Saul’s has just committed a flagrant violation of the Lord’s command. Joining Saul in his disobedience was “the army,” who also spared “the best of the sheep and cattle, the fat calves and lambs—everything that was good.” This self-serving selective obedience by both Saul and those under his command represented an early attempt—repeated countless times throughout history—to pursue gain under the guise of serving God. As it always does, it would ultimately prove futile.
This incomplete compliance with the divine command prompted the Lord to give a further message to Samuel. This “word of the Lord” came to Samuel in the night. This passage provides a remarkable window into God’s emotions and concerns regarding Saul’s kingship.
- First of all, God was “grieved” that he “made Saul king.” The only other occasion in Scripture where the Lord stated that he was “grieved” was over peoples’ actions when he observed the wickedness of humanity that led to the universal flood (Genesis 6:7). The Lord was deeply concerned—or, suffered emotional pain—regarding choices Saul made of his own volition. Saul’s sins here destroyed his kingship, yet they also served as a springboard for the Lord’s selection of David, a man after God’s own heart. Clearly both passages teach that God is aware of and responsive to choices made by people, reacting favorably only when people choose the option of obedience to the divine will.
- God was “grieved” because of Saul’s failure to follow his instructions completely. Saul’s partial obedience might have been acceptable to some, but when weighed in the divine balances, it was found grievous. Nothing short of strict obedience to the Lord’s instructions was acceptable; anything less produced grief in heaven and pain and loss on earth.
Samuel, who was uniquely in tune with God’s heart, “was troubled, even angry” when the Lord informed him of Saul’s actions. In a sleepless, agonizing night “he cried out to the Lord.” The term describes an intense expression of grief or anxiety, mirroring the Lord’s displeasure.
Samuel set out to carry God’s message to Saul, but Saul was not where the prophet had expected to find him. Instead the king had set out on a journey where he “set up a monument in his own honor.” Saul wanted to commemorate the recent victory he had achieved. Saul gave priority to his acts of selfishness -interest over devotion to God.