Kings and Their Qualities

April 10, 2016
1 Samuel 15
Abraham Hong


Part 1: The Fall of a King

Today’s Scripture text is a story about the end of Saul. The first king of Israel. His kingdom was torn away from him. He was rejected by the LORD. And he would never see Samuel again. This was the end of Saul.

What happened? What led to this?

There are many ways for a king to fall. He can lose his kingdom in war. He can lose his throne by conspiracy or betrayal. He can lose his land from famine or disaster.

But Saul found his end through another way.

Saul found his end through disobedience against the LORD. The LORD commanded Saul to judge Amalek for an ancient transgression against Israel. Saul was to complete destroy the Amalekites. He was given a mission. His loyalty was put to the test. But Saul did not devote himself fully to the LORD. Instead, Saul spared king Agag and kept the good spoils of war.

This disobedience can be broken down into two layers. 

First, Saul’s actions were a rejection of the LORD’s authority. Remember, Saul was not self-made. He was anointed. Chosen by a higher power. Chosen by a greater king. Therefore, Saul actions were that of treason and rebellion. Thus Samuel prosecuted Saul accordingly, saying that rebellion is as the sin of divination and presumption is as iniquity and idolatry. Saul in his pride rejected the authority of the LORD. This was the first layer of his disobedience.

But there is a second layer. A thicker and deeper one. In the grand scheme of things, when we take a step back and look at the big picture of the entire Old Testament, we see that Saul ultimately rejected the LORD’s promise of salvation.

After the fall of the very first king, after the fall of Adam, God made a promise that a savior would one day be born and crush the head of the Serpent. God promised salvation from sin and death, and this promise was a gospel for people in the Old Testament times to put their faith and hope in.

But Saul did not believe in that promise. At the end of his counterfeit confession to Samuel, Saul said these words: “I have sinned; yet honor me now… and return with me, that I may bow before the LORD your God.” In contrast to Saul, there was once a lovely lady who once famously confessed to her mother-in-law these words: “Your people shall be my people, and your God my God.” The distance between the words your God and my God is infinite. Saul’s choice of words reveals that he had no personal connection with the LORD. He had no covenant relationship with the LORD. Saul in his foolishness rejected the salvation promise of the LORD. This was the second layer of his disobedience.

Brothers and sisters, this story should cause great pain in our hearts. Something profound and mysterious is revealed to us in this Scripture text. We are told that the LORD regretted that he had made Saul king over Israel. This does not mean that the LORD second guessed his plans or admitted making a mistake with Saul. Samuel himself made it clear that the Glory of Israel will not lie or have regret, for he is not a man, that he should have regret. And yet, the narrator says that God regretted. When God regretted making Saul king, we are meant to see and understand the profound gravity and tragedy of sin. It should grieve us to see a human being reject God’s promise of salvation. And it should also pain us to see a human being rebel against God. Let us never forget the gravity and the tragedy of sin. Let us understand that sin is not merely the breaking of a rule. It is the breaking of a relationship. Sin is personal. It is covenantal. And it is serious and deadly.

And so Saul finds his end. The LORD rejects him. And a king falls.

And the million dollar question is: Why, above all other things, must the king of Israel be… obedient?

Part 2: The Need For Obedience

When Adam sinned and fell, he didn’t just leave a broken garden of Eden. He left an unfulfilled test. A test… of obedience. When God promised a savior, he promised a second and final Adam who would take the test that Adam took, pass the test that Adam failed, and enter the rest that Adam never earned.

For thousands and thousands of years, heaven and earth waited for this savior to come. But he would not appear for a long time. Instead, throughout history, there were many echoes of Adam and his fall. And Saul was one of them.

In Saul, we see an echo of the Serpent twisting God’s Word in Eden as generations later Saul would play a tragic game of telephone with the commands of the LORD. In Saul, we see a shadow of Adam blaming his sin on Eve as Saul deflected his failure and responsibility onto his own troops. In Saul, we see the reenactment of the dreadful exile from the Tree of Life as Saul is torn away from Samuel and the favor and presence of the LORD. Saul was an echo, a shadow, a reenactment of Adam and his fall. We see so much of Adam in Saul.

And we see so much of other people in Saul as well. In Saul we see the ancient horror of sinfulness that led to the judgment of the flood. In Saul we see the defiance and failure of Cain, who sacrificed to God but did not obey God. In Saul we see the foolishness of Esau who traded the promise of salvation blessing and glory in the the Savior Messiah for a bowl of stew.

For thousands and thousands of years, heaven and earth waited. For thousands and thousands of years, the need for obedience always remained. And then, one day, the second and final Adam came.

Part 3: A Tale of Two Books

Imagine two books in front of you: a black colored book and a white colored book. The black book is the book of your life. The pages are filled with your sins and how you have broken God’s law. And the cover has your name on it. That's the black book. The white book, on the other hand, is the book of Jesus’ life. The pages of his book are filled with his obedience and how he kept God’s law. And that cover has his name on it.

Now imagine that the two covers of these two books are torn off and then switched. And God looks at the black book with the white cover. He sees sin and disobedience to his law. And he declares that the person of that book must die. That person is Jesus Christ. And then God looks at the white book with the black cover. He sees righteousness and obedience to his law. And he declares that the person of that book receive glory and eternal life. That person is you.

Brothers and sisters, this is how our salvation works. And this is why obedience was necessary.

Jesus lived a perfect and sinless life. He had to in order to save us. He fulfilled the law of God and passed the test that Adam failed to pass. He had righteousness. And then he took his record of obedience and gave it to us. We are now counted as righteous, as if we earned a place in heaven. And he took our record of disobedience and died for it. He was counted as a criminal, as if he deserved the grave.

We often think that Christ saved us on the cross. And so we focus on how Jesus suffered and died on the cross for us in order to receive the punishment and justice for our sins. Make no mistake, that work is absolutely critical to our standing with God. That work wins us forgiveness.

But that is, I dare say, only where a part of our salvation comes from. For Christ did not only save us at Calvary. He also saved us in his perfectly obedient life. In his life, Jesus obeyed the law of God and passed the test that Adam and all of us failed to pass in order to earn an eternal life and rest with God. To put it mathematically, we were at negative infinity. Jesus’ death brought us to zero. But Jesus’ life bumped us up to positive infinity. To put it spatially, we were hellbound. Jesus’ sacrifice brought us back to Eden (which is actually horrible because that means we’re back to square one in which now we have to take the test). But Jesus’ obedience bumped us up to “Eden-plus” or rest with God. To put it relationally, Jesus’ payment released you from prison, with God saying, “You may go.” But Jesus’ righteousness reserved for you a spot at heaven’s banqueting table with God saying, “You may come.” The promised savior saves us with the one-two punch of what he received through his death and what he earned through his life.

To put this all in another way, you are saved by works. Technically speaking, you are saved by merit. Indeed, the only way to get to heaven is to obey God and be perfectly good. The test and the terms never changed. But the test-taker did. You are saved by works! But the gospel catch is that it’s not your works. It’s not your merit. It’s not your obedience that saves you. It’s Jesus’s works and merit and obedience that saves you.

And that is why the LORD sought an obedient king. That is why the LORD rejected Saul.

Because Saul was not just a shadow or a reenactment of Adam. He was a foreshadowing or a prequel of Christ. Or to be more accurate, an anti-prequel or anti-foreshadowing of Christ. Think of the black and white optional illusion exercise in which you either see a black candlestick in the middle of the picture or a silhouette of two white faces facing each other. When we see the negative contours of Saul, we can see a positive silhouette of Christ. When we see the tragic and sad disobedience of Saul, we can see the glorious and beautiful obedience of Christ.

Unlike Saul, who was proud and had a monument built for his glory, Jesus was humble and had a cross destined for his suffering and death. Unlike Saul, who assigned the blame and deflected condemnation onto his people, Jesus took the blame and absorbed condemnation from his people. Unlike Saul, who as a failed king had no peace in the land, Jesus as the everlasting king of kings provided final rest in heaven. Unlike Saul, over whom God was grieved, Jesus rose from his baptism, and God said, “This is my son, in whom I am well pleased.” Unlike Saul, who was followed by a better king named David, Jesus was and is and always will be the best. Finally, unlike Saul, who disobeyed the LORD’s word, Jesus obeyed the law of God.

Let us praise the LORD Jesus Christ for his obedience! Let us praise him for passing the test for us, on behalf of us! Let us praise him for our salvation by work - by Jesus’ work and his achievement of righteousness! And let us praise God for applying that record of obedience under our name so that we are declared righteousness!

Part 4: Comforts and Appeals With Regards to Christ’s Obedience

I would like to now go into three points of application.

First, let us find comfort and assurance from Christ’s obedience. If you are a believer, then the perfect record of Christ’s righteousness has been credited to you. And the evil record of your sinfulness has been credited to Christ. This beautiful exchange is non-refundable. Your name has been locked up with the obedience of Christ. You are guarded in the promise of sanctification by the Holy Spirit. And you are secure in the favor and love of the Father. Therefore, be comforted and assured by the obedience of Christ. Yes, it is true that you are not obedient. You sin. But you are counted and declared as obedient. Yes, it is mind-boggling. But it is true. Do not ever be comforted by the quality of your own shaky and obedience. Be comforted by the solid and unchangeable obedience of Christ.

Second, let us treat other confessing believers accordingly. Do you once in a while look at a fellow believer and think: “What a terrible Christian… I can’t believe he’s on the praise team… she’s such a hypocrite… these kids are so spiritually immature…” If it is true that confessing believers of Christ are covered by and credited with and locked into the perfect obedience and work and merit and righteousness of Christ, then why not start treating such people accordingly?

Third, remember that it is better to obey than sacrifice. Going on mission trips, serving on praise teams, helping out with church events, and just doing things for God in general are great. But if you go on a mission trip while holding a grudge with a team member, or if you serve on a praise team but steal artistic property, or help out with a church event but don’t help the poor, then you’re in a funny situation. Brothers and sisters, obedience is the best.

Fourth, let us now obey God and grow in obedience to him. Just because we go to heaven with Christ’s righteousness doesn’t mean that don’t have to obey God anymore. We must obey God out of love for him and thanksgiving for his salvation.

But don’t obey God in order to get to heaven. Obey God because you are already going to heaven. There’s a huge difference. Imagine that you are on a singing competition such as American Idol. So you’re singing your way through the competition and then you get to the final round. And for the championship, imagine that you sing this one particular song. There is so much nervousness and you’re not quite sure if you’re going to win. And then imagine that you win. Everyone’s going crazy. The confetti is falling. And then imagine that they ask you to finish the show and celebrate by singing an encore. They want you to sing the song again, the same song that you just won the competition with. And so you sing it again. Here’s the million dollar question: is there a difference between the two? Same song. But the first time was in order to win it. The second time was because you’ve already won. The difference is that there is true joy the second time around. And the same goes for God’s law. The first time around, we all sin and fall short of the glory of God. The first time around, Jesus is perfectly righteous and obeys the law for us so that we can be saved. But the second time around, even though we still sin on this earth, we obey and delight in the law of God, not in order to go to heaven, but because we’re going to heaven and because we have the joy of salvation in Christ. Obey God, brothers and sisters. But obey God because you are already going to heaven.