What is God’s standard for obedience? If God asks us to do 100 things and we do 99 of them flawlessly, is it acceptable to omit the last one? Is God going to understand and round up? Can your obedience to God be close enough like with horseshoes, hand grenades and H-bombs (i.e., thermonuclear weapons)? What if you attend Sunday School, Worship Service, read your Bible daily, pray often and fast some, etc. Surely, God understands when you talk about others, overeat, “borrow things from work”, cheat a little on taxes, or speed a little on the road! Certainly, your service to Him offsets your small disobedience. Right?
Let us explore together how the Bible answers this question with an Old Testament example. Why do we have the Old Testament?
For everything that was written in former times was written for our instruction, so that through endurance and through encouragement of the scriptures we may have hope. (Romans 15:4 NET)
These things happened to them as examples and were written for our instruction, on whom the ends of the ages have come. (1 Corinthians 10:11 NET)
We can review the story of the mistakes of those that have gone before us in order to prevent them or to see how to recover from them. Furthermore, it gives us hope that if they (the ones in the Old Testament who were far from perfect) made it we can have hope of making it, too. We call this “Operational Experience” or “Industry Events” in the Nuclear Power Industry. There we are constantly studying and training on the mistakes of others in order to prevent nuclear problems for you our public. God had this valuable form of training figured out long before us – go figure?
Then Samuel said to Saul, "I was the one the LORD sent to anoint you as king over his people Israel. Now listen to what the LORD says. Here is what the LORD of hosts says: 'I carefully observed how the Amalekites opposed Israel along the way when Israel came up from Egypt. So go now and strike down the Amalekites. Destroy everything that they have. Don't spare them. Put them to death– man, woman, child, infant, ox, sheep, camel, and donkey alike.'" (1 Samuel 15:1-3 NET)
Let us explore together the background of this story:
The whole community of the Israelites traveled on their journey from the Desert of Sin according to the LORD's instruction, and they pitched camp in Rephidim. Now there was no water for the people to drink. (Exodus 17:1 NET)
Amalek came and attacked Israel in Rephidim. So Moses said to Joshua, "Choose some of our men and go out, fight against Amalek. Tomorrow I will stand on top of the hill with the staff of God in my hand." So Joshua fought against Amalek just as Moses had instructed him; and Moses and Aaron and Hur went up to the top of the hill. Whenever Moses would raise his hands, then Israel prevailed, but whenever he would rest his hands, then Amalek prevailed. When the hands of Moses became heavy, they took a stone and put it under him, and Aaron and Hur held up his hands, one on one side and one on the other, and so his hands were steady until the sun went down. So Joshua destroyed Amalek and his army with the sword. The LORD said to Moses, "Write this as a memorial in the book, and rehearse it in Joshua's hearing; for I will surely wipe out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven. Moses built an altar, and he called it "The LORD is my Banner," (2) for he said, "For a hand was lifted up to the throne of the LORD– that the LORD will have war with Amalek from generation to generation." (Exodus 17:8-16 NET)
Remember what the Amalekites did to you on your way from Egypt, how they met you along the way and cut off all your stragglers in the rear of the march when you were exhausted and tired; they were unafraid of God. So when the LORD your God gives you relief from all the enemies who surround you in the land he is giving you as an inheritance, you must wipe out the memory of the Amalekites from under heaven– do not forget! (Deuteronomy 25:17-19 NET)
Then he uttered this oracle: "The oracle of Balaam son of Beor; the oracle of the man whose eyes are open; Then Balaam looked on Amalek and delivered this oracle: "Amalek was the first of the nations, but his end will be that he will perish." (Num. 24:15,20 NET)
The nation of Amalek was the “superpower” of that day. They chose to attack Israel as God was leading them out of Egypt once they were tired and weary because they did not fear God. Therefore, our God judged it right for them to reap the utter destruction they tried to bring to Israel (Deuteronomy 25:19. Genesis 27:29. Exodus 23:22. Galatians 6:7. 2 Thessalonians 1:6. Colossians 3:25). Back to the story:
So Saul assembled the army and mustered them at Telaim. There were 200,000 foot soldiers and 10,000 men of Judah. Saul proceeded to the city of Amalek, where he set an ambush in the wadi. Saul said to the Kenites, "Go on and leave! Go down from among the Amalekites! Otherwise I will sweep you away with them! After all, you were kind to all the Israelites when they came up from Egypt." So the Kenites withdrew from among the Amalekites. Then Saul struck down the Amalekites all the way from Havilah to Shur, which is next to Egypt. He captured King Agag of the Amalekites alive, but he executed all Agag's people with the sword. However, Saul and the army spared Agag, along with the best of the flock, the cattle, the fatlings, and the lambs, as well as everything else that was of value. They were not willing to slaughter them. But they did slaughter everything that was despised and worthless. (1 Samuel 15:4-9 NET)
I have not been able to find an approximation of the number of people and animals slaughtered by Israel. However, if two hundred and ten thousand soldiers attacked them it probably was at least that many and likely more (based on the victories Israel had when greatly outnumbered in previous battles). Saul, after killing tens of thousands of men, women, children, and animals, felt justified in saving a token king. Surely, he had accomplished the intent of God’s command – the destruction of the Amalekite nation. So what could be wrong in saving one man? (Proverbs 14:12) What a trophy the king would make in his court!
Then the word of the LORD came to Samuel: "I regret that I have made Saul king, for he has turned away from me and has not done what I told him to do." Samuel became angry and he cried out to the LORD all that night. (1 Samuel 15:10-11 NET)
Here is wisdom - do not bring the Word of God to someone in confrontation or discipline until you are able to weep all night before God for him or her. The motive of our heart must never be retribution but rather reparation, restitution, resolution and reconciliation leading to restoration if that is at all possible (4) (Galatians 6:1. 1 Timothy 1:5, Romans 12:14-21, contrast Jonah 3:4,10. Jonah 4:1. Luke 9:51-56)
Then Samuel got up early to meet Saul the next morning. But Samuel was informed, "Saul has gone to Carmel where he is setting up a monument for himself. Then Samuel left and went down to Gilgal." When Samuel came to him, Saul said to him, "May the LORD bless you! I have done what the LORD said." Samuel replied, "If that is the case, then what is this sound of sheep in my ears and the sound of cattle that I hear?" Saul said, "They were brought from the Amalekites; the army spared the best of the flocks and cattle to sacrifice to the LORD our God. But everything else we slaughtered." (1 Samuel 15:12-15 NET)
Ever been caught lying about not eating cookies with cookie crumbs on your mouth or your hand in the cookie jar?
Then Samuel said to Saul, "Wait a minute! Let me tell you what the LORD said to me last night." Saul said to him, "Tell me." Samuel said, "Is it not true that when you were insignificant in your own eyes, you became head of the tribes of Israel? The LORD chose you as king over Israel. (1 Samuel 15:16-17 NET)
Many have been called into the Lord's service while “little in their own eyes”; however, the Lord’s blessing results in them becoming puffed up with pride (1 Corinthians 8:1,2. 1 Timothy 3:6 ). They leave their first love and think they will please God in their ability (Revelation 2:4). Arrogance blinds one to their own ignorance. That is, arrogance is the precursor to ignorance (Romans 1:21,22).
The LORD sent you on a campaign saying, 'Go and exterminate those sinful Amalekites! Fight against them until you have destroyed them.' Why haven't you obeyed the LORD? Instead you have greedily rushed upon the plunder! You have done what is wrong in the LORD's estimation." Then Saul said to Samuel, "But I have obeyed the LORD! I went on the campaign the LORD sent me on. I brought back King Agag of the Amalekites after exterminating the Amalekites. But the army took from the plunder some of the sheep and cattle– the best of what was to be slaughtered– to sacrifice to the LORD your God in Gilgal." Then Samuel said, "Does the LORD take pleasure in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as he does in obedience? Certainly, obedience is better than sacrifice; paying attention is better than the fat of rams. For rebellion is like the sin of divination, and presumption is like the evil of idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, he has rejected you as king." Then Saul said to Samuel, "I have sinned, for I have disobeyed what the LORD commanded and what you said as well. For I was afraid of the army, and I followed their wishes. Now please forgive my sin! Go back with me so I can worship the LORD." Samuel said to Saul, "I will not go back with you, for you have rejected the word of the LORD, and the LORD has rejected you from being king over Israel!" When Samuel turned to leave, Saul grabbed the edge of his robe and it tore. Samuel said to him, "The LORD has torn the kingdom of Israel from you this day and has given it to one of your colleagues who is better than you! The Preeminent One of Israel does not go back on his word or change his mind, for he is not a human being who changes his mind." Saul again replied, "I have sinned. But please honor me before the elders of my people and before Israel. Go back with me so I may worship the LORD your God." So Samuel followed Saul back, and Saul worshiped the LORD. Then Samuel said, "Bring me King Agag of the Amalekites." So Agag came to him trembling, thinking to himself, "Surely death is bitter!" Samuel said, "Just as your sword left women childless, so your mother will be the most bereaved among women!" Then Samuel hacked Agag to pieces there in Gilgal before the LORD. (1 Samuel 15:18-33 NET)
And Samuel hacked Agag in pieces before the LORD in Gilgal. The zeal of Samuel to do God’s will no matter the personal cost! The man who wept all night before the Lord God for Saul is now butchering Agag before the Lord and Saul. Saul claimed to bring back sacrifices for the Lord; however, it was Samuel who was obedient to the Lord sacrificing the life of King Agag! (3)
Samuel, reminds me of the zeal of Phinehas grandson of Aaron who ran a spear through both man and woman caught in the act of an adulterous and idolatrous embrace thus stopping the plague at Peor (Numbers 25:1-15) (3). Recall, it was Balaam (1) who sold the secret to destroying a nation protected by God to Balak who used it to entice Israel into sexual sin that resulted in judgment from God – the plague at Peor.
Then Samuel went to Ramah, while Saul went up to his home in Gibeah of Saul. Until the day he died Samuel did not see Saul again. Samuel did, however, mourn for Saul, but the LORD regretted that he had made Saul king over Israel. (1 Samuel 15:34-35 NET)
The LORD said to Samuel, "How long do you intend to mourn for Saul? I have rejected him as king over Israel. Fill your horn with olive oil and go! I am sending you to Jesse in Bethlehem, for I have selected a king for myself from among his sons." (1 Samuel 16:1 NET)
While we look at the number of times we have obeyed God, He is looking at those times we fail to obey Him. How many sins kept Moses out of the Promised Land even after his daring rescue of the Israelite hostages? Only one (see Numbers 20:10-12).
Consider the following couple in the New Testament church:
Now a man named Ananias, together with Sapphira his wife, sold a piece of property. He kept back for himself part of the proceeds with his wife's knowledge; he brought only part of it and placed it at the apostles' feet. But Peter said, "Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back for yourself part of the proceeds from the sale of the land? Before it was sold, did it not belong to you? And when it was sold, was the money not at your disposal? How have you thought up this deed in your heart? You have not lied to people but to God!" When Ananias heard these words he collapsed and died, and great fear gripped all who heard about it. So the young men came, wrapped him up, carried him out, and buried him. After an interval of about three hours, his wife came in, but she did not know what had happened. Peter said to her, "Tell me, were the two of you paid this amount for the land?" Sapphira said, "Yes, that much." Peter then told her, "Why have you agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord? Look! The feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out!" At once she collapsed at his feet and died. So when the young men came in, they found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband. Great fear gripped the whole church and all who heard about these things. (Acts 5:1-11 NET)
They gave most of the money to the Lord. However, they kept back part of the money but claimed to give it all. That means they gave a lot of money to the church!
- God is not measuring your giving by what you give but what you keep.
- God is not measuring your obedience by what you do but rather what you fail to do.
- God is not measuring your spiritual maturity by those areas in which you have matured but rather in the areas you have not.
Here is an example of someone who completed her obedience:
Then he sat down opposite the offering box, and watched the crowd putting coins into it. Many rich people were throwing in large amounts. And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, worth less than a penny. He called his disciples and said to them, "I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the offering box than all the others. For they all gave out of their wealth. But she, out of her poverty, put in what she had to live on, everything she had." (Mk. 12:41-44 NET)
Again, God measures your giving not by what you give but what you keep! The widow kept nothing. Again, God measures your obedience not by what you do but what you fail to do! (Matthew 25:14-30. Matthew 21:28-31)
Fortunately, when we sin we can repent and receive forgiveness and cleansing due to His infinite supply of Grace (i.e., unearned favor) and Mercy (i.e., the solution to all needs) (Micah 7:18). Realize without this unearned favor with God (i.e., grace) we would not be candidates to receive His solution to all our needs, wants and desires (i.e. mercy) (Ephesians 1:1-7. Hebrews 4:16. 2 John 1:3. Romans 5:20).
But if we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous, forgiving us our sins and cleansing us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9 NET)
Our both merciful and just Heavenly Father God will most certainly test and discipline (1) us for obedience which can lead to rejection from our present ministry. However, under the New Covenant He will not reject us from His family (Romans 8:35-39) , our calling (Romans 11:29) or take His Holy Spirit from us (John 14:16,17).
Praying the Scripture:
Therefore, let us come boldly and respectfully as joint heirs with Jesus to OUR Father God's throne of "unearned favor" (i.e., grace) paid for by the death, burial and resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ to obtain "the solution for all our needs, wants and desires" (i.e., mercy) and while fellowshipping with God at His throne continue to have incrementally revealed the width, length and depth of this "unearned favor" (i.e., grace) that passes all knowledge! Amen (Hebrews 4:16. Romans 8:17. John 20:17. 1 Corinthians 15:3,4. Philippians 4:19. Psalms 23:1. Psalms 37:4. Isaiah 28:10. Ephesians 3:14-21)
- God's Thoughts and Ways Series:
(2) NET note 43, sn Heb "Yahweh-nissi" (so NAB), which means "Yahweh is my banner." Note that when Israel murmured and failed God, the name commemorated the incident or the outcome of their failure. When they were blessed with success, the naming praised God. Here the holding up of the staff of God was preserved in the name for the altar – God gave them the victory.
(3) Please do not try this at home! Leave the hacking and spearing of others to Old Testament personnel.
(4) The very last thing you would want to do is risk damaging a relationship, by speaking out of turn. But if God is wanting us to speak His word to someone, then we are being disobedient to God and actually betraying the person to whom God wants us to speak, if we choose not to do so. It’s important that, if and when you do feel God is putting you in that situation, you really spend time with the Lord, asking Him to confirm that this is what He wants you to do. And then when you pluck up the courage to bring your word, it is vital that it is delivered with love and compassion, so that it can be an apple of gold to the recipient and not a stab in the back!
How do we respond when someone speaks a word to us which conflicts with what we want to do – advice, perhaps, which cuts right across the plans you had laid down for yourself? Be gracious and thank the person, however much you either agree or disagree with what they have said. Then lay it before the Lord in the privacy of your own place of prayer. And ask Him to confirm to your own heart whether or not what has been said is true. And if it is a true word, then thank the Lord for it and in humility also thank the person who had the courage to bring a word in season to help you along life’s journey. A friend who speaks truth in love is worth a thousand friends who flatter but fail to tell you what you need to hear!
Seeds of the Kingdom, Peter Horrobin, 02/01/2016, http://www.seedsofthekingdom.com/devotionals/2765/apples-of-gold.php