God Doesn’t Answer All Prayer?

This will be part two of this sermon. If you didn’t catch part one, please go back and review it because the previous sermon provides some necessary context for the current discussion we are led to by this part of the story. To summarize:

  • God has chosen Saul for service as king.
  • The Holy Spirit had previously moved Saul to worship and to war, yet
  • Saul has continued to rebel against God. His sin is compounding, and he will eventually die in his sin (cf. 1 Samuel 31).

We are asking how it is possible that someone would show every indication of being a follower of God at one time and have no indication of godliness at another. We will see what is going on with those who claim to be Christians but live contrarily to the doctrines that we have received in Scripture. We will see why there is great apostasy in the organized church today and why the younger generations have departed from the Christian worldview according to Scripture. The Bible answers these questions explicitly. We will see why there are so many preachers and teachers, according to the Bible, who are so convinced of their own salvation and their own teaching but constantly misinterpret and misrepresent God’s Holy Word.

1 Samuel 14:24-46

Now the men of Israel were hard-pressed on that day, for Saul had put the people under oath, saying, “Cursed be the man who eats food before evening, and until I have avenged myself on my enemies.” So none of the people tasted food.

All the people of the land entered the forest, and there was honey on the ground. When the people entered the forest, behold, there was a flow of honey; but no man put his hand to his mouth, for the people feared the oath. But Jonathan had not heard when his father put the people under oath; therefore, he put out the end of the staff that was in his hand and dipped it in the honeycomb, and put his hand to his mouth, and his eyes brightened.

Then one of the people said, “Your father strictly put the people under oath, saying, ‘Cursed be the man who eats food today.’ ” And the people were weary.

Then Jonathan said, “My father has troubled the land. See now, how my eyes have brightened because I tasted a little of this honey. How much more, if only the people had eaten freely today of the spoil of their enemies which they found! For now the slaughter among the Philistines has not been great.”

They struck among the Philistines that day from Michmash to Aijalon. And the people were very weary. The people rushed greedily upon the spoil, and took sheep and oxen and calves, and slew them on the ground; and the people ate them with the blood.

Then they told Saul, saying, “Behold, the people are sinning against the Lord by eating with the blood.” And he said, “You have acted treacherously; roll a great stone to me today.”

Saul said, “Disperse yourselves among the people and say to them, ‘Each one of you bring me his ox or his sheep, and slaughter it here and eat; and do not sin against the Lord by eating with the blood.’ ” So all the people that night brought each one his ox with him and slaughtered it there. And Saul built an altar to the Lord; it was the first altar that he built to the Lord. Then Saul said, “Let us go down after the Philistines by night and take spoil among them until the morning light, and let us not leave a man of them.” And they said, “Do whatever seems good to you.” So the priest said, “Let us draw near to God here.”

Saul inquired of God, “Shall I go down after the Philistines? Will You give them into the hand of Israel?” But He did not answer him on that day.

Saul said, “Draw near here, all you chiefs of the people, and investigate and see how this sin has happened today. For as the Lord lives, who delivers Israel, though it is in Jonathan my son, he shall surely die.” But not one of all the people answered him.

Then he said to all Israel, “You shall be on one side and I and Jonathan my son will be on the other side.” And the people said to Saul, “Do what seems good to you.”

Therefore, Saul said to the Lord, the God of Israel, “Give a perfect lot.” And Jonathan and Saul were taken, but the people escaped.

Saul said, “Cast lots between me and Jonathan my son.” And Jonathan was taken.

Then Saul said to Jonathan, “Tell me what you have done.” So Jonathan told him and said, “I indeed tasted a little honey with the end of the staff that was in my hand. Here I am, I must die!”

Saul said, “May God do this to me and more also, for you shall surely die, Jonathan.”

But the people said to Saul, “Must Jonathan die, who has brought about this great deliverance in Israel? Far from it! As the Lord lives, not one hair of his head shall fall to the ground, for he has worked with God this day.” So the people rescued Jonathan and he did not die.

Then Saul went up from pursuing the Philistines, and the Philistines went to their own place.

The doctrine of degeneration (v. 37-46)

Saul inquired of God, “Shall I go down after the Philistines? Will You give them into the hand of Israel?” But He did not answer him on that day.

If you have spent any time in Christian circles, or in religious circles at all or in any circle which people freely talk about God, you may have heard that God always answers prayer. I will often hear that claim. It’s either a “Yes,” “No,” or “Maybe.” That claim really has no foundation in the Scriptures. In this verse, particularly, we see an instance in which God does not answer someone. He has withheld His answer to Saul’s prayer. If we recall, Saul had been moved by the Holy Spirit on at least two occasions (cf. 1 Samuel 10:6, 10; 11:6). Saul had been chosen, appointed, and anointed by God (cf. 1 Samuel 9:16-17; 10:1, 24; 12:13). Yet, when we get to this part of the story, God isn’t even answering Saul’s prayer. Why not?

Before we get into this, we need to address another misconception that is prevalent in our day. You might have also heard that God does not hear the prayer of a sinner, that somehow our sin makes God unable to hear our prayers. This text does not reveal that God didn’t hear Saul in a passive way. It simply states that God did not answer him actively. This verse is not a statement of God’s ability or willingness to hear. In fact, if we believe that God has all knowledge, then we also have to believe that He knows the words of every prayer ever spoken and that will be spoken by every individual. God hears Saul. He knows Saul’s prayer. Yet, He does not answer Saul on this day. So, why does God not answer Saul’s prayer?

This passage does not answer that question for us explicitly, and we don’t want to guess. So, we must look to the more explicit explanatory passages in Scripture. The go-to passage on this subject is in John 9, where the Pharisees are questioning a man who was born blind but had been healed by Jesus,

They reviled him and said, “You are His disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where He is from.”

The man answered and said to them, “Well, here is an amazing thing, that you do not know where He is from, and yet He opened my eyes. We know that God does not hear sinners; but if anyone is God-fearing and does His will, He hears him. Since the beginning of time it has never been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, He could do nothing.”

They answered him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you teaching us?” So they put him out (John 9:28-34).

This use of the word that has been translated “hear” refers to the active listening of the one doing the hearing. So, this does not refer to God inability to hear based on our sin. It is still the case that God has all knowledge of everything that is said. The former blind man is claiming that God does not, by choice, even listen to the prayers of those who do not fear Him and do His will. The former blind man states that this is common knowledge as he pleads, “We know that God…” He references a pattern we see in the Old Testament, a pattern that the Pharisees, teachers of the Law, should have been familiar with (cf. Job 27:8; 35:13; Psalms 34:15; 66:18; 145:19; Proverbs 15:29; 28:9; Isaiah 1:15; James 5:16).

Throughout Scripture, we find this very definitive proposition concerning prayer. God does not listen to or answer the prayer of a person who does not fear Him or do His will. There are many people who accuse God of not answering prayer and use that accusation against God as a justification to not believe He exists. By God’s own word, He does not answer all prayer. He is not obligated to people. Why would God ever answer our prayers if we aren’t honoring Him with our lives? The lyricist, Nathan Feuerstein, puts it this way,

You see the same God that you saying might not even exist

Becomes real to us, but only when we dying in bed

When ya healthy it’s like, we don’t really care for Him then

Leave me alone God, I’ll call you when I need you again

Which is funny, everyone will sleep in the pews

Then blame God for our problems like He sleeping on you

We turn our backs on Him, what do you expect Him to do?

It’s hard to answer prayers when nobody’s praying to you (NF. “Oh Lord.” Therapy Session. Capitol Christian Music Group: Brentwood, TN. 2016.)

Praise God for good music with deep, theological lyrics! This is what is happening with Saul. He does not fear God or honor God’s plan, His will. This doctrinal truth has a few implications for the way we believe.

  • If no one seeks after God or honors God (cf. Romans 3), then a person must be clothed in Christ’s righteousness before God will listen to or answer any prayer.
  • If our prayers are not being answered, it means we neither fear God nor honor His will above our own. God does answer the prayers of His people, even if His answers are “no” or “not yet.” I find that when God’s answer is “no” or “not yet,” He is pretty good at explaining why not. If there is nothing, no answer at all, we should consider whether or not we actually fear God and care about His will.

Saul said, “Draw near here, all you chiefs of the people, and investigate and see how this sin has happened today. For as the Lord lives, who delivers Israel, though it is in Jonathan my son, he shall surely die.” But not one of all the people answered him.

Then he said to all Israel, “You shall be on one side and I and Jonathan my son will be on the other side.” And the people said to Saul, “Do what seems good to you.”

Therefore, Saul said to the Lord, the God of Israel, “Give a perfect lot.” And Jonathan and Saul were taken, but the people escaped.

Saul said, “Cast lots between me and Jonathan my son.” And Jonathan was taken.

Then Saul said to Jonathan, “Tell me what you have done.” So Jonathan told him and said, “I indeed tasted a little honey with the end of the staff that was in my hand. Here I am, I must die!”

Saul said, “May God do this to me and more also, for you shall surely die, Jonathan.”

But the people said to Saul, “Must Jonathan die, who has brought about this great deliverance in Israel? Far from it! As the Lord lives, not one hair of his head shall fall to the ground, for he has worked with God this day.” So the people rescued Jonathan and he did not die.

Then Saul went up from pursuing the Philistines, and the Philistines went to their own place.

Even though God did not answer Saul, Saul swears by God’s name and casts lots to try determining God’s will.  The military men of Israel notice and object to Saul’s declaration. Jonathan had worked with God while his father, Saul, had not. The people rescued Jonathan.

We often hear about the doctrine of sanctification. God’s chosen people are born again and, as a result of new birth, grow in understanding of and obedience to God. What we see with Saul is exactly the opposite of what we see for the sincere believer. I am going to designate this as the doctrine of degeneration because I have not seen anything about this formally or in any systematic theology. I will define the doctrine of degeneration as the process of a reprobate individual’s growth in sin and death in his or her own unrighteousness when his or her trespass has grown to its fullness. This would have a direct correlation to the process of sanctification, meaning the process of an elect individual’s growth in conformity to Christ and life in the righteousness of Christ alone.

How is it possible for someone to be moved by the Holy Spirit to fall away from the faith or from the church? Four weeks ago, we read from James 1:2-4 and discovered that trials produce endurance and endurance makes the believer perfect and complete, lacking nothing. When we get to James 1:13-18, we will see a different, but corollary, change,

Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.

Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow. In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth, so that we would be a kind of first fruits among His creatures.

In context, this is a contrast of James 1:2-4. Everyone who is tempted is tempted by his or her own lusts. For the believer, according to James 1:2-4, God causes trials so that we might be made perfect and complete. By induction, we can discern that this means our becoming mature and complete partially means being rid of the worldly lusts we once embraced. Those who are not being sanctified are not experiencing this effect. When lust is conceived, it gives birth to sin. When sin is accomplished, it brings forth death. This is the process we see in Saul’s life and it is exactly the opposite of the process we see in the life of the believer.

This even helps us to understand often confusing verses like Hebrews 6:4-6,

For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame.

Saul was once enlightened. He tasted of the heavenly gift. The Holy Spirit moved him to worship and war. He tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come. Still, he fell away. Why? Scripture has already clarified for us that a regenerate person doesn’t fall away. He or she has endurance leading to perfection produced within the heart and mind. It can only be because Saul was unregenerate, not clothed in Christ’s righteousness. The unregenerate person can have a spiritual experience, can encounter the Holy Spirit because the Holy Spirit is not limited in His work, and can even be led by God to do some amazing things; he does not fear God or care about the will of God. Sadly, this process of degeneration may describe many people in political office, leading churches, who currently profess Christ, who have forsaken the body of Christ, and who once professed Christ. Here, I need to make a clarification. Just because someone has been to church, grew up in church, or has heard the Gospel does not mean that he or she has tasted of the heavenly gift and been made a partaker of the Holy Spirit like Saul has. Thus, there is still hope for many who have quit church or who merely rejected some form of cultural Christianity. We will cover this more fully when we get the chance to exposit Hebrews 6.

Notice that Saul is even trying to honor God. He is telling the people to keep the Law, but he is so blind and unable to see God that, even though he is trying to honor God, he is growing in his sin. This is what human religion does. This is what we see when people who don’t actually know Jesus are trying to honor God or teach God’s Bible but are actually growing in their own sin, persuading others to grow in their sins, and use the Bible as justification for their actions. The worst part is that they believe they are honoring God and teaching God’s word correctly. This is why Jesus will teach that not everyone who says to Him, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 7:21), that not many will even see the way to life (Matthew 7:14), and that one must be born again (receive a regenerate heart) before he or she can even see the kingdom of heaven or believe in Christ (John 3:3).

Oh, our hearts ought to ache for those who claim to be Christians but do not know Christ and those who justify their own lusts and ambitions by making them out to be spiritual. We ought to grieve over those who have tasted the goodness of God, partaken in the Holy Spirit like Saul, and then have fallen away.

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