First Book of Samuel 15: 16-24 (NIV)
16 “Stop!” Samuel said to Saul. “Let me tell you what the LORD said to me last night.”
“Tell me,” Saul replied.
17 Samuel said, “Although you were once small in your own eyes, did you not become the head of the tribes of Israel? The LORD anointed you king over Israel. 18 And he sent you on a mission, saying, ‘Go and completely destroy those wicked people, the Amalekites; make war on them until you have wiped them out’. 19 Why did you not obey the LORD? Why did you pounce on the plunder and do evil in the eyes of the LORD?”
20 “But I did obey the LORD,” Saul said. “I went on the mission the LORD assigned me. I completely destroyed the Amalekites and brought back Agag their king. 21 The soldiers took sheep and cattle from the plunder, the best of what was devoted to God, in order to sacrifice them to the LORD your God at Gilgal.”
22 But Samuel replied: “Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the LORD? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams. 23 For rebellion is like the sin of divination, and arrogance like the evil of idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, he has rejected you as king”.
24 Then Saul said to Samuel, “I have sinned. I violated the LORD’s command and your instructions. I was afraid of the people and so I gave in to them.
The LORD had given Saul an explicit command that he should destroy the Amalekites and all their property (verse 3). Saul’s disobedience caused the LORD to reject him as king over Israel.
Let us note two key messages. The first demonstrates what pleased the LORD then and continues to please him today: our obedience to his commands. Our obedience from the heart is far more significant than any good works we might attempt to undertake “for the kingdom”. Whether a Parliamentary staff member or a Minister of the Crown, obedience to the LORD is fundamental to Christian faith and witness. This obedience is required in the general sense, such as in obeying the two great commandments, and in the specific sense when God speaks to us through the Holy Spirit and requires our compliance.
The second key message is inferred in the partial acknowledgement by Saul of his sin of disobedience (verse 24). Attempting to justify his decision, he demonstrated what a weak and insecure leader he was: “I was afraid of the people and so I gave in to them”. This admission of fear reminds us of the willing acquiescence of Aaron to the wishes of the tribes of Israel while Moses was meeting God on Mount Horeb. Aaron weakened, disobeyed the LORD and made for the people the infamous golden calf.
Today we expect of leaders that they will remain committed to principles in which they firmly believe: to give precedence to obeying the Lord their God, to honour promises and commitments, to put service of others above self.
Let us be guided and encouraged by the voice of God as recorded earlier in this First Book of Samuel:
“But now the LORD declares: ‘Far be it from me! Those who honour me I will honour, but those who despise me will be disdained’.” (1 Samuel 2: 30 b).