The word of the Lord came to Samuel: “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. 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.” And Samuel came to Saul, and Saul said to him, “Blessed be you to the Lord. I have performed the commandment of the Lord.” And Samuel said, “What then is this bleating of the sheep in my ears and the lowing of the oxen that I hear?” 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.” Then Samuel said to Saul, “Stop! I will tell you what the Lord said to me this night.” And he said to him, “Speak.”
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. 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.’ 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?” 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. 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.” 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.
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.” I Samuel 15:10-23 ESV
“With what shall I come before the Lord,
and bow myself before God on high?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
with calves a year old?
Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
with ten thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”
He has told you, O man, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God? Micah 6:6-8 ESV
The Kelly family lived in New York City. The father was dead, and they were very poor. The older children all had to work, but the little money they and their mother could make kept them poor and hungry. Mike, the oldest boy, secretly became a copper stealer. He was good at picking the pockets of rich people and taking their money to help the family. Even though he had been taught that stealing was wrong, he thought it was okay to be a copper stealer in order to help get food, buy his mother new shoes, and otherwise help his family. But his stealing got him into trouble. The police caught him, and then his mother put the whole family on the orphan train going west. His stealing had caused the family to be broken apart from their mother and from each other as well.
Saul might have thought he was doing a good thing by saving the best of the animals to sacrifice to God, but that wasn’t what God had asked him to do. Saul might have also just used it an excuse to try to get out of trouble when Samuel scolded him sternly for what he had done. Either way, Saul’s behavior was so displeasing to God that God no longer wanted him to be king of his people. Just like Mike’s stealing, Saul’s disobedience had serious consequences for him and his family. When Samuel spoke to Saul, Saul didn’t admit to sinning against God. No sacrifices could take away his sin if he wouldn’t admit to sinning. Saul’s excuses said that he didn’t think he needed any help from God.
We also sin against God every day, and sometimes we want to make excuses for our sins. We think what we did wasn’t so very wrong, or that there was a good reason for it. But God sends us his Holy Spirit to help us understand our sins so that we know we are wrong and that we need God’s forgiveness and help. God is always ready to forgive and help us because of what Jesus did for us on the cross. Jesus’ death was the one sacrifice that can truly take away our sins and give us new life with God. We never have to worry that God doesn’t love us or won’t forgive us, and we don’t have to try to make excuses. God helps us humbly confess our sins and freely forgives us every day for Jesus’ sake.
Dear Heavenly Father, thank you for your love and forgiveness and for sending Jesus to win that forgiveness for us. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
Nixon, Joan Lowery A Family Apart New York: Bantam Books, 1987.