This is the story of Saul losing his throne because he did not obey the Lord’s instructions. The Lord had instructed him through the Prophet Samuel to destroy everything of the Amalekites. Instead Saul took the Amalekite king prisoner and let his army gather plunder, the best of the sheep, goats and cattle.
When Saul first greets the Prophet he declares that he has obeyed the Lord. When the Prophet challenges his veracity, Saul admits to not doing exactly what he was told but justifies it by saying that they had destroyed everything else and they were going to use the animals as a sacrifice to the Lord. The prophet responded with the famous words, “Obedience is better than sacrifice, and submission is better than offering the fat of rams.”
To the modern reader, this reaction of the Lord to Saul’s actions may seem unfair, that the punishment does not fit the crime. But in a closer inspection of the events and motives we can see how egregious Saul’s actions were and take a lesson for our own lives.
First, Saul lied. He greeted Samuel saying, “I have carried out the Lord’s command” when he knew full well that he had not. When Samuel asked if he had done so then why could he still hear the bleating of the animals, Saul went into cover-up mode, which probably was also a lie. “It’s true that the army spared the best of the sheep and goats and cattle…But they are going to sacrifice them to the Lord your God.” That would have been news to the troops who took the plunder. But even if it was true, it was unacceptable. You do not disobey the Lord and then make up for it through a religious exercise. A CFO who embezzles from the company does not make things right by tithing what he stole.
Second, and the real heart of the matter, is Saul’s admission to fearing man rather than God. “Then Saul said to Samuel, ‘Yes I have sinned. I have disobeyed your instructions and the Lord’s command, for I was afraid of the people and what they demanded.’” The army had demanded a plunder and out of fear, Saul gave into their demands. That is unacceptable for a leader. If Saul had given a captain an order in battle, and he disobeyed for fear of the troops, Saul would have had the captain remove and maybe even executed. It is even more onerous for the King, who is the Lord’s anointed, to fear the people more than he fears the Lord. If he leads in order to please the people, rather than leading by God’s command, he is no better than a false prophet.
The two applications for us, is first simply to obey. We should not seek to make excuses, or add religious rationale onto why we are not doing what God has called us to do, such as “I know I’m not faithful to come to Church, but after all we are not under the law.” ( ref. Heb 10:25). When God has given us a command, out of love for Him and a holy fear of Him, we are to be obedient servants. We do not call Him “Lord” for nothing.
The second application, which is more difficult than the first, is to rid ourselves from the fear of man and/or people pleasing. The truth is that people pleasing is an illusion. We can never please everyone and in the end there is only one Person we need to please.
I recently had a gentlemen send me an email redressing me for my style of leadership. I could tell that he spent a lot of time on the email, which is a shame, because the part that he failed to calculate was whether or not I valued his input. While I am always in need for improvement, I cannot act like Saul and lead by trying to please everyone. My job is to pray for direction and wisdom, receive counsel from my Bishop and the appointed leadership of the parish, and then do what God has directed me to do.
Even if you are not in a leadership role, the temptation to fear man and/or be a people pleaser is great. We want to be popular. We want people to like us. But we need to have a larger perspective than that. Having the Lord say “Well done good and faithful servant” must be our highest value because it strengthens us to choose obedience over people pleasing.
There is a great billboard on the highway in Smyrna that says “Be a parent, not a peer.” Parents who are either afraid of their kids or seek to be popular generally fail as parents. It is even more destructive when kings act this way and so that is why the Lord removed him. May we learn from his error.