Samuel said, ‘Though you are little in your own eyes, are you not the head of the tribes of Israel? The Lord anointed you king over Israel. And the Lord sent you on a mission, and said, “Go, utterly destroy the sinners, the Amalekites, and fight against them until they are consumed.” Why then did you not obey the voice of the Lord? Why did you swoop down on the spoil, and do what was evil in the sight of the Lord?’ 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 utterly destroyed the Amalekites. But from the spoil the people took sheep and cattle, the best of the things devoted to destruction, to sacrifice to the Lord your God in Gilgal.’ And Samuel said,
‘Has the Lord as great delight in burnt-offerings and sacrifices,
as in obedience to the voice of the Lord?
Surely, to obey is better than sacrifice,
and to heed than the fat of rams.
For rebellion is no less a sin than divination,
and stubbornness is like iniquity and idolatry.
Because you have rejected the word of the Lord,
he has also rejected you from being king.’
Even after Samuel intercedes on behalf of the Israelites, Saul is placed in an impossible position. He has been chosen to be the representative of a sinful people before a perfect God. How can he win? Only a perfect man can fully obey the will of God, so when opportunities to sin arise, Saul fails. Instead of destroying the Amalekites and leaving the corrupting spoils, as YHWH instructed, Saul takes what he pleases and convinces himself that he is offering sacrifices to God. At face value, it seems that Saul is doing his duty to God, but his disobedience further separates the imperfect Israel from the perfect God.
Sin has that effect on us. It allows us to tell a lie to ourselves that sounds so convincing and even virtuous that we believe it. Israel attempted to replace God with a King. It probably seemed like Saul was a good ruler when he conquered the Amalekites. It probably seemed like Saul was a righteous man when he made burnt-offerings, as a faithful Jew would.
But Saul could not represent Israel any better than we can represent ourselves. The repeated failure of Saul to follow the simplest commands is exactly how we live without the power of the one true redeemer. The story of King Saul is an allegory of our own lives without Jesus. We claim that we know best, that we can discern right from wrong, that it would be better if we could make our own decisions, and yet we unfailingly drive over the side of the cliff as soon as God gives us the wheel.
Hell is man’s best imitation of heaven.