Sermon on 1 Samuel 15:1-35 – “The Sin of Partial Obedience”

Sermon for Sunday, March 3rd, 2024 at First Presbyterian Church at Unionville, NY (BPC)

 

Old Testament reading:

[Hab 2:6-13 ESV] 6 Shall not all these take up their taunt against him, with scoffing and riddles for him, and say, “Woe to him who heaps up what is not his own– for how long?– and loads himself with pledges!” 7 Will not your debtors suddenly arise, and those awake who will make you tremble? Then you will be spoil for them. 8 Because you have plundered many nations, all the remnant of the peoples shall plunder you, for the blood of man and violence to the earth, to cities and all who dwell in them. 9 “Woe to him who gets evil gain for his house, to set his nest on high, to be safe from the reach of harm! 10 You have devised shame for your house by cutting off many peoples; you have forfeited your life. 11 For the stone will cry out from the wall, and the beam from the woodwork respond. 12 “Woe to him who builds a town with blood and founds a city on iniquity! 13 Behold, is it not from the LORD of hosts that peoples labor merely for fire, and nations weary themselves for nothing?

 

New Testament reading:

[Heb 10:4-10 ESV] 4 For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. 5 Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, “Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me; 6 in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure. 7 Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.'” 8 When he said above, “You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law), 9 then he added, “Behold, I have come to do your will.” He does away with the first in order to establish the second. 10 And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

 

Gospel reading:

[Mar 12:28-34 ESV] 28 And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” 29 Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” 32 And the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher. You have truly said that he is one, and there is no other besides him. 33 And to love him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” 34 And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And after that no one dared to ask him any more questions.

 

 

 

Sermon Text:
[1Sa 15:1-35 ESV] 1 And Samuel said to Saul, “The LORD sent me to anoint you king over his people Israel; now therefore listen to the words of the LORD. 2 Thus says the LORD of hosts, ‘I have noted what Amalek did to Israel in opposing them on the way when they came up out of Egypt. 3 Now go and strike Amalek and devote to destruction all that they have. Do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.'” 4 So Saul summoned the people and numbered them in Telaim, two hundred thousand men on foot, and ten thousand men of Judah. 5 And Saul came to the city of Amalek and lay in wait in the valley. 6 Then Saul said to the Kenites, “Go, depart; go down from among the Amalekites, lest I destroy you with them. For you showed kindness to all the people of Israel when they came up out of Egypt.” So the Kenites departed from among the Amalekites. 7 And Saul defeated the Amalekites from Havilah as far as Shur, which is east of Egypt. 8 And he took Agag the king of the Amalekites alive and devoted to destruction all the people with the edge of the sword. 9 But Saul and the people spared Agag and the best of the sheep and of the oxen and of the fattened calves and the lambs, and all that was good, and would not utterly destroy them. All that was despised and worthless they devoted to destruction. 10 The word of the LORD came to Samuel: 11 “I regret that I have made Saul king, for he has turned back from following me and has not performed my commandments.” And Samuel was angry, and he cried to the LORD all night. 12 And Samuel rose early to meet Saul in the morning. And it was told Samuel, “Saul came to Carmel, and behold, he set up a monument for himself and turned and passed on and went down to Gilgal.” 13 And Samuel came to Saul, and Saul said to him, “Blessed be you to the LORD. I have performed the commandment of the LORD.” 14 And Samuel said, “What then is this bleating of the sheep in my ears and the lowing of the oxen that I hear?” 15 Saul said, “They have brought them from the Amalekites, for the people spared the best of the sheep and of the oxen to sacrifice to the LORD your God, and the rest we have devoted to destruction.” 16 Then Samuel said to Saul, “Stop! I will tell you what the LORD said to me this night.” And he said to him, “Speak.” 17 And Samuel said, “Though you are little in your own eyes, are you not the head of the tribes of Israel? The LORD anointed you king over Israel. 18 And the LORD sent you on a mission and said, ‘Go, devote to destruction 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 pounce on the spoil and do what was evil in the sight of the LORD?” 20 And Saul said to Samuel, “I have obeyed the voice of the LORD. I have gone on the mission on which the LORD sent me. I have brought Agag the king of Amalek, and I have devoted the Amalekites to destruction. 21 But the people took of the spoil, sheep and oxen, the best of the things devoted to destruction, to sacrifice to the LORD your God in Gilgal.” 22 And 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 listen than the fat of rams. 23 For rebellion is as the sin of divination, and presumption is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, he has also rejected you from being king.” 24 Saul said to Samuel, “I have sinned, for I have transgressed the commandment of the LORD and your words, because I feared the people and obeyed their voice. 25 Now therefore, please pardon my sin and return with me that I may bow before the LORD.” 26 And Samuel said to Saul, “I will not return with you. For you have rejected the word of the LORD, and the LORD has rejected you from being king over Israel.” 27 As Samuel turned to go away, Saul seized the skirt of his robe, and it tore. 28 And Samuel said to him, “The LORD has torn the kingdom of Israel from you this day and has given it to a neighbor of yours, who is better than you. 29 And also the Glory of Israel will not lie or have regret, for he is not a man, that he should have regret.” 30 Then he said, “I have sinned; yet honor me now before the elders of my people and before Israel, and return with me, that I may bow before the LORD your God.” 31 So Samuel turned back after Saul, and Saul bowed before the LORD. 32 Then Samuel said, “Bring here to me Agag the king of the Amalekites.” And Agag came to him cheerfully. Agag said, “Surely the bitterness of death is past.” 33 And Samuel said, “As your sword has made women childless, so shall your mother be childless among women.” And Samuel hacked Agag to pieces before the LORD in Gilgal. 34 Then Samuel went to Ramah, and Saul went up to his house in Gibeah of Saul. 35 And Samuel did not see Saul again until the day of his death, but Samuel grieved over Saul. And the LORD regretted that he had made Saul king over Israel.

Introduction

I’ve heard a friend of mine — an elder at another Bible Presbyterian Church, and a man with a large family — say this to his children:

Obey:
Right away
All the way
And in a happy way.

The subject of this morning and the title of our sermon is “The sin of partial obedience.” And as we look today at the Saul’s sin of partial obedience, we see that it is primarily a failure to obey “all the way.” But the others are involved. It is also a failure to obey “right away.” And if we could see the heart of Saul we’d realize that it is also a failure to obey “in a happy way.”

We could easily call this the sin of partial DISobedience, because it is not the part that is the full that is the problem, it is the part that is empty that is the problem. The sin of partial obedience is the sin of partial DISobedience.

This sin is the latest in Saul’s misadventures. He has continually shown himself to be lacking of any respect or love of God. This is the straw that breaks the camels back, the sin from which God finally says, through the prophet Samuel to Saul, “I reject you from being king over Israel.”

We could see that this was coming in the text. Last week we looked at the end of Chapter 14 where Saul had a “life summary.” And you don’t see a summary of a person’s life or reign as king until it is over. Well, Saul’s reign was just about over. He led some battles, had a family, and strong soldiers on his side. But he knew not the Lord. And now his continued disobedience proves that fact.

The top commentary I use in this study is from Robert Bergen, his exegetical and theological commentary on 1st and 2nd Samuel. And Bergen says of our text, “this is one of the most distressing passages in the Former Prophets.” (p. 167) And later he calls it “one of the darkest passages of the Former Prophets.” (p. 176)

It is dark and distressing not because of the death of thousands of Amalekites (who deserve what they have coming), nor for the fact that Agag is “hacked to pieces” by Samuel but rather because of Saul’s disobedience and God’s rejection of him.

And I think that NO honest Christian can read a passage like this without thinking, “I deserve the same fate, for I too am only partial in my obedience to the Lord.” REPEAT: “I deserve the same fate, for I too am only partial in my obedience to the Lord.”

One of the most influential books on the development of my Christian mind is an old Lutheran volume called “The Proper Distinction Between the Law and Gospel.” That book, above any other, taught me to understand the rightful place of each of these messages; the law condemns, the Gospel proclaims God’s grace. And a solid Christian message has both elements, the law showing our sins, and the Gospel of God’s Grace saving us from our sins.

We have a lot of law in our passage today. But it has its purpose. And its purpose is to CONVICT YOU OF YOUR SIN. So if the HISTORY in this text is not your cup of tea, know that the MESSAGE of this text is relevant to your life, and so you should be very interested.

I. The Amalekites are Devoted to Destruction (v. 1-5)

The chapter starts out when God said to Saul, “Now go and strike Amalek and devote to destruction all that they have. Do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.”

The Amalekites were a people group south of Israel, descendants of Amalek, a grandson of Esau.

And they were always a thorn in Israel’s side. The particular reason in the text for God wanting to devote them to utter destruction is that Amalek opposed Israel when they came up from Egypt. No doubt that is true. That, we can say, is a leading cause.

In Exodus 17 the Amalekites, unprovoked, attacked Israel from behind just after they crossed the Red Sea. That is not very welcoming! Welcome to the neighborhood, here’s a sword in your back. So even then God vowed to blot them out of existence.

[Exo 17:14-16 ESV] 14 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Write this as a memorial in a book and recite it in the ears of Joshua, that I will utterly blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven.” 15 And Moses built an altar and called the name of it, The LORD Is My Banner, 16 saying, “A hand upon the throne of the LORD! The LORD will have war with Amalek from generation to generation.”

Saul then is given the opportunity with the army of Israel to fulfill this old prophecy from the book of Exodus. The Amalekites will be destroyed.

There are likely other reasons why the need to be destroyed. It is not just that they attacked Israel back during the Exodus. The Amalekites were also worshippers of false gods. And like all of the Canaanites, God had put up with them for many years. Their destruction was something a long time coming. And it is God’s desire that the land be cleared away from worshippers of false gods so that it might be a place for a holy people who will not be distracted by Baals and Astoraths and false idols of all kinds.

Bergen says “This kind of warfare, called herem, was practiced only against people who had come under the Lord’s severest judgment.” (p. 168) And he gives Jericho as an example. And you will remember at Jericho also was EVERYTHING to be devoted to destruction.

Like a cancer, the sinful nations needed to be excised entirely.

And now is the time to do it. Israel has a king to lead them in battle. And they have 210,000 troops out for this battle, one of their largest armies ever assembled.

II. The Salvation of the Kenites (v. 6-7)

Within this call for destruction there is also a call for mercy. This too happened at Jericho with the salvation of Rahab.

Now it is the salvation of the Kenites.

The Kenites, all those years previous, did the opposite of the Amalekites; they showed kindness to Israel when they came out of Egypt. And for this they are now spared.

The kindness of the Kenites is not recorded in the Torah. We hear about it only here in 1st Samuel. This is clear evidence showing that there was other written material or passed-down memories of the Exodus. It is evidence of the historicity of the Exodus. None of the other tribes allowed Israel to pass through, so they remember the Kenites and thank them by warning them to get out.

And this furthers a principle we see throughout Scripture of God saving a remnant. A remnant of 8 were saved during the Flood. Rahab was saved from Jericho. A remnant also survives the Assyrian invasion and another survives the Babylonian captivity.

Even within death and destruction, God saves his people.

III. Saul’s Sins

Now usually in an account like this, you would think that there would be a lot written about the battle itself. But there isn’t. The battle isn’t the focus. All the text says is: “And Saul defeated the Amalekites from Havilah as far as Shur, which is east of Egypt.”

That is a great victory. A large area south of Israel is conquered. The Amalekites are defeated..

But this is where the story finds its peak, it’s tension, or it’s major element of interest. SAUL DOES NOT FULLY OBEY THE LORD. He has only partial obedience.

A. Partial obedience (v. 8-9)

There is then an almost total victory, but it is soured by disobedience.

Here is what happened:

8 And he [Saul] took Agag the king of the Amalekites alive and devoted to destruction all the people with the edge of the sword. 9 But Saul and the people spared Agag and the best of the sheep and of the oxen and of the fattened calves and the lambs, and all that was good, and would not utterly destroy them. All that was despised and worthless they devoted to destruction.

That is what Saul did. But what was supposed to happen?

Not only were they devote all that was despised and worthless to destruction, they were to devote ALL to destruction. The good, the bad, and the ugly.

Yet, Agag is still alive. And the people have taken the best livestock for themselves. This is like the sin the of Achan after Jericho, keeping the devoted things to himself.

Now why did Saul disobey? Why did he only partially obey the Lord? We don’t really know.

Bergen says it is because Saul feared the people, rather than fearing God. Or, he say, it may be that by sparing Agag he could achieve economic gain by ransoming him back to the Amalekites. (Apparently not all of them were killed, because they continue on as a nation). But whatever Saul’s motivation, one this is clear: he is not motivated to obey the Lord. The Lord is an aside, at best a nuisance to Saul. He only brings up God’s name when it is beneficial to him.

B. Setting up a monument for himself (v. 12)

But the sin of partial obedience was not Saul’s only sin. In our text here are four others by my count.

-Saul sets up a monument to himself.
-Then he claims that he DID fully obey the Lord.
-Then he shifts blame.
-And finally he has false repentance.

Sometimes in the Scriptures, Israel will set up a monument (usually a pile of stones) as a memorial to remember God’s victory. It is unprecedented for a leader to set up a memorial to himself. And that shows you where his heart is.

I generally dislike the idea of putting your name on something. At the Universities and the hospitals in our nation there are buildings, wings, floors, even entire campuses named after large donors. This is the way it is in the secular world. It definitely shouldn’t happen in the Christian world. Christians should donate money for a cause without need to put their name on it. We are to pray in secret, not out in the open like the pharisees. And we should donate in secret as well. Let God have the glory.

A monument to Saul is utter disregard of God, and a false idol for Saul. He should have recognized that the victory they won was because of the Lord. The Lord called for the attack and the Lord brought the victory.

C. Claiming that he fully obeyed the Lord. (v. 13, 20)

Then, what do we see Saul doing? He claims that HE DID fully obey the Lord.

Saul says proudly to Samuel, “I HAVE performed the commandment of the LORD.”

Oh really, says Samuel, What then is this bleating of the sheep in my ears and the lowing of the oxen that I hear?

Samuel is an eye-witness and an ear-witness to the Saul’s lie.

Saul later says: I have obeyed the voice of the LORD. I have gone on the mission on which the LORD sent me. I have brought Agag the king of Amalek, and I have devoted the Amalekites to destruction.

But the Lord sent him to kill ALL of the Amalekites, including Agag. His mission was not capture, but kill.

Think of a car mechanic saying, “I did the work.” He puts on a new tire, but doesn’t tighten the bolts. Well, he did most of the work right? What good is a loose tire that flies off at the first turn?

Or maybe on the farm your neighbor’s goats get loose and they’re really smart and find a way into your kitchen. And 7 of the goats get into your kitchen. The task at hand is very clearly “get all 7 goats out of the kitchen.” What if your neighbor got 6 of them out and then claimed victory and called it a day? Well, the next morning you wouldn’t have any food left in the kitchen.

We must obey the Lord, ALL THE WAY. Anything less is disobedience.

D. Blame-shifting (v. 21)

There is another sin here for Saul. Blame-shifting.

We had a whole sermon on this a couple weeks ago. Previously Saul put the blame on Jonathan for eating honey, when the blame was really on Saul for making a sinful vow.

Now, this time, Saul shifts the blame to the people. He had kept not only Agag alive, but also all the livestock. And now he says to Samuel:

21 But THE PEOPLE took of the spoil, sheep and oxen, the best of the things devoted to destruction, to sacrifice to the LORD your God in Gilgal.”

 

The PEOPLE did it! Well, remind me again, who is in charge of the people? Isn’t it King Saul.

 

Repentance should have come right away for Saul, but instead he blame-shifts.

 

When his “repentance” does come, it is false repentance, not accepted of the Lord.

 

E. False repentance. (v. 24–30)

First Saul says to Samuel “I have sinned.” And he says to Samuel “please pardon my sin.” Samuel is a prophet of God, but it is too much to think that HE can pardon sin.

Samuel is disgusted by Saul, and says in response, “I will not return with you. For you have rejected the word of the LORD, and the LORD has rejected you from being king over Israel.”

Saul is getting desperate now. As Samuel turns away, Saul grabs the skirt of his robe and its tears. Saul get’s Samuel’s attention, but Samuel double’s down with the truth saying,

“The LORD has torn the kingdom of Israel from you this day and has given it to a neighbor of yours, who is better than you. 29 And also the Glory of Israel will not lie or have regret, for he is not a man, that he should have regret.”

There is one last attempt at repentance for Saul, and here is where I think it is clearly false repentance.

Saul says “I have sinned; yet honor me now before the elders of my people and before Israel, and return with me, that I may bow before the LORD your God.”

Did you catch that? YOUR God? God is Samuel’s god, but he is not Saul’s god.

And it is Samuel who fulfills what Saul should have done, he kills Agag, king of the Amalekites. He hacks him into pieces. This can only be described as emphatic. Samuel shows Saul VERY CLEARLY what he should have done. Even though Samuel was not a soldier, even though he was elderly, he raised the sword and did the work of the Lord that Saul failed to do.

IV. God’s Rejection of Saul

Because of Saul’s sin, and his continued disobedience and lack of repentance, God takes the kingship away from him. It is right said, “God’s punishment of Saul serves as an object lesson of how seriously God reacts to willful disobedience.”

And that is where we have distress and darkness. It is when we reflect on our life with God that we realize our obedience is only partial. Our thoughts, words, and deeds are not fully in accord in with the revealed will of God; His commands for us.

This is the first of two major truths to be emphasize. It is this:

TRUTH 1: Partial obedience is NOT obedience.

REPEAT: Partial obedience is NOT obedience.

And we are all guilty.

Jesus said:
And you shall love the Lord your God with ALL your heart and with ALL your soul and with ALL your mind and with ALL your strength.

 

And how (Biblically) do we love God?

 

[Jhn 14:15 ESV] 15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.

 

So you are to OBEY the commands of God with ALL your heart and with ALL your soul and with ALL your mind and with ALL your strength.

 

Not just when you feel like it

Not just when you think it benefits you

Not partial, but ALL.

 

All the way, and right away.

 

Jesus doesn’t say, love the Lord your God with SOME of your heart, and SOME of your soul, and SOME of your mind, and SOME of your strength.

 

He says all.

 

This is our high calling. It is so high that we cannot reach it. Merely thinking about it brings us to despair.

 

And it is serious

Samuel call it “rebellion” and says that it “is as the sin of divination.”

 

Disobeying God is as bad as divination, and in Deuteronomy divination is called an abomination to driven out.

 

Disobedience, especially in its repeated and willing form is a great sin before the Lord.

 

With Saul’s disobedience it says that Samuel grieved over Saul. This same word is used when God observed the wickedness of humanity that led to the global flood and was sorry that he made them. He grieved. (Genesis 6:7). Such is the seriousness of disobedience.

 

And all attempts to circumvent the problem, all attempts to appease God are bound to fail. This brings us to a second truth:

 

TRUTH 2: You cannot make up for disobedience by other acts of devotion.

REPEAT: You cannot make up for disobedience by other acts of devotion.

22 And 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 listen than the fat of rams.

 

To obey is better than sacrifice.

 

A commentator rightly says “The Torah integrated sacrifice into the life of obedience to God; however, it never envisioned it as a substitute for obedience.”

 

[Hos 6:6 ESV] 6 For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.

 

And we know from [Heb 10:4 ESV] 4 For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.

 

So we don’t offer such sacrifices as did the Jews before the ultimate final sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

 

But though animal sacrifices ended, men still try to make up to God for lack of obedience. In Roman Catholicism it is called penance. Through a linguistic error Rome came to think that repentance as penance. Not turning away from evil and obeying God, but making up for it later. Saying so many hail Mary’s, spending so many years in purgatory, hitting yourself with whips, and fasting, etc. All to make up for disobedience.

That is not what the Lord wants. He wants obedience. And there is no substitute.

 

Do you substitute something for obedience to God? You don’t sacrifice animals or say hail mary’s, but do you do something else? Do you say, I’ll live like a sinner all week and then make up for it by going to church on Sunday?

 

Do you hold grudges and argue with your family and friends, and then call yourself a good person because you give money to charity?

 

God wants obedience! Not partial, and not made up for after the fact.

 

And without obedience, we are at risk that God will do to us exactly what he did to Saul.

We’ve learn that we must totally obey God.
But, the problem is, we HAVE NOT totally obeyed God, and we CANNOT totally obey God.

So what do we do?

We must go to the Lord.

V. Christ Obeyed When We Could Not

We need a savior. We need someone totally obedient to fulfill the law for us. And him we have in Jesus Christ.

The good news of Gospel is that Christ has come for us, and given us grace and mercy. Though we have been only partially obedience, God has saved us through Jesus Christ.

Christ, and Christ alone, did not seek any half-way obedience to God, but lived and died in full obedience. The Psalmist spoke of Jesus when he said: “lo I come. I delight to do they will O Lord. They law is within my heart.”

We are torn up by sin.
We are put back together by Christ.

If we could fully obey God, we wouldn’t need Christ.
But we are sinners, and need Christ above all else.

So Christians, know that your sins are forgiven. Though your sins are scarlet, they will be white as snow.

One final question:
Why did God choose us? Why did he condemn Saul and choose me?
Was my obedience better than Sauls? Hardly.

The hymn says: Why was I a guest?

The answer is because of the Full obedience of Christ in the will of God to be gracious to us for His glory.

Let us the praise. Let us pray.