July 15, 2011 Devotion Sharing

Submitted by Peter Choi, Gracepoint Berkeley

1 Samuel 15:1-9

“Saul is to utterly/totally destroy every man, woman, child, and beast belonging to the Amalekites [and] is used in connection with warfare for the practice of dedicating to God all of a conquered enemy and their possessions…  The practice is associated with holy war, in which the battle has sacral purpose and God is often said to fight as a warrior for Israel.”[1]

What aspect of Saul emerges from the fact that he “spared…everything that was good” but totally destroyed “everything that was despised and weak?” In what ways am I like Saul?

I was thinking about what would make Saul do what he did here, and it really didn’t make a whole lot of sense that he would blatantly go against God’s command. But it does make sense that as a result of his worldliness he disobeyed. Considering the complete destruction of the Amalekites as an offering to God, Saul’s preservation of “everything that was good” is basically keeping the best for himself and giving God “everything that was despised and weak.” And that is the telltale sign of materialism. Giving in to that subtle pull that materialism has. It creeps in. Not so blatant at first, but certainly capturing my heart a little bit at a time until there is a pretty radical shift in values – to the point that something fundamental has been violated. But what is the reason for such a slip in value? For me it is often because I did not really think things through enough, and did not have God in the picture. Saul might not have thought about who it was that commanded him to utterly destroy everything. He might not have considered what the very act of utterly destroying everything may have meant – dedicating everything to God. And the fact that he set up a monument to himself shows that he was interested more in being a king like any other worldly king than to follow God’s command. With God out of the picture, Saul was left only with his own wisdom, which obviously fell miserably short.

For me, the way that this mindset manifests itself is when I am focused more on myself, and I find myself thinking about what is “good enough”, rather than thinking about doing something precisely, correctly, and for the right reason. And sure enough, when I engage in ministry with the wrong mindset, I drop the ball, get things wrong, and find myself running around like a chicken with its head cut off, wondering when things will ever let up.  But when I consider what would please God, and think about why I’m doing what I am doing, I find myself doing the right things, feeling very fulfilled. I may be just as tired, but there seems to be much more energy to take on even more. This DT is very timely as I consider all the things that are going on and are about to go on – mission trips, retreats, and NSWN just around the corner… I really have to resist that temptation to focus on myself, to rely on my own experience and wisdom so that I don’t end up doing something fundamentally against God’s commands.

1 Samuel 15:10-20

Reflect on the picture of God and Samuel grieving for Saul and the picture of Saul “[setting] up a monument in his own honor.” What contributed to this kind of blindness on Saul’s part? What can I learn about the danger of partial obedience from this, especially in light of Saul’s response in v.20?

What an ugly picture this is. Saul succeeded in his campaign because of God. Rather than give credit to God, rather than worship and acknowledge God, Saul put up a monument in his own honor. It’s so easy to point out how wrong this was for Saul, and other people for that matter, but what about me? I think often I do the same, feeling very good about myself when something I do is successful (and often the same mindset is at play when I feel terrible when something I do is unsuccessful). What a contrast to the grief that Samuel expressed all night when he heard from God “I am grieved that I have made Saul king”. The difference between the two stems from the fact that Samuel shared God’s heart, while Saul was more interested in personal success. Samuel was able to see things rightly. He was able to see things clearly, while Saul was deluded and saw himself more highly than he ought.

Not connecting things back to God will result in such a disconnect of the heart. And without the sharing of the heart, there is more potential for partial obedience because out of blindness I can feel like I obeyed completely, as Saul did in v.20. “I did obey the Lord,” I will say wrongly. What is more, partial obedience can be even worse than outright disobedience because there is the element of self-deception to deal with. As I think back to the times when a blind spot was pointed out to me, some sinful pattern in my life, I never saw it coming. That’s why it’s a blind spot. And without God’s mercy through the body of Christ it’s simply a vicious cycle because I can’t even be in the right frame of mind to pray “O Lord, have mercy on me a sinner.” (if I am blind, I am unable to see that I am a sinner, which prevents me from even praying this very prayer). I would instead end up praying “I thank you, Lord, that I am not like other men”, incorrectly boasting of what I have done and how spiritual I am.

That’s the danger of partial obedience. I can feel like “I did obey the Lord” when in fact it is impossible without God’s help. God’s standard is perfect, and trying to live my life to that perfect standard will immediately show how sinful I am, and how incapable… no… how disobedient I am. The danger of partial obedience is that I do not see the full picture – one in which I am clearly a sinner in need of grace. As a result I end up thinking more highly of myself, erecting monuments of myself looking down on everything else, when I should actually be looking up Calvary’s hill.

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Submitted by Nancy Cheung, Gracepoint Berkeley

1 Samuel 15:1-9
What aspect of Saul emerges from the fact that he “spared…everything that was good” but totally destroyed “everything that was despised and weak”? The text says that he was unwilling to destroy completely the best of the sheep and cattle. He spared Agag the king, the person of royalty among the Amalekites. There was something about it that seemed like a terrible waste to him. What emerges from this is Saul’s worldliness, his value of things that the world considers good. Though he claimed that he saved the best of the animals to sacrifice to God, it shows what he valued fundamentally. He couldn’t get over their worldly value. In the end, he cared more about sparing what he considered valuable over honoring God. This shows that what are pitted against each other are his love for the world and his “love” for God. It is so true what James 4:4 says, friendship with the world is hatred toward God. His obedience to God was completely conditional – contingent on what he was willing to give up, and he therefore failed to relate to God properly.

In what ways am I like Saul? I’m like Saul in that in serving God, I often refuse to give what is best – the best of my time, energy, attention. I’m willing to give up some, but not the best and most valuable. When time is tight and therefore so valuable, that’s when I want to hoard it for myself, use it for my personal comfort and gain, begrudge giving it to others. The best of my energy and focus are not reserved for DT and prayer but for my selfish agendas, the things that will make me feel good about myself, getting things done, getting ahead. I need to see how my worldliness, my valuing the things that bring me physical and emotional comfort and that make me feel good about myself, are a direct assault on my devotion to God. These are the things that compete with giving God full honor. I value these things in themselves, when what is truly worthy is God himself, and he is the one I need to give all these things to.

Also, just as Saul said so confidently to Samuel, “The Lord bless you! I have carried out the Lord’s instructions,” when he actually didn’t, I get smug and complacent after serving God a little, thinking that that’s the same as serving God with all my heart and soul and body. I start to obey God’s commands but don’t do so all the way because of my selfishness, laziness, pride. Yet just because I started, or did so a little, I think that I’m obeying God. This is the same disregard Saul had for God’s word. Saul carried out only part of God’s instructions, and treated it the same as if he had carried it out in full. I need to treat God’s word with utmost seriousness, struggling to obey him completely. As I look at my life and see where I’ve been refusing to obey completely, I need to call it the disobedience that it is and repent.

1 Samuel 15:10-20
Reflect on the picture of God and Samuel grieving for Saul and the picture of Saul “[setting] up a monument in his own honor.” What contributed to this kind of blindness on Saul’s part? God was grieved that he had made Saul king, as he saw that Saul had turned away from him with his complete disregard for his commands. Meanwhile, Saul was setting up a monument in his own honor, smug at his victory over the Amalekites and enjoying the best of the sheep and cattle, probably thinking that he was indeed favored by God. What contributed to this kind of blindness were the initial signs of success (his victory in battle) and his focus on what he HAD done (having killed most of the people and most of the animals). Because he was so focused on and enamored by the outward appearance of things, the apparent success, he failed to see the complete, true reality – that he had actually failed to obey God’s command, period, and was completely trampling on God’s honor and holiness.

What can I learn about the danger of partial obedience from this, especially in light of Saul’s response in v.20? The danger of partial obedience is that I can be fooled into thinking that I’ve obeyed God. I can think that partial obedience is better than not doing anything at all. It can make me ignore and downplay the parts that I disobeyed. But partial obedience = disobedience, because God is the holy God. The point is not the separate parts of the command, but to carry out God’s commands completely in total fear and reverence for him. In relating to him, there is no such thing as partial obedience. It has to be total. The end has to be complete surrender and reverence for God above all else.

1 Samuel 15:16, 22-30
According to v.16 and vv.22-30, what is required for genuine repentance? What is required for genuine repentance is hearing and regarding what God has to say, coming back to a proper regard for God and honoring him above anyone/anything else. Saul’s sin had been to disregard God’s words, obeying only part of it. Genuine repentance would have meant that he fear and honor God over people, and have higher regard for him than for his own gain.

According to v.30, what might have caused Saul to miss the point of repentance? It was Saul’s fear of people and desire to be honored before them that caused him to miss the point of repentance. He couldn’t bear the thought of being stripped of his kingship before the people and having them see him no longer favored by God. So he admitted his sin and asked for forgiveness, wanting to regain favor with God, not so that he could be reconciled to him (which is the point of repentance) but so that he could save face in front of the people.

1 Samuel 15:10, 34-35
What is the significance of the prophet and king permanently separating? When Samuel went to Ramah, Saul didn’t follow him but went to his own home, and Samuel never visited Saul again. This permanent separation between the two signifies Saul’s separation from God. Saul didn’t stay connected with the one who kept him connected to God and who was the voice of truth pointing out when he was turning away from God in order to bring him back. It marks the point where Saul went his own way, carrying out his kingship on his own with no more direction from God.

How do the prophet and God respond to the sin of Saul? God grieves that he had made Saul king, and God and Samuel mourn over the fact that Saul had turned away from God and gone his own way.

What warning does this passage have for me? The warning for me is that I better not let go of my connection with the people of God. If I distance myself from those people who are the voice of truth in my life and push them away, or simply don’t care to cultivate my relationship with them, then I will seriously get lost spiritually. I will lose genuine connection with God because I won’t have people pointing out the ways that I’m blind, the ways I’m offending God both knowingly and unknowingly, so that I won’t even know or care to repent. My leaders are necessary for me to learn and continue to relate to God in the proper way, so I need to hold onto them and treasure them, in a way, more than anyone else in my life.

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