The Signs of the Times


August 31, 1882

The Final Test


The defeat of the Philistines at Michmash seemed a turning-point in the fortunes of Israel. Though the Lord was displeased with Saul, and purposed to set aside his family, yet he granted him success in battle against the oppressors of his people. No enemy seemed able to stand against him. He made war in turn against Moab, Ammon, and Edom, and against the Amalekites and the Philistines; and wherever he turned his arms, he gained fresh victories. Yet, having missed the opportunity which God had granted him, he was never able permanently to subdue the Philistines. He had sore war with them all the days of his life. ST August 31, 1882, par. 1

When commanded to destroy the Amalekites, Saul did not for a moment hesitate. To his own authority was added the command of the prophet, and at the call to battle the men of Israel flocked to his standard. Two hundred thousand footmen, and ten thousand men of Judah were numbered at Telaim. With this force, Saul attacked and defeated the king of Amalek, and overran the country. ST August 31, 1882, par. 2

This victory was by far the most brilliant which Saul had ever gained, and it served to kindle anew that pride of heart which was his greatest danger. The divine edict devoting the Amalekites to utter destruction was but partially executed. Ambitious to heighten the honor of his triumphal return by the presence of a royal captive, Saul ventured to spare Agag, the fierce and warlike king of Amalek. ST August 31, 1882, par. 3

This act was not without influence upon the people. They too felt that they might safely venture to depart somewhat from the Lord's explicit directions. Hence they covetously reserved to themselves the finest of the flocks, herds, and beasts of burden, destroying only that which was vile and refuse. ST August 31, 1882, par. 4

Here Saul was subjected to the final test. His presumptuous disregard of the will of God, showing his determination to rule as an independent monarch, proved that he could not be intrusted with royal power as the Lord's vicegerent. Unmindful of all this, Saul marshals his victorious army, and with the captive king and the long train of flocks and herds—a booty highly valued in the East—set out on the march homeward. At Carmel, in the possessions of Judah, he set up a monument of his victory. ST August 31, 1882, par. 5

While pride and rejoicing reigned in the camp of Saul, there was deep anguish in the home of Samuel. His intense interest for the welfare of Israel had not abated. He still loved the valiant warrior whom his own hands had anointed as king. It had been his earnest prayer that Saul might become a wise and prosperous ruler. When it was revealed to him that Saul had been finally rejected, Samuel in his distress “cried unto the Lord all night,” pleading for a reversal of the sentence. With an aching heart he set forth next morning to meet the erring king. But when he heard that Saul had erected a monument of his own exploits, instead of giving glory to God, he turned aside and went to Gilgal. ST August 31, 1882, par. 6

Thither the monarch with his army came to meet him. Samuel had cherished a longing hope that Saul might, upon reflection, become conscious of his sin, and by repentance and humiliation before God, be again restored to the divine favor. But the king came forward with great assurance, saying, “Blessed be thou of the Lord; I have performed the commandment of the Lord.” Saul had so often followed his own will, regardless of the command of God through his prophet, that his moral perception had become dulled. He was not now conscious of the sinfulness of his course. ST August 31, 1882, par. 7

The sounds that fell upon the prophet's ears, disproved the statement of the disobedient king. To the pointed question, “What meaneth then this bleating of the sheep in mine ears, and the lowing of the oxen which I hear?” Saul made answer, “They have brought them from the Amalekites; for the people spared the best of the sheep and of the oxen, to sacrifice unto the Lord thy God; and the rest we have utterly destroyed.” The plea here urged was at best but an excuse for covetousness. The beasts saved from the spoil were to be offered by the Israelites in place of their own animals required for sacrifice. ST August 31, 1882, par. 8

The spirit which actuated Saul is evinced by the fact that when proudly boasting of his obedience to the divine command, he takes all the honor to himself; when reproved for disobedience, he charges the sin upon the people. Samuel was not deceived by the king's subterfuge. With mingled grief and indignation he declares, “Stay, and I will tell thee what the Lord hath said to me this night.” Then he reminded Saul of his early humility: “When thou wast little in thine own sight, wast thou not made the head of the tribes of Israel, and the Lord anointed thee king over Israel?” He repeats the divine behest concerning Amalek, and demands from the king the reason for his disobedience. ST August 31, 1882, par. 9

Saul stubbornly persists in his self-justification; “Yea, I have obeyed the voice of the Lord, and have gone the way which the Lord sent me, and have brought Agag the king of Amalek, and have utterly destroy the Amalekites. But the people took of the spoil, sheep and oxen, the chief of the things which should have been utterly destroyed, to sacrifice unto the Lord thy God in Gilgal.” Had Saul himself obeyed the command of God, and enforced it upon the people with the same decision that he had manifested in carrying out his own decrees, he would have had no difficulty in securing obedience. God held him responsible for the sin which he basely endeavored to charge upon Israel. ST August 31, 1882, par. 10

In stern and solemn words the prophet of the Most High sweeps away the refuge of lies, and pronounces against Saul the irrevocable sentence: “Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt-offerings and sacrifices as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because thou hast rejected the word of the Lord, he hath also rejected thee from being king.” ST August 31, 1882, par. 11

As the king heard this fearful sentence, he cried out, “I have sinned; for I have transgressed the commandment of the Lord and thy words because I feared the people, and obeyed their voice.” Saul was filled with terror by the denunciation of the prophet, but he had, even now, no true sense of the enormity of his transgression. He still persisted in casting blame upon the people, declaring that he had sinned through fear of them. ST August 31, 1882, par. 12

This was the same excuse urged by Aaron to shield himself from the guilt of making the golden calf. But so far from accepting the excuse, Moses sternly rebuked Aaron, in the presence of all the people. As the high priest of Israel, and the representative of Moses in his absence, Aaron should at any risk have opposed the rash and godless designs of the people. His neglect to do this brought upon them sin, disaster, and ruin, which he was powerless to avert. While he found it easy to lead them into sin, he sought in vain to lead them to repentance. Moses afterward declared, “The Lord was very angry with Aaron to have destroyed him.” His sin would have been punished with death had he not in true penitence humbled himself before the Lord. Had Saul, in like manner, been willing to see and confess his sin, he too might have been forgiven. ST August 31, 1882, par. 13

It was not sorrow for sin, but fear of its penalty that actuated the king of Israel as he entreated Samuel, “I pray thee, pardon my sin, and return with me, that I may worship the Lord.” ST August 31, 1882, par. 14

“I will not return with thee,” was the answer of the prophet; “for thou hast rejected the word of the Lord, and the Lord hath rejected thee from being king over Israel.” As Samuel turned to leave, the king, in an agony of fear, laid hold of his mantle to hold him back, but it rent in his hands. Upon this, the prophet declared, “The Lord hath rent the kingdom of Israel from thee this day, and hath given it to a neighbor of thine that is better than thou.” And knowing how lightly his words had heretofore been regarded by the king, he adds the solemn assurance, “The Strength of Israel will not lie nor repent.” Saul had gloried in his exploits, as though he were the deliverer of his people. The prophet rebukes this pride by reminding the haughty monarch that God was the strength of Israel. ST August 31, 1882, par. 15

Even now Saul fears only personal disgrace and the loss of his kingdom. He is far more disturbed by the alienation of Samuel than by the displeasure of God. He entreated Samuel to pardon his transgressions, as if the prophet had authority to reverse the divine sentence against him. He knew that the people had greater confidence in Samuel than in himself. Should another king be immediately anointed by divine command, he felt that his own case was hopeless. Should Samuel denounce and forsake him, he feared an immediate revolt among the people. ST August 31, 1882, par. 16

As a last resort, Saul entreated the prophet to honor him before the elders and the people by publicly uniting with him in the worship of God. Samuel remained, but only as a silent witness of the service. Without humility or repentance, Saul's worship could not be accepted of the Lord. ST August 31, 1882, par. 17

An act of justice, stern and terrible, was yet to be performed. Samuel must publicly vindicate the honor of God, and rebuke the course of Saul. He commands that the king of the Amalekites be brought before him. Above all who had fallen by the sword of Israel, Agag was responsible as the upholder of the debasing heathenism of his people, and the instigator of their revolting cruelties; it was just that upon him should fall the heaviest penalty. He came at the prophet's command, in the pride of royalty, flattering himself that he could overawe the servant of God, and that all danger of death was past. Samuel's words dispelled his assurance: “As thy sword hath made women childless, so shall thy mother be made childless among women.” “And Samuel hewed Agag in pieces before the Lord.” This done, Samuel returned to his home at Ramah, Saul to his at Gilgal. The prophet and the king were never to meet again. ST August 31, 1882, par. 18

Samuel was a man of great tenderness of spirit, and strong affections, as is evinced by the anguish which he felt when commanded to declare the divine sentence against Saul. Yet when required to execute justice against the wicked king of Amalek, he performed the unwelcome task unflinchingly. He would maintain his fidelity to God, however great the sacrifice of personal feeling. ST August 31, 1882, par. 19

How wide the contrast between the conduct of Samuel and the course pursued by the king of Israel. To serve his own purpose, Saul could be exceedingly cruel; but when divinely commissioned to destroy utterly a rebellious people, he smites only the lesser criminals, and spares the one upon whom the curse of God especially rested. In his pride of heart he flattered himself that he was more merciful than his Maker. By his course of action he declared the divine requirement unjust and cruel. ST August 31, 1882, par. 20

The case of Saul should be a lesson to us, that God's word is to be respected and obeyed. All the crimes and calamities of ancient Israel resulted from their neglect to heed the instructions of their divine Ruler. Here is our danger. We must give diligent heed to what the Lord has spoken, even in apparently small matters. God requires his people not merely to assent to his word, but to obey it with all the heart. To comply with the Lord's instructions when it is compatible with our own interests, and to disregard them when this best suits our purpose, is to pursue the course of Saul. Pride in our own achievements or a stubborn adherence to our own will, renders the most exalted profession or the most splendid service odious in the sight of God. ST August 31, 1882, par. 21