Excel in Obedience

By Pastor Teck Uy

When God gave his commands, he expected that we would fully obey them. However, we have the tendency to be selective in our obedience – we obey only the commands that we like obeying.  To make up for our disobedience, we offer some kind of sacrifice, either financially or by engaging in good community work. This is to mitigate the guilt and to make us feel better. This was exactly the attitude of Saul, Israel’s newly ordained king, when he was commanded by the Lord to fight against the Amalekites and to completely destroy them. He carried out the instructions but did not completely destroy the Amalekites. When rebuked by Samuel, he justified his actions saying, “But I did obey the LORD. I completely destroyed the Amalekites and brought back Agag their king. The soldiers took sheep and cattle from the plunder, the best of what was devoted to God, in order to sacrifice them to the LORD your God at Gilgal” (1 Sam. 15:20-21).

From the surface, it appeared that King Saul had accomplished his mission. However, his decision to spare the king and his unwillingness to destroy the best of the sheep and cattle was serious enough to constitute defiance or disobedience. For his disobedience, the prophet Samuel rebuked him saying, “Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the LORD? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams. ….. Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, he has rejected you as king” (1 Samuel 15:22-23). Indeed, no amount of sacrifice is enough to take the place of obedience. And if we think that we can buy our way out as we openly defy the Lord’s commands, we are mistaken. The Lord owns everything and he does not need anything from us. Through the Psalmist, the Lord said, “If I were hungry I would not tell you, for the world is mine, and all that is in it. Do I eat the flesh of bulls or drink the blood of goats?” (Ps 50:12-13). Needless to say, Saul’s disobedience eventually brought about the loss of his kingship.

The reality is that even godly men can disobey and they are not spared from the consequence of their actions. This was true even with Moses. When the Israelites cried out to God for water, he commanded Moses to speak to the rock so that water will flow from it. But instead of speaking to the rock, he struck the rock twice with his staff. For this act of defiance, the Lord said, “Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them” (Number 20:12). When the Lord gives instruction to meet a need, he varies his instruction. In an earlier case where the Israelites asked for water, the Lord’s instruction then was for Moses to strike the rock. He struck the rock once and water came out (Exodus 17:6). But because Moses did not obey the Lord’s specific instruction this time, he had to strike the rock twice. It was good that the Lord’s mercy on the people prevailed over Moses’ disobedience and still caused water to flow from the rock.

As far as Moses is concerned, the price of his disobedience was enormous. He was not allowed to enter the Promised Land in spite of his pleadings. To his repeated pleading, the Lord said, “That is enough. Do not speak to me anymore about this matter. Go up to the top of Pisgah and look west and north and south and east. Look at the land with your own eyes, since you are not going to cross this Jordan” (Deut. 3:26-27). If this happen to a faithful man of God who spoke to God face to face, what will become of us? What is our chance to be saved since we often disobey God? This was also the predicament of the disciples when the Lord Jesus said that “it is easier for a camel to enter through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” They asked Jesus, “Who then can be saved?” But Jesus responded, “What is impossible with men is possible with God” (Luke 18:26-27).

If we excel in obedience, God will certainly make it possible for us to enter heaven. While we may fail from time to time, he had already provided a better sacrifice, not the sheep and the cattle that King Saul planned to use as an offering, but the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God. As believers, we need to heed Jesus’ words: “He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him” (John 14:21). Therefore, let us obey and learn a few lessons from the experience of King Saul, who lost his kingship because of selective obedience, and Moses’ experience of not being able to enter the Promised Land for defying the commands of the Lord. Indeed, obedience is better than sacrifice. Yes, let us excel in obedience and glorify God. Hallelujah!