One of the most challenging things for many people today is the occasional command of God to totally destroy a group of people. The Biblical term often used for this is that the people have been devoted to destruction. As the verses below make clear, the army must kill everything living.
This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel when they waylaid them as they came up from Egypt. 3 Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy all that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.’(1 Samuel 15:2-3 NIV)
It is easy to criticize Saul, but this is a hard command. The sad thing is that Saul and his army found it easier to kill women and children than fattened livestock. I don’t think God intended this to be an easy thing. We have a God who is beyond our understanding, so we should not be surprised that God asks us to do things that we do not understand.
The issue for Saul was whether he was going to lead his army to obey. The humans, who were of no value to the Israelites, were killed in accordance with God’s command. However, the livestock were valuable and to kill them would have required losing the normal reward for victors in battle. The army was unwilling to take this loss, so the livestock lived. When Samuel discovers Saul’s disobedience an interesting conversation begins in which Saul attempts to justify his disobedience.
But 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. 23 For rebellion is like the sin of divination, and arrogance like the evil of idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, he has rejected you as king.”(1 Samuel 15:22-23 NIV)
Saul loses his kingship as a result of his disobedience. He will continue on the throne, but he is no longer God’s chosen ruler. The tenuous relationship between Samuel and Saul disintegrates and they never see each other again as long as Samuel is living. Saul must lead and rule without God’s counsel for the remainder of his life.
What about Us?
I think that Satan loves to trap us into thinking that we have a right to judge God. We do that every time we question God’s commands in the Old Testament. God has the right as the Creator to execute judgment on His creation in any way He decides. Why do we struggle with this so much? We take for granted there is a heaven and hell. We seem to easily accept that people who die without Christ’s gift of salvation are going to hell. Why do we find it so hard to accept that our God who knows everything would consider it best for a group of evil people to disappear?
I used to love watching Star Trek. Many episodes featured a confrontation between a “god” being and the captain of the starship. In every case, the human is proved morally superior and defeats the “god” being. I do not think I realized how dangerous a message this was at the time. The temptation to consider myself morally superior to God is the basis for every variety of sin.
To pursue obedience to God requires a deep trust in God’s goodness especially when His will is in conflict with mine. If I can make God not good, then I can justify doing things my way. What are the fattened livestock which are tempting you to not trust God? I identify with Saul. My desire to please people often conflicts with my obeying God. When my desires get confused I find it easier to pursue religious activity when God desires obedience. I pray that my delight in God would grow resulting in less confusion and more courage.