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The True Condition of King Saul’s Heart

This morning we begin a new sermon series – entitled “Lessons from the Kings.” And I feel I should clarify, especially to the men, that we’re actually not talking about hockey. Although I am sure there are many lessons that we could learn from the recent Stanley Cup champions, I’m afraid the Los Angeles Kings will not be the focus of our study this morning.

Instead, we’re going to be looking at the Kings of Israel. Now most people can name at least one or two of the kings of Israel. For example, many of you know that the first king of Israel was King Saul. And of course, after Saul was the giant killer, King David and after David was his son King Solomon. And that’s just about as far as most people can go. Few people could name the kings that followed Solomon. But the Bible records the stories of 41 kings of Israel.

Now we’re not going look at all of them, of course, but over these next few summer months, we’re going to look at the lives of several of these famous and not so famous kings.

The king we want to look at this morning is King Saul – the very first king of Israel.

Now just to give you the background to his story, you might remember that before Israel had kings, they were led by Judges. We talked about these judges last September in our Heroes and Zeros series – guys like Samson, Gideon, Ehud. Well, the last of these judges was a man named Samuel. He had faithfully led the people of Israel for his entire life – and now that He was an old man, the people of Israel didn’t want another judge to lead them – they asked God to give them a king.

God agreed to their request and God told Samuel anoint Saul as their first king. But it’s important to note that even though Saul was to be their political & military leader – as long as he was alive, Samuel remained as their spiritual leader. He was still God’s representative – God’s voice to the people – God’s voice to the king. And that’s just what we see in the passage that we are going to look at this morning.

So if you have your Bibles with you, you can turn to 1 Samuel chapter 15 – starting at verse 1.

One day Samuel said to Saul, “It was the Lord who told me to anoint you as king of his people, Israel. Now listen to this message from the Lord! 2 This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies has declared: I have decided to settle accounts with the nation of Amalek for opposing Israel when they came from Egypt. 3 Now go and completely destroy the entire Amalekite nation—men, women, children, babies, cattle, sheep, goats, camels, and donkeys.” 1 Samuel 15:1-3

We’ll stop here for a second. It seems God’s pretty serious about wiping out these Amalekites. For those who don’t know the story, the Amalekites were a group of people that had attacked the children of Israel right after they escaped their slavery in Egypt. They had just crossed the Red Sea and hadn’t even made it to Mt. Sinai yet when these Amalekites came and attacked them. Of course, God came to their rescue that day, and when He did, he made a promise to them. We read that promise in Exodus 17:14…

 After the victory, the Lord instructed Moses, “Write this down on a scroll as a permanent reminder, and read it aloud to Joshua: I will erase the memory of Amalek from under heaven.” 15 Moses built an altar there and named it Yahweh-Nissi (which means “the Lord is my banner”). 16 He said, “They have raised their fist against the Lord’s throne, so now the Lord will be at war with Amalek generation after generation.” Exodus 17:14-16

This all happened several hundred years before Saul’s time, but now, God has decided that Saul will be the one to carry out His judgement on the Amalekites for what they had done.

This is a good reminder to us that God always keeps his promises. Not necessarily on our time or in our way, but always in God’s time and in God’s way. It made take a few hundred years, but God always keeps his promises. Verse 4.

So Saul mobilized his army at Telaim. There were 200,000 soldiers from Israel and 10,000 men from Judah. 5 Then Saul and his army went to a town of the Amalekites and lay in wait in the valley. 6 Saul sent this warning to the Kenites: “Move away from where the Amalekites live, or you will die with them. For you showed kindness to all the people of Israel when they came up from Egypt.” So the Kenites packed up and left.
7 Then Saul slaughtered the Amalekites from Havilah all the way to Shur, east of Egypt. 8 He captured Agag, the Amalekite king, but completely destroyed everyone else. 9 Saul and his men spared Agag’s life and kept the best of the sheep and goats, the cattle, the fat calves, and the lambs—everything, in fact, that appealed to them. They destroyed only what was worthless or of poor quality.” 1 Samuel 15:4-9

Now hold the phone! That’s not what God had instructed him to do. You’ll remember in verse 3 that God had clearly said to “completely destroy the Amalekite nation”. He didn’t say anything about sparing King Agag, or saving the best of the animals. He said to destroy everything. But that’s not what King Saul did.

“Saul and his men spared Agag’s life and kept the best of the sheep and goats, the cattle, the fat calves, and the lambs—everything, in fact, that appealed to them. They destroyed only what was worthless or of poor quality.” 1 Samuel 15:9

And at the time, it probably seemed to King Saul like just a little detail. After all, he had wiped out almost the entire nation just like God asked him to do – he had only spared one guy. (and some animals) Surely that wasn’t a big deal. But it was a big deal. It was disobedience. And as a result, we read in verse 10:

10 Then 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 refused to obey my command.” 1 Samuel 15:10-11

What seemed to be little detail to Saul – was a very big deal to God. So much so, that God was sorry that He had made Saul king over Israel. God doesn’t not take disobedience lightly.

We tend to brush aside the ‘little’ sins, don’t we? Murder is a big deal. Stealing is a big deal. But a little white lie – or just a wee bit of pride – or half-way obedience – it’s not so bad, we think. But as we are going to find out shortly in this story, God takes even the smallest sin very seriously. Because all sin, regardless of whether it is big or small, is simply the outward expression of a rebellious heart. Continuing in verse 11….

Samuel was so deeply moved when he heard this that he cried out to the Lord all night.
12 Early the next morning Samuel went to find Saul. Someone told him, “Saul went to the town of Carmel to set up a monument to himself; then he went on to Gilgal.”
13 When 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 goats and the lowing of cattle I hear?” Samuel demanded.
15 “It’s true that the army spared the best of the sheep, goats, and cattle,” Saul admitted. “But they are going to sacrifice them to the Lord your God. We have destroyed everything else.”

Notice the excuse Saul gives for not destroying the best of the animals – He was going to offer them as a sacrifice to God. What a noble thing to do! The Bible doesn’t tell us whether this really was his plan all along, or whether it was just an off-the-cuff excuse to get out of trouble. My guess, based on verse 9 where it says they they spared “Everything that appealed to them” – was that this was simply an excuse. And I’m pretty sure Samuel thought so too. verse 16.

16 Then Samuel said to Saul, “Stop! Listen to what the Lord told me last night!”
“What did he tell you?” Saul asked.
17 And 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.18 And the Lord sent you on a mission and told you, ‘Go and completely destroy the sinners, the Amalekites, until they are all dead.’ 19 Why haven’t you obeyed the Lord? Why did you rush for the plunder and do what was evil in the Lord’s sight?”
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. 21 Then my troops brought in the best of the sheep, goats, cattle, and plunder to sacrifice to the Lord your God in Gilgal.”
1 Samuel 15:10-20

It seems that Saul still doesn’t get it. He insists that He did follow God’s commands. He destroyed everyone (except King Agag) and he destroyed everything (except the best sheep, goats, cattle and other plunder – and he was going to sacrifice that all to God anyway). So what’s the problem? Saul just didn’t get it. So Samuel explains it to him – and he puts it in no uncertain terms. verse 22

22 But Samuel replied,
“What is more pleasing to the Lord:?  your burnt offerings and sacrifices?  or your obedience to his voice??Listen! Obedience is better than sacrifice,? and submission is better than offering the fat of rams.
23 Rebellion is as sinful as witchcraft,? and stubbornness as bad as worshiping idols.?So because you have rejected the command of the Lord,? he has rejected you as king.”
24 Then Saul admitted to Samuel, “Yes, I have sinned. I have disobeyed your instructions and the Lord’s command, for I was afraid of the people and did what they demanded. 25 But now, please forgive my sin and come back with me so that I may worship the Lord.”
26 But Samuel replied, “I will not go back with you! Since you have rejected the Lord’s command, he has rejected you as king of Israel.”
1 Samuel 15:22-26

For Saul, this was a painful lesson to learn. From one little act of disobedience, that Saul originally though was so insignificant, Saul would lose everything. His kingdom would be taken away from him and given to another. His sons would not sit on his throne after him. Because He had rejected the command of the Lord, the Lord had rejected him as king.

Now we might think, “Boy, that’s pretty harsh for one little act of disobedience.” But don’t forget, all sin, regardless of whether it is big or small in our eyes, is simply the outward expression of a rebellious heart. It’s not just this one sin that God is concerned about – it’s the condition of Saul’s heart. And as we read earlier…

23 Rebellion is as sinful as witchcraft,? and stubbornness as bad as worshiping idols.?1 Samuel 15:23

Why? Because it all comes from the same kind of heart. That’s why Saul was rejected as king of Israel – not because of one little sin – but because that one little sin showed the true condition of his rebellious heart.

And that’s also why Samuel says that obedience is better than sacrifice. Because obedience also reflects the condition of our heart.

Even though we don’t offer actual sacrifices of goats and sheep to God these days, I think sometimes we try to take the same approach to God as Saul did. That is, we live in disobedience, and then try to appease God by the good things we do. So often….

  • We ignore God throughout the week, and try to make it up to Him by attending church on Sunday. But obedience is better than church attendance.
  • Or we refuse to live according to God’s standards in our day to day lives, and then make ourselves feel better by putting a large donation in the offering plate. But obedience is better than a large donation.
  • We refuse to give God full control of our lives, but to put on a good appearance, we involve ourselves in all sorts of church activities. But obedience is better than being involved in church activities.

Why? Because obedience reflects the condition of your heart.

It doesn’t matter to God if you the church’s most generous donor, or if you’ve taught Sunday school for 25 years – if you’re not living in obedience to God in your day to day life, all of your sacrifices mean nothing.

God’s not concerned about your sacrifices. He’s concerned about the condition of your heart.

Think of it as a simple equation… obedience = love.

 “Those who accept my commandments and obey them are the ones who love me.” John 14:21

 “And we can be sure that we know him if we obey his commandments. 4 If someone claims, “I know God,” but doesn’t obey God’s commandments, that person is a liar and is not living in the truth. 5 But those who obey God’s word truly show how completely they love him.” 1 John 2:3-5

It’s a simple equation. obedience = love

If we don’t obey God in the day to day details of our life, that shows that we don’t really love God. Our disobedience reveals the true condition of our hearts.

So my question for you this morning is – Do you love God? Think about it. Think about how you’ve lived your life this past week. Have you been obedient to his commands? Have you followed the instructions in His Word? Do you love God?

Its obvious from our story that Saul had no real love for God. He pretended like He did, but his actions proved otherwise. His disobedience revealed the true condition of his heart.

How about you? Do you truly love God?

When God asks you to make change in your life – do you listen?
When God’s Word instructs you to do hard things – do you obey?
When God leads you down a path that you know is not going to be easy – do you follow?

Because you can measure your love for God by your obedience to His Word. obedience = love

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