Prof. Michael Glodo preaches a chapel message on 1 Samuel 15 at RTS Orlando. The message is entitled “The Perils of Man-Praise.”
I ask you to turn in your Bibles this morning to 1 Samuel 15. It is a long text compared to probably what most of you hear on a Sunday morning, but that doesn’t indicate a long set of remarks on it because for the length of the story, its meaning is fairly straightforward to us. So I ask you to give attention to the reading of God’s Word in 1 Samuel 15.
And Samuel said to Saul, “The Lord sent me to anoint you king over his people Israel; now therefore listen to the words of the Lord. Thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘I have noted what Amalek did to Israel in opposing them on the way when they came up out of Egypt. Now go and strike Amalek and devote to destruction all that they have. Do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.’”
So Saul summoned the people and numbered them in Telaim, two hundred thousand men on foot, and ten thousand men of Judah. And Saul came to the city of Amalek and lay in wait in the valley. Then Saul said to the Kenites, “Go, depart; go down from among the Amalekites, lest I destroy you with them. For you showed kindness to all the people of Israel when they came up out of Egypt.” So the Kenites departed from among the Amalekites. And Saul defeated the Amalekites from Havilah as far as Shur, which is east of Egypt. And he took Agag the king of the Amalekites alive and devoted to destruction all the people with the edge of the sword. But Saul and the people spared Agag and the best of the sheep and of the oxen and of the fattened calves and the lambs, and all that was good, and would not utterly destroy them. All that was despised and worthless they devoted to destruction.
The word of the Lord came to Samuel: “I regret that I have made Saul king, for he has turned back from following me and has not performed my commandments.” And Samuel was angry, and he cried to the Lord all night. And Samuel rose early to meet Saul in the morning. And it was told Samuel, “Saul came to Carmel, and behold, he set up a monument for himself and turned and passed on and went down to Gilgal.” And Samuel came to Saul, and Saul said to him, “Blessed be you to the Lord. I have performed the commandment of the Lord.” And Samuel said, “What then is this bleating of the sheep in my ears and the lowing of the oxen that I hear?” Saul said, “They have brought them to me from the Amalekites, for the people spared the best of the sheep and of the oxen to sacrifice to the Lord your God, and the rest we have devoted to destruction.” Then Samuel said to Saul, “Stop! I will tell you what the Lord said to me this night.” And he said to him, “Speak.”
And Samuel said, “Though you are little in your own eyes, are you not the head of the tribes of Israel? The Lord anointed you king over Israel. And the Lord set you on a mission and said, ‘Go, devote to destruction the sinners, the Amalekites, and fight against them until they are consumed.’ Why then did you not obey the voice of the Lord? Why did you pounce on the spoil and do what was evil in the sight of the Lord?” And Saul said to Samuel, “I have obeyed the voice, the Lord. I have gone on the mission on which the Lord sent me. I have brought Agag the king of Amalek, and I have devoted the Amalekites to destruction. But the people took of the spoil, sheep and oxen, the best of the things devoted to destruction, to sacrifice to the Lord your God in Gilgal.” And Samuel said, “Has 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 listen than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of divination, and presumption is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, he has also rejected you from being king.”
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. Now therefore, please pardon my sin and return with me that I may bow before the Lord.” And Samuel said to Saul, “I will not return with you. For you have rejected the word of the Lord, and the Lord has rejected you from being king over Israel. As Samuel turned to go away, Saul seized the skirt of his robe, and it tore. Samuel said to him, “The Lord has torn the kingdom of Israel from you this day and has given it to a neighbor of yours, who is better than you. And also the Glory of Israel will not lie or have regret, for he is not a man, that he should have regret.” Then he said, “I have sinned; yet honor me now before the elders of my people and before Israel, and return with me, that I may bow before the Lord your God.” So Samuel turned back after Saul, and Saul bowed before the Lord.
Then Samuel said, “Bring here to me Agag the king of the Amalekites.” And Agag came to him cheerfully. Agag said, “Surely the bitterness of death has passed.” And Samuel said, “As your sword has made women childless, so shall your mother be childless among women.” And Samuel hacked Agag to pieces before the Lord in Gilgal.
Then Samuel went to Ramah, and Saul went up to his house in Gibeah of Saul. And Samuel did not see Saul again until the day of his death, but Samuel grieved over Saul. And the Lord regretted that he had made Saul king over Israel.
We’ve heard this Word of God read, now let’s ask God’s blessing upon this Word. O Lord, open our eyes that we might behold wonderful things in your law. Quicken our hearts so that we might believe these words and rest upon them in faith. And help us not merely to be hearers, but doers as well. All this we ask by your Spirit, in the name of your Son, Jesus Christ, Amen.
The Danger of Choosing a Cheap Imitation
I saw in the newspaper today Tim Taylor is coming to town. Now he’s a contemporary television actor, but he was most famous when? For what show? Tool Time! Well, Tool Time was a show in the show. He was a quintessential Detroiter, and back in the 90s, a wonderful little family sitcom, and he hosted a how-to-do-it show, a home improvement show. And he always made these kind of primal grunts whenever a great tool came into the focus of his show.
Well, I remember having a similar grunt some years ago when I learned about the Leatherman Super Tool. How many of you have heard of the Leatherman Super Tool? Now listen to this description of a Super Tool: 16 tools in one. Innovative design locks blade in place during use. Foldout tools, including a wood bone saw, serrated knife, needle nose pliers, wire cutters, clip point knife, metal in wood file, nine inch ruler, can and bottle opener, Phillips and three-slotted screwdrivers, electrical crimper, wire stripper, and all slash punch. Tools neatly fold into handles. Boom.
Now when I first heard about the Leatherman Super Tool, I thought, “If tools could make a man a man, the Leatherman Super Tool would make me a man.” The only problem was, and this is probably 30 years ago, the price tag then was $59.99. Way out of my reach. But even as a fledgling homeowner, I wanted a Super Tool. But then I got one of these mail product catalogs, cheap stuff that you don’t ask for, but you get them anyway, where you can buy sea monkeys and other stuff. And in it was the pocket workshop and the pocket workshop had almost as many tools as the Super Tool, but it was only $12.99. So what did I do? I opted for the pocket workshop.
The first time I tried to clip a wire with it, the wire cutters crimped. There was a little notch in the wire cutters. The first time I tried to turn a screw with it, the flathead screwdriver just kind of bent before the screw ever started turning. And then I was trying to turn a nut that was stuck on my pool pump and gripping it so tightly, and just as I thought I had it tightened up, gripped to turn it, all of a sudden Snap! The thing shattered. If you’ve ever broken a baseball bat or hit a golf ball on a very cold day on a wrong way, that’s what it felt like on my hands. As I was looking at my hands stinging and looking at the pieces of what was left of my pocket workshop, I realized this is something I had just done again. It was something I had done many times. It was just to save a few bucks. I bought a cheap imitation instead of laying out what it took to get the real thing.
God’s approval is the only approval that really counts, we have to seek his approval above the approval of people.So what does that have to do with the Samuel story here, with his engagement with King Saul? Well, the object here is approval. There is the possibility, the prospect, if Saul is faithful to do what God has commanded, he will be the recipient of divine approval. But instead, he takes the cheap imitation. He takes the approval of people or what the Puritans would simply call man-praise.
So I want us to consider the story of Saul’s rejection as a mirror of our own experience. Do we at times choose the praise of people over the praise of God? What are the effects of that? How can we find our way out of seeking people’s approval over God’s approval? And for that matter, how can we be sure even of God’s approval? So we will look at this story of Saul’s rejection to understand that because God’s approval is the only approval that really counts, we have to seek his approval above the approval of people.
Our Greatest Deeds Reflect Our Greatest Loves, Including Man-Praise
We can see this in the beginning of the story when we see Saul’s failure, that is, his capitulation to the desires and demands of other people. When we look at that more closely, we’re going to see that his failure, that is his worship at the idol of man-praise, is really reflected in his greatest accomplishments. In other words, our greatest deeds reflect our greatest loves. hat’s why to start with we have to recognize the symptoms of the idol of man-praise in our lives.
Our greatest deeds reflect our greatest loves.Let’s think about the story for a moment just to see that. This is a story about cherem warfare, that is warfare which devotes the enemy to destruction. It’s the warfare of Joshua. This is a big subject. If you’re ever speaking or teaching on this and the church, you probably need to take some time to help explain this to others because to the modern ear sounds like pure genocide, and there are some critical distinctions here.
Simply speaking, it is a type or a projection of final judgment. But to devote to destruction doesn’t mean simply to take vengeance. If you look at the book of Deuteronomy, you’ll see that to devote to destruction means to offer something to the Lord. So the total destruction of an enemy wasn’t simply vengeance, but it was giving over that enemy as an act of sacrifice to the Lord. So you see from the very beginning the dichotomy of saving some things to sacrifice to the Lord and then giving the rest of destruction, that is a false dichotomy. Full obedience would have been to render their enemies completely to the Lord.
The text mentions this is because of what the Amalekites did to the Israelites as they were vulnerable and trying to make their way from Egypt and to the Promised Land. Saul holds back the best, but why does he hold back the best? Well, he holds back the best for a ceremonial public civic sacrificial ceremony. He transcends his role as king to act as a priest. Even though Samuel is the priest in Israel or the descendants of Aaron were the priests in Israel, Saul is garnering support. He’s creating coalitions. And so that’s why what he did was wrong.
But why did he do it? Well, we have this debate between Saul and Samuel. “You didn’t obey the voice of the Lord.” “I did obey the voice of the Lord!” “No, you didn’t.” “Yes, I did.” This sounds like siblings arguing, right? Where’s the resolution? Well, the debate is over whether Saul obeyed the kol, the voice, of the Lord. Finally Samuel says, “Well, then what is the bleating of the sheep and the lowing of the oxen that I hear?” The word for bleating and lowing is the same word as voice. So literally, Saul is saying, “I obeyed the voice of the Lord.” And Samuel says, “Well, what’s the voice of these sheep and cows?”
Saul had been appealing to those as evidence of his righteousness. And Samuel says, “Exactly.” You see, he was pointing to his greatest accomplishment as a sign that he had fully given to God what God had asked, and Samuel turns it around and says, “Exactly.” Perhaps an illustration can help. Most of my legal training came from watching the O. J. Simpson trial a number of years ago. But I learned something really significant about legal process.
There was a guy who lived in O. J.’s pool house. His name was Kato Kaelin. Blond surfer dude, apparently jobless, except for living in O. J.’s pool house, and he had some evidence to give, some testimony to give. And so the prosecution called him as a witness, but as he was being questioned on the stand, his story began to change. Details were coming out that he hadn’t previously shared. The prosecution is realizing the witness we called for the prosecution is actually helping the defense. So the prosecutors asked the judge to make a legal determination, “Judge Ito, we ask that you declare this witness to be a hostile witness?” What’s a hostile witness? Well, a hostile witness is a witness called for one side who appears to be now helping the other side, and it changes the rules of testimony. What it means is now the prosecutors who could not previously cross-examine their own witness now can cross-examine him.
Our greatest accomplishments are where our idolatries are the most virulent.And this is what Samuel is doing. He’s saying, “You want to call the witness of these sheep and these oxen? OK, let’s call them. Let’s cross examine them.” And the irony, and whether Saul fully realizes it or not, is what he thinks is evidence of his full and true and pure hearted obedience is actually what condemns him most. And here’s the point: as we’re talking about recognizing how our greatest loves reflect our heart idolatries, we have to look at this and ask ourselves: what are the things that we would present in defense of ourselves before God? Our ministries, our lives, all areas of life, our marriages, our families, our careers. All these things. What would be the things that we would put forward and say, “See, I am a faithful follower of you, God?
Because the likelihood is that our greatest accomplishments are where our idolatries are the most virulent, where we put the most time or the things that we take the greatest joy in. The things that make us the most sorrowful. The things that are most expensive in price. The things which when somebody sneezes on them, make us the most upset. If people regard you as a very friendly, gregarious person and then you hear somebody said, “Oh, he’s not friendly,” then you get disproportionally upset. Why? Because they sneezed on your badge of friendliness.
Man-praise is disproportionately powerful in people who seek to serve God in ministry.And here, Saul is completely captive to what other people think. He admits, “I listen to the voice of the people,” after he first tries to blame shift. This is what we have to do, we have to look: what are the evidences in our life that would testify to our greatest loves? It’s highly relevant to look at man-praise as one of them, because man-praise is disproportionately powerful in people who seek to serve God in ministry. What people think of us matters a lot more to us than most people. But we know that based on what we see about Saul, that that’s the very thing that can lead us into faithlessness. So our greatest deeds usually reflect our greatest loves, and we have to look at them to examine how much man-praise is powerful in our lives.
Man-Praise Produces Powerlessness; God-Praise Gives Strength
Secondly, I want us to see how man-praise produces powerlessness. Because if man-praise produces powerlessness, then all the more reason we should prize God’s praise. Man-praise produces powerlessness, so we have to prize God praise.
Why did Saul do what he did? He acknowledges he listened to the voice of the people. Samuel gives us the answer in verse 17, “And Samuel said, ‘Though you are little in your own eyes . . . .” Now if you remember the story of Saul, you probably know exactly what this is referring to. When it was time for Saul to be called, he was nowhere to be found. Finally, somebody finds him in the coat check room. He’s hiding among the baggage.
This is in contrast to why Saul was called and what kind of person he was. What did the people ask for when they wanted Saul as King? Let us have a king like the nations. The sin of Israel was not that they wanted a king, because Deuteronomy 17 says, “When you choose for yourself a king . . . . “ God wanted his people to have a king. God would provide for them a king. But Deuteronomy 17 says, “Don’t choose a king like the nations, but choose the one that God chooses.”
When the people of Israel come forward to say, “We want a king like the nations,” the Deuteronomic theologies should be popping all over your brain saying, “No!” And then we learn something about Saul. He stood head and shoulders above everybody. He stood out in the crowd for his height, and most probably his strength. He was an impressive guy. He would look good on the posters, even maybe on a coin or printed currency if they had it back then. He’s the kind of king you would want to bring to your neighborhood and introduce to your friends.
And yet he was hiding among the baggage. Why is he so vulnerable to the praise of people? Because that’s all he had. He was little in his own eyes, even though he stood head and shoulders above everybody else. And as Samuel says here, and even though God chose you as head, little pun there, probably from Samuel, God chose you as head over his people, but the only strength he had, the only standing he had, the only lines on his resumé was what everybody thought of him, and he thought little of himself. This is one of the most dangerous vocational risks that people in ministry face. When people think of us in one way, and we think of ourselves in a diametrically opposite way.
I think the first time I heard about Winter Park, Florida, was when I was in college, and I was reading a national newspaper and there was a picture of a sinkhole with some Porsches and some Mercedes and some BMWs. There’s a lake off Fairbanks Avenue just behind where the bowling alley used to be that used to be a luxury car dealership. This sinkhole opened up and ate millions of dollars of cars. Google it, not right now, but later, and you’ll see the photos. If you’ve lived here very long, you know about sinkholes. What’s happening over time is there’s a void developing below the surface, and if the groundwater drops to a certain level or if there’s nearby construction or it can be a host of other reasons, what at one time looked like solid ground on which even houses and buildings get built, all of a sudden collapses and shows there’s nothing underneath it.
And over 35 years of ministry now, I can’t number for you those who had the Saul syndrome who eventually become voids and collapse in upon themselves because people think of them one way and they think of themselves in the opposite. That bridge doesn’t connect on its own. Without attention, that void will, by the very nature of the thing, continue to spread until disaster happens. When it’s happening, when the Saul syndrome hits us, we become more concerned with what people think of us, we start doing what they want us to do, and we know that good and faithful ministry is not doing what people want anymore than good and faithful parenting is doing what our children want all the time. I’m fond of saying these days that children are terrorists because they threaten to be unhappy with whatever you do that doesn’t please them. But Pastor Osburn, can church members be terrorists, too, in that same respect? Have you had any? Yeah.
I’ve learned to admire something. I first noticed it in David Nicholas. I’ve learned to admire this thing I call sanctified indifference: those people I meet in ministry who just really don’t care what people think, but they otherwise have their moral compass set straight. They know where life is grounded and the freedom that they have to not be buffeted by whether somebody’s smiling or frowning during a sermon or which people are smiling or frowning. Thank you for smiling. Because if you are constantly wrapped up in what people want from you and expect from you, a friend of mine said this, “You get three options. You get to decide who you are, or other people get to decide for you who you are. And those are terrible options. Or you get to let God decide who you are.” And the only way you can let God decide who you are is if you prize what he thinks of you more than anything else. And there’s tremendous freedom in that.
There Is Freedom in Seeking Praise Only from God and Accepting His Praise in Christ
That’s the last thing I want us to see in this in this story of Saul and Samuel, that if we recognize the symptoms of man-praise and realize how powerless it makes us, then we will desire the praise of God. The final thing we should see from this is toward the end of the story that freedom comes from a praiseworthy king. We will know that freedom if we submit to him as king. Where do we find that?
Even while Saul is still saying, “Please save face for me, please go back with me, please don’t humiliate me in front of all the people, let’s just keep this between you and me,” Samuel says, “The Lord has torn the kingdom of Israel from you this day and has given it to a neighbor of yours, who is better than you.” And we know that that neighbor is David, that David, ruddy, diminutive, left in the fields when Jesse brought his other sons for the king pageant, that David was the one that God had already chosen. David didn’t run for office, but David waited for God’s calling. His delight was to do God’s will because he’s described as a man after God’s own heart. David lost his way when he decided to be a king like the nations. 2 Samuel 11, you want to understand the story of Bathsheba, just look at the first sentence: “It was a time of year when kings went to war and David was on his roof.” David had now become a member of the Chamber of Commerce rather than a servant king to do God’s will. But when David was a king after God’s own heart, when his desire was to do the will of God and let God be the true king of Israel, he reigned over the people of God to subdue them to the will of God, to protect them from the wrath of God, to defend them from their enemies so that they knew freedom.
What God thinks of us is of secondary importance to what God thinks of Jesus.The temptation here might be to say, “David understood the praise of God, and so we should understand the praise of God,” and that’s true. But it’s only true because he was the king first before he was Joe Israelite. Now why do I say that? Because what God thinks of us is of secondary importance to what God thinks of Jesus.Because just like Israel of old, we need a king who will want better for us than what people want for us. We don’t just take Christ’s righteousness as our own, but we embrace Christ’s kingship as our guide. His food was to do the will of him who sent him, and because of that, Paul says that we have died and our life is hidden with God in Christ.
So it’s important what God thinks of us, which is righteous, sanctified, and glorified and all these things that are both already and not yet. But without what God thinks of Jesus, these things are not true. But because we have a king like him, the kind of king that David pointed toward, it makes possible living what we might call a coram deo life. Coram Deo means living before the face of God. That life is lived moment by moment in the presence of God, and all the other characters in the drama, the light is less on them, and the spotlight is on God’s will. When we’re talking to somebody, when we’re responding to criticism, when we’re listening to correction, when we’re looking at our own griefs and joys and habits and searching for our own heart idolatries, we can only do that before the Lord. Life is to be lived sitting, but also walking in the presence of our king because Christ was a faithful king.
What should be the desire of our heart is God’s happiness with our living before him moment by moment.What we need is a set of noise canceling headphones for life. Aren’t those brilliant? They can block out jet engines. They can block out machine noise. They can block up gun range noises, and still allow a human voice to pass through. This is what the gospel enables us to do, to hear the voice of the Good Shepherd, to be guided by him and him alone so that the cacophony of people’s praises will not guide us. All things equal, I like people being happy as opposed to the alternatives. But what should be the desire of our heart is God’s happiness with our living before him moment by moment.
Leo Sowerby was what some of you wanted to be when you were little kids growing up. He was a fantastic, phenomenal organist. How many of you, when you were five, said, “I want to be a great organist”? At 10 years old, he decided to be a composer. When he was 18, the Chicago Symphony performed his music. When he was 22, the Chicago Symphony played an entire concert by him. He taught at the American Conservatory and College of Church Musicians in Chicago, which is one of the premiere sacred music instructional centers. Eugene Ormandy debuted at Carnegie Hall by playing a Sowerby composition. If you were a church organist, you would have a Leo Sowerby baseball card.
Now the thing is, though, Sowerby died in 1968. As they were going through his papers after his death, they found what scholars and experts have concluded was the greatest work he had ever written, and it had never been published or performed. It’s called the Psalm Symphony. The reason that people think it was never published or performed is because it was written during an intense time of spiritual renewal in Sowerby’s life. He went on a sabbatical. He was at the Vatican. According to his own life story, he experienced a dramatic spiritual renewal during that time. Whether it was his conversion or not, it’s hard to say. But he never offered the Psalm Symphony for publication or performance because it was too intensely personal for him to do so. The greatest American composer of sacred music, he had, in fact, written his greatest work for an audience of one.
This is the kind of king we have. He lived and served, he died and rose for an audience of one. And because of that, he is a gracious king to us. He will rule over and defend us, subdue us to himself, and help us to live for his praise rather than the praise of other people. If God has exposed in your own heart ways in which you have been held captive to the praise of others, may, by his grace, you find in the approval that Jesus Christ has gained for us, but also his gentle and gracious reign in our lives, may you experience freedom from that tyranny today.
Let’s pray together. Lord, we thank you for the example of David when he was conformed to your will so that in contrast with Saul, we might see what kind of king we have in Jesus Christ. We thank you that you do not do what we ask you to do, but you do what is best for us. And so in his reign in our lives by deprivations and provisions, may you help us to live more and more day by day for your divine approval, which has already been granted us in the righteousness of your Son and awaits us as we faithfully seek to live by faith in this life. And we ask it in Christ’s name, Amen.