So what do you make of this?
Saul lost the kingdom because he usurped Samuel’s role and sacrificed animals when he became impatient and the army was melting away. He then disobeyed God by not killing a rival king and preserving some of the “good” livestock for sacrifices. Presumably, still stinging for being scolded for doing sacrifice wrong, he wanted to bring Samuel some choice specimens.
Whatever his motivations, the kingdom was ripped away from him because he did not carry out a full extermination of every last Amalekite and animal.
David had a man murdered and took his wife into his harem. To punish these sins, God killed David’s son. David counted the Israelites against God’s wishes. God sent a plague to kill thousands of the people.
Set these two stories side-by-side. What do they tell you about God?
Many Christians shy away from or try to explain away the Yahweh of Joshua and Judges and stories like Saul and the extermination of the Amalekites. I’m persuaded that doing that often is the imposition of our own system of morality onto God, putting God in a box of our own devising. I don’t think we can explain away Joshua by blaming that story of God on nationalistic Jews who wanted to justify their land claims.
These stories suggest to me a few things, which I have not thought out in any kind of systematic way.
First, God gives and takes as God wills. Our lives really are not our own, but God’s. And he may take them as he will.
Second, Saul’s sins made him unfit to the lead the people. Both were about improper worship. He used the sacrifice to halt the desertion of his armies, then he held back victims from the slaughter to bring to the altar, even though God had not required him to do so. Disordered worship cost him the kingdom whereas David’s personal sins did not.
Third, I find myself sympathizing with Saul. At least when I read the stories today, I got the sense that Saul was just trying to do what seemed like the best idea in the moment. He was trying to lead the army in the first case and trying to do what he thought would honor God in the second case. He seems genuinely befuddled by Samuel’s hostile reaction.
Lots to chew on here. I am sure some of you have some reactions that I have not even considered.