Tuesday, January 9, 2007

Obedience and sacrifice

And Samuel said to Saul, "The LORD sent me to anoint you king over His people Israel; now therefore listen to the words of the LORD. Thus says the LORD of hosts, 'I have noted what Amalek did to Israel in opposing them on thew ay when they came up out of Egypt. Now go and strike Amalek and devote to destruction all that they have. Do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.'"

So Saul summoned the people and numbered them in Telaim, two hundred thousand men on foot, and ten thousand men of Judah. And Saul came to the city of Amalek and lay in wait in the valley. Then Saul said to the Kenites, "Go, depart; go down from among the Amalekites, lest I destroy you with them. For you showed kindness to all the people of Israel when they came up out of Egypt." So the Kenites departed from among the Amalekites. And Saul defeated the Amalekites from Havilah as far as Shur, which is east of Egypt. And he took Agag the king of the Amalekites alive and devoted to destruction all the people with edge of the sword. But Saul and the people spared Agag and the best of the sheep and of the oxen and of the fattened calves and the lambs, and all that was good, and would not utterly destroy them. All that was despised and worthless they devoted to destruction.


Saul said [to Samuel], "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."


And 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. // Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, / He has also rejected you from being king." (1 Samuel 15:1-9, 15, 22-23; ESV)

All too often, we can get so caught up in our own understanding of what God wants, that we ignore His simple and clear instructions to us. We reject clear instruction and teaching, simply because it doesn't line up with what we think ought to be. We operate out of our own wisdom, instead of out of the wisdom that God has offered to freely give us (James 1:5). That, in turn, leads to God's having to discipline us. He doesn't want us to fail and then offer sacrifices to Him (so to speak; obviously we're not under the old sacrificial covenant any longer). Rather, He wants us to simply obey Him. His will is best, for us and for all those around us. Interestingly, that sometimes requires us to surrender our intellects to Him, for we are incapable of truly understanding all that is going on when He ordains something.

What I find compelling about this passage is that Saul really did try to do his best here. His best simply wasn't good enough. Indeed, it wasn't even close. Rather, it caused him to lose the throne that was so dear to him. God didn't want Saul's best. He wanted Saul to surrender and do His will instead. He wanted His purposes accomplished, not those of a man so consumed by His own understanding of the way in which things worked that he would ignore clear instructions from a prophet who had already had to bring him severe discipline. We can very easily judge Saul for his foolish disobedience, and just as easily - and very smugly - congratulate ourselves for our consistency: how we would never do that. Yet we do. The commands of Christ are clear enough. His message is not difficult to understand, and the call to holiness that He lays out is very straightforward. Yet we ignore it on a regular basis. We choose to reject His standards of purity and righteousness because they're simply too much work. We forget that while we are no longer bound by the law, Christ's path is no easier. In fact, while it is much freer, and we have His strength in us for it, a simple examination of the differences in commands between Old and New Testament shows that, if anything, the difficulty has truly increased. Our ability has increased along with it, thanks to the strengthening and empowering work of the Holy Spirit as He sanctifies us day by day. Whereas there was a great deal of importance on ceremonial cleanliness in the Old Testament (though never at the cost of internal holiness), the New Testament eliminates that utterly and instead demands utter perfection in righteousness. Gladly (for we cannot achieve that state on our own!), we have been granted righteousness in Christ. We have not merely been counted righteous because of His work, we actually are righteous because of His work. We are being sanctified, but that one price was enough.

We no longer need sacrifice. We need only obey. Just as it has ever been, save that now we see the fullness of Christ's redemptive work for us. And for that, we owe Him our obedience, and our lives given in praise.

Bless His name with your lips and with your deeds.

- Chris

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