Posted by: stpowen | March 18, 2015

Obeying the Voice of the Lord

Luke 6:46. ‘But why do you call Me, “Lord, Lord,” and not do the things that I say?’

John 14:15. “If you love Me, keep My commandments.”

Taken from a sermon preached at Scott Drive Church, Exmouth

Please read 1 Samuel 15.

This is a very important chapter for us to consider, which has crucial application for the Church today. I want to take as my text, verse 22. “Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams.” The chapter is pivotal, marking a new section in the book of 1 Samuel. The writer is preparing to introduce David to us, so at the end of Chapter 14 (vs. 47ff), he gives us a sort of summary of Saul’s reign and then proceeds to his final rejection. Saul still had about 20 years to live, but from this point onward he is living and reigning apart from the Lord’s blessing, and the focus of the author’s attention moves on.

We look first at Saul’s commission in verse 3. ‘Now go and attack Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have and do not spare them…..’ The modern reader is likely to have a problem with this: “Poor Amalekites! That’s not very fair!” It is harsh, but God’s judgements are to be praised, not condemned even if we don’t understand them, because they will be found to be just. Israel’s dealings with the Amalekites begin in Exodus 17, but important information is given to us in Deut. 25:17-19. ‘Remember what Amalek did to you on the way as you were coming out of Egypt, how he met you on the way and attacked your rear ranks, all the stragglers at your rear, when you were tired and weary; and he did not fear God.’ This is what Samuel references in 1 Sam. 15:2. These Amalekites are bandits, roving bands of brigands, and they haven’t changed over the years (v.18, v.33). Their leader Agag was a killer; he lived by the sword and he died by it. The Amalekites as a nation had had 300 years to repent and they haven’t done so. God is longsuffering, but judgement comes in the end to those who are unrepentant (Exod. 34:6-7). And His people figure prominently in God’s judgements. He avenges His persecuted people. When Isaiah tells us (35:4), ‘See, your God will come with vengeance,’ that is good news. The wicked in this world are not going always to triumph. ‘[Then] I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the testimony which they held. And they cried out with a loud voice, saying, “How long, O Lord holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell upon the earth?” (Rev. 6:9-10). In fact, the Amalekites were not totally destroyed; they re-appear in Chapter 30 when we read that ‘David attacked them from twilight until the evening of the next day’ (v.17), and even then he doesn’t get them all. We need to ask ourselves, are there any Amalekites today that we need to destroy utterly and without mercy ? I think we shall find that there are, but more of that anon.

So Saul goes off on his mission, but he sees fit to modify the Lord’s instructions, and the Lord tells Samuel (v.11), “I greatly regret that I have set up Saul as king….’ We also read in v.35, ‘….And the LORD regretted that He had made Saul king over Israel.’ What’s going on here? Does God make mistakes and then regret them? Does He change His mind? Not at all! We read in v.29, “And also the Strength of Israel will not lie or relent. He is not a man that He should relent.’ No, God knows the end from the beginning (Isaiah 46:10). He knew that Saul would fall into sin, and permitted it indeed, and incorporated it into His great plan for the world. God is never taken by surprise and never regrets what He has done, but He is not without feeling, and he feels genuine sorrow when men and women who started well fall away and come under His judgement. In this respect we may think of our Lord weeping over Jerusalem (Luke 19:41ff). The great Confessions speak of God being ‘without passions,’ and that is true in respect of Him having mood swings or bursts of anger- of course He doesn’t. But that does not mean that He doesn’t care deeply about His creation, especially that part of it that was made in His image. Samuel is also grieved (v.11). He had anointed Saul as king not so long ago, and now he has to tell him that he is effectively sacked. But God is God and we’re not, and He is to be obeyed. Samuel cries out to the Lord all night, but in the morning he knows what he’s got to do. It’s tough being a church leader sometimes.

When Samuel finds him, Saul doesn’t make it easy for him. “Blessed are you of the LORD! I have performed the commandment of the LORD” (v.13). But the bleating of the sheep and the lowing of the oxen taken as spoil contradicts Saul. He was to destroy everything that had belonged to the enemy. Saul blames the people of course (v.15), just as Adam blamed Eve back in the Garden of Eden. It is always tempting to blame our upbringing, our circumstances or our parents for our failings, but Samuel is not having any of that stuff. “Shut up and listen!” He says. “God made you king; He sent you on a mission; why didn’t you obey?” Saul tries another excuse. “Oh, we only brought back the animals so that we could sacrifice them to the Lord!” Then we come to Samuel’s key question in v.22a: ‘Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD?’ Obviously the answer is ‘no,’ because Samuel continues, ‘Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams.’ There are many other verses in the Bible that say the same thing, Psalm 51:16-17 or example, but the most devastating critique of sacrifice in lieu of obedience comes in Amos 5:21ff. ‘I hate, I despise your feast days, and I do not savour your sacred assemblies. Though you offer Me burnt offerings and your grain offerings, I will not accept them, nor will I regard your fattened peace offerings. Take away from Me the noise of your songs, I will not hear the melody of your stringed instruments. But let justice run down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream!’ Wow! Imagine God saying to today’s churches, “I hate your services and your ‘times of worship.’ I can’t stand your hymns and choruses; your collections are an insult to Me, and I won’t hear your prayers. Why? Because you won’t obey My commandments; because you won’t hear My words and do them.” But that is exactly what He is saying.

So why is to obey better than sacrifice? Well, I can find seven reasons from the text of 1 Samuel 15. First, five negative reasons.

1. Disobedience shows a misplacement of fear. “……I have transgressed the commandment of the LORD and your words because I feared the people and obeyed their voice’ (v.24). Back in Chapter 12, Samuel told Saul twice, “Fear the LORD, serve Him faithfully with all your heart” (vs.14, 24). To treat God as if He were a pussycat or Santa in the sky; to fear men rather than God, is a terrible insult. ‘Who are you that you should be afraid of a man who will die, and of the son of man who will be made like grass? And you forget the LORD your Maker…..’ (Isaiah 51:12-13). The same theme is taken up in 1 Peter 3:14-15, and most devastatingly in Luke 12:4-5. “And I say to you, My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do, but I will show you whom you should fear: fear Him who, after He has killed, has power to cast into hell; yes, I say to you, fear Him!”

2. Disobedience shows a misplacement of pleasure. ‘Why did you swoop down on the spoil, and do evil in the sight of the LORD?’ (v.19). Saul and his men were looking for a feast on the cattle and a fat ransom for Agag. These things meant more to them than the fellowship of the Lord, and this is most insulting to Him. On the other hand, to look to the promises of God and to delight in His favour rather than in the fleeting pleasures of disobedience gives God great honour, and in that He has pleasure.

3. Disobedience is likened to witchcraft or consulting a medium. ‘For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft…..’ (v.23a) This is where Saul finally ends up (1 Sam 28) and it is an abomination to God (cf. Deut. 18:10-14). Seeking to know the future in a way that ignores God and His word is a very serious sin. God says one thing and we say, “Well, I’ll just take another view on that. “

4. Disobedience is idolatry. ‘……And stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry’ (v.23b). When we consult our own desires and feelings or the spirit of the age instead of God, we are making an idol. Anything that we obey rather than God is an idol, and idolatry, if not repented of, will keep us out of heaven (Eph. 5:5).

5. Disobedience is the result of pride. Samuel told Saul, ‘When you were little in your own eyes……did not the LORD anoint you king over Israel?’ (v.17). Is this not how most Christians are when they are first saved? We start off humble, eager to obey the commands of the Lord. But after a little while, if we are not very careful, pride starts to enter our lives and we start to think too much of ourselves- just as Saul did when he set up a monument to himself (v.12)- and we take it upon ourselves to question God’s commands and if they really apply to folk so holy, wise and generally wonderful as ourselves. It is a sin to which Reformed Christians are particularly prone. After all, we have our theology all sorted out, unlike those poor benighted Anglicans or charismatics, so God must be particularly pleased with us, right? Wring! Pride is a ‘root sin.’ Saul’s greed and disobedience are actually the fruit of his pride. ‘God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble’ (James 4:6). Among the seven things listed in Proverbs 6:16-19 as abominations to God is, ‘a proud look.’ ‘Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may lift you up in due time’ (1 Peter 5:6).

On the positive side, to obey is better than sacrifice because:

1. Everything God commands to His people is for their good. ‘And the LORD commanded us to observe all these statutes, to fear the LORD, for our good always, that He might preserve us alive, as it is this day’ (Deut. 6:24). Like a doctor’s prescriptions, God’s commands may sometimes taste unpleasant, but they will always turn out to be for our good.

2. His commandments are not too hard for us if we are Christians. They were fair-weather disciples who said, ‘This is a hard saying; who can accept it?’ John 6:60, 66). True disciples say, “[His] yoke is easy and [His] burden is light” and “His commandments are not burdensome” (Matt. 11:30; 1 John 5:3). The difference is the new birth. True believers have been given a new heart and a new spirit so that they love the Lord and love His commandments (Ezek. 36:26-27). Is that true of you? Can you say with the Psalmist, “I delight to do Your will, O my God, and Your law is within My heart.” (Psalm 40:8)?

Someone may be thinking, ‘But I thought salvation was by faith alone.’ So it is, but the faith which alone saves doesn’t stay alone. The Lord Jesus says, “If you love Me, keep My commandments” (John 14:15). Imagine Abraham living in Ur of the Chaldees, and saying, “I believe with all my heart that the Lord wants me to leave Ur” (cf. Acts 7:2-4), and then staying right where he was. What sort of faith would that have been? No, no! True faith, the faith that saves, always issues forth in obedience, because God works in the hearts of believers ‘to will and to do of His good pleasure’ (Phil. 2:13). To be sure, our obedience and our service to God will always fall short of perfection; at our very best we are ‘unprofitable servants’ (Luke 17:10). There was only ever one person who could say, “I always do those things that please Him’ (John 8:29). He alone is the sinless one, and on the cross, just as our sins were laid upon His sinless shoulders, so His perfect righteousness and obedience is credited to those who put their trust in Him (1 Cor. 1:30; 2 Cor. 5:21).

I want now to draw attention to the difference between ‘legal obedience’ and ‘evangelical obedience.’ Legal obedience’ is the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, and unless our righteousness exceeds theirs we will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 5:20). ‘But all their works they do to be seen by men……..Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint’ anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith’ (Matt. 23:5, 23). Legal obedience is for show; evangelical obedience is from the heart. In respect of the Amalekites, Saul did what he thought he could get away with; David did his best: ‘Then David attacked them from twilight until the evening of the next day’ (1 Samuel 30:17). Even then some Amalekites escaped, but God looks at the heart, and David’s heart, despite all his failings, was for the Lord

. There is also such a thing as legal repentance and evangelical repentance. Most of us would think that David’s sins in connection with Bathsheba- adultery and conspiracy to murder- were far more serious than those of Saul. When they were challenged about their sins, they both said the same thing- “I have sinned” (1 Sam. 15:30; 2 Sam. 12:13), but David added, “I have sinned against the LORD.” He understood the seriousness and the sinfulness of sin. Saul immediately asked Samuel to honour him among the people; David went away and wrote Psalm 51. David was forgiven, though he had to bear the consequences of his sin; Saul was not. Repentance is worthless unless it is from the heart. Do you really love the Lord and are you truly grieved over your sin, understanding that every sin is against Him (Psalm 51:4)? If so, you may be assured that your sins will be forgiven; if not, you can have no such assurance.

Lastly, are there any Amalekites left today that need to be utterly destroyed without mercy? Most certainly there are; we have deadly foes that will destroy us unless we destroy them first. I am not of course speaking of physical enemies- we are to love them and pray for them (Luke 6:27ff). I am speaking of our sins and evil habits; we are to put them to death, slaughtering them without mercy. ‘Therefore put to death your members which are on earth: fornication uncleanness, passion, evil desire and covetousness which is idolatry………anger, wrath malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth’ (Col. 3:5, 8). Big sins, little sins, they must all be destroyed. ‘Darling sins’- the ones we really love; secret sins- the ones nobody knows about- Nobody? You may be sure that God knows all about them. Even those sins that are as dear to you as your right eye or right hand (Matt. 5:29-30) must be cut off; hacked to pieces before the Lord as Samuel struck down Agag (v.33). Let your prayer be the same as that of David: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my anxieties; see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting”</strong> (Psalm 139:23-24). Before I close let me ask, is there anyone here convicted by all this? Is there anyone saying to himself, “I am a Saul, not a David; I’m a sham Christian- my obedience has been legal, not evangelical.” If so, don’t say to yourself, “Well, I’ll just have to try harder to make myself a Christian!” No, no! You’ll never do it in your own strength (Jer. 13:23). Go to God and confess your sins and plead nothing but the blood of the Saviour shed for sinners on the cross. And He will put His laws in your mind and write them on your heart (Jer. 31:3), and lead you in the way everlasting for His name’s sake.


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