The Heart to Obey

Had Saul obeyed, what a difference it would have made.

When the people of ancient Israel demanded a human king to rule over them like other nations, God gave them Saul—a man the people desired. He was a wealthy, good-looking, powerful man from the tribe of Benjamin. When he began his reign, he was actually a humble servant who was deeply submissive to God’s authority.

By God’s power, Saul became a different man—he became a man of God! After his anointing, God gave him “another heart” (1 Samuel 10:9)—His heart! God gave Saul His Holy Spirit so that the new king could develop a heart after His own heart. King Saul, in other words, became converted to God’s way of life.

Israel was fragmented, weak and oppressed, and had been for about four centuries. Early in Saul’s kingship, the nation faced an imminent attack from Nahash and the Ammonites. Saul courageously rallied the Israelites to fight for God (1 Samuel 11). He inspired the nation to look to him and the Prophet Samuel, and he credited God for the subsequent victory.

But Saul began to make a grave mistake. He didn’t remain humble and submissive before God. He began to rely more on his own army than on God (1 Samuel 13:1-2). His faith started to weaken; the other heart he had at the start of his conversion started to disappear.

Despite that initial awe-inspiring victory against the Ammonites, two years later, we find the Israelite soldiers scattering before the Philistines. The Philistines were a formidable foe. The Bible says they advanced against Israel with 30,000 chariots (verse 5). But that factor was nowhere near as important as the way King Saul confronted this threat compared to that of the Ammonites.

As the Philistines approached, Saul grew impatient. Samuel was supposed to arrive and officiate sacrifices to God on behalf of the nation. Samuel had told Saul he would arrive on the seventh day. Amazingly, the Philistine army, its soldiers and chariots arrayed for battle, remained still, encamped directly across from the Israelite soldiers. Neither army made the first move—for seven days. But as the seventh day wore on, Saul could wait no longer and decided to take matters into his own hands. He offered the sacrifices in place of the prophet.

Saul should have known he had no right to take charge of Samuel’s duties. He made a snap judgment. He saw it as an emergency. God, however, saw it as rank rebellion. In one hasty moment of panicked reasoning, Saul usurped the authority of God.

He should have waited. Sometimes the best decision we can make—the biggest step forward we can take—is to wait patiently on God and His government to solve the problem.

Just after Saul finished sacrificing, Samuel arrived. When Samuel confronted Saul about his grave mistake, the king justified his actions by blaming the people, the Philistines and even Samuel, rather than simply confessing his sin and repenting toward God (verses 11-12).

“And Samuel said to Saul, Thou hast done foolishly: thou hast not kept the commandment of the Lord thy God, which he commanded thee: for now would the Lord have established thy kingdom upon Israel for ever” (verse 13).

What an incredible verse. Had Saul obeyed, God would have established his kingdom—Saul’s kingdom—forever!

God had placed Saul at the top of His chosen nation and given him His Holy Spirit. He gave him a prophet to look to for spiritual guidance. He gave him everything he needed to go the right way. But when Saul refused to obey God’s commands and then tried to justify his rebellion, Samuel knew this would be the end of Saul.

What a sad and tragic demise.

Early on in his conversion, Saul showed signs of being totally committed to God’s way of life. But in just a couple years, he became a big man in his own eyes, vain and self-righteous. When his mistakes were pointed out, he tried to justify his actions by blaming others. But his actions showed he was unwilling to wait on God. He stopped going to God for wisdom and discernment and instead made hasty, snap judgments. He was still zealous. He even made sacrifices to God. But it was all Saul’s effort, with no submission to God’s will.

Notice what Samuel said to Saul: “Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams” (1 Samuel 15:22). To obey God is better than sacrifice. What good is it if we sacrifice everything—but do it according to our own will and not God’s? First and foremost, God desires obedience from all of us.

When Saul heard that he had been rejected from being king, he seemed repentant at first (verses 24-25). But the rest of his story proves that he wasn’t willing to make the necessary changes that he needed to in order to develop that “other heart”—a heart like God’s. 1 Samuel 15 shows another stark example of Saul disobeying God, sounding contrite, but never actually repenting. Because Saul rebelled, God cut off his kingdom soon after he died.

God raised up another man who would develop a heart like His own (Acts 13:22)—one who would turn out to also make mistakes, but who would turn to Him in repentance and faith—one in whom God would establish an everlasting kingdom.