Old Testament passage for Tuesday, May 14, 2013: 1 Samuel 15:1-16:23
20 And Saul said to Samuel, “But I have obeyed the voice of the Lord, and gone on the mission on which the Lord sent me, and brought back Agag king of Amalek; I have utterly destroyed the Amalekites. 21 But the people took of the plunder, sheep and oxen, the best of the things which should have been utterly destroyed, to sacrifice to the Lord your God in Gilgal.”
22 So 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 heed than the fat of rams. 23 For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, He also has rejected you from being king.” I Samuel 15:20-23 (NKJV)
Anyone who has raised children knows about PARTIAL OBEDIENCE. In that context, it can actually be humorous. Tell a child to clean their room. Half an hour later they come out saying it's all done. But, when you check behind them, you find that all they did was move the mess -- from the floor to the closet or under the bed! Sweeping the floor does not mean depositing the dirt under the rug!
There is something of the REBEL in each one of us. Let God give us a direct command, and we start squirming. One person called it "sweet rebellion." It happens when we smile at God sweetly and then do half of what He said. We act like we're obeying. We even look like we're obeying. But, deep inside we're still doing our own thing.
Saul had a problem with full obedience. He was always doing or saying something that was questionable. It ended up getting him killed (I Sam. 31:4-5). The path of his life was one of incredible promise mixed with a faulty character. How does a great leader fall? At what point is the die cast and the doom sealed? Many have seen I Samuel 15 as the turning point.
Three steps unfold that tell the tale of Saul's life:
God gave Saul a clear command: "Now go and attack Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and do not spare them. But kill both man and woman, infant and nursing child, ox and sheep, camel and donkey." God was not vague in his instructions. Amalek was the age-old enemy of Israel that had been the first to attack them when they escaped Egypt (Ex. 17:14 and Dt. 25:17-19). As a result, Amalek represents the enemy of our spiritual life and vitality. When God told Saul to destroy Amalek, this amounted to a declaration of war on sin, Satan, and the kingdom of darkness.
Saul took a detour. He turned aside from complete obedience. It started when he spared the Agag, the leader of the Amalekites. Saul became selective in carrying out the commands of God. When he spared Agag, it became a little easier to spare the "good things" -- the best of the sheep, oxen, and lambs. Such compromise unfolds as:
Saul figured he had a better idea than God. He rationalized his actions. He did this using religious language. When he was confronted, Saul that he had "spared the best of the sheep and oxen to sacrifice to the Lord" (I Sam. 15:15). It is amazing how often we can use religious reasons to mask our rebellious ways. We somehow think God has given us special permission to break the rules, whether it be marriage, finances, friendships, or life in general.
A strange thing happens when we willfully disobey God. We can begin to play psychological games in which we actually convince ourselves that we are fully obedient! Because we justify these errant actions, we can then actually convince ourselves that we are doing right. Saul did that. His first report to Samuel was, "Blessed are you of the Lord! I have performed the commandment of the Lord" (I Sam. 15:13). Amazingly, he had convinced himself that he had given full obedience. "And Saul said to Samuel, 'But I have obeyed the voice of the Lord, and gone on the mission on which the Lord sent me, and brough back Agag king of Amalek; I have utterly destoryed th Amalekites.'" (I Sam. 15:20) All along, much of the best part of Amalek was being saved. Any "minor" disobedience he blamed on the people (I Sam. 15:21).
It is not hard to see how the end result of sin is always death. Many think they can cheat the system. But the wages of sin is always death (Rom. 6:23). Such was the case with Saul. Though he had such a promising future, yet the kingdom was ripped from him. The path toward defeat may not unfold in a moment -- it may take years. But the end is always the same. Disobedience never pays.
Inevitably God will send a prophet to confront you. He will give warning signs before He brings judgment. Samuel's words to Saul are classic. Saul had rationalized a religious way of disobeying God's clear commandments. He claimed to spare some of Amalek's flock for the sake of sacrifices. Samuel called his hand declared that God wants RELATIONSHIP more than RELIGION. "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." (I Sam. 15:22)
Rebellion has many faces. Interestingly, the most open and violent rebellion is at times easier for God to deal with. He had rather us be hot or cold instead of lukewarm (Rev. 3:15-16). Our secret, hidden rebellion may at times require that God pressure us into brokenness. But, we should be sure, He will not long tolerate our repeated PARTIAL OBEDIENCE. He will confront us. And He does it for our good. Rebellion plays into the hands of the enemy! He says that it is like the sin of witchcraft! (I Sam. 15:23). That does not mean that our partial obedience classifies us as witches or warlocks. It means that our lack of submission to God places us in enemy territory.
This may all seem like a steep order. Does God require perfection? How are we able to quarantee complete obedience all the time? The answer is found in the words of David. God does not require burnt offerings or extreme measures of self-denial. He requires a broken and contrite spirit (Ps. 51:17). God seeks our hearts! He wants us to surrender to Him and claim His righteousness. He will never turn that away. Rather than prideful, self-centered compromise, fully throw yourself at the foot of the Cross. Then, He will become our life, our hope, our righteousness.