Both times when Saul is confronted with his sin of bringing back the Amalekite spoil, he says "they have brought them," and "for the people spared". He is not willing to take ownership of this deed. Verse 9 says, "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..." Hmmmm. Who is telling the truth here? God or Saul?
Then Saul tries to justify "their" actions by saying it was for religious reasons, to sacrifice to God. Were they going to sacrifice King Agag to God too? I mean, if you are going to make up a story, make sure all the pieces fit. The Israelites were not known to give up human sacrifices, they left that to their heathen counterparts. When Samuel presses him about this disobedience, Saul says, "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..." Okay, Saul, stop right there. That's what I would have said if I had been Samuel. When God said, "Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not..." what part of that sentence meant, and bring the king back to Israel with you?
Saul further says, "But the people took of the spoil, sheep and oxen, the chief of the things which should have been uterly destroyed..." What he did was only bring back the king, the people are the real violators here because they brought back the livestock, but he adds, "to sacrifice unto the LORD thy God in Gilgal." So, really, they were thinking about God so its not as bad as that, is it Samuel? Even if this was all true, even if Saul had only brought back Agag which God said not to do, the people follow their leader. If King Saul brings something back, it stands to reason that they would too.
Only when Samuel pronounces Saul's punishment does Saul come anywhere close to confessing his sin, and even then, I'm not sure he is repentant. It is like the child who steals the cookie from the cookie jar and once caught, promises never to do that again, and says over and over, "I love you, Mommy, I love you Mommy, I love you Mommy" to avoid his spanking. In his confession, he tells Samuel that it is because he feared the people that he disobeyed. So now it is the people's fault?
|Saul tears Samuel's Robe--Taken from Treasures of the Bible|
By Henry Davenport Northrop
International Publishing Company, 1894
Then Samuel says something very interesting to Saul which I think prompts a true confession. Samuel says, "And also the Strength of Israel will not lie nor repent: for he is not a man, that he should repent." It is almost as if Samuel has to go back to the basics with Saul. He has to remind Saul that God is not a man. God doesn't lie. God doesn't make a mistake. It is almost as if Saul had forgotten that God could not be at fault for this. Being king, he had been used to laying the blame on others. It had become his habit to allow others to become his scapegoats. He couldn't do that with God. He had forgotten that God will not be a scapegoat. He needed to be reminded that Someone was higher than the king, and that Someone does not make a mistake. When Saul realizes this, that he is not going to fool the Lord, he comes clean. It takes a while to get there, but he is at last able to recognize his wrong, without making excuses, and without throwing anyone else under the bus.
Saul could fool Samuel. Saul could fool the elders. Saul could fool the other nations, but God will never be fooled. He sees the heart, and it is because He sees the heart that Saul will be replaced. Maybe Saul was genuinely repentant on this occasion, but God knew that it would take reminder after reminder to make Saul the king he ought to be. God was not interested in continuing that process, at least, not while Saul was on the throne. God never gives up on us. He works with us to get us where He wants us to go, but not always in the position we are in. Sometimes He has to knock us off our thrones so we will listen. When we are surrounded by all our worldly comforts, we can drown out His Voice. It takes a lot to hear Him amid all the distractions. When He takes things away from us, it is so He can get us to a place where we hear Him. Really hear Him, not the "Yes, dear" kind of hearing that spouses so often give. He wants us to listen. Intently.
Does that ever happen for Saul? I can't see that it does. He doesn't exactly wear earplugs, more like earmuffs. He hears God, but he never really listens. God's instructions are like the adult "Wa, wa, wa" in a Peanuts cartoon. We can listen with our ears, but if we don't listen with our heart too, we haven't really heard anything. When God tells us something, and we don't respond emotionally to it, I'm not sure we have actually responded. Going through the motions, not the emotions. That doesn't mean we have to be a crying mess in everything we do, but doesn't God say to do things "heartily"? Saul heard with his ears, but he never heard God with his heart. When I feel that disconnect with God, in my prayer time, in my Bible time, when I am witnessing to someone, I have to ask myself, am I really listening? My ears are open, is my heart?