And when Samuel rose early to meet Saul in the morning, it was told Samuel, saying, Saul came to Carmel, and, behold, he set him up a place, and is gone about, and passed on, and gone down to Gilgal.
Incomplete obedience is the half brother of disobedience. Not to obey God explicitly is to disobey Him implicitly. Saul is an example of this kind of disobedience.
Several great military victories over Moab, Ammon, Edom, and the kings of Zobah all strengthened Saul's position as king of Israel and secured for him the loyalty of the people. He was their hero, and he was beginning to know it.
Still the great Bedouin tribe of the Amalekites continued to harass the Jews. In the wilderness at Sinai in the past and in the days of Gideon these Amalekites repeatedly attacked the Israelites without provocation. Thus through the prophets God told Saul to kill the wicked Amalekites and destroy all their livestock. He wanted His people to realize just how much He hates sin, and thus God would not allow them to be enriched in any way by the conquests of their ungodly neighbors.
Mustering a force of 2,000 infantrymen and an additional 10,000 men from Judah, Saul marched to the south against the Amalekites. Saul's victory over the Amalekites was complete and decisive. The Israelite army annihilated the entire tribe as God had commanded. But Saul did something that God did not command, in fact, something that He explicitly prohibited. "And he took Agag the king of the Amalekites alive . . . and the people spared Agag and the best of the sheep and of the oxen, and of the fatlings, and the lambs, and all that was good, and would not utterly destroy them."
Twice before Saul had shown himself unfit for leadership because of his disobedience to God. Now God indicated to Samuel that Saul could no longer be king because of his disobedience and rebellion; he would be rejected by God. So distressing was this news to Samuel that he cried unto the Lord all night long, but to no avail. Jehovah's mind was set; Saul must go. Reluctant to deliver such a message to the king and having wrestled about it with God all night, Samuel rose early to meet Saul in the morning (I Samuel 15:12).
When Samuel approached Saul at Gilgal, Saul piously greeted him, "Blessed be thou of the LORD," as if he had done nothing wrong. In fact, he reported, "I have performed the commandment of the LORD." But Samuel knew otherwise and pointedly asked the king, "What meaneth then this bleating of the sheep in mine ears, and the lowing of the oxen which I hear?" Bleating sheep and lowing oxen are seldom informers, but in this instance they revealed the partial disobedience of the king, demonstrating again the principle of Numbers 32:23, "Be sure your sin will find you out."
Embarrassed that his disobedience had been discovered but always ready with an explanation, Saul violated his leadership and squarely blamed the people for this sin. Samuel rehearsed in Saul's ears what the Lord had commanded him to do and how he had failed to keep the Lord's command. Assuming that the prophet would be pacified by the prospects of a sacrifice to Jehovah, Saul thought he had devised the perfect excuse for disobedience. How could God not be pleased with a sacrifice? But Samuel countered, "Hath the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD?" There was no answer. Saul was trapped in his disobedience.
The lesson that Saul failed to learn is one that we must not fail to learn from him. Samuel taught the king, "Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice." Obeying the voice of God can never become subservient to acts of worship or service. Obedience is the primary response necessary from a servant to his master. Partial obedience merely betrays rebellion against our master. Thus partial obedience is in reality disobedience. First, last, and always obedience is the best thing.
When we walk with the Lord In the light of His Word,
What a glory He sheds on our way!
While we do His good will He abides with us still,
And with all who will trust and obey.