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1 Samuel

Three Strikes and Saul's Out
13:1 - 15:35

1 Samuel 15:22
And Samuel said, 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.

God does not accept sacrifice as a substitute for obedience.

Related Reading

2 Samuel 1:17-27

Psalm 15

Ephesians 5:6-18

Hebrews 10:1-10

1 John 1

Today’s lesson title obviously comes to us from the world of baseball. A batter has three swings at the ball. If he misses all three, he is “out,” a strikeout. True, he doesn’t even have to miss. If the ball flies through the “strike” zone, even if the batter doesn’t swing, it is a “call strike.” This counts toward the three strikes leading to an out.

Today we will look at Saul’s three swings – swings which were misses in God’s score book. Neither Saul’s kingdom nor his life ended at the precise moment of the third miss, but at that point we will all know the results of striking out. Isn’t it wonderful that God doesn’t keep score books on each of us? His Word promises that when we seek forgiveness He remembers our sins no more (Psalm 103:10-13). But we need to be concerned about the general teaching of today’s lesson. If we keep disobeying God and do not seek His forgiveness, does He take away our right to be His messenger? Maybe not after only three tries, but at some point? Consider Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 11:27-32 as you reflect on this question.
ole31.gif Are there “called” strikes in Christianity?

Consider James 4:17:

Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.


Lack of Patience [13:1 - 23]

Strike 1

Remember when Samuel was giving Saul the signs of confirmation that he also gave him one instruction (10:8)? He told him to go to Gilgal and wait seven days for the prophet’s arrival. All good children of God need to learn patience. It is part of the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22), but it is also a human character trait that is oh so easy to abuse. As the Philistines gather for battle, Saul tarries at Gilgal. His son Jonathan has just defeated a small Philistine garrison and the enemy gathers for battle. Saul becomes impatient as his soldiers start to desert the camp.

So, Saul responds based upon his understanding of the history of the Old Testament. He offers up sacrifices to God (13:9) -- the exact same thing Samuel was to do once he arrived! Only Saul was not a priest. He was not qualified to offer sacrifices! Samuel was furious! And Saul, well, in good human fashion, he rationalized his actions. First, he might be left alone in a severe crisis and need to deal with it on his own. Second, Samuel had not seemed to arrived at the specified time, so they needed to start without the prophet who was “late.” Third, something had to be done quickly for the Philistines outnumbered the Israelites and every delay meant more Jewish soldiers would disappear. The Philistines might attack at any time.

ole32.gif Does Samuel’s rebuke appear to be over-reaching? How often do we get angry and respond stronger than we should to some situation? Is this what Samuel did?

While we will look at Saul’s second and third strikes, this one ends it all. Samuel’s response goes to the entire issue of Saul’s kingship. Saul is not a man after God’s heart (13:14). Saul is too much into the ways of the world. Samuel had set forth the “rules” of the game. They are based not upon sacrifice but upon obedience. Saul had not waited on Samuel. Worse, Saul took upon himself the role of a priest, a role which Saul was not qualified to perform. Only the Levitical priests could offer sacrifices to God. Saul had violated God’s command with rebellion and disobedience. The kingdom would be stripped from him.

book272.gif Scripture time and again emphasizes the need for obedience above all else. Abraham was counted righteous for being obedient and trusting in God (Genesis 15:6; cf Genesis 22). The prophets write:

He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?

Micah 6:8


For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.

Hosea 6:6

Jesus Himself puts obedience at the top of the list.


If ye love me, keep my commandments.

John 14:15

ole33.gif How obedient have you been?
book273.gif The balance of chapter 13 deals with the Philistine attacks and their superiority. Only the Philistines had iron weapons! The Israelite weapons were made of bronze, stone or wood. Bronze is a softer metal than iron and, thus, its quality as a weapon is much inferior to iron. The Philistines had blacksmiths, so they could forge their weapons and put sharp points on them. There were no blacksmiths to be found in Israel (13:19). In peace times, the Israelites would have to journey into Philistine to get their tools and farm instruments sharpened. The Philistines were clearly a superior force. The Jewish Nation would only be able to defeat them by the hand of God!

Honey, Any One? [14:1 - 52]

Strike 2

If strike one was Saul’s chance at obedience, strike two gives Saul the opportunity to act wisely. Wisdom is an important element of God’s gifts to His children. James tell us that if we only ask, God will abundantly supply us with wisdom (James 1:5). Further, Solomon wrote that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 1:7). This proverb seems to combine the elements of Saul’s first two swings at the ball of kingship. He misses both of them.

Chapter 14 presents another of those contrasts which are ever present in First Samuel. At the beginning, Jonathan and his armor-bearer successfully defeat the Philistines by relying upon God to give them a sign to proceed. Jonathan and his armor-bearer step out on faith in the Lord to accomplish the task at hand.

ole34.gif When was the last time you stepped out in faith?
book274.gif Remember what First Samuel 14:6 says –“for there is no restraint to the Lord to save by many or by few.” Just as God uses Jonathan and his armor-bearer to overcome the Philistine, so, too, can he use YOU to accomplish His work. No situation is hopeless so long as God is involved!

Saul moves to piggy-back on Jonathan’s success. And he desires to add to his insurance by bringing the Ark to the battle (14:18). This sounds reminiscent of the days of Eli’s sons, doesn’t it? (It is unclear, however, from 14:19 and other Scriptures that the Ark actually made it to this battle.) Saul’s forces are joined by Hebrews who had previously joined with the Philistines and by other Israelites hidden in the mountains. Saul is victorious. The text records that “the Lord saved Israel that day” (14:23) by adding to her army.

Saul now demonstrates his rashness. So determined is the king to avenge himself on the Philistines that he utters a command that his men are to not eat that day. How can weak soldiers expect victory? So poorly planned is this command, that Jonathan, one of the kings military leaders, did not get word of the command not to eat and he partakes of some honey (14:27). The Lord could have given Saul a victory, at the Lord’s pace. When Saul intervenes in the process, God leaves the army to its own devices and they are exhausted in the process. Saul, however, still wants to continue fighting. Saul desires to continue the attack at night. He goes to the priest to inquire of the Lord the wisdom of this effort. The Lord fails to answer (14:36, 37).

Saul views the failure of an answer as a sign that someone in the Camp had sinned (broken Saul’s vow not to eat). Lots are cast and Jonathan is the culprit. Saul attempts to carry out the death sentence early given with the command, but the army saves Jonathan. In the Hebrew the literal rendering of the text is that the people “redeemed” Jonathan. It is unclear how this was done or what the text may actually mean.

book275.gif Note also another “sin” of Saul’s rashness. Not only do his actions create this conflict and confrontation with Jonathan, but Saul’s actions actually cause his men to sin. So hungry are they, that they devour the cattle left behind by the enemies. In doing so, they fail to properly prepare the animals (14:32) and, thus, violate the law about eating of blood (Leviticus 17:10; 19:26).

Half An Apple Is Not Better Than A Whole One [15:1 - 35]

Strike 3

We have already reviewed the importance of obedience in God’s world. Now Saul has the opportunity to prove his obedience. Chapter 15 is the third strike. Saul fails to carry out God’s specific command to annihilate the Amalekites. God’s instructions given through Samuel are crystal clear (15:3). Yet, Saul spares both Agag, the king of the Amalekites, and brings home the best of the flock. His excuse is that he was planning on sacrificing the flock to God. This excuse incriminates Saul in his failure to carry out the specific command of God as given by Samuel.

ole35.gif How often do we offer up partial obedience to God? Why?

Samuel sets the example of how we need to view sin in others. “And it grieved Samuel; and he cried unto the LORD all night” (15:11). Just as God is grieved by sin, so should we be. We should offer up continual prayers of intercession on behalf of the sinful world in an effort to place ourselves between them and God. This may cause God to use us to intercede in someone’s life providing us with the opportunity to present the Gospel message. God desires that all come to salvation (1 Peter 3:9), but He uses believers like you and I to accomplish this.

as fast as Adam. He merely blamed the people for his actions (15:20, 21). Samuel was not buying this story and neither did God. Divine retribution of Saul did not occur on the spot, but for those who trust in the Lord, the end of Saul’s story is now apparent.

As Samuel walks away, Saul grabs and tears Samuel’s cloak. This is a picture of God’s retribution. This object lesson is used by Samuel to indicate that God will tear the kingdom away from Saul (15:27, 28). And, the old prophet carries out God’s commandment. He kills Agag.


Are you ready to respond to such a responsibility?

Notice Samuel’s response to sin is to cry unto the Lord.



God’s directions to annihilate the Amalekites may offend many people. These people have difficulties reconciling the teachings of the Old Testament with those of the New. The Amalekites were a wicked, degraded people who had attacked the Israelites in the wilderness some 400 years before (Exod 17:8-16). God’s directions to remove them from the scene is similar to the efforts a doctor makes in attempting to remove cancer from a patient. If all the cancer is not removed, the remaining evil cells will once again contaminate the entire body. The foreign nations are the cancer of Israel’s purity. While not the only cause of the Nation’s rebellion, this cancer is a major disease to the Jewish people.



Today, God’s divine retribution continues in operation. That He has chosen not to continue to annihilate all of the evil is not evidence of the disappearance of such retribution in favor of “love.” Rather, we need to recognize that all of our blessings and misfortunes are the result of God’s blessing or punishment. Retribution is not a simple concept in the Bible, but at its basics, it follows the directions Samuel gave to the people. The righteous, obedient person is rewarded while the disobedient, wicked person is punished. Just as the prophets, many of us question God about the operation of this system of justice in a world where the wicked seemingly prosper. We need to keep the perspective of God on these matters. Ultimate retribution comes not here and now, but with the return of Christ. In the meanwhile, we need to count our blessings and be obedient to avoid punishment and chastisement.


ole37.gif What are some instances of divine punishment or blessing in your life?

As we reflect on the actions of the two men – Samuel and Saul – one cannot but be struck by the instruction and application which this lesson brings us in the area of leadership. What traits make a godly leader? Samuel is a godly leader, as is Jonathan, for both rely upon God for their instruction and wisdom in application. Saul presents us with a picture of an ungodly leader, one who leaves God out of the equation. Faith is the key element for godly leadership. This faith symbolizes a “fear” of the Lord, a fear which translates into proper obedience to God, not just a ritual application of the “rules.” Spiritual leadership is exhibiting trust in God and then obeying the teachings such trust produces. When the leaders succeed, it is God’s doing, not theirs.



Are your leaders godly?

If so, do you follow their teachings? Why? Why not?

If they are not godly, what do you do about it?

book280.gif Saul’s actions were the result of misplaced fear – instead of fearing God, he feared the people (15:24).

Remember way back there in the Garden of Eden after God “caught” Adam following the sin. God asked Adam what had happened. Adam, quick on his feet, passed the buck to Eve – “And the man said, The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat” (Genesis 3:12). In fact, Adam passed the blame to both Eve and to God! Saul was not ole39.gif How often do we place our “fear” in the wrong person?




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