The Fruit of Disobedience

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Obedience to the will of God is an absolutely essential component of the Christian faith. Yet there is always a tension between obedience – how we live and what we do – and grace. In Ephesians, Paul wrote this:

Because of his kindness, you have been saved through trusting Christ. And even trusting is not of yourselves; it too is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good we have done, so none of us can take any credit for it. (Ephesians 2:8, 9 TLB)

Our salvation isn’t dependent on how closely we align ourselves to God’s will, yet as Christians God expects us to do just that. We can look the basics of salvation in the way God dealt with Israel. Very shortly after He delivered the Israelites from Egypt, God gave them His Ten Commandments, which began like this:

“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. “You shall have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:2, 3 NIV)

Their deliverance – their salvation – came first, followed almost immediately by a call for absolute obedience and faithfulness. In terms of their deliverance, God did all the work. But after that, the Lord expected His people to live their lives according to His terms.

“Obedience” is a characteristic that is the hallmark of true believers and disciples of Jesus Christ. Think of how many times the great apostle Paul referred to himself as a “servant” of Christ. What does a servant do if not obey his master? Christians are also referred to as “servants” who serve the Lord Jesus Christ.

Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God… (Romans 1:1 NIV)

But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. (Romans 6:22 NIV)

It is the Lord Christ you are serving. (Colossians 3:24b NIV)

We can learn a lot about obedience by looking at someone who wasn’t very obedient, King Saul.

1 Samuel 13:1 – 14

When the men of Israel saw the vast mass of enemy troops, they lost their nerve entirely and tried to hide in caves, thickets, coverts, among the rocks, and even in tombs and cisterns. Some of them crossed the Jordan River and escaped to the land of Gad and Gilead. Meanwhile, Saul stayed at Gilgal, and those who were with him trembled with fear at what awaited them. (1 Samuel 13:6, 7 TLB)

We aren’t told how old Saul was at this point in his life, but we can make an educated guess. His son, Jonathan, was by now a great warrior in his own right, so with a grown son, Saul was likely in his forties.

Jonathan’s attack on the Philistine garrison at Geba triggered the events that led to the men of Israel acting like a bunch of scared school girls. Saul, the man who looked like a king, didn’t really act like one. He cooled his heels at Gilgal, the very place he had been proclaimed king. Samuel hadn’t forgotten about him.

Samuel had told Saul earlier to wait seven days for his arrival… (1 Samuel 13:8a TLB)

Saul had to do one thing: wait a week at Gilgal. That’s all. One week. We aren’t given the reason why; perhaps he was. From the story, we know he had to wait for Samuel to arrive to offer some sacrifices for some reason. However, things had deteriorated quickly, and the king decided to take matters into his own hands. It is here that the true character and temperament of Saul begins to surface. Saul was an impatient man and he was a presumptuous man. As far he was concerned, he had three valid reasons for disregarding his instructions: the people were leaving, the Philistines were coming, and Samuel was nowhere in sight. Saul was behaving like a lot of Christians behave today; he was rationalizing his disobedience. Christians are a funny bunch. They instinctively know God’s will in a given situation, yet believe they are the sole exception to it. As Saul did, they rationalize and justify their disobedience, as if God’s rules applies to everybody else, but this time, not to them. It’s a foolish way to think and has the potential of being a dangerous way to live.

Here was the king’s big mistake:

…he decided to sacrifice the burnt offering and the peace offerings himself. (1 Samuel 13:9 TLB)

Eventually, Samuel showed up and he was not happy. Saul’s response to the prophet also shows us what this first king’s character was really like. To put it in way modern man would understand, the buck never stopped at Saul.

Samuel said, “What is this you have done?”

“Well,” Saul replied, “when I saw that my men were scattering from me, and that you hadn’t arrived by the time you said you would, and that the Philistines were at Michmash, ready for battle, I said, ‘The Philistines are ready to march against us and I haven’t even asked for the Lord’s help!’ So I reluctantly offered the burnt offering without waiting for you to arrive.” (1 Samuel 13:11, 12 TLB)

Saul did wrong and he knew it. But instead of owning up to his disobedience, he deflected any blame onto: the people scattering; Saul arriving late; the Philistines; and even God! So it was everybody’s fault that he had to offer that darn sacrifice; everybody’s but his.

Samuel had to break some very bad news to Saul. The consequences for his arrogant presumption would be dire and far reaching.

“You fool!” Samuel exclaimed. “You have disobeyed the commandment of the Lord your God. He was planning to make you and your descendants kings of Israel forever, but now your dynasty must end; for the Lord wants a man who will obey him. And he has discovered the man he wants and has already appointed him as king over his people; for you have not obeyed the Lord’s commandment.” (1 Samuel 13:13, 14 TLB)

In the very first test of his kingship, Saul failed miserably. However urgent the circumstances may have been they were no justification for disobedience. It’s interesting that, at least in the beginning, Saul’s kingship would become a dynasty had be been obedient to God’s commands. It was never God’s will for Israel to have a king, but God allowed them to have one with one big stipulation: the ruler must obey Him. In other words, the king would himself be subject to Heaven’s King.

This is the kind leader our nation is in dire need of today; one who is governed by the Lord. All our problems as a nation stem from the fact that we are being led by a political class that has never been further from God. Naturally, the world will not see such a leader until our Lord returns, which is God’s ultimate will for our planet.

1 Samuel 15:1 – 11

Even though Saul was informed that he would have no dynasty and that his days as king were numbered, he was still king, and would be for while to come. He had his hands full and was most definitely “in over his head.” He battled the Moabites to the southeast, the Ammonites to the east, the Edomites to the south and east, the kings of Zobah to the north, and the Philistines to the west. But it was his Amalekite campaign that caused him the most grief. To keep his army strong, Saul instituted conscription, which Samuel had predicted.

If you insist on having a king, he will conscript your sons and make them run before his chariots… (1 Samuel 8:11 TLB)

God’s urgent command to Saul regarding the Amalekites couldn’t have been more clear. Not even Saul could misunderstand what God was requiring of him!

Here is his commandment to you: ‘I have decided to settle accounts with the nation of Amalek for refusing to allow my people to cross their territory when Israel came from Egypt. Now go and completely destroy the entire Amalek nation—men, women, babies, little children, oxen, sheep, camels, and donkeys. (1 Samuel 15:2, 3 TLB)

If this seems a little extreme to you, you might have forgotten what the Amalekites did to Moses and Israel generations earlier.

Remember what the Amalekites did to you along the way when you came out of Egypt. When you were weary and worn out, they met you on your journey and attacked all who were lagging behind; they had no fear of God. When the Lord your God gives you rest from all the enemies around you in the land he is giving you to possess as an inheritance, you shall blot out the name of Amalek from under heaven. Do not forget! (Deuteronomy 25:17 – 19 NIV)

Had the Amalekites lived, they would have been just as bad, if not worse, than the Philistines. Saul actually spared some of the Amalekites. In the book of Esther we meet one of them, a nasty gentleman named Haman, who attempted to exterminate the entire Hebrew race. Had it not been for God’s timely and imaginative intervention, Haman would have succeeded. When human history is viewed from God’s perspective, God’s actions and commands make sense.

The Amalekites were an evil, war-like people. Their fate was sealed. The Israelites would be God’s hand of judgment upon them. In this world or the next, God’s judgment are righteous and true. R.C. Sproul observed:

God is not obligated to save anybody, to make any special act of grace, to draw anyone to Himself. He cold leave the whole world to perish, and such would be a righteous judgment.

The root of disobedience ran deep in King Saul.

Then Saul butchered the Amalekites from Havilah all the way to Shur, east of Egypt. He captured Agag, the king of the Amalekites, but killed everyone else. However, Saul and his men kept the best of the sheep and oxen and the fattest of the lambs—everything, in fact, that appealed to them. They destroyed only what was worthless or of poor quality. (1 Samuel 15:7 – 9 TLB)

Apparently, Saul had learned nothing. Habits are hard to break, especially sinful ones. Saul and his men rebelled against the expressed will of God. They spared Agag, perhaps for the purpose of killing him later. But they also kept a lot of good Amalekite stuff. It would appear that for Saul, the only reason for attacking the Amalekites was to get his hands on their “stuff.”

Verses 10 and 11 are just pathetic.

Then the Lord said to Samuel, “I am sorry that I ever made Saul king, for he has again refused to obey me.” Samuel was so deeply moved when he heard what God was saying, that he cried to the Lord all night.

Some people wonder about God “being sorry” that He made Saul Israel’s king. Such a statement seems to go against what we know about God’s character. John Goldingay offers an interesting analysis:

To speak of God changing his mind about an act or regretting it suggests the reality of his interacting with people in the world…His reactions to the deeds of others reflect a coherent pattern rather than randomness. Further, whereas human beings make their decisions unaware of all their consequences, so that those consequences catch them out, God can foresee not only the consequences of his own actions but also the nature of the responses they will meet with and the nature of other human acts, so that he can in turn formulate his response to these in advance.

Goldingay takes a roundabout way to get to the point that nothing catches God off-guard, so He never needs to change His mind about anything. When God says that He “regrets” something, it’s a way saying the ways of man sicken Him; they don’t surprise Him, but they create a feeling akin to regret.

1 Samuel 15:12 – 29

Samuel replied, “Has the Lord as much pleasure in your burnt offerings and sacrifices as in your obedience? Obedience is far better than sacrifice. He is much more interested in your listening to him than in your offering the fat of rams to him. For rebellion is as bad as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as bad as worshiping idols. And now because you have rejected the word of Jehovah, he has rejected you from being king.” (1 Kings 15:22, 23 TLB)

When confronted with what he did, Saul once again passed the buck, but Samuel would have none of it. These two verses are among the most well-known passages on the importance of obedience and moral conduct. God rejected Saul as king because he is habitually rebellious and disobedient. Verse 22 has an interesting parallel in Egyptian writings: “More acceptable is the character of one upright of heart than the ox of the evildoer.”

But more is at play here than just Saul’s low character. The point of these two verses is this: any sacrifice made to God must be offered on HIS terms, not ours. Saul postponement of the complete destruction of the Amalekites, regardless of why he did it, was an obvious violation of God’s will.

There is a great lesson here for us. Many Christians today are doing just what Saul did. They do their best to serve and worship God on their terms; when they want to and how they want to. Rather than bend their wills to God’s, they try to bend His to theirs. God doesn’t work like that. If the Lord rejected Saul because of his continual disobedience, why do we think we’ll get away with it?

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