The Bleating of Sheep and the Lowing of Oxen

It is a well-known story from the Old Testament.

King Saul was commanded by the prophet Samuel to gather an army and destroy the Amalekites, whose cup of iniquity had reached its limit (I Sam. 15:2). This was not to be an ordinary war of plunder and conquest, by a divine punishment on account of sin. No spoil of any kind was to be taken. Nothing was to be spared, not even the animals (verse 3).

The king sent messengers throughout Israel, calling upon God's people to join in the effort to execute the divine sentence on the wicked Amalekites. Two hundred and ten thousand men responded, gathering at Saul's command in the vicinity of Telaim (verse 4). The army appears to have lain in wait in a valley close to a city of Amalek (verse 5), soon after which Saul inflicted total destruction on the Amalekites (verse 7).

But we first read of Saul's departure from God's command in verse 8, in which we read that the Amalekite King Agag was taken alive. We then read in verse 9:

"But Saul and the people spared Agag, and the best of the sheep, and of the oxen, and the fatlings, and the lambs, and all that was good, and would not utterly destroy them; but every thing that was vile and refuse, that they destroyed utterly" (verse 9).

Ellen White explains the motive of Saul and his people for thus disobeying God's orders on this point:

"Ambitious to heighten the honor of his triumphal return by the presence of a royal captive, Saul ventured to imitate the customs of the nations around him and spared Agag, the fierce and warlike king of the Amalekites. The people reserved for themselves the finest of the flocks, herds, and beasts of burden, excusing their sin on the ground that the cattle were reserved to be offered as sacrifices to the Lord. It was their purpose, however, to use these merely as a substitute, to save their own cattle" (1).

The Denial of Plain Evidence

As the army returned in triumph, Saul hastened to meet the prophet Samuel, who had been informed by a night vision of Saul's disobedience, and who had "wept and prayed all night for a reversing of the terrible sentence" of the king's rejection by God as a result of his rebellion (2). But the king, "debased by his disobedience, came to meet Samuel with a lie upon his lips" (3):

"Blessed by thou of the Lord: I have performed the commandment of the Lord" (I Sam. 15:13).

One is amazed here at Saul's audacity. Here he comes, returning from Amalek with plain evidence of his disregard of Heaven's orders, yet somehow expecting God's prophet not to notice! Samuel, quite obviously, wasn't fooled. He replied:

"What meaneth then this bleating of the sheep in mine ears, and the lowing of the oxen which I hear?" (verse 14).

Saul's unfaithfulness was plainly evident. God had told him, through His prophet, to destroy everything the Amalekites possessed, and to take no spoil of any kind. Though the king attempted to blame the people for this act (verse 15), again we marvel at his attempt to hide in plain sight. In Ellen White's words: "The people had obeyed Saul's directions; but in order to shield himself, he was willing to charge upon them the sin of his disobedience" (3).

Contemporary Relevance

The bleating of sheep and the lowing of oxen can be heard in the Seventh-day Adventist Church today.

There are those in our ranks today, some occupying responsible positions, who even now make the claim to full harmony with, and adherence to, the Fundamental Beliefs and duly voted policies of the worldwide Adventist body. Yet any number of these same persons have facilitated and even encouraged the open disregard of these very doctrines and policies.

Three times the worldwide Seventh-day Adventist denomination, at its highest level of authority, has forbidden the ordination of women to ministerial roles identical to those given in Scripture to men. Yet some who presently profess loyalty to the church, its doctrines and its policies have dared to disobey these Bible-based decisions. Any number of these same persons have turned a blind eye to the endorsement and promotion of homosexual practice in certain congregations and institutions, together with the teaching of theistic evolution in some of these same settings.

Like Saul of old, they insist that they "have performed the commandment of the Lord" (I Sam. 15:13). But like the rebellious king, they find their words contradicted by plain evidence. The bleating of sheep and the lowing of oxen rise unmistakably in the ears of the faithful, utterly demolishing the claims of fidelity on the part of these disloyal ones.


God has not changed. As in Saul's time, "rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry" (I Sam. 15:23). And as in Saul's day, undeniable evidence of resistance to God's Word is present in certain of our ranks---visible, conspicuous, and unmistakable.

In Saul's case, divine rejection of his rulership and dynasty followed his failure to deal with the Amalekites and their possessions as God ordered. Certain ones holding positions of leadership in God's church today, whose permissive and at times positive stance toward unscriptural teachings and practices has brought confusion and division in the church, may likewise find their responsibilities altered. While such may profess, in the face of confrontation and scrutiny, to have "performed the commandment of the Lord" (I Sam. 15:13), the bleating of sheep and the lowing of oxen is rising in too many ears for their claims to be taken seriously.

Now as then, rebellion has consequences.




1. Ellen G. White, Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 629.

2. Ibid, p. 630.

3. Ibid.