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THIS is a decisive word, and a good reason is given for its being spoken. God is said to "repent" when, for moral reasons, he sets aside arrangements which he had appointed. The change is not in God, it is in man: all the government of God is founded upon a moral basis; when moral conditions have been impaired or disturbed, God's relation to the matter in question is of necessity changed; and this change, justified by such reasons, could not be more conveniently or indeed more accurately expressed than by the word repentance.
Saul hardly begins his reign when, somehow or other, he gets wrong. He seems to be unable to take hold of anything by the right end. There is a mist before his eyes which causes him to mistake distances and proportions; and there is a crookedness in his judgment which brings him to false conclusions whenever he tries the simplest process of reasoning. He was told to remain in Gilgal for seven days. As Samuel did not come within that period, Saul became impatient, and, by vehemence of self-will, sought to recover ground which he supposed himself to have lost. Samuel addressed him in language of terrible severity: "Thou hast done foolishly: thou hast not kept the commandment of the Lord thy God, which he commanded thee:... but now thy kingdom shall not continue" ( 1Sa 13:14 ). The anger seems to be out of proportion to the offence. Saul was impatient, and therefore he lost his kingdom. Saul disobeyed upon a point which did not appear to be of vital importance, and therefore he was to be deposed. This was very summary; so much so, that we feel inclined to rebel against it. We see something of the same thing in the life that is around us. Men are suddenly brought down from high and dignified positions. They are brought into desolation as in a moment; and yet we are at a loss to see cause enough for the angry visitation of God. No doubt they have been imperfect, but so are all men: no doubt they have sinned; but in this they have the example of the whole world to plead. The fact is, that we do not see the whole of any case. "Man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart." This is our confidence, that every stroke of divine judgment is proportioned to the guilt upon which it falls, and, though we cannot see the proportion now, God will cause us hereafter to see that his judgments have been true and righteous altogether.
We shall now see more deeply into the character of Saul than we have yet done. We have before us a detailed account of one transaction; sometimes into one act we put the quality of our whole character; and one day may sometimes be taken as a condensation of an entire lifetime. There are single acts which gather up into themselves the processes of many years. One cry of anguish may tell the tragic story of a wasted life. In this case, Saul was commanded to "go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass." Such was the commandment: what was the result? This: "Saul and the people spared Agag, and the best of the sheep, and of the oxen, and of the fatlings, and the lambs, and all that was good, and would not utterly destroy them; but everything that was vile and refuse, that they destroyed utterly" (1 Samuel 15:3 , 1Sa 15:9 ).
What are the lessons with which the narrative is charged?
1. The danger of mistaking partial for complete obedience. "Blessed be thou of the Lord: I have performed the commandment of the Lord."
( a ) God requires literal obedience.
( b ) God's language never exceeds God's meaning.
( c ) Conscience is seen most clearly in minute obedience.
2. The possibility of giving a religious reason for an act of disobedience. "The people spared the best of the sheep and of the oxen, to sacrifice unto the Lord thy God."
( a ) One duty must not be performed on the ruins of another. It was a duty to sacrifice, but sacrifice must not be offered upon disobedience.
( b ) God's commandment must not be changed by men's afterthought Lucky ideas, sudden inspirations, and the like, mean ruin, unless well tested.
3. The danger of being seduced into disobedience by social clamour. "I have sinned: for I have transgressed the commandment of the Lord, and thy words: because I feared the people, and obeyed their voice."
( a ) The people who tempt are not the people who can save. ( b ) Where God has spoken distinctly, there should be no human consultation.
4. The certain withdrawment of the best influences of life, as the result of disobedience. "And Samuel came no more to see Saul until the day of his death." Parents, ministers, friends, gone!
There are some incidental points of application:
(1) Sin discovers itself: "What meaneth then this bleating of the sheep in mine ears, and the lowing of the cattle which I hear?"
(2) Sin will be punished. Four hundred years elapsed before the sword fell upon Amalek (Deuteronomy 25:17 , Deu 25:19 ). Time has no effect upon moral distinctions, or moral judgments.
Almighty God, we have no fear, because thou art on the throne. Thy power is infinite, thy mercy endureth for ever. With our whole hearts' love we say, Thy will be done. Deliver us from all self-trust. Help us to put our whole confidence in the Living One, who was, and is, and who yet will come to judge the world. May this day be to us as the Sabbath of the Lord; a time of rest and spiritual refreshment. May our souls know themselves to be near the Lord, and according to our manifold wants do thou command thy blessing to rest upon us, through Jesus Christ our Saviour. Redeem us from all worldliness, all selfishness, all debasement, all fear. Establish us in thy holy love. Lord, increase our faith. Answer the cry of our heart when we appeal to thee for the pardon of our sins. We come to thee through the appointed way; we stand beside the holy cross; we look to the one sacrifice. Fill our hearts with joy whilst we tarry at the cross. The Lord hear us, and from the hill of heaven send us answers of peace! We pray evermore in the name of God the Son. Amen.
"And Saul said unto Samuel, I have sinned." 1 Samuel 15:24 .
Confession is necessary to forgiveness. Before confession there must be consciousness in the man himself as to the nature of his transgression; that is to say, he must not merely use a form of words, but he must express a real and agonising contrition. Saul does not reply to a merely technical argument; many men are willing to admit that they may be sinners in the letter; such confession goes no way towards the realisation of forgiveness; what is wanted is full, complete, earnest, unreserved confession, not of error and mistake or miscalculation, but of grievous iniquity positive and absolute sin against God. "If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins." Man never appears to be more dignified than when speaking to God he confesses that he has no self-defence when charged by the Most High with the violation of law. The very humiliation of the spectacle is the principal element in its moral dignity. There is no dignity in defiance, in assumption, in self-exculpation; all processes of this kind add one falsehood to another, and crown the whole with intolerable vanity. When we are weak, then are we strong; when we are humble, then are we about to be exalted; when we see the sin, point it out, confess it, and repudiate it, we are not far from the kingdom of God. There is this distinction between technical and vital confession: a man may technically confess, and go out and repeat the sin: but when a man vitally confesses his iniquity, he by so much disqualifies himself for its repetition. After confession we must wait for, pray for, a sense of divine forgiveness. Saul not only confessed his sin, he said, "Now therefore, I pray thee, pardon my sin, and turn again with me, that I may worship the Lord." The case of Saul shows us, however, that there may be a point when confession itself comes too late too late, not for the world that is to come it may be, but for present rulership, influence, and high social advantage. Samuel himself turned away from Saul, protesting that he would not return with him, and that his rejection of the Lord was a final act. Samuel, however, on further remonstrance and expostulation "turned again after Saul; and Saul worshipped the Lord." We are not to think that deposition from official position and honour necessarily means eternal exile from the presence and favour of God. Let the worst take heart to believe that if he will now confess his sin God will show him the way to the Cross.
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Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 15". Parker's The People's Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
Second Sunday after Epiphany