Study: 1 Samuel 15-16 (Week 7) . How to trust God + not go ahead of Him

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Ben and I were talking to one of our kids last night about trust. He wanted responsibility in something and yet was asking that we put boundaries on something else that he knew he couldn’t be trusted with. We told him responsibility and trust went hand in hand and that we could either treat him like the young adult that he is…or we could treat him as a child.

We wanted to teach him that he couldn’t pick and choose where he liked having freedom and responsibility...and where he didn’t. It was a package deal.

We learn in 1 Samuel 15 that like our teenaged son, Saul thought he could pick and choose where he wanted to obey God. Samuel comes to him in verse one with the reminder that:

The Lord sent me to anoint you king over his people Israel; now therefore listen to the words of the Lord... (1 Samuel 15:1)

Perhaps since Saul did the sacrifices himself instead of waiting for Samuel (in chapter 13), the priest didn’t trust him. Perhaps he wanted to remind the king that it was God that placed him in this position of leadership and it was the One True King in Heaven who gave orders and was actually in charge.

Samuel goes on to instruct: 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. 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.’ (1 Samuel 15:2-3)

Does Saul do what he’s asked?? Nope.

Samuel goes to meet Saul early in the morning and was told (15:12-13) that he had gone to another town to set up a monument in his own honor (Who does that?! C'mon, Saul). When Samuel reaches the town of Carmel, the king comes out to greet him saying, “The Lord bless you! I have carried out the Lord’s instructions!”

I can just see this playing out, can’t you? Saul dressed in splendor, maybe dripping in gold, arms outstretched to the priest as he walks nearer, ready to kiss Samuel on both cheeks. A man simply pleased with himself. I love how Samuel responds with dry sarcasm basically saying, “Oh yeah? Then what’s this bleating of sheep in my ears? Why am I hearing lowing of oxen?” (15:14)

I love how The Message translates this next section (15:15-21):

“Only some Amalekite loot,” said Saul. “The soldiers saved back a few of the choice cattle and sheep to offer up in sacrifice to God. But everything else we destroyed under the holy ban.”

“Enough!” interrupted Samuel. “Let me tell you what God told me last night.”

Saul said, “Go ahead. Tell me.”

And Samuel told him. “When you started out in this, you were nothing—and you knew it. Then God put you at the head of Israel—made you king over Israel. Then God sent you off to do a job for him, ordering you, ‘Go and put those sinners, the Amalekites, under a holy ban. Go to war against them until you have totally wiped them out.’

So why did you not obey God? Why did you grab all this loot? Why, with God’s eyes on you all the time, did you brazenly carry out this evil?”

Saul defended himself. “What are you talking about? I did obey God. I did the job God set for me. I brought in King Agag and destroyed the Amalekites under the terms of the holy ban. So the soldiers saved back a few choice sheep and cattle from the holy ban for sacrifice to God at Gilgal—what’s wrong with that?” 

Verses 22-23 have long been underlined in my Bible. They are a reminder to us that we absolutely cannot go ahead of God on things. We may not pick and choose where we will obey, where we can be trustworthy and where we simply decide we can sweep things under the rug or ignore.

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.

In other words, does God want our sacrifices and empty traditions that we do simply for show? Or purely because you think we’re supposed to do it?? Where are our hearts?

Doing something for the Lord is actually worth nothing if it’s done purely out of habit, rather than love. What God wants is an obedient and willing heart! God’s desire is for us to listen and respond in accordance to what He’s asked.

To obey is better than sacrifice.

What have you sacrificed in your life that you think might justify not obeying in another area? God would far rather you obey than give something up.

Of course as Samuel tells Saul that God is ripping the kingdom from his hands and giving it to another man who is better than he (15:28), Saul apologizes for his actions. Like any man or woman today who might abuse power and get caught, remorse and regret slither out of their mouths. But it’s often empty and solely spoken to regain power, not because they are actually sorry from the depths of their soul.

And so establishes the beginning of the end of Saul’s reign...and the anointing of the new king.

Waiting after a calling is given

I love that chapter 16 begins with God asking Samuel how long he will mourn for Saul. Samuel may not be a big fan of the self-centered leader, but is likely devastated that he has turned away from the Lord. There was so much greatness in the man. So much potential for an incredible legacy. But no, his legacy will not be one of valor and right-living. Not only will his kingdom never be in the hands of his children, but it’s being ripped from his very hands, as well. “What a waste”, Samuel may have thought as he mourned.

But as we know, God has a “man after His own heart” to anoint and asks Samuel to fill his horn with oil (for the anointing) and asks him to be on his way. Most of us who have been to church for awhile, know the story well.

We don’t know how much time has gone by since Samuel’s conversation with Saul about God tearing the kingdom from his hands, but there must have been time enough for Saul to begin sending spies around to keep an eye on Samuel.

Perhaps this shows the beginning of Saul's increasingly erratic behavior, but in 16:2, Samuel tells God he is worried that Saul will hear about the anointing and have him killed. So, armed with the excuse of sacrificing in Bethlehem, he arrived to town with an invitation to Jesse and his sons, that they might join him.

When they arrived and Samuel saw Eliab, he thought, “Here he is! God’s anointed!” But God stopped the priest saying in verse 6, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”

We’ve talked about this in Week 3 when we learned about how handsome Saul was. It is true that God didn’t select Saul because of his handsome face and tall frame, but the character of his heart, and God wants Samuel to remember that here. A very beautiful person on the outside can be extremely ugly within.

Jesse called each son to pass in front of Samuel, but God continued to impress a “No” on his spirit each time. After all seven men passed before him, Samuel asked, “Are these all the sons you have?”

Each time I hear this portion of the story, I think of Cinderella.

The prince goes all across the kingdom trying to fit the glass slipper upon the foot of the girl he met at the ball and finally reaches the very last house. You know the story, I realize…but after both stepsisters and stepmother fail to slide their feet into the shoe, the devastated and confused prince inquires if there’s anyone else who lives at the house.

These ladies didn’t fit the shoe because they were unfit for the position before them. They were the wrong woman for the prince and for the role as princess of their kingdom…just like these seven brothers were unfit to lead the nation of Israel in the way God required and desired.

Like Saul, David is chosen not for achievements or position, but on his potential and for his heart.

 Though king Saul will remain on the throne until 2 Samuel 2, this is where the story gives an about-face, the focus shifting off Saul and onto young David.

So here he comes. The youngest of eight sons, his red hair likely a tousled mess, unbathed from living out of doors with his sheep, and looking nothing like royalty. And yet as David entered and Samuel looked into his beautiful eyes, the old priest heard the Lord’s voice commanding him to, “Rise and anoint him, for he is the one.” (16:12) So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers and from that day on, the Spirit of the Lord came upon David in power. (16:13)

Though the writer of 1 Samuel shares with us, the reader, the purpose of David’s anointing…there’s no evidence that David and his family had any idea. The anointing itself showed the family that God was calling the boy to serve in a special way, but there’s no indication that they knew any specifics.

God can be frustrating in that way, can’t He? How often do we feel God’s prompting in something and then…silence?

How often does He give us a calling or a glimpse into where we feel He’s leading and then…nothing?

I wonder if David thought of his forefather Abraham having to wait 25 years from when God first told him about having offspring and when Isaac was born.

Lift up your eyes and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward, for all the land that you see I will give to you and to your offspring forever. I will make your offspring as the dust of the earth, so that if one can count the dust of the earth, your offspring also can be counted. Arise, walk through the length and the breadth of the land, for I will give it to you. (Genesis 13:14-17)

It’s frustrating and lonely feeling like God walked away in the middle of doling out a future infused with His blessing. But He didn’t walk away from Abraham, and He certainly didn’t walk away from David, either.

A person is rarely ready to walk in their calling the moment they know it's where God is leading.

There needs to be preparation before a calling can be fulfilled.

1 Samuel 16:14 tells us that when the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, an evil spirit tormented him. The king’s servants decided that having someone play the harp for Saul was sure to calm him and with Saul’s permission, they set out to find David who was known as skillful in playing, a man of valor, a man of war, prudent in speech, and a man of good presence, and the Lord is with him. (1 Samuel 16:18)

After messengers were sent to David’s father Jesse, David came to Saul and entered his service. And it is said that Saul not only liked him greatly, but also made him his armor-bearer.

I want to stop here for a minute. David became Saul’s armor bearer. Do you know what this means? Remember last week in chapter 14, when Jonathan and his armor bearer went by themselves to the cliffs by the Philistine outpost? The two slay twenty soldiers before the rest of the army realized what was going on.

The armor bearer was basically an agent selected by generals and kings because of their bravery. They would not only bear their armor and auxiliary weaponry, but also stand by them in times of danger. As time went on, David learned more and more about the art of war. He was basically a fly on the wall while generals spoke with the king about strategy and theory of battle. He saw hard decisions made. He witnessed successes and failures. David was in training for when he would someday take Saul’s place…yet no one realized it.

As mentioned earlier, David was anointed…but there’s no evidence that tells us he knew what the anointing was for. He just knew he was set apart for something special. For over a decade David would wait to be crowned king. But for now, he waited and obeyed while in the positions he held. God hadn’t given him an assignment and then stepped away. God had not given him a glimpse of his future and then chuckled as he struggled in his wait.

No! Neither of these! God was at work!

David was learning how to do his assignment well, without realizing the the instruction was even taking place. This time with King Saul would help him learn how to lead a nation. You can’t get much closer to the king than being his armor bearer!

If you’re frustrated that your calling is taking longer than it should, consider the fact that God is using your current surroundings and situations for a purpose! Don’t doubt that God will use things that seem random, for His Divine Plan.

He did it for David, and He'll do it for you.

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I can't wait to continue on next week!