10 More Lessons from 1 Samuel - "Sunnyhill" Herne Bay Evangelical Free Church

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Slippery Slopes - 1 Samuel part 2

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Reading: 1Sam.15:1-35

The Progression of Sin in the Life of King Saul.



Introduction
I very much doubt that any of us sets out determined to make a mess of our lives and yet to a greater or lesser extent that is exactly what each of us does.
If we are Christians it is due in large measure to the fact that we have been brought to understand just something about the mess we have made and we have gone to Jesus for the salvation he offers us. We know that left to our own devices we would never be able to resolve the difficulties that we have created for ourselves, we certainly couldn’t do anything to improve our relationship with God himself. And yet when we are united to Jesus Christ by faith God treats us in a wonderfully gracious manner. He doesn’t only not hold our past failures against us but he also treats us so very generously . He welcomes us as he does the Lord Jesus!

It is not that we have suddenly become extraordinarily good people but that our entire standing with God has been set upon a new footing. Our relationship is now not based upon our performance but upon the performance of our Saviour who represents us and his performance is perfect and complete and that will never ever change.

What a glorious salvation our Heavenly Father has prepared for us in Jesus Christ our Lord! The more the Christian realises this the more amazed he/she becomes.

When this gospel is truly experienced in a person’s life sin is never encouraged, nor is it treated as an indifferent matter. There are always some folk who, never having experienced grace themselves, try to maintain that a gospel of free grace must inevitably lead to declining moral standards and to further sinful carelessness. But they are quite simply wrong. Their assertion amounts to nothing more than saying that there can only be one possible reason why a person would want to resist sin and in their view that reason would be the fear of punishment. But no true Christian wants to go on and on wallowing in sin – no true Christian wants to be saved to continue in his/her sin but rather longs to be free from sin entirely. The true Christian wants to show by his transformed life his gratitude to his Saviour for all the wonderful love and grace that have been showered upon him.

If the accusation was right that grace-talk encourages sin were right then Christians would be amongst the very worst of offenders but the truth is that Christians are moving in a very different direction.

The Christian has been saved from sin and the Holy Spirit dwelling within strengthens the Christian in his ongoing battles against sin. The Bible shows us what sin is really like and how it, chameleon-like, is ever changing, presenting itself to us under different forms and guises. The more we understand the duplicity and the tendency of sin the better equipped the Christian will be to resist and overcome the wiles of the devil. When we read the Bible we come across plenty of examples of men and women whom we can try to imitate but we also see other examples that are to be avoided like the very plague. And we have the help of the Spirit. As an old friend in Wales used to tell me:

"Any dead fish can swim downstream, going with the flow of the current, but it takes a live fish to swim upstream."


And of course the Christian has been made alive and so with the Spirit’s help can do what no dead fish ever can!

This evening we are going to look at the life of Saul, the first King of Israel, and see what lessons we can learn from him so that we might not be caught out by sin, or at least be less likely to be caught out by it.


A Promising Start
I mentioned that few if any begin life with the intention of dismally failing and Saul was not one of those. He began well even if his "beginning" arose from a set of unpromising circumstances at a time when "everyone was doing what was right in his own eyes". The Israelites had grown tired of this and expressed their desire to have a king so that they would be just like all the other nations they came into contact with. This desire was a tacit rejection of the LORD God who was Israel’s king. Through Samuel the LORD warned the people about how a human king would treat them but the people were insistent and the LORD granted their request.

The world had succeeded in squeezing the Israelites into its mould. And the world has been trying to squeeze God’s people into its mould ever since. It is trying today to do the very same thing to you. Watch out when you find yourself looking longingly at the unbelieving world!

So Israel was to have a king but who was the man who was to become Israel’s first human King? The LORD gave Samuel the responsibility of anointing this first King and gave him careful instructions as to how he would recognise the man. Saul was God’s gift to his people and Samuel treated him with respect.

As the events unfolded it became clear that Saul was being prepared to function as king. This preparation involved a spiritual preparation too. Saul had a striking experience of the Spirit of God and the people are struck by it.

At this early stage Saul was humble, somewhat overawed by all that was taking place. He demonstrated none of the pride that would later enter and spoil so much of his life.

Considering all this we can conclude: so far so good. And for some time it continued just like that.

Initially Saul had only been anointed by Samuel in secret but the time came for him to be officially instated. But his promotion was not universally popular and some worthless fellows openly criticised him. How would Saul handle it? The answer is that he handled it very well. He kept his peace – an act of magnanimity. Yes, so far so good!

An important part of the King’s function in those days was to lead the nation militarily and here too Saul got off to a good start – his first military engagement was a success.

If only Saul’s reign had continued as it had begun. Sadly it didn’t. After 2 years things took a turn for the worse. After 2 years a "fly of disobedience" fell into the ointment and Saul’s life began to smell – badly.


Bad Decision N°1 and following:
The story is recorded in 1Sam.13:8-12. Saul was involved in another military campaign against the Philistines. In other words Saul was on active service. He wasn’t sitting lazily back at home in his palace; he was in the field and the enemy of our souls targeted him there. Sometimes Satan will attack us when we’re not busy with anything – you probably have heard the saying "the devil finds work for idle hands" – but sometimes Satan will launch his attacks when we are engaged in the LORD’s work. We need to be vigilant at all times.

Samuel had said he’d come at a certain time but the deadline came and went and Saul’s army was not only getting nervous it was getting smaller as men slipped quietly away. The situation for Saul seemed to be getting worse and worse, so he took matters into his own hands.

Saul thought he had to do something even if what he was about to do was not something that he was authorised to do: he offered some sacrifices.  He was not a priest nor was he commanded to do this. It was sin and the consequences would prove to be very serious for him indeed.

No sooner had he offered his sacrifices than Samuel arrived and roundly condemned him for what he had done. He had disobeyed the LORD and he would forfeit the kingdom for it. Samuel told Saul the LORD would raise up another man to take over the kingdom – Saul would have no lasting dynasty.

But the really terrible thing is that Saul never came to terms with what happened here and for the rest of his life he will be found, in one way or another, opposing the will of the LORD. This was the first major failure of Saul’s life but tragically it would set the trend for how he would from now on. One sin turned out to be the first of a long line of sins!

Don’t give sin even the slightest of footholds in your life if you can avoid it.

Saul found it hard to accept that he was to be set aside, that he was no longer to be the LORD’s answer. And some of us may find it hard to play second fiddle, to always be the one in the supporting role and never taking the lead. Saul’s example is not the one for us to follow – John the Baptist has left us a far better example in the NT. Do you remember what he said?

Jn.3:30 "He must increase, but I must decrease."


The bad decision Saul took in himself offering sacrifices was sinful and he compounded his sin by refusing to accept the consequences and so from that moment on Saul’s life was to be marked by a series of bad decisions. In ch.14 for example, when the Israelite armies were once again in the field, Saul made a rash and highly inappropriate vow which was also inept in military terms. He was only prevented from carrying it out and executing his own son who had been the means of securing the victory that had been won by the intervention of the people themselves.

However the definitive bad decision did not come about until ch.15 where it becomes plain that Saul had learnt nothing from his earlier failures.

Once again Saul prefers to substitute his own way of doing things for the LORD’s way and so deliberately and knowingly disobeys the LORD’s direct instruction. Saul evidently thinks he knows best – this is the mark of the rebel sinner and sadly plenty of us are susceptible to exactly this sort of temptation.

Saul spared King Agag and the best of the animals devoting to destruction only those animals that were of no value. And the LORD was unimpressed by such flagrant disobedience:

First, the command had been issued. It was time for justice to be wrought upon Amalek for the hostilty shown towards Israel as the LORD led his people from Egypt to the Promised Land:

1Sam.15:3 "Now go and strike Amalek and devote to destruction all that they have. Do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey."


Second, the action:

1Sam.15:8-9 "And he took Agag the king of the Amalekites alive and devoted to destruction all the people with the edge of the sword. But Saul and the people spared Agag and the best of the sheep and of the oxen and of the fattened calves and the lambs, and all that was good, and would not utterly destroy them. All that was despised and worthless they devoted to destruction."


Third, the sober assessment:

1Sam.15:11a "I regret that I have made Saul king, for he has turned back from following me and has not performed my commandments."


Saul imagined that all would be well. He convinced himself that he could alter the LORD’s word with impunity and having done so declared his obedience. Samuel challenged him and the balloon of Saul’s confidence was pricked. Saul stopped speaking about his obedience and changing tack tried to shift all responsibility away from himself to the people. And this very act showed that he knew all along that his obedience hadn’t been what he claimed it to be.

Saul was about to be taught a great principle as he tried to make his excuses but whether he ever learnt it I’m not so sure. And what was that principle?

v.22 "to obey is better than sacrifice"


How easily men try to offer substitutes when they fail to offer obedience!

Saul’s disobedience was not a light or a minor thing as the dreadful words which Samuel spoke to him make abundantly clear:

1Sam.15:22-23 "And 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 listen than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of divination, and presumption is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, he has also rejected you from being king."


Be careful not to listen to those voices that whisper that to you that your disobedience to God is unimportant; that tell you that you can set aside God’s word with impunity.


A Confession and a Plea for Pardon
At this point Saul stopped his pretence and confessed his sin but he still went on making excuses. It seems that Saul really was more concerned about the consequences of having been found out than he was for the sin itself.

Is that the reason why Saul received no comforting words from Samuel? All he heard was a solemn repetition concerning what the consequences of his actions would be:

1Sam.15:26 "you have rejected the word of the LORD, and the LORD has rejected you from being king over Israel."


From that moment on Saul would be sidelined. He had made a complete mess of his relationship with the LORD. The NT way of describing this is that he had made shipwreck of his faith. And he had brought it all on himself.

Yet Saul still refused to accept this and would live out the remainder of his life in frustration. His life would be characterised by ever-increasing violence or attempted violence.

He knew that David was the LORD’s choice to succeed him but set himself to oppose David with a series of unwarranted and unsuccessful attempts on his life. Frustrated in those attempts he vented his anger on those he suspected of siding with David against him. Such was his jealousy of David that he put severe strains upon his relationship with his own son Jonathan.

Saul’s life continued but he only succeeded in digging an ever deeper hole for himself. He sank so low that he even had recourse to a medium and to consulting the dead as he tried to discover what he should do. Thus Saul soured his life even further with his dallying with a spiritism that had long been considered an abomination for God’s people.

We might not be tempted to go that far but perhaps we do allow place in our lives for horoscopes, for signs of the zodiac, for ouja boards, tea leaves, coffee grounds and palmistry.

The Word of God is plain:

Dt.29:29 ""The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law."


The End
The Book of 1Samuel concludes with an account of the death of Saul and of his son Jonathan. It was a sorry end to a sad life that had begun with such promise. Saul had wasted much of his life because he was wedded to his sin. And yet he died fighting against his real enemies – if only he had got his focus right earlier on.

May God help us to learn the lessons we need to learn from Saul’s life.

Amen.


 
 
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