Some people are oblivious. Or perhaps they are aware but simply do not care. Or maybe it is that they are aware but don’t believe X, Y, or Z applies to them.
For months, now, our local Safeway store has had arrows on the floor designating one-way aisles. I have been diligent to observe these directions, even when it means traversing an entire aisle in which I have no interest so that I can enter the desired aisle from the correct end.
It’s not that I believe one-way aisles are a great idea, or even particularly effective. It is that the store has asked us to observe them and I am choosing to do so.
Not everyone is as compliant. Without fail, I end up passing people navigating against the current.
Similarly, when my eldest son graduated from MIT, unlike most large university graduation ceremonies, every graduating student was called by name to cross the stage and receive their diploma. The faculty made it clear that as students exited the stage, they were to return to their seats until the close of the ceremony. It was a matter of politeness and respect toward those whose names were called later.
Less than half the student body complied with the directive. Apparently, it didn’t apply to them.
God’s Instructions to Saul
In 1 Samuel 15, God told King Saul that he was going to punish the Amalekites for the way they treated Israel as they came out of Egyptian slavery. As clearly as the markings on the Safeway floor, God said to Saul:
Now 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. – 1 Samuel 15:3, NIV-1978
I recognize that such a command from God strikes us as terribly harsh, and I want to be clear that I am not addressing that in this blog posting. What is of concern today is that this was the commandment of God. Saul’s was not to question that, but rather to obey it.
Having received the command from God, Saul did attack the Amalekites with 210,000 fighting men, and he wiped them out . . . almost.
But Saul and the army spared Agag and the best of the sheep and cattle, the fat calves and lambs — everything that was good. – 1 Samuel 15:9a, NIV-1978
The instruction God gave Saul didn’t apply to him any more than the arrow on the Safeway floor applies to those who choose to ignore it.
Saul’s Response to God
When the prophet Samuel learned of Saul’s disobedience, he was grieved to the point of crying out to God all night on Saul’s behalf. The following day, Samuel went to meet with Saul, and discuss his predicament.
When Samuel reached him, Saul said, ‘The LORD bless you! I have carried out the LORD’s instructions.’ But Samuel said, ‘What then is this bleating of sheep in my ears? What is this lowing of cattle that I hear?’ – 1 Samuel 15:13-14, NIV-1978
Not only did Saul blatantly disobey God’s command, he was so obtuse that he characterized his disobedience as obedience. In an attempt at self-preservation, Saul blamed the acquisition of spoils on the soldiers. “Oh, well yeah, the soldiers took those, but I was obedient.”
Then watch how Saul attempted to twist his disobedience into an act of worship by the people.
…they spared the best of the sheep and cattle to sacrifice to the Lord your God, but we totally destroyed the rest. – 1 Samuel 15:15b, NIV-1978
The Peril of Ignoring God
It isn’t that God has not revealed himself, or that God has not spoken clearly into human history. He has. The disconnect for us is in our choice to ignore what God has said, a disconnect that extends all the way back to the garden – “Did God really say…?” (Genesis 3:1).
For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. – Romans 1:20, ESV
Despite our desperate attempts to make excuses, we are left without excuse. “It wasn’t me. It was the soldiers, and besides, they took the animals to sacrifice to God, right?” And it is here we get the beautiful, well-known response from Samuel, “To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams” 1 Samuel 15:22b, NIV-1978.
When we choose to ignore God (and it is a choice), the outcome is never pleasant. God makes choices in response to our own.
Because I have called and you refused to listen, have stretched out my hand and no one has heeded, because you have ignored all my counsel and would have none of my reproof, I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when terror strikes you, when terror strikes you like a storm and your calamity comes like a whirlwind, when distress and anguish come upon you. Then they will call upon me, but I will not answer; they will seek me diligently but will not find me. – Proverbs 1:24-28, ESV
But we know better how to direct our lives, right? We are an advanced civilization, while God? God is so ‘yesterday,’ antiquated, irrelevant.
For in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, I did not speak to your fathers or command them concerning burnt offerings and sacrifices. But this command I gave them: ‘Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be my people. And walk in all the way that I command you, that it may be well with you.’ But they did not obey or incline their ear, but walked in their own counsels and the stubbornness of their evil hearts, and went backward and not forward. – Jeremiah 7:22-24, ESV
They walked in their own counsel. Let that sink in.
The prophet Hosea says, “My people are destroyed for a lack of knowledge,” and it’s true. But we are also destroyed by willful ignorance. We are destroyed by arrogant stubbornness. We are destroyed by hard hearts.
The one-way sign is clearly displayed on the floor, not just once, but many times. The signs are everywhere. We can heed them and do well, or we can ignore them and accept the fate we choose for ourselves.
And know this, God will not be the one judging us. There will be a judge, to be sure, but it will not be Jesus.
The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day. – John 12:48, ESV
Saul had the spoken word of God. The instruction was clear, and that word judged Saul. We have the word Jesus spoke, and similarly, that word will judge us. We have everything we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3).