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Monday, July 22nd, 2024
the Week of Proper 11 / Ordinary 16
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Bible Commentaries
1 Samuel 15

Wells of Living Water CommentaryWells of Living Water

Verses 1-28

To Obey Is Better Than Sacrifice

1 Samuel 15:1-28


Disobedience is black with the frown of God. Sin is the transgression of the Law. Disobedience is taking one's own way, as against following God's way. The Spirit, in Isaiah, sums this up for us "We have turned every one to his own way."

We know that we were one time sons of disobedience, walking after our flesh, and fulfilling its desires.

When we consider the obedience of all the physical creation to God's fixed laws, and purposes, we tremble as we behold intelligent man, the chief of His creation, refusing to walk in God's will and way.

The Prophet said of Israel, "They are revolted and gone." God placed the sand as a barrier to the mighty deep, saying to the sea, "Hitherto shalt thou come, but no further"; yet God's very own nation, against which He had placed barriers of abundant grace and mercy, of showers of blessings, and of holy and righteous laws, leaped over every restraint and have gone.

It was by disobedience that sin first came in. Adam and Eve thus entailed a race in woe. The world is filled with the wreckage of disobedience.

1. There is filial disobedience. God's Word says, "Children, obey your parents," but it appears to us, sometimes, that young America has changed the reading, to "Parents, obey your children." However, with the first part changed, the verse that gives the rewards of obedience, should be made to read, "Parents, obey your children; for this is highly pleasing to young America, and will bring them all to the dogs, the ditch and the devil."

2. There is disobedience at school. Children in the schools of our land, soon display their true spirit. Carefully prepared laws of conduct are laid down by school authorities. Alas, how many of the young revolt against these laws! Usually it is the child who has disregarded parental authority at home, who is first to disobey at school,

3. There is disobedience to the state. The nation, of necessity, operates under authority. With its governing power taken away, the land would run riot with wickedness. There is, even now, a hue and cry of "Down with the government." Such a cry is mere madness. There are those who find no greater pleasure than "putting it over on the government"; they laugh at every successful breaking of law. There are the holdup men; who regard neither God, nor men, nor human life: they run riot against the law. Again, there are those who ruthlessly break, at every opportunity, other laws, just as vital to the public safety.

4. There is disobedience to the laws of God. There are laws of diet. We do not mean to say for one minute that saints are under Jewish laws; we do mean to say that laws of diet given to Israel must have had the health of God's people in mind.

There are laws regulating morals. These Mosaic Laws concerning a large sweep of human conduct are vital to honor and sobriety. No one, Jew or Gentile, can afford to ruthlessly trample beneath their feet such basic commands.

There are orders from God directed to saints in their obligations to governments and to earthly lawmakers. These should be obeyed.

Whatsoever may be said of Grace, it does not give any believer liberty to live as he lists, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind. Grace teaches us how to live soberly, righteously, and godly. Grace leads us into a life of love; and love is the fulfilling of the law.


There must have been some fear in Samuel's heart relative to Saul's willingness to follow the Lord fully. Therefore this solemn call was given to him. It does seem that men would be afraid to disobey the plain and positive Word of the Living God.

Of Christ, when He came to earth, it was said: "Lo, I come: in the volume of the Book it is written of Me, I delight to do Thy will, O My God." He said, "I do always those things that please Him."

Should we seek to be less obedient to God?

The Bible has many calls to obedience; and many warnings against disobedience. When Moses stood before Israel, with what solicitude did he remind her of how God had led her through forty years, to see whether she would keep His Commandments. Then Moses said: "Beware that thou forget not the Lord thy God, in not keeping His Commandments; * * lest * * thine heart be lifted up, and thou forget the Lord thy God."

We can even now hear God's plaintive words, "Oh, that My people had hearkened unto Me, * * I * * should have fed them also with the finest of the wheat."

The paths of Biblical history are strewn with the wreckage of disobedient persons, and tribes, and nations.

God seems even now to be saying to us, as Samuel said to Saul, "Now therefore hearken thou unto the voice of the words of the Lord."

Let us solemnly enter into a covenant with our God that we will seek to know His will, and that, knowing it, we will perform it, even as He has said.


We have no need to discuss the severity of God's command. Saul was to destroy the Amalekites, both "man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass." Why should we marvel at so severe a judgment? The iniquity of the Amalekites had come to the full.

God is a just Judge, but as righteous as just. If we speak of the severity of God against sin; let us speak, withal, of the fact that He spared not His own Son, but freely delivered Him up for us all. On the Cross we reach both the climax of God's retributive justice, and the height of His unfathomable love in Christ, the Substitute, is judgment; to the believing sinner, there is mercy, and love, and grace.

Saul did not utterly destroy the Amalekites; he spared Agag, and the best of the sheep, and oxen, and fatlings, and lambs, even all that was good.

Obedience must be without questionings and quibblings. Obedience must be prompt, "The commandments of the Lord require haste." Obedience must be entire, wanting nothing. Caleb and Joshua followed the Lord fully, doing all His will.

"Ours is not to reason why;

Ours is but to do, or die."

How many there are who run well for a season, yet, Saul-like, before their task is done, they fall down on their Divine orders, and thus merit condemnation, losing their rewards!

Faulty obedience does some things, but not all. It obeys, where obedience pleases the flesh, but it spares the best of the sheep and the oxen. It obeys only where obedience does not demand cross-bearing, and self-negations.

III. GRIEF AT DISOBEDIENCE (1 Samuel 15:11-12 )

Grief at Saul's disobedience was twofold.

1. There was the grief of God. God said, "It repenteth Me that I have set up Saul to be king."

Saul's disobedience meant no less that this, as God viewed it: "He is turned back from following Me." That is, Saul no longer acknowledged Divine authority as final and supreme. Therefore, Saul was no longer worthy of trust and confidence.

He who disobeys God, fails to keep God as Lord in his life, refuses to accept headship.

God repented Himself, because He saw Israel's peril under such a king. He knew Saul's frailties; He understood Saul's imperfections. When Saul cast off the Lord, he brought Israel under the leadership of a man unworthy of trust.

God repented Himself, because He saw Saul's own bitter collapse. Saul was not altogether disobedient, but the opening wedge had been made, which was sure to be followed by an ever widening breach.

God is zealous for the conservation of the truth, and for the integrity, and the safe-guarding of His people. Therefore He grieved at Saul's sin.

2. There was the grief of Samuel. Samuel cried unto the Lord all night. He was a Prophet, and he saw the beginning of the end of the household of Saul. He was loath to visit Saul, and pronounce upon him God's rejection and curse; and yet, Samuel knew that God could not brook disobedience; he also knew that God must deal in all severity on the beginnings of evil.

Sin in the camp always caused the Lord to turn away from His people. It is the same today. An individual, or a church, who walks in disobedience to the Lord, is at once under the ban, and no longer under the blessing of the Lord.

Christ said three things about obedience. He said, "If ye love Me, keep My Commandments." He said, "He that hath My Commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth Me." Finally, He said, "If a man love Me, he will keep My Word." Over against these three things, Christ said, "My Father will love him, and We will come unto him, and make Our abode with him."

IV. FEIGNING OBEDIENCE (1 Samuel 15:13 )

There were three steps in Saul's hypocrisy.

1. Saul professed to be obedient. Saul said to Samuel, "Blessed be thou of the Lord: I have performed the commandment of the Lord."

Saul knew that he had done no such thing. He had kept Agag alive; he had kept alive the best of the sheep and oxen, and fatlings and lambs.

Alas, alas, when those who have sinned, say, "We have not sinned": when those who are full of sin, say, "We have no sin!" There is something in the flesh that delights in putting on piety. The flesh loves to appear religious. It feigns to "have fellowship with Him," when, in truth, it walks in darkness. It boasts of its humility. It seeks the uppermost seats in the synagogues, and dotes upon being called of men, "Rabbi! Rabbi!"

Saul was a past master in all of this. He was profuse in his professions to obedience, even though he was, in actuality, far from obedient.

2. Saul professed to have spared the sheep and oxen and fatlings and lambs for offerings unto the Lord. How loathsome was such a course! Yet, there are many who seek to excuse sin by some pious accomplishment. The thief delights in giving money to charity, as though that would lessen his guilt, and appease a wrathful God. The cheat and swindler and oppressor of the poor, parades some gift to the public benefaction, in order to quiet the pangs of his conscience, and in order to parade a love of men which he in no wise possesses. We have even known men, who, by the sale of whisky have enriched their pocketbooks by destroying homes, and by creating widows, to build some hospital or other to demonstrate the bigness of their hearts toward the sick and sorrowing.

3. Saul blamed the people for his disobedience. This was Adam-like. Adam said: "The woman whom Thou gavest to be with me, * * and I did eat." Saul said, "The people took of the spoil." Of course the people did "take" but Saul was their king, and responsible for their act. They took because he endorsed the taking.

V. THE PROPHET'S VITAL QUESTIONINGS (1 Samuel 15:14 ; 1 Samuel 15:19 ; 1 Samuel 15:22 )

1. Samuel's First Question. Samuel said, "What meaneth then this bleating of the sheep in mine ears, and the lowing of the oxen which I hear?"

It will not be difficult for God to discover to the hypocrites the folly of their claims. God keeps tab on all our deeds and words. He can quickly, and quietly expose the fallacy of any false way, by setting before one the actual record of his deeds.

To him who falsely says, "I am holy," or, "I am clean," or, "I am innocent," God will say, "What meaneth this, and that, and this other deed of iniquity?" There is nothing covered that shall not be revealed. The sheep bleat too loudly, and the cattle low too strong for one to hide his sin from God.

2. Samuel's Second Question. "Wherefore then didst thou * * fly upon the spoil?" Saul's greediness is shown in Samuel's word, " Fly upon the spoil." Saul had been eager to save the best for his own enrichment.

Vaunting a false claim cannot deceive God, for God looketh on the heart. He sees the thoughts and the intents that lie back of our deeds. He knows whether the lips speak the truth, because He liveth back of the words, even within the heart, from whose fullness the mouth speaketh.

3. Samuel's Third Question. "Hath the Lord as great delight in burntofferings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord?" Beloved, let us away with forms of worship, and gifts at God's altar, and long prayers, when they are not backed by an obedient life.

Think you that God is pleased with church ordinances when the heart is not right? Above all things God demands obedience to the Word. Creeds without conduct, profit but little; doctrine without duty, is of no avail. The one who keeps the Word, and is its doer will be blessed in his deed.


Saul confessed his sin. He said, "I have sinned." He also said, "I have transgressed the commandment of the Lord." Mark, however, the part of his confession which spoiled it. He excused all that he had done, on this: "Because I feared the people, and obeyed their voice."

The Lord has said, "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins." Our confession of sin, however, must be genuine. Not every one that sayeth, "Lord, Lord," is accepted. We may acknowledge our wrong while excusing it. In so doing we will never obtain mercy.

Why should Saul have feared the people? Why should he have obeyed their voice? Was he not their king and leader?

Even the people, themselves, who were under authority to Saul, would not have been excused by the Lord if they had obeyed Saul, and in so doing had disobeyed the Lord.

The words of Peter linger with us "We ought to obey God rather than men ."

If God forgives sin, when sinners excuse their sins, then, many unregenerate and unclean hearts would be excused.

One man might say, "I was angry, but You will excuse me, Lord, because You know I came by it honestly. I inherited it from my father."

Another would say, "You will forgive me, Lord; I grant that I sinned, but my associates were to blame. I did not have power to resist their pleas."

Still another would say, "I sinned, I transgressed the commandment of the Lord, but I was threatened with persecution, or with death, and I was afraid to obey fully."

Pilate would say, "I sinned in that I delivered Christ to be crucified, but I washed my hands from His Blood, because the people compelled me to sin."

Remember that God demands obedience under any and every condition.


The Lord who had refused mercy to the Amalekites could not now grant mercy unto Saul. Samuel knew that Saul's heart was not right with God. Saul had rejected the Word of the Lord, and the Lord had rejected Saul from being king over Israel.

Thus, as Samuel turned about to go away, Saul laid hold upon the skirt of his mantle, and it rent.

We who profess to know the Lord must not sin against the Lord. There has come a spirit of indifference to sin upon the people of today. They seem to think that they can live as they list, and still have favor with God.

God has said that it is an evil thing and bitter that thou hast forsaken the Lord thy God. It is no light matter to break tryst with the Almighty.

When Peter sinned, we are sure that the Lord was sympathetic toward him, for the Lord knew he had been sorely tried, and that in his heart of hearts he still loved Him.

The Lord showed Peter His love in the look that He cast upon him. It was not, however, until after Peter's three days of utter darkness that the Lord spoke peace to Peter. As the Lord hung upon the Cross He spoke to this one, and to that one, but to Peter there was not a word.

Samuel said unto Saul, "The Strength of Israel * * is not a man, that He should repent."



"A broken and a contrite heart, O God, Thou wilt not despise."

I was staying one day at an inn in one of the valleys of Northern Italy, where the floor was dreadfully dirty. I had it in my mind to advise the landlady to scrub it, but when I perceived it was made of mud, I reflected that the more she scrubbed the worse it would be. The man who knows his own heart soon percieves that his corrupt nature admits of no improvement; there must be a new nature implanted, or the man will be only "washed to deeper stains." "Ye must be born again." Ours is not a case for mending, but for making new. C. H. Spurgeon.

Bibliographical Information
Neighbour, Robert E. "Wells of Living Water Commentary on 1 Samuel 15". "Living Water". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lwc/1-samuel-15.html.
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