CYPRESSWOOD CHURCH OF CHRIST
April 18, 2010
25424 Aldine-Westfield, Spring, TX. 77373
PRAYER AND PETITIONS:
God’s will for our congregation Various relatives, friends, and co-workers
Our nation, military and leaders Peace
POWER AND CORRUPTION
“Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the Lord? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams” (1 Samuel 15:22).
Most of us are really fed up with politics these days. We’re tired of endless campaigns and commercials on radio and television. Every time a politician says something, we become cynical wondering if what is being said is for our benefit or his. We read the U.S. Constitution and understand the limits of government, yet we have more and more government with more and more laws and regulations, and all the while politicians twisting the meaning of words to get their way. Recently I was reading the story of King Saul, the first king of Israel. I find him an interesting character and wonder why, at times, he was chosen as king by God. I also think there are some lessons in his life for us.
First, a little background. A fellow named Nahash the Ammonite was conquering cities on the eastern side of the Jordan River and his cruelty was gross. Israel had just come through a period of judges and appeared to be disorganized. Samuel was the last judge, getting old, and his sons were worthless. So the people came to Samuel and said that they wanted a king like all the nations around them. The idea was that the king could unite the country and protect them against an immediate threat that Nahash presented. Samuel was angry but God told him that they had reject Yahweh as their king. Then He said to give them what they wanted and God chose Saul of the tribe of Benjamin. God also stated that the king would tax them and would be in charge of more of their life (see 1 Samuel 8).
At first, Saul appeared to be a humble man. When it was announced to the people that Saul was anointed as king, he was hiding among the baggage, appearing shy. But that all quickly changed. Saul defeated Nahash and the people were joyous. All seemed well in Israel. The Philistines were a rising enemy of Israel and now King Saul had to face them. He had assembled his army to battle them. Samuel told them not to do anything until he got there but after a week, Samuel had not shown up and his army was fading away in fear. So Saul took it upon himself to offer up sacrifices to God. Immediately after that, Samuel came and asked what he was doing. “Now the Philistines will come down against me at Gilgal, and I have not sought the Lord’s favor. So I felt compelled to offer the burnt offering” (1 Samuel 13:12). Was this a lack of faith? Samuel stated that he had not kept the command of the Lord.
In 1 Samuel 14, Jonathan, Saul’s son, begins a battle against the Philistines and Saul rallies his troops against them. Saul makes an oath with his troops not to eat anything until they had defeated the Philistines. Jonathan did not hear that oath and so ate some honey, refreshing himself. After the battle, we find that that the starving men broke the law by the way the ate food. King Saul demanding an accounting. He then finds out that Jonathan ate honey braking the oath, and wants to kill Jonathan. The army intercedes for Jonathan and prevents this from happening.
This brings us to the major event in Saul’s life. God commanded him to complete destroy the Amalekites; leave no human or animal alive (1). Saul attacked and was victorious and came back with the king of the Amalekites and with the best of the animals. God came to Samuel and stated that He regretted that He had made Saul king (1 Samuel 15:10-11). Samuel went looking for Saul. He was told that Saul had gone to Carmel to set up a monument to himself, implying in the words of that great American philosopher, Dirty Harry (aka Clint Eastwood), that he was a legend in his own mind. When Samuel and Saul met, Saul stated that he has done what God commanded.
What we read next is a politician’s response. Samuel asked about the animals and the king. Saul stated twice that it was the soldiers who brought them back to offer sacrifices (vs. 15, 21). He claimed that he had obeyed the Lord (vs. 20). After Samuel’s powerful words in verses 22-23, Saul admitted he had sinned because he was “afraid” of the people. Then he wanted Samuel to come with him so that he could worship the Lord. God rejected all of this and looked for another who would be one after His heart.
There are any number of lessons in this for us. One that we have emphasized is that to obey is better than sacrifice. Of course it is! We all agree with that. What we need to be careful with is not making obedience a law rather than obeying from the heart. Even Paul understood that (see Romans 6:17-18). To pay lip service to God is a dangerous thing. When we think about the bases for much of our society and the influences of the Judeo-Christian ethic, one has to wonder about politicians who pay lip service to God while voting for immoral and illegal activities, and participating in corruption. Hold people accountable to the tax laws but they themselves can do whatever they want. It amazes many that politicians go into office poor and idealistic but come out rich pragmatists.
Another lesson in Saul’s situation is that pride comes before a fall. Solomon said that Proverb and I wonder if he had Saul in mind. We have seen this before. Those in power abuse it and get caught. Often they blame others but some are sufficiently shamed that they resign. Of course this could apply to anyone in power; preachers, elders, managers, etc. The danger of power is that it can, and all too often, corrupts people.
A third lesson is that of making excuses. How many times have we found people blaming others? In fact, that has become a common aspect of our society. It is always someone else’s fault. One manager stated that employees in a retail business were not greeting people. An employee stated to him that management did not greet the employees either. He responded by saying that it was the employees fault. In the musical, West Side Story, there is a song sung by one of the gangs about an police officer. In it are the words, “I’m depraved because I’m deprived.” Psychologists try to find out about the patient’s parents because it is their fault. Crime is based on poverty. Poor education is based on a lack of money. There are no longer accidents; some one is at fault and must be sued. And here is a good one! Play ground equipment has been taken away from children for fear of injury (and yes, I remember seeing kids get hurt on play ground equipment), but now there are complaints about obese children because of what they eat. Who gets the blame? Parents who do not provide a proper diet, fast food places, and cereal companies. What happened to burning calories on play ground equipment?
There is no personal responsibilities anymore. We can look at the next king of Israel, David. He committed several major sins (see 2 Samuel 11-12). When confronted like King Saul, David didn’t make excuses. He immediately stated that he had sinned against God (2). How many times are we confronted and make excuses? How about just admitting we blew it!
A final lesson is that Saul stated that he was “afraid” of the people. While an excuse to avoid blame, it has more in common with today. Politicians are not afraid of the people after they are elected. When they come up for reelection, they will do whatever it takes to get reelected. I was reading a story about a Wyoming politician of the 70s. The author of the article was a supporter of this person. In the morning he spoke to a pro-life rally in one part of the state saying that he was pro-life. That same afternoon in another part of the state he spoke at a pro-abortion rally stating he was pro-abortion. He told his audience what they wanted to hear. He was reelected by a huge majority. Eventually, according to the author of the article, it caught up with him and he lost his seat.
Politicians are not afraid of people. They are arrogant and think the people are too stupid to pay attention. That might be true to a point but once the people are frustrated enough, that will change. I wonder what Saul’s men thought when he blamed them and then stated he was afraid of them? Leaders, no matter who they are, are not afraid of the people. They are proud of there position and do not want to be confronted by those they lead. Pride gets in the way. They want to maintain their position. Instead of being honest, they think they have to deceive. Sadly, this is found in the church as well. Rather than being honest with the congregation, who might disagree with them, they do things behind closed doors and then vaguely announce a decision, confusing the people. We do not want to unnecessarily upset the congregation, but that is exactly what they have done. Saul wasn’t honest with himself nor with his followers. It led to his downfall.
There are more lessons in this story. We can look at today’s discontent and make applications to many people and things. It is a warning for all of us, whether a leader or a followers.
George B. Mearns
(1) Stated in the text is the reason. The Amalekites had attack Israel in the wilderness during the days of Moses and God promised then that He would judge them for that.
(2) See Psalms 32 and 51 for more background to this.