifices. Hence, his claim gives the added impression of being a ruse.
Now suppose the Lord had told them that they could destroy the people but keep the plunder for themselves, as He did in Joshua 8. Let’s further suppose that after destroying the people and the city and taking all of the goods, including livestock, for themselves, that the people decide to offer up some of their plunder to the Lord, as an act of worship. In this case, it would be a true act of sacrifice and worship because the people would be offering back something to the Lord that He had already given to them.
This is not the case with Saul. The command was to destroy the livestock as well as the people. Hence, the argument that they had obeyed and were intending to sacrifice the livestock does not add up.
There is one more reason we can know that Saul’s claim that he had fully carried out the command of the Lord was disingenuous.
Even if you believed that Saul was intending to slaughter all the livestock in some sort of ginormous sacrificial ceremony, there still appears to be no logical explanation for the sparing of Agag’s life.
Samuel knows all of this intellectually, of course, which is why he responds by saying, “Obedience is far better than sacrifice.”
It’s so easy to fall into the sin of rationalizing our partial obedience. And just like Saul, the temptation to not fully obey is always rooted in our selfish, covetous nature. That is to say, we decide to not fully obey because full obedience would not allow us to get the outcome we want for ourselves, whether that’s some material gain (sheep and cattle) or some lifestyle preference.
We can try to rationalize our choices by saying things like, “I’m going to use this for the Lord” or “this situation is different” or “that doesn’t really apply to me” but Samuel’s words are just as true today as they were then, “to obey is better than sacrifice.”
What is an instance where you were tempted to partially obey the Lord? What were the circumstances? How did you rationalize your choice?
Saul rationalized his disobedience because he wanted something (sheep and cattle). What are some things you are more prone to desire and covet that might be a source of temptation to disobey?
What are some modern ways people today make “sacrifices” to the Lord that are used as rationalizations to cover for choices that are clearly disobedient to God’s commands?
What advice would you give someone who wanted to know ways of developing a character and lifestyle of obedience to the Lord?
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