Does God Repent?
1 Samuel 15:23
Samuel Lesson #055
July 19, 2016
“Our Father, we are very grateful for the reports we have heard tonight, reports from Burt during prayer meeting of someone he led to the Lord today, the reports from these three people at Camp Arête who have trusted Christ as Savior. Father, we are thankful for the good report of Andy’s teaching. We pray that the kids will really be receptive and understand the importance of what he is teaching.
Father, we pray for others in the congregation who are ill, who are sick, and who are struggling with perhaps life-threatening diseases or the potential for that. We pray that You would heal them. We know that there are a couple that are without jobs and struggling with health. We pray for them that You would sustain them and provide for them and strengthen them, and that we as a congregation would be open to doing whatever we can to try to encourage them and help them.
Father, we pray that as we study tonight that we might be reminded of the importance of our devotion and obedience to You. That authority orientation is really at the heart of grace orientation. We need to understand that You are the one that is in charge. We pray this in Christ’s Name. Amen.”
We are in 1 Samuel 15. We are going to focus this week and this will lay the foundation for a couple of weeks of an important study on the implications of this verse in 1 Samuel 15:23. To remind you of what has happened, Saul has been given an operations order from the Lord to completely eradicate and destroy, annihilate the Amalekites.
This order is given in 1 Samuel 15:3, “Now go and attack Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and do not spare them. But kill both men and women, infant and nursing child, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.”
This is an exhaustive list. Kill everyone down to nursing children, babies, it does not matter whether male or female, old or young. It is part of what is called cherem, the ban. This is an important word to understand. It is that they are devoted to God for judgment. The word is normally translated “ban,” but it is a prohibition. This is not being done to somehow feed the desire for revenge among the Israelites. It is not being done in order to gain plunder. That is completely prohibited. Everything is devoted to the Lord.
We went through a study of why this is different from so-called “holy wars” that are carried out in the name of Allah, in the name of Islam, and the so-called holy war of the Christian Crusades. Jihad is a methodology for spreading Islam. It is in obedience to the Koran and the Hadith. The Christian Crusades were in violation of the ethics that are taught in the Old Testament, as well as the New Testament. A lot of people say that it is just a violation of the New Testament, but it is a violation of the Old and New Testaments.
Once we understand what the Bible taught about cherem it has no application after the time of Saul and David. What happens is that Saul completely disobeys God. While there is a great slaughter they do not slaughter everyone or all of the animals. They were to kill the sheep, the ox, the cattle, the large cattle, the small cattle, all these things, but they failed to do that.
We are told in 1 Samuel 15:8–9 that Saul also “took Agag the king of the Amalekites alive, and utterly destroyed all the people with the edge of the sword. But Saul and the people spared Agag and the best of the sheep, the oxen, the fatlings, the lambs, and all that was good, and were unwilling to (cherem) utterly destroy them. But everything despised and worthless that they utterly destroyed (cherem).”
We ended at 1 Samuel 15:10 last week with Samuel’s reaction to Saul’s disobedience.
1 Samuel 15:10–11, “Now the word of the Lord came to Samuel, saying, ‘I greatly regret that I have set up Saul as king, for he has turned back from following Me, and has not performed My commandments.’ And it grieved Samuel, and he cried out to the Lord all night.”
A couple of things that I want to point out here are that when we talk about the Lord here He says, “I greatly regret.” There is an earlier place in the Scripture where the Lord says the same thing. That is at the time of Noah. This is the Hebrew word nāḥam, meaning to be sorry. It means possibly to repent, although it is more of an emotive word, or to regret. In some forms it has the idea of being comforted or comfort. I think that the old King James Version 1611 says “it repented God” in Genesis 6.
This is extremely confusing. Most of you were here and you listened to the lesson that I gave Sunday a week ago in Matthew 21:32, talking about the difference between two Greek words METAMELOMAI, which is often translated relent or regret or to be sorry, and another similar word, METANOEO, which is translated to repent. METANOEO means to change your mind. The word METAMELOMAI has that emotive content. It is not a thought word. It is more of an emotion word, to be sorry for something, to regret that you did something.
Anybody here who is a parent or has been a child knows that children are often extremely sorry for something that they have done, especially when that is approaching some sort of punishment. Especially if it involves a spanking. They are extremely sorry. That does not mean that any behavior has changed. They have not METANOEO. They only regret. They are only sorry. It is an emotional concept. When we get to this word in the New Testament, METAMELOMAI and METANOEO and repent, one of the things I pointed out is the great confusion people have is the relation of repentance to salvation. The word “repent” is not used anywhere in the Gospel of John, but John over 85 times uses the word “believe.”
What is the key to salvation?
How is a person saved?
They believe Jesus died on the Cross for their sins. Again and again and again it is an emphasis on belief. In a few passages, maybe two or three, you have repent and believe used together, but in most places where you have the word “repent” used in a context that might relate to salvation you do not have the word “believe” because the idea of “repent” is you are changing your mind about something. What you are changing your mind about is who Jesus is and what He did for you. You are changing from rejecting Him or not believing in Him to believing in Him.
Repentance is really included within the idea of belief or trust as you are changing your mind to trust the LORD. But in a lot of denominations and a lot of theological systems you have people who think that what you are repenting from is your sin. Sin does not have anything to do with the gospel, other than understanding that because of Adam’s original sin you are spiritually dead, and because you are spiritually dead you are going to end up in the lake of fire. But all sin was paid for by Christ at the Cross. Sin is not the issue. The issue is the Cross. That is the gospel of grace.
For a lot of people they think you need to repent of your sin, and the way they treat that is repenting inherently means to repent of sin. But when you get into the Old Testament and you look at the use of this word nāḥam, which has that idea of repenting or changing your mind. God is not repenting of sin. The idea of sin as the object of repentance is not part of the meaning of the word repent. God does not sin. He does not need to repent of sin. You cannot say that sin is part of the semantic value or the basic meaning of the word “repent.” It just means to change your mind.
Another word that is often confused with it and sometimes is related to it is “to turn,” turning from disobedience to obedience. But when it is used of God, God is not a God who repents in this sense. We will see that a little later in this chapter. We read in 1 Samuel 15:29, “And also the Strength of Israel will not lie nor relent. For He is not a man that He should relent.”
“The Strength of Israel” is a new name that Samuel gives to God. The word for “relent” is nāḥam. We see that it says that God “will not lie nor relent.” Yet in 1 Samuel 15:11 God says, “I greatly regret” using the same word nāḥam. It seems like a contradiction. That is the kind of thing that liberals love to point out. “See, the Bible contradicts itself. Here in one chapter God has nāḥam and a few verses later the text says God is not a man. He does not nāḥam.
It is important to understand something called figures of speech. When we talk about the fact that we as evangelical fundamentalists believe in the inerrancy and infallibility of Scripture and that the Word of God should be interpreted literally, a lot of people take that to a wrong conclusion and think that means that we do not believe in figures of speech.
The Bible is filled with figures of speech. You have metaphors and similes. You have hyperbole, which is exaggeration. You have all kinds of things called synecdoches and merisms and metonymies. Things that you never studied in school unless you happened to go to Bible college or seminary where you studied the figures of speech of the Bible. This is a figure of speech called an anthropopathism. There is an anthropomorphism that is a similar concept. These are two terms that are used:
- An anthropomorphism comes from two Greek words: ANTHROPOS meaning man or human and MORPH from MORPHE, which indicates a form. It is attributing to God a human form that God does not actually possess in order to teach us something about the plan and the purpose of God.
- You also have a zoomorphic statement. It is a statement that attributes to God the form of an animal, such as the wings of an eagle. Underneath His wings we are protected. That kind of a phrase. God does not actually have wings, but you are using that as a figure of speech. You are attributing to Him the form of something related to an animal in order to communicate a certain principle or policy about God.
- The key is to understand that in a zoomorphism and in an anthropomorphism, by definition, God does not actually possess that which is attributed to Him. That is important. He does not have arms and eyes and a nose. He is Spirit.
- We come to this kind of figure of speech called an anthropopathism from the Greek word ANTHROPOS, which means man or human, and the Greek word PATHOS, meaning feeling or emotion. This is again a language of accommodation that ascribes to God human passions, emotions, thoughts, attitudes, like remorse or regret that He does not actually possess, but we attribute that to Him. We attribute to Him these human emotions and passions because it helps us to understand to some degree, through the language of analogy, something about the person or the policy of God.
We have words like grief, repentance, vengeance, hatred, anger, and jealousy. There is a lot of debate and discussion about these things among theologians. There are those who believe that God is “impassable.” What that means is that God’s core being is not changed. It is impassable. It is not passable or penetrable. God is not going to change because of human behavior or human actions.
I remember talking with one person who had written an article about God’s emotion. One of the examples that he used and he used several of these examples related to the anger or wrath of God. I said whether we agree or disagree in the final conclusion, one of the things that you have not thought through very well is that the Hebrew for the anger of God is not a literal statement. It is a figurative statement. It is an anthropomorphism.
If you read the Hebrew it says “God’s nose burned.” That is an idiom for anger. For a Hebrew-speaking person, if somebody got angry you would say “their nose burned” because they got all red in the face. They got all upset. That is a figure of speech when it is applied to God. God does not actually have a nose. It does not get all bright red because His blood pressure is going up and His face gets red. That does not actually happen. He does not actually possess that. The imagery for “wrath of God” is an anthropopathism based upon an anthropomorphism.
How can you say God literally has this emotion? Hum?
This is the problem with a lot of these so-called emotive terms in Hebrew and in Greek. It is that they are based on the physiological parts of a person’s body where he feels those emotions, especially in Hebrew. His compassion is often related to the idea of the bowels. Things like worry and anger are also related to the inner organs of man, because when you are really worried and upset your stomach is upset, your bowels are in an uproar, all of these things are happening. Thus, “wrath of God” is a figurative use.
When we attribute emotions to God we have to be very, very careful because He does not actually possess these. When we think of human emotions they are a response or a reaction to something that happens. In this case with Saul what happens is that Saul did something and Samuel is grieved. But Samuel just found out about this. God says in 1 Samuel 15:11 (Slide 6) that I regret this. Let’s factor in God’s omniscience.
When did God find out that Saul was going to disobey Him by not fulfilling the cherem?
When did God discover that?
God never discovered it because God is omniscient. In omniscience God always knows everything there is to know. He does not ever acquire knowledge. If the emotion is a reaction to what you know, then if God has always known that Saul was going to disobey Him, then He regrets it. If this is literal and He has emotion, then what you are forced to conclude is that God has always been remorseful about Saul’s disobedience.
I have some real problems with that because that means that God is eternally angry, if you are talking about something literal. If you are just trying to communicate that this is expressing God’s policy toward Saul, because he is disobedient. Now that he is disobedient God is going to, from our perspective, go to Plan B. But it has always been Plan A in God’s plan. We get into these murky waters thinking about emotion and omniscience and all these things.
- We have to remember that God is immutable.
- His omniscience never changes.
- He has always known these things.
- He has created us in His image.
We have to be careful not to reverse the process and create God in our image. This is an anthropopathism to express God’s change of policy toward Saul. He says “I greatly regret that I have set up Saul as king.”
When we look at 1 Samuel 15:29 where Samuel says that “the Strength of Israel will not lie nor relent” he is thinking about this in a nonfigurative way. He is thinking about this in terms of God’s eternal character. That God does not change His mind. His plan is immutable. But to us, that is what the other part is in that figure of speech. We have to understand it this way. This is not difficult. This is not just trying to come up with some sort of a rationale to explain away an apparent contradiction. It is how language often works.
You read many people, writers of poetry and things of that nature. They will use language in this way within a paragraph or within a sentence and change the nuances of a word that they are using. We see at the end of 1 Samuel 15:11 Samuel’s response as a human being. It grieves him. It grieves him because God’s character has been violated. This is not a self-centered grief. This is not a grief that is the result of Samuel not getting his way. It is not self-centered. Therefore, it does not flow from his sin nature.
Remember, the Lord had LUPEO, which is translated grief and sorrow, at the Garden of Gethsemane as He is anticipating the Cross, but it does not lead Him to sin. The Apostle Paul told us to inform people that the dead in Christ would rise first when the Lord returns at the Rapture. At the end of that section describing the Rapture he says “comfort one another with these words.” Why?
The first statement in that section Paul said we grieve but not like those who have no hope. Grieving is not a sin. Grieving for the wrong reasons may be a sin, but grieving in and of itself is not a sin. Samuel grieves and he cries out to the Lord all night. Samuel felt the rejection of God by Saul very deeply, profoundly. This shows us that Samuel is so devoted to the plan and the purpose of God, but he does not use this as an opportunity for personal sin.
We have to be careful with that because many of us have a great sensitivity to the truth of the gospel, the truth of Scripture. As part of that we have a great commitment to honoring the literal meaning of the Constitution and the importance of the Constitution to really see in this political season. I know this does not apply to anybody here, but it is easy for some people in this political season to get really anger with people who do not agree with you politically.
We cannot do that because what we are doing is we are letting those people who do not agree with us get us out of fellowship. We are putting them in control of our spiritual life. We cannot do that. Just because you can confess it does not give you the right to say, “Oh, well, I am just going to get angry with those people and I will confess it later.” That is what Jim Myers calls pre-bound, confessing ahead of time. “Well, Lord, I know that I am going to succumb to this sin, so I am going to confess it now and then it will all be okay.” That just shows a very shallow view of sin.
In 1 Samuel 15:14 Samuel is going to go to Saul and challenge him. I want you to get a sense of what this is like. There is a big crowd of people here, because Saul is taking the army back to Gilgal, which is a major ritual site in Israel. He is going to take the army back to Gilgal. He is going to have a sacrifice there. He has taken all of these prime animals from the Amalekites. That is not just two or three. He is taking a large number. He may have several hundred sheep and several hundred oxen and several hundred cattle that he is taking back. He is going to sacrifice some of them.
We think about the sacrifices related to the establishment and inauguration of the Temple and how many animals were sacrificed by Samuel. There could be quite a few here. It is going to sound and smell a lot like the Houston Livestock Show. What those of us who are real Houstonians call “The Fat Stock Show.” If you have ever been to the stockyards up in Fort Worth then you will have a sense of what it smells like and what it sounds like as Samuel is treading way through the animals and through the Israelites who have their plunder from the Amalekites.
Samuel is saying, “What then is this bleating of the sheep in my ears and the lowing of the oxen which I hear?” He is not supposed to be hearing any of this. All of the animals are supposed to be dead. Then we get Saul’s rationalization.
I want you to think about this. This is not just on the spot making up a story. He really has convinced himself that he is following God’s command.
The reason I say that is how many Christians in history have committed horrible things in the name of God or in the name of Christ thinking that they are doing what Scripture says to do because they have distorted it in their own mind?
We have all done that. We have all justified wrong things and somehow we have managed to twist the Scripture to where it does not say what it really says. It says something else in order that we can do what we want to do.
1 Samuel 15:15, “And Saul said, ‘They have brought them from the Amalekites; for the people spared the best of the sheep and the oxen, to sacrifice to the Lord your God; and the rest we have utterly destroyed.’ ”
There is the word “cherem” again. What God said to do was to destroy them all. Saul cannot see. This is what carnality does. It blinds us to the reality of our own sin. What he is doing is he is thinking that he is going to do a good thing. In religious thinking we always think that we can help God somehow, someway, to justify that whatever we are doing is really okay.
I am sort of reminded of the topless dancer here in Houston that got saved. She wanted to be a good witness so she had John 3:16 tattooed somewhere below her navel. We think of all sorts of ways that we are blind to what sin is. We think that we can justify it somehow. I am glad you enjoyed that illustration. That is a true story from what I hear.
Saul is justifying it, but he is blind to the fact that he is justifying it. He is not saying, “Oh, I am in trouble now. I have got to make up a good story.” He really has convinced himself that this is okay.
The word cherem, as it is spelled in Hebrew it has the vowels of two e(s) in there. Remember in Hebrew it only had consonants when it was written. It is ḥeth (ḥ) pronounced “ch” + resh (r) + mem (m) or ḥrm (חמר) in transliteration. The Arabic word is a cognate. This is a good lesson to understand the core meaning here. These languages are very, very close. The Arabic term harem describes the area of a Muslim household that is set apart for the women, for the wives, for the concubines, for the female servants. Males are prohibited from entering.
See, that captures this idea of cherem. They are devoted or separated. The Amalekites are separated or devoted to God. It is prohibited for anyone to partake of the plunder of those people. That is the idea there. It is not for the personal enrichment of the Israelites. It is to bring judgment upon them [the Canaanites]. It has that idea of being set apart and that others are prohibited from entering that area.
In fact, the Arabic word haram is the same idea that if you are Muslim you are not to partake of alcohol, tobacco, pork, or a number of things. Those are all haram. It is the same idea. It is prohibited. It is set apart. You cannot touch it. That is something I just wanted to add. I just ran across this related to the cognate this last week and wanted to add that.
What is happening with Saul and what happens with you and with what happens with me is that since were about a year old we had mastered. We got our Masters degree and our PhD in arrogance. As soon as we could start twisting our parents around our little finger we went, “Aha! It is all about me!” It will take the Rapture or death before your arrogance is lost.
- It starts with self-absorption. It is all about me, me, me!
- Then, self-indulgence, because it is all about us we want to indulge ourselves in all kinds of ways.
What is interesting about the way arrogance twists itself in our mind, is that for some people self-indulgence goes toward materialism. We are going to spend our money on everything that makes us feel good, everything that makes us look good, and everything that we think is going to make us happy. We are going to get all those pheromones hopping and popping all the time. We really feel good from whatever it is that we are indulging for ourselves.
But for other people they are going to get their grins from giving up. Their trend is toward asceticism. They are going to give up. They are going to be involved in a lot of religious activity. They are going to think that this somehow makes them much more acceptable to God. That is going to excite them. You get two Christians in a room, one with a sin nature trending toward lasciviousness, and one Christian with a sin nature trending toward legalism, and you are going to have a cat fight.
- The problem is that both these Christians are wrong but they do not want to admit that they are both operating on arrogance because they have mastered the third skill, which is self-justification.
We have learned from an early age that when we do something wrong we can come up with a really good rationalization for why it is really the right thing to do and why it is not our fault. We are going to justify ourselves. Adam mastered it almost instantly when God showed up in the Garden. Adam said, Lord, it is the woman that You gave me. Adam manages in one statement to blame Eve and to blame God without having to take a breath in between. We do the same kind of thing all the time. We find some reason to justify why we should do what we are doing when we know it is wrong.
- That leads to the next step, the fourth step, which is self-deception.
See, this is exactly where we find Saul. He is in a state of self-deception. He says, but we saved them out so that we could worship the Lord.
Is that not a good thing?
The end justifies the means?
We are going to worship God. Is that not what God wants? The Law says that we are to have sacrifices. We are to provide this good for God. Saul is totally ignoring the fact that God gave him specific instructions not to do something.
- Ultimately what this does is it leads to self-deification.
We make ourselves into a god. I want you to understand that concept because that is what connects to idolatry. When we get to 1 Samuel 15:23 we are going to read that “rebellion is as of the sin of witchcraft and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry.” What this is talking about for us is that we have made an idol out of our own values. It does not matter what God’s are. What matters is what we think is right or wrong.
Samuel is not going to put up with this. This is a great example of what should go on, maybe not in a hostile or confrontational way that is quite this strong, because the circumstances are different, but this is what can take place if you are in some sort of counseling situation. As soon as I use the word “counseling” I know a lot of you are thinking about somebody on a couch talking to a counselor or someone has come in to talk to the pastor.
I am talking about you counseling your kids or your grandkids. I am talking about you counseling your son or your daughter or your son-in-law or your daughter-in-law or yourself or your wife. Not putting up with the self-deception. You are being able to, depending on the circumstance, point out what the Word of God says. That is the standard.
This is a harsher form here with Samuel because of the circumstances, but Samuel is being a good counselor. He is basically saying, “Shut up! I do not want to hear it! I do not need to hear all of your rationalizations and justifications for disobeying what God told you.” We cannot say this second part because none of us are prophets. We are not receiving revelation from God. We may talk about what the Scripture says, but we cannot make this next statement.
1 Samuel 15:16, “Then Samuel says to Saul, ‘… I will tell you what the Lord said to me last night.’ ” At this point he is a prophet. He has established that it is God’s authority not his authority, God’s opinion not his opinion. Saul at least is willing to say okay, I will shut up. You keep talking.
Saul says, “Speak on.”
In 1 Samuel 15:17 Samuel reminds him of the past so that he can tell him what is going to happen now in the present and the impact this will have in the future. “So Samuel said, ‘When you were little in your own eyes ...” Remember at the beginning when Saul was going to be anointed by Samuel? He said I am from a little tribe. I am from a little clan. I am insignificant. “When you were little in your own eyes were you not the head of the tribes of Israel?” God elevated you and put you in authority over all of Israel. “Did not the Lord anoint you king over Israel?”
God is the One who anointed you. The subtext here is as the king you were put in that position by God. God is the One who is in authority over you. You are not the ultimate authority. That is always the problem with human government. It is that human government leaders think that they are the ultimate authority and that they are not answerable to God.
This applies to people on the city council, mayors, governors, vice-presidents, presidents, members of Congress. They all fall into this trap far too often, which is probably why they should not be there for very long, because they get overly impressed with their own position and prestige.
It is the LORD who anointed Saul over Israel. You have got to submit to God’s authority. 1 Samuel 15:18, “Now the Lord sent you on a mission.” You had an operations order. God said go “and cherem the sinners, the Amalekites, and fight against them until they are consumed…”, until they are annihilated, until they are completely eradicated. Those are some of the other English words used to translate this idea from the Hebrew. Then Saul asked the pertinent questions.
Whenever you are involved in some kind of counseling, you are helping somebody, you are talking to your kids, your grandkids, or someone else. You have got to let them discover the truth on their own by asking them questions. Do not just tell them. Let them sort of go through that path of self discovery a little bit so that it has a greater impact.
1 Samuel 15:19, “Why then did you not obey the voice of the Lord? Why did you swoop down on the spoil, and do evil in the sight of the Lord?”
See, he could have declared it. Jesus was a master at this. We are studying this in Matthew 21 as He used these rhetorical questions to expose what was really going on in the sinful hearts of the Pharisees and Sadducees and all the other religious leaders. He said “Why did you swoop down on the spoil, and do evil in the sight of the Lord?”
I want to point out the words that when Samuel said “Why did you not obey?” He uses the word shāma. This is the Hebrew word meaning to hear or to listen. In Hebrew you have not listened if you have not obeyed. That is the connection with the word.
You may tell your child fifteen times not to do something. Then when they do it you will say well why did you not listen to me?
See, it does not just have to do with their eardrums being stimulated by the sound of your voice, and that they understood the dictionary meaning of the terms that you used. It has to do with real listening, which means obeying and responding positively to what is being said. That is biblical.
1 Samuel 15:20, “Saul responds and he says …”
Notice this. If you are ever in a position where you are trying to advise your children, especially your teenagers or college kids, or sometimes the “twenty somethings,” or your grandchildren, or your spouse, or somebody who works for you and you expose what has been going on in terms of disobedience, they will often without even thinking about it, slip right into self-justification. This is what Saul does.
“But I have obeyed the voice of the LORD.” I did. I killed them all. In his mind he is thinking that he really did it.
That is how we are. That is how I am. That is how you are. You say, “I have done what the Lord said to do.” Because we blinded ourselves to our own sinfulness because we are so adapt at rationalization to our sin that we slip through it without even being conscious of it. That is what Saul says.
“I have obeyed the voice of the Lord. I went on the mission that He sent me. I brought back Agag king of Amalek.”
What he says directly contrasts, but he does not see the contradiction. It is just like Bill Nye, the Science Guy. He can hear the truth from Ken Ham and it does not even register. Because when you are suppressing the truth in unrighteousness, you are blinding yourself to reality. You do not even realize it when you are saying that this is a black sheet of paper (Dr. Dean is holding up a white sheet of paper.) You are convinced it is a black piece of paper. That is the trouble with sin. It destroys and twists our own thinking.
“I brought back Agag king of Amalek; I have utterly destroyed the Amalekites.”
Wait a minute. It is not until David comes along later that there is going to be a further slaughter of the Amalekites. Obviously, they did not kill them all.
1 Samuel 15:21, “But the people took …”
Here is another part of self-justification. We blame other people. It is really not my fault. The people wanted it. It very well could be that the people wanted it, but it provides him a way to skirt the personal responsibility. “The people took of the plunder, sheep, and oxen.”
My mother would say, “So if everybody else cuts off their nose to spite their face are you going to do it?”
That is what Saul is saying. I am just going to do what the people said to do because I am a milk toast leader. I am going to do what the people say to do. I am not going to lead. He is just blaming the people. He is trying to avoid personal responsibility.
“But the people took of the plunder, sheep, and oxen, the best of the things which should have been utterly destroyed (cherem) to sacrifice to the Lord your God in Gilgal.”
Notice how Saul says this, “the Lord your God …” A lot of people try to make this into something it is not. Some of you will say, well, this proves that God was not Saul’s God. That is not what is going on here because there are too many other places that there are more significant things going on with Saul. He is emphasizing this is “your God.” This what “your God” told me to do. He is not saying it is “your God” versus not my God. He is just saying this is what “your God” said to do and I did it.
Saul is convinced he is right. He is totally blind to the truth. 1 Samuel 15:22, “So Samuel says: ‘Has the Lord as great a delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams.’ ”
This introduces two verses here that are in poetry in the Hebrew. It has to be exegeted and understood with reference to poetry. Poetry is not interpreted the same way that you interpret legal literature. You do not read a Shakespearian sonnet the way you read the Constitution of the United States. You do not read a Shakespearian play the way you read your mortgage contract. You can have words used in both documents, but words that are used in poetry gives you a little more freedom. The words are a little more fluid in their meaning. The words are a little broader. There is the use of figures of speech, so poetry is not read or interpreted the same.
That does not mean that you can make it mean whatever you want it to mean, which is what your sixth grade elementary teacher taught you. What you learned when you were in the seventh or eighth grade reading literature and poetry, that the meaning of the poetry is in your mind, not in mind of Wordsworth or Coleridge or somebody like that. I will never forget the time I finally woke up and learned that I could really understand English poetry.
I had an elderly teacher, probably in her 60s at the time. I was twenty, so anyone over thirty was elderly. It was between my junior and senior year. I had a second major. I had a primary major in history and a second major in English, because if you were in the State of Texas and getting a teacher’s certificate you had to have a double major. I had to take this one course. I had heard all these horrible stories about this one professor, Dr. Wyatt, and that she was really hard and difficult.
Well, if you are already postmodern and you have already bought into a figurative interpretation of everything, and some body comes in and they are a literalist, and they are going to interpret British romantic poetry in the 19th century, just like I would interpret the Psalms. You are going to go into the life, study the life.
- When did he write this?
- When did Coleridge write this?
- When did Wordsworth write this?
- What was going on in their life when they wrote that?
All of a sudden she was using those methods that we use in the Bible looking at the time, the place, and the circumstances surrounding these poets. All of a sudden it came alive. It was as if I had this whole new discovery that you really could understand poetry. It had objective meaning that in the mind of the writer who was communicating something. That is what we have here in these verses.
The question that sets the stage is the one at the beginning: “Has the Lord as great a delight …” As soon as you read that there is a comparison going on here.
Is God as delighted in burnt offerings and sacrifices as in obedience?
The implication here is He is going to value one more than the other. Samuel is bringing out this point. Then he drives it home. First, he asked the question. Asking questions is a great way to get people to think about the answers. It has taken me a long time to learn that. Ask questions and get people to think it through on their on a little bit. Do not be in a hurry to drive your truck into their brain. Give them time to think it through by asking them questions and being patient. The question you asked them probably never occurred to them before. Give them a little time to come to the answer.
1 Samuel 15:22, “So Samuel said, ‘Has the Lord as great a delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as in obeying?’ ”
What do you think the LORD wants, obedience or sacrifice?
Then Samuel answers, “Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed (or to listen with obedience) than the fat of rams.” You see a synonymous parallelism here between obey and heed and sacrifice and the fat of rams.
The fat was what was preserved for God. That was set apart to God. I still do not know why. I have talked to Jay Collins about that. I have talked to Randy Price about it. I have talked to a lot of people.
What is the big deal about the fat? Why is that valued?
I do not know, but it was. The fat was the better part. I know when I was a kid my dad would grill steaks. I always loved eating the fat. I think it has something to do with that. That made it better. We all would prefer a nice well marbled rib-eye than a less fat, more lean piece of meat. It is the fat that gives it more flavor. Maybe that is why.
Hosea 6:6 echoes this same thing. Hosea writes at about the same time as Isaiah. He is indicting the kingdom of Judah. He writes what God says, “For I desire mercy and not sacrifice, and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.” The burnt offerings and the sacrifices are just ritual designed to teach about reality.
- The reality is obedience.
- The reality is having a relationship with God.
- The reality is knowing God. The reality is not the training aid.
The rituals and the sacrifices are training aids. Do not substitute the training aid for the relationship with God. Ultimately, what God wants is that personal relationship.
Psalm 51:1617. This is David’s confession to God for his sin with Bathsheba and the murder of Uriah. He says to God, “For you do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it; You do not delight in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit ...”
That is usually misunderstood. What it means is a broken spirit is a spirit that is put under the authority of God. It is like how you would break a horse or break an animal that you are going to ride, a donkey. You are going to ride the donkey, ride the horse. You have the colt and you are breaking it so that it can come under your authority. That is the idea of a broken spirit. It is an idiom of humility and authority orientation. That is Saul’s problem as we are going to see. He is rebellious, as many of us are at times.
“The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart.” It is describing submission to God’s authority as opposed to disobedience. David says, “These, O God, You will not despise.”
Proverbs 21:3, “To do righteousness and justice is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice.”
Again, it is because the ritual is a training aid to understand the reality. This was a problem that Israel slipped into. It is the problem they slipped into at the time of Christ. It is a problem that every legalist slips into. It is substituting the form for the reality. In the time of Isaiah, which is roughly around 700 BC, he is challenging those in Judah with the fact that they have reduced their relationship with God to legalism and ritual and formality.
In Isaiah 1:11–13 Isaiah says, “‘To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices to Me?’ says the Lord.”
You are doing everything right according to the Law, but you are not being obedient. The purpose to understand the sacrifice is to understand the importance of cleansing and obedience to God.
“ ‘To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices to Me?’ says the Lord. ‘I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed cattle. I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs and goats. When you come to appear before Me, who has required this from your hand, to trample My courts? Bring no more futile sacrifices; incense is an abomination to Me. The New Moons, the Sabbaths, and the calling of assemblies – I cannot endure iniquity and the sacred meeting.’ ”
What they have done is they have reduced it to legalism, ritual, and formality like what the Pharisees did by the time of Christ.
God goes on to say, Isaiah 1:14–17, “Your New Moons and your appointed feasts My soul hates. They are a trouble to Me. I am weary of bearing them. When you spread out your hands I will hide My eyes from you. Even though you make many prayers, I will not hear.”
That is quite a great verse. “You can pray and I am going to hide from you.” I remember some years ago when a president of the Southern Baptist Convention made the statement that God does not hear the prayers of Jews. God does not hear the prayers of most Christians either. He could have nuanced it a little better. But God does not hear the prayers of anybody who is not:
- A believer in Jesus Christ.
- In fellowship with Him.
In the Old Testament He said the same thing. He said that if you are not walking with Me, then I am not going to listen to your prayers. When you have shifted into idolatry, whether it is overt idolatry or idolatry of the mind, I am not going to listen to you. I am not going to listen to your prayers. You make a lot of prayers and I am not listening.
“Your hands are full of blood. Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean.”
That is confession of sin. In that environment it was to submit to the authority of God and to go through the cleansing rituals.
“Put away the evil of your doings from before My eyes. Cease to do evil. Learn to do good; seek justice, rebuke the oppressors, defend the fatherless, plead for the widow.”
It is obedience.
We will get to this next week. I keep putting this off and leading up to it.
1 Samuel 15:23, “For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft.”
Rebellion is to subvert the authority of God.
Why does Samuel say rebellion is like witchcraft?
When we look at it we will see that witchcraft is not witchcraft. It is divination, but it still relates to demonism. Why is any act of rebellion:
- Children who are disobedient to their parents.
- Wives who are disobedient to their husbands.
- Husbands who are disobedient to God.
- Citizens who are disobedient to the leaders in the nation.
Why is that like the sin of divination? Why is that? What is the issue here?
Further, Samuel goes on to say, that “stubbornness is as inequity and idolatry.”
If we look at the parallelism what we see is that divination is related to rebellion and the sin of stubbornness is equivalent to iniquity and idolatry. When we disobey God we are not any different from Satan. We are following in Satan’s footsteps. It is as horrendous and egregious as if we were committing Satan’s sin all over again. We are going to look at this next time. It is filled with significance. This is one of the greatest verses. Disobedience to God is Satanism. It puts us into the devil’s world and following in the devil’s footsteps. We will get back next week.
“Father, thank You for this opportunity to study these things and to be reminded of Your grace, but also to be reminded that grace has standards. When we violate those standards we are following in the footsteps of Satan. He is the father of lies. He is the fathers of all those who are disobedient to You, who think they can set their will, their standard over Your will and Your standard.
Father, challenge us with what we have learned, but also remind us that in Your grace you forgive us. You cleanse us, because You sent Your Son who died on the Cross for our sins, and by trusting in Him we are cleansed and we are forgiven. We pray this in Christ’s Name. Amen.”