The Bible is a messy book. It's full of awkward moments and unpleasant characters. That's because it charts the history of real people making a mess of relationship with a real God. If you try to make the people in the Bible the heroes you almost always come a cropper. Except with Jesus of course!
I've been working on 1 and 2 Samuel for some teaching I'm doing on Friday. It's the history of the rise of Israel's kings. From the outset this was not entirely a good thing. In asking for a human king the people are rejecting God as their king.
"And the LORD said to Samuel, "Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them." (1 Samuel 8:7)
They get the sort of King they want in Saul. A hunk who makes up for what he lacks in temperament with good looks and height!
Early on in his reign Saul decides he knows better than the Lord. It culminates in him ignoring God's command to put to death all the Amalekites he captures in battle, along with their flocks. This might be one of the bits of the Bible you'd like to tidy up. Lose the putting to death bits. However, from Genesis 2 onwards it's very clear that the penalty for rejecting the life giving God is death.
What struck me, wasn't the awfulness of God's judgement on Amalek, but rather the way that Saul excuses himself in not carrying it out.
He starts on the front foot with a good old fashioned lie.
"And Samuel came to Saul, and Saul said to him, "Blessed be you to the LORD. I have performed the commandment of the LORD." (1 Samuel 15:13)
I love Samuel's response....
'And Samuel said, "What then is this bleating of the sheep in my ears and the lowing of the oxen that I hear?"' (1 Samuel 15:14)
Saul then uses three classic ways of shifting the blame. They did it not me. It's your God (implication that he might not be mine). We did it for him anyway!
'Saul said, "They have brought them 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."' (1 Samuel 15:15)
It wasn't me. That rule doesn't apply to me. I broke it for the best!
The problem is that I've said similar things in a rather pathetic effort to get myself out of a tight spot. I can think of times in church life when I've failed to exercise leadership and then blamed the people I failed to lead. I can remember ways that I've excused my grumpiness, about some project or plan at home that has gone wrong, with those warm words often shared between husband and wife, "This was your idea!" I can think of little conversations I've had in my head where I've explained to myself that something I've done, that is wrong, is OK by pretending that I was doing it to help someone else.
Saul is very messy. But that doesn't make him any different from any other human being. That's why in 1 Samuel it is only when God sets his heart on a new King and pours his Spirit into him that things begin to get better. He is the God who keeps his promises and saves his people not because of who they are, but despite who they are.
Pathetic excuses and all!