I think my father used that line on me one time. It sounds as a curious condemnation, but knowing the story behind it enlightens it.
14 But Samuel said, “What then is this bleating of sheep in my ears? What is this lowing of cattle that I hear?”
In I Samuel 15 we find King Saul being clearly instructed by Samuel, the prophet, to defeat and “utterly destroy” the Amalekites. The command from Yahweh was unambiguous.
Saul takes his army and defeats the Amalekites! Most of us would give him a pat on the back, but Yahweh did not. Saul was disobedient.
Contrary to ‘utterly destroying,’ as he had been commanded, Saul ‘spared’ king Agag and the best of the sheep, oxen and fatling lambs. Honestly, by human standards, he got most of it right.
the word of the Lord came to Samuel, saying, 11 “I regret that I have made Saul king, for he has turned back from following Me and has not carried out My commands.” And Samuel was distressed and cried out to the Lord all night. (v.11)
Samuel rises and goes to meet Saul, and upon being seen by Saul,
Saul said to him, “Blessed are you of the Lord! I have carried out the command of the Lord.” (v. 13)
to which Samuel replies,
“What then is this bleating of sheep in my ears? What is this lowing of cattle that I hear?”
Saul counters with (paraphrasing here…),
‘But, but, but… uhmm. We are gonna sacrifice, yeah, that’s right! Sacrifice!! We saved these for sacrifice to Yahweh!’
Oh. And he also says,
‘The people. They did it. The people Yahweh gave me… they kept things to sacrifice…’
You may be wondering why I am spelling this out. Well, I think there are several very important lessons here.
1. Saul was Yahweh’s appointed king and he was not willing to be obedient to Yahweh’s commands. If we pursue this story a little further, we see that the kingdom is ripped from Saul’s hands and given to another. To me, this whole story has echoes of the words of Yeshua,
“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. 22 Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ 23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’
Saul demonstrated a history of disdain for Yahweh’s commands, even though there was a point wherein
the Spirit of God came upon him mightily, so that he prophesied among them.
We wonder, looking at Yeshua’s statement, ‘How can people prophesy in His name? Even cast out demons and perform miracles, yet, they are rejected?’ Well, Saul is one precedent. And, the reason he was rejected was because he did NOT carry out the commands of Yahweh. He did what, in his human wisdom, he could justify.
I published a post yesterday about dividing the Law that speaks to this sort of ‘wisdom.’ Scripture says, ‘lean not on your own understanding…’
My great fear for pastors, as they are warned of what ‘keep My commandments’ really means, is that they are accountable, like Saul and may hear the very words of Messiah saying, ‘I never knew you, depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’
2. Samuel’s response to Saul is,
“Has the Lord as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices
As in obeying the voice of the Lord?
Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice,
And to heed than the fat of rams.
For rebellion is as the sin of divination,
And insubordination is as iniquity and idolatry.
Because you have rejected the word of the Lord,
He has also rejected you from being king.”
This passage gets tipped on its head by those who divide the law. They claim that the Father has no delight in sacrifices, citing this verse. Yet, the point of the verse is NOT to do away with sacrifices, but to show that sacrifices have no meaning if the heart is obstinate and the neck is stiff.
‘As much delight’ indicates that He indeed has delight, just not ‘as much’ as His delight in a broken and contrite heart!
Insubordination to His commands is equated with divination and idolatry!
Yeshua says, ‘If you love Me, keep My commandments.’
Why does Christendom, like Saul, seek ways around the commandments? And, then they claim ‘to obey is better than sacrifice!’ Oy vey! They just flipped the passage on its head!
3. The final, and simpler point I make is Saul’s typical human reaction. Throw God under the bus!
20 Then Saul said to Samuel, “I did obey the voice of the Lord, and went on the mission on which the Lord sent me, and have brought back Agag the king of Amalek, and have utterly destroyed the Amalekites. 21 But the people took some of the spoil, sheep and oxen, the choicest of the things devoted to destruction, to sacrifice to the Lord your God at Gilgal.” (v. 20-21)
Sounds like Adam,
“The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me from the tree, and I ate.”
Yep, blame God! It’s His fault… He gave me the woman!!
Saul says the same thing… ‘I did obey the voice of Yahweh, but the people (Yahweh gave me) took some of the spoil...’
He confirms this understanding in v. 24,
24 Then Saul said to Samuel, “I have sinned; I have indeed transgressed the command of the Lord and your words, because I feared the people and listened to their voice.
That excuse didn’t fly for Saul and it will not fly for us when the King of Kings asks, ‘Now, tell Me again why you celebrated pagan holy days, ate swine and denigrated My appointed times?’
The pastor answering, ‘I feared the people,’ or us answering, ‘I was afraid of what others would think,’ will NOT hold water. His reply will be,
depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.
The story of Saul is a sad one. Truly sad. But, it need not be repeated in our time.