Listen now for the Word of the Lord. I Samuel 15:1-3

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1 Israel s quest for a king begins with the prophet Samuel s warning that a king will take their sons with him off to war. That a king will commandeer the best of their property and resources to support himself and his administration. Samuel warns them that one day they will cry out because of their king, but on that day the Lord will not answer. (8:10ff) In spite of these grave predictions, Saul s rise to royalty gets off to a good start. Tall and handsome, Saul begins his reign filled with the spirit. His divine anointing is confirmed when he joins the Lord s prophets in their frenzied rave. He proves his mettle as a commander in chief when he brings the Israelites relief from their enemies, the Ammonites, saving God s people from both disgrace and disfigurement. Yet, inevitably, as in any endeavor where a human being is cast a role that can only be filled by God, cracks appear in Saul s armor, the foundation of his kingdom begins to crumble, and we realize his fall is only a matter of time. In last week s story, a disobedient spirit begins to emerge from Saul, leading him to light up the burnt offering before the appointed time. His impatience and impertinence toward God s instructions yields a word from the Lord through Samuel that Saul s days as king are numbered. In today s reading, I Samuel 15, Saul s descent picks up speed. In this case, his rebellion goes far beyond the issue of timing. Here, Saul acts in direct opposition to God s command, and the result is grief on all sides for Saul, for Samuel, and for God. Listen now for the Word of the Lord. I Samuel 15: 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 Rev. Ryan C. Kraus APC

2 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 all that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys. Simply and concisely, the first verse of the chapter reminds us of the role and responsibility assigned to each player in this unfolding drama. God is God. Samuel is the Lord s mouthpiece. Saul s job, as the anointed King, is to listen, obey, and blaze a righteous trail for God s people to follow. The next two verses introduce us to the other team with skin in this game the Amalekites. To modern ears God s decree against them sounds terribly harsh, and so to better understand the roots of this judgment, let s investigate the history of Israel and this Canaanite tribe. Author Eugene Petersen, in his commentary on Samuel, explains why Saul is instructed to wreck such total devastation upon the Amalekites. He explains that the Amalekites are a Bedouin tribe from the steppes of the deep south. [close to the Sinai]. They had been Israel s chief enemy during the wilderness wanderings under Moses. It was decreed [in Exodus 17] that, The Lord will have war against Amalek from generation to generation. (Ex. 17:16) They were the enemy who first and most obviously sought to deny Israel entry into the promised land. In Deuteronomy [25] they are denounced for having picked off the stragglers from the Israelite column of march (Deut. 25:17-19). They had come to be regarded as the opponents of God s guidance and providence. So in the memory of Israel they were far more than one more military enemy; they were the archetypal opponents of the Lord s ways. 1 1 Petersen, Eugene. First and Second Samuel. Pg. 84. Rev. Ryan C. Kraus APC

3 In ordering Saul to wage this kind of total war against the Amalekites, a very particular word appears in the Hebrew text. One commentator writes, The Hebrew verb cherem חרם) and its cognate noun meaning, is a technical term. That is, it has a very narrow and specialized (ח ר ם and does not easily translate into English. It has usually been translated as something like "put under the ban" or "devote to destruction." In some places it can simply mean "exterminate," and rarely has the much milder meaning of "ostracize" or "excommunicate." The term comes from the ancient practice in which a conquered enemy would be totally destroyed, usually including women and children along with the entire settlement in which they lived. At times certain spoils could be taken depending on the circumstances. This was a religious concept in which there was an attempt to eliminate religious ideas or practices that posed a threat to the conquering people. The verb occurs about 50 times in the Old Testament and the noun about 30 times (several instances may have other meanings). Exodus 22:20 illustrates the basic idea behind the concept of cherem: Whoever sacrifices to any god, other than the LORD alone, shall be devoted to destruction. This was not just extermination for the sake of killing. There was a religious element to it so that what was destroyed was understood to be "devoted" to God and therefore belonged to God. In this sense, there is an element of ritualized killing. However, it was not a "sacrifice" in the normal sense, since Israelite sacrifice served a much different purpose. Lev 27:28-29 Nothing that a person owns that has been devoted to destruction for the LORD, be it human or animal, or inherited landholding, may be sold or Rev. Ryan C. Kraus APC

4 redeemed; every devoted thing is most holy to the LORD. No human beings who have been devoted to destruction can be ransomed; they shall be put to death. 2 Hearing these instructions from Samuel, Saul would have understood, clearly, that his task was to eliminate the Amalekites, completely. Persons, animals, none were to be left alive. I Samuel 15:4-9 4 So Saul summoned the men and mustered them at Telaim two hundred thousand foot soldiers and ten thousand 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, near the eastern border 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. With a sizeable army under his command, Saul sets out. As we ve seen before, he starts well, with the best of intentions, but somewhere along the way he departs from God s will and God s plan. Saul turns away from God s interests, in order to satisfy his own. 2 by Dennis R. Bratcher. Christian Resource Institute. Rev. Ryan C. Kraus APC

5 As Saul carries out his attack on the Amalekites, It s not hard to imagine how he came to see that breaking God s order was really the best thing for everyone. It could have gone something like this: Hey! Would you look at what great cattle these Amalekites keep and what magnificent sheep. It seems like such a waste to leave them for dead. Sure, the weak and the worthless, those I don t mind slaughtering, but the good ones - God would want me to keep some of them, to take back with me. I m doing a great job here, aren t I? And won t it help God s cause when the people to see their king return with a trophy, the leader of our enemies, bound in chains, a symbol of our victory? Everyone will know for sure that God is with us! How often, how easily, we rationalize our disobedience to God. Yeah, I know what God wants me to do BUT! But, this isn t going to hurt anyone. I heard what God said, but really, this is no big deal. Or how about this - I ll let myself slide just this one, last time, and then, THEN, I ll stick to the letter of the law. The prophet Jeremiah says it best. The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? (17:9) 10 Then the word of the Lord came to Samuel: 11 I regret that I have made Saul king, because he has turned away from me and has not carried out my instructions. Samuel was angry, 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. Rev. Ryan C. Kraus APC

6 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 Enough! 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; wage war against 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. Like Adam in garden of Eden, standing before God with the juice of forbidden fruit still dripping off his chin, started pointing fingers at his wife, so Saul, once he sees he s been caught, immediately commences the blame game. Author and speaker Ken Boa observes, Saul is layering lie upon lie upon lie. He said he had carried out the Lord s instructions. But he hadn t. Saul said it was the soldiers who had done the Rev. Ryan C. Kraus APC

7 wrong thing. Maybe, but they were doing so with Saul s permission And [when that doesn t satisfy Samuel] he has the gall to say, We re saving these animals to sacrifice them. They re an offering to God! The animals weren t taken as offerings to God; they were taken to expand the king s wealth. Finally, Saul makes this telling comment, Samuel, we re going to give them to the Lord your God. [When, finally, Saul speaks] from his heart he cannot speak of the Lord my God. Saul s disobedience has led to lying to God. Saul s rebellion has killed Saul s relationship with a loving God. It s always fascinating to hear people rationalize their disobedience. Perhaps the worst example is Moses brother Aaron. [Remember that debacle?] Moses went up the mountain to get the law, and the people grew impatient. They became rebellious and wanted some idols so that they could worship: they gathered around Aaron and said, Come, make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don t know what has happened to him. Aaron answered, Take off the gold earrings that your wives, your sons and your daughters are wearing, and bring them to me. he took what they handed him and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf,. Then they said, These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt. When Moses came down from the mountain and saw what was going on, he asked his brother, How did this happen? Where did this thing come from? Aaron answered, You know how prone these people are to evil. They said to me, Make us gods who will go before us. So I told them, Whoever has any gold jewelry, take it off. Then they gave me the gold, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf! (Exodus 32:22-24) Rev. Ryan C. Kraus APC

8 Ken Boa writes, It s unbelievable the lengths to which people will go to rationalize their rebellion. I just threw the gold in the fire, and out came this calf! What could I have done? The idea is so preposterous. We want to grab Aaron by the collar and shake him, Do you really expect Moses to buy that? How stupid do you think God is? But before we get too puffed up with righteous indignation, perhaps we should examine some of our own rationalizations. Our excuses probably sound just as lame when they are spoken out loud. But God wants me to be happy. She just wasn t meeting my needs. The Lord helps those who help themselves, doesn t he? Try saying those at the foot of the cross and you ll hear how absurd they sound. The Bible never says God wants you to be happy; he wants you to be holy. He wants you to be like Christ. That may lead to happiness ultimately, but it doesn t work the other way around. The quest for happiness will never lead to a life of holiness, but the quest for holiness leads to a life characterized by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. These come as a byproduct of pursuing God, [seeking to know, and to do God s will] above all else But Samuel replied: Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the Lord? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams. 3 Rev. Ryan C. Kraus APC

9 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 men 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 human being, 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. In the end, Saul s contrition, his plea for forgiveness, comes across as too-little, too-late. Both times Saul that confesses his sin, his very next words attempt to justify his behavior, or minimize the consequences. I m sorry but I was afraid. I m sorry but please don t make me bear my shame in front of everyone. Saul never takes full responsibility for his actions, never admits that his sin against God was just that, his sin, and his the judgment to bear. The finality of Samuel s refusal to accept an apology compels a now desperate Saul to physically restrain the prophet, to keep Samuel from leaving him, and Samuel s robe is torn, Rev. Ryan C. Kraus APC

10 Using it as an object lesson, Samuel declares that God has departed from Saul, taking with him Saul s right to rule over God s people. Saul is rejected as king. We are wise to learn from Saul s experience. God has every right to respond to our rebellion against him, by rejecting us. God is just. And justice is getting what we deserve. What we deserve for playing fast and free with our Creator s commands and ordinances, is exactly what Saul received, for God to leave us to flounder in our own devices. We dare to do things our way at our peril. For God may allow us to do just that, and let us reap what we sow. 32 Then Samuel said, Bring me Agag king of the Amalekites. Agag came to him in chains. And he thought, 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 regretted that he had made Saul king over Israel. In the chapter s final scene, Samuel does what he can to complete the job that Saul left unfinished. Then, in an echo of God s rejection of Saul, Samuel leaves, never to stand again in the presence of Israel s first king. Rev. Ryan C. Kraus APC

11 Eugene Peterson summarizes this violent, dramatic chapter with these words, The picture we get is one of Saul coldly and deviously trimming his obedience to terms that serve his own interests (he never rejects God as such; he continues to be very religious), and of God (and Samuel) experiencing the effects of his sin in regret and grief and sorrow. Saul is treated...as a man who makes deliberate choices calculated to put himself at the center and God on the sidelines. 4 Stepping back from this chapter to consider all that has transpired in I Samuel, we see that all of the characters involved in this narrative Samuel, Saul, Agag and the Amalekites, all share some things in common. All are created beings, subject to God s will. All are also subject to sin, disobedience, brokenness, all suffer from the same spiritual disease with which the entire world is incurably infected. Undeniably, for one reason or another, God is justified in rejecting, or walking away from, or passing judgment on them all. They all deserve it. They all had it coming. The truth is, so do we. The only advantage we have over them, is the knowledge that God has revealed himself not only as a God of justice, but also as a God of mercy and grace. And so, in the end, this story leaves me deeply grateful for the fact that God s choice, in the face of our disobedience, is to satisfy justice not by rejecting us, but rather through the rejection of his own son, Jesus Christ, in his death on the cross. 4 Petersen, 86. Rev. Ryan C. Kraus APC

12 Painfully aware of how minor the differences, and how short the distance, between me and Saul, I give thanks that God, in his ultimate, gracious plan, used Samuel, and Saul, and David, and that long line of broken and disobedient people who followed to bring a Savior into this world. One who, through his own perfect obedience, satisfies the command that I cannot. May this story, may the justice of our holy, and perfect God, encourage us to live more and more by faith, standing as we do today, solely in the grace and love of Jesus Christ, our only hope and our salvation. In his name, and to His glory. Amen. Rev. Ryan C. Kraus APC

13 Regret What does that imply? Appears in vs. 11, 35 For us we could have done better. That if we had taken a different road in the past, made a different decision, things would have gone more to our favor. Is that what it means for God? If every decision God makes is not the best decision, then doesn t that cast doubt on God s ability, make will done. God doesn t change his mind. Way plan unfolds, certainly look that way from where we re standing. Key to this. Keep players, actors in proper roles. God. God. Samuel. Saul. Agag. Created beings, subject to God s will, also subject to sin, disobedience, brokenness, with which entire world is incurably infected. Those outside the Christian faith, look on Bible, church with suspicion, this is fuel for the fire. Those who say Jesus New Testament must be different being altogether from God of the Old this is where they go for evidence. How do we understand this, and uphold integrity of God who is, always was, will forever remain Father, Son, Holy Spirit, eternal and unchanging from the beginning to the end. Orthodox understanding takes different approaches. One, - Amalakites deserved it. Evil. Just evil. Had it coming Rev. Ryan C. Kraus APC

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