We will begin in 1 Samuel 8 this morning but will peruse several passages as we move through the message.
God was Israel’s King, and judges were given by God to help rule over them. Yet the judges weren’t good enough for Israel. God as their “King” wasn’t enough for Israel. They started asking the prophet/judge Samuel to anoint a king to rule over them. It’s not that they thought a king could help them follow God more clearly, but they desired to look like the other nations around them who were ruled by a king. Saul became the first king in Israel.
It was a dark time in Israel. Scripture says, “Everyone did what was right in their own eyes” (Judges 17:6). That means they made decisions about life based on their feelings and desires. How did that work out for them? How does it work out for us today? I think the Scripture from Judges here is pretty descriptive of the times in which we live.
It wasn’t necessarily bad that Israel wanted a king. In Genesis 49:10, God had made provision for Israel to have a king one day. He anticipated their desire to have a leader they could touch and talk to face to face. Wanting a king wasn’t the problem. The problem was with the reason why they wanted one.
1 Samuel 8:4-5-4 So all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah. 5 They said to him, “You are old, and your sons do not walk in your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have.”
How often is that our argument regarding something we want, especially when it is outside of God’s will for our lives? We want to be like everyone else. We want to be like others around us. The last I read, God’s people were supposed to be different from everyone else. We are the “called out” ones, the ones who live counter-culture, the Jesus people who follow the ways of Christ which are about as opposite to the ways of this world as they could be. What is that pull? Wanting to be like everyone else? What is that attraction? Wanting to blend in? Is our worth and value dependent on what other people think or on some fleshly feel-good experience the world is consuming or has it been determined by the precious blood of Jesus shed on the cross to forgive us of sin and to grant us new life in Christ? Just sayin’. J
We read in verses 12-20 that Samuel knew it was going to be downhill from there. The Israelites were rejecting God. Listen, the minute you decide you want to be like everyone else you have just turned your back on God. Samuel knew they were going to be heading the wrong direction. He knew the grass wasn’t going to be greener with an earthly king. He told them things were going to get so bad with a king in place that they would be crying out to God to relieve them from the king.
Look at verses 19 and 20: 19 But the people refused to listen to Samuel. “No!” they said. “We want a king over us. 20 Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.”
Fight their battles? Hadn’t God always gone before them to fight their battles? Samuel was grieved. 1 Samuel 8:7 7 And the LORD told him: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. When you reject God it doesn’t matter who is leading you. It’s not going to work.
God told Samuel to grant the people’s request. Sometimes God’s greatest judgment is giving us what we ask for! God was going to use the negative experience with Saul as king to teach them what they didn’t want and prepare them for God’s choice for king, who was David.
In I Samuel 12, Samuel gave his farewell speech as the last of the judges, and he reminded the people that they were the ones, not God who chose Saul to be king. Look at verse 13. “Now here is the king you have chosen, the one you asked for; see, the LORD has set a king over you.” He basically was saying, “You asked for it, you got it.”
Look at verse 14. 14 If you fear the LORD and serve and obey him and do not rebel against his commands, and if both you and the king who reigns over you follow the LORD your God–good! 15 But if you do not obey the LORD, and if you rebel against his commands, his hand will be against you, as it was against your fathers.
There were some conditions and a promise God set regarding Israel having Saul as king. Samuel wanted to remind the people that it was God they all were to be following and not a king. Following God means letting Him take care of us and our needs with His solutions and not ours. We don’t decide what is best in each situation. We let God decide because situations don’t dictate what we need to do or be about when we follow God. We don’t let the situation speak to us. We let God speak us, and then we conform to His standard in every situation no matter what.
So the nation of Israel was seeking a king with the wrong motives and they were seeking the wrong kind of king as well. The king they got was the kind of king who compromised his character and commitment to lead God’s people as he let his feelings and personal desires inform him what do to in situations rather than inquire of God.
I Samuel 9:1-2 tells us Saul was from a wealthy and powerful family. They had real estate and servants. He was apparently very tall, good looking and strong. From the world’s standpoint, he had the makings of an awesome king.
People were impressed with his resume and his looks, but God saw his heart. Well, the prophet Samuel anointed Saul King in I Samuel 10. He gave Saul specific instructions which included these words in verse 8: “Go down ahead of me to Gilgal. I will surely come down to you to sacrifice burnt offerings and fellowship offerings, but you must wait seven days until I come to you and tell you what you are to do.”
I Samuel 13 tells us that Saul went to Gilgal alright, but he didn’t wait on Samuel, the appointed priest, to offer the sacrifices. The Philistine army was getting ready to attack the Israelites and verse 7 says that some of Saul’s army were quaking with fear. He waited until the 7th day and as his men grew more afraid of the Philistine army, some of them began to desert Saul. So, Saul started to panic and went ahead and offered the sacrifices himself. He thought the situation called for he, himself to take charge, and just as he was finishing offering the sacred sacrifices Samuel arrived.
We pick up the story in verse 11:11 “What have you done?” asked Samuel. Saul replied, “When I saw that the men were scattering, and that you did not come at the set time, and that the Philistines were assembling at Micmash, 12 I thought, ‘Now the Philistines will come down against me at Gilgal, and I have not sought the LORD’s favor.’ So I felt compelled to offer the burnt offering.” 13 “You acted foolishly,” Samuel said. “You have not kept the command the LORD your God gave you; if you had, he would have established your kingdom over Israel for all time. 14 But now your kingdom will not endure; the LORD has sought out a man after his own heart and appointed him leader of his people, because you have not kept the LORD’s command.”
Saul had gone ahead and offered the sacrifices himself. He justified his actions by saying he felt he had to go ahead because his men were scattering. It wasn’t his place to offer the sacrifices. He usurped the priestly role and offered a burnt offering to unite the people and prepare for war. It was a classic example of “situational ethics.” Saul justified his actions because he believed the situation warranted ignoring God’s explicit instructions. Even when confronted, Saul didn’t admit his guilt or confess his sin. He didn’t express any remorse. That’s not the kind of person God’s Spirit can lead.
What was the consequence in verse 14? God would start the process of looking for a new king, one who was a man after God’s own heart.
In a war with the Philistines we see how his heart wasn’t devoted to really seeking God.
In I Samuel 14:1-14 we read about Saul’s son, Jonathan, who had great courage and faith. Jonathan slipped out of the Israelite camp and he and his armor bearer snuck over to the Philistine camp where they basically wound up slaying 20 men which was a great victory. Following this great victory the Philistines were terribly afraid. Seeing the enemy army had gone into a panic, Saul knew something had happened to scare them, and he asked who was missing from the Israelite ranks. He found out it was his son, Jonathan that had done this courageous thing and won this great battle.
Well, Saul started to consult the priest to see what God might want them to do, but he heard the confusion in the Philistine camp starting to ramp up. Saul thought, “Forget this . . . Forget inquiring of God! Let’s go get while the gettin’s good!” While they Philistines are in confusion, let’s attack. Once again, Saul made his own decision without valuing God’s leading. It felt right to Saul. It seemed like what the situation would call for.
Saul made a crazy request of his soldiers as they went into battle. He told them in 14:24 not to eat until the battle was over and cursed anyone who did. Why do you think Saul required his soldiers refrain from eating? He was more focused on the victory than he was the health and well-being of his soldiers. He didn’t want them to stop to eat. No time could be wasted. Verses 28-32 tell us what a bad and ridiculous decision that was.
- The men were faint.
- Jonathan accused his father of making trouble for the Israelites.
- The victory was minimized.
- His son Jonathan didn’t get the memo! He ate some honey. Jonathan’s life was now in jeopardy because he had eaten some honey.
When you make decisions based on your feelings without seeking God’s will and considering the needs of others it will always be disastrous.
Look at 1 Samuel 14:36 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.”
It was the priest, not Saul, who wanted to talk to God about it. Well, Saul was put on the spot in front of his men. He was forced to seek God since everyone was watching! Listen, seeking God should never be an afterthought.
Saul sought God, but God was silent. That forced Saul to look for sin in the camp. The silence was a signal that something was wrong. That’s when he found out about Jonathan’s snack during the battle.
In verse 44 impulsive Saul called down a curse on himself if he didn’t kill his son. Jonathan hadn’t done anything in violation of God’s law that warranted a death sentence. Jonathan had acted in innocence and hunger! It was his father’s pride, not God’s righteousness that needed to be satisfied. The other soldiers took up for Jonathan and rescued him from being killed by his own father!
When you are in a leadership position and you feel a great responsibility for the success of a team or a department or a business or a ministry, it can become tempting to do what you think will lead to victory without asking God what He desires. It is far more important than we obey God than anything else.
Fast forward several years to I Samuel 15. The Amalekites were the most savage and inhumane of all of the Canaanites. While the Israelites were journeying in the wilderness, they attacked the Israelites from behind and killed the weak and elderly stragglers. Children were among their victims. God never forgot their wickedness. He put Saul in charge of destroying them. Israel was to totally take them out. Even their animals and possessions were to be destroyed.
Well, Saul went to battle against them and won, but he didn’t do what God had told him to do. He kept the most valuable spoils of war rather than destroying everything, and he let the Amalekite king live so he could bring him home as some kind of victory trophy. I mean, he had won a major victory. Should he have nothing to show for it? It all seemed good and reasonable to Saul even though it violated what God had commanded. Saul was so proud of himself he built a monument in his own honor (15:12). Really? How special!
He then lied to the prophet Samuel, telling him he had done everything God had commanded. Samuel knew he was lying like a rug J. He gave Saul an opportunity to repent by asking about the animal noises that were in the background. If Saul was supposed to have killed all of the livestock of the Amelekites why was Samuel hearing “Baaaaaah!” and “Mooooo!” in the background? (14)
Here is what Saul said in response to why he didn’t do what God had told him to do. Are you ready for this?
1 Samuel 15:15 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.”
1 Samuel 15:20-21 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.”:
He blamed the soldiers and had great self-delusions about the level of his obedience.
Samuel wasn’t going to let Saul wiggle off the hook.
1 Samuel 15:22-23 22 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. 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.”
God didn’t want animals saved for the sacrifice. He wanted Saul to obey him. The end of verse nine tells the story. They were UNWILLING to do ask God had asked. They saw value in or placed value on things God said weren’t to be valued, but destroyed. But those animals seemed like choice animals to Saul. They weren’t to God. Those animals had been so tainted by the Amalekites’ sin that they had to be destroyed. They would never have been acceptable to God for sacrifice. The things used in sacrifice were supposed to be without blemish.
When we disobey God, we make an idol of ourselves. We elevate what we think is best over what God says is best. Samuel told Saul in verse 26 that he had officially been rejected by God as king.
Verse 30 is telling. 1 Samuel 15:30 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.” Saul didn’t want to please God. He just wanted off the hook. He didn’t want to look bad in front of his people. At this point he wasn’t even claiming God was his God. He told Samuel he wanted them to travel back together so that he could worship not his own God, but Samuel’s God.
What? It is a slippery slope. Once we let our emotions, our fear, our anxiety, our desire to win something, lead us instead of God’s Word, and we decide to do what we think is best without consulting God, it takes us to a place where we are in direct violation of God’s commands, and we will lie or do anything to try to cover it up including throwing other people under the bus. And when we are more concerned with what the crowd thinks that what God thinks we are in deep trouble.
Brothers and sisters, we can never learn to lead until we learn how to follow.
Every one of us is a leader in some setting. We are parents over children. We are employees with responsibilities. We are leaders of ministries. We are examples to nieces, nephews and grandchildren. We will never learn to rightly lead until we learn how to follow God.
“Everyone did what was right in their own eyes” (Judges 17:6). That is how Saul governed God’s people. That is how Saul led his personal life, and it led to God rejecting him.
When I was growing up and became a young adult it seemed the emphasis was on individualism and individual expression. “Be yourself.” March to the beat of a different drummer. It sounds good, even godly. I mean, God created each one of us as individuals. He has a specific plan for each of our lives. We were created to do something no one else could do. Ok. However, from there we have gone from being individuals who seek God’s wisdom for our individual lives to becoming individuals who think we know what is best for our lives. There may be consideration for what God has to say, we may value His opinion on some level, but in many cases we have elevated our opinion, our wisdom, and our desires over what He says about our lives. And here is the problem with the philosophy that everyone should do what is right in their own eyes: Everyone can’t be right. It is impossible that if you live your life one way, and I live my life in a completely different way when it comes to obeying God and His Word and desires that both of us are living “right” before Him. I’m not saying everyone doesn’t have the “right” to live the way they want, but what I am saying is that living the way you want, doing what is right in your own eyes, doesn’t make you right with God.
There is a standard for truth and righteousness, and it doesn’t change from situation to situation. It doesn’t evolve with the culture. God has set the standard, and the only way for us to live in harmony with Him and in true peace with each other is for us to submit, obey, and follow Him completely. When people do what is right in their own eyes, economies collapse. When people do what is right in their own eyes, genocides take place. When people do what is right in their own eyes, marriages are destroyed. When people do what is right in their own eyes, sexually transmitted diseases are discovered. When people do what is right in their own eyes, babies are aborted. When people do what is right in their own eyes, people are violated, and trafficked, enslaved, and abused. When people do what is right in their own eyes, children grow up with a warped sense of who they are and what they are worth.
God is calling us away from impulsive, selfish, earthly, fleshly, lustful, greedy living. He is calling us to move away from doing what is right in our own eyes and is asking for His people, His church, the blood-bought redeemed children of God to once again treasure and value and seek out with passion obedience to His standards and obedience the way of life that is right in God’s eyes.