If submission is not in our hearts we will pretend to obey God’s words. Sacrifice will try to masquerade as obedience from the heart of the non-submissive. Submission is not an action; it is an aspect of relationship. It is part of a culture of honor and it is an attitude of valuing another. When we don’t value someone, we won’t live in a submissive relationship with them. We may pretend to honor them, but our actions will only be a pretend submission through actions of partial obedience.
1 Samuel 15:10-13 Now the word of the LORD came to Samuel, saying, “I greatly regret that I have set up Saul as king, for he has turned back from following Me, and has not performed My commandments.” And it grieved Samuel, and he cried out to the LORD all night. So when Samuel rose early in the morning to meet Saul, it was told Samuel, saying, “Saul went to Carmel, and indeed, he set up a monument for himself; and he has gone on around, passed by, and gone down to Gulag.” Then Samuel went to Saul, and Saul said to him, “Blessed are you of the LORD! I have performed the commandment of the LORD.”
Pretend obedience will pretend submission. When we make sacrifices outside of the boundaries of obedience we defend our actions and pretend to obey. Notice that the words of Saul were those that pretended honor to God and demanded honor for himself. His words were those of a man who saw Samuel as less than the Lord and himself as wiser. He didn’t want to admit that the words of Samuel were the words of the Lord. Saul’s confession was that he had fulfilled the commandment of the Lord. Partial obedience is not obedience at all, but a testimony of a disconnection from submission.
When Saul chose sacrifice over obedience, he removed the personal relationship with God from his conversation with leadership. Saul did not confess the Lord his God, but the God of Samuel. His pretended action was one of obedience to God, but the attitude of his heart caused him to become disconnected from relationship. When we are disobedient to authority it is because we don’t believe that authority is the voice of God in our lives. We justify our own way by avoiding the responsibility as our own. The actions of disobedience were not seen as the actions of Saul, but of the people. Rather than accepting the responsibility of his lack of action he blamed the people for their decision. He confessed full obedience, but pointed the finger to others in the areas the appeared to be less than obedient.
1 Samuel 15:14,15 But Samuel said, “What then is this bleating of the sheep in my ears, and the lowing of the oxen which I hear?” And Saul said, “They have brought them from the Amalekites; for the people spared the best of the sheep and the oxen, to sacrifice to the LORD your God; and the rest we have utterly destroyed.”
Have you ever noticed that when we are disobedient we feel like we are separate from everyone else? That’s not the only thing that does that, but it is one thing that will make us feel like that. When we are disobedient we begin to blame others and we remove the personal responsibility and relationship with God from our conversation.
Saul didn’t seek to submit. He sought power and attention before the people. He was making a procession before the people. He was getting the attention of the people. Had he destroyed everything, he wouldn’t have had anything to make a procession with. Had he been fully obedient it would have been hard to proclaim victory before the people. ‘I did it! I did it! I killed the pigs and the oxen! I killed the women and children!’ It would be hard to go before the people with bloodstained hands and gloat in the victory. It would simply be a humbling experience that he wouldn’t want to talk about. Obedience is dirty sometimes. It is not necessarily something to brag about. Obedience is not necessarily glorious. It can be humbling. You work in the nursery. You change a dirty diaper. ‘I did it! I did it!’ Or maybe subtler like, ‘I didn’t take offense’, ‘I didn’t react to your flaws’, ‘I gave a smile, when I felt like firing a glaring glance’. People may never know that you did what you did, but the overall result will be an atmosphere that says all are glad for your obedience. Obedience can be that mundane and humbling.
Authority is always received and fulfilled. Anything less or anything more is a grasp for power, but not a submission that brings life to others.
1 Samuel 15:16-18 Then Samuel said to Saul, “Be quiet! And I will tell you what the LORD said to me last night.” And he said to him, “Speak on.” So Samuel said, “When you were little in your own eyes, were you not head of the tribes of Israel? And did not the LORD anoint you king over Israel? “Now the LORD sent you on a mission, and said, ‘Go, and utterly destroy the sinners, the Amalekites, and fight against them until they are consumed.’
We must fulfill what we’ve received in order to have authority. Authority builds upon authority. As we are obedient God increases our authority. The increase of authority is always a result of obedience. Authority is not our own personal property, but rather the fulfillment of our responsibility and accountability to another.
1 Samuel 15:19 “Why then did you not obey the voice of the LORD? Why did you swoop down on the spoil, and do evil in the sight of the LORD?”
When we have been given authority, we always answer to the source that gave us the authority. Authority is not something that comes from us. It is something that flows through us. All authority comes from God and all authority must be fulfilled with accountability to Him. It is being responsible to Him and responsible to give His substance of life to others. Self-seeking is always self-preserving and will not accept responsibility. Authority is not an independent substance; it is a part of God’s flow of life that transfers life through connections of relationship.
1 Samuel 15:20, 21 And Saul said to Samuel, “But I have obeyed the voice of the LORD, and gone on the mission on which the LORD sent me, and brought back Agag king of Amalek; I have utterly destroyed the Amalekites. “But the people took of the plunder, sheep and oxen, the best of the things which should have been utterly destroyed, to sacrifice to the LORD your God in Gilgal.”
You can’t go beyond obedience. Saul added sacrifice and called it obedience. It was a testimony of his own agenda. He decided not to take credit for what seemed small, but he tried to focus on the great things. Did the people spare the sheep and oxen? Yes. Who had the responsibility? Headship had the responsibility of carrying out the task and that headship was in the hands of Saul. Saul’s disobedience caused him to manifest a defensive attitude. Defensiveness is a fruit of self-seeking, self- preservation, self-motivation, or some other manifestation of self. Wisdom from God is willing to yield, but self-seeking wisdom is unwilling to yield. It is earthly, sensual, and even demonically inspired (Jam. 3:13-18). This kind of wisdom can have good intentions or bad, but it is self-focused in its endeavors. Life comes out of authority and only God is the source of life. This is a place of submissive dependence, not independent power.
1 Samuel 15:22, 23 Then Samuel 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 heed than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, He also has rejected you from being king.”
To do what you are told is better than the best sacrifice. Divination will cause you to lose inheritance. Stubbornness will disqualify you from inheritance. The land will spew you out. Saul wanted power but he failed to see a right understanding of authority through submission.
1 Samuel 15:24, 25 Then Saul said to Samuel, “I have sinned, for I have transgressed the commandment of the LORD and your words, because I feared the people and obeyed their voice. “Now therefore, please pardon my sin, and return with me, that I may worship the LORD.”
Saul had not repented here. What would repentance look like in this situation? Repentance would have bore the mark of obedience at last. The blood of Agag and all of the sheep, oxen, etc. would have stained Saul’s body. He should have bore the mark of the shame of having to work through the situation late. God would have forgiven him and granted him a different testimony. His willingness to humble himself and look unpopular would have really been a testimony of his love for God. There would have been no shame in that, only the fruit of peace with God and forgiveness of his sin.
1 Samuel 15:26-29 But Samuel said to Saul, “I will not return with you, for you have rejected the word of the LORD, and the LORD has rejected you from being king over Israel.” And as Samuel turned around to go away, Saul seized the edge of his robe, and it tore. So Samuel said to him, “The LORD has torn the kingdom of Israel from you today, and has given it to a neighbor of yours, who is better than you. “And also the Strength of Israel will not lie nor relent. For He is not a man, that He should relent.”
Saul’s attitude was one of grasping for power. When he seized Saul’s robe it was a demonstration of what Saul valued in his heart. He valued himself more than the authority of God in his life. He was grasping for power, grasping for honor, and grasping for the blessing of God. His actions were those of ‘taking’, not one’s of giving. These were defensive actions of rebellion, not submissive actions of love. Saul was not concerned with making things right in his heart towards authority; he wanted to maintain a place of power over those he thought were under him. We are never given authority over others. We are given authority to give life to others that flows through the river of submission in our lives. Our authority is not a matter of power; it is a matter of life.
1 Samuel 15:30 Then he said, “I have sinned; yet honor me now, please, before the elders of my people and before Israel, and return with me, that I may worship the LORD your God.”
When we seek to merely exercise power we are self-seeking in our motives. Saul was not truly repentant in his heart. He didn’t see that his real issue was insubordination in his heart towards relationships of authority. He confessed being sorry, but he was not sorry for being insubordinate. He was sorry for the potential consequence of his actions. He still wanted to look good before the elders and the people. He confessed a worship of God, but true worship of God is submission to His authority. Obedient acts of love spawned by relational connections to God’s authority worship God in Spirit and Truth. There was not repentance in Saul’s heart, only self-pity for not gaining the blessings of God in spite of his rebellious ways.
1 Samuel 15:31-35 So Samuel turned back after Saul, and Saul worshiped the LORD. Then Samuel said, “Bring Agag king of the Amalekites here to me.” So Agag came to him cautiously. And Agag said, “Surely the bitterness of death is past.” But Samuel said, “As your sword has made women childless, so shall your mother be childless among women.” And Samuel hacked Agag in pieces before the LORD in Gilgal. Then Samuel went to Ramah, and Saul went up to his house at Gibeah of Saul. And Samuel went no more to see Saul until the day of his death. Nevertheless Samuel mourned for Saul, and the LORD regretted that He had made Saul king over Israel.
Saul despised authority and therefore lost authority. He was more concerned with how he looked than in being obedient. Samuel had to complete the word of the Lord. He had to fulfill the commission of authority. Saul still would not turn from his way. He was more concerned with how he looked than with obeying the word of the Lord. He was seeking to get something from others. Obedience would have been to give himself fully to the will of God.
Food For Thought,
Ted J. Hanson