I meet with the adult Bible class teachers on Wednesday nights, and contrary to the post I put up a couple of nights ago, we decided to start with 2 Sam 15-16, the God’s rejection of Saul and the anointing of David, to avoid starting in the middle of the story.
I call this a “wiki-lesson” because I’m going to give the other teachers the ability to edit these lessons without having to go through me — just click “edit” and add ideas. I figure we can produce better lesson plans together.
Saul had been anointed the first king of Israel by Samuel. Saul was from the tribe of Benjamin, the smallest tribe and surely the pride of his people. Saul had been successful in battle, freeing Israel of the hated Amalekites —
(Deu 25:17-19 ESV) 17 “Remember what Amalek did to you on the way as you came out of Egypt, 18 how he attacked you on the way when you were faint and weary, and cut off your tail, those who were lagging behind you, and he did not fear God. 19 Therefore when the LORD your God has given you rest from all your enemies around you, in the land that the LORD your God is giving you for an inheritance to possess, you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven; you shall not forget.”
(Jdg 6:3-4 ESV) 3 For whenever the Israelites planted crops, the Midianites and the Amalekites and the people of the East would come up against them. 4 They would encamp against them and devour the produce of the land, as far as Gaza, and leave no sustenance in Israel and no sheep or ox or donkey.
(1Sa 14:47-48 ESV) 47 When Saul had taken the kingship over Israel, he fought against all his enemies on every side, against Moab, against the Ammonites, against Edom, against the kings of Zobah, and against the Philistines. Wherever he turned he routed them. 48 And he did valiantly and struck the Amalekites and delivered Israel out of the hands of those who plundered them.
However, Saul disobeyed —
(1Sa 15:1-3 ESV) 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. 2 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. 3 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.'”
(1Sa 15:7-35 ESV) 7 And Saul defeated the Amalekites from Havilah as far as Shur, which is east of Egypt. 8 And he took Agag the king of the Amalekites alive and devoted to destruction all the people with the edge of the sword. 9 But Saul and the people spared Agag and the best of the sheep and of the oxen and of the fattened 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.
10 The word of the LORD came to Samuel: 11 “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. 12 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.”
13 And Samuel came to Saul, and Saul said to him, “Blessed be you to the LORD. I have performed the commandment of the LORD.”
14 And Samuel said, “What then is this bleating of the sheep in my ears and the lowing of the oxen that I hear?”
15 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.”
16 Then Samuel said to Saul, “Stop! I will tell you what the LORD said to me this night.”
And he said to him, “Speak.”
17 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. 18 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.’ 19 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?”
20 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 have brought Agag the king of Amalek, and I have devoted the Amalekites to destruction. 21 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.”
22 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. 23 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.”
24 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. 25 Now therefore, please pardon my sin and return with me that I may worship the LORD.”
26 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.” 27 As Samuel turned to go away, Saul seized the skirt of his robe, and it tore.
28 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 is better than you. 29 And also the Glory of Israel will not lie or have regret, for he is not a man, that he should have regret.”
30 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.”
31 So Samuel turned back after Saul, and Saul bowed before the LORD.
32 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.”
33 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. 34 Then Samuel went to Ramah, and Saul went up to his house in Gibeah of Saul. 35 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.
Now, God rejected Saul for his sin — a sin that caused no permanent harm. Indeed, Saul had merely shown mercy to an enemy! Indeed, in those days (and until recently), kings didn’t kill kings. It was considered a great crime for royalty to be killed (a rule surely created by royalty!)
And yet —
(1Sa 16:14 ESV) 14 Now the Spirit of the LORD departed from Saul, and a harmful spirit from the LORD tormented him.
When Saul lost the favor of God, he also lost God’s Holy Spirit.
There are at least these lessons here.
1. Why did God reject Saul, removing his Spirit, even though this was a minor sin — no permanant harm done — and yet God forgave David’s sin with Bathsheba and Uriah the Hittite, the damages from which lasted for years and harmed many people?
2. Why is it okay for God to command the destruction of a people — even women and children? Some want to ask whether God is evil or whether the God of the Old Testament is the God of the New Testament? Those are impious questions. The proper question is: why is God not held to the same standards as his people?
Saul vs. David
Compare David’s reaction when confronted with his own sin —
(2Sa 12:13 ESV) 13 David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the LORD.” And Nathan said to David, “The LORD also has put away your sin; you shall not die.”
(Psa 51:3-4 ESV) 3 For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. 4 Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment.
(Psa 51:16-17 ESV) 16 For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. 17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
How does David’s reaction differ from Saul’s?
Consider these passages —
(Deu 29:18-20 ESV) 18 Beware lest there be among you a man or woman or clan or tribe whose heart is turning away today from the LORD our God to go and serve the gods of those nations. Beware lest there be among you a root bearing poisonous and bitter fruit, 19 one who, when he hears the words of this sworn covenant, blesses himself in his heart, saying, ‘I shall be safe, though I walk in the stubbornness of my heart.’ This will lead to the sweeping away of moist and dry alike. 20 The LORD will not be willing to forgive him, but rather the anger of the LORD and his jealousy will smoke against that man, and the curses written in this book will settle upon him, and the LORD will blot out his name from under heaven.
(Heb 10:26-27 ESV) 26 For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27 but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries.
It’s often been taught that Saul was condemned because he disobeyed. David disobeyed and was forgiven. Saul was not. What’s the difference? Why did God treat them differently?
I think the difference is plainly one of the heart. Saul was arrogant. David was humble. Saul was concerned to build monuments to himself and protect his image. David submitted to God’s judgment and suffered the consequences. Saul was rebellious. David’s sin was truly awful, but his heart remained soft and he quickly returned to God.
A side note
Notice that in Old Testament times, only a select few received God’s Holy Spirit. Now, all Christians receive the Spirit. What does that tell us about us? How are we and Saul alike? This is covered in an earlier post here.
If you or I were to commit genocide, we’d be great sinners, and yet God condemns Saul for not destroying a people — men, women, and children. How can this be right?
Now, before we investigate the question, we need to check our arrogance at the door. We don’t stand in judgment of God. He judges us. Therefore, the question isn’t: Is God just? But rather: Why are God’s commands just? (Readers: You are free to discuss the question from this perspective, but presume to stand in judgment of God and I’ll block your comments. Blasphemy is not allowed. I’m not kidding and won’t be patient.)
Life is not nearly so sacrosanct as we’d like to believe. While it’s wrong for us to kill others (with some exceptions), God isn’t bound by the same rule. It’s not that God is above his own law so much as the reasons for the law don’t apply to God.
We’ve developed this talk of a “culture of life” and the “sanctity of life,” and speak as though the preservation of human life is the very highest good. But the Bible doesn’t say this. Indeed, there are many cases where God tells his people to kill someone — obviously for a higher reason.
Here’s where I think the distinction lies. Why is it so wrong to kill? Well, because we don’t have the wisdom to kill wisely. If we abort a child, for all we know, we’re killing the next Alexander Campbell or Billy Graham. We may be killing the inventor of the next penicillin. We may be killing someone who will figure a way to end war. We just don’t know and can’t know.
Worse yet, when we kill an adult, we may be sending someone to hell who would have found Jesus but for our actions. We may preventing him from fathering the missionary who will bring salvation to the Muslims. Who knows?
Well, God knows. God knows exactly how things will turn out when he commands the death of person or even a people — even the extermination of the Canaanites. And he knows how things will turn out if he doesn’t.
Who knows? If God hadn’t commanded the genocide of the Canaanites by the Israelites, we might all be Baal worshippers today, burning our infants alive to curry his favor — as they did back in the Old Testament days.
You see, God is capable of knowing that the suffering caused by a given battle will prevent much greater suffering later.
And I should add that God is able to give eternal comfort and bliss to the innocent who died at the hands of the Israelites or the children who died in Sodom. God can much more than make up for the loss people suffer from his commands. We can’t.
You see, we tend to arrogantly suppose that God can be judged by us — and that’s just as wrong as can be. It’s like a 12-year old girl judging her parents as hateful for having grounded her. She simply doesn’t have the maturity yet to judge such things. Of course, the gap between us and God is far, far greater.
It was, after all, God who asked Jesus to suffer and die on the cross. But God knew the consequences of Jesus’ sacrifices — and what the consequences would have been had he not paid that price for us. Does this make God cruel? or loving?
Just so, as the oldest son in my family, I’m thankful that God exterminated Baal worship from the planet. You see, the Canaanites routinely sacrificed their oldest son to Baal — burning him alive on an altar.
Does that justify genocide? The killing of innocents? Not if we did it. We can’t do the calculus to know the outcome. God can.
You see, ultimately it’s about giving God his just due as, well, God — and trusting him.
(Isa 45:9-12 ESV) 9 “Woe to him who strives with him who formed him, a pot among earthen pots! Does the clay say to him who forms it, ‘What are you making?’ or ‘Your work has no handles’? 10 Woe to him who says to a father, ‘What are you begetting?’ or to a woman, ‘With what are you in labor?'” 11 Thus says the LORD, the Holy One of Israel, and the one who formed him: “Ask me of things to come; will you command me concerning my children and the work of my hands? 12 I made the earth and created man on it; it was my hands that stretched out the heavens, and I commanded all their host.
(Jer 18:6-12 ESV) 6 “O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter has done? declares the LORD. Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel. 7 If at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, 8 and if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I intended to do to it. 9 And if at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, 10 and if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will relent of the good that I had intended to do to it. 11 Now, therefore, say to the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem: ‘Thus says the LORD, Behold, I am shaping disaster against you and devising a plan against you. Return, every one from his evil way, and amend your ways and your deeds.’ 12 “But they say, ‘That is in vain! We will follow our own plans, and will every one act according to the stubbornness of his evil heart.’