“Then Saul said to Samuel, ‘I have sinned, for I have transgressed the commandment of the Lord and your words, because I feared the people and obeyed their voice.’”
1 Samuel 15:24
Our vision of kings is of men who held absolute power—men like Henry VIII in England or Louis XIV in France—men whose word was law. But most kings have been far less powerful; their thrones have been far more precarious. In England during the late Middle Ages, for instance, Henry of Huntingdon tells us that of a total of 36 kings, four died natural deaths.
This is important for us to understand when we come to the text before us today. We are accustomed to discount Saul’s excuse of “fearing the people” as special pleading. “Feared the people,” we cry in disbelief. But he was the king! He could do what he wanted!
But here we betray our misunderstanding. Saul’s excuse was very likely legitimate. After all in destroying the cattle, sheep, and oxen of the Amalekites, Saul was in effect piling up treasury notes and setting them aflame. Not the sort of activity most people will sit around and watch—“Here,” they cried, “is wealth right before our eyes; who is this man to get in the way? Give us the animals or we’ll soon remove you from kingship just as fast as we raised you to it.” Saul was afraid.
But note—Saul was also the king. He had been appointed by God as the leader not the follower. He was to do what God had told him to do—regardless what others might think or do. Saul was given a task—he was to complete it or die trying. But Saul didn’t. He caved in to the people and preserved the best of the spoil. And when confronted about his sin Saul made excuses. He did not come forth in true manliness and take complete reponsibility for his sin. Rather, he tried to make his sin appear less heinous than it was. “I know I sinned,” he said, “but the people made me do it.” It wasn’t really my fault. Forgive me please.
And how does God respond to Saul’s method of repentance? With pity and forgiveness? No, with scorn and judgment. Saul loses the kingdom and falls into madness.
And so let me ask you, what excuses have you been making to God this week for failing to do your duty—for failing to do what God has so clearly called you to do?
Christian, what excuses have you offered for failing to feed yourselves on the Word of the Lord and seek Him in prayer? I don’t have enough time; God knows I love him. Remember Saul.
Husbands and fathers, what excuses have you offered for being unloving and short tempered? For snapping at your children and failing to lead your families? I had a long day at work; my head hurts; my boss treated me unfairly; my children don’t want to have family worship. Remember Saul.
Wives and mothers, what excuses have you offered this week for failing to submit to your husbands? For criticizing them and gossiping to your neighbor? He just isn’t like Sally’s husband; I have a right to vent; I just need to ask for prayer. Remember Saul.
Young men, what excuses have you made for disobeying your parents? For speaking back to them? For letting your eyes linger too long on lovely young ladies? My parents just don’t understand me; I have a right to express my feelings; I was just admiring her beauty. Remember Saul.
Young women, what excuses have you made this week for manipulating your friends and family? For whining and complaining? For flaunting your charms and seducing young men? I’m simply letting my family know what I need; I’m not complaining just persuading; I may never be married if I don’t advertise myself. Remember Saul.
When we come to God all excuses are vain. God sees beyond our shallow repentance; He knows why we do what we do and when we are truly sorry. This was the difference between Saul and David. Both sinned grievously. The difference is that Saul made excuses to Samuel—I have sinned but the people made me do it—while David stopped with the first three words—I have sinned. David made no excuses and God forgave the guilt of his sin. As we come before the Lord today let us confess to him our sin—and put aside all temptations to make excuses. Let us kneel together as we do so.