A False Repentance

So Samuel said to him, “The Lord has torn the kingdom of Israel from you today, and has given it to a neighbor of yours, who is better than you” (v. 28).

- 1 Samuel 15:24-29

With Samuel’s devastating announcement that God has rejected him as king, Saul at last seems to acknowledge his sin. But Matthew Henry writes that “it is too evident that he only acts the part of a penitent, and is not one indeed.” To support his case, Henry notes:

1. Saul makes his confession to Samuel only. He admits that he “ ‘transgressed the commandment of the Lord and [Samuel’s] words,’ ” but he asks only Samuel’s pardon, and that is not sufficient. He does not seem to grasp that Samuel was speaking for God, that his words were God’s. By contrast, when David sinned with Bathsheba, violating her, her husband, and numerous others, he told God, “Against You, You only, have I sinned” (Ps. 51:4).

2. Saul excuses his fault, saying he feared the people and listened to them. But Henry notes that he never shrank before the people before.

3. He is most interested in saving face. He asks Samuel to participate with him in a thanksgiving service and to honor him before the elders. He wants no one to know that God has rejected him as king.

Also disturbing is Saul’s apparent belief that he cannot worship God unless Samuel is with him (vv. 25, 30). God has rejected Saul as king, but He will not reject him if he comes as a penitent sinner. But Saul seems disinclined to do that. Then, in his most disturbing statement of all, he asks Samuel to return with him that he might worship “ ‘the Lord your God.’ ” Samuel’s God? Has Saul forgotten that Yahweh is not just Samuel’s God, indeed not just Israel’s God, but the one only living and true God of all the universe? We’re told that he worships God (v. 31), but his understanding leaves much to be desired.

Samuel initially refuses to go with Saul, for he has rejected God’s word and God therefore has rejected him, period. As he turns to go, Saul grabs at Samuel’s robe and tears a piece of it away, an event that Samuel turns into a parable. He tells Saul that God has torn the kingdom from him and given it to another, “better” man, a man who will be faithful to God’s covenant. And this decision of God’s is irrevocable, for “ ‘He is not a man, that He should relent.’ ”

But Samuel, being a man, finally does relent and goes with Saul, though his primary reason may be to take care of unfinished business, as we will see in tomorrow’s study.

Coram Deo

What a pathetic figure Saul presents—his heart is far from God, but he is more concerned with saving face before his people. The condition of our souls must always be our highest personal concern, and true grief over sin is a key sign of spiritual health. Does your sin grieve you? If not, ask God to help you see your sins as offenses against Him.

Passages for Further Study

Job 5:11
Ecclesiastes 7:3
2 Corinthians 7:10
James 4:9–10

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