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Succeeding Backwards – Tracking the Fall of King Saul Part Two

March 26, 2023 Speaker: Allen Snapp Series: Highlights in 1st Samuel

Topic: Success Passage: 1 Samuel 15

Highlights of 1 Samuel

Allen Snapp

Grace Community Church

March 26, 2023


Succeeding Backwards – Tracking the Fall of King Saul Part Two

Let’s turn together to 1 Sam 15. We’ve all heard the phrase “failing forwards” where failure can help propel us forwards in life when we learn from our failures. I believe there’s also such a thing as “succeeding backwards” – where success precipitates our downfall.

Such is the case with Saul. He started out humble, but success went to his head and in chapters 13-15 we see Saul’s life go into a painful tailspin. This morning we’re going to see the final nail in his coffin, but first I want to repeat that the problem isn’t success. God isn’t anti-success. God wants us to succeed! God promised to give Joshua success wherever he went. Prov. 3:4 says if we obey God’s word, we will win favor with God and man. The Bible says when a man’s ways please the Lord, He makes even his enemies to be at peace with him. Jesus grew in favor with God and man. Paul said we are “more than conquerors” through him who loved us. God is for us! God wants you to be successful in life! He wants you to be successful at your job, in your marriage, in your parenting, at school, in your relationships, in how you live your life, and most important, successful in entering the eternal kingdom of Jesus Christ. That’s why Jesus came! No one is more for your success than God. No one.

But success that comes apart from God isn’t true success. It might seem like success for a time, but in the end it will take us to a fall. It will be succeeding backwards. That’s what happens to Saul and he hits bottom in chapter 15.

It begins with God giving Saul a brutally disturbing command. We’re not going to take a lot of time with it, but we do need to talk about it.

15 And Samuel said to Saul, “The Lord sent me to anoint you king over his people Israel; now therefore listen to the words of the Lord. Thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘I have noted what Amalek did to Israel in opposing them on the way when they came up out of Egypt. Now go and strike Amalek and devote to destruction all that they have. Do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.’”1 Sam 15:1-3

You heard right. God told Saul and his army to go to city of Amalek and kill every man, woman, child, and livestock there. There is long history here: the Amalekites were among the first nation to attack Israel unprovoked. As Moses led the Israelites through the wilderness, the Amalekites attacked and killed those who lagged behind – largely women and children – with no mercy. The last Amalekite we read of is Haman in the book of Esther who devises a plot to commit genocide against the Jews and rid the world of them. The Amalekites were brutally and relentlessly committed to kill the Jews so God said in Deuteronomy there would come a day when He would blot their name off the face of the earth.

But it still disturbs us and it reminds us of the vast difference between the way God dealt with sin in the Old Testament and the way Jesus taught us in the New Testament. God didn’t change – He hates sin with exactly the same fierce hatred as He did then. The cross not only declares God’s love for us, it declares His fierce hatred of sin. On the cross Jesus took God’s righteous punishment and wrath for our sin so that all who put their trust in Christ might never ever face God’s fury. I urge you, if you haven’t trusted in Christ as your Savior to do so today. You don’t know if you have tomorrow. Believe in the Lord Jesus today and you will be saved.

Now I know someone might say, “well, that’s just trying to motivate me by fear.” Absolutely. A few years ago a 28 year old man came to a sign in a marina that “No swimming. Alligators.” He ignored the sign and laughed at the marina worker and jumped in only to be attacked and killed by an alligator. Fear was trying to be his friend and save his life. The fear of God is our friend calling us to listen and be saved. Trust in Christ!

So Saul and his army attacked and defeated the Amalekites. Success! But it was this success that sealed Saul’s fate because he disobeyed God’s command. He spared the best of the livestock and King Agag. Samuel says to Saul in verse 26, “For you have rejected the word of the Lord, and the Lord has rejected you from being king over Israel.” 27 As Samuel turned to go away, Saul seized the skirt of his robe, and it tore. 28 And Samuel said to him, “The Lord has torn the kingdom of Israel from you this day and has given it to a neighbor of yours, who is better than you. 29 And also the Glory of Israel will not lie or have regret, for he is not a man, that he should have regret.”

Saul being rejected as king by God wasn’t the result of military failure, it’s the result of military success. What happened?

  1. What people said became more important than what God said

Three times Saul blames his disobedience on the people:

…the people spared the best of the sheep and of the oxen to sacrifice to the Lord your God, and the rest we have devoted to destruction.” Vs. 15

20 Saul said to Samuel, “I have obeyed the voice of the Lord. I have gone on the mission on which the Lord sent me. I have brought Agag the king of Amalek, and I have devoted the Amalekites to destruction. 21 But the people took of the spoil, sheep and oxen, the best of the things devoted to destruction, to sacrifice to the Lord your God in Gilgal.” Vv. 20-21

24 Saul said to Samuel, “I have sinned, for I have transgressed the commandment of the Lord and your words, because I feared the people and obeyed their voice. Vs. 24

It’s true that the people wanted to save the best of the livestock, but Saul knew better than to obey their voice and disobey God’s voice. What happened was over time what people said became more important to Saul than what God said.

I understand that. You probably do too. Listen, we live in this world, what people think and say about us is important and that’s not wrong. It would be unhealthy to not care at all. It was the people in chapter 14 that stopped Saul from killing his own son because he unknowingly violated a stupid oath Saul made. God was speaking to Saul through the people.

The line is when what people say contradicts what God says. The proximity and the volume of voices can feel like what people say is more important than what God says, especially in this day when things can go viral and there are so many voices ready to hate on someone if they say something they disagree with. The voices and opinions of a lot of people – or of a few really loud people – seems so powerful, so important but we need to develop a deep conviction that what God says is the final word. What people say and think is a vapor – a gust of wind. Psalm 119:89 say God’s word is everlasting and firmly fixed in heaven. Jesus said not on jot or pen stroke of God’s word will pass away until everything in this word is fulfilled.

Jesus said I am the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me. To a lot of people that sounds narrow minded and arrogant and I think the day is coming when there will be enormous pressure to disavow Jesus’ claim. It won’t be popular to follow Jesus. Christians won’t be admired, they will be vilified and pushed to the fringes of society.

I say, that is great! The fringe is where Christianity does best. For a long time Christian values have been at the center of American culture so Christians had a lot of power – political, social, economic, etc. I heard someone say, “power is the place that Christianity goes to die”. In other words, when the church gets social and political power, it dies. Jesus was on the fringe. His disciples were on the fringe. And the power of God flourished in the church.

But it leaves us with a really important choice: do we want to be popular? Do we believebeing liked by the masses is the most important thing in life and the key to success? Or do we believe in Jesus even if everyone else walks away? Even if it costs us our popularity?

There’s a reason Jesus said if we’re ashamed of him here, he will be ashamed of us on that day in front of his holy angels. If we’re ashamed of the One who is Truth and Love, who came to give his life to save us in order that we be accepted in a world of liars and haters and false friends and betrayers, than he will be ashamed of us when the script is flipped and we are standing among those who are perfect and noble and truthful and who love and serve God passionately. The bible says let God be true and every man a liar.

Having said that, we also need to be careful that we’re not being rejected and hated because we’re obnoxious about our faith. Churches can believe a lot of true things and at the same time be mean and self-righteous and judgmental. The Pharisees knew God’s word but they didn’t know God’s heart so when God Himself, Jesus, walked among them, they hated him. How could they know God’s word so well and hate Jesus? Because they knew the words on the page but in those words they never got to know God’s heart.

Can I step into another rather controversial and sensitive subject? I feel I need to because it’s such a big issue today.

The Bible says God created us male and female. Thirty years ago no one would have argued that but today there’s a lot of pressure not to say that. I’ve read about people being kicked out of schools and fired from their job for saying there’s a difference between men and women. Richard Dawkins, the author of The God Delusion, the opposite of a Christian, lost his “humanist of the year” award for stating there are biologically only two sexes. Today there’s a huge debate about transgenders participating in sports as their identified gender rather than their biological gender. In September of 2022 the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH) lifted the age restrictions for gender affirming surgery, meaning children under the age of 17 can now access it. In their guidelines they state:

It is assumed that if they regret the surgery, they will learn to cope with the regret or will have an additional surgery. 

To put that on a child who is still developing and forming their understanding of their world and who they are is wrong. The world, and especially our children, need a clear voice that says, this is what is true. There are only two sexes.

But I have sometimes heard sincere Christians talk about gays or transgenders in a way that makes me cringe and I’ve had to say something. Here’s where we don’t want to know God’s word but miss His heart. If you know someone or meet someone who is homosexual, or transgender, or confused about their gender, love them! Laugh with them, build a genuine relationship with them. Respect them, appreciate them, never put them down or speak condescendingly about them. If they’re being mistreated or mocked, stand up for them. If they’re being attacked, defend them. Jesus loves them and he died to save them. That’s the heart of God.

The next step in Saul’s demise flowed naturally from the first step:

  1. Image became more important than reality

Samuel is going to depart and Saul begs him to come back with him.

30 Then he said, “I have sinned; yet honor me now before the elders of my people and before Israel, and return with me, that I may bow before the Lord your God.” 1 Sam. 15:30

Saul drops all pretense that this is about God. This is about what people will think of him. Make me look good Samuel to the other people. Hear how Saul now acknowledges it’s your God, Samuel, that I want to make a show of worshiping in front of the people.

Honestly, I relate to this too. I struggle with wanting a spiritual image that doesn’t match the inner reality. Do you? I think it’s a part of the good fight, to always seek to be genuine, to center our souls in God, acknowledging His good work in us but alsoconfessing how much more there is for God to do.

Let me end on a positive note: Jesus came to give us success. It’s a life-long process, and we need God’s help and His forgiveness, but He is committed to our ultimate and eternal success. He who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it unto the day of Christ Jesus. Amen!

More in Highlights in 1st Samuel

June 4, 2023

God’s Work in the Wilderness Part One

May 28, 2023

A Beautiful Friendship Part Two

May 21, 2023

A Beautiful Friendship Part One