The Lyin’ King

First in a Series on 1 Samuel 15,
Delivered October 31, 1999 by Dr. Ronald W. Scates

Sermon Text:
1 Samuel 15:10-16
10 Then the word of the LORD came to Samuel:
11 “I am grieved that I have made Saul king, because he has turned away from
me and has not carried out my instructions.” Samuel was troubled, and he
cried out to the LORD all that night.
12 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.”
13 When Samuel reached him, Saul said, “The LORD bless you! I have carried out
the LORD’s instructions.”
14 But Samuel said, “What then is this bleating of sheep in my ears? What is
this lowing of cattle that I hear?”
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.”
16 “Stop!” Samuel said to Saul. “Let me tell you what the LORD said to me last
night.” “Tell me,” Saul replied.

If you had been a Christian back in 1804, would you have sided with the “Lying Baptists” or the “Truthful Baptists”? The “Lying Baptists” were folks out on the western frontier who said, “If we were captured by Indians and were asked if we had any children, we would lie and say no in order to protect the children.” The truthful Baptists said, “Under no circumstances should we ever lie, even if it puts our children in jeopardy.” Now you and I know that we are to be truth tellers, that we are not to break the ninth commandant. But sometimes it is difficult, isn’t it?

Take those doctors in an article in the Baltimore Sun just last Monday, who said that it was acceptable to lie to health insurance companies when only a lie would produce the kind of medical care needed by their patients who could not afford it. Now I don’t know about you, but my sympathies lie with those doctors and with the “Lying Baptists”. I think if my children’s lives were at stake, I would certainly be tempted to tell a lie in order to protect them. But you know what, a lie is a lie. It is still sin.

If I had lived back in Nazi Germany during World War II, and I was confronted by the SS, and if they asked if I were hiding Jews in my home and I was, I am fairly certain that I would say, No.” But then I would go and confess that sin to God because a lie is a lie, it is sin. And lying is a slippery slope. The first time we do it, it makes it that much easier to do it again, and again, and again.

Today we begin a four-part sermon series on most of chapter 15 of 1 Samuel. Here is a situation where God has orchestrated a tremendous military victory for Israel over the Amalekites. As a part of the victory, God has told King Saul to totally annihilate the Amalekites. Men, women, children, animals, possessions; they were to obliterate the Amalekites from the face of the earth.

Now the Amalekites had harassed and pillaged the Israelites ever since Israel had first come into the Holy Land. ‘But come on God, wipe them out?’ Saul balks. You and I balk. You and I balk when we confront a text like the one we are going to read. This text that we are about to look at literally challenges the socks off of us. The socks of our faith at least. Here we seem to encounter a vengeful, cruel, capricious, ruthless God, who demands the annihilation of a group of people. And I don’t know about you, but for me this text threatens that desire, that deep down desire that I have to have a God who is comfortable, and domesticated, housebroken, manageable, a God who is all warm fuzzy love and no wrath. Unfortunately, you can search the Scriptures cover to cover, and you don’t find a God like that.

And so we are confronted by this text and others in Scripture, with some options on how to deal with a God like this. One option is that you and I can become atheists, and walk away from this kind of God. Or secondly and probably the most popular approach to a text like this is to say, ‘Oh man, this is just wacked out Old Testament story.’ And to throw it out, and begin to fashion a God who is more to our liking. A third option is to confront a text like this and tenaciously try to hold on to it in tension with the supremacy of God we also see in Scripture revealed in Jesus Christ, and to hope that somehow beyond our limited broken finite sinful perspective, a text like this is not antithetical to the love, and grace, and mercy of God.

I would propose that the third option is the only one that is truly faithful; the one I try to practice in my own life as I am confronted with texts like these. But you know what? We have also got to come clean with ourselves, and say that often times when we find ourselves revolted by a certain text of Scripture, we often times use that as a smoke screen to not really deal with the clear-cut commands of God in our lives.

The commands to you and me may not be as bloody as slaughtering the Amalekites, but sometimes they are every bit as distasteful, and uncomfortable, and difficult. The issue before us for the next four weeks are really obedience and truth telling. Our character, not God’s character is on the line. If you take away nothing else from this sermon this morning, the point of this text is that partial obedience equals disobedience.

Let’s tackle this text head-on. I invite to turn in your Bibles, and keep them open during the sermon, to chapter 15 of 1Samuel, and let’s wrestle with verses 10-16 this morning. 1 Samuel 15, beginning to read at verse 10, this is the word of God:

Then the word of the Lord came to Samuel: “I am grieved that I have made Saul king, because he has turned away from me and has not carried out my instructions.” Samuel was troubled, and he cried out to the Lord all that night.

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 the Amalekites; they spared the best of the sheep and cattle to sacrifice to the Lord your God, but we totally destroyed the rest.”

“Stop!” Samuel said to Saul. “Let me tell you what the Lord said to me last night.”

“Tell me,” Saul replied.

Join me as we pray. And now Father as my words are true to your Word, may they be taken to heart. But as my words should stray from your Word, may they be quickly forgotten. Through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

Friends, verse 11 of our text has simply got to be one of the saddest verses in all of Scripture. After this great military victory by the Israelites over the Amalekites, we are allowed to peer into the very heart of God, as God pours out his heart to the prophet Samuel and He says, ‘I am sorry. Sorry that I ever made Saul king. He has not obeyed me.’

And here verse 11 transports you and me all the way back to Genesis 6, where God at the time of Noah looks at the rebelliousness of human kind and says, ‘I am sorry that I ever created them.’

We are transported down to the base of Mount Sinai in Exodus 32, where God looks upon the abject idolatry of the Israelites as they fashion the gold calf, and once again this emotion of regret erupts in God’s heart.

And Samuel is troubled. He is up all night with God, wrestling with God, pleading really for the life of Saul. And by the way, if you are here this morning and you are a believer of Jesus Christ, that is exactly what Jesus is doing for you and me, day in and day out, night and day. In the wake of our rebellion, our lives of partial obedience, Jesus intercedes for you and me. He stands in the gap. He stands between us and the wrath of God. That is sheer, sheer grace.

Samuel intercedes for Saul. Christ intercedes for you and for me. Let’s move on. Samuel after a sleepless night sets out to track down Saul, which is difficult to do. Saul is all over the map now. All over the countryside proclaiming the great military things he had accomplished. Samuel tracks him down to Carmel and he is not there. Oh, but he has left something in his wake.

Here in verse 12, you and I get a picture of what a life looks like when it becomes unhooked from God. Saul is all over the place, and he is not only believing his press clippings, but he actually erects a monument to himself. Now the pagan kings of that era erected monuments to themselves for one primary reason, and that was to proclaim their own deity. When you and I, like King Saul choose to go our own way, do our own thing rather than God’s thing, we begin to get confused. We begin to confuse who we are in relationship to who God is. When you and I go our own way, what we are really doing is placing our personal authority over and against, and over and above God’s authority, thereby ipso facto, playing God. We begin to confuse ourselves with being God. There is a problem here because the universe is only big enough for one God.

Like the three guys who were in an asylum for the fact that they had a Messiah complex. One day a psychiatrist met with the three as a group. And one of the patients began by jumping up and saying, “I am the Messiah. I am the son of God. I have been sent on a mission, and the mission is to save the earth.” And the psychiatrist looked him in the eye and said, “Who told you this?” He replied, “God did.” At which point one of the other patient’s said, “I most certainly never said such a thing as that.”

You see, when you and I do our thing and clearly disregard God’s thing, life gets very confusing. The primary point of this story is this, that partial obedience equals disobedience. In verse 13 of our text, Samuel finally catches up with Saul. Saul is no dummy. Saul knows that he has not carried out Gods instruction to wipe out the Amalekites. He knows that Samuel is a prophet and probably suspects something. And Saul knows that the best defense is a good offense. So note, that when Samuel meets up with Saul, Saul is doing all the talking. ‘Hey Samuel, good to see you. You are a guy who walks the right road. Glad you are here. I want you to know, I have carried out all of the commands of the Lord to a T.’ Which of course, is an abject lie.

Now I didn’t include it as part of our text this morning, but jump up to verse 9. Because here we see just what a big liar Saul is. Not only has Saul not wiped out the Amalekites, he has kept a little trophy for himself, called Agag who is the king of the Amalekites. Why not? A trophy, a king that he can lead around on a leash. And not only that, he didn’t wipe out all of the booty. We are told that he has saved the best cattle and sheep. And not only that, if you jump over to 1 Samuel chapter 30 and look at verse 1, you see there that years later bands of Amalekites are roaming the countryside causing all kinds of trouble.

No, Saul tells abject lies here to cover up his disobedience. He was partially obedient, but partial obedience equals disobedience. So Saul goes into creating a whole system of lies.

Now C.S. Lewis once said that a little lie is like a little pregnancy. Pretty soon everyone knows about it. The truth is sort of like a beach ball in a pool. Have you ever taken a beach ball into a pool, and you push it down under the water and try to keep it under the water? The truth is like that beach ball. Pretty soon it pops up, no matter how many ways we try to disguise that truth.

One of my favorite short stories, and very appropriate for a day like today, is Edgar Allen Poe’s The Telltale Heart. In that story, Poe tells about a murderer. This guy murders an old man who has been driving him crazy. He dismembers the body, and then he tears up the floorboards and buries the body, and puts the floorboards back. And he is convinced in his own mind that he has committed the perfect crime.

But there was a scream heard when he killed the old man, and so the police show up the next day to investigate. Again confident that he has pulled off the perfect crime, the murderer invites the police in, shows them around the house, asks them to stay. He entertains them, he engages in lighthearted banter with them. And everything is just going great until suddenly, “boom-boom, boom-boom, boom-boom”; he begins to hear the old man’s heart beating.

‘How can it be, I know he is dead? Maybe it is just in my own head. Can the police hear this?’ He becomes convinced that they can. ‘And now they are toying with me. They are acting like they can’t hear it.’ And he breaks down and confesses right there that he is the murderer.

Verse 14 of our text is right out of Edgar Allen Poe, via the Three Stooges. Samuel comes to Saul, and Saul is rambling on and on about how he has carried out the Lord’s orders to a T; how he has wiped out all the people, all the animals, not even a little lamb is left. ‘Samuel, we wiped them all out, you should have been there it was so great. I mean not even a little hamster was left. Samuel you have got to believe me, I really did what God asked.’

It reminds of the story and Tony Campolo tells about one time when he was invited to preach in a Baptist church, in of all places Las Vegas. They put him up in one of those casino hotels. And Sunday morning he was told to wait down in the lobby, and a deacon would come by and pick him up and take him to the church to preach.

So he got down there early, and he was just standing in the lobby kind of fidgeting waiting for this deacon to show up, and he put his hand in his pocket and low and behold, there was one lone quarter in his pocket. Now Campolo is not a gambler, but he thought to himself, ‘I may never get back to Las Vegas again, what the heck.’ He goes over to a slot machine, puts the quarter in , pulls the arm, and he hits the jackpot, and quarters come pouring out all over the floor.

Campolo said he shoveled them into his brief case, and when that was full he put them in his pants pockets, and when they were full he began to put them in his suit coat pockets until his suit is hanging down . He gets them all put away, and the Baptist deacon walks in. Campolo said he was jingling and jangling his way to the car and the Baptist deacon says, “You haven’t been gambling have you?’

When you are caught red-handed, when you are cornered it is best to fess up right? Not if you are King Saul. Look at verse 15. Verse 15 transports us now all the way back into the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve and their rebelliousness, their partial obedience. And God looks for Adam. He finds him and he said, ‘Adam, what’s up?’ And Adam says, ‘It’s that woman. That woman you gave me that caused all these problems.’ And God goes to Eve, and what does she say? ‘It was that snake. It is the snake that is the problem.’ And so the royal art of buck passing begins. Right back there in the Garden of Eden.

And now the buck has landed on Saul’s desk. ‘Samuel, it was the soldiers. The soldiers brought those sheep and lambs back and the cattle. Besides, it was for a good cause. We… er … they brought the sheep and cattle back so that we… er … they could sacrifice them to the Lord.’ And then watch this Freudian slip from Saul’s tongue, “Sacrifice them to the Lord your God.”

Hey Saul, listen to what God says to the prophet Hosea in chapter 6 verse 6, “I delight in loyalty, (ie. obedience) not in sacrifice”. In verse 15 Saul is saying a lot more here than he realizes. Because you see, when you and I do our thing rather than God’s thing, we find out just what Saul found. That as you go down that track, God becomes Samuel’s God, not Saul’s God. Saul is his own god, and he has got the monument to prove it.

‘Shut up!’ Samuel says to Saul in verse 16. ‘Look, I was up all night because of you, with the Lord giving me an ear full. You want to hear it?’ And still searching for that escape hatch; still hiding behind that kingly bravado; still convinced that he can somehow pull this over Samuel and over God, Saul says, ‘Sure tell me, fire away, I am all ears.’ We will pick it up there next week.

Join me as we pray:
Lord God, you are such a gracious, loving, merciful God. You have displayed that to us in Jesus Christ. But you are not a God of cheap grace. Lord, we want to go our own way, do our own thing. Sometimes, most of the time we think that we can figure out what to do better than your word clearly tells us. Lord forgive us for that. More than that, transform us. Give us that gift of faith that pursues truth and obedience under your authority at any cost. Lord remind us that you are sovereign over our lives, and that the truth is what truly does set us free. And remind us that above everything else, truth is Jesus. And we make our prayer and offer you ourselves, in his holy and precious name, Amen