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Context Needed

Did the preacher understand the story?
Context Needed
Image: Bonnie / Lightstock

To read the sermon for this clinic, view "No Selective Obedience."

This narrative must be understood as a further development of God's relation to Saul.

The problem with preaching a passage like 1 Samuel 15:1-35 is God's actions seem frighteningly absolute in dealing with Saul. This is particularly troubling when we read other passages where God seems to accept partial obedience and response, for example, in the accounts of Gideon, Samson, some of the kings, and the disciples of Jesus. We also know from experience that God often seems to honor our acts even though our motives might be mixed, or our lives might honor him in one area while denying biblical values in another.

Perhaps it would have been helpful in the sermon "No Selective Obedience" to say more about where this event came in the development of the narratives.

First, Saul has already failed God in 1 Samuel 13:1-23, and the punishment, though severe, is not as awesome as God's response in chapter 15. Therefore this narrative must be understood as a further development of God's relation to Saul.

Second, Saul in the previous narrative was ready to kill his son Jonathan because he ate the honey, even though Jonathan led Israel to a great victory. Saul's army rebelled against the king and rescued Jonathan. Therefore in chapter 15 when Saul repeatedly refers to responding to his soldiers, this is more than just an excuse. Clearly Saul should have obeyed God in spite of his soldiers, but the biblical writer includes repeated references to the army and the people to show that Saul was intimidated as a result of the events in the previous narrative. If anything, it makes the absoluteness of God's actions more acceptable when we realize Saul was more intimidated by his army than he was by God.

To read Steven D. Mathewson's sermon clinic, view "Getting the Big Idea Right."

Paul Borden is executive minister of Growing Healthy Churches and author of Direct Hit.

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