Our hearing and obedience of the Word of God is always put to the test. For King Saul this was no different. No sooner had he been made king when along came some tough situations calling for clear decision making. How would he react? In whom would he trust? Who would he go to for advice if he was in doubt? Saul failed the first test of his obedience to God. The scene is set in 1 Samuel 10:8 where Saul is given some clear instructions by Samuel, “And thou shalt go down before me to Gilgal; and, behold, I will come down unto thee, to offer burnt offerings, and to sacrifice sacrifices of peace offerings: seven days shalt thou tarry, till I come to thee, and show thee what thou shalt do.” Yet we read that he went ahead and offered the sacrifices and did not wait for Samuel to arrive (13:7–13). Saul’s faith and trust was put to the test. Put yourself in Saul’s shoes. A massive Philistine offensive is building. They are about to attack at any moment. His men are deserting him left, right and centre. He is afraid and beside himself without Samuel. All he can do is wait, pray and prepare. But he does the one thing he should not have done. He offers the sacrifice himself and in doing so breaks the clear instruction of Samuel and fails a test of his faith.

Sometimes the obedience God requires of us is to wait and be patient under duress and to pray. God will bring the salvation we hope for. Saul failed in the clear instructions Samuel had given him and as a result he is told the kingdom will be taken from him and given to another (v13–14). Think about this. Saul is told his Kingship will not continue. How could he respond to such a prophecy? At this point, Saul had two choices. He could accept Samuel’s rebuke and determine to learn and grow from this experience, and become a better servant in whatever capacity God would have him serve or he could become a self-absorbed and bitter man consumed with his own destiny. We also have two choices to make in our lives as we face disappointment or discipline at the hands of God. We can determine to love God and His people more or we can become self-absorbed and bitter.

Our God is a God of second, third, fourth … chances!

As we turn to 1 Samuel 15:1 we read, “Samuel also said unto Saul, The Lord sent me to anoint thee [to be] king over his people, over Israel: now therefore hearken thou unto the voice of the words of the LORD.” Note, Saul is still king of Israel. Samuel comes to him again and reaffirms that he is the one God has chosen and anointed. God is going to give Saul another opportunity to serve Him. This is an example of how God’s mercy is renewed every morning! There will be another opportunity for him to obey God and make spiritual progress after failure. Samuel tells Saul to ‘listen now, hearken to the Word of the Lord’ and to ‘walk worthy of your calling’. Saul is given the mission to attack the Amalekites and utterly destroy them. He is told God has “remember(ed) that which Amalek did to Israel”. Moses records the decree of the Lord, “for I will utterly put out the remembrances of Amalek from under heaven” (Exod 17:14–16) and Moses built an altar as a memorial to this fact. In Deuteronomy 25:17–19 we are reminded that it was because Amalek, “smote the hindmost [of the Israelites], even all that were feeble … when thou wast faint and weary; and he feared not God.” The Amalekites were the descendents of Esau and from that time on they had been bent on Israel’s destruction.

Utterly destroy!

Saul is told to go and “utterly destroy” these people. “Utterly destroy” means to “totally devote”. It is the term applied to things entirely devoted to God for destruction. God made an irrevocable vow to “blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven”. The Law said, “no devoted thing, that a man shall devote unto the Lord of all that he hath, both of man and beast … shall be sold or redeemed: every devoted thing is most holy unto the Lord” (Lev 27:28). On entry into the promised land the city of Jericho was totally devoted to God, and as such to be completely destroyed – except for faithful Rahab and her family, because of her kindness to God’s people. Note also the Kenites, descendants of Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, were spared by Saul because of their kindness to God’s people (1 Sam 15:6). This is in keeping with, “I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee.”

In a sense the mission of Saul to utterly destroy Amalek is also our mission. Moses said, “Because the Lord hath sworn that the Lord will have war with Amalek from generation to generation” (Exod 17:16). God has called all His people to crucify ‘the old man of the flesh’ each day, that the “body of sin might be destroyed”. We must be “dead to sin” and make no provision for the flesh. We are called to the same war. That is the seed of the serpent versus the seed of the woman, the war of light over darkness, of righteousness over sin, Spirit over the flesh and the Kingdom of God over the kingdom of men.

From the heart of all men proceeds evil and sin. Left to ourselves and without the glorious light of the gospel we would only be fit for utter destruction. We need to put sin to the stake and to have no mercy on it! This battle continues in our lives each and every day. In the act of baptism we put to death completely the old man – we would not want to keep any part alive if we truly understood how opposed it is to God. There is a time coming when God will totally destroy Agag (Gog) once and for all (Ezek 39:11–12). Gog will be buried on the mountains of Israel.

At the end of 1 Samuel 15 it is the old prophet Samuel (around 85!) who takes on God’s righteous anger and cuts Agag utterly to pieces, something Saul should have done. Psalm 149 encapsulates the time of the end when the righteous will prevail, “Let the high praises of God be in their mouth and a two-edged sword in their hand … to execute upon them the judgment written: this honour have all his saints” (v5–9). We also look to the time when we shall finally be free from this body of sin and death. For us it will then be seen that it is through Christ that we have done valiantly and, in overcoming, have gained the victory. What an honour it will be to then go forth into this world where King Sin has reigned and bring all things under the dominion of Christ!

Listening to God

Let us go back to Saul in 1 Samuel 15 where we ask the questions, did Saul really listen to Samuel? Did he really think through and understand the command he was given and ‘set his face like a flint’ to obey? Was he consumed by God’s purpose and righteousness and rehearse how he would obey? Did he challenge Samuel to make sure he heard right? Did he pray?

Yet do we really listen to God? We can learn some tips for listening as summarised from effective communication gurus and can apply them to listening to God.

Face the speaker and maintain eye contact.
We need to give God our full attention when He speaks to us through His Word. We need to make continual eye contact with Him by looking into the “perfect law of liberty” (Jas 1:25). By doing this we will not be forgetful hearers but doers.

Minimise external distractions.
It is difficult to give someone your full attention while reading the paper. Find a place with no distractions to listen to God. There “the still small voice” can be heard.

Focus on what the person is saying – not what you think they will say.
Read the Word carefully. Avoid the temptation to think you know what the Word already says and therefore reading on is unnecessary.

Do not defend yourself in the event of criticism.
Allow the Word to do its necessary work of correction.

Minimise internal distractions.
Still your mind and settle it with silence and solitude before God. Meditate. Think deeply on what God is saying. Think through the implications for obedience (cp Josh 1:8–9).

Saul a forgetful hearer

In 1 Samuel 15:8–9 we read that Saul spared Agag and the best of the “sheep and oxen”. Saul failed to obey again due to pride and fear. In verse15 we read of his self-deception as he shifts the blame to the people. Samuel tells him, “to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams” (v22). The hallmark of discipleship is obedience to God’s Word as the prophet Jeremiah shows, “For I spake not unto your fathers, nor commanded them in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt offerings or sacrifices: But this thing commanded I them, saying, Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and ye shall be my people: and walk ye in all the ways that I have commanded you, that it may be well unto you” (7:22–23). The Lord tells us, “Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you” (John 15:14).

We agree in principle with the concept of total obedience but we must confess we fail at it! Just as Saul only went part way, we do too in so many ways. But should we despair? In no way! What God wants from us is our hearts and our will to keep on obeying. We may fall seven times but we must get back up and keep on running the race set before us. And why should we? Because the victory over sin has been won by the Son of God, who perfectly obeyed the will of his Father and has opened up the way to perfection for others. The one we come to remember, the Lord Jesus Christ, listened, and obeyed. He “set his face like a flint” and did the will of his Father – even unto the death of the cross, that we might share in his victory.

“Lo, I come to do thy will, O God”

The writer of Psalm 40, speaking of Jesus, said, “Sacrifice and offering thou didst not desire; mine ears hast thou opened: burnt offering and sin offering hast thou not required. Then said I, Lo, I come: in the volume of the book it is written of me, I delight to do thy will, O my God: yea, thy law is within my heart” (v6–8).

The Lord delighted to do his Father’s will: and he did it perfectly. The writer to the Hebrews picks up this theme of the perfect willing obedience of the Lord and how we ourselves can, through the grace of God and faith in the saving work of His Son, be perfect in Christ. He writes, “Above when he said, Sacrifice and offering and burnt offerings and offering for sin thou wouldest not, neither hadst pleasure therein; which are offered by the law; Then said he, Lo, I come to do thy will, O God. He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second. By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. And every priest standeth daily ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins: But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down on the right hand of God; From henceforth expecting till his enemies be made his footstool. For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified” (Heb 10:8–14).

Our Lord Jesus Christ destroyed sin in his body by utterly devoting himself to his Father, “Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil” (Heb 2:14). The victory over sin and death has been won on our behalf. It is done! It is finished! Marvellously victory has been won and he has prevailed! “So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation.”

Even so, come, Lord Jesus!