Obedience is Best



            We are still looking this morning at the life and ministry of one of the great men of Scripture, Samuel.  Samuel was the prophet, priest and judge in Israel at a critical time in the nation's history.  At that time, Israel was transitioning from a loose confederation of tribes who were on occasion ruled by judges for a specific period of time, to a nation ruled by kings like the rest of the nations around them.

            Samuel was getting older and soon to be passing from the scene.  He had not appointed anyone to take his place once he was gone.  His sons were helping him to judge in the southern part of the country but they were not righteous.  They took bribes and perverted justice.  Because of those circumstances, the elders from the tribes approached Samuel and asked for a king so that they could be like the other nations.  Even though God was their King and their leader, they wanted a human leader who would lead them into battle and provide security for them.

            That request did not sit well with Samuel so he went to God and prayed about it.  God told him that the people weren't rejecting him as leader, they were rejecting God.  The Lord told him that they could have a king, but Samuel was to explain to them what would be expected and what the king would do.  So Samuel told them, but they didn't care.  They wanted a king and they weren't concerned what the consequences might be.

            One of the significant roles that Samuel played at that time was to ordain and anoint Israel's first king.  That king was Saul.  He was basically chosen because he was taller than everyone else.  At first he was humble and started out OK as a king.  But before long, he became disobedient to the Lord. 

            The first time he disobeyed was when they were at war with the Philistines.  Samuel told Saul that he would be there in seven days to offer a sacrifice to the Lord for the upcoming battle.  Samuel didn't show up on time, so Saul took it upon himself to make the offering.  He thought it was a good, spiritual thing for him to do.  But it wasn't; it was disobedience to God.  Because of that, Samuel told Saul that the kingship of the nation would be taken from him and his family.  God was looking for a man after His own heart, and Saul was not that man.  1 Sam. 13:13-14.  But as we're going to see this morning in our continuing series of sermons called saints and sinners, Saul gets another chance and once again, he blows it.  Let's read 1 Sam. 15:10-23.


            Even though Saul had disobeyed God and lost the kingdom, he was still the king of Israel.  He was given another chance to obey and do what God wanted him to do.  This time, it involved the Amalekites.  God commanded Saul not only to defeat the Amalekites, but he was to put them all to death and utterly destroy everything they had including all of their herds and flocks.  (15:3)

            God's instructions were very clear and very straightforward.  Even though Saul knew exactly what he was supposed to do, he didn't do it.  Instead, he captured their king and spared all of the best animals.  They destroyed what they considered worthless and they kept what they decided was good, even though God told him to destroy it all.

            The Amalekites were a people descended from Esau, the twin brother of Jacob.  They were an enemy of the Jewish people from their very beginning.  The army of Amalek attacked the Hebrews shortly after Israel left Egypt.  The Israelites defeated them because of God's help.  At that time, the Lord declared perpetual war against Amalek.  Ex. 17:8-16.  It was Balaam who later prophesied Amalek's ultimate defeat. 

            It can be kind of hard sometimes to understand why God would command an entire nation to be destroyed just because of what their ancestors had done centuries before.  But there are a couple of reasons why God ultimately wanted them wiped out as a people.  For one, the Amalekites were an ungodly, pagan people.  God had been patient with them for a very long time, but His patience does run out.  Not only that, but they were unspeakably evil.  God's covenant with His people includes the promise that He will curse those who curse His people.  God always keeps His word.  The Amalekites cursed God's people so God cursed them.

            Any nation that was waging war on Israel was actually waging war on Almighty God.  That meant they were also waging war on God's great plan of redemption for the whole world.  People are either for the Lord or they are against Him.  If they are against Him, they must and they will suffer the consequences.

            Sometimes those consequences are felt in this world.  God brings His judgment in many different ways.  That's one of the reasons we have a justice system in place.  Criminals are charged with crimes and if they are found guilty there is a punishment.  Those punishments can range from a small fine to death.  I don't think too many sane people have any problem with society judging and punishing wrongdoers.  Sometimes God's judgment comes in this life. 

            But ultimately God's judgment comes in the life to come.  We will all stand before God some day.  Those who aren't saved will stand before God and face their eternal judgment.  That eternal punishment is eternity in hell.  That is exactly what they deserve and that is exactly what will happen to anyone and everyone who dies without Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior.

            That truth applies to all of us.  Are you with God or are you against Him?  You don't have to be a blatant, overt Satan worshiper to be against God; you simply need to not be a true born again believer.  If Jesus isn't your personal Lord and Savior, when you die you will go to hell for eternity.  But Jesus came, lived, died and rose again so that we could be saved and forgiven.  Today is the day of salvation, now is the time to get right with God.  Make sure you are with God.  Examine your heart and respond to God's working in your life in whatever way you need to.


            God told Saul what to do and Saul didn't do it all.  The best Saul could claim was that he partially obeyed.  He killed most of the people but he spared the king.  He killed most of the livestock but supposedly kept the best in order to offer sacrifices to God, or at least that is what he told Samuel.  There may well have been other reasons why they kept the best livestock.  They probably were worth quite a bit of money and maybe there were monetary reasons for keeping those animals.  But making a sacrifice sounds better, doesn't it. 

            That's not unlike people today who don't tithe like God wants us to.  It's pretty clear in Scripture that God commands us to give ten percent back to Him through the church.  But many people don't do that.  They say they can't afford to; or they say they give of a lot of other things and in a lot of other ways.  All of that sounds better than admitting that they're greedy.

            We could look at this story and in some ways almost find it admirable that Saul saved the king.  We could even think that his desire to offer sacrifices to God is a noble thing to do.  We would be wrong.  It doesn't matter what he says were his motives, even if his motives were pure and honest.  The bottom line is that he didn't obey God and that is all that matters.  He allowed the king to live; not what God wanted.  He allowed the soldiers, so he said, to save the best of the flocks and herds; not what God wanted.  If God says something is condemned, then it is condemned.  God condemned the animals and therefore they were not good, no matter what Saul said and no matter even if they were healthy and without defect.

            There certainly is no reason why Saul couldn't have obeyed God's commands.  He had the man-power to get the job done right.  He knew what God had said.  But he decided to follow his own way.  Samuel, being the prophet of God, knew about Saul's disobedience before the army even returned from the field.  He was deeply grieved by it.

            As we mentioned, Saul had already disobeyed God by offering an unauthorized offering.  God had given him another chance and he failed miserably once again.  Samuel was displeased because he was Saul's mentor and he wanted to see him succeed.  But Saul's disobedience resulted in Samuels' being angry and broken hearted.  It actually says he was distressed.  The Hebrew word for that means to burn and suggests a righteous indignation, a holy anger.

            In the eyes of the soldiers and the Jewish people, Saul had won a great victory over a long-time enemy.  But in God's eyes, he was a failure.  Yet Saul was so impressed with himself that he went to Carmel and erected a stone monument in his own honor and then went to Gilgal.

            When Samuel finally met up with him there, Saul gave the prophet a greeting that on the surface seems warm and friendly, but was actually pure hypocrisy.  (v. 13)  He had no blessing to give Samuel; he had not performed the will of the Lord.  He lied to himself in thinking he could get away with the deception.  He lied to Samuel who already knew the truth.  He even tried to lie to God by saying he would use the spared animals for sacrifices.  Saul blamed the soldiers for sparing the spoils, but he could have stopped them as their commander in chief.  He even went so far as to say "they" spared the best, but "we" utterly destroyed the rest.  With Saul, it was always somebody else's fault.


            Saul had once been a modest young man.  God had raised him up to be the king of the nation.  But now, for the second time, he had willfully disobeyed the Lord's will and even put up a monument in honor of the event.  He was supposed to annihilate a nation that for centuries had done evil, but he ended up doing evil himself.

            But when he was confronted with the truth, Saul began to argue with God's servant.  He denied that he had done anything wrong.  For the second time, he lied when he said "I have obeyed."  For the second time, he blames his army for taking the best of the animals.  For the second time, he used the feeble excuse of dedicating the spared animals as sacrifices for the Lord.

            Samuel rejected all three lies and explained why God couldn't accept the animals as legitimate sacrifices.  The Lord wants living obedience from the heart, not dead animals on the altar.  God doesn't need any donations from us.  The sacrifice He desires is a broken and contrite heart.  Ps. 51:16-17.  Sacrifice without obedience is only hypocrisy and empty religious ritual.  Jer. 7:21-23; Hosea 6:6.

            Samuel was a Levite and a prophet.  He certainly wasn't criticizing the Jewish sacrificial system.  The Lord had established Jewish worship and it was right for the people to bring their sacrifices to the Lord.  This was His appointed way of worship.  But the worship had to come to the Lord with submissive hearts and genuine faith, or the sacrifices were in vain.  Our worship today must be more than simply going through the motions of religion and church.  We must worship in spirit and in truth.  John 4:24; Col. 3:16.

            Samuel went on to reveal that the sins of rebellion and stubbornness controlled Saul's heart.  In God's sight, they were as evil as witchcraft and idolatry.  Later, Saul would actually resort to witchcraft.  Both sins were evidence of a heart that had rejected the Word of the Lord.  To know God's will and deliberately disobey it is to put ourselves above God and therefore become our own god.  That is the vilest form of idolatry.


            What about you?  Are you offering sacrifices to God in place of obedience to the Lord?  There are a lot of areas of life where God has given us pretty clear commands.  He wants us to forgive others when they've wronged us.  He wants us to be a good witness to the lost in our community.  He wants us to serve and minister in His name.  He wants us to be unified as a church body so the work of God can advance here in Baxter.  As I've already mentioned, He wants us to give generously and faithfully and He also wants us to tithe.

            But we don't like doing some of those things and we quite frankly don't want to do some of those things.  So instead of forgiving others, we just do a couple of extra Operation Christmas Child boxes as an offering to make up for our lack of forgiveness.  Instead of witnessing to the lost, we put some money into the Viola Webb offering as a sacrifice to make up for our lack of personal witnessing.  Instead of serving and ministering in His name, we pray for people in our church or in the community who do those sorts of things as an offering to make up for our lack of service.  Instead of promoting unity in the church, we verbally and publicly support the church's work as an offering to make up for all we do to create disunity and disharmony.  Instead of tithing like God wants, we throw in a ten dollar bill once in a while, and consider it an offering to God that we gave generously and faithfully instead of tithing like He wants.    

            Our attitude and our motives for doing what God wants us to do does matter.  We need to have the right heart; we need to have the right reasons; it all comes down to doing all that we do out of love for God and love for others.  But it also matters very much that we obey God just exactly like He wants us to obey Him.  As we learned with Saul, disobedience with the right heart and right motive is still disobedience and is still sin in God's eyes.  Don't try to justify your sin by saying your heart was right in what you did.  Always seek to do all that God wants you to do in your life.


            As our singer and musician come now, we invite you to always live with complete and total obedience to the Lord.  If you need to make some profession or decision this morning, we invite you to come now and talk to me about that as we stand sing.




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