King Saul was highly successful in destroying the Amalekites, but note Samuel’s instructions to him (1 Samuel 15:1-3) beforehand. After giving the reasons why the Amalekites should be destroyed, Samuel tells him, “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”. Later we read, “And Saul defeated Amalek … and devoted to destruction all the people … But Saul and the people spared … the best of the sheep and oxen … and all that was good …. All that was despised and worthless they devoted to destruction” (verses 7-9).

What a valuable lesson there is in God’s reaction to Saul’s selective obedience. Samuel is sent to express God’s anger at his failure to obey properly. “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?” (verse 19). Saul claims, “I have obeyed the voice of the LORD” (verse 20), but he only did so partly. His claim is that the animals were saved to offer as sacrifices – which would result in Saul and the people enjoying much feasting! The phrase “the voice of the LORD” should cause us to think – they did not hear His actual voice, and neither do we. But we have His word, which is “the voice of the LORD” for us.

Samuel then makes a vital point, “Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD?” (verse 22). What a lesson this is – it dovetails with Isaiah’s message at the start of chapter 59. “Behold, the LORD’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save … but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear.”

If there were prophets like Samuel and Isaiah , what kind of message would they give? Let us not pick and choose only the parts of God’s word we like to believe and obey. Let us live so that we can in say in truth on THAT day, “I have obeyed …”.