“Why then did you not obey the voice of the LORD, but rushed upon the spoil and did what was evil in the sight of the LORD?” Then Saul said to Samuel, “I did obey the voice of the LORD, and went on the mission on which the LORD sent me, and have brought back Agag the king of Amalek, and have utterly destroyed the Amalekites. “But the people took some of the spoil, sheep and oxen, the choicest of the things devoted to destruction, to sacrifice to the LORD your God at Gilgal.” Samuel said, “Has the LORD as much 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 divination, And insubordination is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, He has also rejected you from being king.”
1 Samuel 15:19-23
Saul started out so promising. Samuel told him about God’s plan for his life and the Lord even changed his heart and Saul, filled with the Spirit prophesied. (1Sam. 10:11) He would even prophesy again later on. (1 Sam. 11:6) It seemed sure that Saul would rise to fame as a mighty instrument of God and sit on the throne of Israel and usher in a great period of glory. Alas, things got out of hand very quickly. That has to surprise us. But I’m sure we all have had our own share of surprising turns of events leaving us wondering just how it could have happened.
All I can surmise is that even though Saul started out on God’s path he would meet events that put pressures on him he was not able to deal with. First of all the Philistines were a gathering storm headed his way, and Samuel had told him to wait for his arrival before proceeding. The time came, Saul waited as long as he could stand the pressure and then proceeded with a sacrifice on his own in direct disobedience to his instructions. (1 Sam. 13:8-13) And as happens so often when we give up hope, immediately Samuel arrived! If only Saul had waited probably a few more minutes. But he allowed himself to rely on his own powers of thought and deduction and discernment. And, naturally, failed miserably. He rationalized that he must disobey God’s instructions, because for some reason God was going to let him down, that Samuel was not going to keep his promise and meet him after seven days. So, reasoned Saul, if Samuel isn’t going to keep his word, then it is satisfactory for me to do what I feel I must.
We humans have a great capacity for self-deception. All of us. You, me, everybody. It is our responsibility as children of God, those of us born again by His Spirit, to trust in what He says, in what He has promised, as we read His Word and, filled by His Spirit, are guided by His grace. Quite naturally – emphasis on the “natural,” rather than the supernatural. Just as a friend of mine, Anne, once told me when she shared with her sister that she was anxious about a date she was about on which she was about to embark, her sister told her, “just do what comes naturally.” And overhearing that her father, very wisely countered, “you better not do what comes naturally, you better do what comes supernaturally.” We are prone to try to figure out by ourselves what we should do and think, what makes sense to us. It is incredibly tempting to rely on our own logic, rather than to surrender to His Spirit and discernment. That is how heresies begin, how strife occurs, how hatred is fostered, how sin flourishes. Even within the Church.
Let us not be deceived. Jesus promised to give us the Spirit as a Helper. (Acts 1:8) “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you.” He promises to guide us into all truth. (1 John 4:6) If we only have eyes to see and ears to hear we can surely without too much difficulty steer clear of the errors that run rampant in society, and sadly, even in the Church. Just read with what corrections Paul and John and other New Testament writers had to admonish the early gathering of Believers. That was because it is too easy for us to think for ourselves and not contemplatively rely on the Spirit of Truth to show us the light.
Saul’s own spiritual swings mimic the cycles of Israel during the Judges, the apostasy from God, then rescue by God. Saul loves David, then he hates David; he tries to kill David, then comes to his senses and realizes David is not his enemy. Back and forth, back and forth. Such is the vacillation of one not truly committed to following the Lord. Then you lose the path and the signposts set to keep you on the path. Like Saul, who, on his last night on earth, disobeyed his own statute outlawing fortunetellers under penalty of death, and visited one because he couldn’t get any reply form God Himself! Saul not only ignored the signposts but assisted in knocking them down himself!
When one abandons the knowledge of God’s truth and comes to believe that his own logic and reason is a better and more accurate guide to the things of life and the spirit than one quite naturally (again that word!) loses his way. (Romans 1:18-32) And when you lose your way you can’t tell the difference between what is right or wrong. What is sin and what is blessing. And you soon come to call sin a blessing, you call wrong right. And you really believe that the sin you are doing is the blessing God wants for you. And that is perverting God’s truth. Yes, it is very easy to do, it is quite natural. By we are called to do what is supernatural. Only then do we have the certainty of seeing the path in the proper light. But that takes a supernatural surrender to His lead, His Spirit. It takes living in the heart of God. (Ez. 36:26)
[Scriptures taken from the New American Standard Bible © 1995]
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