You’ve Gotta Have Heart

I. The Context –The narrative does not give a clear chronology moving from 10:8 through 11:14, 15, to the point of 13:7. 8. What is clear however, is that the writer intended to give a selection of events that would demonstrate several conflicting aspects of the personality and gifts of Saul.

A. Saul , by a special operation of the Spirit, had been given gifts by the Spirit of God for utterance and for aggressive leadership. (10:6, 7). In the strength and insight of that gifting, Saul was to “Do what your hand finds to do for God is with you.” Even as Paul indicated in 1 Corinthians 12-14, external gifts from the Spirit are only functional and do not change the heart. We are so prone to profanation of all spiritual things and to self-centered use of al blessings, that only an effectual internal operation of the Spirit of truth on the human heart can make us truly repentant, worshipping beings. This is one of the major truths to be illustrated in this lesson.

B. After the labors of his initial military responsibilities (“what your hand finds to do”) as king, Saul was to go to Gilgal and wait seven days for Samuel to offer a sacrifice.

C. When asked by his uncle, Saul told his uncle only part of what Samuel had told him. Then from Mizpah, Samuel revealed the selection of Saul as king.  (10:17-24) Samuel also wrote out the duties and powers of the kings for Israel to know. Some of the men of Israel resented Saul’s selection and would not consent to his rule.

D. Saul musters troops in a show of determined leadership, moved by the Spirit of God, against the Ammonites and routes them thoroughly. (11:1-11)

E. The people called for vengeance on those not willing to support Saul as king, but Saul, in a show of magnanimity, refused to take  vengeance for “The Lord has worked salvation in Israel.”

F. In light of the newly found unity among the people, Samuel called them to gather at Gilgal for a celebration of the victory and a renewal of the kingship.

G. Chapter 12 records the speech of Samuel on their sinfulness in requesting a king.

H. Chapter 13 recorded the arising of the Philistines and an initial victory by Jonathan. This led to a more aggressive posturing of the Philistines and a call to the Israelites to gather with Saul at Gilgal.  It seems that this was the event to which Samuel had reference in 10:8.

1. As Saul waited for the coming of Samuel, the army began to panic at the daunting task before them, for they had nothing that would match the armory of the Philistines (13:19-23). “On the day of the battles there was neither sword nor spear found in the hand of any of the people with Saul” (13:22). Only Saul and Jonathan had weapons.

2.  Saul himself decided to offer the burnt offering and peace offering. After the burnt offering, Samuel arrived and confronted Saul on his action. Saul appealed to Samuel on the basis of the need for the Lord’s intervention since the people were fearful and some were leaving. Samuel considered the presumptuous and foolish.

3. Samuel told Saul that the kingdom would be taken from him and given to one after God’s own heart.

4. Saul, after Samuel left him, gathered a small army. As he was waiting, (hopefully strategizing), Jonathan secretly left the camp, attacked a Philistine garrison and wrought such confusion that the entire Philistine army panicked and turned on one another.  Saul heard and promptly went to the attack joined by the fearful who had hid themselves as well as some Hebrews who had joined the army of the Philistines. (14:20-23)

5. In order thoroughly to defeat the Philistines, Saul imposed a no eating rule on the entire army until a complete rout was accomplished. God gave complete victory even though the Israelites had no swords. The rule of “no eating,” however, had several repercussions harmful to Soul’s leadership.

Such great hunger overwhelmed the army that at a point of interlude in the fighting, they killed animals taken in spoil and ate the meat with the blood still in it, a violation of ceremonial law. Saul had them bring animals to a place where they slaughtered them and drained the blood before they ate.

When Saul inquired of God as to whether they should pursue the Philistines further so as not to “leave a man of them,” he received no answer. Concluding that his imposed fast had been violated prior to the rout of the Philistines, he required a test to see who had done it.

The test exposed Jonathan as the violator. He had not been present when the mandate was given and had eaten honey. When told of the command, Jonathan had responded, “My father has troubled the land” and surmised that, had the men been allowed to eat, the slaughter of the Philistines would have been complete. Now, however, his father is about to kill him for his violation of an unreasonable and debilitating mandate of which he was unaware.

The soldiers intervened and refused to allow Saul to kill Jonathan, for they recognized that God gave them victory through the brave action of Jonathan. At this rebuke from his own army, Saul gave up his pursuit of the Philistines (14:43-46).

II. Samuel’s Command – 15:1-3

A. Samuel premised his command on the fact that the Lord sent Samuel to anoint Saul over his people. Now he sent him to give instruction for an action that was for the protection of his people, to take vengeance for wrongs committed against them, and to bring a final earthly judgment on a people whose sins had become full (15:18).

B. Samuel reminded Saul of the opposition presented by the Amalekites to Israel (Exodus 17) when Aaron and Hur held up the hands of Moses. Exodus 17:14 said, “I will utterly put out the remembrance of Amalek from under the heaven” (Exodus 17:14).

C. In no uncertain terms, Samuel instructed Saul to devote to destruction everything about the Amalekites. Nothing should remain that would be a memorial to them at all. All the people, men and women, children and infants, all livestock, and all their other possessions were to be utterly destroyed.

1. God has the prerogative to do with any part of his creation as he sees fit, and especially does he manifest his holiness in dealing uncompromisingly with sin.  The flood had been one demonstration of this and the final consignment to hell of all who are not justified by the grace of the gospel is the final one. History is punctuated with other manifestations of this thorough judgment. God was through with the Amalekites, their sin was full, and nothing of them was to be left on the earth.

2. In order to insure the purity of the nation through whom Messiah would come, God commanded such protective measures. For the protection of the nation these acts of physical discipline were necessary. Under the new covenant, when the people no longer are a national entity, the spiritual nation of the church, composed of local assemblies, protects its purity through maintaining a regenerate church membership. Only believers should be baptized and received into membership, all members should be instructed in holiness through the word of God for the formation of Christ in them, and those who give evidence that spiritual life is unimportant to them (through continual absence from the stated meetings of the church, through worldly life styles, or through egregious sins) are to be put out of the body until such discipline results in repentance.

III. Saul’s Partial Execution – 15:4-9

A. Saul mustered a sizable army. He allowed the Kenites who had been kind to Israel to leave. He gained complete victory over the Amalekites, destroying all the people “with the edge of the sword,” and killing all of the animals that were “despised and worthless.

B. He took captive the king, Agag, but did not kill him, and took as spoil all the best of the animals.

C. Obviously, Saul felt this was a reasonable alternative to the command of God. Perhaps the sparing of Agag was a favor to a “peer.” Ostensibly, the taking of the animals was that sacrifice might be offered to the Lord.

D. Agag was not a peer, however, for God was the true king of Israel and he had commanded the death of this treacherous, idolatrous, haughty, cruel warmonger (15:33). If sacrifice was to be offered it should not be from the herds of the Amalekites but from the possessions of the Israelites. The sacrifice God had commanded was utter destruction. More probable as a motive than reserving the best for sacrifice was the covetous spirit.

IV. Samuel’s resolution – 15:10-35

A. Disobedience Revealed – 10-16

1. God revealed it to Samuel.  The Lord’s displeasure with Saul is expressed in strong terms of human emotion, “I regret”- “It repenteth me” (KJV). Similar language is used in Genesis 6 with the additional phrase, “it grieved him at his heart.” This is called “anthropopassive” language, putting in terms of human emotions the moral posture of God toward human sin. This shows the depth of the opposition that God’s nature has toward human sin and evil in general. This is a settled disposition in God and always will be related to a variety of evil things in perfectly proportioned stances.

2. Samuel responded with anger and deep sorrow, and implored the Lord to direct his subsequent actions.

3. Samuel went to Gilgal and met Saul. Saul’s demeanor was of one who feigned a piety completely at odds with the reality of the situation. He gave Samuel a blessing and reported that he had carried out the Lord’s instructions. Samuel observed that the bleating of sheep and the lowing of cattle contradicted the claim. So it is with us when we seek to cover sin with external impressions of piety and spirituality while harboring habits or a lifestyle of disobedience, unholiness, and a self-serving attitude.

4. As Saul sought to give a spiritual justification for his actions (“to sacrifice to the Lord”) and appealed to his partial obedience as an explanation for this obvious contradiction of God’s commands, Samuel stopped him with a message for Saul revealed by God.

B. Disobedience Defended – 17-21

1. Samuel reiterated the position of leadership into which God had thrust Saul and reminded him of the specific instruction given him in his mission against the Amalekites. He made clear that Saul did “not obey the voice of the Lord” but had eagerly maintained spoil that had been designated as “devoted to the Lord.” Not only had Saul disobeyed but he thought that claiming as his own what God had claimed as his own was perfectly justifiable if he could reason from the standpoint of a false piety.

2. Amazingly, Saul, even in the face of the direct assertion of the prophet of God to the contrary, Saul claimed to have completed the mission God gave him even while defending the specific elements of the incomplete task. Only the king remained alive of the Amalekites, a perfectly reasonable exception to the command in Saul’s mind. The people of Israel took the spoil of the sheep and oxen etc. to “sacrifice to the Lord your God in Gilgal.” This subtle use of language, “your God,” probably indicates some resentment of the Lord’s requirements of him and a recognition, without repentance, of his own hypocrisy.

C. Disobedience Reprimanded – 22, 23

1. Samuel set the reality of obedience as a moral constant in opposition to sacrifice as a merely temporary aspect of worship. Though God gave the requirement of the sacrificial system to emphasize the necessity of death by sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins, and specified many different kinds of sacrifices that would be a sweet-smelling savour to him, these sacrifices God had not commanded. When given as a substitute for obedience, they were reprehensible. When we substitute our own opinions and devices of worship for those that God had commanded we step into the mode of Saul’s piety.

2.  Saul had made an idol of his own opinion, had sought God in a way unwarranted by God and in opposition to his purpose. As already stated in Saul’s earlier presumptuous action, God would take the kingship from Saul and his house.

D.  The Disobedient king humiliated – 24 -31

1. Now in a panic, Saul sought repentance and wanted to regain the favor of God. This does not appear to be motivated by a true sense of his own sins and its offense against God, but by the possible humiliation Samuel’s demeanor will bring him. “Honor me now before the elder of the people.” Samuel clearly told Saul, however, that God’s decree on this matter would not be changed (15:29).

2.  Saul felt such a horror at being deserted by Samuel, that he grabbed his robe with such vigor that it tore. This was used as another symbol of the reality of the kingdom being ripped from Saul and given to another (27, 28). Saul was more concerned about the presence of Samuel as a symbol of his personal honor than he was about the reality of his offense and iniquity committed against the honor of God.

3. Samuel consented to return with him and Saul bowed before the Lord as if his worship were pure and acceptable to God.

E. A Sign of disobedience destroyed.

1. Samuel called for Agag to be brought to him. Being completely oblivious to the serious nature of his own crimes or the holy purposes of Yahweh, the only true God, Agag came “cheerfully.” Cheerfulness was never met with such a contradiction.

2. Samuel hacked him to pieces “before the Lord,” that is, as a matter pleasing to the Lord in light of his clear command. What was done with the animals, we are not told, but the moral agent in the history of the crimes of the Amalekites had now been dealt a just execution according to the will of God.

3. Samuel and Saul went their separate ways never to se each other again. Samuel grieved over Saul. The Lord “regretted” that he had made Saul king. There is no indication that Saul ever was brought to a true repentance, only a series of regrets and laments brought on by natural conscience trained by the revealed words of the Pentateuch, the book of Joshua, and the words and works of Samuel.

4. “Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation?” (Hebrews 2:1-3).

Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
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