1 Samuel 15:22
Sermon preached on March 1, 2009 by Laurence W. Veinott. © Copyright 2009. All rights reserved. Other sermons can be found at http://www.cantonnewlife.org/.
Quotations are from The Holy Bible: New International Version (NIV). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House.
Shortly after we were married Marg bought three little ballerina figurines on one of our trips to New York City. They were extremely beautiful. There were ceramic and their skirts looked like they were woven. But they were also very delicate. Did you notice how I said that they 'were' beautiful, using the past tense? They were beautiful for awhile and Marg really loved them. We kept them safely out of the way in our dining room hutch, on the top shelf. The problem was that one day I needed to move the hutch a little bit. I think I was running some speaker wire or something like that. Rather than taking everything out of the hutch, I thought I could move it just a little bit without disturbing anything. So very careful I started to exert some pressure on it, just intending to move it a half an inch or so. But it didn't move. So I exerted a little more pressure and it still didn't move. So I tried a little more and all of a sudden the whole thing just lurched forward. It's like it was stuck and once it released there was a lot of energy there. Well the top part of the hutch started to fall and I reached out and caught it, but the doors had flung open and the three little delicate figurines went flying down half-way across the room and smashed on the floor. On of the worst things about it was that Marg saw it happen. It was not one of my better moments. Wow, was she ever upset with me.
What do you do if you do something like that? There are a lot of things you could do at a time like that that wouldn't be appropriate.
For example, I could have said,
"Well, I never really liked them anyway."
And that was true. I mean, ballerina figurines? That was not really my thing. But that really wouldn't have helped the situation. It would have made it worse.
Or I could have said,
"You shouldn't have had them in there. You know that I sometimes move that hutch."
That wouldn't have worked either.
Or I could have said,
"But I got the speaker wires where I wanted them."
At a time like that there are a lot of inappropriate and stupid responses that a husband can make. I made one of them. I said,
"I'll fix them for you."
I spent the next few hours meticulously gluing them back together with super glue. At the end of it I thought I had done a pretty good job. I mean, if you look at them from a distance, like from way across the room, you can hardly tell that they were once broken.
But the truth was that no matter how hard I tried, I could never really fix those figurines. Ever since that day Marg has never again been excited about those figurines. It's been over thirty years and she's never been satisfied with my repair job.
Looking back on it my response was kind of stupid. The only appropriate response would have been to go and buy her new figurines. I must do that sometime.
You see my point? There are wrong and inappropriate responses that you can make when you mess up. Saul is a classic example of what not to do after you sin. By looking at what he did and then considering it's opposite, we can learn much.
Last week we saw that God was not satisfied with partial obedience. He wants us to obey him fully. This week the great truth that we see is that
there is no substitute for obedience.
God wants obedience, not sacrifices. King Saul told Samuel that they had kept the best of the animals in order to sacrifice them to the Lord. Samuel replied,
"Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices
as much as in obeying the voice of the LORD?
To obey is better than sacrifice,
and to heed is better than the fat of rams."
The comparison here is not one of where one of the choices is just a little better than the other and that if you want to do the very best thing, you'll pick obeying, but that disobeying and offering sacrifices is okay and an acceptable choice.
Sometimes comparisons in the Bible are like that. In chapters 12-14 of 1 Corinthians the apostle Paul writes about spiritual gifts and tells us that all spiritual gifts are good, in that they come from the Spirit and blessings designed to help people. Yet he tells us that some spiritual gifts are better than others. For example, in 1 Corinthians 14:12 Paul writes,
"Since you are eager to have spiritual gifts,
try to excel in gifts that build up the church."
And at the end of 1 Corinthians 12 he urged them to
"eagerly desire the greater gifts."
He then went on to commend love, which is the greatest gift. (1 Corinthians 13)
But the comparison before us is not like that. No one should leave here and think,
"Well, to obey is best, but I'm going to sin and after it I'll do something really good to make it up to God. That's not the best thing to do but it'll be acceptable."
No. No. No. The teaching of our text is that you can't do that. The whole point of Samuel's interaction with Saul was that his behavior was not acceptable. Samuel said to him, (verse 26)
"You have rejected the word of the LORD,
and the LORD has rejected you as king over Israel!"
When Samuel turned to leave Saul caught hold of Samuel's robe and it tore. Samuel said to him, (verse 28)
"The LORD has torn the kingdom of Israel
from you today and has given it
to one of your neighbors—to one better than you."
So the point is that you cannot sin and think that you can make it up to God later.
When Samuel said that to obey is better than sacrifice—he was showing us that we must obey, and not even think about disobeying and trying to make it up to him later. Disobeying and trying to make it up later is totally unacceptable.
Commentating on this passage, John Woodhouse writes, (1 Samuel, p. 273)
"to think that disobedience to the word of God can somehow be compensated for by any amount of religious activity (such as Saul's proposed sacrifice of the animals taken in defiance of God's word) is utterly foolish."
Dale Davis adds, (1 Samuel, p. 158)
"formal worship cannot be substituted for obedient life, external devotions for internal worship."
The simple fact is that if you're willfully disobedient to the Lord, no amount of religious works will put you right with God.
We see this many places is Scripture. In Proverbs 28:9 we read,
"If anyone turns a deaf ear to the law,
even his prayers are detestable."
And Proverbs 21:27 says,
"The sacrifice of the wicked is detestable…"
God goes into more detail about this in Isaiah 1:11-15. The Lord said,
"The multitude of your sacrifices—
what are they to me?
I have more than enough of burnt offerings,
of rams and the fat of fattened animals;
I have no pleasure in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats.
When you come to appear before me,
who has asked this of you, this trampling of my courts?
Stop bringing meaningless offerings!
Your incense is detestable to me.
New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations—
I cannot bear your evil assemblies.
Your New Moon festivals
and your appointed feasts my soul hates.
They have become a burden to me;
I am weary of bearing them.
When you spread out your hands in prayer,
I will hide my eyes from you;
even if you offer many prayers, I will not listen."
Why was God rejecting their offerings, incense, feasts and prayers? God continued and said,
"Your hands are full of blood;"
The point is that if people are not interested in keeping God's commands then God will not accept their worship. He regards their religious acts as worse than meaningless. God takes no pleasure in them. In Amos 5:21-24 God puts it even more bluntly. He said,
"I hate, I despise your religious feasts;
I cannot stand your assemblies.
Even though you bring me
burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them.
Though you bring choice fellowship offerings,
I will have no regard for them.
Away with the noise of your songs!
I will not listen to the music of your harps.
But let justice roll on like a river,
righteousness like a never-failing stream!"
The people God spoke to were oppressing the poor (verse 11), and depriving the poor of justice, taking bribes, and trampling on the righteous (verse 12). Because of that God said he hated their religious assemblies, that He would not accept their offerings or their praise. God wanted them to turn from their sins and live justly and righteously. That's the only thing that He would accept.
Thus one of the great theological principles we see from our text is that
you can't make up for your sins.
John Woodhouse asks, (1 Samuel, p. 273)
"Has it ever crossed your mind that you might compensate for some disobedience to God's word with regular churchgoing or generous giving or even disciplined praying and Bible reading?"
Have you ever thought that you could 'make up' for your sin? It seems to be part of human nature to want to do so. Probably all of us have had such thoughts.
There are even rituals that some have set up to help people deal with their failings this way. There are prayers, recitations and works that are prescribed in order to help you make up for your sins and earn forgiveness.
But can we make up for our sins in any way or through any other work that you can think up? Absolutely not. Saul tried that. He was going to offer the animals as sacrifices to God.
But our works can never atone or make up for our sins. The curse of sin is death. That's what the punishment of sin is. God said to Adam, (Genesis 2:16-17)
"You are free to eat from any tree in the garden;
but you must not eat from the tree
of the knowledge of good and evil,
for when you eat of it you will surely die."
God didn't tell Adam that if he ate the forbidden fruit that he'd have to work harder for 3 months, or three years, or 3 decades, or even three hundred years. The punishment for sin is not hard work, it's not sacrifice, it's not generosity, giving more than a tenth of what we have to God. It's death. No amount of work, no matter for how long—can make up for sin. Sin demands death. So there's not way that we can make up for our sins by works. Indeed, our best works are as filthy rags in God's eyes. (Isaiah 64:6)
If we can't make up for our sins- what is the proper response?
Saul can be very helpful here, for his response was the exact opposite of what it should have been. Saul's response was denial and a failure to take responsibility for his sin. First he told Samuel that he had carried out the Lord's instructions. (verse 13) When Samuel insisted that he had not, Saul insisted that he had. (verse 20) He said,
"But I did obey the Lord."
After Samuel kept insisting that he had sinned, Saul blamed the disobedience on the soldiers. He said that they took the plunder. He said that the only reason he gave in to the people was because he was afraid of the them.
Not only that, we see that after his sin is that Saul was filled with pride. Indeed, immediately after he sinned he set up a monument to himself at Carmel. (verse 12) It's also noteworthy that when he asked Samuel to go back with him, he wanted Samuel to 'honor' him before the elders of Israel and the rest of the people. (verse 30) His whole behavior was inappropriate. His behavior should have been the exact opposite.
What Saul lacked was any sorrow for his sin or any humility about it. What he lacked was repentance, a turning from his sins.
When we sin we should hate our sin and put it away from us. We should be grieved that we have sinned. We should be thoroughly humble. We should despise ourselves and want to put the sin away from us.
In Psalm 51:16-17 we read about the proper response to our sin. David wrote,
"You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise."
David is telling us that when you sin it should devastate you and you should be extremely sorry for it. You should humble you. You'll remember when Peter denied Jesus. After the third denial Jesus looked straight at Peter and brought him to his senses. Then and there Peter went outside and, (Luke 22:61-62)
After David counted the fighting men of Israel we read that he was, (2 Samuel 24:10)"conscience-stricken".
He begged the Lord to take away his sin. He admitted that he had acted foolishly.
In Ezra 9 we read that the leaders of Israel came to Ezra and told him that the people of Israel, including the priests and Levites, had not kept themselves separate from the neighboring peoples with their detestable practices. Now Ezra was not himself involved in that sin, but because he was a leader of the people, he identified himself with the people and mourned for their sin. Ezra tore his clothes, pulled some of the hair out of his head and bread, and, (Ezra 9:3)
"sat down appalled."
He then prayed, (verse 9)
"O my God, I am too ashamed and disgraced
to lift up my face to you, my God,
because our sins are higher than our heads
and our guilt has reached to the heavens."
Sorrow for our sin is appropriate. In Matthew 5:4
"Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted."
I'm sure that part of that mourning refers to people who mourn because of their sins. Because they mourn over their sins, they will be comforted. They mourn over them, resolve to put sin away from them—and go to God for forgiveness.
We see this in the book of Jonah. When God threatened Nineveh with destruction, the people of Nineveh fasted, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth. (Jonah 3:5) The king urged the people to give up their violence and evil ways and call upon God. When that happened, God relented and did not bring on Nineveh the destruction He had threatened.
In Luke 18 Jesus told the story of the Pharisee and the tax collector at the temple. The Pharisee bragged about all his good works.
"But the tax collector stood at a distance.
He would not even look up to heaven,
but beat his breast and said,
'God, have mercy on me, a sinner."
"I tell you that this man, rather than the other,
went home justified before God.
For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled,
and he who humbles himself will be exalted."
After his sin Saul's heart wasn't broken. Even after Samuel finished rebuking him we don't see any tears or sorrow. We don't see any humility. He was concerned about looking good in front of the elders and the rest of the people. There was no sorrow for sin. The result was that Samuel never went to see him again. Saul's response was no good at all.
So I ask you—how have you responded to your sin? Have you acknowledged it before God? Have you mourned over your sin? Has it pierced you to your heart so that you're determined not to do it again? Have you humbled yourself before God? Have you asked Him to forgive you? Have you thrown yourself on His mercy?
Jesus is the only solution to our sins. He died for sinners. He took our place. In Isaiah 53:4-6 we read,
"Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows,
yet we considered him stricken by God,
smitten by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was upon him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to his own way;
and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all."
You need Jesus to save you. You need to believe in Him. As John 3:16 says,
"For God so loved the world
that he gave his one and only Son,
that whoever believes in him
shall not perish but have eternal life."
Go to Jesus. Find life in Him.