You Obey the One You Fear

At the root of insecurity — the anxiety over how others think of us — is pride. This pride is an excessive desire for others to see us as impressive and admirable. Insecurity is the fear that they won’t, but instead they will see us as deficient. As King Saul1 shows us, it’s a dangerous fear because insecurity can lead to great disobedience.


Samuel’s heart was broken and heavy as he neared Saul’s camp at Gilgal. Israel’s first king had failed so soon and so seriously.

And Samuel was tired. He’d been up all night prayerfully mourning the Lord’s words, “I regret that I have made Saul king, for he has turned back from following me and has not performed my commandments.”

And he was angry. The Lord had already severely disciplined Saul for officiating the burnt offering2 when he knew it transgressed the Law. But God had been gracious in giving him another chance by sending him to carry out judgment on the Amalekites. The instructions could not have been clearer. They had not been obeyed.

The old prophet trembled at the word he must deliver to an armed king who feared public humiliation more than the Holy One.

Saul was all smiles when he saw Samuel. “Blessed be you to the Lord. I have performed the commandment of the Lord.”

Samuel had to bite his tongue. “What then is this bleating of the sheep in my ears and the lowing of the oxen that I hear?”

Saul felt immediately exposed. Alone he had figured that fudging some on the instructions really wouldn’t matter. But now he knew he had gravely presumed. He fumbled for words. “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.”

This was a smoke screen. “Stop!” Samuel cried. He could not bear Saul trying to cover disobedience with cosmetic righteousness. Nor his cowardly hiding behind the people. “I will tell you what the Lord said to me this night.”

Saul was defensive in his guilt. “Speak,” he said with a bravado disguise.

“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, 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?”

Then looking over at the plump livestock, the price of Saul’s kingdom, Samuel said, “Why did you pounce on the spoil and do what was evil in the sight of the Lord?”

Saul was defiant in his denial. “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 your God in Gilgal.”

Samuel just hung his head in disappointment. And he shook it with a subtleness that stung Saul as much as anything the prophet had said…yet.

With teary eyes on the ground, Samuel said, “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.”

Samuel then paused and caught his breath. Slowly he looked up into Saul’s guilt-shy eyes. “Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, he has also rejected you from being king.”

Saul nervously glanced at the wordless watching men around him. He was sweating. “I have sinned, for I have transgressed the commandment of the Lord and your words, because I feared the people and obeyed their voice.”


Saul is a sober reminder to us that we obey the one we fear. He feared the people — he loved his reputation — and despised God. Being little in our own eyes can be either righteous or ruinous. It’s righteous if we see God as big and us as small. This actually frees us from fear. But it’s ruinous if the approval of man is what’s big to us because it always leads to disobeying God.

When we fail in this area, and all of us do at some point, God calls us not to remorse but to repentance. Saul was remorseful, but not repentant. He pursued the god of his own glory over the God who gave him that glory right to his death on Mount Gilboa. And he became lethally paranoid with insecurity.

So let us repent of our insecurities and say with Peter and the disciples, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). For the wise and humble “fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28).


1This meditation is taken from 1 Samuel 15.

21 Samuel 13:8-14


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Jon Bloom (@Bloom_Jon) is the author of Not by Sight: A Fresh Look at Old Stories of Walking by Faith and serves as the President of Desiring God, which he and John Piper launched together in 1994. He lives in the Twin Cities with his wife, Pam, their five children, and one naughty dog.