1 Samuel 15
Sermon Bible
Samuel also said unto Saul, The LORD sent me to anoint thee to be king over his people, over Israel: now therefore hearken thou unto the voice of the words of the LORD.

1 Samuel 15

(with 1 Timothy 1:19)

The story of Saul is among the saddest which Scripture anywhere contains.

I. Notice first the singular elements of nobleness which are to be traced in his natural character, so that his moral stature did not altogether belie the stateliness of his outward frame. There is nothing which so often oversets the whole balance of a mind, which brings out faults unsuspected before, as a sudden and abrupt elevation from a very low to a very high position. But Saul gives no token that the change has wrought this mischief in him. The Lord's anointed, Israel's king, he bides his time, returns with a true simplicity to humblest offices in his father's house. He would gladly, and that out of a genuine modesty, hide and withdraw himself from the people's choice. Slights and offences done to himself he magnanimously overlooks. He ventures his life far for the people whom he rules, as one who has rightly understood that foremost in place and honour means also foremost in peril and toil. Saul is clear from every charge of that sin which left the darkest blot upon David's life; seems very sparingly to have allowed himself that licence which almost all Oriental monarchs have so largely claimed. There was in him also a true capacity for loving. Of David we are told he "loved him greatly." Even at his worst, what glimpses of a better mind from time to time appear! The deep discords of his spirit are not incapable of being subdued into harmonies, as sweet bells jangled or out of tune which for an instant, though, alas! but for an instant, recover their sweetness. And, most noticeable of all, the love which he could feel he could also inspire. If then there was a shipwreck here, they were not paltry wares, but treasures of great price, which went down into the deep.

II. The history of Saul brings home to us these facts: (1) That the life we now live is a life of probation; that God takes men and puts them in certain conditions to try them. We are each upon our trial as certainly as Saul was upon his. (2) All the finer qualities of Saul display themselves at the outset of his career; they gradually fade and fail from him, pride meanwhile, and defiance of God coming in their room, until at last of and caprice, and jealousy, and envy, and an open contempt all the high qualities which he once owned, only the courage, last gift to forsake a man, often abiding when every other has departed—until this only remains. (3) We learn from Saul not to build on any good thing which we have in ourselves. Let us bring that good thing to God and receive it back from God, with that higher consecration which He alone can give.

R. C. Trench, Shipwrecks of Faith, p. 31.

References: 1 Samuel 15:1-9.—Homiletic Magazine, vol. x., p.179. 1 Samuel 15:1-24.—Clergyman's Magazine, vol. iv., p. 343. 1 Samuel 15:3.—S. Baring-Gould, Plain Preaching to Poor People, p. 109; J. Percival, Some Helps for School Life, p. 135. 1 Samuel 15:10-35.—Homiletic Magazine, vol. x., p. 302.

1 Samuel 15:11I. Saul's character is marked by much that is considered to be of the highest moral excellence—generosity, magnanimity, calmness, energy, and decision. He is introduced to us as a "choice young man and a goodly," and as possessed of a striking personal presence, and as a member of a wealthy and powerful family. It is probable from the sequel of Saul's history that the apparent nobleness of his first actions was connected with some wrong principles and feelings, which then existed only in their seeds, but which afterwards sprang up and ripened to his destruction.

II. Sight prevailed over the faith of Balaam; a more subtle, though not a rare, temptation overcame the faith of Saul: wilfulness, the unaccountable desire of acting short of simple obedience to God's will, a repugnance of unreserved self-surrender and submission to Him. By wilful resistance to God's will, he opened the door to those evil passions which till then, at the utmost only served to make his character umamiable, without stamping it with guilt. Derangement was the consequence of disobedience. The wilfulness which first resisted God next preyed upon itself, as a natural principle of disorder; his moods and changes, his compunctions and relapses, what were they but the convulsions of the spirit when the governing power was lost?

III. In contemplating the miserable termination of his history, we observe how clearly the failure of the Divine purpose which takes place in it is attributable to man. No one could be selected more suitable in talents or conduct for maintaining political power at home than the reserved, mysterious monarch whom God gave to His people; none more suitable for striking terror into the surrounding nations than a commander gifted with his coolness and promptitude in action. But he fell from his election because of unbelief, because he would take another part, and not the very part which was actually assigned him in the decrees of the Most High.

J. H. Newman, Sermons on the theory of Religious Belief, p. 146.

References: 1 Samuel 15:11.—Parker, vol. vi., p. 330; R. Lorimer, Bible Studies in Life and Truth, p. 93; J. W. Burgon, Ninety-one Short Sermons, No. 63. 1 Samuel 15:14.—J. Edmunds, Fifteen Sermons, p. 111.

1 Samuel 15:20-21It will appear somewhat startling to any one who first notices it how very little is said in the Bible about truthfulness. The reason is that truthfulness is not a strictly religious duty; it is a duty which is entirely independent of faith in God or Christ, a duty which is so absolutely necessary to the very existence of society, that without reverence for it no community could last for a day. The word of God passes by those things which men can find out for themselves, and does not insist on those duties which the common interests of commerce and security and comfort are sure to enforce.

I. It is most important to notice with regard to this passage in Saul's life that, taking the words as they stand, there was probably no absolute falsehood in them. Nothing is more probable than that the people did take of the spoil to sacrifice unto the Lord, and that at any rate it was very nearly true that Saul had utterly destroyed the Amalekites. And yet, after all, in God's sight, with all this semblance of veracity, the unhappy king stood up as a convicted liar, who, with his reddening cheek and his stammering tongue, was being put to shame before all his people. He did not dare to lie outright. He would not quite confess his guilt, but he dressed up a lie in the garb of truth, and took his chance of getting off his punishment by a paltry subterfuge.

II. Saul is only a type of a million others who have done the like again and again in all times. It is the hardest thing in life to be true, and the rarest. To state the simplest fact with perfect simplicity, to explain our most innocent motive with exact honesty, are feats which will often baffle the most sincere among us. Truth is not natural. It is not common. It is not easily learnt; only by watchfulness and prayer can it be learnt at all. The first temptation was but a piece of cheating; the traitor Judas acted a lie when he gave his Master that false kiss in Gethsemane, and ever since then falsehood has been Satan's chosen weapon for plucking Christ's children out of their Saviour's hands and robbing them of that heaven where only the true can live.

A. Jessopp, Norwich School Sermons, p. 43

1 Samuel 15:22We can hardly read the history of Saul without some feeling of pity. He was no tyrant, who made himself king and ruled the people against their will. On the contrary, he was chosen by God Himself, was anointed by God's prophet, and became king at the express desire of the people. He was a brave and noble man, too; he led the Israelites against their enemies, and, by God's help, was victorious over them. There were, indeed, terrible blots on his character; his persecution of David for mere jealousy was base and wicked cruelty; nevertheless, when we read his sad history, we cannot fail to be moved with pity for one who was so great and so unhappy.

I. The words of the text contain a lesson which Saul had never learned. He served God and appeared zealous in His cause so far as the way of doing this suited his own pleasure and purposes, but whenever self had to be denied and God's will made the rule of action instead of his own, then he rebelled. In fact, Saul never really worshipped God at all, he worshipped self, and he never learned this great truth: that obedience to God is the only thing pleasing in His eyes.

II. Saul stands to us as a type of those who profess to be Christians and act in a measure as Christians, and who, nevertheless, follow their own ways, just as if they were under no Christian vows at all. They have never learnt the great Gospel lesson of obedience, nor seen that obedience to God requires self-denial and discipline of ourselves. Faith and obedience are necessary parts of each other; there can be no obedience without faith, and faith without obedience is dead.

III. We have been received as the soldiers of Christ, and this comparison of a Christian to a soldier will show us very well what our obedience ought to be, for a soldier has no will of his own; his first and principal lesson is that of obedience; whatever service of danger he may be called upon to perform, he has no choice but to obey. This is the kind of obedience we are to yield; not an occasional act, but a constant battle against ourselves and against the evil nature that is in us, and a constant striving to root out all desires and thoughts which are contrary to the will of God.

Bishop Harvey Goodwin, Parish Sermons, 1st series, p. 195.

I. All obedience belongs primarily to God. The one Fountain of all good must be the single centre of all service. Thus far obedience is an instinct. The creature owes it to its Creator, the preserved to the Preserver, the family to the one great Parent of us all.

II. The question is not whether we will obey God. God is far too strong and absolute a God for that. Every creature which He has ever made shall and will obey Him. The question is only how we obey, and when. Shall it be a violent compulsion or a voluntary act of filial devotion? The true motive, the essence, of obedience God tells us when He says, "Love is the fulfilling of the law." "If ye love Me, keep My commandments." To love is to obey, and the measure of the obedience is the degree of the affection. That affection is generated only by close contact with the Lord Jesus Christ.

III. Obedience does not consist in isolated acts; it is an atmosphere, it is a necessity, it is the breathing of a new existence, and it is the beginning of immortality.

IV. There is no happiness like the happiness of obedience. Adam was made to rule. The Fall has altered it, and now every man's dignity and every man's joy is in service. Man never fulfils his destiny but when he obeys. Therefore, in His great mercy, God has so placed every one of us, from the greatest to the least, that we have some one over us whom we have to obey. "To obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams."

J. Vaughan, Fifty Sermons, 10th series, p. 228.

References: 1 Samuel 15:22.—Dawson, Sermons on Daily Life and Duty, p. 286; H. Alford, Quebec Chapel Sermons, vol. iii., p. 390; G. Matheson, Moments on the Mount, p. 118; J. Harrison, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xiv., p. 49; Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xii., No. 686, and Evening by Evening, p. 294; Homiletic Magazine, vol. xv., p. 55; Preacher's Monthly, vol. iv., p. 34; S. Leathes, Truth and Life, p. 115; Homiletic Magazine, vol. xiii., p. 21.

1 Samuel 15:23I. At the end of 1 Samuel 8, we find all arranged by the Divine command for a king being appointed over Israel, and at the beginning of chapter ix. we first read of Saul. His bodily stature and personal beauty prepossess us in his favour, and as the story goes on his good sense and modesty increase the prepossession. When chosen to the kingdom, we find him with a band of men whose hearts God had touched; and when the children of Belial said, "How shall this man save us?" he held his peace. We can hardly conceive a more promising commencement to a reign, or one more calculated to gather power and work deliverance for Israel. Saul's is just the character of many a young man, full of high and noble feeling, modest, and distrustful of self, coming from a religious home or the influence of religious impressions, and placed in a post of responsibility, of activity. All is promise; we look for high distinction of the best kind, and for bright and blessed deeds for God and for good.

II. In the thirteenth chapter it appears that during the first two years of Saul's reign the man of grace in him had been waning, the man of nature had been waxing stronger. The tendency of the man was to emancipate himself from God's law and make himself supreme, to follow his own bent and natural impulse, to the setting aside of God's positive commands. Saul desired to be his own master, and he was left to himself by God. (1) The first thought which occurs to us is this: in this its first king, as in a mirror, behold Israel itself. Israel, like Saul, has turned to his own way. Because he hath rejected the Lord, the Lord hath also rejected him from being king. (2) The second thought is: in this character, behold multitudes among ourselves reflected. How many there are with whom everything for time and for eternity trembles in the balance, and the question is whether they will serve the Lord in life or whether they will not. How many follow the example of Saul. They live for the world, and by degrees God's grace is quenched; there is remorse behind and misery before, death inexorable and coming on with rapid strides, and eternity a dismal blank, the thought of which carries terror to the soul.

III. This picture of ourselves should teach us two especial cautions: (1) against forgetfulness of God; (2) against self-will.

H. Alford, Quebec Chapel Sermons, vol. ii., p. 44.

Reference: 1 Samuel 15:23.—Clergyman's Magazine, vol. xiv., p. 16.

1 Samuel 15:24No man, surely, should dare depend upon God's temporal favours or upon the friendship of the best of men after reading of the sin and punishment of Saul, who failed so sadly at last, though he was made king of Israel by the especial providence of God, and though he had the constant affection and intercession of so good a man as Samuel. If men will not labour to keep their own hearts in the right place, it is not either in God or man to do them good against their will.

I. It was not for any one act of disobedience that the Almighty rejected Saul; it was on account of the temper and disposition which he showed in acting as he did, and which made him particularly unfit to be king over such a people as the Israelites. Saul's commission was above all things to put down that spirit of mistrust and rebellion which prevailed among his subjects, instead of which he allowed himself to be carried away by mere heathen feelings and to act as a mere heathen prince.

II. Saul's way of excusing himself to Samuel proves his heart to have been in the wrong, to have been, indeed, utterly destitute of the sincere love of God. If he might but have preserved his kingdom, the loss of God's approbation would have made little or no difference to him. The temptation which led him wrong was his regarding the praise and favour of the people more than the praise and favour of God.

Plain Sermons by Contributors to "Tracts for the Times," vol. iv., p. 124.

References: 1 Samuel 15:24.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. iii., No. 113; Parker, vol. vii., p. 71 (see also J. Keble, Sermons for the Christian Year: Sundays after Trinity, Part I., p. 138).

1 Samuel 15:24, 1 Samuel 15:30We have here the confession of a backsliding man, going down the slope of sin at the same time that these godly words were on his lips. Saul was on the incline, and these words, spiritless and untrue, only precipitated him further.

It was one of those strange reactions of which the experience of every man is full that he who began in shyness committed his first great recorded sin in presumption.

Saul's confession had not reality. There was no religion in it. It was simply remorse, the child of fear. It curried favour with man, and it sought to appease God for a temporal end. Notice some of the marks of a spurious confession. (1) It does not isolate itself, as true confession always does. (2) It seeks honour from men rather than from God. (3) It gives a religious cloak to sin. "He did it to sacrifice to the Lord."

J. Vaughan, Sermons, 7th series, p. 85.

References: 1 Samuel 15:32.—J. Van Oosterzee, Year of Salvation, vol. ii., p. 425. 1 Samuel 15:32-35.—G. B. Ryley, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xiii., p. 260. 1 Samuel 15:35.—R. Lorimer, Bible Studies in Life and Truth, p. 93.

Thus saith the LORD of hosts, I remember that which Amalek did to Israel, how he laid wait for him in the way, when he came up from Egypt.
Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass.
And Saul gathered the people together, and numbered them in Telaim, two hundred thousand footmen, and ten thousand men of Judah.
And Saul came to a city of Amalek, and laid wait in the valley.
And Saul said unto the Kenites, Go, depart, get you down from among the Amalekites, lest I destroy you with them: for ye shewed kindness to all the children of Israel, when they came up out of Egypt. So the Kenites departed from among the Amalekites.
And Saul smote the Amalekites from Havilah until thou comest to Shur, that is over against Egypt.
And he 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, and of the oxen, and of the fatlings, and the lambs, and all that was good, and would not utterly destroy them: but every thing that was vile and refuse, that they destroyed utterly.
Then came the word of the LORD unto Samuel, saying,
It repenteth me that I have set up Saul to be king: for he is turned back from following me, and hath not performed my commandments. And it grieved Samuel; and he cried unto the LORD all night.
And when Samuel rose early to meet Saul in the morning, it was told Samuel, saying, Saul came to Carmel, and, behold, he set him up a place, and is gone about, and passed on, and gone down to Gilgal.
And Samuel came to Saul: and Saul said unto him, Blessed be thou of the LORD: I have performed the commandment of the LORD.
And Samuel said, What meaneth then this bleating of the sheep in mine ears, and the lowing of the oxen which I hear?
And Saul said, They have brought them from the Amalekites: for the people spared the best of the sheep and of the oxen, to sacrifice unto the LORD thy God; and the rest we have utterly destroyed.
Then Samuel said unto Saul, Stay, and I will tell thee what the LORD hath said to me this night. And he said unto him, Say on.
And Samuel said, When thou wast little in thine own sight, wast thou not made the head of the tribes of Israel, and the LORD anointed thee king over Israel?
And the LORD sent thee on a journey, and said, Go and utterly destroy the sinners the Amalekites, and fight against them until they be consumed.
Wherefore then didst thou not obey the voice of the LORD, but didst fly upon the spoil, and didst evil in the sight of the LORD?
And Saul said unto Samuel, Yea, I have obeyed the voice of the LORD, and have gone the way which the LORD sent me, and have brought Agag the king of Amalek, and have utterly destroyed the Amalekites.
But the people took of the spoil, sheep and oxen, the chief of the things which should have been utterly destroyed, to sacrifice unto the LORD thy God in Gilgal.
And Samuel said, Hath 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 hearken than the fat of rams.
For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because thou hast rejected the word of the LORD, he hath also rejected thee from being king.
And Saul said unto Samuel, I have sinned: for I have transgressed the commandment of the LORD, and thy words: because I feared the people, and obeyed their voice.
Now therefore, I pray thee, pardon my sin, and turn again with me, that I may worship the LORD.
And Samuel said unto Saul, I will not return with thee: for thou hast rejected the word of the LORD, and the LORD hath rejected thee from being king over Israel.
And as Samuel turned about to go away, he laid hold upon the skirt of his mantle, and it rent.
And Samuel said unto him, The LORD hath rent the kingdom of Israel from thee this day, and hath given it to a neighbour of thine, that is better than thou.
And also the Strength of Israel will not lie nor repent: for he is not a man, that he should repent.
Then he said, I have sinned: yet honour me now, I pray thee, before the elders of my people, and before Israel, and turn again with me, that I may worship the LORD thy God.
So Samuel turned again after Saul; and Saul worshipped the LORD.
Then said Samuel, Bring ye hither to me Agag the king of the Amalekites. And Agag came unto him delicately. And Agag said, Surely the bitterness of death is past.
And Samuel said, As thy sword hath made women childless, so shall thy mother be childless among women. And Samuel hewed Agag in pieces before the LORD in Gilgal.
Then Samuel went to Ramah; and Saul went up to his house to Gibeah of Saul.
And Samuel came no more to see Saul until the day of his death: nevertheless Samuel mourned for Saul: and the LORD repented that he had made Saul king over Israel.
William Robertson Nicoll's Sermon Bible

Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.

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