I’ve been thinking a lot about obedience lately, thanks to my daily Bible readings. A recent reading in 1 Samuel has my head — and my heart — all tied up in knots.
Much is written about King David, but the only thing we Christians think of when we remember King Saul is his demented soul at the end of his reign. We remember that he was paranoid and that he intended to kill David.
I think, though, that a little bit of Saul resides in each one of us. I call it “misguided obedience.” It’s when we tack our own will onto God’s orders. It happens when we think we know what’s best for us despite what God tells us. We delude ourselves into thinking we are walking in obedience, when actually we are twisting the Lord’s will to our own purposes.
We aren’t alone in this sin — we people of faith have been deluding ourselves ever since Adam and Eve second-guessed God and ate fruit from the tree that God had said was not good for them.
In 1 Samuel 15, God decided that he would use Saul and his army to punish the Amalekite nation for the way it had treated Israel. He told Saul to go into that country and to utterly destory everything there, including all the men, women, children…even babies, all the way down to the livestock.
Ouch. That is a tough order to follow. Babies?
Saul took 210,000 men and followed God’s orders…to a point. He put everyone to the sword (apparently even the babies) except King Agag. But he diverged from God’s plan when it came to destroying the livestock the Amalekites had owned. He and his men spared the good stuff — the healthy animals.
(If I had been Saul, I would have had harder time obeying when it came to killing the innocent babies than I would have killing the animals.) Saul even had what he thought was a good reason for not completely obeying God: he intended to use the perfect livestock as burnt offerings to the Lord.
But listen to what Samuel said in response to Saul’s excuse:
13 When Samuel reached him, Saul said, “The LORD bless you! I have carried out the LORD’s instructions.”
14 But Samuel said, “What then is this bleating of sheep in my ears? What is this lowing of cattle that I hear?”
15 Saul answered, “The soldiers brought them from the Amalekites; they spared the best of the sheep and cattle to sacrifice to the LORD your God, but we totally destroyed the rest.”
16 “Stop!” Samuel said to Saul. “Let me tell you what the LORD said to me last night.”
“Tell me,” Saul replied.
17 Samuel said, “Although you were once small in your own eyes, did you not become the head of the tribes of Israel? The LORD anointed you king over Israel. 18 And he sent you on a mission, saying, ‘Go and completely destroy those wicked people, the Amalekites; make war on them until you have wiped them out.’ 19 Why did you not obey the LORD ? Why did you pounce on the plunder and do evil in the eyes of the LORD ?”
20 “But I did obey the LORD,” Saul said. “I went on the mission the LORD assigned me. I completely destroyed the Amalekites and brought back Agag their king. 21 The soldiers took sheep and cattle from the plunder, the best of what was devoted to God, in order to sacrifice them to the LORD your God at Gilgal.”
22 But Samuel replied:
“Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices
as much as in obeying the voice of the LORD ?
To obey is better than sacrifice,
and to heed is better than the fat of rams.
23 For rebellion is like the sin of divination,
and arrogance like the evil of idolatry.
Because you have rejected the word of the LORD,
he has rejected you as king.”
To obey is better than sacrifice.
By not completely obeying God, Saul was in fact rebelling.
When you and I do not completely obey Christ, aren’t we doing the same thing? Jesus himself stressed the importance of obedience and linked it to love in the book of John, chapter 14:
21Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.”
22Then Judas (not Judas Iscariot) said, “But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?”
23Jesus replied, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. 24He who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.
What, then, does Christ command?
That will be the subject of another post! For now, the phrase
To obey is better than sacrifice
is on my mind and in my heart. The reasons for my disobedience is not material. My myriad excuses are simply rebellions dressed up in disguise.