Friday, October 16, 2009

Trust and Obey

For I was afraid of the army, and I followed their wishes.” (1 Sam 15:24b)
King Saul had just won another major victory. Not only were the Amalekites defeated, the Israelites humiliated their leader King Agag. In jubilation, thinking that the LORD will be happy with the precious loot, they decided that it is appropriate to keep the best, and destroy the rest. It seems perfectly normal and logical. Why waste something when it can still be recycled?

Under ordinary circumstances, there is nothing wrong in keeping good stuff. However, the context of the biblical passage is something more serious than recycling. The retention of things exposes the idolatry of the first king of Israel. Which is Saul obedient to? All of God's instructions or some of them only. By rationalizing himself out of it, Saul justifies his actions by saying that the LORD will be pleased with his offerings. Unfortunately, in every gift, every work and every sacrifice, God's eye looks first at the heart, before anything else.

Saul's Heart
For Saul, the choice is clear: Obey God or disobey God? He thought that obeying half-way is enough. He was dead wrong. There is no ambiguity in the LORD's command. King Saul was told to annihilate the Amalekites (1 Sam 15:3). This is consistent with God's promise to protect Israel (Exodus 17:16). Throughout history, the Amalekites have one main objective: Totally blot out Israel from the face of the earth. It follows that If Israel does not totally destroy the Amalekites, the Amalekites will decimate the Jews. It is a tough choice for God who has promised to protect his chosen people, for the sake of the whole world. God decides to act by sanctioning the destruction of the Amalekites: through King Saul.

Instead, what did Saul do? He underestimates the depth of evil of the Amalekites. He undercuts God's clear instructions by adopting a half-way obedience. He undermines God's purposes and in the process threatens the entire Jewish nation. For Saul, his main desire is short-term gains over long-term obedience. The temptation is too great. This displeased Samuel. In the prophet’s mind, one thing stood clear: “Obedience is better than sacrifice.” Without respect for God's instruction, how can the leader lead God's people? Without an attitude of obedience, the leader surrenders the privilege of headship. Without reverence for God’s wishes, how can Saul lead Israel to be the ‘father of all nations?’

What About Our Obedience?
I have heard many Christians tell me, that they want to do God's will. Whether it be the kind of work to do, who to marry, where to live, which ministry to be involved in, the desire is similar. Words are nothing until they are put into action. How far are we to go the distance? Will we give up mid-way, and rationalize our actions according to our own interpretation of God, like Saul?

Who sits on our throne determines who we obey. If it is possessions, then our obedience will be based on how to collect more stuff. If it is our family, our obedience to God will be secondary to this primary concern. If it is our job or career, God takes second place down the pecking order of importance. If it is our children, obedience to God is ranked lower than our children. What happens when we put idols before God? One quick symptom of idolatry is fear. Fear of not possessing things tempt us toward unhealthy fixation on material things. Fear of not receiving family acceptance prevents us from honesty with family members. Fear of losing our jobs tempts us toward covering our backs over standing up for what is right and ethical. Fear of our children's future leads us toward greater control of them.

  • Will God be pleased when we use the profits from shady business deals to tithe to his Church?
  • Will God be pleased when we curse and swear at our neighbor, and with the same breath sing praise and thanksgiving to God?
  • Will God be pleased when we strive to keep our jobs at all expense, even compromising God's standards in the process?
  • Will God be pleased when we help our children to cheat in their schoolwork or exams, so that they can achieve our own definition of a better life for them, and then give God the glory for the distinctions that they obtain?  

If God is first, there is no fear. A truly God-fearing person never does things out of worldly fear. A sign of a godly person lies in full obedience. Do not be like Saul, who feared his people and allowed his fear to dictate his actions.

The December 1981 issue of Reader's Digest tells of an interesting story of obedience and devotion. There is a housekeeper who works for John Kenneth Galbraith. One day, the US President, Lyndon Johnson called, asking to speak with her employer Galbraith, who had earlier instructed his housekeeper to hold all calls.
President: "Get me Ken Galbraith. This is Lyndon Johnson.'
Housekeeper: "He is sleeping, Mr. President. He said not to disturb
President: "Well, wake him up. I want to talk to him.'
Housekeeper: "No, Mr. President. I work for him, not you."
When Galbraith finally called back the President, instead of indignation, Lyndon Johnson was rather pleased about the devotion of Galbraith's housekeeper. The President admired the housekeeper so much that he wanted to see her in the White house!

Thought: Who do we work for? Can we be so devoted like the housekeeper, that everything else is subjected first and foremost to the obedience of our Lord and Savior Jesus? Indeed, obedience is better than sacrifice. 
"Trust and Obey, for there's no other way
To be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey." (John Sammis, 1887)


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