The command was simple. As Samuel’s words fell on Saul’s ears, he immediately understood. No translation would be necessary. No interpretation was required.
“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 Samuel 15:3
The time had come for God’s justice to be laid out on the Amalekites, and King Saul was to be the mediator. But, as often is the case, a simple command gets transfigured into something more palatable between the hearing and the doing. The Amalekite king and the choicest of the animals were kept alive.
When confronted by Samuel, Saul’s response was…worshipful. He starts by blessing Samuel (v. 13) and then explains that the choice animals were kept alive so they could be sacrificed (v. 15). Saul hoped to cover his disobedience with worship.
If this were the end of the matter there would be plenty of lessons for to learn, but alas, the story continues. Rebellious worship is never content. Disobedience and praise cannot sustain one another. Either rebellion will dissolve into repentance resulting in true worship, or the hardened heart will win out and attack the things of God.
Thus is the mournful tale of King Saul.
When we pick up the story in 1 Samuel 22, rejected Saul is still on the throne, but he spends his days pursuing David, God’s anointed king, under the cloud of madness and bitterness.
Upon hearing that David sought refuge in Nob, the city of priests, Saul orders the city to be destroyed. Aside from all the priests being killed, we see that “both man and woman, child and infant, ox, donkey and sheep” were put to the sword (v. 19). The sound of bleating sheep and lowing oxen would not be heard this time.
Saul did to Nob what he should have done to Amalek. Saul did to the city of priests what he should have done to the city of God’s enemies.
The place that was dedicated to the worship of God, the priests who were set apart as worship leaders, and the animals that were meant to be sacrificed were all devoted to destruction. Those who cover their rebellion with feigned worship will not be satisfied unless true worship is silenced. Like Cain of old, they will strike.
Beloved, when sin’s ugly head appears in your heart and lives, kill it. You have a bloody gospel sword already in your hand, and it’s name is Repentance. Swing it mightily at the sin in your life. Devote it to destruction. Leave no sinful bleating or lowing in your heart.
Don’t attempt to cover your disobedience with worship. Don’t try to out-worship your sin. If so, you will wake up one day with the madness of Saul in your eyes and you will hate the things of God.
Oh how great is the gift of repentance! Oh the depths and riches of the gospel. It is our only defense against our disobedience and rebellion.