“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.” (1 Samuel 15:22)
The blue in ablution
The story of Samuel and Saul is such a lonely, miserable one. Fraught with twists and turns and ending in bitter loneliness and regret. I must confess, I have this desire at times to turn around and impartially and dispassionately revisit miserable, hellishly despondent times and places, just to see if the light that’s in me can stand up to the dearth of such. If Jesus went to hell, deep as one could go, then what’s wrong with doing the same? Provided it’s He who takes you by the hand. So I suppose it’s not just my desire. I’m not a masochist. There are places, psychologically, that I feel so removed from as to never return nor desire to. But if I want all my life to resonate with the beauty and joy He’s given me, shouldn’t I seek out the dark corners of my memory and let Him shine His light? I suppose so, in His time.
“If I make my bed in hell, behold, Thou art there.” (Psalm 139:8b)
And so we have this story of Saul. Anointed the first-ever king of Israel by Samuel, apparently he was tall (“higher than any of the people.” 1 Samuel 9:2) and “goodly”. But he’s also described–by Samuel, no less–as “little in thine own sight” (15:17). Just because someone is with it physically, doesn’t mean they have a commensurate inner game. Doesn’t mean they see themselves as do you. Not to stray too far into self-help territory but there’s a lot to be said for confidence (not the wrong kind) in one’s God-given gifts and abilities. Saul seemed to be lacking these things and it’s these very areas, I would say that ended in adding to his ultimate downfall as king. To where he’d seek the advice of a “woman that hath a familiar spirit” (28:7) in recoil to the great fear he entered into as a result of the encroaching Philistines. Continuing on from the initial passage:
“For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft (the “familiar spirit” thing), and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because thou hast rejected the word of the Lord, He hath also rejected thee from being king.” (1 Samuel 15:23)
So, I let out an exasperated sigh at Saul’s state. Not that I’m any better than he, but Saul is one of those tragic figures in the Bible. Akin to Judas, it would seem his flaws were always there and nothing could prevent them from bearing fruit after their kind. It says at the end of the chapter “And Samuel came no more to see Saul until the day of his death: nevertheless Samuel mourned for Saul:” (15:35) We’re getting into substrate territory with these incidents. When Samuel begins stripping away the actual outward sins (of “witchcraft” and “idolatry”), evil as they may be, to reveal their motives and underlying separation from God’s way of doing things, it’s serious. Again, when Samuel left to find David and anoint him as the new king, he tells David’s father Jesse “the Lord looketh on the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7) This is what God’s aiming at and Saul simply didn’t have the heart for it.
The blood of absolution
“For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins.” (Hebrews 10:4)
The coup de grace of Saul’s short lived kingship happens when he elects not to slay all the animals of the Amalekites and so chooses to offer them in oblation to God. This was a no-no. When he tells Samuel, by way of excuse, that he offered them in “sacrifice unto the Lord thy God” (15:15, emphasis mine), it’s evident his heart’s not with the Lord. And this is the separation that Jesus remedied and solved by shedding His blood for our sin and sins. It’s this sacrifice that covers the generations-long gap of wasting an entire regime for lack of confidence in oneself. It’s this sacrifice of Jesus that covers and removes the pain that caused Samuel to grieve and cry “unto the Lord all night.” (15:11) This kind of regret is impossible to face without the perspective of Jesus.
“I acknowledged my sin unto Thee, and mine iniquity have I not hid. I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord; and Thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin. Selah. For this shall every one that is godly pray unto Thee in a time when Thou mayest be found: surely in the floods of great waters they shall not come nigh unto him.” (Psalm 32:5-6)
“Thanks be unto God for His unspeakable gift.” (2 Corinthians 9:15)