I’ll bet none of us would just come out and say, “I know better than God” or “God’s wrong and I’m right.” We recognize that as arrogant, inaccurate, and fool-hardy. But far too often, we act like that’s what we think even if we’re not saying or even consciously thinking those words. We come up with reasons why we don’t have to keep His commands, or decide we have a better idea for how to obey than what’s instructed in scripture. We try to come figure out what being Christian means to us rather than seeking what it means to God.
The stories of Israel’s first two kings perfectly illustrate the different ways we humans can approach following God. Saul did what was right in his own eyes while pretending to follow God, and God wasn’t impressed. He took the kingdom away from Saul and his family to set up David, someone who would truly follow after God’s heart and listen to His commands.
Saul’s Prideful Disobedience
God chose Saul out of all the people, just as He later would David. It wasn’t His intention that Saul fail. But just two years into his reign, Saul found himself facing an army so terrifying his own troops ran and hid in caves. He waited seven days for Samuel the priest to come and offer sacrifice to God, but Samuel didn’t show.
That’s when Saul committed a sin that cost him the kingdom (1 Sam. 13). He made the decision to offer the sacrifice himself, showing a presumptuous disregard for God’s instructions. When Samuel showed up, Saul had all sorts of arguments to justify his actions but they didn’t change the fact that he’d ignored God’s will.
Then Samuel said to Saul, “You have behaved foolishly! You have not kept the command of Yahweh your God which he commanded you. For then, Yahweh would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. But now, your kingdom will not endure. Yahweh has sought for himself a man according to his own heart, and Yahweh has appointed him as leader over his people, because you have not kept what Yahweh commanded you.” (1 Sam. 13:13-14, LEB)
This sin wasn’t just a one-time occurrence. Chapter 15 records the Lord of Host’s instructions to smite Amalek and kill all the people and animals. Saul followed through on the smiting, but kept the Amalekite king and the best animals alive. Surely God didn’t mean for them to destroy what could still be used, right?
Then came the word of the Lord unto Samuel, saying, It repenteth me that I have set up Saul to be king: for he is turned back from following me, and hath not performed my commandments. And it grieved Samuel; and he cried unto the Lord all night. (1 Sam. 15:10-11, KJV)
It’s unfortunate that Saul’s reaction wasn’t more like Samuel’s. When confronted about his disobedience, he said, “I have performed the commandment of the Lord.” When Samuel pointed out that he really hadn’t, Saul blamed it on the people and said they meant to sacrifice all those animals to honor God so that makes it okay (1 Sam. 15:13-15, KJV). Again, he insisted “I have obeyed the voice of the Lord, and have gone the way which the Lord sent me” (1 Sam. 15:20, KJV). He’d strayed so far from the time when he was “little in his own sight” (1 Sam. 15:17, KJV) that he refused to see he was in rebellion against God. His presumption and pride had blinded him.
Samuel said, “Has Yahweh as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying Yahweh’s voice? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams. For rebellion is like the sin of divination; arrogance is like iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of Yahweh, he has rejected you from being king!” (1 Sam. 15:22,WEB; 23, LEB)
This is why we spend so much time on this blog talking about God’s expectations for His followers. God cares deeply about how we follow Him. If we’re not walking as He commands and we’re substituting our own ideas for His, then we’re in rebellion against God. And that’s a bad as committing witchcraft, doing wicked things, and worshiping idols. It’s the sort of thing God rejects people for.
David’s Heart of Obedience
Saul’s example shows us how not to act. His replacement, David, provides a positive example. David was also little in his own sight when God chose him. Unlike Saul, he stayed that way. Instead of deciding for himself how to act, David humbly looked to God.
That’s not to say David didn’t sin. We’re all familiar enough with his story to know that wasn’t the case. But when David sinned he didn’t try to excuse himself or argue that he’d been right all along. He accepted correction, repented, and changed. That’s what God expects from each of us.
David had many opportunities to decide his way was better than God’s or to justify himself as Saul did. One such incident took place in a cave when Saul was hunting him. David had the chance to kill Saul, but settled for secretly cutting off the edge of his garment. Even then, “David’s heart struck him” because he’d disrespected “Yahweh’s anointed” (1 Sam. 24:1-6, WEB). He knew killing Saul himself would have been a prideful, presumptuous thing to do.
For much the same reason, David spares Saul a second time (1 Sam. 26:5-12), postpones his plan to bring the ark to Jerusalem until God’s will is made clear (2 Sam. 6:1-14), and refuses to kill a man who is cursing him (2 Sam. 16:5-12). As a general rule, David was very careful to align with God’s will, not his own. This character trait flowed from David’s love for God and His word.
The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple. The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart: the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes. The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring for ever: the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold: sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb. Moreover by them is thy servant warned: and in keeping of them there is great reward. (Psalm 19:7-11, KJV)
David knew that to be a man after God’s own heart, he had to value the things God values and listen to the Master’s teachings. The Bible reveals who God is, how He thinks, and what we need to do to become like Him. By respecting and heeding His perfect law, sure testimony, right statues, pure commandments, and true judgements we cultivate a a proper fear of our Creator. We learn to put Him first, not ourselves.
Who can understand his errors? cleanse thou me from secret faults. Keep back thy servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me: then shall I be upright, and I shall be innocent from the great transgression. Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength, and my redeemer. (Psalm 19:12-14, KJV)
God cares deeply about how we live our lives and why we do the things we do. Like David, we should pray that God would show us His perspective on our faults, wash us clean, and guard us from prideful, insolent actions against Him. If this is our perspective, we’ll be more like David and less like Saul. And that’s a very good thing in the sight of our Lord.