“When Samuel reached him, Saul said, ‘The Lord bless you! I have carried out the Lord’s instructions.’
“But Samuel said, ‘What then is this bleating of sheep in my ears? What is this lowing of cattle that I hear?’” (1 Samuel 15:13-14)
“Who is blind but my servant,
and deaf like the messenger I send?
Who is blind like the one in covenant with me,
blind like the servant of the Lord?
“You have seen many things, but you pay no attention;
your ears are open, but you do not listen.” (Isaiah 42:19-20)
About 30 years ago, when I lived in western New York and was one of a handful of persons who launched a new church in my small hometown (pop. about 5500), my pastor asked us to stay with his children at the house while he and his wife went with four others to a ministry conference in Ontario.
Saturday morning, I took the two older boys (10 and 8, I believe) with me to the church, 1 ½ floors rented above a retail store in the town’s business district that was our first sanctuary. We straightened the chairs, swept up and stocked the counter where coffee was served before the service.
The person who led worship usually did this on Saturday and/or early Sunday morning. I didn’t particularly like him. He had an ingratiating manner that became annoying when you realized that he often said or did things because he wanted you to like him.
Also, about this time, as the church was slowly getting larger, there was talk about selecting another elder. I thought of myself as a possible candidate.
In the middle of cleaning, the 10-year-old turned to me and asked, “Brother Dave, would you be doing this if you weren’t taking care of us?”
It took at least half a second to realize that this didn’t originate in the mind of a 10-year-old. I just laughed. I was skewered like a kabob.
How was it that King Saul, who clearly disobeyed the Lord’s instructions could then miss the clear evidence of what he had done? Dead sheep don’t bleat; the command was to destroy everything. Nor should there have been lowing cattle.
And how can the Lord say that there is no blindness like the blindness of one of his servants? The answer is surprisingly simple: If we walk in the light, we have light. If not, we don’t. The light we receive, if it isn’t used, is like the manna that wouldn’t keep.
In taking apart the false security of the self-righteous, Paul acknowledges that they have light. They even take pride in it:
“If you know his will and approve of what is superior because you are instructed by the law; if you are convinced that you are a guide for the blind, a light for those who are in the dark, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of little children, because you have in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth” (Rom 2:19-20), why then is your “righteousness” not acceptable to God?
His answer, in a nutshell, is that they don’t walk in it: “You, then, who teach others, do you not teach yourself? You who preach against stealing, do you steal? You who say that people should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who boast in the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law?” (vv. 21-23)
In Scripture, the fool is not someone uneducated, simple or unenlightened. The fool may have a lot of light but just not pay any attention to it. It’s disobedience to the light that makes one a fool.
Solomon was the embodiment of wisdom. God had given it to him at his request. The so-called wisdom literature of Scripture is largely his. And yet when he was captivated by foreign women later in his reign, he was led astray to idolatry—and became a fool. The descriptions he penned of fools, in the Proverbs for example, later fit him.
There is a vivid description of how insensible the fool becomes in his stubborn resistance to revealed wisdom: “Like a thornbush in a drunkard’s hand is a proverb in the mouth of a fool” (Pr 26:9). You can tear his flesh and draw blood and he still will not feel anything. No pain, no shame, no conviction.
In The Greatest Love, I described a relationship in college that meant everything to me but had to end at the Lord’s command. It remains the most difficult thing I have ever done in 44 years of being a believer. I was torn up because of how much I loved this woman. And because of how much this relationship meant to me, I became like King Saul.
I invented ways to “get around” the clear command, telling myself that having an occasional lunch, cup of coffee or short conversations was just “being friends,” nothing more. I imagined a bright red line that I came right up to but didn’t cross. I was as legalistic as the religious leaders who objected to the invalid healed after 38 years picking up and carrying his mat on the Sabbath.
But there was no bright red line. There was only me stretching the letter of the command to the breaking point and completely ignoring its spirit. Stop means stop. And I didn’t really stop seeing her.
Finally, my dorm roommate, most likely thoroughly disgusted at how stubbornly I hung to something I couldn’t have, simply said, “You’re beating a dead horse.” Who is blind like my servant?
I knew he was right. I verbally acknowledged he was right. And then, like the fool I had become, I just ignored what he said and went right on doing the same things.
You may view my situation as understandable or sympathize with the depth of loss I was feeling. But no matter how you dress it up, I was simply rebelling against the Lord’s command.
Samuel had to make it just as plain to Saul, who had clearly compromised and even gone to Carmel to “set up a monument in his own honor,” as if all his religious-sounding rationalizations made it all right (1 Sam 15:12):
“To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams. For rebellion is like the sin of divination, and arrogance like the evil of idolatry” (15:22-23).
What did he mean by referring to “the sin of divination” and the “evil of idolatry”? These were practices associated with the surrounding pagan nations—the nations without the light. And the rebellion of a “righteous” king was equated with that.
Rebellion is simply not walking in the light. And who is so blind as the person with light who won’t walk in it? Who is so blind as “the servant of the Lord,” the prophet wrote–when the truth is in plain sight?