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Q&A: 1 Samuel 15

Questions and Answers on 1 Samuel 15

Bruce Stanley

June 20, 2022

Here are some brief answers to our questions from our Sunday evening service. If you would like to discuss more, please call me or email at bruces@stphils.org.au.

Many of the questions today are quite similar on a very important topic. So I will answer many of these together and add some more general comments as well.

Help me reconcile v3 where God instructs people to slaughter children. As a Christian, I can focus on God's goodness and right judgment but my non-Christian friends cannot love a God who would do this to anyone and ridicule me for wanting to love such a God.

It can be very difficult to hold onto God's love and grace, yes also his judgement. These are two sides of the same coin, and we cannot separate them. Without judgment, there is no justice, and we need God to also be just. But he must be just on his terms and not on our terms. One of the hardest things for people to admit is that they are sinful, and deserve God's wrath. For many, this is too much to consider, but it is the truth. (Romans 1 is a helpful chapter on this aspect of our humanity)

The judgment God hands down on the Amalekites is because of what they did to the Israelites when leaving Egypt. It is an "eye for eye" type of judgment in our thinking. A few things I'll note rather than trying to explain God's judgment:

  • We cannot always understand all the reasons behind God's actions and judgment. Like Job, who are we to judge God? We often don't understand our human courts and sometimes this is because we don't know all the facts. God has a perspective that is outside of history and time. He looks on us with eternity in mind.
  • Children or adults - the judgment of death on anyone is the awful result of sin. We are all sinful people deserving of God's wrath, regardless of our age, however...
  • Perhaps most importantly, God does not judge people this way anymore. He is the SAME God, but in the Old Testament (Old Covenant), judgement came minute by minute. In the New Testament, under the NEW COVENANT, God's judgment has been given out upon Jesus for the sins of the world. Anyone who trusts in Jesus will not face God's judgment, but only his mercy. Those who do not trust in Jesus will face God's judgment. Not minute by minute, but on the final day when Jesus returns to judge the earth. Either we stand in the shelter of Jesus, or we stand on our own like the Amalekites, and face God's wrath. Adult or child, we all face the judgement of a righteous and holy God, and we all deeply need mercy.

Holy war does not sit well with us in our western developed world. Even the current Ukraine war does not sit well with us. But this is the world we live in. Protected as we are in our current situation in Australia, we cannot sit in judgement over the judgment of the great judge. The worst and most necessary realisation is for us to read this and be reminded - God will judge all the earth.

To reach out to an unbeliever who may struggle with this, I have often found it helpful to discuss the idea of justice. Even in our human terms, justice is not always "pretty".

REGRET: Verse 29 says God doesn't change his mind. Verse 35 says God regretted his decision. How is this different to changing his mind?

What does it mean for God to regret a decision, when we regret it usually implies we think we made a poor or wrong decision but God doesn't make mistakes? How can God regret something? God regrets something?? Did he make a mistake?

Let me answer these questions together.

The Hebrew word (translated as "regret" here) is the word "nacham" which can mean to change your mind, or feel regret, repent or be sorry, or simply to console oneself. The context has already been given that God does not change his mind or make mistakes (1 Samuel 15:29). If he did, a more obvious word might have been used here. Instead, "nacham" is used - giving us an 'anthropomorphism' - a human characteristic, in order to help us understand as humans how God "felt" after this happened. Remember God created humans in his image, and he came to earth as a human, so our human feelings come very much from who God is in his nature.

Perhaps a human example may help. Sometimes I'm sorry that I have to spend so much on petrol. It's not regret. I'm just sorry it costs so much. And I console myself as I pay for it each time! But I still do it again and again! It's just sad that these things cost so much.

I suspect God feels the same about Saul's sin. To give one example of a paraphrase of God's response: "God was disappointed, sad, even sorry, that humans are so sinful and ignore him."

IMPORTANT POINT: God is all-knowing (omniscient), ever-present (omnipresent) and all-powerful (omnipotent). These characteristics of God do not change (they are immutable characteristics). So when we have an understanding of the Biblical text that does not sit well with these characteristics of God, we need to ask if we have misunderstood, or if there is a better way to understand what is being conveyed. God's character does not change. So we must seek to understand from a different perspective.

God is all-knowing. He would have known how Saul would behave so how could he regret his decision? God doesn’t make mistakes does he?

(See "regret" answer first)

God also knows that he will send Jesus to die for these sins. God gives us free choice, and loves us - so he allows us to sin, but offers us a way out. As said above, his regret is probably more helpfully understood as "sorrow" or "sadness".

God hates sin, but since it cannot be avoided, he has a plan to deal with its consequences.

Also - maybe Saul was the best option at this time! it could have been a lot worse. But basically, any human King is destined to fail - that's the lesson Israel is learning.

God gave us a law not to kill, why did he instruct Samuel to kill Agag?

God's law is actually "do not murder", rather than "do not kill". This is an important distinction.

God's Holy Wars - his acts of judgment against nations - involved the use of war in Israel defeating other armies and destroying them, but also God's use of other armies like Assyria, to punish his own people of Israel for their disobedience. War was a means of swift judgement. This was the "business as usual" model under the Old Covenant - a model that reminds us of the dramatic consequences of sin and the need for mercy, which we eventually find in Jesus.

Click here for an excellent article on Old Testament Holy War and how a Christian can understand it. This is not a short article, but it is very helpful!

Holy war

Holy War

If you would like to also look at modern Holy War, which has often amounted to murder, CPX has some great materials on this:

Modern Holy War

https://www.publicchristianity.org/holy-war

In what ways might we think we're doing something for God today, but we're actually ignoring his instructions (like Saul keeping needless sacrifices for God)?

We must keep a check on our motives. Often we say we are doing things for God, but we are really justifying doing things for ourselves. Only God knows our true hearts. For example: "I'm going to work hard and earn lots of money so I can be generous to the work of God." it sounds good, but as Saul was told:

1 Samuel 15:22

22But Samuel replied: “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.

Generosity can also come out of poverty. Let's not make excuses to pursue worldly gain. God is more delighted by our obedience than our sacrifice.

Where are the last two pews?

This is a mystery not fully revealed to us at this time :)

Saul knew he had sinned against God. If he turned to God for repentance, would his story be different in the end? (edited)

In one sense, we'll never know! But knowing God's character, it would seem so. But like most of Israel's history, it would only be a matter of time before the human heart of Saul turned away from God again.

Saul reminds me of myself as a teen “I followed the instruction, technically”. As God knew Saul’s heart before making him king, why would he choose this character?

Saul's failure as King taught Israel the basics of human Kings. As good as they might be, they will never be perfect. They will never be Jesus. They needed to learn this. God knows one thing - the human heart is prone to wander, and we are all caught in sin. God knows every human will fail but that is not a reason for him to stop us. It is a reason for us to turn to him for help. In Saul's great failure, Israel learned again that they needed to trust God as their King as no human could possibly meet their needs as a leader. Jesus proved that once and for all!

Click here to watch the questions answered during our live Q&A after the sermon at night church last Sunday.

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