CONTEXT: In 1 Samuel 15 the prophet Samuel gives Saul explicit commands from the LORD of hosts to bring judgment on the Amalekites as a recompense for their treatment of Israel when the nation was coming up from Egypt. Saul is told to “strike Amalek and utterly destroy all that he has, and do not spare him, but put to death” everything (15:3). Stated in four different ways, the command could not be clearer, yet Saul does not carry out the command. Instead he saves some of the sheep for sacrifices and spares Agag the king of Amalek.
This is the third and final installment in a brief series of blogs on this chapter (1 Samuel 15) and on what we can learn from the negative example of Saul.
“Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams.”
The final and most critical area in which Saul was casual and careless was in regard to the sacrifices which God has ordained to provide for atonement, propitiation and forgiveness. In the Old Testament Law, God had graciously provided sacrifices that allowed His righteous wrath against sin to be directed against an innocent animal instead of against the sinner. Saul did not regard the sacrifices of the LORD as holy, but instead viewed them as a part of the Hebrew religious system. Here are some of the ways that I believe Saul erred:
- He believed that any sacrifice was an acceptable sacrifice and that the LORD would receive any sacrifice. He did not understand that the LORD only accepted those sacrifices that He Himself had deemed to be acceptable;
- He believed he could decide what sacrifice to offer and when he could offer it, but it is the LORD who decides what sacrifice can be offered and when;
- Saul did not understand how serious sacrifice was, that blood must be shed for sin;
- He did not understand the purpose and the necessity of sacrifice. God’s holiness had been violated by man, the disobedient creature. God’s wrath has been kindled by man’s sin and a death was required.
- Saul trivialized atonement, which is using the God-ordained means of blood sacrifice to propitiate God’s wrath against a person’s sin;
- Saul did not understand that God’s provision of an acceptable sacrifice is an act of His grace. God is providing the death of an innocent substitute as a means of covering man’s sin;
- Saul assumed that God’s provision of a sacrifice was a right that Saul could exercise whenever he chose.
Many of these ideas overlap and may sound redundant, but I am trying to capture the essence of Saul’s attitude toward sacrifice. In summary, Saul despised the holiness of a God-ordained sacrifice and instead treated sacrifice as a common thing, as simply a part of the Hebrew religion or even as part of his own self-made religion.
Why was the act of a blood sacrifice so significant and Saul’s attitude so wrong? We must realize that every God-ordained sacrifice pointed forward to the final, glorious, awesome sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ on the cross. Every lamb, ram, bull and goat sacrificed under the Law was but a foreshadow of Calvary’s crucified Lamb. Thus to treat as casual or trivial or common any of the Old Testament sacrifices was to despise the One to whom all those sacrifices pointed. “For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Heb. 10:4). All the rivers of blood that ran from the temple in Jerusalem down into the Kidron ravine could not by themselves atone for one single transgression, but every drop of that blood was holy to the Lord, for every drop anticipated the lash and the crown of thorns and the nails of the King of glory.
Instead of destroying the Amalekites, as he was commanded by the word of the LORD to do, Saul thought to sacrifice the best of the sheep of this cursed people to offer to the LORD as a means of worship. In so doing, Saul revealed his real view of both obedience and sacrifice. He has a casual view toward obedience, he trivialized the LORD’s sacrifice and he despised the LORD’s glory and grace.
How should we respond to this and what are the lessons that we can take away from Saul’s failure? The disciple of Jesus Christ must understand the beauty and the holiness and the power of the one sacrifice of Jesus on the cross that takes away the believer’s sin. Unlike Saul, the disciple should understand the offense of sin and grasp the grace of our holy God who has provided a sacrifice to cover sin. Yes, God’s grace is supremely manifested in His gift of the sacrifice of His Son. Unlike Saul, the disciple must never despise the blood of the sacrifice, but should regard this sacrifice as holy and embrace this Sacrifice as the means of salvation and forgiveness. SDG rmb 8/27/2016