This is a tale of two kings—two very real kings—from ancient Israel.
Both kings made a choice to sin.
Both received punishment for their sins.
Both made apologies to God.
Only one chose repentance.
Our first King was a man named Saul. While initially successful as the first king of Israel, he developed a fatal flaw: Saul became presumptuous, arrogant, and fearful of losing “his” kingship.
In 1 Samuel 15, we read of the tragic choice leading to Saul’s destruction.
God commanded Saul to destroy everything and everyone in Amalek (v. 3)
Saul goes out to fight—and he wins… however:
“Saul and the people spared Agag [king of Amalek] 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. (v. 9)
Saul chose disobedience.
God spoke to Samuel, (the priest and judge) saying, “I regret that I have made Saul king, for he has turned back from following me and has not performed my commandments.”
Samuel, devastated by this turn of events, spends the night crying in sorrow and anger. In the morning, he goes to visit Saul. Saul, delighted to see Samuel, says, “I have performed the commandment of the Lord.” (v. 13)
Can you imagine the expression on Samuel’s face?
The narrative continues:
Samuel said, “What then is this bleating of the sheep in my ears…?”
Saul said, “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.” (v. 14-15)
Ah! Of course! It was those pesky people! On the other hand, the goal was to make sacrifices, so it must be ok right?
Then Samuel said to Saul, “The Lord sent 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?”
And Saul said to Samuel, “I have obeyed the voice of 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.” (v. 18-21)
The people served as convenient scapegoats, but the fact remains that Saul was the king, entrusted with upholding the law. If “the people” disobeyed God’s command (and not Saul himself), then Saul bore the responsibility to set things right.
The next words of Samuel should resonate with us, even today:
“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.” (v. 22-23)
We may do something with the best of intentions while making excuses for disregarding God’s commands. We can say, “I can’t give money to my neighbor because I’m giving my money to God,” yet, God commands us to love one another. Why not set aside a little something to help your neighbor also? Don’t make excuses, obey the Lord. Love the Lord and love your neighbor.
Saul saw his blunder, but his apology remained full of excuses:
“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.” (v. 24-25)
The Lord didn’t want Saul’s excuses, he wanted sorrow and repentance.
“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.” (v. 26)
So much for King Saul and his lukewarm apology.
Let’s turn our attention to the second king—King David.
David is referred to by God as “a man after [God’s] own heart,” but even David sinned. In fact, we might even consider his sin of adultery with Bathsheba and the subsequent murder of her husband to be a “bigger” sin than Saul’s. To God, however, all sin is abhorrent—size and scope matter not.
In 2 Samuel 12, we read about Nathan the prophet going to David to expose his sin through a story. At the conclusion, David ignited with anger and said, “As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die!”
Nathan looked squarely at the king and said, “You are the man! Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you out of the hand of Saul…And if this were too little, I would add to you as much more. Why have you despised the word of the Lord, to do what is evil in his sight?” (v. 7-9)
Will David respond like Saul? Will he make excuses?
David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.” (v. 13)
David recognized his sin was against the Lord first and foremost. David still suffered consequences for his sin, but the Lord showed David mercy by not killing Him, as was the due punishment under the law for both adultery and murder.
We often quote the verse, “Create in me a clean heart,” but did you know it was David who penned those words after this incident?
In Psalm 51, David makes a plea to the Lord for forgiveness and purification:
For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight…
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from your presence,
and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and uphold me with a willing spirit.
David understood repentance. Unlike Saul, he loved God with his whole heart. The circumstances needed correction, but David knew that above all else, he needed to be right with the Lord. He didn’t want to be cast from God’s presence or lose the Holy Spirit. He knew the change needed to happen within!
David’s grief did not stem from being caught, but from wronging God.
Unlike Saul, David remained king until his death. While it may seem odd that God rejected Saul’s kingship, but maintained David’s, we need to see it from God’s perspective: there was a remarkable difference between the hearts of these two kings. The difference is made obvious in the manner of their response to sin—Saul made excuses while David mourned and turned back to God.
God doesn’t need excuses; He wants repentance.
When you go to God in your prayers and ask forgiveness, are you mentally excusing yourself or do you truly recognize your need for mercy? Are your pleas genuine like David’s or half-hearted like Saul’s?
Thanks be to God for His grace and mercy through Jesus Christ, for without grace we would be lost. No amount of work we do will “make up” for our transgressions. But as Paul says, don’t “continue in sin that grace may abound.” Choose obedience because you love the Lord with your whole heart. When we sin—as we inevitably do—request forgiveness without excuses, give thanks for God’s unfathomable grace, and make full repentance.
God doesn’t need excuses; He wants genuine repentance.
I hope you’ll continue to join me for the series “Why are you making excuses?” If you missed the previous posts, here are some links for further reading:
Take some time to read the passages above in full—they are so rich! All the links should take you to the BibleGateway website so you can read them in context wherever you are!