SAUL ALREADY HAS A CHECKERED RECORD. On the one hand, he courageously rescued the city of Jabesh from the Ammonites and displayed an admirable restraint in the early use of his royal power (1 Sam. 11). Nevertheless it was not long before he starts treating the Lord God as a talisman, and his word as the equivalent of a magical or astrological hint of what he should do, rather than something that is first of all to be reverenced and obeyed (1 Sam. 13). By chapter 14, only the intervention of his own men keeps him from killing his son Jonathan over a promise that should never have been made and should certainly not have been kept (compare the meditation for July 28). Here in 1 Samuel 15, several traits of character ensure that Saul will not head a dynasty. He will be replaced by another king.
(1) Despite explicit instructions from the Lord regarding the Amalekites, Saul and his army spare the best sheep and cattle, and even the Amalekite King Agag, perhaps as a kind of trophy. Worse, Saul then lies about this to Samuel—as if God could be deceived. The lie betrays the fact that by this time Saul is thinking without reference to an all-knowing God; he is thinking like a mere politician, like a pagan or a secularist.
(2) Samuel understands the heart of the problem to lie in Saul’s changed perceptions of himself (1 Sam. 15:17): at one time he was small in his own eyes, and could scarcely imagine being king. Now he is ready to lie to God’s prophet and never, never, truly repent.
(3) Saul changes his tactics, and insists that the reason he kept the best sheep and cattle was to offer a great sacrifice to the Lord. There is nothing like a little religious patter to pull the wool over some people’s eyes. But not Samuel’s. “Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the LORD?” he asks. “To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams. For rebellion is like the sin of divination, and arrogance like the evil of idolatry” (1 Sam. 15:22–23). Such reminders need to be enshrined in contemporary evangelicalism.
(4) So Saul offers formal repentance—but makes the excuse that he was afraid of the people. He simply will not face his own responsibility—and Samuel sees this clearly (1 Sam. 15:24–26).
(5) Saul tries formal repentance once more; but once again he betrays his own heart when he shows that he finds it more important to be honored before the elders of Israel than by the God of Israel (1 Sam. 15:30–31). We are lost when human opinion means more to us than God’s.