Lessons in Inadequate Repentance from King Saul

1 Samuel 15:1-3: “Samuel also said unto Saul, The Lord sent me to anoint thee to be king over his people, over Israel: now therefore hearken thou unto the voice of the words of the Lord.  Thus saith the Lord of hosts, I remember that which Amalek did to Israel, how he laid wait for him in the way, when he came up from Egypt.  Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass (donkey).”

God had a right to give Saul this command and a very good reason to give it also.  The Amalekites, like the Canaanites whom Israel destroyed through the leadership of Joshua at God’s commandment, were an exceedingly wicked people that had corrupted themselves terribly.  Had the Amalekites repented of the evil of their ancestors they surely would have been spared from this judgment, just like God had Israel spare some of the Canaanites who repented of the heathenish ways of their culture to worship the God of Israel, most notably Rahab (see Joshua chapters 2 & 6). 

Since Christ’s kingdom is not of this world/not a political entity (John 18:36-37) in the New Covenant the Government of God’s people and the Government of society as a whole are separated.  The authority therefore of God’s church no longer involves the right to take vengeance on evildoers (besides expelling unrepentant sinners who try to be part of the church from the church- 1 Corinthians 5:6-13).  The authority to punish those who corrupt and endanger society is committed now into the hands of earthly governments separate from the Christian church (Romans 13:1-7- that doesn’t exclude a Christian from being involved in the punishment of evildoers as an employee of the Government).  

God told King Saul here to be His instrument of judgment and He told him exactly what to do.  Saul however only did most of what God commanded. 

1 Samuel 15:7-9: “And Saul smote the Amalekites from Havilah until thou comest to Shur, that is over against Egypt.  And he took Agag the king of the Amalekites alive, and utterly destroyed all the people with the edge of the sword.  But Saul and the people spared Agag, and the best of the sheep, and of the oxen, and of the fatlings, and the lambs, and all that was good, and would not utterly destroy them: but every thing that was vile and refuse, that they destroyed utterly.” 

Saul was told to destroy all the Amalekites and all their animals.  But Saul spared Amalek’s king and the best of the animals.  This was a big deal to God. 

1 Samuel 15:10-11: “Then came the word of the Lord unto Samuel, saying, It repenteth me that I have set up Saul to be king: for he is turned back from following me, and hath not performed my commandments.  And it grieved Samuel; and he cried unto the Lord all night.”

When Samuel first came to Saul, Saul professed to have kept God’s commandment (1 Samuel 15:13).  When challenged by Samuel about the noise of the animals that Saul had kept alive (1 Samuel 15:14), Saul spoke the truth about his actions (verse 15).  Yet even when his disobedience was clearly proven by Samuel, Saul maintained his innocence and blamed the people that had been with him instead (verses 15-21). 

It brings to mind how Adam blamed Eve, and Eve blamed Satan, when the Lord questioned them over their sin in the garden (see Genesis 3:11-13).  There can be no true repentance when the guilt of one’s own sin is denied and pinned on another (even if they did tempt or influence the one who sinned to sin).  Shifting the blame for a sin on another and/or shifting the blame on a circumstance, is denying it. But if we disobey God’s Word, there’s no point blaming anyone or anything else.  If we were  really forced into something then it could not be disobedience and therefore could not be sin on our part.  If Saul had been intent on executing God’s command, and the people really wouldn’t cooperate with him despite his best efforts to get them to do so, then there would have been nothing blameworthy in Saul.  But Saul let the voices of the people prevail against the Lord- very similar to how Pilate would play a role in crucifying Christ about a thousand years later because he also was not willing to courageously stand against a multitude who were pressuring him to do wrong and oppose God. 

It’s important to understand that we must repent of our sin at its root of transgressing God’s authority.  We must repent of the attitude of the heart that made us think that we had the right to disobey God’s commandment.  If we place the blame at all on a person or circumstance we are actually defending our right to sin by the implication that the sin was inevitable because of the temptation.  People will say things all the time such as  “Oh, if that girl hadn’t been so beautiful, but I’m sorry” or say “Oh, I needed the money so badly, but I’m sorry I did that,” or “If only I had a good marriage/more money/I wasn’t so stressed out at my job/that person wasn’t so annoying/ if only I had gotten more sleep/if only my life was better, etc etc.”  But we don’t have the right to transgress against God no matter the difficulty of the temptation.  Consider: Has anyone ever sinned, except when they were tempted?  No, not even Satan.  If we cite how bad the temptation was as the prime reason that we sinned, we are justifying our sin and defending our right to sin.  We are also blasphemously implying therein that something we might be tempted by is more valuable and more worth serving than the true God is.

King David didn’t defend himself with the temptation excuse after being confronted in regard to his sins in the matter of Bathsheba.  God therefore accepted his repentance, unlike with Saul.  If we could have done the right thing if someone put a gun to our head (insisting that we do the right thing), we definitely have no excuse to not do the right thing for the Lord’s sake. 

It’s also possible to call your sin by a nicer name like an “error in judgment” or “a mistake.”  It’s also blasphemous and dishonoring to God to equate an offense against Him with doing something innocent like taking a wrong turn.

The excuse of “I’m not perfect” is really pathetic too.  It is just a way of avoiding full responsibility for your sin like Saul tried to do.  We all consider “I’m not perfect” as a shallow apology if given after someone wrongs us.  Yet many actually think it’s okay to deal with their wrongs towards God this way.  

These are all excuses people make that are really cop-outs against the need to own themselves for what they really are and to come into alignment with the Law of God. 

Saul didn’t think that it was so bad anyway that he didn’t do all that God had said to do.  But Samuel would give him a rebuke which applies to all who think they can decide how they want to serve God and don’t think a little bit of disobedience to God’s authority could be that bad. 

1 Samuel 15:22-23: “And Samuel said, Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord?  Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams.  For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry.  Because thou hast rejected the word of the Lord, he hath also rejected thee from being king.”

There is great wickedness in disobedience to God- even if it looks respectable and good in the eyes of people. 

At this point Saul says some good sounding words, but even these betray him. He is not interested in justifying God’s Word against him, nor in obeying Him henceforth.  By his following words to Samuel we can see that his real interest is self-preservation and saving face before people. 

1 Samuel 15:24-25: “And Saul said unto Samuel, I have sinned: for I have transgressed the commandment of the Lord, and thy words: because I feared the people, and obeyed their voice.  Now therefore, I pray thee, pardon my sin, and turn again with me, that I may worship the Lord.” After Samuel insisted to Saul that the Lord had rejected him from being king over Israel (1 Samuel 15:26-29), Saul would then say “I have sinned: yet honor me now, I pray thee, before the elders of my people, and before Israel, and turn again with me, that I may worship the Lord thy God.” (1 Samuel 15:30) 

Saul said twice that he had sinned.  Isn’t that enough?  No, by no means- even if he said it with tears.  A minute later he is telling Samuel “I have sinned: yet honor me now, I pray thee, before the elders of my people, and before Israel…”   The mouth speaks out of the abundance of the heart.  Saul’s confession that he sinned was primarily given so he could retain his honor before the people and his position as king. Ironically, it was the same seeking honor of people over God’s honor that led him to transgress to begin with.

We can’t be right with the Lord if we are seeking the honor of people ahead of His honor.  Seeking the two are mutually exclusive.  Jesus said “How can ye believe, which receive honor one of another, and seek not the honor that cometh from God only?” (John 5:44)  The Apostle Paul said “For do I now persuade men, or God?  or do I seek to please men?  for if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ.” (Galatians 1:10) 

There is a time when saying “I have sinned” can be said selfishly, especially when it’s not accompanied by a real admission of guilt.  The Biblical sense of the word “sinned” implies guilt, but many, like Saul, use it in a wrong spirit, as if to say something along the lines of “I couldn’t help what I did.  So let’s move on and forget this happened.”  In King David’s genuine, proper repentance his concern was God’s interest and God’s honor- not his own honor in the eyes of people nor his own satisfaction in any way. 

Eventually Saul would show his unrepentant, lawless spirit by actually going to visit a witch to get counsel when he was faced with a battle that he knew he’d be overmatched in (1 Samuel chapter 28).  Saul would die in that battle, of which we are told in 1 Chronicles 10:13-14: “So Saul died for his transgression which he committed against the Lord, even against the word of the Lord (a reference to 1 Samuel chapter 15), which he kept not, and also for asking counsel of one that had a familiar spirit, to enquire of it; And enquired not of the Lord: therefore he (the Lord) slew him (Saul), and turned the kingdom unto David the son of Jesse.”

When there is no great zeal to honor God’s law, no great zeal for Christ’s interest, no great zeal for holiness, for purity, no great zeal to be reconciled with those we’ve hurt/refused to forgive on Biblical terms before, etc. then there is no true repentance.  

2 Corinthians 7:9-11: “Now I rejoice, not that ye were made sorry, but that ye sorrowed to repentance: for ye were made sorry after a godly manner, that ye might receive damage by us in nothing.  For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death.  For behold this selfsame thing, that ye sorrowed after a godly sort, what carefulness it wrought in you, yea, what clearing of yourselves, yea, what indignation, yea, what fear, yea, what vehement desire, yea, what zeal, yea, what revenge!  In all things ye have approved yourselves to be clear in this matter.” 

This must be our response to our sin if we are to make the right response.  This response can be seen in David by a reading of Psalm 51, which many believe he wrote just after Nathan the Prophet rebuked him in 2 Samuel chapter 12.

True repentance also accepts God’s discipline without murmuring and complaining.  Just because we repent of a sin doesn’t mean there won’t be consequences for the sin.  Often, there are natural consequences of the sin which the Lord doesn’t intervene to stop.  He may also drive the lesson we need to learn home to us in a painful way to produce a deeper brokenness in us and a greater fear to sin in the future (and consider here how Once Saved Always Saved,/Unconditional Eternal Security doctrine militates against such fear and thereby promotes sinning).  The Lord might also do such things to make others fear or for other reasons known to Him.  Such discipline happened to David after his repentance over his sin in the matter of Bathsheba.

David’s son Absalom eventually rebelled against him and got a following to crown him (Absalom) king and to help him invade Jerusalem (where David had been reigning).  When this happened, David saw God’s chastening hand (remember how the Lord had told David through the prophet Nathan that He would raise up evil against David out of his own house).  David left Jerusalem as Absalom was coming, ready to accept whatever happened to him.  This was so different from Saul who, when he was king, persecuted a young David and tried to eliminate him- even though David hadn’t even been a rebel against Saul like Absalom was against David. 

2 Samuel 15:25-26: “And the king (David) said unto Zadok (the Priest), Carry back the ark of God into the city: if I shall find favor in the eyes of the Lord, he will bring me again, and shew me both it, and his habitation: But if he thus say, I have no delight in thee; behold, here am I, let him do to me as seemeth good unto him.” 

David was intent on being the Lord’s and serving Him even if he lost his position and his honor before people.  He proved that when such loss actually happened.  This is a necessary characteristic of a right response to sin.

King David is proof that one can possibly be restored and overcome after a very great sin (a very great sin eve in the eyes of most people), while Saul is proof that one’s destruction can come from an act of disobedience to God’s voice that does not even seem like a big deal to most people. Their response afterwards made the difference.  Saul continued to disobey God’s voice after he sinned and failed; David returned to the Lord that he might heed His voice.

Those who respond like King David care more about honoring God by getting back on the right path and doing their best (truly), even when in a cast-down/shamed state, than they care for holding on to self-pity in such a state (the sorrow of the world which works death- as we read about in 2 Corinthians 7:10).  The example of King David gives hope that we can repent and find mercy of the Lord- and by His grace, rise up and yet walk victoriously with Him, though we have sinned and failed badly before. 

The caution should be given though that David came to hate his own sin with intense, bitter grief.  Some people actually take comfort in David’s sin, as if sin isn’t such a big deal because David got restored.  That is a lie from the pit of hellGod’s abhorrence of what David did, and how David eventually aligned himself with God’s mind regarding his sin, and was only restored because he did so, should make us hate the sin all the more intensely.  The Bible speaks of the damnation of those who have pleasure/express approval over the sins of others (Romans 1:32, Proverbs 28:4, etc).  That certainly includes pleasure in the sins of people in the Bible- even if the people themselves eventually repented and were restored.  The fact that we have the lessons and warnings from the lives of people in the Bible makes us all the more guilty if we don’t learn from them and rather continue in sin. 

Peter thus testified to and exhorted the crowd that he preached to on the day of Pentecost in Acts chapter two “Save yourselves from this untoward (or, wayward or perverse) generation.” (Acts 2:40b)  The Apostolic truth is that there is no true repentance from sin, and thus no true faith in Jesus Christ, in those who do not save themselves from this wayward generation by forsaking the disobedient attitude towards God which put Christ on the cross; and which will be the cause of God’s coming wrath upon the world.  Many are all too ready to accept a false concept of God’s grace which doesn’t insist that we die to ourselves to obey God unconditionally in whatever His Word commands.

The following was spoken to Israel as a nation, but note the timeless, unchanging principle given as a requirement of being in God’s grace.  Deuteronomy 13:17-18: “And there shall cleave nought (nothing) of the cursed thing to thine hand: that the Lord may turn from the fierceness of his anger, and shew thee mercy, and have compassion upon thee, and multiply thee, as he hath sworn unto thy fathers; When thou shalt hearken to the voice of the Lord thy God, to keep all his commandments which I command thee this day, to do that which is right in the eyes of the Lord thy God.” 

Aaron’s email is: [email protected]