Nothing less than perfect obedience – 1 Samuel 15

Let me tell you a story of a man who knew God’s will and yet struggled to implement it into his life.
This man had a house in which he took in stray animals.  He knew that God had called him to care for every stray animal he found along the way. Whether it was a lion, or a puppy, a bird or guinea pig didn’t matter.  His purpose was to take in the stray animals of the world that God brought across his path.  He continued in God’s will for some time, making arrangements, building the pens, setting up the land in order to fulfill his call.  Then the day came when he found his first stray: a dirty, diseased little fox.  A wily little animal, able to sneak out of the pens and intent on harassing the other pets that had already been a part of the family since before the call had gone forth.  This fox, became such a difficult little animal that our animal rescuer started listening to his friends and family who told him to turn this one out.  Let it go.  Send it back to nature and let the wild world determine its fate.  Maybe someone else will be brought by God to save it. And so he did, he released the fox back to the world.
Do you identify?  Do you have a story like that in your life?  Maybe you aren’t called to be an animal rescuer but you are called to do something! Are the various pressures of life stopping you?.  Are you wondering what next, or if obedience makes sense?  Maybe you are guilty, or repentant, or maybe you are just self-justifying in your disobedience.  Let me read you a story from 1 Sam 15 which is just like our ficticious story:
READ 1 Sam 15:1-21
The story is remarkable, if you really think about it.  There are so many points of correlation to our animal rescuer, there are so many blatant details given about “God’s direction for Saul’s life” that we, modern people long for such direct revelation about what God wants from us.  Let’s walk through the text, allowing me to comment as we go.
Samuel, God’s prophet, comes to Saul, the King saying, (1Sam. 15:1) “I am the one the Lord sent to anoint you king over his people Israel; so listen now to the message from the Lord.”  Right up front we see that God is the authority behind all authority.  God is the one who sets up the rulers of the earth, and so God is presumably also the one who has the authority to direct their steps.  He has the right to tell them what to do and how to do it.  And that concurs with Rom. 13:1 “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.”
Wouldn’t you love to be in Saul’s place right now, to have the very mouthpiece of God, his prophet come and tell you what to do?  I would love for God to tell me exactly how much money to give to retirement, how much money to give to the church, what decision to make in regard to this project of that, wouldn’t you?  This is what God does for Saul, saying, (1Sam. 15:2-3) “I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel when they waylaid them as they came up from Egypt. Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy everything that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.”
Clearly, concisely, and to the point; God tells Saul exactly what he is suppose to do, he even tells him why he is suppose to do it.  These Amalekites had waylaid the Jews at Rephidim.  If you want the story you can read about it in Exodus 17:8-16.  But let me read the commentary on this from Deut. 25:17-19 “Remember what the Amalekites did to you along the way when you came out of Egypt. When you were weary and worn out, they met you on your journey and cut off all who were lagging behind; they had no fear of God. When the Lord your God gives you rest from all the enemies around you in the land he is giving you to possess as an inheritance, you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven. Do not forget!”
These folks had terrorized the promised nation of God on their Exodus, acting as foxes picking off the weakest members of the community, terrorizing any who lagged behind the group.  And because of this God commanded early on that they were to be removed from the earth, blotted out of memory, totally destroyed.  Those words totally destroy everything, they mean exactly that totally destroy everything.  Leave nothing, don’t spare a single person, article or animal.  All of them are to be removed from the earth, no vestige of their existence is to be left for posterity, no fragment for a museum collection.  Nothing.  Gone, Gone, Gone. 
You may be asking, what do the cattle, sheep, camels and donkeys have to do with it. And couldn’t the infants at least be saved and raised to know God, are they really under the curse?  To the first, I don’t know why the animals are to be destroyed, seems like a senseless waste of property and to the second, Yes, they are really under the curse.  In short, I don’t understand God’s plan or directions; I am just delivering the message as God delivered it to Saul.
So what does Saul do?  He gathers the army, and sets about preparing for war just like our animal rescuer did in preparing the property and building the pens.  The necessary steps are followed and along the way, the Kenites are asked to move.  They weren’t commanded to be killed and they had been allies of Israel.  (They were the descendants of Moses father in Law; we learn from Judg. 1:16 “The descendants of Moses’ father-in-law, the Kenite, went up from the City of Palms with the men of Judah to live among the people of the Desert of Judah in the Negev near Arad.”  But they were also of the line that Jael, the young women who killed Sisera, came from in Judges 4:11-12.  And one final note of prophetic truth about why the Kenites aren’t destroyed now, Balaam had prophesied so in Numbers 24:20-21 “Amalek was first among the nations, but he will come to ruin at last. Then he saw the Kenites and uttered his oracle: “Your dwelling place is secure, your nest is set in a rock;”  These are friends and allies of Israel, and God wasn’t intent on destroying them.)
Saul takes the necessary steps, attacks and routes the Amalekites and then he spares Agag and the best of the sheep and cattle.  He destroys the bad and weak, but keeps the good and strong and heads off to set up a monument in his own honor (v.12).  Verse 9 says Saul was “unwilling to destroy.” Unwilling, that word is a powerful word.  In the positive sense, or in the sense of being willing to do something, it means that a person consents to an action even if the action is pleasing or not to them personally.  In our context that would mean, Saul is unwilling to consent to the direction of God.  This is the same word used of Pharoah in Exodus 10:27 “But the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he was not willing to let them go.”  Saul is taking on the personality of the quintescential man who was unwilling to obey God – Pharoah.
When Samuel approaches the King, Saul immediately states that he has carried out the Lord’s instructions and when his sin is brought forward he blames the soldiers, just like Adam blamed Eve and Eve blamed the serpent.  Just like our animal rescuer would blame society for putting too much pressure on him from being able to obey God’s command.  But Saul goes even a step further than just blaming folks.  He lies about their intentions, he says it is to sacrifice to God, but Samuel calls out the truth in verse 19 saying, “Why did you pounce on the plunder…” 
Saul wants the world to believe, and probably in his mind has justified it himself and believes he is serving God and improving on the commandment of the Lord.  Not only will these animals be ultimately destroyed, I can use them in an act of worship and get in on some of the plunder myself.  I can have a number of very fine dinners in the presence of the priests with these good animals.  But Samuel sees right thru it.  He choose the word pounce, a term specifically reserved for predatory animals, particularly birds of prey when they swoop in and take their prey for their own consumption.  Samuel sees that this isn’t pious worship; it is a selfish claim to the good things of life, which is going on in the heart of Saul and the people.
Before I go much further, let me expose my own sin, my own Saul likeness, particularly in the area of adoption. Many of you are aware of our intentions to adopt a child or children. What may surprise you is that I have struggled with feeling like Saul. I know the Lord’s intentions and his heart for his people, the Church.  It is summed up very succinctly in Mic. 6:6 “With what shall I come before the Lord and bow down before the exalted God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”  For our family and for many others, that tangibly means adopting the orphan and widow, at least that is how James saw it (1:27) “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”
I know how much God desires for his people to be a safe harbor for those in need. I know the call to spend myself on behalf of the poor (Isa 58:10) and yet, there have been times that I don’t want to do it. It isn’t always this way, there have been times where I earnestly desired to adopt but there have also been times recently where I haven’t.  The costs associated with an adoption have become large in my mind, large enough to cause me to be wary. (By cost, I mean much more than simply the financial costs, but rather mean the familial and social costs.)  I am the animal rescuer who has listened to the voice of society saying “God will bring someone else to do it.  You already have enough things to worry about, enough responsibility. You needn’t obey here.”
I have contemplated disobedience many times. I have tried to justify it by saying that “Scott you are called to motivate people to adopt, not do it yourself.” I have tried to justify my disobedience by saying “another Compassion child would be a sacrifice in keeping with the spirit of God’s instruction.” And there are countless others thoughts that have run through my mind. Many times the thought has crossed my mind, “Christ died for me, if I disobey, that too will be covered and I will be fine.” That thought has been and is a very real thought in my mind, yet my blatant sin, my defiance of God’s word and plan for our family, while covered by Christ, is evidence of a heart not in submission to the Lord.
Then there are the thoughts about leadership, “How can I lead, if I myself am not willing to be led into this area? Would I be a hypocrite if I knew God’s plan and failed to live into it?” Maybe refused would be a better word, more in line with keeping with Samuel’s rebuke of Saul.  And the truth hurts; yes, I would be a hypocrite refusing to obey my God. So I continue to go through the motions with a heart sometimes inside and sometimes outside of God’s revealed word. I continue on in obedience to my Lord, but praying all the while for a heart that is changed and returned to a gracious acceptance of God’s plans for His people. This, I believe, is the meaning of discipleship.
That brings me to our passage in 1 Samuel this morning. It was this passage that hit me both positively and negatively a few months ago when my rebellion was as its zenith. Specifically it was Samuel’s words, 1Sam. 15:22-23 “Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the Lord? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams. 23 For rebellion is like the sin of divination, and arrogance like the evil of idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, he has rejected you as king.”
God desires obedience, complete obedience from His people. He isn’t concerned with the heart, and whether or not we think His ways are a good idea, or whether or not we have “better” ways of implementing His purposes. No, God wants, nay, God demands that we obey His will as revealed in His Word. Positively I was comforted, obedience is a just form of submission to God as compared to outright rebellion which assumes that I am in an superior position to God; I am conscious of his will and make the conscious choice to defy it, which is totally unexpected given my God’s amazingly merciful treatment of me in the past.  God had been gracious to Saul, elevating him to the kingship, and now Saul defies the very God who set him in authority.  No wonder rebellion is like the sin of divination and urging one to sin like the evil of idolatry.  Both are a direct affront to the reign of God, Saul rebelled, the soldiers urged so Saul gave in to them.  (The term arrogance is really “urging one to do something”.)
Returning to my story, God desires obedience and so I began to feel a little smug about being an obedient disciple, until my heart was pricked by the fact that Christ’s obedience is the only obedience that matters in relation to God. He alone is the only one who has always been obedient to every command of God.  He alone is the only one who has ever been fully led by God’s Spirit in every action and thought of his earthly life.  Christ alone has never broken a commandment, or judged another unjustly.  Christ alone has served the oppressed and set the captives free and proclaimed the year of the Lord’s favor.  Christ alone has done all of this, and so Christ alone is the sacrifice that was once and for all, for all times, including every time that my obedience was incomplete or lacking in any way.  And that certainly includes the sin of a heart not joyful to do God’s will.
And so we are all cast back upon the cross as our sin is exposed once again.  For who us has always reveled and rejoiced in God’s will for his or her life?  Who of us has known God’s desire for our life and chosen to disobey or improve upon the plan?  Who of us have urged others to not follow the leading of the Spirit in order to justify our own disobedience?  We are all like Saul, for we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23).
But unlike Saul who was rejected because of his disobedience, I will not be rejected because of my disobedience, and neither will you. Saul’s rejection doesn’t apply to us as long as we are in Christ.  Praise the Lord.  For the Scriptures go on to proclaim after saying, (Rom. 3:23) “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25 God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished — 26 he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.”
Christ’s sacrifice of atonement keeps us from the rejection which Saul experienced.  Christ’s obedience, his sinless perfect life culminating in the one act of righteousness the Father asked of him, to die a death engulfed in sin in order to conquer sin, saves us.  Listen to these passages, Rom. 5:18-19 “Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men. 19 For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.” Or Phil. 2:8 “And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death — even death on a cross!” Heb. 5:8 “Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered.”
Christ’s obedience saves us and allows us to be led by a man who was obedient in both heart and action.[1]
Now, a question remains, Are we free from obeying God because Christ obeyed the Lord perfectly? Absolutely not. Nevertheless, in gratitude we are called to obey our Lord even if we don’t feel like. But we can always call upon God to change our heart and make it joyful in his will.
As I close, I refer you to contemplate a series of 6 questions included in the bulletin in order to personalize this sermon to your life.
1. Where do you know what God expects but your heart isn’t in it?
2. How have you tried to justify your disobedience?
3. Do you desire to obey joyfully?
4. Are you willing to obey even if your heart isn’t in it?
5. What steps must you take now to follow God into this new area?
6. Pray for God to change your heart into one that is joyful and exuberant in his will!


[1] Philip Wendell Crannell, “OBEDIENCE OF CHRIST” [ISBE] “But just as Jesus’ growth in knowledge  (Luke 2:52[1]) was not from error to truth, but from partial knowledge to completer, so His “learning obedience” led Him not from disobedience or debate to submission, but from obedience at the present stage to an obedience at ever deeper and deeper cost. The process was necessary for His complete humanity, in which sense He was “made perfect,” complete, by suffering. It was also necessary for His perfection as example and sympathetic High Priest. He must fight the human battles under the human conditions. Having translated obedient aspiration and disposition into obedient action in the face of, and in suffering unto, death, even the death of the cross, He is able to lead the procession of obedient sons of God through every possible trial and surrender.”

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About Scott Roberts

pastor of Hope in Christ Church, Bellingham, WA
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