You are currently browsing the daily archive for October 4, 2009.

Bible GenevaChurchmouse Campanologist is examining Bible passages that aren’t often explored in church anymore.  In a day where we’re told about a warm and cuddly God, the tough stuff doesn’t make it through.  But, you can get the full story here every Sunday.  For past entries, click ‘Bible‘ in the ‘cloud tag’ in the left-hand column.

Today’s entry is a continuation of last week’s, 1 Chronicles 10:1-14.  King Saul committed suicide in battle against the Philistines and, as his sons were killed, too, his family line came to an abrupt halt.  God punished Saul with that suicide.  Today, we find out why.  This reading is taken from the New International Version (NIV).

1 Samuel 15

The LORD Rejects Saul as King

 1 Samuel said to Saul, “I am the one the LORD sent to anoint you king over his people Israel; so listen now to the message from the LORD. 2 This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel when they waylaid them as they came up from Egypt. 3 Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy [a] everything that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.’ ”

 4 So Saul summoned the men and mustered them at Telaim—two hundred thousand foot soldiers and ten thousand men from Judah. 5 Saul went to the city of Amalek and set an ambush in the ravine. 6 Then he said to the Kenites, “Go away, leave the Amalekites so that I do not destroy you along with them; for you showed kindness to all the Israelites when they came up out of Egypt.” So the Kenites moved away from the Amalekites.

 7 Then Saul attacked the Amalekites all the way from Havilah to Shur, to the east of Egypt. 8 He took Agag king of the Amalekites alive, and all his people he totally destroyed with the sword. 9 But Saul and the army spared Agag and the best of the sheep and cattle, the fat calves and lambs—everything that was good. These they were unwilling to destroy completely, but everything that was despised and weak they totally destroyed.

 10 Then the word of the LORD came to Samuel: 11 “I am grieved that I have made Saul king, because he has turned away from me and has not carried out my instructions.” Samuel was troubled, and he cried out to the LORD all that night.

 12 Early in the morning Samuel got up and went to meet Saul, but he was told, “Saul has gone to Carmel. There he has set up a monument in his own honor and has turned and gone on down to Gilgal.”

 13 When Samuel reached him, Saul said, “The LORD bless you! I have carried out the LORD’s instructions.”

 14 But Samuel said, “What then is this bleating of sheep in my ears? What is this lowing of cattle that I hear?”

 15 Saul answered, “The soldiers brought them from the Amalekites; they spared the best of the sheep and cattle to sacrifice to the LORD your God, but we totally destroyed the rest.”

 16 “Stop!” Samuel said to Saul. “Let me tell you what the LORD said to me last night.”
      “Tell me,” Saul replied.

 17 Samuel said, “Although you were once small in your own eyes, did you not become the head of the tribes of Israel? The LORD anointed you king over Israel. 18 And he sent you on a mission, saying, ‘Go and completely destroy those wicked people, the Amalekites; make war on them until you have wiped them out.’ 19 Why did you not obey the LORD ? Why did you pounce on the plunder and do evil in the eyes of the LORD ?”

 20 “But I did obey the LORD,” Saul said. “I went on the mission the LORD assigned me. I completely destroyed the Amalekites and brought back Agag their king. 21 The soldiers took sheep and cattle from the plunder, the best of what was devoted to God, in order to sacrifice them to the LORD your God at Gilgal.”

 22 But Samuel replied:
       “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.”

 24 Then Saul said to Samuel, “I have sinned. I violated the LORD’s command and your instructions. I was afraid of the people and so I gave in to them. 25 Now I beg you, forgive my sin and come back with me, so that I may worship the LORD.”

 26 But Samuel said to him, “I will not go back with you. You have rejected the word of the LORD, and the LORD has rejected you as king over Israel!”

 27 As Samuel turned to leave, Saul caught hold of the hem of his robe, and it tore. 28 Samuel said to him, “The LORD has torn the kingdom of Israel from you today and has given it to one of your neighbors—to one better than you. 29 He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie or change his mind; for he is not a man, that he should change his mind.”

 30 Saul replied, “I have sinned. But please honor me before the elders of my people and before Israel; come back with me, so that I may worship the LORD your God.” 31 So Samuel went back with Saul, and Saul worshiped the LORD.

 32 Then Samuel said, “Bring me Agag king of the Amalekites.”
      Agag came to him confidently, [c] thinking, “Surely the bitterness of death is past.”

 33 But Samuel said,
       “As your sword has made women childless,
       so will your mother be childless among women.”
      And Samuel put Agag to death before the LORD at Gilgal.

 34 Then Samuel left for Ramah, but Saul went up to his home in Gibeah of Saul. 35 Until the day Samuel died, he did not go to see Saul again, though Samuel mourned for him. And the LORD was grieved that he had made Saul king over Israel.

 

The Amalekites were a long-time enemy of the Israelites, dating back to the exodus from Egypt.  Scripture details these accounts in the books of Numbers, Deuteronomy, Judges and Samuel.  The Amalekites’s violence towards the Israelites prompts God to call time in a big way.  Samuel delivers God’s command to Saul in verse 3.  Notice that the command is to ‘destroy everything that belongs to them.’  That means not just valuable livestock but people as well.  Saul mobilises his troops and tells the Israelites’ allies, the Kenites, to leave the area to avoid harm. 

Saul carries out God’s instruction until he is faced with the king and the healthiest livestock in verse 8. We don’t know his thought process, but it might have gone something like this: ‘Hmm, I can show off the captive Agag to my people as a trophy.  As for the animals — we’ll not only feast but use the beasts in our sacrifices so we don’t need to use our own.  A win-win situation.’

God, expressly unhappy at seeing this, lets Samuel know in verse 11 that He is sorry Saul is king.  Samuel grieves openly for Saul’s disobedience and cries to the Lord in despair. In verse 12 Samuel is on his way to see Saul only to be told that Saul has built a monument to himself.  When they meet, Saul is in a triumphant mood, on top of the world.  Samuel asks him in so many words, ‘What part of obedience don’t you understand?’  He reminds Saul in verse 19 that God made him King of Israel and, in turn, Saul must obey the Lord’s commands.  Saul says he has obeyed, yet his half-obedience offends God and serves only his own earthly purposes.  Samuel knows this will end in tears and presses the point in verses 22 and 23.

In verse 24, Saul says he is sorry.  Is he really?  Does he realise the consequences of what he has done?  Saul sees half-obedience combined with the ability to offer a free sacrifice as acceptable.  He can perform the ritual.  Yet, Samuel is trying to tell him that obedience to God is superior to any number of sacrifices.  Then Saul paints himself further into a corner by blaming it on his people, when he is their leader!  Samuel is thoroughly disgusted and says he will not be returning with Saul.  He is actually telling Saul he’s severing all ties with him. Furthermore, Samuel announces in verses 26 and 27 that God, too, rejects Saul and will wrest the kingdom from his control to give it to ‘one better’ than he. 

The full impact was now dawning on Saul.  He grabs Samuel’s robe, in the gesture of a supplicant, but the hem rips. In verse 28, Samuel repeats the prophecy and adds that God does not lie or change His mind.  As one final gesture, Samuel returned with Saul to the Israelites to pray.  Then, Samuel finishes the work God had commanded Saul to do.  He slays an unsuspecting Agag in the way the captive king instructed his own people to slaughtered their enemies — by hacking him in pieces.  We don’t know if Samuel slaughtered the animals.  But that was the last time Samuel and Saul ever saw each other alive.  And Samuel mourned that loss.

In our comfy day and age, we must be on guard against complacency or we, too, shall fall into the trap that Saul did — obeying our own wishes and second-guessing the Lord.  God will not be mocked.  So, if we commit the same sin time and time again, we are in no better a position than Saul, who probably thought that because he went through the motions of ritual as the king of the Chosen People, he was all right, just fine, thanks.  Louis XIV comes to mind as a later example, going to Confession every day to obtain absolution from the debauchery he had engaged in the night before.  And what about those of us who, right now, are so pleased with the gestures we make at Sunday worship, yet perhaps sin at work or elsewhere the rest of the week?  We make the mistake of thinking that our own satisfaction is superior to obeying God.

This story about Saul is a very human one.  Yes, God asks for sacrifice — not a ritualistic one, but that of our will to His.  As Jesus taught us to pray: ‘Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.’

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