I’m currently reading 1 Samuel, which tells the story of Israel’s desire for a king, so they could be like the other nations. God intended to be their king, and warned of the dangers of earthly Kings who become corrupted by power. But, Israel wanted a “real” king.
That’s how God is. He offers us what is best, allows us the freedom to make our choices, and then we get to live with the consequences of our choices.
A man named Saul was the first king of Israel. Saul started ok. He looked like a king. He acted like a king. The people were pleased. But, by 1 Samuel 15, Saul’s failings became evident.
God had ordered Saul to lead an army to utterly annihilate the people known as Amalekites, saying, “…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.” Nothing was to be spared – human, animal, or object. By following God’s order, the Amalekites would cease to exist.
Let me pause here. I don’t know what to do with passages like this. As devoted as I am to God – as sure as I am about the goodness of God’s character – I struggle with passages like these. I know the theological explanations and rationalizations. Nevertheless, I can’t read something like this without wondering why and how the God I know could order something that seems so wrong and heinous.
Acknowledging that this is a stumbling block for many, let’s just accept it for the moment (even though that’s hard), and move on with the story…
Saul and the Israelite army attacked and destroyed the Amalekites. But, rather than destroying everyone and everything, Saul spared the Amalehite king and some of the best of his livestock. Later, when confronted with his disobedience, Saul rationalized his actions saying, “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” (vs. 3). In other words, my soldiers did it! And, it’s ok because we sacrificed the best of what we took as an offering to God – or, at least, we’re planning to.
Rationalization: attempting to justify wrong behavior with a logical, though erroneous, argument.
Bottom line – Saul didn’t do what Saul was supposed to do. And, arrogance was likely the cause. “I’m the king – I get to do what I want.”
The prophet Samuel corrected Saul saying,“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. For rebellion is like the sin of divination, and arrogance like the evil of idolatry” (vs. 22-23).
Obedience is better than sacrifice. Arrogance is like idolatry.
I can’t help but notice that Saul did 99% of what God commanded him to do. But, when confronted with his error, he scrambled to justify his actions. What if he had just said, “I messed up. I fell short. I gave in to pressure and temptation. I’m sorry”?
It says in verse 26, “You have rejected the word of the Lord, and the Lord has rejected you as king over Israel!”
I can’t help but wonder…
How often do I fall short of God’s commands?
How often do I rationalize my many disobediences – even the small ones?
After all, I’m a pastor. I do stuff for God all of the time. I get to do what I want, right?
Lord, have mercy.