The Bible shows that God is indeed gracious. His grace is so great that He took the form of flesh in order to give His own life as a ransom for those that would desire to receive forgiveness of sins and the gift of eternal life. The death of Jesus Christ is not the testimony as the death of some guy. The Bible plainly and thoroughly teaches that Jesus as the Son of God, is God in the flesh. The scriptures also teach that Jesus is the Messiah, which means that He is the fulfillment of the Father’s promises to deal with sin, death, and hell on behalf of the human race, since humans are not qualified to deal with such things. Hence, the testimony of Jesus shows that God’s grace is so great that He took the form of flesh, specifically for the purpose of death, so that those who desire to live could do so on account of God’s own work! This is not favor that mankind deserved. This is not even favor that mankind asked for. God did this on account of His own righteousness because it needed to be done, and He was the only one that could. Additionally, the scriptures teach that God swore to do this work since the beginning. God was committed to taking this task upon Himself even before He formed the sinful human beings that would require His help. Thus, God’s favor transcends time and the people that are subject to time!
One must take this understanding of God’s grace into each testimony that the Bible provides. The scriptures show that God often provides unmerited favor to His people. However, the Bible also shows that He cuts off favor from some people. When one considers the extent of grace that God showed through Jesus, one must be careful to examine the sort of conduct that would cause God to restrict or cut off favor from an individual or group. Unfortunately, the testimony of king Saul is a good place to see where God candidly and openly cuts off favor from an individual. God provided grace to Saul, but then swiftly and severely communicated that He would restrict Saul from grace. Thus, one must be careful to examine the testimony of Saul to ensure that one does not walk in the same habits and footsteps that Saul did, thereby ensuring that one does not repel the grace of the Almighty God.
In 1 Samuel 15:10-23 the Bible explains the moment in which God communicated His displeasure and rejection of Saul. The passage begins by stating that God called out to Samuel and communicated His heart towards Saul. God began His address by stating, “I greatly regret that I have set up Saul as king.” One must be very careful when interpreting this verse. The English translation of the original Hebrew word suggests that God did not like His original selection of Saul and wished that He wouldn’t have made it. This is an improper interpretation for two reasons. First, and fundamentally, God does not make mistakes and does not go back on anything that He previously proclaims and then later executes. Secondly, one must recall that God previously communicated to Samuel that Saul would be a terrible king. Recall that when Israel clamored for a king, Samuel warned the children of Israel about how tragic their desire would be based on the insight that God provided according to His foreknowledge. Thus, God would not wish He had made a different decision if He already know the outcome of every decision that He makes.
The original Hebrew language uses the word “nacham,” which is also translated into the English word “repent.” However, this form of “repentance” does not refer to the change of mind that God desires for salvation. This Hebrew word refers to grief on account of consequence. In other words, when God examined the conduct and temperament of Saul, He was grieved. God is not indifferent to the consequences of His people. God is not emotionless towards the suffering of His people. God is not nonchalant towards the distance that sin causes between His people and Himself. God saw that the leadership of Saul had caused distance between His people and Himself, and God grieved over the results. God knew that this would happen, predicted it, and then it came to pass. God’s proclamation shows that God’s foreknowledge does not mean that God is numb to the events of human folly. God grieved over the spiritual pain that Saul had brought upon His people.
When Samuel heard God speak, the scriptures state that he responded with “grief” as well. However, the original language uses a different word to describe Samuel’s respond. The original language describes that Samuel was heated with anger with burning emotion. This is the same Hebrew word used to describe the Lord when He “burns with anger.” Samuel was angry that Saul was given a fair shot at being king and he squandered it. Samuel was angry that Saul had received such great favor and squandered it. Samuel was angry that the consequence God warned about was coming to pass, but the children of Israel agreed to go down that road anyway. Therefore, when Samuel went to relay God’s decree against Saul, Samuel didn’t pull any punches. Samuel expressed the candid truth that God proclaimed.
The Bible explains that when Samuel sought out Saul to deliver the message God had spoke, Saul was in Carmel erecting a monument for himself on account of the victory over the Amalekites. Such action is representative of the total issue that Saul had. Though God had brought the victory, Saul sought to build a monument to praise his own efforts. When Samuel found him, Saul spoke to him as if all was good. He blessed Samuel as if Samuel was there for good cause. Saul even spoke as if he felt that he had fulfilled the commandments of the Lord concerning the Amalekites. One must consider that the whole reason for this ordeal is on account of Saul’s disobedience to God’s commands concerning the Amalekites. God plainly told Saul to utterly destroy all of the Amalekite people, including their cattle and king. Saul took it upon himself to redefine God’s Word and decided to let the Amalekite king live, and took the best cattle from them as plunder. Yet when Samuel approached Saul, he spoke as if he had done exactly as the Lord commanded. His pride and self-righteousness had blinded him from the truth of his sin.
When Samuel approached Saul, he questioned Saul about all of the cattle that he saw present. Samuel knew that Saul had taken them as spoils from the Amalekites. Yet Saul gloated in his possession of those animals. He told Samuel that he saved the animals as plunder in order to offer them as sacrifices unto the Lord. At that point, Samuel opened up with the truth. Samuel reminded Saul that his position as king was on account of God’s grace. When Saul was selected as king, he professed of himself that he was least amongst his family, which was least amongst the tribe of Benjamin, the smallest tribe of all in Israel. Yet God handpicked him as king. Saul had received great favor from God, but Saul used such favor to exact disobedience. Samuel questioned Saul as to why he would not follow simple commands of God considering all of the favor he had already received. In his prideful foolishness, Saul tried to defend his position. Saul tried to justify his disobedience by explaining that he intended to give sacrifice unto God. One must consider the truth of this situation as the Bible describes Saul’s attitude:
Saul did not feel that God’s commands were adequate, righteous or good, so took it upon himself to amend God’s commands as if to improve upon them.
Samuel explained that this attitude was evil. Saul’s actions were malicious towards the God who showed great favor. Samuel plainly explained that the Lord delights in obedience, not sacrifice. Samuel stated that it is better to heed the Word of God than offer sacrifices. As Samuel continued, he made two powerful statements. He taught that rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as the iniquity of idolatry! In other words, when one decides that God’s Word as declared in scripture is insufficient to please God, and one seeks to amend it to form a different king of righteousness, one is responding in “rebellion” against God, which is equal to witchcraft. The original language describes witchcraft as divination and equates it to false prophets. The Law explains that false prophets, diviners, and practitioners of witchcraft were to die and be cut off from the heirs of God’s promise. Additionally, Saul taught that when one sees God’s plain commands as inadequate and seeks to amend them according to one’s personal taste and desire, one is responding against God in “stubbornness,” which is equal to idolatry. This means that one is committing spiritual adultery against God and should be killed according to the standards of the Law. In fact, the reason that God originally commanded the children of Israel to kill the native inhabitants of the Promised Land was because they were practitioners or divination and idolatry.
Though God had shown Saul such great favor, Saul responded in this manner. This is the threshold that defines the extent of God’s grace. God will not continue to show favor towards those who rebel against Him and are stubborn towards Him in this manner. Thus, Samuel told Saul that God would reject Saul as king. Though God tried to give Saul favor, Saul rejected it and tried to tell God what was favorable according to his own wicked understanding. For this reason, God would not give Saul favor as king anymore, and his family would be cut off from the kingship. Though Saul didn’t die, his spiritual obituary was given at this time showing that those who deny the grace that God gives suffer a terrible and tragic consequence. Those who think they know better in how to please God compared to the simple proclamations He’s already provided in the Bible, should not expect to continually receive the gracious favor that God provides.
The Bible explains that when God selects a servant to be used as a tool to accomplish His will, He doesn’t look for qualifications. God’s own power is always the means by which anyone is able to do anything that glorifies the Lord according to His purposes and promises. God does not look for abilities in order to be used as His servants. Instead, God looks upon the hearts of His people to use those who are willing to trust in His Word as good, right, and true. God uses those who are willing to be obedient. God supplies the ability to obey, but desires to use those that will let Him, trusting that His commands are righteous. This is why Jesus taught the way that He did when He said, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.” The first thing that is required to be where Jesus is (at the right hand of the Father), is for one to deny one’s self. One must acknowledge that one’s natural self and habitual inclinations are not in line with God’s holiness, righteousness, and justice. One must be willing to surrender one’s naturally wicked desires and thoughts before one can turn and follow Jesus, being used as a vessel of righteousness. If one is willing to deny one’s self in humility, meekness, and repentance, then one is able to be used by God in extraordinary ways! However, if one is not willing to deny self, then one will experience great folly and darkness.
The testimony of Israel’s first king proves this principle to be true. The documented history of king Saul shows that he was a man that was not often willing to deny himself, and so was often found out of favor of God. While he was a man that God put in a tremendous position of privilege, Saul was not often willing to do that which God said, putting greater value into the wicked desires of his heart rather than the will and commands of God. In 1 Samuel 15:1-9 the Bible explains that God gave Saul a simple command that he was not willing to fully obey. God called to Samuel and commanded Samuel to communicate His command to Saul. God wanted to fulfill His judgments against the Amalekites for the ways that they treated the children of Israel while they were wandering through the wilderness. This shows that God is truly just. God promised that He would bless those who bless Israel, but curse those who curse Israel. The Amalekites treated Israel harshly and attacked them when they were wandering through the wilderness. God sought to exact revenge on them, even though it was many generations later. This shows that God’s justice does not have an expiration date. The attacks of the Amalekites started over four hundred years prior, but God was just getting ready to exact His judgment. God clearly does not let people get away with unrighteousness and wickedness, not matter how long it might seem He is taking to do that which He promises!
When Samuel approached Saul to give him the command that God communicated, Samuel reminded Saul that God specially selected and ordained him as Israel’s king. God’s selection of Saul was based totally on God’s grace. Saul was in a unique position of privilege simply because God made it that way. Saul had done nothing to earn the kingship. Saul’s authority was not the result of a popular vote. In the short testimony of Saul that the Bible provides, the scriptures are candid to show that Saul had more qualifications to prove him as an ineffective king rather than a vessel of God. Nevertheless, God chose Saul and Samuel reminded him of that before he relayed God’s message. God’s message was clear. God wanted each and every Amalekite dead. God commanded Saul to destroy every man, woman, child, and animal found in the region of Amalek. While this might seem startling to some, this is representative of the same command that God previously gave to Moses and to Joshua when they first entered into the Promised Land. This shows that God had not changed His mind concerning the sin in Amalek and God would be faithful to finish the work that He swore. One can also recognize that as God previously gave this command to Moses and Joshua – two great men of faith – God sought to use Saul in the same manner that He previously used Moses and Joshua! Saul was indeed in a position of great privilege and honor to serve the Lord in the manner that He commanded.
The scriptures explain that Saul made preparations to obey God’s command. He assembled an army together that was made up of two hundred thousand foot soldiers, and ten thousand men of Judah. Saul took his army and marched towards the Amalekite region. When he came upon the neighboring Kenites, he warned them to flee from the area, proclaiming that great destruction would come upon the land. Since the Kenites were historically kind to the children of Israel, Saul offered them the opportunity to escape the coming judgment of God. The Kenites complied and left the area. This shows that, while God is stern and determined to exact His justice, His justice is right as He allows mercy towards those who treat His people kindly. When Saul got to the Amalekites, the Bible explains that the children of Israel attacked and utterly destroyed all of the people with the edge of the sword. Saul was almost in position to express complete faith and obedience to the Lord until he decided to change God’s command.
The scriptures explain that Saul spared the king of the Amalekites. Saul would not kill Agag the king, and also would not kill the “good” cattle of the Amalekites. The Bible testifies that Saul took the best of the sheep, oxen, fatlings, lambs, and other goods that they deemed as good. Though God told Saul to utterly destroy everything, Saul took it upon himself to rewrite God’s command. Though Saul only spared the king, his actions were disobedient. Though Saul only took the “good” spoils from the Amalekites, his actions were disobedient. Saul’s affection for the goods and the trophy of the king were greater than his affection for the Word and commands of God. Saul did not consider how his actions were disobedient to the commands of God. Saul did not consider how he was supposed to be used as a tool of God’s justice, which had to be delivered according to the holiness of God. Saul could not deny himself in order to endure the difficulties of doing the work that God commanded. Rather than hear God’s Word and trust God’s Word as true and right, Saul looked at the Amalekites and their possessions and felt his opinion concerning “good” and “worthless” was greater than God’s command. Saul felt that he had the authority to change God’s Word and declarations without consequence. The historical testimony of Saul shows that God is not pleased with this thinking and will respond. Thus, those that are unwilling to trust in the righteous commands and Word of God and are unwilling to deny self for His will to be done, will suffer tragic consequences.
The Bible teaches that peace only comes from God. This means that one must be connected to God and in favor with Him in order to have the peace that uniquely and exclusively comes from Him. When one is separated from God, one will inevitably find one’s life is filled with chaos, confusion, and corruption, without any satisfaction, wisdom or lasting fruit. The Bible teaches that when one lives in sin, contrary to the righteousness of God documented in scripture, one will be disconnected from God. Therefore, one must repent from sin and turn to the Lord and His righteousness if one expects to receive the benefits of His essence that includes peace, satisfaction, wisdom, and fruit; all of which transcend the physical circumstances that one experiences in this life. Hence, true peace is not dependent on circumstances that seem favorable. True peace is manufactured by God Himself, and allows the people of God to experience the benefits of His eternally unconditional promises.
The testimony of Saul provides a clear example that when one elects to live foolishly and in sin, one cannot also live in peace according to God’s promises. In 1 Samuel 14:36-52 the Bible explains that there were difficult circumstances that arose out of the oath that Saul foolishly forced upon his people that were fighting against the Philistines. The Bible explains that Saul commanded his soldiers to refrain from eating on the day that Jonathan and his armor bearer advanced against the Philistines at Michmash. Jonathan didn’t hear the oath that his father forced upon everyone, so after the victory that the Lord provided, he dipped his staff into some honey, ate it, and was well nourished. Meanwhile, the other soldiers were not permitted to eat until sundown that day. As soon as sundown hit, the Bible explains that the soldiers were extremely hungry. So they took the animals they had received as spoils in their victory, and quickly slaughtered them and began to eat without cooking the meat. This was a violation of God’s Law, and it was the unnecessary oath of Saul that caused the men to do so. Hence, Saul sought to correct the situation according to his own wisdom, and forced the soldiers to take their spoils to him so that he could regulate the people, ensuring they ate cooked meat.
The Bible testifies that Saul sought to advance further against the Philistines since they were in retreat mode. Therefore, Saul sought the counsel of God and asked if he should pursue the Philistines. The Bible candidly states that God would not answer him that day. Though Saul sought God’s wisdom and direction, God remained silent. The scriptures explain that God resists the proud. He will not dwell with those that seek to live according to self-righteousness and make things up at they go. God will not commune with those who deny His righteous commands by adding to them or taking away from them. God will not connect with those who don’t believe in the sufficiency of God’s laws and commands. Unfortunately, Saul was such a man. When he forced the fasting oath upon his people, his actions were not only impractical, but irreverent to God’s ordinances. God had already gave commands and ordinances for warfare and didn’t call for fasting. God never told the people that if they refused to fast they would be cursed. Yet Saul placed that burden upon God’s people. God never told His people to take the spoils of war to the king so that he could approve their slaughter. Yet this was the burden that Saul placed upon the people, and in the midst of these things, Saul caused the people to sin against the commands that God actually gave. Saul’s actions proved his heart was prideful, self-righteous, and irreverent. Therefore, God remained silent towards him.
Saul was greatly discouraged that God would not respond, but was not willing to look to himself as a possible cause. In his pride and arrogance, Saul assumed that the fault belonged to someone else. Therefore, Saul gathered his soldiers and his son to himself and began to cast lots to see if the Lord would be willing to reveal the one that was responsible for the sin causing God’s silence. Saul even told the people that if his own son was found guilty, he would surely die. Thus, Saul separated himself and Jonathan from the congregation of soldiers and cast lots between the two groups. Saul and Jonathan were selected. Then Saul cast lots between himself and Jonathan to see who the guilty person was. God exercised his sovereignty to ensure that Jonathan was selected. The selection of Jonathan did not reveal Jonathan as a sinner. Instead, God used the selection of Jonathan to reveal the wicked heart of Saul before the people.
When Jonathan’s lot was selected, Saul aggressively inquired of him at which point Jonathan admitted that he ate honey on the day that Saul forced the oath upon the men. Upon confessing to his actions that he committed in ignorance, he then publically surrendered himself to the penalty of death. Jonathan understood that Saul proclaimed any oath breaker as cursed, and even though Jonathan broke the foolish oath in ignorance, he volunteered himself to death as a penalty. In surprising fashion, Saul agreed and decreed that Jonathan should die. Saul was willing to kill his own son on account of an oath that God never commanded. Saul was willing to kill his own son on account of an oath that Jonathan never even knew about. Saul’s heart was so dark that he did not care that God had just used his son Jonathan as a tool to bring victory to the people. The very reason that Saul was able to pursue the Philistines was on account of the work that God did through Jonathan. Nevertheless, Saul was blinded by his self-righteousness and desired to put his son to death for breaking his rules – not God’s.
When the heart of Saul was revealed and it was made known to the people that he sought to kill Jonathan, the people responded against Saul. They stopped him from killing Jonathan and stood up for righteousness and justice. The people questioned Saul and asked, “Shall Jonathan die, who has accomplished this great deliverance in Israel? Certainly not!” The people were able to recognize that, while Jonathan’s lot was selected, he was not the one guilty of sin. The people were able to recognize that Jonathan had worked with God and for God. The people were able to recognize that Jonathan had God’s favor and was an instrument of righteousness according to God’s promises to Israel. The people were successful in rescuing Jonathan from Saul so that his life was spared that day. Unfortunately Saul could not see things the way that the people did on account of his pride and self-righteousness.
Saul’s pride and self-righteousness got him into further trouble. The Bible testifies that, while Saul established his sovereignty over the people by waging war against the enemies of Israel throughout his kingship, he was never able to achieve total victory. God was merciful and gracious to Israel as a whole by allowing Saul to have victory over his enemies. Saul waged war against Moab, Ammon, Edom, and the Philistines. However, the Bible does not say that God ever responded to Saul in the midst of these battles. Hence, Saul never received God’s wisdom that would have brought total victory. Saul’s victories were incomplete. Saul’s victories were in vain. Saul’s victories were mere coverings of deep issues within Saul’s heart on account of God’s mercy. Saul had a large family as God blessed him with three sons and two daughters, but Saul’s life was consumed in conflict and discontentment since his efforts in warfare never brought satisfaction and legitimate peace. The scriptures proclaim that Saul was engaged in “fierce war” with the Philistines for the rest of his life. Though God had already proved his willingness to bring victory and peace to those who submit to Him in humility and faith, Saul was unwilling to seek the Lord according to the Word. The Bible explains that when Saul found a strong man, he took him for himself. Saul was focused on building up himself in hopes to achieve the total victory and satisfaction that eluded him. However, as he fought his entire life against the same enemy, the Bible candidly shows that pride and self-righteousness do not meet human expectations for peace and satisfaction. Total peace and satisfaction will always elude those who deny the Lord in pride and self-righteousness.
Jesus taught that those who desire to go where He is and dwell in the kingdom of heaven with His Father must deny self, pick up one’s cross, and follow Him. This means that one must acknowledge one’s sinful nature, repent of it, and live in the manner of Jesus Christ by faith, trusting that He is the standard of righteousness as the Son of God and Messiah. One must not place stock in one’s own efforts to earn one’s way into heaven, since one’s own abilities and righteousness do not measure up to God’s. One must instead trust that Jesus alone is righteous as God in flesh, and that His life, death, resurrection, and ascension is sufficient to forgive one of sins and justify one’s guilt before the Father so that one does not have to suffer eternal consequences for one’s offense against God. It is Jesus’ work that causes one to be right in the eyes of God, yet having this sort of faith and living by it is hard enough!
The Apostle Paul wrote that believers in Jesus Christ should walk in His Spirit. This means that, when one has faith, one will receive the Holy Spirit, which then equips one to live in the manner of Jesus Christ and His righteousness. However, though the Father would consider believers to be righteous, believers are not made righteous at the point of salvation, and so still make mistakes. Believers still live in this life, dealing the various temptations and issues of the natural self that linger, making it hard to do that which God says is good. Paul wrote that the Spirit inside of the believer wars against the flesh and the flesh against the Spirit because the two are contrary to one another. This describes that there is an internal struggle within the hearts of all of God’s people. As one desires to do what is right by God’s standards to thank Him for salvation through Christ, one’s natural desire is still to do that, which is wrong in the sight of God. Thus, the simple command to deny self, pick up one’s cross, and follow Jesus is MUCH easier said than done!
Walking in the Spirit is hard. Jesus said that walking in faith is equal to relearning how to live since one is “born again” by the Holy Spirit in faith. One must learn new standards of right and wrong according to the Word of God. One must learn to see life in a new spiritual perspective. One must look forward to the promises of God that cannot be fully seen in this life. One must learn to deal with the difficulties of this life that come in direct response against faith, such as trials of persecutions from others. One must learn to live selflessly instead of selfishly. One must learn God’s essence as love and live according to it rather than live by varying standards of self-righteousness that are erroneously called “love.” While these things are hard to do, thankfully the Bible teaches that the Holy Spirit is the means by which these things actually take place in the life of the believer. The believer is only called to repent and believe. Yet since this simple calling is supposed to produce such radical and miraculous results by God’s own power, one can look at the condition of the world to see that repentance and faith is not as easy as it sounds.
This is an important truth to understand. If the simple commands of God are so difficult to do on their own, why would people seek to complicate matters? If the effects of faith require God’s own Spirit to produce the results, why would mankind seek to complicate matters with additional standards, ordinances, and expectations? Having faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God and the Messiah based on the literal proclamations of scripture is hard in it of itself. Walking by faith and not by sight isn’t even something that a person can do on their own; they must be led and empowered by the Spirit in order to do so. Yet history shows that people have sought to add burden on top of difficulty so that God’s simple commands concerning faith often become weighty matters in life that bring people down rather than build them up. People have taken God’s command to repent and believe and added loads of rules and regulations to define how to believe. Though the scriptures are sufficient to explain these things, mankind has historically took it upon self to express unbelief, elaborating on the scriptures as if God’s Word is insufficient.
The Bible is clear to explain how to please God. One must love the Lord God with all of one’s heart, soul, and strength. The scriptures simplify this command by saying that it is impossible to please God without faith. Thus, faith and love are intimately connected with one another, and should be exclusively directed towards God, the Creator of all things, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. That’s it! There’s nothing else to it. If one wants to please God, this is all that one must do. However, the testimony of 1 Samuel 14:24-35 explains that people have been trying to change God’s Word for a long time, by adding burdens onto God’s people with rules and regulations. In 1 Samuel 14:24-35 the Bible explains that Saul had placed a burden upon the people in the form of an oath. Before Jonathan attacked the Philistine encampment with his armor bearer, Saul told his men that they were not allowed to eat for the day. Saul was afraid of the Philistines and their raids. Saul was afraid of the size of the Philistine encampment. In fear, Saul placed this oath upon his men hoping that this forced fast would please God and allow the children of Israel to have victory against the Philistines.
One must recognize that God never commanded Saul to fast. In fact, when fasting is first mentioned in the Bible (Judges 20:26), God did not command it. Fasting was mankind’s attempt to seek God with diligence. Fasting was originally representative of the hearts of the people being so motivated to seek God and hear from Him that they didn’t have time to eat while they were praying and giving offerings. Yet the scriptures show that Saul forced his men to fast for the day, thinking that such a thing would please God. Though the children of Israel were preparing to fight against the Philistines, Saul found it wise to deplete his men of nourishment, thereby strength, energy, and morale. Saul’s oath stated that, any man that would eat that day would be cursed. Therefore Saul’s men refrained from eating that day. Unfortunately, the Bible explains that Jonathan, Saul’s son, did not hear the oath. Recall that he and his armor bearer were advancing against the Philistines. Therefore, after they fought against the Philistines and drove them back, they were walking with the rest of Saul’s men, were hungry, and ate some honey that they found in the field they were walking. It seemed reasonable and logical to Jonathan. He fought. He succeeded. His energy was spent, so he ate.
When Saul’s men saw that Jonathan had eaten some of the honey on the ground, they panicked. They told Jonathan about the oath that Saul had made. Jonathan did not respond kindly to the words that were shared with him. He responded to the men that had fought with him that his father Saul had troubled the land and the people. Jonathan knew that there was no need for the oath that Saul made. There was no need to deprive soldiers of nourishment in the midst of battle. There was no need to place curses upon those seeking to meet basic human need. In fact, Jonathan recognized that the victory of the Philistines likely would have been greater had the men been nourished and energized. The foolishness of Saul nearly cost the children of Israel their victory, and though the grace of God brought victory anyway, Saul’s harsh rules deprived the people of the opportunity to rejoice in the victory because they were hungry.
When the men went to take their spoils from the Philistines, the scriptures state that as the day had passed, the men took their animals from the spoils, slaughtered them on the spot, and just started eating raw meat because they were so hungry. The Law of Moses forbid the children of Israel from eating raw meat on account of the blood that was in it. God said that life is in blood and He didn’t want His people consuming that which belonged to Him. When the soldiers slaughtered their animals and ate in the manner that they did, they broke God’s command. However, it was the foolish oath of Saul that caused them to do this. Had the men been able to eat that day, they would not have been as hungry as they were. When Saul heard about what his men were doing, he made a new rule. He commanded that anyone that wanted to eat of their spoils had to bring the animal to him in the place he was staying so that he could ensure that the meat was fully cooked before it was consumed. This was Saul’s solution.
When one reads this testimony, one must see how the foolish ways of mankind bring burdens upon God’s people. Saul made one rule that he felt would be pleasing to God, though God never said that fasting was pleasing to Him. Saul’s first rule and the consequence associated with it was impractical and ended up being a burden that caused the people of God to stumble concerning the things that God actually commanded. When the people stumbled, Saul took it upon himself to make more rules for the people to follow that were in addition to the command that God gave. Rules begot more rules, and each time, the people were bogged down for no reason so that they were actually discouraged and afraid rather than rejoicing in the victory that God had provided on account of His grace. The ordinances of people caused the people to be burdened rather than rejoice in God’s grace. If faith is hard enough, adding to it makes things far worse.
Since the Lord God is almighty in nature, He does not need the help of His creation to do the things that He desires to do. God’s will is done with, or without the help or agreement of people. Whether some oppose God’s will, His promises will be fulfilled at the exact time that God desires them to be fulfilled. This means that when God’s people are able to participate in the work of God, it is a privilege! Additionally, the Bible shows that when God does use people to do His work, He selects people absent qualifications so that He is recognized as the Author of progress and source of victory. God does not wait for ideal circumstances. He operates in ways that seem impossible so that witnesses can confirm that God, and only God is responsible for the outcome. Once again, when one is used by God in this capacity, one should consider the position of extreme privilege that one is in! One does not have to impress God to be used by God in these ways. One does not have to satisfy or complete any training to be used by God in these ways. One does not have to have experience, strength, wisdom, or influence to be used these ways. In fact, the scriptures explain that God prefers to use people absent these things. In order to be used by God in these ways, one must simply trust in the power and faithfulness of God to do the things that He promised, and respond in action towards the direction of the fulfillment of God’s promises, then trust that He will do that which He declared.
Evidence of this truth is found throughout the Bible. Yet a compelling and encouraging testimony of this exact scenario is seen in the life of Jonathan, the son of Saul. In 1 Samuel 14:1-23 the Bible explains that Jonathan displayed a great deal of faith in the Lord and His promises, and was used in a powerfully miraculous way that encouraged all of Israel. The scriptures explain that when the Philistines were conducting raids against Israel, king Saul was sitting under a tree relaxing in Gibeah. Saul was not seeking the Lord’s wisdom and strength to deal with their enemies. Saul was not asking the Lord to fulfill His promises to make Israel a great nation in the land by removing their enemies. Saul, discouraged by the raids and the size of the Philistines encampment, was content to ignore the difficulty of the circumstances that Israel faced.
In contrast, Saul’s son Jonathan grew restless. While Saul and his six hundred men sat in Gibeah, Jonathan and his armor bearer snuck away to examine the encampment of the Philistines that were in Michmash. The scriptures testify that Jonathan and his armor bearer suck towards the Philistines encampment between the cliffs to see what they were up against. As they examined the situation and set up of the Philistine army, Jonathan was encouraged. The Philistine army was large as previously testified in scripture. The Bible explains that Jonathan saw the Philistines in the manner that previously described – large, powerful, well-equipped, and confident. However, Jonathan didn’t observe their army in the manner of his father with fear. Jonathan saw these men as enemies of God.
As Jonathan looked upon them, he referred to them as “uncircumcised.” Since circumcision was instituted as a practice for the children of Israel as a way to identify them as children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and ultimately as heirs to God’s promises, Jonathan’s reference to the Philistines as “uncircumcised” was a statement to acknowledge that they were not heirs to God’s promises. They were not the heirs of God’s promise to Abraham to be a great nation. They were not the heirs of God’s promises to have the land. They were not to be blessed as enemies of God’s heirs. Jonathan saw the Philistines in this manner, and so understood that they were in an unfavorable position in the eyes of God. Jonathan knew that the Philistines were not a roadblock to Israel, but opposition to the Lord God Almighty. Thus, Jonathan recognized that the Philistines were ultimately God’s problem since they were conducting themselves as a hindrance to God’s promises to Israel, opposing God’s will for Israel. Since this was ultimately God’s problem, Jonathan was confident that God would address the issue Himself.
The scriptures also explain that Jonathan recognized the extent of God’s power. Before Jonathan decided to advance any further, he encouraged his armor bearer by reminding him about the pattern of God’s work. Jonathan realized that nothing hinders the Lord from His desire to fulfill His promises. Though Jonathan and his armor bearer were few in number, God was not hindered. Though the Philistines were great in number, God was not crippled or disadvantaged. Jonathan explained that, “Nothing restrains the Lord from saving by many or by few.” In other words, the number of people available for use, or present as opposition has no bearing on God’s ability and will whatsoever. Understanding this truth of God, Jonathan decided that he was going to seek the Lord about the possibility of advancing against the Philistine encampment, even though it was just he and his armor bearer.
Jonathan sought the Lord for a sign to confirm whether God wanted them to advance against the entire Philistine encampment as just a two-man army. Jonathan explained to his armor bearer the circumstance of the sign. Jonathan explained that they would approach the Philistines and reveal themselves to the enemy. If the enemy pursued Jonathan and his armor bearer, Jonathan explained that it was not for them to attack. However, if the enemy waived Jonathan and his armor bearer in and invited them to attack and fight, this would serve as a sign that God would deliver victory. There are several things to acknowledge about Jonathan’s faith and the manner in which he demonstrated it with confidence. First, Jonathan’s faith was tempered by God’s hand, not his emotions. Though Jonathan was confident to fight, he was calculated in his attack and was willing to relent in an advance if God was not going to be a part of it. Second, Jonathan’s willingness to advance was based on the invitation of the enemy. Jonathan’s confidence to advance was not based on the weakness of the enemy. Jonathan’s confidence to advance was based on the appearance of an opportunity that was made apparent by an invitation. The pride of the enemy was a sign of His opportunity. Perhaps knowing that “God resists the proud,” Jonathan considered his opportunity to succeed was based on God’s resistance of the pride shown by the Philistines. Lastly, Jonathan confidently expected God to bring victory as if the victory was already won. When Jonathan explained the plan to his armor bearer, he referred to the victory in past tense, meaning that he didn’t have any doubt in God’s ability to defeat the enemy. If God was involved, the fight was already a done deal.
The scriptures explain that Jonathan and his armor bearer revealed themselves and the Philistines confidently waived them in. As planned, Jonathan and his armor bearer attacked the entire Philistine encampment with faith. Figuring there to be more Israelites hidden in the rocks of the canyon, the Philistines panicked. They thought Jonathan and his armor bearer were the first of many men that were organized for a massive ambush. Therefore, they began to flee in chaotic fashion. In the midst of the chaos, Jonathan and his armor bearer were able to kill twenty men and gain about a half-acre of ground. This discouraged and confused the Philistines even more so that in more panic and chaos, they turned against one another. While these things took place, the scriptures testify that the earth quaked and the Philistines fled in terror and fear.
When these things took place, the Bible explains that the watchmen in Gibeah that were with Saul saw the Philistine army in disarray. The men that were hiding in the region of Michmash in caves heard the chaos of Philistines came out. Though they were armed with farming tools, they rallied behind the momentum that Jonathan and his armor bearer had begun and further chased the Philistines out of the region. The Bible explains that the Lord saved Israel that day and the battle shifted out of Michmash and into Beth Aven. Though the resources seemed small in number, weak in resources, and pitiful in nature, God used the faith of only two men to cause chaos amongst the enemy, which inspired and encouraged the rest of the men in Israel to fight and advance towards the fulfillment of God’s promises. Jonathan trusted in God, His promises, and His own faithfulness to them. His advance was not a demonstration of courage, but instead reflective of his understanding of God’s promises, His faithfulness, and his own position as an heir to God’s promises. This is all that God requires to do amazing and miraculous things to progress towards the fulfillment of His promises!
The consequences of disobeying the Lord and His commands vary in intensity. The Bible shows that some things have severe consequences, and some things have minimal effect. The reason that things appear to be so random in the scriptures is because the consequence that God allows concerning sin is based on God’s mercy and His righteousness. Mankind is neither merciful nor righteous in a natural condition. Therefore, people have a hard time interpreting why God responds swiftly and severely against some things, and not so much towards others. Since it is difficult to know the mercy and righteousness of God, one must look to the scriptures to know what can be known. The Bible does make one thing clear: there are consequences for disobedience against God, regardless of the intensity. No matter the severity of the consequence, one can expect God to respond in some way against sin.
When a person turns one’s back to God in disobedience in order to do what one feels is right in spite of God’s Word, one will inevitably turn towards darkness. God is light and there is no darkness in Him. He is the source of all light and goodness. When one turns from Him, from will inevitably see some degree of darkness and wickedness. It does not matter how much darkness or wickedness one will experience. The truth of the matter is, one’s decision to turn from God to appease one’s natural desires will lead one to some degree of darkness. This truth is made clear through Israel’s history. For example, in 1 Samuel 13:16-23 the Bible explains that the circumstances in Israel took a quick turn from the testimony of circumstances explained previously in the chapter. Previously, Israel was having great success against their enemies. The children of Israel were aggressive against the Philistines and were victorious. The Philistines despised the children of Israel as a result. The reason for this was that the Bible explains that Saul was filled with the Holy Spirit, and submitted to His leadership and wisdom. Thus, as Israel was submissive to God’s will, they saw success.
In contrast, the testimony of 1 Samuel 13:16-23 shows that the circumstances in Israel were totally different. There were large portions of Israel that were being oppressed by the Philistines. The scriptures testify that the Philistines sent frequent raids against the children of Israel. While Saul and his son Jonathan were in Gibeah in the region of Benjamin, the Philistines attacked in three companies from the west. Their attacks came as floods, forming a wall that pinned the children of Israel in the hills and mountains of the region. The Bible testifies that the children of Israel didn’t even have weapons to fight with because they weren’t allowed to train as blacksmiths. The Philistines didn’t want the children of Israel working in a craft that would allow them to make weapons, so the Philistines crippled them this way. The Israelites had to even pay a fee to sharpen their farming tools. The Bible explains that the Israelites had to pay two-thirds of a shekel to sharpen their plowshares, their axes, sickles, and mattocks, and the points of their goads. Hence, while Saul and Jonathan gathered men of Israel to fight against the Philistines, they assembled as men without weapons, heavily crippled by a nation of people that were once easily defeated.
The testimony of scripture states that the circumstances of Israel changed soon after Saul took it upon himself to offer a burnt offering unto the Lord. Saul panicked when he heard that the Philistines were preparing a huge army to fight against Israel. Rather than wait for Samuel to offer the sacrifice, Saul assumed the role of priest and offered a sacrifice to God, ignoring the rituals and ordinances that God prescribed in the Law. Saul ignored the righteousness of the Law. Saul ignored the holiness of God’s commands. The Bible explains that as Saul took this responsibility upon himself, against the commands of God, he denied and dishonored God Himself. Thus, Saul’s leadership was reflective of one that did not honor or fear God. The circumstances of Israel appear to contrast one another as a result. When the Holy Spirit governed Saul, Israel was victorious and was a dominating force against their enemies. When the righteous light of the Lord led Israel, they experienced His goodness. However, when Saul rebelled against God’s commands, the circumstances quickly changed. Though Saul’s sacrifice might seem like a small matter, one must recall that any degree of departure from the Lord will inevitably lead to some degree of darkness. Saul’s departure from the commands of the Lord led Israel away from the Lord and resulted in Israel’s position of weakness and fear. When one departs from the Lord to any degree, one can expect similar results.
There are many people that feel “good intentions” make up for mistakes and missteps. The Bible does not teach that the Lord sees things this way. The Bible is clear to identify the righteous standards of the Lord. The scriptures explain that God clearly communicated commands that identified to His people the difference between right and wrong. The scriptures also clearly explain that God expressed His power and eternal Godhead in His creations so that one could examine His creation compared to His righteous commands and determine God as uniquely right and true, without excuse. Therefore, when the people of God disobey the commands of God, it does not matter their motives and intents. Though a person might have had an idea that seemed to be good, if it is contrary to the commands of God, it cannot be considered good. No matter how emotionally compelled a person may be to do something that “seems” favorable to the Lord, when such conduct is in opposition to God’s Word, it is an offense to God.
The testimony of king Saul makes this truth very clear. In 1 Samuel 13:5-15 the Bible explains that Saul committed a tragic mistake that he felt was a good idea at the time. After Saul and his son Jonathan led the children of Israel to victory against the Philistines, the Bible explains that the Philistines sought to exact revenge. The Philistines regrouped and assembled a massive army to advance in retaliation against the children of Israel. The scriptures testify that the Philistines assembled thirty thousand chariots and six thousand horsemen. One must recall that Saul had only assembled three thousand men that he broke up into two companies. The circumstances seemed highly unfavorable for the children of Israel, which eventually provoked panic amongst the people.
Though God had filled Saul with His Spirit, the people looked at the movement of the Philistines with panic. Though the Lord brought victories against the Philistines, the people looked at the movement of the Philistines with panic. Though the victories the Lord brought caused the people to rejoice and give sacrifices, the people looked at the movement of the Philistines with panic. Though the recent work of the Lord drew Israel closer to the fulfillment of God’s promises, the children of Israel looked at the movement of the Philistines with panic. The Bible explains that the people were terrified of the size of the Philistine response and assembly. The children of Israel began to retreat in the manner that they did when the Midianites were conducting raids on them in the Book of Judges at the time of Gideon. The people were distressed, forgetting about the recent sovereign intervention of the Lord, and so began to hide in caves, thickets, rocks, holes and pits.
When word of this panic reached the ears of Saul, he began to panic as well. However, Saul did not respond in his panic the same sort of way. Saul began to get antsy to respond against the threats of the Philistines with some sort of action. The scriptures explain that Samuel had commanded Saul to wait. Samuel was not in the same place as Saul, and based on the testimony of 1 Samuel 7:7-17, Samuel had rightfully made it a custom to offer sacrifices unto the Lord to seek His protection and provision in times of need. Samuel told Saul to wait for his arrival so that they could offer the appropriate sacrifices and receive the appropriate wisdom to know how to advance against the Philistines. Saul refused to wait. Seeing the children of Israel respond in fear caused Saul to get impatient. The scriptures explain that Saul waited for Samuel seven days, and after seeing that Samuel had not yet arrived, decided to take matters into his own hands.
The scriptures explain that priests, and priests alone were to offer sacrifices unto the Lord. This is because the sacrifices offered unto the Lord had to be holy and required certain steps in order to ensure that the person offering the sacrifice was in a position of righteousness, acknowledging the holy nature of God. God knew that His people had natural tendencies of doing things without fully considering the righteousness, justice, and holiness of God. Therefore, God provided steps within His commands of the Law that were aimed at properly preparing the hearts of God’s servants (priests) so that they would acknowledge the Lord God Almighty when giving offerings and sacrifices. Saul didn’t know anything about these ordinances and so was unqualified under the Law to give offerings unto the Lord in the form of sacrifices. Saul disregarded this notion and took it upon himself to give a burn offering to the Lord.
Saul totally disregarded the commands of God. Saul totally disregarded the purpose of God’s ordinances. Since the Law and its ordinances testified of the righteousness and holiness of God, Saul ultimately disregarded the righteousness and holiness of God even though he was trying to give Him an offering. Saul’s actions of impatience and fear reflected a heart that did not consider the importance of God’s commands. Saul’s actions showed that Saul felt God’s commands were no big deal and open for amendment at any time based on circumstance. This simply is not true. To make matters worse, the testimony of 1 Samuel 13:5-15 explains that Samuel showed up as soon as Saul finished giving his sacrifice. This means that Saul only had to wait a little while longer and all would have been good. Yet Saul was impatient and was motivated by the appearance of circumstances instead of the Lord. Though the Bible explains that Saul was filled with the Spirit at one time, Saul let his emotions get the best of him so that he subjected himself to the desires of his flesh based on limited information, rather than the Spirit of God.
When Samuel arrived, he immediately approached Saul and questioned why he had performed the sacrifice. Saul tried to justify his actions. Rather than acknowledge his mistake and seek forgiveness concerning the commands and statutes he had broken, Saul sought to rationalize his sin. He told Samuel that when he heard of the fear of Israel he was “compelled” to offer a burnt offering. The King James Version of the Bible says that Saul “forced himself” to offer the sacrifice. The original Hebrew language uses the word “aphaq” to describe Saul’s excuse. This word is used seven times in the Old Testament. The first time it is used, the word is used to describe how Joseph forced himself to keep from crying upon seeing his younger brother Benjamin for the first time in many years, then is used again to describe how Joseph could not keep himself from crying before his brothers later. This Hebrew word is used to describe how Haman had to keep himself from responding in anger against Mordecai in Esther 5:10. This Hebrew word is used to describe God’s restraint in anger against the sins of His people in Isaiah 42:14, which allows God to show mercy. Lastly, this Hebrew word is used in Isaiah 63:15 and Isaiah 64:12 to explain how God will NOT restrain the outpouring of His blessings upon Israel when He fulfills His eternally unconditional promises.
This word explains that Saul’s actions, while motivated by emotion, were calculated and determined. Saul’s actions to offer a sacrifice came with thought and pre-determined purpose. Saul’s impatience caused him to commit sin, but his sin was not as impulsive as the circumstances might have made it seem. Saul’s sin took effort as it took Joseph effort to hold back tears, and God’s effort to bless His children. Thus, Saul was not excused for his unrighteous conduct founded on unbelief, impatience, and fear. Samuel explained that God would respond accordingly. Since Saul’s sin was representative of a bigger issue of Saul’s heart that had little regard for the Lord and did not fear Him, God pronounced judgment upon Saul through Samuel. Samuel assured Saul that he would not carry on as king of Israel. Saul’s family would not be the lineage of Israel’s kingship. As God predicted before He put Saul into place, Saul would fail as king, and Samuel assured God’s Word as true with the judgment he spoke. Samuel told Saul that if he would have just waited, respected God’s commands, trusted God’s presence, and feared God’s judgments, he would have continued as king with God’s blessing. However, he did not do so, and so he would not continue his kingship with God’s blessing. Instead, Samuel said that God would put a man in position that was a “man after God’s own heart.”
The judgment spoken through Samuel was essentially a statement that described Saul’s spiritual condition. Saul’s actions reflected that he did not fear the Lord nor respect His commands, which reflected Saul’s disrespect for God’s righteousness. In direct contrast, Samuel said that the new king would be a man after God’s own heart, explaining that Saul’s heart was not focused on God’s will and purposes. Though Saul fit the outward expectations of the people, God didn’t care. Though Saul was “compelled” to offer sacrifices unto the Lord in hopes to have His victory, God didn’t care. God wanted a man after His own heart, regardless of outward appearance, and regardless of a desire to help the people by meeting their needs. Though Saul was motivated to please the people, he was not motivated to please God. Thus, Saul’s actions were not pleasing to the Lord and he would be replaced by a man who’s life was solely focused on pleasing the Lord, and the Lord alone.
Beautiful things happen when the Lord fills His people with His Spirit so that they respond according to His will. The Bible is clear to explain what God’s will is. The scriptures repeatedly identify the purposes of God. For example, when God promised Abraham that He would make Abraham a great nation, give him a great land inheritance, and that all of the families of the earth would be blessed through him, God repeated those promises over and over to ensure the beneficiaries of those promises were clear about what God was working towards. God repeated those promises to Abraham’s son Isaac to explain that he was the heir to the original promises. Later, God repeated those promises to Isaac’s son Jacob to let him know that he was the heir to the promises spoken to his grandfather. When God sent Moses to deliver the children of Israel from Egypt, God referenced those promises several times as the basis for His work of redemption. When Joshua led the children of Israel into the Promised Land, God reminded Joshua of the promises of the land and the greatness of the nation, at which point Joshua reminded the people.
These promises are repeated throughout the Psalms, the prophets, and also the New Testament. Even when the children of Israel were disobedient, and the prophets communicated God’s judgment to Israel, the Lord was always sure to remind that His judgment was not to utterly destroy Israel, but merely purge the sin from Israel so that He could fulfill the promises made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Thus, God is found intervening throughout the history of Israel to move them in a direction towards the fulfillment of those promises. For example, though Israel was wicked in their desire to have a king rule over them in place of God, the Lord still made use of their desire to progress them towards the fulfillment of His promises. It is true that God wanted to be the focal point of His people in place of man, but God exercised His sovereign control to affect the leaders in Israel in ways that would ultimately resolve in the fulfillment of God’s promises.
This truth is made clear in the summary presented of the early kingship of Saul. In 1 Samuel 13:1-4 the Bible explains some of the activity that took place in the first couple of years of Saul’s rule. The description is simple but profound. The Bible describes that Saul assembled an army of three thousand men of Israel to regularly train for combat, and quickly deployed them with purpose. The scriptures explain that he kept two thousand of the men to himself in the mountains of Bethel around the region of Benjamin, and then deployed one thousand of them to his son Jonathan in the region of Gibeah. The men that were with Jonathan were swift to advance as an army. Since they were near the Philistine territory in Geba, Jonathan and his men attacked the Philistines and had great victories. When Saul saw the progress that his son and the army was making, he went around Israel blowing the trumpet to signal the victories that were taking place. The Bible testifies that at that time, the children of Israel were an abomination to the Philistines as the children of Israel were called together against them.
This brief summary of Saul’s success speaks volumes about the change that God was able to orchestrate in Israel despite the wicked desires of the children of Israel. One must first recall that before Saul went to fight his first battle as king against the Ammonites, God filled Saul with His Spirit. Thus, God was the motivator of Saul. God was the enabler of Saul. God filled Saul with His own essence to empower Saul to achieve specific objectives. According to the testimony of 1 Samuel 13:1-4, God enabled Saul, by the power of His Spirit, to have victory over the Philistines. The details of scripture explain that Israel was “called together,” which is a stark contrast to the way that Israel operated in the Book of Judges. Israel was very much segregated and individualistic. As an enemy attacked one region of Israel, the other regions would allow their brothers to suffer and leave them to themselves to figure it out. The details of the testimony in 1 Samuel 13:1-4 shows that the children of Israel were starting to come together. As God filled Saul with His Spirit, Saul was equipped to lead with boldness and this was the result.
One must also consider that the effects of Saul’s leadership at this time were in line with God’s previously declared promises. Saul’s attacks against the Philistines were not whimsical. As Jonathan advanced against the enemies of Israel, God’s original commands to purge and purify the native inhabitants of the land were being fulfilled. Additionally, the manner in which Israel achieved their victories reflected God’s progress towards the fulfillment of His promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The Book of Judges showed that Israel was mostly on the defensive side of skirmishes. Israel was usually being punished and disciplined on account of sin, and so suffered greatly while getting attacked by aggressive enemies. This usually left Israel in a dire position of need, eventually crying out to the Lord for deliverance. The testimony of 1 Samuel 13:1-4 shows that Israel was no longer defensive. Jonathan saw opportunity to attack and he initiated conflict according to the Lord’s previous commands through Joshua.
The scriptures show that Israel was going through a change. Though it was only momentary, this change showed the effect of God’s work through His people to lead to the fulfillment of His promises. God promised that Israel would inherit a certain portion of land and was specific to define their boarders. The victories of Saul and his son Jonathan allowed Israel to progress closer to taking over those boarders. The Lord promised that Israel would be a great nation. The testimony of the Book of Judges shows that Israel was weak and often defeated. The testimony of 1 Samuel 13:1-4 explains that Israel was an abomination to their enemies because Israel was having great success against them. Israel was becoming a great nation again. Though the complete testimony of Saul resolves in dismay, this part of his testimony shows that God was able to use him for good anyway. Though Israel’s desire for a king was wicked in nature, this testimony shows that God is able to do good with it anyway, and make progress towards the fulfillment of His eternally unconditional promises. Since it was the grace of God to fill Saul with His Spirit that started this progress, one can see that God’s habit is to show grace through the outpouring of His Spirit into those He exercises sovereignty over as vessels of righteousness. This is how God gets things done concerning His promises!
The Bible teaches that the grace of God is a wonderful thing to those who receive it. Yet, one cannot receive the grace of God without first receiving the mercy of God. Since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, all people are worthy of judgment and the wrath of God. Thankfully, God delights in mercy and shows restraint towards His creation. Though He has the right to destroy all people for sinning against Him, He chooses not to, which affords people the opportunity to live, thereby enabling them to receive His grace. First God relents in judgment, which facilitates life, and then one is able to receive His favor. Therefore, the Bible shows that one cannot receive the grace of God unless one admits that one deserves death, but lives only on account of God’s mercy. Even still, there is more to the offering of grace. God does not show mercy to His people because of the character of the people. The Bible does not teach that God looks upon certain people seeing potential in them, thereby giving them mercy and grace. Instead, the Bible teaches that God gives mercy on account of His own namesake and reputation. The Bible teaches that God is holy, righteous, just, and blameless. That said, God provides mercy to prove that He is right and His people are not. God’s mercy is a testimony to His faithfulness. He promised many things and shows mercy to those who deserve death so that He can work in them to fulfill His promises anyway. God’s mercy is the method by which He communicates His faithfulness to His promises.
Samuel sternly communicated this truth to the children of Israel. In 1 Samuel 12:1-25 the Bible explains that Samuel addressed the children of Israel after Saul led them to victory against the Ammonites. Though Israel rejoiced over the victory that God had brought to Israel using Saul as an instrument, Samuel wanted the children of Israel to know that such a victory was on the basis of mercy and grace. The hearts of the children of Israel were not such that God was pleased with. Knowing this, Samuel sought to remind the children of Israel about their history to explain two fundamental things: First, Israel had a long-standing history of unbelief and unfaithfulness; but secondly, God is faithful to His own name, which benefits Israel despite their wicked hearts. Samuel began his address by reminding the children of Israel about the bondage in Egypt that the nation suffered from. Israel suffered for four hundred years while being oppressed as slaves in Egypt. Samuel reminded Israel that God heard their cries and responded by taking them out of bondage and placing them in a land filled with milk and honey. Samuel then reminded the children of Israel that once in the Promised Land, the children of Israel soon forgot about the Lord and suffered from the oppression of the Philistines. The children of Israel cried out to the Lord again, and He responded by delivering them. Samuel again reminded Israel that the Ammonite king sent great threats against Israel and yet Israel cried out for a man as deliverer. Though God had historically been their Deliverer, Israel cried out for a man as a king. Yet again, God responded and used Saul to deliver Israel once again.
Samuel’s short history lesson showed that God had been listening to the cries of His people for nearly eight hundred years as He had promised. When His people called out to Him, God responded by sending men in His name. The children of Israel cried out to God in Egypt and God sent Moses and Aaron. The children of Israel cried out to God in the Promised Land and God sent Gideon, Barak, Jephthah, Samson, and others. However, while God was sending men and women in His name, He was performing works through them that definitively showed God to be the author of all deliverance in Israel’s history. Yet at the time Samuel served the people, the people no longer cried out to God for help. When the Ammonite king threatened the people, they cried out to Samuel (not God), and demanded a king to do the job that God was historically doing according to His promises. As Samuel addressed the children of Israel, the hearts of the people were not in line with God. Nevertheless, the history of Israel showed that their hearts were seldom in line with God. Though God delivered them from Egypt, the Israelites soon forgot about the Lord in the Promised Land. Though God delivered from oppression in the Promised Land, the Israelites soon worshiped false gods and idols like the native inhabitants of the land. Yet still, God continued to provide favor rather than wrath.
Samuel reminded the people of this truth, but ensured the people understood the reason why God continued to show favor. God did not show favor because of Israel’s merits. God showed favor because God is faithful. God relented from judgment against Israel’s sin, then responded as Deliverer many times over because God made eternally unconditional promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and God is faithful to keep those promises. The favor that Israel received from God clearly had nothing to do with their performance since they had failed in their performance. They forgot about God, they worshiped false gods and idols, and they sought for a man to take the place of God to rule over them. Nevertheless, God continued to rescue His people and deliver them from oppression because He promised that the children of Israel would be a great nation in the land that He promised.
The favor that God provided was in spite of the rejection that Israel displayed towards God. Though God gave His law through Moses, He did not make it so that their excellence according to the Law would determine whether or not He fulfilled His promises. The history of Israel shows that God worked towards the fulfillment of His promises when Israel did well or failed. As Samuel explained this truth, he implored Israel to repent and change their course of action. It is true that Israel desired a man to rule over them rather than God. Samuel pointed out that God conceded to Israel’s wicked desire, and while they would suffer consequences for such a choice, He would not leave them nor forsake them. Thus, Samuel implored the people to fear the Lord, honor Him, and serve Him. Samuel pleaded with the people to refrain from rebelling against the Lord. Israel’s history proved that God would let Israel suffer the consequences of rebellion, so Samuel called for the people to stop tempting God in that way.
Samuel explained that God was not pleased with their desire for a king, yet was willing to continually show mercy and grace to fulfill His promises. Samuel even asked God to provide a sign to show the people that He was displeased with their hearts. God responded with a great storm with thunder and lightning that caused the people to fear God and Samuel. God’s displeasure was well communicated and well received. As such, Samuel explained that the people were not ignorant. They knew God didn’t like their desire for Saul as a king. They knew they were worthy of punishment. Nevertheless, Samuel again pointed out that God relented from judgment, and would even be willing to provide more favor through Saul if the people turned from wickedness and submitted to God. Samuel reminded the people that God promised not to forsake His people and that the people could experience great benefit, joy, and peace in the land if they served the Lord according to the Law. God was going to fulfill His promises one way or another. Samuel’s plea to the people was to respect the mercy and grace of God, and show appreciation for His faithfulness by responding in fear and service unto Him, and Him alone. Such is the appropriate response to God’s mercy and grace.
The grace of God is a wonderful thing! There are seldom things that people do to warrant the favor of God. In fact, since the Bible explains that, “none are righteous (Romans 3:10),” there isn’t ANYTHING a person can do to please the Lord unless such action is motivated and manufactured by the Holy Spirit. Since none are righteous, then none are capable of producing a good outcome by natural effort. When God judged the sin of Adam in the Garden of Eden, He declared that mankind would not be able to produce anything of value. The effects of human effort would be equal to “thorns and thistles.” The sweat of human effort would not produce fruit, but briers instead. The scriptures explain that God made it so that everything reproduces of its own kind. Since Adam sinned, he became a sinner and begot more sinners. Since Adam was only able to reproduce “thorns and thistles” in spiritual terms, all human offspring has been cursed with the same spiritual handicap. God does not want thorns and thistles. God wants life-giving fruit. Therefore, mankind in a natural condition cannot do anything that is pleasing to the Lord, helpful to the Lord, or glorifying to the Lord. Yet still, people receive God’s favor. This shows that God’s grace is TREMENDOUS!
The testimony of Saul’s first works as king of Israel, provide a good illustration of the extent of God’s grace. One must recall that Israel’s desire for a king was a sign of their hearts that rejected God’s leadership. The children of Israel desired the leadership of a man rather than the holy and righteous God. However, the testimony of 1 Samuel 11:1-15 explains that God provided great favor to Israel anyway – even through a man that was severely disqualified for use. The scriptures explain that soon after Saul was anointed as king before the people, the king of the Ammonites sought to make trouble with the people of Jabesh Gilead, which is a city that was on the boarder of Ammon on the east side of Israel. The king of Ammon sought to wage war against the people of Jabesh Gilead. However, the people of Jabesh Gilead were not equipped for war, so tried to make a deal with the Ammonite king. They offered to serve him in exchange for peace.
Though God had previously protected the children of Israel from these types of threats, the Israelites dwelling in Jabesh Gilead did not call out to God. Instead, they tried to compromise and make deals with the enemy. Their efforts proved futile. The Bible explains that the Ammonite king agreed to spare the people as servants rather than wage war, but only if they permitted him to go through the city and pluck out the right eye of everyone in the city. Clearly the Ammonite king was not interested in making deals. The Ammonite king was only interested in destruction and pain, while brining shame to the children of Israel in the process. This response from the Ammonite king frightened the people of Jabesh Gilead. Yet, instead of calling out to the Lord, they sent messengers throughout Israel to see if anyone would be willing to come to aid to fight against the Ammonites.
The Bible testifies that word eventually got back to Saul, the new king of Israel. However, before Saul had time to respond, the Bible is clear that the Spirit of God came upon Saul. Though Saul responded in anger against the Ammonite king, it was the Spirit of God that provoked Saul to do so. One must recognize how the Spirit of God caused Saul to respond in a nature that was unusual to his normal character. Recall that when Saul was being anointed as king, he was afraid to stand before the people and was caught hiding. Clearly this shows that Saul’s temperament was not one of boldness. Saul was not a man that one would consider to be a natural leader. Saul was easily motivated by fear and seemingly afraid of public confrontation. Nevertheless, when the Spirit of God entered Saul upon hearing the news about the Ammonite king, Saul responded in anger, and decisive action.
The scriptures state that Saul took a yoked ox and cut it into pieces. He then sent the pieces of the ox with messengers throughout Israel stating that those who denied the opportunity to fight against Ammon in aid of the people of Jabesh Gilead would have their cattle chopped up like the butchered ox he sent out. The Bible testifies that the people responded in fear of the Lord. Though Saul took action, the people recognized God. Saul was able to assemble 330,000 men from all over Israel and prepared to fight. Saul led the people against the Ammonites and their king and slaughtered them in a single day. The Ammonites were destroyed, and those who lived were scattered all over in the chaos of defeat. God had brought the victory. One must recognize that, though Israel did not seek God, and rejected Him through the desire of a king, God provided favor anyway. God’s favor came by His Spirit that He implanted into Saul. The presence of God’s Spirit in Saul caused the people to respond in the fear of the Lord, which then birthed confidence against the enemy, thereby facilitating victory. Hence, the Bible shows that the formula to victory is based on the grace of God to provide His Spirit to motivate His people, who then respond in fear of the Lord, not fear of man.
After the children of Israel routed the Ammonites, the people recognized God as the Author of victory. They celebrated Saul’s leadership, but did so by praising God and giving peace offerings unto Him. Some of the inhabitants of Israel wanted to seek after the men that despised Saul when he was anointed as king. However, Saul would not permit death and judgment against anyone in the time dedicated to celebrating God’s grace. Therefore, the people were led by Samuel to rejoice through offerings and sacrifices, recognizing that God had come through again, even though the Bible shows they didn’t deserve it!