Truth AND Consequences

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. Now I beg you, forgive my sin and come back with me, so that I may worship the LORD."
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!"
1 Samuel 15:24-26

Just like that his favor with the Lord was over. That had to come to Saul as a total shock. It's one thing for a man to reject you, but it's something entirely different when the God you worship rejects you as leader.

The things we do in life have consequences. Yes, we can receive forgiveness for those actions, but they still have consequences. If you speed down the highway and get a speeding ticket, that is just the beginning of the natural consequences for your violation of the law. You still have to pay the fine, incur driving points, and pay higher insurance rates for three years. If you plead for mercy on the court, you'll get a smiley face on your ticket for confessing, but you'll still have to pay the penalties for your actions. The consequences for what you've done are still there. Saul realized his sin, confessed it, but the damage was already done to his leadership.

I think it's a solemn reminder to us that we live in a fallen world. Every day we see the consequences of living without God. We see violence, destruction, and chaos. We see broken homes and broken dreams. We see men and women get away with crimes they've committed. God forgives us when we come to him, but we still must make a difference in the world.

And it should be said that righteous actions also have consequences.

Needless Striving

"Stop!" Samuel said to Saul. "Let me tell you what the LORD said to me last night."  "Tell me," Saul replied.
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. 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.' Why did you not obey the LORD ? Why did you pounce on the plunder and do evil in the eyes of the LORD ?"

"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. 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."
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.

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."

1 Samuel 15:16-23

Even when Saul was "busted" with the truth, he tried to reason with Samuel. The Lord had told Saul (through Samuel), "Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys" (1 Samuel 15:3). The people had become so wicked that every living creature was to be put to death. But Saul disobeyed. The Lord was guiding Saul in truth, but he wasn't willing to obey fully.

God didn't want sacrifice; He wanted obedience. How does that apply to us thousands of years removed from Saul?

God's not so interested in what we do for Him. He's terribly concerned about the inner man, about what goes on inside you that no one else knows about. The sacrifice for your sins (and mine) has already been paid. That's the beauty of it all. That's grace, or as many have stated: God's Riches at Christ's Expense.

Keith Green used to sing these words: "My son, My son, why are you striving? You can't add one thing to what's been done." He's right. We need to drill that into our heads often.

What’s That Bleating I Hear?

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."
When Samuel reached him, Saul said, "The LORD bless you! I have carried out the LORD's instructions."
But Samuel said, "What then is this bleating of sheep in my ears? What is this lowing of cattle that I hear?"
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."
1 Samuel 15:12-15

Samuel spent the better part of the night crying out to the Lord and immediately we see the results of that action: wisdom and mild sarcasm wrapped inside of a rebuke. What's interesting, though, is that initially Saul doesn't realize he's done anything wrong. In fact, he seeks to try to justify what he and his men did.

We're not leaders of nations, but we do the same thing. We always want to be right, and it takes some time before we'll admit our mistakes. It's that way for me. I go out of my way to to prove I was right. Often. And sadly.

Again, we need God's strength to recognize truth and to act accordingly and swiftly, even when the evidence is against us being right ("what's that bleating I hear, Saul?").

Prayers and Passions

Then the word of the LORD came to Samuel, saying, "I regret that I have made Saul king, for he has turned back from following Me and has not carried out My commands." And Samuel was distressed and cried out to the LORD all night. 1 Samuel 15:10-11

Because of Saul's disobedience in the previous few verses, the Lord came out with an indictment against Saul, about as strong as you'd ever want to hear from Almighty God. It was distressing even to Samuel. But what was Samuel's response? He cried out to the Lord all night.

What were his prayers like? What did he say to God about Saul? How did he pray? Somewhere along the line, he got some sleep because the next verse stated that he got up to go see Samuel. I suspect that Samuel's prayer focused on seeking God's mercy mainly. He probably sprinkled in some kind of request to give him the right words to say to Saul, then went right back to seeking God.

When's the last time we sought God so diligently, staying up all night to do it? When's the last time we became passionate about God's passions (in Saul's case, it was disobedience)?

And yet, there's another truth we can take from this passage: God was passionate about Saul being obedient to Him. Saul didn't do exactly what God had commanded. And God regretted installing Saul as king. But God is passionate about other things as well. I think he's passionate about truth and justice. He's passionate about drawing men and women to Himself. I think he's passionate about the senseless slaughter of the innocent unborn.

Take a few minutes to ponder other things that God is passionate about. Then pray to ask God to give you that passion as well.

Obedience to the End

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. 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. Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy everything that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.'"

So Saul summoned the men and mustered them at Telaim—two hundred thousand foot soldiers and ten thousand men from Judah. Saul went to the city of Amalek and set an ambush in the ravine. 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.

Then Saul attacked the Amalekites all the way from Havilah to Shur, to the east of Egypt. He took Agag king of the Amalekites alive, and all his people he totally destroyed with the sword. 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. 1 Samuel 15:1-9

Without even reading the rest of this story, we can sense the outcome. The Lord had commanded Saul (through Samuel) to destroy every living creature. Saul saved the stronger animals and the King of Agag. For whatever reason, God wanted the Amalekites completely annihilated essentially for what they did to Israel. (By the way, is this the future of all those who commit atrocious acts against Israel?)

The Lord spoke very clearly to Saul. Saul disobeyed. We may dismiss this and say how could Saul possibly disobey something so clear? I've said it a thousand times: when you point your finger at someone else, you have three pointing right back at you (your own). And often times it's not the large and grandiose things that we're disobedient in, but the little things. More so, it's not a hundred things we're disobedient in, but one or two, and as you read this, you know exactly what they are.

Ask God to give you strength to be obedient when it could cost you.

Discernment of a Leader

Saul's sons were Jonathan, Ishvi and Malki-Shua. The name of his older daughter was Merab, and that of the younger was Michal. His wife's name was Ahinoam daughter of Ahimaaz. The name of the commander of Saul's army was Abner son of Ner, and Ner was Saul's uncle. Saul's father Kish and Abner's father Ner were sons of Abiel. All the days of Saul there was bitter war with the Philistines, and whenever Saul saw a mighty or brave man, he took him into his service. 1 Samuel 14:49-52

Within these few verses we see a fair amount of nepotism going on. Nepotism is when a leader appoints or elevates a family member to a position of authority. It's closely related to favoritism (and the two can be intertwined). We've all seen it. The boss' kid gets favored treatment and immediately gets the Vice President slot so that he can learn the ropes before rising to the Presidency. Often it's implied that the son or daughter doesn't have the skills, but they have the family connections and that's what shot them to the top.

So, in today's reading, the commander of Saul's army was his cousin Abner. I don't know for sure, but Abner was probably put into his position by Saul himself after he assumed the throne. Based on what we've read, we don't know if Abner is a capable commander or a bureaucratic appointee.

But what was interesting to me about these few verses was that Saul noticed mighty or brave men and recruited them. He saw bravery and courage in men. Leaders must be good judge of people. They have to have great discernment because many people will try to seek to get favors from the man at the top.

Pray once again for your nation's leaders. Pray that they will have good discernment in choosing their "underlings." Pray also that those leaders will choose the best qualified person rather than who someone knows or whether he's the son of another leader.

Long Distance Quarterbacking

Saul therefore said, "Come here, all you who are leaders of the army, and let us find out what sin has been committed today. As surely as the LORD who rescues Israel lives, even if it lies with my son Jonathan, he must die." But not one of the men said a word.

Saul then said to all the Israelites, "You stand over there; I and Jonathan my son will stand over here."  "Do what seems best to you," the men replied.

Then Saul prayed to the LORD, the God of Israel, "Give me the right answer." And Jonathan and Saul were taken by lot, and the men were cleared. Saul said, "Cast the lot between me and Jonathan my son." And Jonathan was taken. Then Saul said to Jonathan, "Tell me what you have done."
      So Jonathan told him, "I merely tasted a little honey with the end of my staff. And now must I die?"

Saul said, "May God deal with me, be it ever so severely, if you do not die, Jonathan."

But the men said to Saul, "Should Jonathan die—he who has brought about this great deliverance in Israel? Never! As surely as the LORD lives, not a hair of his head will fall to the ground, for he did this today with God's help." So the men rescued Jonathan, and he was not put to death.

Then Saul stopped pursuing the Philistines, and they withdrew to their own land.

After Saul had assumed rule over Israel, he fought against their enemies on every side: Moab, the Ammonites, Edom, the kings of Zobah, and the Philistines. Wherever he turned, he inflicted punishment on them. He fought valiantly and defeated the Amalekites, delivering Israel from the hands of those who had plundered them. 1 Samuel 14:38-47

Again, we find Saul making an odd promise to Jonathan: you will die, Jonathan, for eating honey when I told all the troops to fast. Fortunately, his men stood up for Jonathan (because as you know, when a king said, "you will die" you would certainly be put to death. He had that much authority). It's hard to know if this was a huge humiliation for Saul or not. I suspect it was because it was at that point that he stopped pursuing the Philistines and withdrew. Later he would fight all of his enemies, but now Saul was content to withdraw.

There always seems to be tension between the "troops on the ground" and those who make huge life or death decisions sitting in comfortable chairs in stress-free situations (not saying that Saul was in such a situation but he was removed from the battle somewhat). This doesn't just apply to military but to companies as well. Those who are on the floor making the product have a very different viewpoint from those who sit in day-long meetings trying to manage those on the floor. If you've ever been "on the floor" you know exactly what I'm talking about. And yet, when you're in that situation, it's difficult to implement what you consider wrongheaded decisions.

Please pray for the men and women in the Coalition Forces in Iraq and Afghanistan who must make split-second, life or death decisions based on very little information. Pray that they will be able to cope with what they consider to be wrongheaded decisions in the heat of the battle. Pray that their leaders in the field and in the command posts throughout the world will be wise enough to ask the "troops" the best local tactics to use in situations.

God Did Not Answer Him

That day, after the Israelites had struck down the Philistines from Micmash to Aijalon, they were exhausted. They pounced on the plunder and, taking sheep, cattle and calves, they butchered them on the ground and ate them, together with the blood. Then someone said to Saul, "Look, the men are sinning against the LORD by eating meat that has blood in it."
      "You have broken faith," he said. "Roll a large stone over here at once." Then he said, "Go out among the men and tell them, 'Each of you bring me your cattle and sheep, and slaughter them here and eat them. Do not sin against the LORD by eating meat with blood still in it.' "
      So everyone brought his ox that night and slaughtered it there. Then Saul built an altar to the LORD; it was the first time he had done this.

Saul said, "Let us go down after the Philistines by night and plunder them till dawn, and let us not leave one of them alive."
      "Do whatever seems best to you," they replied. But the priest said, "Let us inquire of God here."

So Saul asked God, "Shall I go down after the Philistines? Will you give them into Israel's hand?" But God did not answer him that day. 1 Samuel 14:31-37

You have to admit, there are some odd occurences in the Old Testament. This passage is one of them. The Israelites routed the Philistines. Someone told Saul that the men had eaten the meat and the blood. Then Saul built an altar to the Lord. Next when Saul is speaking to the Lord, the Bible says that "God did not answer him that day" even after Saul had built an altar to the Lord.

It's an odd passage because it seems disjointed. At first it seems as though Saul's men and Saul are in two completely different armies. Then it appears that Saul is trying to make amends with the Lord for the sins of his men. He offers a sacrifice, but hears nothing from God. It's not really clear what the silence from God means. Is God angry with Saul? Is He angry with Saul's men? What does the silence mean? We don't know.

What about us? When we try to hear God's voice and His will for our lives, and He is silent, what does it mean? Does it have to mean anything? You see, sometimes we think that God must be speaking to us all the time about stuff. And often we think that we've got to blurt out everything to God. Sometimes you just need to be comfortable sitting in silence in the presence of one another. Nobody needs to say a word. It's a healthy silence, one that we experience often in our relationships with others.

Not Far

Now the men of Israel were in distress that day, because Saul had bound the people under an oath, saying, "Cursed be any man who eats food before evening comes, before I have avenged myself on my enemies!" So none of the troops tasted food.

The entire army entered the woods, and there was honey on the ground. When they went into the woods, they saw the honey oozing out, yet no one put his hand to his mouth, because they feared the oath. But Jonathan had not heard that his father had bound the people with the oath, so he reached out the end of the staff that was in his hand and dipped it into the honeycomb. He raised his hand to his mouth, and his eyes brightened. Then one of the soldiers told him, "Your father bound the army under a strict oath, saying, 'Cursed be any man who eats food today!' That is why the men are faint."

Jonathan said, "My father has made trouble for the country. See how my eyes brightened when I tasted a little of this honey. How much better it would have been if the men had eaten today some of the plunder they took from their enemies. Would not the slaughter of the Philistines have been even greater?"
1 Samuel 14:24-30

The Old Testament has some very interesting examples of oaths and promises. This oath was that any man would be accursed if he ate before Saul avenged his enemies. Jonathan is oblivious to the oath until one of the soldiers tells him about it. So what's Jonathan's response? In essense he says, "My father doesn't know what he's talking about. We're in battle. We need our strength. Eat up while you can, Boys!"

So now the troops must have been conflicted. On the one hand, the Saul the Father told them to do one thing - and it was under an oath. On the other, the Jonathan the Son, who happens to be the immediate commander, remanded the oath and pursuades the men that eating would give them strength. Who do the men immediately under Jonathan's authority obey. Disobedience to either is a "life or death" issue for them.

Pray for the military in your country. They have difficult and thankless jobs. Many are required to live and operate in war zones and must obey orders in the heat of battle. Obeying orders in peacetime is not always easy; war multipies those difficulties. Pray that many will seek and find God, for He is not far from each of us.