Thursday, June 21, 2018

Obedience, or Sacrifice?

"But Samuel replied, "What is more pleasing to the LORD: your burnt offerings and sacrifices or your obedience to His voice? Listen! Obedience is better than sacrifice, and submission is better than offering the fat of rams."
I Samuel 15:22
(NLT)


To put this verse in its proper perspective, I will share the whole story.
The prophet Samuel came to King Saul and relayed these words from the Lord to him,
"Now go and completely destroy the entire Amalekite nation—men, women, children, babies, cattle, sheep, goats, camels, and donkeys."  I Samuel 15:3  (NLT)

God's instructions were specific and precise.
Nothing and no one was to be spared.
All were to be utterly destroyed.

King Saul went to Amalek, and he followed God's instructions—but only to a certain point.
He destroyed every man, woman, child, and baby—except King Agag.
Instead of killing him, as God had clearly instructed, he made him a prisoner of war.
He destroyed all cattle, sheep, goats, camels, and donkeys—except the best ones.
Instead of killing all of them, as God had specifically told him to do, he killed only what was "vile and refuse".
The best ones he held back with the best of intentions.
He and his soldiers planned to hold them back to sacrifice them to God.
What motivation could be more noble, right?

God revealed King Saul's disobedience to Samuel, and hearing of what King Saul had done deeply grieved Samuel and compelled him to cry out to the Lord all night long.
God told Samuel of King Saul's exact location, and early the next morning, Samuel went to talk to King Saul.

"And Samuel came to Saul: and Saul said unto him, Blessed be thou of the LORD: I have performed the commandment of the LORD.  And Samuel said, What meaneth then this bleating of the sheep in mine ears, and the lowing of the oxen which I hear?  And Saul said, They have brought them from the Amalekites: for the people spared the best of the sheep and of the oxen, to sacrifice unto the LORD thy God; and the rest we have utterly destroyed.  Then Samuel said unto Saul, Stay, and I will tell thee what the LORD hath said to me this night.  And he said unto him, Say on.  And Samuel said, When thou wast little in thine own sight, wast thou not made the head of the tribes of Israel, and the LORD anointed thee king over Israel?  And the LORD sent thee on a journey, and said, Go and utterly destroy the sinners the Amalekites, and fight against them until they are consumed.  Wherefore then didst thou not obey the voice of the LORD, but didst fly upon the spoil and didst evil in the sight of the LORD?  And Saul said unto Samuel, Yea, I have obeyed the voice of the LORD, and have gone the way which the LORD sent me, and have brought Agag the king of Amalek, and have utterly destroyed the Amalekites.  But the people took of the spoil, sheep and oxen, the chief of the things which should have been utterly destroyed, to sacrifice unto the LORD thy God in Gilgal.
And Samuel said, Hath 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 hearken than the fat of rams.
For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because thou hast rejected the word of the LORD, He hath also rejected thee from being king."

I have always read this story with deep sadness, as to me, the ending of King Saul's reign and especially the end of his life is one of the most heart-wrenching accounts in the Old Testament.  To think of his potential and how God's anointing was upon him and how, because he thought he knew better than God, he fell and lost everything.

There are so many takeaways from his life's story.
At first glance, we may think the repercussions of his disobedience were too severe.
We may come to the conclusion that he should have been given another chance—that it really made a lot of sense to spare the best animals and to intend and insist upon using them as sacrifices to God.

I'd like to share seven things about this story that God is teaching me.

1.  God values obedience more than He values sacrifice.
So often, as Christians, we feel like if we adopt a martyr mentality, we are pleasing God.
We pour ourselves into "good things" like preaching, teaching, outreach, and all sorts of ministerial endeavors that He has not even asked or called us to do, disobediently "offering up" our time with the ones who matter most on the altar of "sacrifice."
Obviously, there are spiritual gifts and callings God places upon individual lives, and there is a Divine will for all of our moments and days.
 But, if doing what we do conflicts with our personal calling and/or God's Word, we are walking in disobedience, regardless of how much our human reasoning tells us our way makes more sense.

2.  There are only two types of sacrifice.
Obedient sacrifice and disobedient sacrifice.
Obedience to God sometimes requires sacrifice, yes, but not always.
Just because you are sacrificing yourself, your time, your energy, your talents, and your health in the name of God's work and cause, does not mean you are walking in obedience to God's will.
Sometimes obedience to Him means being still from service.
Sometimes it means getting quiet before Him and listening to His voice.
Sometimes it means resting by still waters, laughing, and enjoying time with your family, instead of rushing headlong "doing" something, in His name.
Sometimes it means utterly destroying sin and disobedience regardless of how we justify its value and right to exist in our lives.

3.  Pride causes us to choose sacrifice over obedience.
Samuel told Saul, "When you were little in your own sight, were you not made the head of the tribes of Israel, and the LORD anointed you king over Israel?"
At one point in time, Saul was humble and had a lowly opinion of himself.
It was during this time of humility that God made Saul the head of the tribes of Israel and anointed him, king.
"For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones."
Isaiah 57:15  (KJV)
Many times, with promotion and position, comes the snare of self-exaltation and pride.
We can think we know better than God.
We can convince ourselves that we are above God's law.
Pride is deceptive and sneaky.
When our actions are motivated by pride we often do not even realize it is happening until it is too late.
Here are two prayers we should pray on a regular basis.

"Who can understand his errors? Cleanse thou me from secret faults.  Keep back thy servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me: then shall I be upright, and I shall be innocent from the great transgression.  Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O LORD, my strength, and my redeemer."  Psalm 19:12-14  (KJV)

"Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts:  and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting."  Psalm 139:23,24  (KJV)

4.  Blaming someone else does not excuse us from the consequences of our own disobedience.
Saul was in charge.
He was wholly responsible for his own actions.
Yet, when Samuel approached him and pointed out his sin, he immediately shifted blame to "the people" who were under him.
"And Saul said, they have brought them from the Amalekites: for the people spared the best of the sheep and of the oxen, to sacrifice unto the LORD thy God; and the rest we have utterly destroyed.  Yea, I have obeyed the voice of the LORD, and have gone the way which the LORD sent me, and have brought Agag the king of Amalek, and have utterly destroyed the Amalekites.  But the people took of the spoil, sheep and oxen, the chief of the things which should have been utterly destroyed, to sacrifice unto the LORD thy God in Gilgal."
I Samuel 15:15,20,21
Even though he tried to pass the buck, he still reaped the repercussions.

5.  When God says "utterly," He means "utterly."
He doesn't mean partly, somewhat, half-way, or 99%.
Anything less than utterly is disobedience.  Period.
Utterly ~ entirely, completely, absolutely

6.  You can't deceive God.
"And Samuel came to Saul: and Saul said unto him, Blessed be thou of the LORD: I have performed the commandment of the LORD.  And Samuel said, What meaneth then this bleating of the sheep in mine ears, and the lowing of the oxen which I hear?"  I Samuel 15:13,14  (KJV)

"But if ye will not do so, behold, ye have sinned against the LORD: and be sure your sin will find you out."  Numbers 32:23  (KJV)

"There is none holy as the LORD: for there is none beside Thee: neither is there any rock like our God. Talk no more so exceeding proudly; let not arrogance come out of your mouth: for the LORD is a God of knowledge, and by Him, actions are weighed. "  I Samuel 2:2-3  (KJV)

"Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in His sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of Him with whom we have to do."
Hebrews 4:13  (KJV)

"Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap."
Galatians 6:17  (KJV)

7.  Obeying man instead of obeying God is idolatry.
King Saul succumbed to the pressure of the people around him, even though their guidance was at odds with God's command.
"For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry."  
I Samuel 15:23  (KJV)
Ministers, spiritual leaders, and other people can become idols to us.
We can choose to take their advice and wisdom over and in place of God's Word.
We should always respect those who God has Divinely called and placed in church positions,
but when their counsel conflicts with the Word of God, or we find that we prefer and seek out their opinions more than we search for God's heart on a matter, or we are afraid to make a move without their consent or approval, it is possible that we are serving them instead of God.
While spiritual leaders should be regarded with respect, they are not God.
They are human, fallible vessels, not "lords," and their instruction should always be measured by and compared with the Word of God.
The Apostle Peter said, "And now, a word to you who are elders in the churches. I, too, am an elder and a witness to the sufferings of Christ. And I, too, will share in His glory when He is revealed to the whole world. As a fellow elder, I appeal to you:  Care for the flock that God has entrusted to you. Watch over it willingly, not grudgingly--not for what you will get out of it, but because you are eager to serve God.  Don't lord it over the people assigned to your care, but lead them by your own good example." 
I Peter 5:1-3  (NLT)
God is a jealous God.
"For thou shalt worship no other god: for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God." Exodus 34:14  (KJV)
"For the LORD thy God is a consuming fire, even a jealous God."
Deuteronomy 4:24  (KJV)
"I am the LORD; that is My name; My glory I give to no other."
Isaiah 42:8  (KJV)
God wants to be our all in all.
He and He alone deserves our wholehearted worship.
"You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of human beings."
I Corinthians 7:23  (NIV)
"Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage."
Galatians 5:1  (KJV)
"But Peter and the apostles replied, "We must obey God rather than any human authority."
Acts 5:29  (NLT)
For years, my family and I were under extreme bondage because of our fear of displeasing human "powers that be."
Looking back, we realize that we were literally bowing down to a manmade spiritual system and hierarchy and allowing men to "lord" over us and to hold us enslaved to legalistic chains that God never demanded of us.
We were making sacrifices aplenty—trying to appease and satisfy what God did not require.
One of the hardest and longest lingering after-effects of such bondage has been learning to differentiate between man's approval and God's and to completely turn loose of the need to please anyone other than God.

One of my absolute favorite quotes concerning this is one that God gave our very own, "Little Mr. Wisdom" (who, by the way, is not so little anymore—he is nearly as tall as his Daddy😁.)

"Obedience to anyone other than God is sacrifice."
Zachary Smith

The lessons that are hardest to learn are hardest to forget and create the most regret.
Regret is a powerful opponent and hard to overcome.
(I just had a post published at No Sidebar called, "Five Steps To Overcoming Regret."
I'd love for you to click over and take a look!)

It is hard to think of past deception and the lies we have bought into, but as much as we would love to go back and change the past, what is done is done.
We can only seek God for His Divine guidance and follow it as closely as possible from now on, 
and we continually praise Him for the miraculous deliverance He has wrought in our lives.
All glory be to Jesus, our Chain Breaker.

As we press forward, leaving the past where it happened, we seek diligently to always examine our own motivation for doing what we do.
We are learning to ask pointed questions before making decisions.
Questions like—
Are we doing this to obey God, or are we sacrificing to please another person?
Are we being manipulated by psychological intimidation?
Is anyone making us feel that if we don't do this we will be out of God's will, even though God is leading in an opposite direction?
What does God's Word say about this?
Does the advice and counsel of others align perfectly with what God is telling us to do?

Obedience, or sacrifice?
Why do we do the things we do?

Obedience, both when it requires sacrifice and when it does not require sacrifice, will keep us in a place of God's perpetual blessings.
In fact, obedience unlocks His blessings!

"If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land."
Isaiah 1:19  (KJV)

"And if you faithfully obey the voice of the LORD your God, being careful to do all His commandments that I command you today, the LORD your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth.  And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you if you obey the voice of the LORD your God."  Deuteronomy 28:1-2  (ESV)

"See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse:  the blessing, if you obey the commandments of the LORD your God, which I command you today,  and the curse, if you do not obey the commandments of the LORD your God, but turn aside from the way that I am commanding you today, to go after other gods that you have not known."
Deuteronomy 11:26-28  (ESV)

"Be careful to obey all these words that I command you, that it may go well with you and with your children after you forever when you do what is good and right in the sight of the LORD your God."
Deuteronomy 12:28  (ESV)

"But this thing commanded I them, saying, Obey My voice, and I will be your God, and ye shall be My people: and walk ye in all the ways that I have commanded you, that it may be well unto you."
Jeremiah 7:23  (KJV)

"Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man loves Me, he will keep My words: and My Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him."
John 14:23  (KJV)

Obedience, or sacrifice?
Why do you do the things you do?
It is worth considering.