This sermon is part of the sermon series "R-Rated". See series.
(Read 1 Samuel 15)
In a presidential election year you're going to hear a lot, from various candidates trying to be President, about national security and about protecting the national security of the country. You're going to have people arguing back and forth as to who is better equipped to protect the country from enemies, who's better equipped to be the Commander in Chief. We're all accustomed to that, and we're all used to that because we understand that the President of the United States serves a function of leading the military and protecting our country. Yet there was something very different about national leadership at the time that this text was written. The king wasn't just the Commander in Chief of the army. The king was, in fact, the commander of the army. The king not only gave direction and gave vision, the king himself actually fought for the people and fought with the armies against the enemies of the people. That's why when Israel cried out and said, "We want a king," they said, "We want somebody who's going to fight for us."
When God chose Saul to be king over the people of Israel the Scripture tells us there were some worthless fellows out there who started saying, "Oh, can Saul really fight for us? Can Saul really do what it takes to be king?" The Spirit of God showed them, because Saul went out, took on the enemies of God and whipped them right in front of everybody. Now the Scripture tells us that God sends Saul on another mission to defeat the enemies of the people of God, but something terrible and awful happens.
Now you may say, "Well, I live in a completely different kind of world right now. I don't have any kind of a tribal king who is fighting for me. I live in security, and I live in peace." Why then, does Scripture say that this text means everything to us? Why did the Holy Spirit breathe out these words for us upon whom the ends of the ages have come? Because you and I desperately need a king who will fight for us. You and I have enemies far more wicked, far more evil, and far more powerful than those who are pictured in this text and in this time in history. The Scripture says that you and I are right now in a warzone as those evil principalities and powers seek to accuse us, roar about seeking to destroy us, and as Jesus says of our brother Peter, to sift us as though we were wheat.
The question is what kind of peace can we have? What kind of freedom can we have? Well, it is only when we trust and understand that a king has been raised up who will carry out his mission. You and I, the Scripture says, are being trained to be kings and queens in the world that is to come, and you and I are being equipped to fight. Not to fight against flesh and blood, Paul tells us, but to fight against those principalities and powers in the heavenly places. There will always be the temptation that came to this king that came to this man of God to surrender, to give up.
God's command regarding the Amalekites
Scripture shows us here, first of all, that the man of God stands under the Word of God. God gave a word to Saul that was hard and difficult. "I want you to go and to take on the enemies of the people, Amalek, the Amalekites. Not only do I want you to defeat them. Not only do I want you to make sure that they understand that Israel is powerful. Not only do I want you to make sure that they don't mess with you anymore. I want you to make sure they don't exist. I want you to leave nothing standing that has breath." We read that and we say, "Wow, that is harsh!" Neither man nor a woman, nor a child nor a infant, nor ox nor cattle. That doesn't sound like Jesus at all. How do we understand what God is doing here? What God is doing and commanding Saul to carry out is because of John 3:16. "For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that whosoever believes in him should not perish by have everlasting life."
If the people of Israel had allowed Amalek to stand, the Amalekites would have destroyed them, would have wiped them out, the Scriptures says. If the Amalekites had wiped out the people of Israel, that's not just another ancient Middle Eastern tribe that is done away with. It means that you do not have a Jesse and you do not have a David and you do not have a Ruth and a Solomon, and you do not ultimately have Bethlehem. Through this people and through this line is coming the One who is going to save the world. God says in order to protect the people you must do exactly what I am telling you to do. Even though it is a hard and a difficult word. You are to obey the word that is coming to you.
Confronted by truth
Saul receives that word and he does exactly what I so often do and exactly what so many of you so often do, which is to take the Word of God and to take the mission that God has given to us and to redefine it so that it fits whatever it is that we want to do. Saul spares the king. Some kind of professional courtesy. Makes you nervous when you see the king destroyed. If you're the king on the other side, you leave him around. And he leaves around the best of all flocks. Those things that God has said to wipe out and to destroy Saul says, 'Well, we can't get rid of all this stuff. This is the best stuff that's here. They've got some great stuff here. We're going to be able to use that. Think about all this meat, and think about all this money, and think about all this wool that we're going to be able to use.' He keeps all of these things together. When God confronts him through his prophet, through the Word of God, Saul does exactly what I want to do so often and what many of you want to do so often when confronted by the Word of God:
Yeah, Jesus, you say to me "Turn the other cheek," and that is what I did. He struck me, and I turned the other cheek and I let him hit that. And then that's when I whipped him. "Love my wife as Christ loved the church," and that's exactly what I'm doing. And how better can I love her than to nag and belittle her. Oh I know that I'm supposed to raise up my children in the nurture and the admonition of the Lord. And that's what we're doing. We're doing that. Yes, I know that I'm drunk most of the time, but we're taking them to Sunday school.
We find a way to take whatever it is that we want to do and to fit it into our understanding of what the Word of God is. We alter the Word of God in order to fit our desires. Saul is doing that here. It says in verse 12 that one of the things Saul does manage to do is to build a monument. He gets down there and builds a monument. He doesn't have time to deal with Agag. He doesn't have time to deal with the mission that God has given to him, but he was able to build a monument to himself, to seek after his own glory. When Saul is confronted in verse 24 he says what exactly is happening. He says, "Oh, I am so sorry. Samuel, you just don't understand when you come to me and say that I haven't carried out the mission. I have carried out the mission." Samuel says, "Well then why do I hear sheep bleating back there? What's that?" "Oh, oh, what you don't understand is the people. They wanted to keep the sheep around. Oh, and not only that. We're actually disobeying God in order to obey him, because we're going to keep the sheep and we're going to keep the oxen so that we can sacrifice them to the Lord your God. See how faithful we are? See what we're doing? I was afraid of the people, and I was afraid of the voice of the people; and so technically we have kept all of the word that you have given us to do."
Saul knows better than that, and so do you. We think, Oh I'm living out a life of integrity. This isn't really a lie. This is necessary in order for me to be able to exist in this office complex. I couldn't tell the truth. Oh well, yeah, I'm faithful to my spouse. Yeah, I'm faithful because pornography doesn't count as unfaithfulness. Not in my mind. Oh, oh yeah. I'm somebody who is taking care of my children and loving my wife. Leaving and divorcing them just had to be done in order to be who God created me to be.
We find all kinds of ways of saying technically I am following the will of God. Technically I am carrying out the mission that God has given me to do. Then, when the Word of God comes in, either in this case through a physical prophetic presence—or when we hear the Word of God as it is coming from Scripture or when we sense the conviction that is coming from the Holy Spirit, our response is to act exactly as Saul does, which is to have an explanation and to plead our case. God tells us in Malachi that that's exactly what happens when he says to the people, "You have robbed me." Their response is, "How have we robbed you?" You define it according to your own appetite.
Rebellion in our hearts
Notice what the Word of God says through the prophet Samuel. He says, "Does God desire fat and blood off of these offerings more than he desires obedience?" No. And not only that. He says to him, "Rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft." He doesn't say rebellion is like the sin of witchcraft. He says, "Rebellion is the sin of witchcraft." It doesn't matter where your rebellion is. It doesn't matter if your rebellion is your failure to crucify your appetites and desires. It doesn't matter if your rebellion is your failure to follow obediently in confessing Jesus as Lord. It doesn't matter if your rebellion is your failure to be held accountable to the brothers and sisters of the body. It doesn't matter if your rebellion is your failure to disciple your family or to be discipled by your family. It doesn't matter if your rebellion is something that is large and obvious, or whether your rebellion is simply having that secret cell phone, teenagers, that you're able to text on, that your parents have told you not to have. It doesn't matter what the rebellion is. The rebellion itself, the Scripture says, is occultism. Why? Because if you have a spirit of rebellion you might as well dress up all in black and sacrifice a goat. You are following Satan just as really and just as clearly, because the power of Satan seeks to draw you away from right authority toward the authority of yourself.
Samuel says, "This is just as the sin of witchcraft." Saul still wants to keep his kingdom. He still wants to keep the blessing that God has given to him, and the robe rips. And Samuel turns around and says, "Just like that you have lost the kingdom. You are no longer qualified to stand as the king over the people of God."
That doesn't seem correct. Saul's going to still be king for a long time. Saul's still going to operate in the same way. But he has lost the anointing and the blessing of God because of his rebellion. That kind of kingship leads to destruction.
But notice what the text tells us—that the man of God faces the enemy of God. After all of that, the text tells us that Samuel, who's an old, frail man … nothing to be afraid of if you see Samuel. Nobody is going to step back and worry about him. Samuel walks up to the enemy of God, to Agag, who comes out and tries to be all pleasant. "Cheerfully," the Scripture says. "Samuel, there is no problem between us. This has all been a big misunderstanding. Hey, you killed a lot of my people. You took all of my stuff. Let's just call it even, and we'll go, surely there's nothing for us to be mad at each other about from now on."
If I were writing this text I probably would expect that the next thing that would happen is for Samuel to say, 'Well, okay, you're right. Let's just call it even.' He doesn't do that. This old man, Scripture says, takes up a sword and "Samuel hacked Agag to pieces before the Lord at Gilgal." That's a disturbing thing. You got a man being hacked to pieces and being hacked to pieces by a little old guy who says, "If you won't carry out what the Lord has told you to carry out, Saul, then I'm going to carry it myself."
Jesus brings peace
See the problem is Saul wanted peace, but it was the kind of peace that would just leave him alone to do what he wanted to do. It wasn't that Saul was nicer than Samuel. Saul says I want the kind of peace that's going to give me your stuff, is going to keep the people quiet, so that they're not going to criticize me, and is going to enable me to keep on building my monuments to myself. Samuel says there's only one kind of peace that I want, and it's the kind of peace that comes first of all through peace with God.
Now Scripture hasn't given you and me a mission to hack anybody to pieces with a sword. Sometimes we get irritated in our own wrath and in our own anger and we think, Maybe I'll just whip his tail right now before the Lord at Gilgal. You know? Maybe I'll just tell her what I'm thinking right now before the Lord at Gilgal. Well, he didn't give you that mission. The Lord, instead, has given you a different mission. The mission that the Lord has given to you through the blood and righteousness of Jesus Christ, who was torn apart before the Lord outside of Jerusalem by the enemies of God in our place, is to join him in his battle and in his warfare, and that is not a warfare against people. That is not a warfare against flesh and blood. It's a warfare against those invisible presences that seek to do to us exactly what they did to Saul.
Oh surely the bitterness is over. Surely you're not going to go to war against your lust. Surely you're not going to go to war against your pride. Come on. This little monument you're building to yourself in your cubicle, your neighborhood, or in your family that's not a whole lot to ask. Surely you're not going to go to war against your own acquisitiveness and your own covetousness. I mean, my goodness, all I'm doing is obeying the will of the Lord, and then all of this other stuff I'm hanging onto well God would want me to have that anyway. Pay no attention to the bleating of those goats.
Jesus is the kind of King that brings about peace, and the kind of peace that he brings about is not a peace treaty with Satan. It is not a negotiated settlement with the satanic powers. Jesus, if he is your King, is not going to leave you in your little area of tents with all of your bleating sheep and all of your monuments and all of your negotiated settlements that you have made with the principalities and powers of darkness. Jesus, instead, crucified and raised from the dead, comes with the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. He comes against those who have threatened and promised to sift you and to sift me like wheat. Jesus walks up as one who has already been executed, one who has already been killed, and one who has been raised never to die again and has been given kingship and authority over every potential rival that could ever be named. Jesus points right past you to whatever it is that wants to hold you in slavery and says, "Come here." He takes up the sword of the Spirit dipped in the blood of Jesus himself, and he hacks the satanic powers to pieces before the Lord at Gilgal.
If you want peace, the peace you must have is peace with him. I'm not at war with him. I have been crucified with him. I have been raised from the dead with him. I have surrendered all of my opposition to his rule in my life, and I am willing for him to spend the next ten, twenty, thirty, forty, fifty, sixty, seventy, eighty years identifying every pocket of rebellion that is still within my life and affections and consciousness and to rip them to shreds. When that happens you find peace with God. You find peace with one another. But behind all of that you see an old snake that still wants to be king, and you go to war.
Russell Moore is the president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention.