May 4, 2013

More Obedient Than God

Are you more obedient than God?  Sounds like a silly question.  It seems like half the time we are not obedient to God at all, whilst the other half we are halting and stumbling towards some warmed-up version of obedience. But more obedient?  Give me a break!

Having just completed reading the rise and fall of King Saul in 1Samuel it is instructive just how this tendency to be more obedient than God is central to Saul’s downfall.  In fact he was being SO obedient that his obedience turned full circle and ended up being disobedience.  Funny that.

Now let me explain.  When in 1Samuel 13 Saul is told to wait for Samuel to arrive at the appointed time to offer a sacrifice prior to the battle, Saul just could not wait. The Philistines were ready to destroy God’s people; God was requiring a sacrifice prior to a battle; Samuel was not there to offer the sacrifice; something had to be done.  So Saul offered the sacrifice to ensure that God’s people would be protected.  And then, stage left, Samuel appears. Saul’s octane-charged “obedience” turns out to be foolishness and disobedience.  God, says Samuel, is looking for “a man after his own heart”.

Saul then compounds his sin with the dreadful story of 1Samuel 15 in which God hands over everything that the Amalekites have to destruction, and Saul chooses to keep the best of the livestock.  Then Samuel turns up (funny how it always seems to go pear-shaped when Samuel turns up – Ed). Saul, of course, is keen to highlight his obedience credentials:

Blessed be you to the Lord. I have performed the commandment of the Lord…the people spared the best of the sheep and of the oxen to sacrifice to the Lord your God, and the rest we have devoted to destruction.

So that’s alright then.  Except it’s not.  Samuel’s searing indictment follows swift on the heels of Saul’s pious sounding rebellion:

Has 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 listen than the fat of rams.

God has spoken: Saul is doomed.

So what next?  Where is this man for whom God is looking?  A man after God’s own heart?  What are his credentials?  Space doesn’t permit me to unpack the ins and outs of David, but one thing stands out clear.  He is not going to be more obedient than God in the manner in which Saul was.  What do I mean?

Simply this; David was completely committed to waiting on God’s timing to do the things that God has promised by his prophet Samuel that he would do.  David would be king.  Samuel knew it. Saul knew it. David knew it.  All of David’s men knew it too.  Which is why, when twice David has Saul in his clutches (Saul is pursuing David to kill him) David does not strike the blow. What does he say the first time (1Samuel 24:1-7) when his men urge him to kill Saul?

The LORD forbid that I should do this thing to my lord, the LORD’s anointed, to put out my hand against him, seeing he is the LORD’s anointed.

Get it?  God’s the one who decides who is who.  He gets to call the shots.  This is reiterated even more clearly the next time David has Saul in his sights.

Do not destroy him, for who can put out his hand against the LORD’s anointed and be guiltless?  As the LORD lives, the LORD will strike him, or his day will come to die, or he will go down into battle and perish. The LORD forbid that I should put out my hand against the LORD’s anointed.

David would never run ahead of God.  All the ducks were lined up in a row, but it would be God and God alone who was the one to call “Fire!”.

Can you see now why King David was a man after God’s own heart?  Can you see now why Jesus is the greater David?  Jesus too had the opportunity to run ahead of God, to be more obedient than his Father, so to speak, in the battle against Satan.  There in the wilderness, Satan offers Jesus everything, everything that in fact Jesus would one day inherit.  And Jesus says “no”.  Satan tempts Jesus to take things into his own hands, to compress God’s time frame and arrive at the conclusion that was going to be arrived at anyway via the cross.  And Jesus says “no”.

When circumstances overwhelm us.  When we experience injustice, or someone despises us, we are often tempted to seek a compressed version of God’s justice.  When we are tempted to be more obedient than God we need to remember Saul. We need to remember David.  We need, most of all, to remember Jesus.  When we feel bereft by circumstances, or when we feel we could “sort something out” that would make it all ok, when we want to fast-track God’s agenda – whatever that is; justice, truth, our rightness, our resolution of a problem the way we think best – then we must first pause for breath. Be aware that just because we believe God would want those things for us, that he also wants these things for us our way. He does not.  We cannot see what he sees.  A day is coming when every mouth will be stopped because the judge of all the earth will do what is just.  Jesus understood that perfectly.  That is why Peter – the one who was always rushing helter-skelter trying to be more obedient than God – could say in 1Peter2:23:

When he was reviled, he did not revile in return.  When he suffered, he did not threatened, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.

Feeling reviled, and know that God would not want that for you?  Suffering for righteousness’ sake and knowing that God is aware of it?  Then be like Jesus. Don’t be more obedient than God, straining for an “ultimate” version of justice now that only he can bring then.  Instead commit yourself to the one true Shepherd of the people – not King Saul, not King David, but King Jesus, of whom it says in Hebrews 12:

For the joy that was set before him, endured the cross, despising its shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

The true King of Israel is enthroned at last.

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There is no guarantee that Jesus will return in our desired timeframe. Yet we have no reason to be anxious, because even if the timeframe is not guaranteed, the outcome is! We don’t have to waste energy being anxious; we can put it to better use.

Stephen McAlpine – futureproof

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