My husband and I were reading 1 Samuel 15 where Samuel gave Saul God’s instructions to “go and attack Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and do not spare them. But kill both man and woman, infant and nursing child, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.” Before the prophet gave this order, he said to Saul, “The LORD sent me to anoint you king over His people, over Israel. Now therefore, heed the voice of the words of the LORD.”
Saul was chosen and anointed king of God’s people and was expected to listen to and obey God’s commands. God gave strict instructions to Saul. He was to attack Amalek and to destroy all that belonged to them. He wasn’t to spare anyone–not even women, children or the animals. Everything was to be destroyed. These were simple instructions which the king was supposed to follow to the letter.
Who were the Amalekites and why did God want to destroy them? The Amalekites were nomads who attacked the Hebrews at Rephidim (Exodus 17:8-10) in the desert of Sinai during their exodus from Egypt. They were the first to come into contact with Israel after they left Egypt.
Moses reminded the Israelites of their first contact with these enemies. “Remember what Amalek did to you on the way as you were coming out of Egypt, how he met you on the way and attacked your rear ranks, all the stragglers at your rear, when you were tired and weary; and he did not fear God. Therefore it shall be, when the LORD your God has given you rest from your enemies all around, in the land which the LORD your God is giving you to possess as an inheritance, that you will blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven. You shall not forget” (Deuteronomy 25:17-19).
The Amalekites were hostile to Israel. together with the Ammonites, they assist Eglon of Moab, and (Judges, vi. 3, 33, vii. 12) they aid the Midianites and the children of the East against Israel. Ps. lxxxiii. 7 refers to both occasions. It is on this account that Saul leads an expedition against them (Jewish Encyclopedia).
Saul did lead the expedition and attacked Amalekites, but we read that while he utterly destroyed the destroyed all the people with the edge of the sword, he spared Agag, their king and kept the best of the sheep, the oxen, the fatlings, the lambs, and all that was good, because he and his soldiers were unwilling to utterly destroy them. They destroyed everything they believed was despised and worthless. Did Saul heed the words of God? Did he follow the instructions to the letter? No! He spared the king when he was supposed to kill him along with the rest of the people and he spared the best of the cattle when he was supposed to destroy them as well.
We learned that Saul’s actions grieved God who said to Samuel, “I greatly regret that I have set up Saul as king, for he has turned back from following Me, and has not performed My commandments.” Samuel was also grieved and he went to see Saul the next morning.
When Saul saw Samuel, he greeted him with these words, “Blessedare you of the LORD! I have performed the commandment of the LORD.” I couldn’t believe he said that. He said he performed the commandment of the Lord. If that were the case, how come Samuel was hearing the bleating of the sheep and the lowing of the oxen?
The problem with Saul was that he partially obeyed God’s command. He utterly destroyed the people but spared the king and the good cattle. He did not completely obey God. Obeying God in some things and not in others is unacceptable. When Samuel asked him about the live cattle, Saul’s response was, “They have brought them from the Amalekites; for the people spared the best of the sheep and the oxen, to sacrifice to the LORD your God; and the rest we have utterly destroyed.” Notice he said, “the Lord your God”. Wasn’t the Lord his God too? And did God ask him to make any sacrifices? Saul was not being honest. We read that he and his men were unwilling to destroy the best of the cattle. Their reasons for sparing these animals had nothing to do with God.
You can hear Samuel’s disgust and impatience with this weak and disobedient king. He told him to be quiet and allow him to give him God’s message. Then he told him, “When you were little in your own eyes,were you not head of the tribes of Israel? And did not the LORD anoint you king over Israel? Now the LORD sent you on a mission, and said, ‘Go, and utterly destroy the sinners, the Amalekites, and fight against them until they are consumed.’ Why then did you not obey the voice of the LORD? Why did you swoop down on the spoil, and do evil in the sight of the LORD?”
But Saul insisted that he had obeyed the Lord. He said that he went on the mission which God sent him on and brought back king Agag and utterly destroyed the Amalekites. Then, he doesn’t take accountability where the cattle are concerned and said that “the people took of the plunder, sheep and oxen, the best of the things which should have been utterly destroyed, to sacrifice to the LORD your God in Gilgal.” He was shifting the blame off of himself and unto the people by claiming that they were the ones who decided to spare the cattle instead of destroying them because they wanted to make a sacrifice to God. Again he says “your God”.
At this point Samuel had had enough. He told Saul that God preferred total obedience as opposed to unwanted sacrifices and that he, Saul because of his rebellion, stubbornness and rejection of God’s instructions, was rejected as king. Saul then proceeded to make a confession but it was a weak and ridiculous one. He said, “I have sinned, for I have transgressed the commandment of the LORD and your words, because I feared the people and obeyed their voice.” Now he is saying that it was fear of the people that made him disobey God. What kind of king would fear the people whom he was to rule over and obey them instead of fearing the God who made him king in the first place? He was making things worse for himself. He was basically making the case that he was not fit to be king. Any king who would obey the voice of people rather than the voice of God is not fit to rule.
Saul was a stubborn king who took it upon himself to play God. He decided that he would spare king Agag and plunder the best of the cattle. He was disobedient and when Samuel called him out on this, he made feeble and foolish excuses. He did not take responsibility for his actions but blamed the people instead. He was in charge. He was the one whom God commissioned to destroy the Amalekites and their possessions but he digressed and then when he was confronted, he failed to take responsibility.
God doesn’t want us to partially obey him. He wants total obedience. When Jesus was here, He obeyed the Father completely, even unto death. He did the Father’s will. Saul did not do God’s will. He did not carry out the mission as he was instructed. He probably felt that as he was king, he could do whatever he pleased. As a result of his disobedience, God tore the kingdom of Israel away from him that very day and gave it to David, a man after His own heart.
When God calls you to do something, make sure that you follow all of His instructions. Give Him your total obedience. Remember, obedience is the key to His heart. He requires it more than sacrifice. And a sacrifice has no meaning if it is the result of disobedience. Saul thought that he could appease God and Samuel by claiming that the people had spared the cattle in order to sacrifice them to God but that wasn’t the case. God wanted his obedience not sacrifice. Give God what He asks for not what you think He should have.