1 Samuel 15:1–35, James 3:13–18, Psalm 119:121–136
God’s grace forgives sin and removes the words “impossible to restore” from a Christian’s vocabulary. However, the sad story of Saul is a warning. It points to Jesus Christ as our Redeemer, but also points to our need for obedience.
Saul was headstrong and did not listen to God. I can be like that too, so when I read about his downfall, I am also put on guard against serving God according to my own ideas instead of doing things His way.
Saul was sent by God to totally destroy the Amalekites, but “Saul and the people spared Agag and the best of the sheep and of the oxen and of the fattened calves and the lambs, and all that was good, and would not utterly destroy them. All that was despised and worthless they devoted to destruction.” (1 Samuel 15:9)
This immediately convicts me. It is easy enough to put to death the sins that I find disgusting and worthless. But what about the best, the promising, that which seems worthwhile? If God would let me keep those things, could I not make them profitable? But like Saul was told to destroy everything, God tells me to put all of my old ways to death. I’m not to keep any of it. If I did, I would be fooling myself, just as Saul did.
And Samuel came to Saul, and Saul said to him, “Blessed be you to the Lord. I have performed the commandment of the Lord.” And Samuel said, “What then is this bleating of the sheep in my ears and the lowing of the oxen that I hear?” Saul said, “They have brought them from the Amalekites, for the people spared the best of the sheep and of the oxen to sacrifice to the Lord your God, and the rest we have devoted to destruction.” (1 Samuel 15:13–15)
His response sounds like an outright lie, but I wonder if he actually believed what he told Samuel and thought he was doing the right thing? Such a foolish man. When God says no, walk away, forget it, don’t do it, He is not offering loopholes. He wants total abandonment of my will, not partial. I’m to obey Him, not try keeping some of the “not so bad” stuff.
Samuel’s words to Saul are a rebuke to any “doing the Lord’s work my way” attitude or actions. He said, “Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of divination, and presumption is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, he has also rejected you from being king.” (1 Samuel 15:22–23)
The last line is the result of Saul’s impertinence. He could have been used by God to build the kingdom, but instead opted to do things as he saw fit, not only once but persistently. He eventually died because he would not listen to or obey the Lord.
Today’s NT reading follows up what I am hearing from Saul’s story. James is talking about wisdom, something Saul did not have, and something God promises to all who ask for it (James 1:2-4). Yet these verses tell me the identifying characteristics and the importance of true wisdom. It is too easy for me to think I know what I am doing. My ideas may even appear to be wise, but God digs into motives. What lies behind my actions is more important than how they look . . .
“Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice.” (James 3:13–16)
I can think of many times that my actions were rooted in jealousy and/or selfish ambition. God says this is earthly, unspiritual, even demonic. The results are chaos and evil in the kingdom, regardless of how my actions might appear on the surface. Instead, God’s wisdom is “first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.” (James 3:17)
Thankfully, God does describe how things should be. He gives guidelines in how to live wisely with James’ clear description of godly wisdom.
Many years before James, the psalmist also describes the attitude that produces wise living . . .
“The unfolding of your words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple. I open my mouth and pant, because I long for your commandments. Turn to me and be gracious to me, as is your way with those who love your name. Keep steady my steps according to your promise, and let no iniquity get dominion over me. Redeem me from man’s oppression, that I may keep your precepts. Make your face shine upon your servant, and teach me your statutes. My eyes shed streams of tears, because people do not keep your law.” (Psalm 119:130–136)
This is picky and shows how much we fall short and how much we need Jesus.