1 Samuel 15 teaches a very important lesson in obedience. Samuel receives instruction from God to have Saul go and wipe out the Amalekites who had been an enemy of Israel. Saul assembles 210,000 men and proceeds to the land to do battle. God was clear through Samuel what was to happen – every person and every living thing was to be killed. No exceptions. No returns.
Saul and the army go and do battle and win in a big way. “But Saul and the people spared Agag and the best of the sheep and of the oxen and of the fattened calves and the lambs, and all that was good, and would not utterly destroy them”. Why would he do that? Samuel had specifically said they needed to kill everything. Samuel gives the reason that he saved the “best of the sheep and of the oxen to sacrifice to the Lord your God”. In Samuel’s mind he was being obedient – he just saved back some sheep to sacrifice and the king to bring back as a trophy.
We learn an important lesson here about obedience. God is not ok with mostly obedient. He demands complete obedience. Here was God’s response to what Saul said. Saul came back with “I have performed the commandment of the Lord”. God said “I regret that I have made Saul king, for he has turned back from following me and has not performed my commandments”. They both knew the direction and they both saw the results. Yet the interpretation of the outcome was diametrically different. Saul thought he did it right, God said it was a complete miss.
Here is the lesson – one we need to carefully listen to and follow. “Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord….to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams….rebellion is as the sin of divination, and presumption is as iniquity and idolatry”. God is not interested in our interpretation of what He wants us to do. Obedience is not open for interpretation. It is about us hearing what God says and doing it completely. The price for partial obedience is significant. For Saul, he heard this: “Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, he has also rejected you from being king”. That is a big penalty for going 99% of the way. Why did Saul do it? “I have transgressed the commandment of the Lord and your words, because I feared the people and obeyed their voice”. Saul listened to the wrong voices. He let man determine his level of obedience when only God determines the requirements. We need to pay close attention to this lesson!