Thursday, March 04, 2010

Following God's Will

If you've ever read 1 Samuel, you know that King Saul had some serious mental issues. He so feared being anointed king of Israel that he hid among the luggage rather than step forward and acknowledge God's will. After he received the anointing, he turned around and headed back home to his farm, abandoning Israel to their own protection. When the Philistines attacked, the Spirit of God came upon Saul and he marched his troops into battle and finally started acting like a king.

He had a few good moments as king, but his reign as God's chosen king was short lived. The campaign against the Philistines continued, and at one point, the Israelites were hiding in caves near Gilgal, terrified for their lives because they were surrounded by the enemy. Saul rallied his forces and then waited for Samuel who would do sacrifices to God and call on Him for aid. Saul waited seven days, which arguably is how long Samuel said he would be gone. The troops were getting restless, and Saul did a really dumb thing rather than continue to wait or to pray to God for help.
So Saul took charge: "Bring me the burnt offering and the peace offerings!" He went ahead and sacrificed the burnt offering. No sooner had he done it than Samuel showed up! Saul greeted him.

Samuel said, "What on earth are you doing?"1 Samuel 13:10-12

Saul went ahead and sacrificed the offerings to God himself. This doesn't sound like a big deal, but back in Leviticus and Deuteronomy Moses made it very clear that no one but the priests were to make sacrifices. Saul had just crossed God's will big time.

Samuel explained to him the cost of his rash actions: That was a fool thing to do," Samuel said to Saul. "If you had kept the appointment that your God commanded, by now God would have set a firm and lasting foundation under your kingly rule over Israel. As it is, your kingly rule is already falling to pieces. God is out looking for your replacement right now. This time he'll do the choosing. When he finds him, he'll appoint him leader of his people. And all because you didn't keep your appointment with God!"1 Samuel 13:13-14

But Saul still hadn't learned his lesson about sticking closely to God's will. Samuel went to Saul and told him that God wanted him to attack and destroy the Amalekites. The Israelites had a long history with the tribe, and God wanted them completely wiped out and all of the plunder given to God. Saul, however, had his own plans.

Then Saul went after Amalek, from the canyon all the way to Shur near the Egyptian border. He captured Agag, king of Amalek, alive. Everyone else was killed under the terms of the holy ban. Saul and the army made an exception for Agag, and for the choice sheep and cattle. They didn't include them under the terms of the holy ban. But all the rest, which nobody wanted anyway, they destroyed as decreed by the holy ban.

Then God spoke to Samuel: "I'm sorry I ever made Saul king. He's turned his back on me. He refuses to do what I tell him."

Samuel was angry when he heard this. He prayed his anger and disappointment all through the night. He got up early in the morning to confront Saul but was told, "Saul's gone. He went to Carmel to set up a victory monument in his own honor, and then was headed for Gilgal."

By the time Samuel caught up with him, Saul had just finished an act of worship, having used Amalekite plunder for the burnt offerings sacrificed to God.

As Samuel came close, Saul called out, "God's blessings on you! I accomplished God's plan to the letter!"

Samuel said, "So what's this I'm hearing—this bleating of sheep, this mooing of cattle?"

"Only some Amalekite loot," said Saul. "The soldiers saved back a few of the choice cattle and sheep to offer up in sacrifice to God. But everything else we destroyed under the holy ban."1 Samuel 15:7-15

Saul didn't kill the Amalekite king, which allowed the tribe to continue its survival, and he kept the best bits of plunder for himself. And yet he had the nerve to say to God's prophet that he had followed God's law to the letter! It's no surprise that God abandoned Saul and chose David to replace him as leader.

Now after reading about Saul's repeated disobedience, listen to this story. Saul and his army are out fighting the Philistines (as usual) and his son Jonathan is leading his own unit of men. Saul got so caught up in the hunt that he said, "A curse on the man who eats anything before evening, before I've wreaked vengeance on my enemies!" 1 Samuel 14:24

Jonathan was unaware of his father's vow and so when he came across some honeycombs in a field, he dipped the tip of his spear into the honey and ate it. All of the men had gone without food all day in their search for the Philistines, so he was greatly refreshed from the food, but when he told his men to have some, they explained Saul's vow to him and wouldn't touch any. Jonathan replied, logically I think, that what Saul had done was stupid; by denying his troops sustenance, he probably lost the battle.

Later Saul prayed to God asking Him if the Philistines would be delivered into his hand, and God didn't respond. Rather than make the appropriate assumption that God had left him because of his disobedience, he blamed it on one of the soldiers breaking the vow and eating something, so he called them up and demanded that the guilty party show himself. When that didn't happen, he used lots to figure it out, and Jonathan was exposed. He quickly admitted his guilt asking if this was really worth death.

Saul said, "Yes. Jonathan most certainly will die. It's out of my hands— I can't go against God, can I?"1 Samuel 14:44

Luckily the soldiers revolted and refused to allow Saul to kill his own son, but I think that there's a powerful lesson in the story.

When Saul was supposed to follow God's will, he easily justified breaking the rules to suit his own needs and desires. When someone else was supposed to follow God's will, Saul was quick to cast judgment and was ready to carry out execution on those he found guilty. Sound familiar?

Luke 6:41-42 says in The Message Bible It's easy to see a smudge on your neighbor's face and be oblivious to the ugly sneer on your own. Do you have the nerve to say, 'Let me wash your face for you,' when your own face is distorted by contempt? It's this I-know-better-than-you mentality again, playing a holier-than-thou part instead of just living your own part. Wipe that ugly sneer off your own face and you might be fit to offer a washcloth to your neighbor.

You might recognize it better in the New American Standard Bible: "Or how can you say to your brother, 'Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,' when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother's eye.

Saul was full willing to look at others and point out where they had failed at following God's will (although with Jonathan it was his own will rather than God's, but Saul thought it was God's will). He was even willing to kill his own son for the crime of eating honey. But he didn't look at his own actions through the same lens.

I know that I'm guilty of this crime. I justify and come up with excuses for my own behavior and then look down my nose at others far less guilty. I think that we, as Christians, have to be very careful not to use God's Word as a weapon against others when that sword could easily be turned against us.

What do you think? I'd love to hear from you about my meanderings this week. Drop me an email or leave a comment to get the conversation started!