No buts about it

Another story revealing how our excuses and seemingly reasonable dissension from obedience to God’s Word is told in 1 Samuel 15, where King Saul is given specific instructions through Samuel to “go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy everything that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys” (v. 3). At first glance, God ordering the murder of women, children, infants, and animals can be striking and even repulsive to readers. These references to God, those that let us in on how His ways of wrath are apparent within the Bible, are difficult for some to digest. However, the focus of this post will be on our response to His instructions as Scripture gives them.

Saul followed his orders to attack the Amalekites, but not fully. He decided to spare their king, Agag, and the best of the animals, but destroyed everything that was despised and weak (v. 9). When Samuel heard of this from the Lord, he found Saul, who had the gumption to tell him that he had carried out the Lord’s instructions (v. 13). Saul’s rationale for sparing the choice animals was that they’d be sacrificed to the Lord; however, Samuel questioned him further as to why he didn’t fully carry out God’s command and there enters Saul’s first “but.” “But I did obey the Lord,” Saul said (v. 20). But, I say, and Scripture says, he did not. Samuel’s reply is firmly convicting, “Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the Lord? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams. For rebellion is like the sin of divination, and arrogance like the evil of idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, he has rejected you as king” (v. 22-23). Saul hears his rebuke and confesses his sin, but offers up another excuse, that he “was afraid of the people and so (he) gave into them” (v. 24). And again, another confession six verses later, still with a “but” as he begs Samuel to “honor (him) before the elders of (his) people and before Israel” (v. 30). Samuel wraps up by putting Agag, whom Saul had spared, to death and never went to see Saul again.

Saul was disobedient, not out of ignorance, but out of arrogance. Each reason he put forward was focused on his desires to save face and be looked up to. This pride was certainly his downfall. Although many of us proceed with decisions that go against God’s decrees, to delve into our deepest reasoning for doing so will eventually lead us to our self love, in one way or another. To give our rationale to God as to why we fall short is considered prayer, but to tack on excuses or “buts” to our confessions is futile. We’re caught, regardless of our rationalization to Him. He knows our hearts, He reads our thoughts, He is privy to every motivation and intention we have; that alone should cause us to fear Him in the way He deserves. “He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie or change his mind; for he is not a man, that he should change his mind” (1 Samuel 15:29). We can’t convince Him that our rebellion is acceptable before Him, but He has given us a way to reach Him.

Enter Christ. Jesus righteously fulfilled it all for us, without any “buts” in His vocabulary. Remember Samuel’s words in verse 22, “To obey is better than sacrifice,” and see that our Savior did them both, with perfection. He fully obeyed His instructions and offered Himself as the sacrifice as well. Even still within Old Testament times, Micah says, “He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8). Jesus hadn’t entered the scene at this point, but God had already planned all that the New Testament teaches us. And Christ fulfilled the justice, mercy, and humility Micah spoke of, too. What is there left for us to do since Jesus did all the work for us?

Love Him and love one another. That’s it. Sounds simple enough, right? Wrong! Learning how to carry out those two commands will never be mastered, no matter how hard we try. However, when we get glimpses and our eyes are brightened as to the severity of our sin against this God who did all the work for us, perhaps those little bits of enlightenment will cause us to persevere in searching for how we can serve Him through those commands. Serve Him humbly, without “buts” and prideful rationale as to why we’ve transgressed each time we do. Embrace transparency, for sure, when confessing to Him who knows already how broken to the core we are. And maybe, just maybe, let that transparency flow into our mortal relationships where we try so hard to save face. If and when that flows, never forget that to love Him always comes first, even above loving others. The two can be combined, I’m sure, “but” I haven’t figured that one out yet.


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