1Sa_15:22-23. And Samuel said, Hath 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 hearken than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because thou hast rejected the word of the Lord, he hath also rejected thee from being king.
THE sins of God’s enemies, and especially of those who obstruct his people in their way to Canaan, will certainly be punished: God indeed may bear long with them, even so long as to make them tauntingly exclaim, “Where is the promise of his coming?” but he will surely come at last, to their utter confusion and their eternal condemnation.
The Amalekites had very cruelly attacked the Israelites in the wilderness, and without any just occasion. God therefore gave them up to the sword of Joshua, and commanded that his people should in due time inflict upon them far more extensive judgments [Note: Deu_25:17-19.]. The time was now come that their iniquities were full: and therefore God commanded Saul to execute upon them the threatening which had been denounced several hundred years before. This command Saul neglected to execute as he should have done; and thereby brought upon himself the heavy displeasure of his God. We behold in our text,
The sin reproved—
It might appear a small thing in Saul to spare Agag and the best of the cattle, when he had been enjoined to destroy all; and his vindication of himself to Samuel has an air of plausibility about it, which might almost reconcile us to this act as not very exceptionable: but Samuel, in the words before us, characterises the conduct of Saul,
[The command which had been given was exceeding plain and strong. The solemnity with which it was given, “Hearken thou,” &c.; the reason assigned for it, “What Amalek did to Israel in the way from Egypt;” the minuteness to which the order descended, “Go, smite Amalek, and destroy—utterly—all that they have—and spare them not—but slay man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass:” all this shewed that there was no option left him, no discretion; but that the whole was to be executed according to the command. Yet behold, through pride and covetousness he departed from the command, sparing Agag, to grace his triumph; and preserving the best of the flocks and herds, to enrich himself and his people. Thus by executing the command in part, and violating it in part, he shewed, that he made his own will, and not the will of God, the rule of his conduct. And what was this but rebellion against the Most High? It was justly so characterised by Samuel: and such is the interpretation which God will surely put on such conduct, wheresoever it be found. To be “partial in the law” is, in fact, to set aside the law; and to “offend against it willingly in any one point, is to be guilty of all [Note: Jam_2:10.]” — — —]
[Saul, on meeting Samuel, took credit to himself for having fulfilled the will of God [Note: ver. 13.]. Thus it is that sin blinds the eyes of men, and puffs them up with a conceit of having merited the divine approbation by actions which in their principle and in their measure have been radically wrong.
Samuel, to convince him of his sin, appealed to “the bleating of the sheep, and the lowing of the oxen:” but Saul, with stubbornness of heart, persisted in avowing his innocence: yea, after the strongest remonstrances on the part of Samuel, authorized as they were, and commanded, by God himself, he still maintained, that he had done his duty, and that the people only were to blame; nor were they materially wrong, since they had consulted no interest of their own, but only the honour of their God [Note: ver. 14–21.].
Here we see how sin hardens the heart also, and disposes men to resist conviction to the uttermost. Thus it was with our first parents at the first introduction of sin into the world: both of them strove to cast off the blame from themselves, the man on his wife, and the woman on the serpent [Note: Gen_3:12-13.]: and how ready we are to tread in their steps, every day’s observation and experience will teach us — — —]
Let us next turn our attention to,
The reproof administered—
In our eyes perhaps this act of Saul may appear to have been only a slight and well-intentioned error; but in the sight of God it was a very grievous sin: for “rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry.” Whatever we may imagine, the neglecting to serve the true God is but little different, in the estimation of our Judge, from the engaging in the service of a false god. Hence we find that the reproof administered was precisely such as the occasion called for.
We shall consider it in two points of view;
As exposing his sin—
[We are not to imagine that Samuel intended to disparage the sacrifices which God had commanded. The many testimonies which God had given of his favourable acceptance of them sufficiently shewed, that, when offered in a becoming manner, with humility of mind and a view to the Sacrifice which should in due time be offered, they were highly pleasing in his sight. But, if put in competition with moral duties, and substituted for obedience, they are hateful in the sight of God [Note: Isa_1:11-16.]. He “requireth truth in the inward parts;” and more values the tribute of a thankful or contrite heart, than the cattle on a thousand hills [Note: Psa_50:8-14; Psa_51:16-17.]. The excuse therefore that was offered by Saul was only a mockery and an insult to his God. And whoever shall attempt a commutation of outward services for inward integrity of heart and life, or shall think to atone for the want of one by the abundance of the other, will deceive himself to his eternal ruin [Note: Mat_23:23.] — — —]
As denouncing his punishment—
[God had before threatened to deprive him of the kingdom for presuming to offer sacrifices without waiting for Samuel according as he had been enjoined; and now that punishment was irreversibly decreed [Note: ver. 26.]. A sign too was now given him, that it should in due time be executed: as he rent the garment of Samuel, whom he endeavoured to detain, so would God rend from him that kingdom, which he was so unworthy to possess [Note: ver. 27, 28.]. This itself was indeed but a slight punishment: but it was emblematic of the loss of God’s eternal kingdom; a loss which no finite intellect can appreciate. Yet is that the loss which every creature shall sustain, who by his rebellion offends God, and by stubborn impenitence cuts off himself from all hope of mercy — — —]
We will conclude the subject with some advice arising from it:
Learn how to estimate the path of duty—
[We are very apt to think that right which is most agreeable to our own wishes; and to lean rather to that which will gratify our pride or interest, than to that which calls for the exercise of self-denial. But we should be aware of the bias that is upon our own minds, and of our proneness to make the law of God bend to our prejudices and our passions. And we maybe sure, that if a doubt exist about the path of duty, moral duties must be preferred to ceremonial; and, in general, it will be found safer to lean to that which thwarts our natural inclinations, than to that which gratifies them.]
Be open to conviction respecting any deviations from it—
[There is an extreme aversion in us all to acknowledge that we have done amiss. But to be “stout-hearted is to be far from righteousness;” and wherever God sees such a disposition, he will surely abase it [Note: Jam_4:6.]. We all see in others how ready they are to justify what is wrong, and to extenuate what they cannot justify. Let us remember that we also have this propensity; and let us guard against it to the utmost of our power. Let us rather, if we have erred, desire to find it out, and not rest till we have discovered it. We would not, if an architect were to warn us that our house were likely to fall, go and lie down in our beds without carefully inquiring into the grounds of his apprehension: a sense of danger would make us open to conviction. Let us therefore not be averse to see and acknowledge our guilt before God, lest our conviction of its existence come too late to avert its punishment.]
Let your humiliation be candid and complete—
[Saul confessed his sin, but still shewed his hypocrisy by his anxiety to be honoured before men [Note: ver. 30.]. Hence, though Samuel so far complied as to go with him, and to execute on Agag the judgment that had been denounced [Note: ver. 32, 33.], yet he left him immediately afterwards, and never visited him more [Note: ver. 35.]. Oh, fearful separation! The friend who just before had wept and prayed for him all night, forsook him now for ever. From henceforth Saul was given up to sin and misery, till at last the vengeance of an incensed God came upon him to the uttermost. Would we escape his doom? let our humiliation be deep, and our repentance genuine: let us be willing to take shame to ourselves both before God and man; and be indifferent about the estimation of man, provided we may but obtain the favour of a reconciled God [Note: Saul desired Samuel to “pardon him,” ver. 25.].]