1 Samuel 15:23
For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the LORD…
We walk through the streets and see a fellow creature who had great abilities; who was once held in great esteem; for whom a brilliant future was predicted. We see such an one presenting that combination of indescribable symptoms which we expressively sum up in the one word "reduced." And the contemplation of such a wreck is singularly depressing; the disposition of him who could witness it without sorrow in his greatest enemy is by no means to be envied. Saul was such a man. His history is indeed melancholy. It is perplexing, also. Many persons, I dare say, think Saul was, on the whole, hardly treated. I can easily imagine one taking for granted that he was bad because he is told so, and because God rejected him; but saying to himself that he does not quite see that he was so bad — that he should never have expected to find him so severely punished — that it is strange that David escaped on so much easier terms. "What, sin did Saul ever commit so heinous as the sin of David?"
I. THIS PERPLEXITY, AND WRONG ESTIMATE OF SAUL'S CHARACTER, ARISES FROM VARIOUS CAUSES: PRINCIPALLY FROM OUR FALSE VIEWS ABOUT SIN AND OBEDIENCE. It happens that we live in a state of society where many acts are at once offences against society, and also sins against God. Influenced as we naturally are by what is seen, we come, in time, to view as sins only those which are transgressions of the laws of society, and to think little or nothing about those of which society takes no note. So, too, about obedience. We think that it is like work given to a servant. The more he does of it, the better servant he is. What his feelings may be about his master make little difference, provided he gets through his work. What he does is the only way in which we judge of him, as a good or bad servant. Accordingly, we suppose God judges of us, His servants, by the amount of our obedience. He issues a command, and, we suppose, the man who obeys much of it must be better than the man who obeys very little. This is not true. We may have gone with God's command, just, so far as that command coincided with our own inclination, and stopped short where the real and trying exercise of an obedient spirit came in, where alone it was needed.
II. GUARDING, THEN, AGAINST THESE COMMON AND ERRONEOUS VIEWS ABOUT SIN AND OBEDIENCE, LET US COME TO SOME OF SAUL'S ACTS. His falling away began from the circumstance recorded in the thirteenth chapter and first verse. Samuel came and rebuked him. This seems hard, especially when we consider the trying circumstances in which Saul was placed at the time: powerful enemies near at hand — many of his people fallen away — the rest following him, trembling — Samuel not coming — and, after all, as people would say now, "It was only a matter of form. What difference could it make, who offered the sacrifice?" "He showed a spirit above ritual observances — above ceremony and order." He certainly did. So did Naaman: and both were made to see the folly of their presumption. Some anxiety would have been natural in any man. But Saul was more than anxious. A distinct commandment of God forbade him to offer sacrifice, and yet he did it to secure an end which he thought to be desirable towards the overthrow of the Philistines. He forgot that the most trifling matter, when once it became the subject of a Divine command, ceased to be insignificant; if for no other reason, at least for this, that its observance thereby became a test — not of regard to form, but — of obedience to God. Now what disposition was manifested by this conduct? Was it not an utter absence of that "faith, without which it is impossible to please God"? What would be its effect, upon the people, when the excitement was over? What, but to encourage them in their departure from the ordinances of Him from Whom they longed to stray, and be as the heathen?
III. THE ALMIGHTY, THEN, DID NOT REJECT THIS HIS FIRST CHOSEN KING OF ISRAEL FOR ANY SLIGHT FAULT OR ANY MOMENTARY SWERVING FROM THE PATH OF OBEDIENCE THROUGH IGNORANCE OR FROM IMPULSE, BUT FOR HABITUALLY AND PERSEVERINGLY GOING WRONG IN THAT VERY RESPECT WHICH WAS OF MOST CONSEQUENCE IN THE DUE EXECUTION OF HIS OFFICE. He had to meet the difficult question which met the Apostles, "whether he should obey God rather than man." They had no hesitation in arriving at a decision: neither had he: but they decided it differently. If ever there was a time in which Saul would have been appreciated, ours is that, time. Were he alive now he would be just the man that would rise in the world — probably get into Parliament, lead a party, perhaps become Prime Minister. He was the man for the people. A striking man; able, energetic, fitted to command; above all, prepared to obey the Lord just so far as, by suiting the people's views, he should help to his own exaltation. The popular religion or phase of any particular religion would be his. All creeds just as far Divine as they were popular. None more the truth than another. Saul's day fell in an evil era, and, for him, under an evil dispensation. In his time the tares and the wheat, did not "grow together till the harvest." The tares were rooted out at the time, and so people who came could be shown what were pronounced tares by the Lord of the Harvest, and what was their end. This is one very important, advantage we derive from the system of temporal rewards and punishments and the special Providence under which the Jews lived. By these means we can strive at, the principle on which His future "judgment according to works" will be conducted. Thus, a line of conduct in which we should have detected nothing very striking, either of good or of evil, when marked with God's disapproval, arrests our attention, leads us to examination, and acts as a corrective to the erroneous judgment on human conduct which the time or the society in which we live had led us to form in our minds. Many would think that Saul had succeeded. Our Lord tells us that this is impossible. The compromise, He says, cannot be effected. God's rejection of Saul shows us that he did not succeed. The characters condemned and approved in the Old Testament are marked by the very same characteristics, after all, as those which are condemned and approved in the New. Double-mindedness, want of faith, loving this present world, loving, the praise of men more than the praise of God, seeking to be friends with it, making that our great aim, and the friendship of Him Who redeemed us secondary to that: a determination to do our own will; a hesitation and insincerity in saying, come what may, "Thy will be done"; these are ever the marks of those who are held up as sad examples of inconsistency, to be deplored and to be avoided.
(J. C. Coghlan, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because thou hast rejected the word of the LORD, he hath also rejected thee from being king.
WEB: For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as idolatry and teraphim. Because you have rejected the word of Yahweh, he has also rejected you from being king."