A Monumental Collapse — Part Two
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A Monumental Collapse — Part Two

1 Samuel 15:1–35  (ID: 3389)

God’s command was clear: Israel was supposed to destroy the Amalekites. King Saul, blinded by his own sin, failed to complete this task. Seeking to justify his actions, he replaced true obedience with religious formalism. This event stands as a warning of sin’s deceitfulness—and also the steadfastness of God and His purposes. As Alistair Begg points out, while God felt sorrow over Saul’s sin, the Lord is always true to His word and consistent in dealing with disobedience.

Series Containing This Sermon

A Study in 1 and 2 Samuel, Volume 2

Saul, Israel’s First King 1 Samuel 8:1–15:35 Series ID: 109012

Sermon Transcript: Print

First Samuel 15:

“And Samuel said to Saul, ‘The Lord sent me to anoint you king over his people Israel; now therefore listen to the words of the Lord. Thus says the Lord of hosts, “I have noted what Amalek did to Israel in opposing them on the way when they came up out of Egypt. 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.”’

“So Saul summoned the people and numbered them in Telaim, two hundred thousand men on foot, and ten thousand men of Judah. And Saul came to the city of Amalek and lay in wait in the valley. Then Saul said to the Kenites, ‘Go, depart; go down from among the Amalekites, lest I destroy you with them. For you showed kindness to all the people of Israel when they came up out of Egypt.’ So the Kenites departed from among the Amalekites. And Saul defeated the Amalekites from Havilah as far as Shur, which is east of Egypt. 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 [fatted] 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.

“The word of the Lord came to Samuel: ‘I regret that I have made Saul king, for he has turned back from following me and has not performed my commandments.’ And Samuel was angry, and he cried to the Lord all night. And Samuel rose early to meet Saul in the morning. And it was told Samuel, ‘Saul came to Carmel, and behold, he set up a monument for himself and turned and passed on and went down to Gilgal.’ And Samuel came to Saul, and Saul said to him, ‘Blessed be you to the Lord. I have performed the commandment of the Lord.’ And Samuel said, ‘What then is this bleating of the sheep in my ears and the lowing of the oxen that I hear?’ Saul said, ‘They have brought them from the Amalekites, for the people spared the best of the sheep and of the oxen to sacrifice to the Lord your God, and the rest we have devoted to destruction.’ Then Samuel said to Saul, ‘Stop! I will tell you what the Lord said to me this night.’ And he said to him, ‘Speak.’

“And Samuel said, ‘Though you are little in your own eyes, are you not the head of the tribes of Israel? The Lord anointed you king over Israel. And the Lord sent you on a mission and said, ‘Go, devote to destruction 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 pounce on the spoil and do what was evil in the sight of the Lord?’ And Saul said to Samuel, ‘I have obeyed the voice of the Lord. I have gone on the mission on which the Lord sent me. I[’ve] brought Agag the king of Amalek, and I[’ve] devoted the Amalekites to destruction. But the people took of the spoil, sheep and oxen, the best of the things devoted to destruction, to sacrifice to the Lord your God in Gilgal.’ 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.’

“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 bow before the Lord.’ And 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.’ As Samuel turned to go away, Saul seized the skirt of his robe, and it tore. And Samuel said to him, ‘The Lord has torn the kingdom of Israel from you this day and has given it to a neighbor of yours, who[’s] better than you. And also the Glory of Israel will not lie or have regret, for he is not a man, that he should have regret.’ Then he said, ‘I have sinned; yet honor me now before the elders of my people and before Israel, and return with me, that I may bow before the Lord your God.’ So Samuel turned back after Saul, and Saul bowed before the Lord.

“Then Samuel said, ‘Bring here to me Agag the king of the Amalekites.’ And Agag came to him cheerfully. Agag said, ‘Surely the bitterness of death is past.’ And Samuel said, ‘As your sword has made women childless, so shall your mother be childless among women.’ And Samuel hacked Agag to pieces before the Lord in Gilgal.

“Then Samuel went to Ramah, and Saul went up to his house in Gibeah of Saul. And Samuel did not see Saul again until the day of his death, but Samuel grieved over Saul. And the Lord regretted that he had made Saul king over Israel.”

Help us now, Lord, as we turn to your Word. We bow down underneath its authority and its truthfulness. Grant that we might hear your voice and, in hearing it, submit and gladly obey. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.

You can tell that I’ve determined that we should come back this evening to the study that we left off this morning. We haven’t actually done that, I think, in this study in Samuel at all. But there are reasons for it, not least of all the fact that next Sunday evening is our prayer time, and therefore, we will not be able to study it then. And next Sunday morning, I will have the privilege of leading the services, but our preacher will be Christopher Ash from England. And so, rather than leave a long gap between the opening part of the chapter and then this concluding section, I determined that I should return to it.

I recognize that that has some challenges, not least of all for those who have not been here for the first part of it. I could say to you, “You can see it online if you choose,” but I wouldn’t press that upon you. But it will be there if you want to backtrack on it. What we have done to this point is notice that the command of God—the commission, the mission—that has been established by God for Samuel to fulfill he has not fulfilled. He’s done it partially, and his partial obedience is an expression of his disobedience. And despite the fact that he is so clearly in violation of what God has told him to do—“Spare nobody,” and he spared people and spared the king—he’s blinded, it would seem, to the predicament in which he finds himself. And he’s so oblivious that he’s prepared to even erect a monument to himself, reminding us of the great danger of the deceitfulness of sin. And what he’s actually done is he’s turned his back on the living God. It is no marginal thing. It is absolutely crucial. And we left off somewhere around verse 12 or 13, where Samuel and Saul now link up with one another, interestingly, at Gilgal. That’s there at the end of verse 12: “And [he] turned and passed on and went down to Gilgal.”

Gilgal has already become significant for us. Back in chapter 11, it was where the kingdom was renewed. Remember, all the people got together at Gilgal, and they declared, “Saul is the king.”[1] It is in Gilgal that the announcement of the loss of Saul’s dynasty was conveyed in chapter 13: “You no longer are going to be in charge of this, Saul; your son will not follow you.”[2] And now, it is here, in chapter 15, once again in Gilgal, that the king is rejected.

Now, fascinatingly, he determines that he can approach Samuel somewhat enthusiastically, religiously, and at the same time naively, declaring there, as it is recorded in the text, “Blessed be you to the Lord. I have performed the commandment of the Lord.” And the answer, of course, that Samuel gives is “[Well, then, if you’ve done that,] what then”—verse 14—“is this bleating of the sheep in my ears and the lowing of the oxen that I hear?”

Now, again, this ties back to the very clear directive that God had given. It wasn’t simply that there was to be a removal of the political structures of the Amalekites. It was that there was to be a wholesale destruction of the Amalekites, and that it involved not only people but it also involved the beasts. And therefore, the presence of the beasts and the noise that they inevitably made testified to the fact that Saul was in violation of the command of God. God had said, “I don’t want you to spare anyone,” and Saul had decided that he would spare someone.

And so it is in light of that that the blame game begins. And in verse 15, you will notice—and we’ll just follow the narrative to keep us on track this evening—in verse 15, you will notice that Saul, who is very fond of the first-person singular, “I,” immediately employs “they”: “Saul said, ‘They have brought them from the Amalekites.’” Now, none of the commentators say this, but it occurred to me that it may well be that in the immediacy of that context, Saul was actually pointing at somebody. He might have been pointing and saying, “They’re the ones that brought these creatures over here.” And then, as he follows up on that, he says, “Because it was”—notice—“the people who spared the best of the sheep” and so on. “God said, ‘Don’t spare anybody,’ but they went ahead and did it.”

Now, we know already that—down in verse 9—that Saul was complicit in this. In fact, he was the leader in this: “But Saul and the people spared Agag and the best of the sheep and … the oxen.” You were involved in this, Saul; that’s the point. You can’t now simply say that it was the people that did it. And will you notice as well what is a very sad word there: they “spared the best of the sheep and of the oxen to sacrifice to the Lord your God.” “Your God.”

Now, you see, when you turn your back on the living God, when you start to willfully sin against the command of God, it will become apparent. It will become apparent in conversation. It will become apparent in lifestyle. And it is apparent here that Saul has already, even in the expression of these public elements, begun to drift away from the Lord who has anointed him as the king. He’s not just made a foolish decision. He has turned back from following Yahweh. And as I said this morning, he stands, at least in this regard, as a warning to all of us to heed the word of Hebrews: “See to it … that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns” back, or “turns away from the living God.”[3]

And then he says, “But, of course, I know that this has happened, but nevertheless, you’ll notice that we spared the best of the sheep and of the oxen to sacrifice to the Lord your God, and the rest, the stuff that we found to be worthy of destruction, we went ahead and destroyed.” And Samuel, he can’t stand it any longer, and he simply shouts, “Stop!” “Stop!” I don’t know how many times I’ve seen that in the text of Scripture at all. I suppose a concordance could help me. “Then Samuel said to Saul, ‘Stop!’” Okay. “Stop! in the name of love, before you break my heart.”[4] Right? “You’re driving me nuts, Saul! That’s enough. Just don’t even say anything else. Just stop! Because I’m gonna tell you what the Lord said to me this night. What you need to do, Saul, is do what I told you at the beginning of the chapter: listen to what the Lord says. And when you don’t listen to what the Lord says, the Lord will come and make himself known to you in ways that will get you to the point where you’re forced to listen. And so I’m going to tell you.” And what else can Saul say except “Speak”? And then, in verse 17, Samuel picks it up.

Now, if we had time (and we don’t this evening) and we were in another context, then we could have some dialogue about this opening sentence—indeed, the opening half of the sentence: “Though you are little in your own eyes…” Now, what does that mean? What does he mean by that? Is this ironic? You know, “Though you are little in your own eyes…” Like, “Yeah, monument builder.” You know, “You’re a very humble fellow, just having come from building your monument.” Or is it actually an acknowledgment of where Saul started from? Because at the beginning, there’s no question that he was diffident. He was tall, he was handsome, he was striking, he was the one set apart, and yet he was the one hanging around, hiding in the baggage. And it may well be that Samuel is picking up from that, and he’s making the contrast between the beginning of Saul and now what is essentially the end of Saul. Could be that too.

Or it may be—and I’m inclined to this, and I wouldn’t fight for it—but it may well be that he’s picking up on what he’s saying. Because remember what he said: “They—those people—did this. The people did this.” It may well be that he’s saying to him, “Now, you, although in your eyes you’re only a little bit of the problem, you’re only a small part of the program… That’s what you’re saying; you’re saying that ‘it’s not really me; it’s the people.’ So, though you are only a little part of the problem, the fact is, Saul, aren’t you the head of the tribes of Israel? Aren’t you the king of Israel? And hasn’t your mission been made unambiguously clear to you? And haven’t you failed in the mission?”

Well, of course, the answer to that is absolutely yes. “The Lord sent you on a mission,” verse 18. “He told you, ‘Go, devote to destruction the sinners, the Amalekites, and fight against them until they are consumed.’ But let me ask you a question, Saul: Why then did you not obey the voice of the Lord? It can’t be because it wasn’t clear. Why? Why did you pounce on the spoil and do what was evil in the sight of the Lord?”

Now, we’ve already seen this word “pounce,” haven’t we, back in 14? You remember when after they weren’t allowed to eat the sugar stuff, the honey stick stuff, they went just ravenously into eating all of these creatures, slaughtering them, and the word there is the same word. And so, they “pounced” on all of that.[5] They pounced on it all. And so he says, “Why have you gone ahead and pounced on this?”

It speaks to the absolute senselessness of sin. You see, sin is represented to us as being quite attractive. You know, “I think it’s a far more sensible approach to go in this way, if you would consider it, you know.” You could rationalize various things. “God doesn’t really mean extermination. ‘Extermination’ doesn’t mean extermination. ‘Destruction of everything’ doesn’t actually mean destruction of everything.” Well, yes, it actually does. “Why did you do this? Why have you pounced? You haven’t just made a silly choice. You have done evil in the sight of the Lord.”

Now, what happens is that as Samuel gives to Saul his report card, Saul now is prepared still to go on the defensive. And in verse 20, look at it: “I have obeyed. I have obeyed the voice of the Lord.” Well, strictly speaking, you obeyed some of it. “I have gone on the mission.” Well, yes, you did go on the mission. Why he says “I have brought Agag the king of Amalek [back]” I don’t know, because that’s not a plus. You know, sometimes I think it is, like, you know, with your children, when they’ve got a bad one, they try and slip it in, in the middle of two or three good ones. You know what I mean? When they don’t want you to know they’ve done something wrong, but they might have to acknowledge it, then what they can do is they can say, “And I went over to Joe’s house, like I said, and I did help his mother with the groceries,” and then they just slip in the other little piece that has something to do with it. It may be that. I don’t know. Otherwise he’s just nuts. Because why would you do that? The judgment of God is against you for it!

Formal worship can’t be substituted for a life of heartfelt obedience.

“And I have devoted the Amalekites to destruction.” And then, once again, he throws the people under the bus. Verse 21. What kind of leadership is this? Who would want this fellow as a king? “The people took the spoil, the sheep, the oxen. It was the good stuff, though, Samuel—the best of the things devoted to destruction, so that they could sacrifice.”

You see? It’s wonderful if you can couch your sin and your rebellion in the language of devotion: “The only reason that they did this was so that they could do what they ought to do. The only reason they have sinned is in order that they might sin for a very good reason!” See? They stole from the cash register in Heinen’s so that they could put the money in the offering! That’s the kind of illogicality that sin employs. And that is exactly what he’s doing.

And so Samuel challenges that kind of faulty thinking. Immediately he responds, and in words that are familiar to those of us who know our Bible, he says, “Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord?” See why language is important, why you need to know the English language if you’re going to read an English Bible? He doesn’t say, “Has the Lord delight in burnt offerings?” He clearly does. The “as” comes twice. “Has the Lord as great delight … as in obeying the voice of the Lord?” It’s relative here.

God does not delight in sacrifices that come unaccompanied by obedience. That’s the point that’s being made. It’s made throughout all of Scripture. God has introduced these sacrifices for the good and for the well-being of his people. But he doesn’t expect that the formal acts, the routines, the regulations of religion, may be used as a mechanism to stand back from a heart, core obedience to the clear instruction of God himself. In other words, what Samuel is saying is formal worship can’t be substituted for a life of heartfelt obedience.

Now, again, this is something which just is through the whole Bible. Paul, fascinatingly, both begins and ends the book of Romans with this very emphasis. You don’t need to turn to it, but in his opening paragraph, speaking of the Lord Jesus Christ, he says, “Through [Jesus] we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith.”[6] “To bring about the obedience of faith.” And when you go to the end of Romans—I didn’t notice this until I went looking for it this week—but when you get to the end of Romans (at least it was there on Friday; I hope it’s still there now): “but [now has] been disclosed and through the prophetic writings … made known to all [the] nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about”—the second-last verse of Romans—“to bring about the obedience of faith.”[7]

Now, what he then says in verse 23 is inescapable, because he says disobedience, which is “rebellion,” “is as the sin of divination.” Well, we’ve already seen the divination, because the enemies of Israel were involved in divination, back in 6:2: “And the Philistines called for the priests and the diviners and [they] said, ‘What shall we do with the ark of the Lord?’” So what he’s saying is that divination was a manifold expression of an individual or a nation’s rejection of God. Divination was tied to the worship of foreign deities. Divination was tied to the very antithesis of obedience to the living God. And furthermore, presuming that I can be selective in my obedience, he says, is akin to idolatry. The presumption that says, “You know, it doesn’t really matter; I can pick and choose.” In other words, all the bleating and all the burning declared that Saul had rejected God and, in doing so, had disqualified himself from kingship in Israel.

I wonder if we could put it in just contemporary terms this evening: you can’t get away with flat-out disobedience by showing up for Communion. There’s not a service that can cover for the absence of an obedient heart. That is why the Communion table is surrounded so clearly by the calls for an unstinting commitment to turn from sin, to live in fellowship with Christ and with our neighbors, and to take seriously the fact that when God says something, he absolutely means it.

This is a sobering chapter. I recognize it—and so do you.

And so, verse 24, Saul finally comes clean. And then I put a dash in my notes, and I wrote, “Sort of!” Because he does and he doesn’t. “I have sinned, for I[’ve] transgressed the commandment of the Lord and your words, because I feared the people and obeyed their voice.” Sounds like Pilate, doesn’t it? Do you know how many of us have fallen into sin because we fear the people in our office, fear the people in our school, fear the people that said, you know, “You’re such a little pathetic little Christian; if you had any backbone to you at all, you would come and join us and do all these things”? And the voice of the people sounded so loudly in our ears that we went with it. What was the problem? The Saul problem. We refused to listen to the voice of God. We listened to the voices in our heads. “I feared the people.” “The fear of man bring[s] a snare.”[8] “The fear of [God] is the beginning of wisdom.”[9] “I … obeyed their voice.” Well, there you have it.

And so he says, “Now that I’ve got that over with,” verse 25, “could you please pardon my sin and return with me, that I may bow before the Lord?” It’s a sort of “Can we just move on?” We’re familiar with this kind of confession on TV—sports personalities and so on. They stand up and said, “I made a bit of a mess of it. Now, let’s get on; can I have my sponsorship back again?” There’s a very great difference between a sort of repentance that is there on the fact that I have been rumbled and a repentance which reveals itself in godly sorrow. The kind of repentance that reveals itself in godly sorrow does not immediately ask for reinstatement, I guarantee you. I’ve said to my elders many times, “If I were to violate the call of God in my life, if I were to violate my marital bonds, I would never, under any circumstances, ever reappear to say, ‘Could you please put me back where I was?’ You would not be able to find me. I would have buried myself.”

“Now, I have listened to their voice; I have done this. Now can we just get on with things, and can I go back to where I was?” Samuel says, “No chance.” Remember, Samuel speaks as God. Samuel speaks as the prophet of God. Samuel has been entrusted by God to speak the word of God to the anointed king of Israel, whose kingdom is collapsing before his very eyes. And the judgment of God here, which has been expressed, is now reinforced. It’s tragic stuff. “I will not return with you. For you have rejected the word of the Lord, and the Lord has rejected you [as the] king [of] Israel.” It’s all over now. Nothing left to say. Just his dreams. And the orchestra’s playing, and the tune has turned plaintive, and the melody is in a minor key.

And what a picture in verse 27. In fact, I hope you, along with me, could burst into tears in reading verse 27. And “Samuel turned to go away,” and Saul grabbed him, grabbed his robe. The last vestige and possibility of restoration and of usefulness is leaving through the door, and he lays hold of him. It’s an amazing picture. I think if I could paint, I’d paint this picture. No one would like the picture, but it doesn’t matter, ’cause I can’t paint. But I can read. And as he turned to go away, Saul—Saul didn’t go, “Well, okay, fine. It was worth a try, you know? I was gonna ask. I thought I could ask. It doesn’t really matter.” No, no! He tore his robe.

The kind of repentance that reveals itself in godly sorrow does not immediately ask for reinstatement.

The robe comes all the way through, doesn’t it? Samuel’s robe. His mom made it for him every year.[10] Samuel is identified by his robe on the day of his death. And the robe appears now, torn, as a metaphor of the kingdom being taken from Saul. Torn to give to another, and this is final.

That’s the significance of verse 29: “And also the Glory of Israel,” he says, “will not lie or have regret, for he is not a man, that he should have regret.” This doesn’t mean, incidentally, that Saul is beyond personal recovery. What it does mean is that his kingship is rejected irrevocably. Ralph Davis, in a wonderful sentence, says—no, I think it’s Woodhouse—Saul’s soul could have found a remedy if he had bowed beneath God’s judgment of rejection; that the very judgment of God in rejecting him was a mercy, if he could only have seen it.

And verse 29 is here to speak to us of the fixity of the purposes of God. If verses 11 and 35, about the regret of God in making him king, express to us the feeling, if you like, of God, then this is here as the counterbalance, to let us understand that on the one hand, God is not immobile. He’s immutable, but he’s not rocklike; he’s not unfeeling. But nor is he ebbing and flowing in relationship to his promises and to his warnings and to his judgments. God was grieved by Saul’s disobedience—a disobedience he knew was coming. But his intentions hadn’t changed. In fact, everything is actually unfolding as God had said through his prophet it would unfold: “If you will not obey the voice of the Lord, but rebel against the commandment of the Lord, then the hand of the Lord will be against you and [against] your king.”[11]

Now, I don’t want to delay at this point in the evening; our time is close to gone. I can leave you to follow up on these things on your own. Those of you who want to stumble unduly over this contradiction between a God who is expressing regret in 11 and unable to regret in verse 29: it is a paradox, and it does challenge us, but we shouldn’t be surprised by it. And the whole approach that we need to take in these kind of things is to make sure that we don’t allow some detail in the story of the Bible to create such a problem for us so as to prevent us from paying close attention to what isn’t a problem for us and what is so clearly spoken.

Because we do know this: that God is consistent in his dealings, and he’s also sorrowful in his response. And frankly, only a God who is true to his warnings and his promises and yet who is described for us as being grieved by the disobedience, that is the only God, actually, who’s worthy of our praise and our worship. We can’t have a God who’s blowing hot and cold: “Oh, well, I don’t think I’ll fulfill my promise this time. Oh, well, things have changed. Well, I think I’ll have to do it differently. No, the warning, I’ve removed the warning.” God is not like that. He can’t be like that. He isn’t like that. The Bible makes it perfectly clear.

And so he comes back to it again, and he says, verse 30, “[Well,] I have sinned; yet honor me now before the elders of my people.” Now, the commentators say, “Well, this is his last vestige of hope.” He says, “Well, at least let me go back, you know, and move amongst my people, and come with me, so that, you know, I’m not just a complete and utter disaster.” I take it that that’s really what he’s hoping for now. There’s no question of there being any restoration of his kingship. He’s already given up on that. And what he had in mind in asking that in verse 30, and why Samuel accedes to this second request, I don’t know—and neither do you, ’cause we’re not told. “So Samuel turned back after Saul, and Saul bowed before the Lord.”

Well, wouldn’t it just be fine if it ended there? But no, there’s another matter. There is unfinished business. And it falls now to the prophet of God to do what the king, the anointed of God, was called to do and in his disobedience wouldn’t do. The terrible sentence is fully deserved. As we said in the morning and tried to reinforce, we’re not dealing here with murder. We’re dealing with the righteous judicial judgment of God. Saul has failed to do it, and Samuel steps forward. And surely, without anything other than a grim commitment to obey the command of God, he destroys Agag “before the Lord in Gilgal.”

Again, you see, as we said last Sunday morning, we struggle with this because of our culture; because of the philosophical underpinnings of our worldviews; because, in some cases, of our sheer unbelief; because we say, “I don’t like this, I don’t want this, I don’t want to believe this.” Ultimately, what we’re saying is we don’t believe the Bible. We don’t believe that God is God. We don’t believe that God does not express regret like a man. We want him to be made in our image so that we can represent him to a world that is in need of God.

I was reading yesterday to Sue some material. She was very gracious to keep listening to me. I was reading from early nineteenth-century Scottish history. She actually looked as if she was enjoying it, but I was reading to her, and I was telling her about how in early nineteenth-century Scotland, the battle for Presbyterianism in Scotland was waging between a moderate view of God and the Bible and what would be regarded as an immoderate view of God and the Bible, so that moderate clergy were securing positions. And they were explaining to people that God is not like this, that God doesn’t do this, that this is a different kind of thing. And eventually, in one great gathering of the assembly in Edinburgh, 451 men stood up and walked out and said, “We will sacrifice our homes, we will sacrifice our buildings, we may even sacrifice ourselves to uphold the name of the living God, who doesn’t change like shifting shadows.”[12]

And loved ones, this is now the twenty-first century. The battle remains, and the issue is the same. And the fundamental underlying reality is the question of the Evil One in the garden: “Did God really say this?”[13] And the problem was, yes, he did. And Saul understood it. But he wouldn’t do it, and Samuel had to step forward.

“Well,” you say, “well, that was all a long time ago. The Old Testament stuff again.” No. Remember the apostles. When Peter is explaining, at the house of Cornelius, what’s going on, he says to the gathered assembly, “And [Jesus] commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed … to … judge … the living and the dead.”[14] That was his message: Jesus, the one appointed to judge the living and the dead. When Paul writes to Timothy and charges him with a proclamation of the gospel in the first century, he says, “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead.”[15]

And so, chapter 15 ends, the music fades, the characters depart. It is for sure the stuff of tragedy. Saul didn’t listen, and now, without Samuel, there will be no one to speak and nothing to hear. Gibeah and Ramah were only ten miles apart. Now, admittedly, they weren’t able to shoot up and down on a motorbike, but ten miles is not a long way. What an unbelievable tragedy with which the chapter closes.

What do you find yourself saying? I tell you, my only retreat in all of this—and I suppose it is a retreat in order to advance—is to find myself along with Paul when he tries to make sense of all of the wonder of God’s purposes from all of eternity. And eventually, after he’s wrestled with it—and he had a big brain and a big heart and a great capacity, such as none of us can equal—but eventually, he just casts himself on God and says,

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!

“For who has known the mind of the Lord,
 or who has been his counselor?”
“Or who has given a gift to him
 that he might be repaid?”

For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever [and ever]. Amen.[16]

[1] See 1 Samuel 11:14–15.

[2] 1 Samuel 13:14 (paraphrased).

[3] Hebrews 3:12 (NIV).

[4] Lamont Dozier, Brian Holland, and Eddie Holland, “Stop! in the Name of Love” (1965).

[5] See 1 Samuel 14:32.

[6] Romans 1:5 (ESV).

[7] Romans 16:26 (ESV).

[8] Proverbs 29:25 (KJV).

[9] Proverbs 9:10 (ESV).

[10] See 1 Samuel 2:19.

[11] 1 Samuel 12:15 (ESV).

[12] See James 1:17.

[13] Genesis 3:1 (paraphrased).

[14] Acts 10:42 (ESV).

[15] 2 Timothy 4:1 (ESV).

[16] Romans 11:33–36 (ESV).

Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.