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A Monumental Collapse (Part 1 of 2)

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg
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November 24, 2022 3:00 am

A Monumental Collapse (Part 1 of 2)

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg

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November 24, 2022 3:00 am

When King Saul destroyed the Amalekites, he assumed he’d fulfilled God’s command. But while he was preparing to celebrate his victory, God was rejecting him as Israel’s king. How could he be so oblivious? Find out on Truth For Life with Alistair Begg.



When we read in 1 Samuel about King Saul destroying the Amalekites, King Saul assumed that he had fulfilled God's command. But while he was preparing to celebrate his victory, we have referred to the event in terms of the robbing of Saul of his kingship as a monumental has also rejected you from being king.

Now, we know why this is. Because we're told he had been given an assignment. The assignment was given by God. He knew that was the case, and his assignment is there in verse 3.

He was to execute judgment upon the Amalekites. Now, the way in which this is stated and the language that is used in keeping with similar incidents in the Old Testament is in order that we might recognize as readers that what is being described here is not simply an invitation to go and wage war against an enemy. But the way in which the judgment is to be passed and the command is to be fulfilled is to make sure that everybody understands that there is no material benefit that accrues to the army—that the spoils of war, that that which is devoted to destruction, belongs to God himself and not to the victors. It is in that context that we have described it as a mission that is terrible.

The issue is ethical rather than ethnic. The Amalekites are to be destroyed not because they are Amalekites but because they were sinners. And so, when you take this and you stand far enough back from it, in the unfolding drama of the entire Bible, you realize that these events are to be viewed in light of the supreme plan of God, to provide salvation not in a disobedient king like Saul but in the obedient king—namely, the Lord Jesus.

And I think it's important just to pick up from last time, lest we've missed this. But this assignment, this mission terrible, was given to Saul in that context. We are not called as Christians to these assignments. The battles that we are fighting are spiritual battles. Paul makes this clear in his writings. He says it in, for example, 2 Corinthians 10, The weapons of our warfare are not physical weapons. We don't take up arms and go and fight people. Our weapons are the proclaiming of the gospel and praying for the intervention of God.

Paul is very clear about this in the very practical chapter of Romans 12. You remember, he says at one point, As much as it is possible with you, live peaceably with everybody. Live in peace with everybody. And make sure that you never avenge yourselves. Leave that to the wrath of God.

So, let's make sure we understand that. And then let's move on to verses 4–9 in what I'm referring to not now as mission terrible but as mission partial, in the sense that it is only partially fulfilled. You will notice that it is partially fulfilled inasmuch as Saul decides that he'll give a pass to the Kenites, because the Kenites were a good group at the period in time when they were coming out of Egypt, and so he sends word into the context, You fellows should slip out now so that you don't end up being destroyed along with the Amalekites around you. The real issue, though, of course, is the fact that he just doesn't do what he's told. It's hard to tell from the text what was in the mind of Saul. In fact, it's impossible to know what was in his mind. Whether his partial obedience was premeditated or not—in other words, whether, when he received the command, he said in the back of his mind, Well, I'm going to do some of this, but I'm not going to do all of it.

Whether it was premeditated or not, his partial obedience is unmistakable. And it is this that incurs God's displeasure. The clarity of it can be seen by looking at the straightforward instruction of God in verse 3. In four words in English, Do not spare them. That's verse 3. Now, again—and let me reinforce this for us, because it's very, very important—there's no sense in which this is a sort of a flare-up of animosity, where one group is going to go and punish another group. This is Almighty God, who is of purer eyes than to look on evil, who has given from three hundred years before instructions concerning the destruction of the Amalekites, now giving that responsibility to King Saul in order to do what God desires. Do not spare them, verse 9, but Saul and the people spared them. He identifies the fact that Agag, the king of the Amalekites, he kept alive.

I wonder whether this is just an opportunity for him to testify to what a good job he's done. It certainly would have been keeping with the idea of him raising a monument to himself, which comes later on. In saving the best of the livestock, what has happened is that the mission has failed. It has failed as an act of divine, judicial, solemn retribution.

I know that this would cost some of you to deviate from course, but think in terms of the execution of the death penalty, as opposed to somebody getting angry with somebody in the Wild West and running out and having a shoot-up to settle a score. It is not the issue. The issue is that God is God, and therefore God determines what is to happen.

And Saul is to be the one who executes his judgment. But the reason I point it out is that the notion that is here was not that these people could go and maraud against these people and choose whatever they fancied for themselves and come home and keep parts and take them to their house and save different bits and pieces. That is the failure.

That is the failure. God was not content with that, because that was not what God had asked them to do. He asked them, do not spare them—man, woman, child, infant, ox, sheep, camel, donkey. Saul had listened to the word of the Lord but had failed to fulfill the mission, making something clear to us that it's clear always in all of Scripture that partial obedience is still disobedience. Partial obedience is still disobedience. The clarity of God's Word that calls us to obey his Word is not a series of options whereby we can choose the parts that seem amenable to us and divorce ourselves from the parts that we don't like.

No. For partial obedience is disobedience. That may ring very clear for some of us this morning, because we have been operating on that mistaken notion that God really didn't mean what he said when he said he hates divorce, that God didn't really mean what he said when he said what he said about human sexuality, that God does not actually mean what he says he means. Presumably, that is the only way that I can navigate myself to the position where I can be Saul-like in response to the clear commands of God. Mission terrible. I don't like it. Well, then I'll just do mission partial. I don't sit in judgment on Saul.

I hope you don't. Now, in verses 10 and 11, we come to what I'm going to suggest is mission result. You say, Well, I'm not sure it's the result. I mean the result in this way, that it resulted in a response first from God and then from Samuel. The response that comes from God and then from Samuel. The Word of the Lord came to Samuel, I regret that I have made Saul king.

Why? He has turned back from following me and has not performed my commandments. So the response of Yahweh is to repent of what he has done in the Authorized Version, to regret it in the English Standard Version, to be grieved by it in the New International Version. And it is, of course, immediately a dilemma for some of us, because we think immediately that somehow or another God is admitting to the fact that he made a bad choice and has had to fix it in time. Well, there is no sense in which we should understand this as if God were saying, If I'd known that was going to happen, I'd never have appointed him. Because clearly God knew it was going to happen. Because God knows everything. God cannot be taken by surprise. That is true in terms of the past events, of future events, and of present events. I'm not going to delay on this at this point.

We'll come back to it in the evening. But let's just acknowledge the challenge that it presents. What is being conveyed here is this—that the response of Saul matters to God. The fact that it wasn't news to God doesn't mean that he is incapable of bemoaning a circumstance that he brought about. He brought it about. He bemoans the fact.

What do we need to know? Well, we need to know this—that God in himself is capable of regretting an act of foreknown evil, and yet he is able to go ahead and call for it for his own divine and wise reasons. God is not changing his mind. His response to bemoan the change in Saul is to let us see something of God.

It is, if you like, in human language an endeavor to do what the teachers are doing in the nursery, and that is to come down to the children where they are. You don't expect any of them, on the basis of what I'm saying now, to go into the classrooms in the third hour and say, Children, we're going to have a discussion this morning following the talk. We're going to look together at the issues of impassibility and immutability. That's insanity. No!

It's bad enough up here, let alone down there. And so we go down here, and so we're going to speak in ways that God, who is a faithful God and doesn't change like shifting shadows, still, in the immensity of his being, regrets, is bemoaning that which he has endeavored to put in place. Now, you see, this is one of the ways in which language—remember we said last week that God reveals himself in act and in word and in person and in revealing himself verbally in the Bible.

The great challenge, if we can put it that way, is how the eternal reveals himself in time and how the omniscient reveals himself to those of us who have a hard time even understanding the periodic table of the elements. And he does this in a number of ways. He does it by, as I say, accommodating himself to us by using language that is suitable to our weakness.

Let me just say a couple of things then before I pick up the narrative. And one—and this is very straightforward, and it should be obvious to us all, and it is a principle of biblical interpretation, incidentally—that the author of 1 Samuel clearly was not unaware of this contradiction. He wrote it. Twice he says in verse 11 and verse 35 that God regretted making him king, and in verse 29, right in the middle of it, he says, But God of course is not a man that he should regret things in this way. You think Isaiah 55, where God through the prophets says, You know, your thoughts are not my thoughts, neither are your ways my ways. And we might add to that, and your regrets are not my regrets. What is expressed by my regret is not necessarily akin to what you think when you think in terms of regret, because most of our regrets have to do with the fact that we regret it because we didn't know it would happen. Since it happened and caught us off guard, we therefore regret it, and if we could have a further chance, we wouldn't do it again.

That's perfectly natural for us. That can't happen with God. Therefore, it can't mean that. God makes himself known to us in his Word, and surely there are parts that stretch our minds and paradoxes that unsettle us, and things that reveal to us our own finitude. How could it ever be other than that?

It could never be. So, mission result. The result in God is that he regrets this, and the result in Samuel is that he's angered by it. And Samuel was angry, and he cried to the LORD all night.

What a wealth is surely contained in this! Samuel. We've been with Samuel now for a while, haven't we? Samuel, the one that his mother longed for, and then he came. Samuel, the wee boy. Samuel dedicated to the Lord. Samuel giving the assignment and so on.

And now Samuel, in his bedroom, as it were, punching the pillow, getting up, making the equivalent of a cup of tea, and walking back and forth in the room, prowling. I never bargained for this! I never thought it would be like this.

And now you regret having made him the king? I don't know whether to burst out laughing or dissolve into tears. Here am I! I warned the people about this. I told the people, If you will not obey the voice of the LORD but rebel, then the hand of the LORD will be against you. Lord, I'm frustrated. I'm confused. I'm upset.

I'm annoyed. And Samuel was angry, and he cried to the Lord all night. You know, God is able. God is able for our rumblings and our ramblings. If you have never rumbled, as it were, in the night, if you have never rambled, if you have never been angered by these things, then I wager you're living in a strange world. For the unfolding drama of God Almighty is confusing on our best day, is alarming many a day, and is unsettling to us. And here, if nowhere else in Scripture, pointing us forward to Gethsemane itself, where Christ is dealing with the Father in relationship to the immensity of what's before him, here, then, is some justification for us in the silent place, being very real with God. Who would ever accept the assignment of the prophet of God?

Who would ever say, Here I am, Lord. You can take me and use me. I will obey you. I will serve you. I will follow your word.

I will proclaim it no matter what it means and no matter what it costs. Who would ever do that and assume that it would be some tranquil experience of great grandeur and joy? All of the blessings and encouragements that attend the exercise of the ministry of the Word of God to the people of God are tempered by the nighttime.

Tempered in the nighttime! Oh, says Samuel, I was angry with God, and I stayed up the whole night, because I couldn't put the jigsaw together." Well, the review then follows. The report card is going to be given from verse 12 on. Samuel is about to confront Saul, and as a result of the confrontation, eventually the confession will come.

He arose early to meet Saul in the morning. Of course, he couldn't immediately track him down, because, as we noted in passing last time, Saul had been off erecting a monument for himself. What an amazing thing, isn't it? What a time for a monument. Did he put a little inscription on it—you know, something like the bottom, like, to memorialize the fact that I, King Saul of Israel, took Agag alive? Would you really memorialize your sin?

Surely it's conjecture, I understand. Is Saul so oblivious to his disobedience that he fails to see the incongruity of his actions? So oblivious to his disobedience that if somebody said to him, You're doing a what? Yeah, I'm doing a monument.

Yeah. I say again, he doesn't say, I don't sit in judgment. He was, I think, oblivious. Sin will blind you. I would not give you chapter and verse.

I would not even tell you the nation in which it took place. But I can tell you of a fact about a pastor writing a book on marital fidelity, while shacked up with a lover. Sin will blind you to the reality of what's going on and a clear conscience is not necessarily testimony to our freedom. It may be testimony to how the blinding nature of sin has settled upon our minds. The judgment of God in verse 11 was that Saul had not performed his commandments. When he meets Samuel, he tells Samuel, I have performed the commandment of the Lord. You notice that his greeting is enthusiastic, it's religious, it's naïve. He steps forward in the misplaced confidence that he's done what was asked of him. The mission is accomplished, he said. And Samuel said, Do you hear what I hear? If I'm not mistaken, there's a lot of bleeding going on here.

If you have fulfilled the command, explain the noise. And that leads on to further conversation, to which we will have to come this evening. Here's an important principle, partial obedience is disobedience. You're listening to Truth for Life.

That is Alistair Begg explaining why we can't pick or choose the parts of the Bible that we want to obey. Now on behalf of all of us here at Truth for Life, we want to wish you a happy and blessed Thanksgiving to everyone here in the United States. Our offices are closed today so our team can celebrate at home with their family and friends. We'll be back in the office on Monday, November 28th. As you spend time with your loved ones in the weeks ahead, we hope you'll make this season of giving a time to tell others about Jesus.

We want to make that easier for you. Visit our website, you'll find a collection of books that make great gospel centered gifts for people of all ages. All of our books are sold at our cost to make telling others about Jesus easy and affordable. You can browse the collection you see at slash gifts.

And even though our offices are closed today, you can still purchase items online. When you add a donation along with your purchase, we want to invite you to request a devotional for Advent called The Dawn of Redeeming Grace. This is a daily devotional written by Sinclair Ferguson specifically for the weeks leading up to the birth of Christ. This book is our way of saying thanks when you give a gift today. I'm Bob Lapine. Does God overlook sin if we do it for a good reason? You'll hear the answer tomorrow when you join us. The Bible teaching of Alistair Begg is furnished by Truth for Life, where the Learning is for Living.
Whisper: medium.en / 2022-11-27 13:32:15 / 2022-11-27 13:40:00 / 8

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