The task with which he was charged was great, and the opportunities doubtless were sought by many. Everything that he required in order to be successful had been given to him bountifully. The Lord had pointed him out to Samuel (1 Sam 9.17); he had enjoyed the privilege of being with the prophet and communing with him (9.25); he had been anointed king by Samuel (10.1); he had been given "another heart" (10.9); the Spirit of the Lord came upon him and it was given to him to prophesy (10.11). Never could it be said that Saul was ill fitted to be king of Israel. He may have been the choice of the people but the Lord gave him all that was necessary to enable him to rule well.
And yet, despite such blessings the shadow of failure had begun to darken his reign. After one year on the throne there was the first indication of what was in his heart. At a critical time in the war against the Philistines he had gone to Gilgal to wait seven days for Samuel (13.8) as he had been instructed to do at such times (10.8). However, before the seven days had fully run their course, with fleshly impatience he had offered burnt offerings, that which should have been left for Samuel to do. As a consequence of his disobedience the kingly office would not be passed on to his descendants.
The shadows, however, grew deeper. In the war against the Amalekites the word of the Lord to him was to smite them "both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass" (15.3). After the victory, however, he spared Agag the king of the Amalekites "and the best of the sheep, and of the oxen, and of the fatlings, and the lambs, and all that was good" (v.9). Following this he set up a monument to his victory (v.12).
Returning with the spoils of battle, he declared to Samuel that he had "performed the commandment of the Lord". This declaration of his faithfulness would appear to have been made with confidence, an indication that the king did not appreciate the magnitude of his sin. But above the voice of Saul, above the protestation of his submission to the word of the Lord, louder voices could be heard. "What meaneth then this bleating of the sheep in mine ears, and the lowing of the oxen which I hear?", enquired Samuel. The truth was to be heard from the mouths of the sheep and the oxen and not from the lips of Saul. These voices condemned Saul. Their voices were heard above his. They were proof that he had ignored the word of the Lord.
His claim that it was the people who had spared the best to sacrifice to the Lord was but a weak excuse (vv.15,21). Like many before and many after him he claimed piety for disobedience. He did not recognise that "to obey is better than sacrifice" (v.22).
Towards the end of another year, as we survey the months past, it may be that we are content that we have gone on well with the Lord. We may feel that there is little that is displeasing to Him, but perhaps, Saul like, we do not understand the bleating of the sheep in our lives, the evidence that we have not obeyed Him as we ought. We may even feel, as he did, that we can justify our actions. Actions, however, have a voice louder than words.
Do we disobey Scripture thinking that the grace of God will overlook our conduct? Do we ignore His word, as did Saul, when there is the possibility of material gain? Like this errant monarch, are we so insensitive to our failure that we do not even recognise the evidence of it as proof of behaviour that is abhorrent to Him? To a smaller or greater extent we must all confess that there have been times when we have heard the bleating of the sheep.
As we face days ahead in His will, may we all determine to so live that the charge placed before this wayward ruler cannot be heard in our ears. Surely we desire to hear Him say, "Well done, thou good and faithful servant" (Mt 25.21,23). But remember, the voice of our actions cannot be suppressed. Let us resolve that we will not let the bleating of the sheep rob us of the prized words, "Well done, thou good and faithful servant".