“Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, he has rejected you as king” (1 Sam. 15:23).
Israel asked for a king and rejected the Lord as King (1 Sam. 8: 7). God gave them what they asked for. Saul embodied their rejection of the Lord as King. He too (though he denied it when confronted by Samuel) rejected the Lord’s Kingship by disregarding the word of the Lord. “Since a king’s word is supreme, who can say to him, ‘What are you doing?’” (Eccl. 8:4). Instead, Saul allowed his own perceptions to guide him; he followed his own understanding of situations. Since he rejected the Lord as King, the Lord rejected him as king.
What, specifically, was the word Saul ignored? “Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy everything that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys” (1 Sam. 15:3). God’s intention was that everything be devoted to Him through judgment. But Saul, through a combination of peer pressure, greed, and religiosity, left the Amelekite king alive. He also spared the best livestock so they could be offered to the Lord (1 Sam. 15:19-21, 24). Saul’s sin is the same as Achan’s in the book of Joshua. God ordered the complete destruction of Jericho. But Achan preserved some valuables he found—a Babylonian robe, some silver, and some gold (Joshua 7:21).
The word of God to us is this—the Lord has utterly destroyed everything through the judgment of the cross. Adam and the sinful nature we inherited from him have been destroyed (Rom. 6:6- 7; Gal. 5:24). The world has been crucified, as well as our relationship to it (Gal. 6:14). So complete was the judgment of the cross that we await an entirely new heavens and earth (2 Peter 3:13; Rev. 21:5). And yet, there is something of Saul in us, something that opposes the cross, something that craves old things and wants to preserve them by any means necessary. Like Saul, we are full of devices, full of ways to compromise the cross that are so reasonable, God Himself couldn’t find fault. By keeping the best livestock to sacrifice to the Lord, Saul wasn’t disobeying. He would still destroy the animals as God commanded, he would just do it as an act of worship. One might say he found a better way to obey than God Himself had thought of. We too might preserve old things out of a desire to worship God. Perhaps this or that talent distinguished us in our life without God. Then, we have a life-changing encounter with Christ, who calls us to the cross. We go to the cross but we reason, God created me with this talent. He gave me this ability. He can’t possibly want it given up. I will keep it and use it for His glory. Didn’t God give Isaac to Abraham? Didn’t God also command Abraham to lay Isaac on the altar and plunge a knife into him? Like Abraham, we may receive back what we offer. But we must first take every sin and every good gift to the cross, accepting its destruction.
We who are in Christ are new creations. “[T]he old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Cor. 5:17). Scripture urges us to set our minds on these things, to grow in grace and in the knowledge of Jesus. Then He will be the object of our affections instead of things that have passed away (Col. 3:1-3; 2 Peter 3:18; Matt. 6:19-21).