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Sunday Sermon, May 10, 2020

Pity King Saul…

Samuel also said to Saul, “The Lord sent me to anoint you king over His people, over Israel. Now therefore, heed the voice of the words of the Lord. Thus says the Lord of hosts: ‘I will punish Amalek for what he did to Israel, how he ambushed him on the way when he came up from Egypt. Now go and attack Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and do not spare them. But kill both man and woman, infant and nursing child, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.’

So Saul gathered the people together and numbered them in Telaim, two hundred thousand foot soldiers and ten thousand men of Judah. 5 And Saul came to a city of Amalek, and lay in wait in the valley. …And Saul attacked the Amalekites, from Havilah all the way to Shur, which is east of Egypt. He also took Agag king of the Amalekites alive, and utterly destroyed all the people with the edge of the sword. But Saul and the people spared Agag and the best of the sheep, the oxen, the fatlings, the lambs, and all that was good, and were unwilling to utterly destroy them.

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 Gilgal.” Then Samuel went to Saul, and Saul said to him, “Blessed are you of the Lord! I have performed the commandment of the Lord.” 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.” Then Samuel said to Saul, “Be quiet! And I will tell you what the Lord said to me last night.” And Saul 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.’ 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?”

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.”

So 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.” 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.”

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.”

Then Saul 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.” So Samuel turned back after Saul, and Saul worshiped the Lord. …..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.

So God chose Saul to be the first King of Israel, and then God regretted that he made Saul the King of Israel—- just a couple of chapters later. Can God make mistakes? What happened here?

Let’s be bold and seek the truth!

Could God have been “unknowing” or “misinformed” about Saul’s character? But obviously God cannot make a mistake, He is all-knowing, and He is in total control of His creation. So why then did He regret what He had done? Why would God publicly chose Saul, with great acclaim, and then shortly thereafter, abandon Saul? And more important to me existentially, will God one day “regret” that He chose to redeem me? Am I. in danger of becoming like King Saul?

One of the arguments used by Deists is that there are at least two passages in the Bible where God regrets what He has done and, therefore, must not have been able to foresee what would come of his decisions. Otherwise, He would not have done them, because He really “regrets” them.

But God is capable of mourning over something he chose to allow. I understand this as a father, friend and employer. When Saul disobeyed Samuel, God said, “I regret that I have made Saul king, for he has turned back from following me and has not performed my commandments.” Some would suggest that since God regrets making him king, therefore, if he had it to do over again, he wouldn’t because he couldn’t see what was coming. Otherwise, why would he regret if he knew in advance the consequence of his decision and chose to do it anyway?

But God is able to feel sorrow for an act in view of foreknown evil and yet go ahead and do it for wise reasons—-and so am I as a father. I know, with 100% certainty, that my one day my boys will drive their first cars too fast….that they will probably drink or experiment with “substances” that are dangerous and illegal, and I will regret that I gave them a car or a debit card——but I also know that I would do it again, if I could go back in time. They need freedom to make a choice—-and then to repent of bad choices.

God knows our choices—-and yet He still loves us and let’s us screw things up! He explained this to us: “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Neither are your ways My ways,” declares the LORD. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:8-9. We don’t have to understand—-just to trust.

When God makes a promise to us, he knows all future circumstances and will never be caught off guard.”For God to say, “I feel sorrow that I made Saul king” is not the same thing as saying, “I would not make him king if I had to do it over.” Oh yes, he would make Saul king again! God is able to feel sorrow for an act in view of foreknown evil — foreknown pain and sorrow and misery — and yet go ahead and do it for wise reasons. And one reason is you and me. We can read and study and see how utter foolish King Saul was—-and we can learn from King Saul.

In my life, what has been the greatest learning lessons and examples of what I want to be and what I do not want to be were the two pastors I worked for in college and seminary. I can truthfully attest that there is not a thing either of those men did or performed that I have attempted to emulate. On the contrary, my entire ministry has been shaped by me doing the opposite of what ever they would have done. So King Saul’s life is to all of us—beware and be alert of the dangers of leadership and power.

I would suggest that disobedience is a much bigger spiritual matter than we imagine. In our focus upon God’s mercy and grace, we forget His justice and anger. Yes, Jesus took the punishment and paid for our sins. Yes, our place in heaven is based 100% on what Jesus did to make us acceptable to God. But what about our lives AFTER we receive rebirth and and a clean slate??

Are we free to live the same rebellious, self-centered, narcissistic and self-serving way we did before? Were we not redeemed and purchased for a holy purpose???

It always seems to be the little, seemingly insignificant acts of rebellion that brings about tumultuous consequences! God said, “Go to Nineveh and preach”…….”strike this rock and water will come”……. “if you sell your land and give the proceeds to God and hold back a portion get ready for your own funeral”…… “eat any fruit you want except one fruit”….

Saul was disobedient….and so were like Jonah, Moses, Peter, and Adam and Eve…but Saul did something very foolish that all children do—-something that all my sons also do; when confronted with blatant disobedience he made excuses, belittled the extent of his waywardness and out-and-out lied. He did his best to minimize his insubordination by playing with words and arguing the point. That really irked the prophet Samuel and God even more.

God is our heavenly Father, not our indulging Grandfather, He expects obedience, not excuses or whining, and now that I am raising four young men I understand why. My boys’ lives would be infinitely more pleasant and far less painful if they trusted me and OBEYED. But they typically don’t obey the first time around and suffer because of it.

What is it that we don’t understand about obedience? Why are we so “bent” on breaking laws—-both of man and of God? Why are we so wayward?

Let me highlight King Saul’s errors and see how much we are like Saul, or like David or Paul:

-He made excuses

-He whined

-He was afraid about what others might think!

-He was ambitious and conceited—he set up monuments for himself (no man of God does this)

-He only repented when every single excuse was slapped down

-His relationship with God was through Samuel, not a personal and intimate one

Friends, David, Paul and the other heroes of the Bible had faults, but they were not like King Saul. Praise God: They loved God with all their heart, minds, soul and strength!

Samuel avoided Saul from that day forward—-and so should we avoid folks like Saul—bad company corrupts character

When it comes to God, I think that these four things come into play:

1. Despite what we say, at times, do we trust God—King Saul sure didn’t. Do we speculate that He might not be the best one to turn to and we therefore question His rules and turn to someone else.

2. Although we don’t tell this to God, I wonder if at times we don’t think that He really understands our need or situation. It’s as if we think that God is for children and their fears and needs, not an adult’s needs and wants. King Saul whined that he was afraid of what 200,000 soldiers might do if he did not give in to their demands. He wanted the respect of men more than the respect of God. Don’t follow men or women like this and don’t elect to political office people like this!

3. In our naive way, it appears that we think that somehow we are above His rules: “I don’t need to obey, His rules don’t apply to me…”. We’re not even a king, like Saul we do act imperious. (…”to obey is better than sacrifice”)

4. Most dangerously, as a county, a church or as children of God, we fool ourselves into mistaking His long-suffering patience with our waywardness as His apparent blindness or disinterest in our obedience. It will catch up—-not in the loss of our salvation, but God can get our attention 101 other ways! We were redeemed for a purpose—-just like Saul was made king for a purpose—-and just like this nation was established—for a purpose.

We must become children in heart again and turn back towards trusting and obeying—-regardless of if we like or agree with His direction or the small things, or great adventures, He asks of us.. Pity Saul for not having a heart set upon pleasing God. But anyone of us can start out committed and find ourselves drifting from our first love.

Jonah could have ended up like King Saul, but he repented the first time God got His attention and he went to Nineveh.

David could have ended up like King Saul, but he, more than anyone recorded in the Old Testament, truly loved God with all his heart and changed and became the greatest king in the history of Israel. He did not set up monuments or statues for himself—he set up a nation for God.

Saul of Tarsus could have ended up like King Saul, but he listened to Jesus on the road to Ephesus, repented, obeyed and became the greatest evangelist of all time and wrote half the books in the New Testament!

King Saul did not “know” God in a personal matter, so when times got tough, the real Saul came out—a timid man afraid of what others thought more than connected to God.

God “regrets”, yes, but in this situation His “regret” was not a sin or a sign of making a mistake. He can regret that things did not work out like He hoped—-we are the same. He created man to be perfect and sinless and regrets that man chose otherwise.

BUT, God cannot break a promise, lie or deceive us. Because of Jesus Christ, all the regrets have been washed away. We might lose our kingdom, we might be thrown into the belly of a fish, we might find our own sons are trying to cash in our insurance policies, but we can rest assured that God is listening and waiting patiently to hear our petitions, heal our land, and give us more than we can hope for—-but He expects us to have our eyes upon Him—not what others think—and for us to be obedient—-not to simply look for excuses—-and for us to quickly and humbly admit our sin when God sends a Samuel into our lives (and thank God for Samuels!)

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