Decisions that Set the Course
1 Samuel 15:9-29
May 15-16, 2021
Bible study. If you would open to 1 Samuel 15, beginning in verse 9, the title of the message, decisions that set the course of life. Now, I think many know that there are decisions that alter the course. In fact, if you're old enough, no doubt, you can look back on your life and recognize that there have been certain key decisions that have become like, you might call them, hinge points that have altered the course, have changed the direction.
This is important to recognize because there are many decisions and choices yet ahead of you, but how do you choose well? That's the question. How do you choose well so that the course of your life is the path of greatest blessing and favor of God, that's surely what we want. Now you can't choose all things that come into your life. You can't choose all your battles.
We didn't choose this battle, but you must take what lies in the course before you, but how you respond and how you choose will set the course. They're like hinge points, and God gives principles in His word to guide you in those decisions so that you choose well and live in a place of greatest blessing and favor.
Even if life is hard, even if troubles come that you never expected, God never promised that life would be easy. If you come to faith in Christ, it doesn't mean life will be easy. Jesus said, "In this world, you will have many troubles, but take courage, I have overcome the world." In another place He said, "The man who builds his house on the rock or his life on the rock, when the storms come, for surely, they will, that house will stand," that life is strong. That's the word of the Lord. He gives the principles so that we choose well.
Our story, as we were looking at last week, Saul, we meet the famous King Saul, the first King of Israel. He was inaugurated as the King of Israel and this calling set the course of his life, but he has a path in how he's going to live out that calling. The same is true, I mentioned last week, if you've accepted Jesus Christ into your heart as Lord and savior, you have purpose in your life. He has meaning that He has in your life. You have a mission to fulfill, but you have a part. How do you live out that mission, that calling?
Now the decision Saul would make, would determine whether he would build a legacy as a King who did good and rights, or a man whose decisions cost him dearly. The same is true for all of us. The decisions that we make determine the course, whether we leave a legacy of doing good and right, or costing dearly by decisions that divert the course and alter it in a way that's not good.
Now, the backstory to this is the people of Israel came to Samuel, a very well-respected prophet in Israel, and demanded a King. "We want to be like the nations around us," which of course is always a dangerous thing to want to be like everyone else around. He brought this to the Lord who said, "Give them what they ask. They're not rejecting you, they're rejecting me as King."
God wanted to be their King, but God gave them what they asked, gave them a man after their own heart. Someone who was head and shoulders taller than other men, and it tells us he was the handsomest man in Israel, which for sure is a qualifier. I say that sarcastically. Nevertheless, God gave Saul everything that he needed to do well on this course. He strengthened his unbelief.
You can imagine being told, "You're going to be the chosen one to lead Israel." What a tremendous piece of news that is. He needs to have his faith strengthened for it and God strengthened his faith by giving him confirmations, exact confirmations of the word. Then he anointed him with the Holy Spirit, He even allowed him to prophecy with the prophets. He gave him everything he needed for life in Godliness, to stay the course, to live out that calling, and to live it well.
Unfortunately, Saul's decisions became turning points, wrongful decisions altered the course. A couple of chapters back Samuel had told him, "Wait seven days, I will arrive and bring burnt offerings and peace offerings," but Saul grew impatient. Samuel did not show up till the very last minute and in his impatience, he took on the role of the priestly office and brought the sacrifices himself, wrongful decision and it altered his course. Samuel said, "Now the kingdom will not endure. The Lord has sought out for Himself another man, a man after His own heart." He's speaking of David, of course.
"The Lord appointed him as ruler over His people because you have not kept what the Lord commanded." That brings us to chapter 15. Here, Saul has another opportunity to demonstrate obedience to the Lord, but he did not do well, he veered off the course. There we learn many life lessons in this story. It's a life lesson of being faithful and true and walking in the course of life, honoring God with decisions at every point of turning.
Now, the backstory to this chapter is that when Israel had come out of Egypt and they were going through the desert, that the Amalekites came in an unprovoked attack and in just a heinous way. They attacked from the rear, killing all that were straggling behind, mothers with children, elderly, the weak, the lame, and they just continue this relentless pursuit by attacking the weak in the rear, and it was just heinous.
God said to Moses, when the people settle in the land, this matter with the Amalekites will be settled. That mission is given to Saul. He's been given the direction to take these people out and to leave nothing, no sheep, oxen, no lamb, nothing. That's where we pick up the story in 1 Samuel 15:9, "But Saul and the people spared Agag."
He was the King of the Amalekites, "and they spared the best of the sheep and the oxen and the fatlings, and the lambs and all that was good. They were not willing to utterly destroy them," which of course was what God said, "but everything despised and worthless, that they destroyed. Then the word of the Lord came to Samuel, the prophet saying, 'I regret that I made Saul king,'" or it grieves me that I made Saul king, "for he has turned back from following me. He's not carried out my commands.
Saul hearing this was deeply distressed and cried out to the Lord all night long." Deep was the distress on this prophet. "Samuel rose in the morning to meet Saul, and it was told Samuel, 'Saul came to Carmel.'" That's a mountain on the end of the Jezreel Valley, where you can see out all over the land. It says, "He came to Carmel and behold, he set up a monument for himself. This is not the humble King that God wanted. Then he turned and went down to Gilgal. Samuel came to Saul." Now, when Saul sees him, he's at first very happy to see Saul.
"Blessed are you of the Lord, I have carried out the command of the Lord. Samuel said, 'Really? What then is this bleating of sheep in my ears? What is this lowing of oxen that I hear?' Saul said, 'They, the people, they have brought them from the Amalekites, for the people spared the best of the sheep and the oxen in order to sacrifice to the Lord, your God.'" Wasn't that a good thing? "Now, the rest we have utterly destroyed. Then Samuel said to Saul, 'You wait and let me tell you what the Lord told me last night.'" Saul said, "Well, say it."
Samuel said, "Is it not true, though you were little in your own eyes that you were made head of the tribes of Israel? Is it not true that the Lord anointed you king over Israel and the Lord sent you on a mission? He said, "Go and utterly destroy these sinners, these Amalekites and fight against them until they are exterminated for what they did to Israel. Why then did you not obey the voice of the Lord, but you rushed headlong upon the spoil and you did what was evil in the sight of the Lord."
Then Saul said to Samuel, "I did obey. I did it. I did obey the voice of the Lord. I went on the mission that the Lord sent me and I brought back Agag, the King of Amalek and have utterly destroyed the Amalekites, but the people, they took some of the spoil, the sheep and the oxen, the choices of things, devoted to destruction, to sacrifice to the Lord, your God at Gilgal." Then Samuel said this. This is a very important response, underline this, highlight it, it's a really deep insight.
Samuel said, "Has the Lord as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams. For rebellion, on the other hand, rebellion is as the sin of divination, witchcraft, the occult. Insubordination is as iniquity and idolatry." Those are strong words, "Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, He has rejected you from being king."
Then Saul said to Samuel, "I have sinned. I have indeed transgressed the command of the Lord and your words because I feared the people and I listened to their voice. Now, therefore, please pardon my sin and return with me that I might worship the Lord." Samuel said to Saul, "No, I will not return with you, for you have rejected the word of the Lord and the Lord has rejected you from being king over Israel." Samuel turned to go, but Samuel seized the edge of his robe and it tore, so Samuel used it as the picture.
Samuel said to him, "The Lord has torn the kingdom of Israel from you today. He has given it to the neighbor who is better than you." Of course, to David, "And, also, the glory of Israel will not lie or change His mind for He's not a man that He should change His mind." These are the verses, very important lessons, life lessons that come to us out of this story. We're talking about the decisions that Saul makes because decisions and choices alter the course.
I. Build on the Foundation of His Word
We need those principles that would guide those decisions. In fact, we gained a tremendous insight and principle and that is this, "Build on the foundation of the word." God gives a word, live by it, build then a foundation. That mission was given to Saul, but he did not obey. He spared Agag, the king, and the best of the sheep and the oxen and the lamb and all that was good.
At first, Saul is glad to see Samuel, "Blessed are you of the Lord. I carried out the command of the Lord." He thought he did, but he didn't. "What is this bleating of sheep I hear? What is this lowing of oxen?" If he had only carried out, see the word there, carried out, in Hebrew, it means to establish. I have established his word in my life. If only he had. For the word establish means, to build a foundation from which you act, from which you live.
A. Those who are wise --- build
Here's the point. It's a life lesson. Those who are wise, build. Those who are wise, build. They build their lives upon this foundation. God's word is the foundation on which to build your life, but how do you do it? You build your life on God's word by what you do, by the decisions you make, by the character within you, by how you live. Let me give you a great verse. You no doubt have heard this verse. If you've been around very much, I love to quote it. "Whoever hears these words of mine and acts upon them, he's like a wise man who built his house on a rock."
You very likely have heard that, but let me put it in its context because when you see that in its context, it has tremendous force and power. This is out of Matthew 7:21-24. Listen to this word of the Lord who is instructing. Jesus says, "It is the one who does the will of my father who will enter the kingdom of heaven.
Now, many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy and cast out demons and perform miracles in your name?' I will say to them, 'I never knew you, depart from me you who practice lawlessness.' Therefore, whoever hears these words of mine and acts upon them is a wise man who built his house on a rock." There's the context.
When you see it, it's powerful. Now, Saul did not carry out. He did not build the word as the foundation and it altered the course of his life. Verse 11 is interesting because it says, God regretted that He made him King." In other words, it grieved Him. It grieved Him because God loves, and it grieves Him when you veer off course. When you veer off the course, you bring destruction to your life and to those around. It grieves Him when you make decisions that bring troubles. You no doubt have heard the verse, "Do not grieve the Holy Spirit."
Well, let's put that verse in its context because when you see that verse in its context, it also has tremendous force and power. Notice, it comes out of Ephesians 4:29-31. Paul begins that section by saying, "Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth." Let's just stop right there. I mean, that is a powerful word. Would you not agree?
B. Beware the deception of self
That is a powerful phrase right there. "Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth." The key to that phrase is the word, No, none, nada, [foreign language], none. "Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth. None, nada, that's all the foreign languages I know right there. None, no unwholesome word.
Then he says, "Do not grieve the Holy Spirit." You see, when an unwholesome word comes out of your mouth, it grieves the Holy Spirit because He knows it brings destruction. It brings destruction to those who receive it, and to you who say it. "Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God." Notice, "By whom you were sealed for the day of redemption." If you ask Jesus Christ into your heart, He has sealed you, anointed you with the Holy Spirit, the very same Holy Spirit that anointed Saul for his mission. He's anointed you for your call as a son or daughter of God.
Then he adds, "Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you because all of these things grieve the Holy Spirit," because He loves you. These things are destructive and He wants the best. Use these as a guide for the decisions that you make. Now here's another life lesson that comes from the story, beware the deception of self. Is it possible to deceive one's own self?
How does that work exactly? Is it possible to turn something around in one's mind so that it is thought of as good when in fact it is not good, when in fact it's bad, or when in fact it's wrongful? Can a person turn something around in his own mind, so as to deceive himself? The answer, oh yes, it happens all the time. The one who is wise will beware the deception of self.
Verse 15, Saul says, "The people spared the best of the sheep in order to sacrifice to the Lord." Now, that's good, isn't it? What could possibly be wrong with that? Does not the word say to bring gifts and offerings like this? What could be wrong with this? Isn't that good? No, it's not good because that's not what God said. See, to Saul, he has a good reason. He's turned it in his mind. He's got a good reason. It's not a reason. It's an excuse.
In fact, of course, we know the nature of man. People have been using excuses a long time. I was thinking of a humorous illustration, a true story. There was a top government aid on the East Coast who didn't file tax returns for five years. Now, his lawyer explained that the reason that he could not pay his taxes is because he suffered from a medical condition. The medical condition is called late filing syndrome and it caused his depression.
The lawyer said, "Even though this depression didn't stop him from being a highly functional professional and enjoying an active social life, it did apparently affect his ability to pay his taxes for five years. Unfortunately, late filing syndrome is not recognized as a psychiatric condition. Now, apparently, he suffers from another syndrome. It's called tax penalty syndrome." I had to throw that in. See, there's the point, to turn something around in the mind, to turn something in the mind so that is thought of as good when in fact it's not.
C. Take responsibility; don’t shift the blame
Therefore, it brings us to this next life lesson, take responsibility, don't shift blame, take responsibility. It's a life lesson. In the decisions, in the choices that alter the course of life, take responsibility, don't shift the blame. Verse 20, Samuel directly confronts. "Saul, why did you not obey the voice of the Lord?" He says, "I did. I did obey the voice of the Lord. It was the people, the people they took some of the spoil." Shifting blame, that's old too. Shifting blame is as old as Adam and Eve.
When Adam and Eve sinned in the garden and the Lord confronted Adam over this, what did he do? He shifted the blame. "It was that woman that you gave me." You want to talk about shifting the blame, he's actually blaming God for this. "It was that woman, and you gave her to me. She's the one, she gave me to eat, and then I ate it." Then when the Lord confronts the woman, she says, she shifts the blame. "The devil made me do it," but to accept personal responsibility is the cornerstone of transformation. It's the cornerstone for making decisions and choices in a way that honor God.
Saul has authority that makes him responsible. He was the King of Israel. When you have authority, you are responsible. When you have authority, you are responsible. Here's an interesting application. You have authority over your own flesh. You know this flesh of ours, this troublesome flesh that we carry around with us, it wants to be the master. It wants to be the boss. It wants to tell you what to do. Me want. Me want, you give. Me want meat, me want more, and me want woman. Me want, you give.
It wants to tell you what to do, but you have authority over your own flesh. You have authority that makes you responsible. In fact, Paul brings this great word out of 1st Corinthians 9:27. Paul says, "I discipline my body." The word there, the root of it is to instruct. I" discipline my body. I make it my slave." It's not going to tell me what to do because the flesh will get you in a whole lot of trouble. It's not going to tell me what to do. "I discipline my body. I make it my slave so that after I've preached to others, I myself might not be disqualified."
II. Choose the Highest Good
That's a good word because it will ruin your life. Saul finally does take responsibility, kind of, not quite. Verse 24, "I have sinned. I've transgressed because they feared the Lord because I listened to their voice." Back to our story, here's another, this next section gives us principles that guide in our decisions, and it's this, choose the highest good. When deciding, when choosing the course, these hinge point decisions, use this as a guiding principle, choose the highest good.
Samuel's response to Saul is powerful, it's to the point. "Has the Lord as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord." In other words, which one is better? Now, both are good. Both are good, which is better. It's the principle of choosing, of making decisions in the will of God. If decisions are hinge points that change the course, we need the wisdom of God's principles to make sure that those decisions are in the will of God.
A. God’s greatest delight is in your heart
He brings this into the question, "In which does the Lord have more delight?" It's not just the question of which is better, "In which does the Lord have more delight? See, when you bring God into the formula, when you bring God into the equation, when you consider God's view of the thing, it changes it entirely. Which does God have more delight in? Now that's an interesting question. What does bring God delight? May I submit and suggest that God's greatest delight is in you, your heart. When your heart is right in God, that's what God is asking.
Sacrifice and offerings, they were a picture of something. They represented. Firstly, they represented the offering of the son of God on the cross of Calvary, who then paid for our sins? Thereby, then, sacrifices and offerings were to represent the heart of the worshiper. You brought a gift and offering to represent the heart of the worshiper. There were peace offerings representing peace with God. There were fellowship offerings for fellowship of communion.
There were free-will offerings. The person would bring, a worshiper would bring a free-will offering just as it suggests, by his own free will, just because he wanted to. I want to do this because I want to. "I love you, God. I am so thankful for what you are doing in my life. You are the joy of my life. I want to do something. Out of my own free will, I do this," because the gift represents the giver, the worshiper. I was thinking of an illustration, it's like this.
When a man gives flowers on Valentine's day or whatever, the flowers are a symbol. They represent something. They represent his love. They represent his heart. "Oh, you brought me flowers." Y"es, because I love you." "You brought me a card." Yes. I even wrote out with my own hand a nice beautiful message because I love you." "That's wonderful, you brought me a gift." "Yes. I brought you a gift because I love you." See, a gift, it represents my love. That's beautiful.
What if there isn't love? What if there isn't love? Then the flowers are just flowers, where the card is just a card. The gift is just a gift. It's the heart behind it that makes it something. That's what give it significance. It's the heart. It says, no, see, I love you. This pictures it. This is like a representation of it. That's what God wants. Let me give you a tremendous verse. Psalm 40:6-8, "Sacrifice and meal offering you have not desired, for an offering and sin offering you have not required. Then, I said, 'Behold, I come.'"
I don't bring that which represents me, I bring me. Here I am. Then, I said, "Behold, I come in the scroll of the book it is written of me. I delight to do your will, O my God. Your law, your word is written on my heart." That's what God delights in. When it's you, the reality of your heart, that's what he wanted. Here's another one, Mark 12:33. "To love God with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength and to love one's neighbor as himself is much more than all the burnt offerings and sacrifices." All of that pales in comparison to when you love from your heart.
Verse 23, "On the other hand, rebellion is like the sin of divination." This is a strong word. Rebellion is like the sin of the occult of witchcraft. That's a strong word. See, rebelliousness and hard heart rejects God as surely as someone who rejects God by the divination. These are strong words. Saul minimized the importance of obedience and he missed God's heart because his heart wasn't right. The results, Samuel said, "The kingdom would be taken from him and given to another who is better." It was a hinge point. He was referring to David.
B. Decisions and choices bear fruit
Lastly, and we'll close with this. When considering the decisions that alter the course, it's important to see that decisions and choices bear fruit. There's an outcome. It brings us to something. Decisions and choices bear fruit. Saul's disobedience is going to bear bitter fruit, not only in Saul but actually for all of Israel 200 years later.
Now, at the end of Saul's life, we're going to come to this in a few chapters, Saul will be defeated by the Philistines. They're in the battlefield, as his lingering near death, he calls for someone to take him out, to put him out of his misery. Who should happen to come? An Amalekite who then put him out of his misery. At the end of his life, it was an Amalekite. It came back. In other words, it always comes back. It always comes back.
200 years later when Israel had been taken captive and exiled to Babylon, when the King of Persia was on the throne, one of his assistants, an evil man by the name of Haman plotted, hatched the plan by which the King must issue this edict that would destroy all Hebrews in the world. Now God intervened in it, but that man Haman, he happened to be an Agagite which is to say a descendant of Agag the king of the Amalekites. It came back, it came back. It always comes back. It's a principle of the scriptures.
I like to quote this because it's such a powerful understanding. It's called the principle of the harvest. It's found in Galatians 6. I quote this often because it's such an important word in the decisions that alter the course of life. Galatians 6:7-8, "Do not be deceived. God is not mocked. Whatever a man sows, this, he will also reap." It's a principle. There it is. That's the principle of the harvest. "The one who sows to his own flesh, will from the flesh reap and he'll reap destruction, but the one who sows to the spirit will also reap and he will reap life, even eternal life."
I want that life. I want that joy. I want that peace. The goodness, the faithfulness, the gentleness, I want that. It comes because you have sown to the spirit. These are the things you reap when you sow them. Throughout our lives, throughout the course, as you're walking the course of your life, you are either sowing the seeds of weeds and thorns and poisoned things, or you're sowing that which is good and right and to the spirit, then you're sowing one or the other.
If you find yourselves in a field of weeds, it could well be that you've been sowing those seeds of trouble a long time and they've just now been growing up. It reminds me of a number of years ago, a fellow happened to just look us up in the phone book, needed to find a pastor. He looked us up and randomly called and said, "Is there a pastor?" He was told, "Come." I sat with him and I said, "What can I do?"
He began to tell his story, oh, what a tragic story. One trouble after the other, so troubled, filled over and over the things that he was just talking about, it just breaks the heart to hear them, and then God gave me this picture. I said, "You know, it's like this, you're standing in a field and there are weeds all around you." He said, "Yes, exactly. What do I do?" I said, "These weeds that are now grown up all around you, these are things that you have sown a long time ago." He said, "It's true, it's true, but what do I do?"
I said, "Let's start with this. Let's begin with this. Don't sow any more of those seeds. Don't sow any more of them. Let's start with that. Don't water them and don't feed them, but God knows the way through the wilderness. God will show you the way, but as you're walking, you begin to plant the seeds of righteousness. You sow to the spirit. You will see, you will see. These things that you planted they're now grown up, and the things that you're now planting, you're just putting them in. You won't maybe see much at the beginning, but you wait, you wait, you'll see.
God's not finished, you will reap. This will come. These things will die and these things will grow. You watch. God's not finished." In the course of your life, choose well. He said, "Pray for me." I said, "I will pray for you, but I want you to pray first." I said, "Would you get on your knees with me together?" There in my office, we got on our knees and we leaned against these chairs. I remember I put my arm like this on the chair, put my arm around him and he starts praying.
As he's praying, he begins to weep, just deep, deep sobs. As he's weeping in his prayer, I had my arm like this, and his tears are just wetting my arm. I immediately thought of that verse. You know the scripture that says, "He takes our tears and holds them in a bottle." In other words, they're precious to the Lord, such tears are beautiful. This is a beautiful thing. This is beautiful what God is doing now. As he's beginning to pray, "God, help me, direct my steps. I see now all of these things that I've been deciding and just doing all these years are now such trouble. Help me, God, now."
Oh, this is the right word. God is not finished. Choose well the course of your life. The scripture says, "A good name is better to be chosen than fine riches." Choose well. A good life is better than fine riches. Let me say to you, I want the finest things in life. I want the finest things. I have a taste for the finest things in life. You say, "What are the finest things?" The finest things in this life are the things that come from the hand of God.
Many people are thinking that the finest things are the finest things of the world. No, these things will perish and they'll perish with the using, but I want the finest things. Peace, joy character, integrity, honor. To live with honor in your heart is one of the finest things. Peace, finest things. A joy that comes from his hand, that's the finest things. I want the finest things, well, then, so the seeds of the finest things. Plant the seeds that come forth from the spirit, the hand of God, the life of God, those are the finest things that will give you a beautiful life.
God wants you to have a beautiful life. The finest things come from Him. Let's pray, Father, thank you so much for your hand. For showing us a foundation on which we can build our lives, that would guide our decisions and choices that in so many ways alter the course, will alter the course for good, alter the course in a way that's honoring to you. I want to live out the purpose and calling and mission of my life in a way that honors you. God, be honored as you stir us up by your spirit.
Church how many today as right now, today, before the Lord, how many would say to the Lord? I want the things that come from God. I want those things. I want the finest things. I want that peace. I want that joy. I want that goodness, that faithfulness, that character of integrity. I want the finest things, do this in my life, God. Build a foundation, be that rock on which I stand, guide my steps. Help me to plant those seeds by the decisions I make that honor you.
Church, today, would you say that to the Lord? Would you ask God for these things? Would you say, "That is the very thing I want, that is the very thing I desire. I want those finest things." Would you just say it to the Lord by raising your hand, just lift your hands to the Lord? I want that which comes from God, the finest things. Transform me into those things that are the best, the hand of God.
Would you just raise your hand? Father, thank you for moving. Thank you for touching. Thank you for stirring. Thank you for showing us the way of greatest blessing and favor. Even though we walked through the valley of trouble, we believe that you're with us. Father, thank you for everyone who has said yes to you, we honor you now. In Jesus name, and everyone said--
Can we give the Lord praise and glory and honor. Amen.