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Jul 02, 2017

Lesson From A Lame Duck Leader

Lesson From A Lame Duck Leader

Passage: 1 Samuel 12:1-15:35

Preacher: John Repsold

Series: 1st Samuel--Becoming a People of Blessing

Keywords: controlling, forgiveness, god's glory, grace, king saul, leadership, learning, legalism, ritual, show, war


In this text we see why God rejected Saul and the things we need to learn from this lame-duck leader.


Lessons from a Lame Duck Leader

July 2, 2017

I Samuel 13-15


INTRO: In today’s passage, we’re continuing our look at Israel’s transition from God’s direct leadership in their nation through the priesthood to leadership through a monarchy.  God had been their king but now the people were demanding a more visible, human leader.  So their first king was a man named Saul—tall, dark and handsome, from a well-known and probably well-to-do family. 

The problem is, however, he became a “lame-duck dynasty” not too long into his monarchy.  In fact, he served longer as a disavowed and rejected-by-God king than as one enjoying God’s favor.   

Q:  Anyone know how we got the term “lame duck” and applied it to our political process? 

A:  The phrase "lame duck" was coined in the 18th century at the London Stock Exchange, to refer to a stock-broker who defaulted on his debts.

Today, of course, it refers to a President or even Congress when they are still holding office even though a new set of leaders have been elected and are about to replace the outgoing politician. 

That’s about as political as I’m going to get on this 4th of July…almost!  Actually, the story part of today’s text begins in chapter 12 where Samuel, the last prophet before Israel sets up the monarchy, is giving a sort of “come to Jesus” lesson to His people. 

Samuel wants everyone to be crystal clear that he has been blameless as a leader over some at least 50 years.  That’s quite a period of time not to succumb to the power, money and fame temptations of national leadership.  Rare is the man or woman who hasn’t been corrupted by leadership in government.   

So Samuel asks a series of questions that not only show he hasn’t compromised or become abusive in leadership but also foreshadow the fact that their kings are going to end up taking everything he mentions he hasn’t. 

I Samuel 12: 2-3

Now you have a king as your leader. As for me, I am old and gray, and my sons are here with you. I have been your leader from my youth until this day. Here I stand. Testify against me in the presence of the Lord and his anointed. Whose ox have I taken? Whose donkey have I taken? Whom have I cheated? Whom have I oppressed? From whose hand have I accepted a bribe to make me shut my eyes? If I have done any of these things, I will make it right.”

            And nobody came forward!  Because nobody had been cheated. 

            Next Samuel reminds the people that God hasn’t cheated them either.  In fact, he goes through a long list of “righteous acts” God performed for them and their ancestors…and an equally long list of things they and their ancestors did forgetting God and serving false gods of Baal and Ashtoreth. 

All that leads up to the climax of this brief history lesson for God’s people, namely their new monarchy.  Here’s the foundational rule that still will apply. 

1 Samuel 12:13-15

Now here is the king you have chosen, the one you asked for; see, the Lord has set a king over you. 14 If you fear the Lord and serve and obey him and do not rebel against his commands, and if both you and the king who reigns over you follow the Lord your God—good! 15 But if you do not obey the Lord, and if you rebel against his commands, his hand will be against you, as it was against your ancestors.

APP:   The FORM of government we choose as humans has always been something God has delegated to us.  He can work through dictators and monarch, through democracies and republics.  He can work through tribal leaders or civil governors.

But the bottom line of human government stays the same:  If the leaders and the people fear God as well as serve and obey him and don’t rebel against God, it will go well.  If not, we invite God’s hand to be against us.

Our founding fathers knew this.  They also knew that a democratic republic is only really sustainable by a people who carry internal moral restraints grounded in the knowledge of God. Listen to a few of them and ask yourself how they would be treated today if they made these same claims.

ILL:  Quotes from…

  • John Adams
  • John Q. Adams
  • Patrick Henry
  • Charles Carroll
  • Thomas Jefferson
  • John Jay
  • Benjamin Rush
  • James McHenry

Even when we replace God’s divine leadership in our lives with some imperfect human substitute, God’s grace still flows to us.  Look at 12:19ff.

The people all said to Samuel, “Pray to the Lord your God for your servants so that we will not die, for we have added to all our other sins the evil of asking for a king.”

20 “Do not be afraid,” Samuel replied. “You have done all this evil; yet do not turn away from the Lord, but serve the Lord with all your heart.  21 Do not turn away after useless idols. They can do you no good, nor can they rescue you, because they are useless. 

Even when we make inferior choices, God is still in the business of rescuing, blessing and saving.  While God deals with our past, he looks forward to our futures every single day. 

            None of us can change a single thing about the past.  Learn from it, yes.  But change it, no.  God can and does forgive our past sins when we agree with him about them and repent.  And then he takes us right where we are in the present and calls us back into close fellowship with Him.  He invites us over and over again to “Serve the Lord with all your heart.”  That’s what we can do TODAY. 

APP:  Does your memory or the Enemy of our souls keep trying to point to your past and tell you that you can’t do this or that, can’t expect God to bless you now, you can’t be free of some sin in the past?  That’s a lie.  Agree with God that you sinned, confess it and move on into “serving Him with all your heart”…TODAY! 

            Here’s just how much God wants you to live for him TODAY.  He wants that as much as he seeks His own glory. 

22 For the sake of his great name the Lord will not reject his people, because the Lord was pleased to make you his own. 

Now, for you or me to seek our own glory…try to show off all we are…that is egotistical and proud (if not downright ugly and repulsive).  Why is that?  Because we’re not perfect. We’re often terribly sinful.  So when we try to make what isn’t glorious glorious, we’re trying to elevate something that is far short of holy and God. 

But all that God is is perfect, holy, beautiful, righteous, good, gracious, etc., etc.  There is not one flaw or failure in Him.  There is no virtue in hiding perfection.  In fact, when God hides himself, we all lose.  But when He is revealed, known, experienced and “made visible” to humans in some way, everybody wins, most of all us. 

God is pleased to make us his own children, his own family.  In fact, it so delights him that doing so is on a par with showing off his own nature and glory.

APP:  So the next time you or the Enemy of your soul tries to tell you that you’re all done, all washed up, have sinned too much or too deeply, remember God’s word to you from Samuel.  “For the sake of his great name the Lord will not reject his people, because the Lord was pleased to make you his own.”  God’s commitment to you is on a par with His commitment to His own glory and great name/reputation.  He’s not about to dump any of us on the trash heap of our sins.  But he is happy to make us more and more a part of His family. 

APP:  call to respond to His loving invitation to be His children by faith in Jesus Christ. 

Carter very ably took us through the beginning of the demise of Saul’s leadership in chapter 13.  So I’ll jump over that and move us to the 2 stories in chapters 14 & 15.  Here is where Saul seals his fate as a lame-duck. 

Most of us probably aren’t interested in just seeing some public leader fail.  So my purpose is not to expose us to one more human tragedy.  But God put this story in His word for a reason.  Just as we can all learn from living under poor leadership…or poor parenting…or with a bad spouse or roommate or government…so poor examples can help us determine not to follow in the same footsteps. 

APP:  Are you in a tough relationship with a difficult, perhaps self-consumed or even evil person?  God can use them to tune our hearts more to good, to justice, to God himself…IF we don’t get bitter, vengeful, hardhearted or hateful.  That will always be the temptation towards people who have hurt us, taken from us and lied to us.  But negative examples of something are often even more powerful deterrents than positive pictures.   

The second big failure God wants us to learn from in Saul’s life is in chapter 14 where we have the story of Saul’s son Jonathan attacking the Philistines without his father’s knowledge. 

            The end of chapter 13 paints a rather dismal picture of the military situation.  Israel had an army…with only two swords (Saul’s and Jonathan’s).  In fact, the Philistines wouldn’t let any other blacksmith’s into their territory, thus maintaining a monopoly on all metal work and keeping the Israelites weak and disadvantaged. 

            We’re actually introduced to Jonathan, Saul’s son, in this chapter.  He’s presented as a very brave and courageous young man with a faith to match his bravery.  Tired of sitting around with 600 other soldiers, waiting for his father to get up the courage to actually enter the battle, Jonathan hatches a plan that is built entirely on God’s willingness to act on their behalf and ability to defeat overwhelming odds. 

            Jonathan recruits his armor-bearer and alone, without telling anyone, Jonathan decides to take on the Philistines.  Vs. 6 sums up his mental and spiritual state: 

Jonathan said to his young armor-bearer, “Come, let’s go over to the outpost of those uncircumcised men. Perhaps the Lord will act in our behalf. Nothing can hinder the Lord from saving, whether by many or by few.”

            You can almost hear the music change in the movie!  J  In short, these two young men tackle a steep cliff by climbing hand-over-hand while killing about 20 Philistine warriors in an area less than the size of our city block.  You can just feel the Philistine’s confidence slipping away as one-by-one their tough guys are killed by these 2 inexperienced Israelites.  Pretty soon it turns into a full-blown rout as the Philistines panic and start melting away in every direction. 

            Saul’s lookouts see what is happening and inform their king.  He orders a roll-call to find out which of their army is apparently out on a secret mission turned victorious.  Only then is it discovered that it is own son, Jonathan, and his armor-bearer. 

            What Saul does next seems a bit strange to our way of thinking.  Instead of sounding the general alarm and ordering his troops into the battle, he asks Ahijah to “Bring the ark of God” to where they are.  We’re not told why, but the implication seems to be that Saul thought it was important to have the ark present to perhaps seek God’s favor in the battle.  We know from earlier in the book how well that approach to winning wars worked out!  He still seems to be relying on rituals and relics to insure God’s blessing rather than his own relationship with God giving him all the assurance he needs. 

APP:  Don’t look to relics or rituals in your faith to bring victory in your life.  God wants our hearts, not our slight-of-hand.

1st Samuel 14:18ff--

Saul said to Ahijah, “Bring the ark of God.” (At that time it was with the Israelites.) 19 While Saul was talking to the priest, the tumult in the Philistine camp increased more and more. So Saul said to the priest, “Withdraw your hand.”

            In other words, “Oh, never mind!”  He could hear that something big was happening to the Philistines and when it appeared that he’d be missing out on the victory parade if he didn’t get in the battle right away, he ditches the priest and Ark idea and assembles the troops.  No thanks to him, he finds the Philistines in total confusion, killing each other with their superior armament (vs. 20).  Next the Israeli traitors who had joined the Philistines, along with the deserters who had run for the hills earlier, decide to get in while the getting is good.  They completely route the Philistines and usher in a major shift away from Philistine dominance. 

            All’s well that ends well, right?  We could only hope.  Problem is, the rest of chapter 14 fills us in on a couple of pretty stupid things Saul did in the course of that day’s battle and the negative effects it had on the whole military campaign. 

Vs. 24-- Now the Israelites were in distress that day, because Saul had bound the people under an oath, saying, “Cursed be anyone who eats food before evening comes, before I have avenged myself on my enemies!” So none of the troops tasted food. 

Apparently, before joining the battle that his son Jonathan had started, he feels it is necessary to make everyone take an oath not to eat until the battle is over.  It’s Saul’s way of saying, “No dessert until you finish your dinner.”  Only in this case it was, “You’re going to stick with me and this battle today or go to be without breakfast, lunch OR dinner!” 

            So his troops don’t eat all day while they are chasing after the enemy and fighting for their lives.  But vs. 25ff tell us that apparently God had provided honey that the whole army saw in the woods they entered during the battle. The immediate result was that the victory, great as it was, was much less than it would have been if they had eaten what God provided.  It wouldn’t have violated God’s command to destroy everything of the Philistines so Saul’s vow really went even farther than what God had required. 

APP:  Which is why it’s never a good idea to add to God’s commands…to raise to the level of divine requirement anything that God hasn’t required.  How many times have Christians added to the Word of God with some legalistic, cultural “laws” that actually end up leading people they are trying to minister to farther away from God?  They may have the best of intentions, but the results are usually less than the best.

Q:  Got any examples of that today (even in a Christian sub-culture that probably errs on the side of license rather than legalism)? 

A:  (Dress codes, movie prohibitions, alcohol consumption, church attendance, devotional demands, ???)

Like our Founding Fathers said, no amount of laws will substitute for the moral compass and conviction that comes from a respect for God himself. Legalism is a horrible substitute for love of God!

One problem is that legalism often leads to an over-reaction that probably wouldn’t have happened if we had trusted God to do the convicting at the level of what He actually commanded.  In this case, Saul’s stupid required vow actually led to just the opposite of what he wanted. At the end of the day (literally), when the troops were exhausted and famished precisely for obeying his vow, they ended up violating the God’s command not to take ANY of the plunder.  Just like in Jesus’ day when the teachers of the law loved to add to the law and thus forced people to break the law, so here. (See Mt. 23:4.)  Only in this case, they end up not only using the plunder for their own purposes but eating raw meat with the blood still in it, something the Law forbade. 

             The story continues.  After Saul suggests they keep pursuing the enemy all night long…and his troops say they are willing to following…some lone priest raises his hand and makes another suggestions:  “Let us inquire of God here.”  In other words, “Ahhh, you might want to check with God first on that one!”    

            So, vs. 37 says, Saul asked God. And what did God answer?  He DIDN”T!  Don’t you just hate it when God does that!  Just when you think you’re on a roll, God goes silent. 

            I’m sensing in the text that Saul is just a little ticked about that.  Vs. 38ff-- Saul therefore said, “Come here, all you who are leaders of the army, and let us find out what sin has been committed today. 39 As surely as the Lord who rescues Israel lives, even if the guilt lies with my son Jonathan, he must die.” But not one of them said a word.  40 Saul then said to all the Israelites, “You stand over there; I and Jonathan my son will stand over here.”  “Do what seems best to you,” they replied.

Basically, “Have it your way, boss.  It’s your next of kin!”  So they engage in using the Urim and Thummim, a ritual we’re not totally sure exactly what it meant but it was probably akin to casting lots where the selection of one meant one party was responsible and the other was guiltless.  The text (vs. 41) says that Saul and Jonathan were taken “by lot” and then Jonathan was pointed to as the guilty party. 

            Saul pronounces a death sentence with a curse on himself if he doesn’t carry through on his own son.  BUT the troops intervene and refuse to let it happen, recognizing that Jonathan was actually responsible for leading them to victory that day, not Saul.  This is probably the first salvo that sets Saul’s jealous streak to pumping, something that will eventually lead to him trying to kill his replacement, David. 

            All this because the king is relying on his power of edict rather than the power of God.  In trying to solidify control he loses control and the respect of the people he is supposed to lead. 

APP:  Isn’t that how it is when control is our main agenda.  Oh, we may couch it in terms of saying we’re really only looking out for someone’s good…or we’re responsible for them…or we know what is best for them.  But some of us need to learn to walk with God without making the people near us miserable because we feel we have an obligation to make their life go in a certain direction.  Saul would have been a lot better off taking a look inside his life rather than blaming his son and trusting his troops to God. 

As one of my friends used to say, “Control freaks are never so out of control as when they are “in control”…or think they are.”  

Chapter 15 really chronicles the “last straw” in the stubble of Saul’s kingship.  But it is the final event that causes God to reject Saul’s kingship.  I won’t run you through the whole chapter.  Suffice it to say that Samuel delivers a message from God that Saul and his army are to be the long-delayed judgment upon the Amalekites for what they did to Israel since the days when Moses brought the people up out of Egypt.  From attacking the stragglers in the desert east of the Jordan to repeatedly using a scorched earth policy in ongoing attacks against the Israelites during the rule of the Judges, the Amalekites had this coming to them both by the stated judgment of God and the constant war and pillaging they inflicted on Israel. 

            So God tells Saul to “totally destroy” everything belonging to the Amalekites—all cattle, sheep, camels and donkeys—and to kill every person—man, woman and child of the Amalekites. 

            To our 21st century sensibilities, such total annihilation sounds very unbecoming of the God of everlasting love.  My focus this morning is not to try and mount a defense for God.  He is certainly able to defend himself before any of our arrogant or ignorant judgments.  Let me just say that we, some 3 millennia later, are probably not in the best position historically to judge. 

  • First, this judgment was generations in coming. The Amalekites had generations of opportunity to see God at work with His people and to repent of their sins.  But they didn’t.  Instead, they kept incessantly attacking God’s people, killing them and utterly destroying their homes, fields, barns, livestock, you name it. 
  • Which is the second reason God was justified in this judgment: their level of evil was sufficient to warrant judgment.  

Perhaps putting it into a more contemporary context will help us see why even the killing of “innocents” or “non-combatants” was necessary. 

  • Just 62 years ago, our nation, in order to stop what even today most consider would have been the loss of millions of lives defeating Japan, dropped 2 atomic bombs on Japan three days apart, at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The first killed 80,000 people—men, women and children—outright and tens of thousands in the coming weeks through radiation exposure.  Three days later, we dropped another bomb on Nagasaki and killed another 40,000.  Was it necessary?  Not as long as we were willing to kill millions more Japanese in city-to-city combat and suffer the loss of possibly millions of Allied troops as well.  The resolve of Japan to stay in the fight to the bitter end was evidenced by the fact that it took a 2nd atomic bomb to convince the Emperor that we could actually annihilate them with limited to almost no fatalities on our side through atomic weapons.   
  • Our bombing of Germany in WWII killed some 25,000 in Dresden and 45,000 in Hamburg alone. Thankfully, none of us had to make those decisions. But entire nations, including the U.S., destroyed entire cities in Germany, so that Europe didn’t spend the next 4 or 5 decades or centuries living under Nazi control. 

I’m sure far fewer people were killed in the destruction of the Amalekites than in Hiroshima or Dresden.  So what gives us the sense of moral superiority to what God himself determines is necessary some 3,000 years ago??? 

 In a world where truly evil people exist and force their evil wills upon others, sometimes complete annihilation of a smaller group of people, be it a city or town, is preferable to ongoing war and the deaths of far more people.  Surely even our modern minds can grasp that.  If not, then you are going to have problems with God’s judgment yet to come during the Great Tribulation as latterly billions of people in open defiance and hatred of God and His people are killed by plagues, pestilence, earthquakes, war, you name it.  If you don’t have room in your theology for a God of righteous justice and war, you have a very incomplete theology of God… and probably a man-centered theology rather than a God-centered one. 

APP:  God may sometimes ask us to do what seems rather radical surgery with sin.  I’m not suggesting that God will tell you to kill some evil person.  Murder is never God’s will.  But the taking of life has been delegated to government and that includes war. 

            God does want us to deal ruthlessly with the sin in our own lives.  Jesus said in Matthew 18:7ff…

Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble! Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come! If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell.

            Certainly Jesus is using hyperbole here—a purposeful overstatement of something in order to make a point.  But the point still applies, only on an individual instead of a national level:  take radical steps if necessary to deal with sin in your life that causes others to sin also. 

But back to or man Saul.  What he does is engage in partial obedience, which is really not obedience at all but rather disobedience

ILL:  If you tell a young child to “Go to your room for a time-out” and they march to their room, walk in and then turn around and go outside to play with friends, is that obedience?  “But I went to my room!” they will say.  “Yes, but you didn’t STAY in your room, which was the second part of the command.”  Partial obedience is no obedience at all.

Saul wins the battle against the Amalekites but for some reason keeps their #1 leader, King Agag, alive.  And he both keeps and allows his troops to keep the best of the plunder, also a direct disobedience to God’s express command. 

As you might guess, God tells Samuel what is going on.  So the next day, Samuel gets up early and goes to find Saul.  He’s informed that Saul has gone to Carmel to “set up a monument in his own honor” and then is heading to Gilgal.  Clearly, pride has replaced his earlier insecurity.  It also apparently replaced truth-telling. 

The first recorded words of Saul when Samuel catches up with him are this in 1 Samuel 15:13:

“The Lord bless you, [Samuel]! I have carried out the Lord’s instructions.”

WOW!  Talk about self-deception.  Samuel pops that balloon by asking, “What then is the bleating of sheep in my ears?  What is the lowing of cattle that I hear/”   Soldiers don’t play shepherds and ranchers when they are fighting wars. 

Caught red-handed with the goods of his own disobedience, Saul could have cried, “Mia culpa!  Mia culpa!  Mia maxima culpa!”  But instead he blames his troops and dares to claim that they disobeyed God’s clear command so that they could use the fruits of their disobedience to “sacrifice to the Lord your God” (vs. 15).  Funny, it isn’t “the Lord MY God” but “the Lord YOUR God.”  That should have been his first clue that He was in deep dodo. 

Samuel virtually stops him in mid-sentence and tells him that God came to him the night before and told him what Saul & Co. had done. 

But still Saul protests and insists that he has obeyed the Lord completely…even while stating that he hadn’t killed King Agag. 

To which Samuel replies with this passage all of us should memorize in vss. 22-23:

“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.”

Notice what his 3 clear sins are in vs. 23:

1.)  Rebellion

2.) Arrogance

3.)  Rejection of the word of the Lord

And verse 22 makes it crystal clear that God is not the least bit interested in religious rituals when obedience has been compromised.  In modern terms, we could say God doesn’t care a whit how many songs we sing or verse plaques we have on the wall or church services we go to or service projects we engage in IF we are not obeying the Word of God and rather choosing sin over obedience. 


  • God’s Word, particularly his commands, are not to be taken lightly. When we know the truth and treat it lightly, we court disaster. 
  • More leadership means greater responsibility. Samuel didn’t go to the troops; he went to their commander.  Saul had received the command and was responsible to pass it on to his troops as well as to insure that they all obeyed.  The higher the leadership, the greater the accountability before God. 
  • The allure of personal gain in serving God is a temptation we must all run from or be captured by. It is very easy to exchange a calling by God for a little personal benefit here or a nice little material perk over there.  When we find ourselves making decisions based upon how they will affect us materially rather than spiritually, we’re probably going to be making the wrong decision.
  • Don’t rationalize or reason partial obedience as obedience. The moment the Spirit of God nudges us that our obedience is incomplete is the moment we need to stop and say, “O.K.  What are the final steps I need to take to move me from partial disobedience to full obedience. 
  • Beware of arrogance, incomplete obedience to God’s word and rebellion that masquerades as religious activity.