Obedience and Sacrifice

Sacrifice and offering thou didst not desire; mine ears hast thou opened . . . Lo, I come . . . I delight to do thy will, O my God: yea, thy law is within my heart.—-Psalm 40:6-8

Homer Montague

Prior to the giving of the Law at Mount Sinai, righteous men such as Abel, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob offered animal sacrifices to God as an expression of appreciation for favors and blessings received. Additionally, these free will burnt-offerings probably were made in recognition that a sacrifice for sin was necessary, although the deeper meaning of this concept could not be understood until the Gospel age, following the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and the outpouring of the holy spirit at Pentecost.

With the establishment of the Law Covenant, specific regulations from God were given to the Israelites concerning sacrifices associated with the Tabernacle. Mandatory sin offerings and trespass-offerings as well as certain free-will offerings would be acceptable to the heavenly Father, but only through the priesthood.

Samuel

A notable exception to this procedure occurred during the time Samuel served as a judge. Since the Ark of the Covenant had been captured and subsequently had several places of temporary abode, the following account describes what occurred as the Philistines prepared to attack the Israelites. "And Samuel took a sucking lamb, and offered it for a burnt offering wholly unto the LORD: and Samuel cried unto the LORD for Israel; and the LORD heard him. And as Samuel was offering up the burnt offering, the Philistines drew near to battle against Israel: but the LORD thundered with a great thunder on that day upon the Philistines, and discomfited them; and they were smitten before Israel" (1 Samuel 7:9,10).

Samuel was not a priest but he was both a Levite and a prophet of God. The people of Israel had been worshipping idols and false gods but in response to Samuel’s admonitions they repented from their wickedness. Under these extreme circumstances, it is evident that God approved of this burnt-offering and Samuel’s prayers as evidenced by the Philistines’ defeat.

A further confirmation that God sanctioned Samuel’s actions is given after he anointed Saul as king and provided him encouragement as he prepared to battle against the Philistines. "And the spirit of the LORD will come upon thee, and thou shalt prophesy with them, and shalt be turned into another man. And let it be, when these signs are come unto thee, that thou do as occasion serve thee; for God is with thee. And thou shalt go down before me to Gilgal; and, behold, I will come down unto thee, to offer burnt offerings, and to sacrifice sacrifices of peace offerings: seven days shalt thou tarry, till I come to thee, and show thee what thou shalt do. And it was so, that when he had turned his back to go from Samuel, God gave him another heart: and all those signs came to pass that day" (1 Samuel 10:6-9).

As the new king, Saul was aware of the formidable task which lay ahead in overthrowing the Philistines’ yoke. He would have to rely upon God implicitly as his source of strength and wisdom in order to gain the victory.

In the face of the enemy’s overwhelming size while awaiting Samuel’s earlier promise to meet him at Gilgal, Saul observed that his army was in terror and many of his men fled. He could wait no longer in view of these circumstances and on the seventh day he took it upon himself to offer a burnt-offering. Immediately thereafter, Samuel appeared and indicated that Saul had sinned by making an offering which was unlawful for him to do and that furthermore, God would remove him from his kingdom, even though this was not done immediately (1 Samuel 13:6-14).

Saul

Many years later, the LORD decreed that Saul should destroy the Amalekites and all of their possessions. This command had been given before, but either the Israelites were not sufficiently powerful to accomplish this or these enemies had been allowed to continue their existence in order to chasten Israel for its continued waywardness and disobedience (Deuteronomy 25:17-19).

Saul now had an opportunity to demonstrate a reformation of heart but instead, he permitted their king, Agag, to live and he also spared the best flocks and herds, contrary to God’s command. Samuel discovered Saul’s failure and heard his feeble excuse that a spoil was taken with the intent of offering it as a sacrifice. We read the following words of condemnation and rejection: "And Samuel said, Hath the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams" (1Samuel 15:22).

Saul’s disobedience underscores a lesson which he failed to internalize. Nothing is more important than obedience to God’s will and commands. His lack of appreciation for that concept led him to believe that by making an offering to the heavenly Father his actions would be approved. From Hebrews 10:5-7, it is clear that animal sacrifices had no inherent value since they were merely typical in nature, unlike Christ’s sacrifice of his perfect human life which did have intrinsic worth. Although the Old Testament offerings were inferior to the "better sacrifices" of this age, and even though they had no actual merit, if made in the proper way and spirit, God accepted them.

God’s children in this age are called to a life of obedience and sacrifice. The terms of discipleship require that the Master’s example be followed. As he presented himself in consecration on the banks of the Jordan River, his expressed desire was: "I delight to do thy will, O my God: yea, thy law is within my heart" (Psalm 40:8).

Jesus

There was no coercion of his will on the Father’s part but Jesus willingly yielded his all in deference to God’s desires. We are told "For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich" (2 Corinthians 8:9).

Beginning with his pre-human existence, the Lord forsook his wealth consisting of his spirit nature by leaving the heavenly courts and coming to earth to redeem and ultimately restore humanity back into God’s favor. As the Logos, although not possessing immortality at that time, he was the Father’s agent in the entire work of creation, thereby making him superior to every being in the universe, Jehovah alone being excepted (Colossians 1:16-19). What an extraordinary act of love and humility he manifested on our behalf.

Additionally, while on earth, Jesus sacrificed his talents, his possessions, his good name and finally, his perfect human life itself in harmony with the divine plan of salvation. He set before us an example of obedience to God and although we, unlike our Lord, possess human imperfections, our sacrifice is accepted in the Beloved as long as our human will is yielded in favor of God’s will. "I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God" (Romans 12:1,2).

Compliance with the sentiments of the foregoing text is a goal every true follower of Jesus must attain as a prerequisite for membership in the body of Christ. Some of the ways in which many of the Lord’s people are consumed while leading a life of sacrifice include serving as an ecclesia officer, conducting Sunday school lessons at conventions, visiting shut-ins, volunteering for Truth projects, sharing study outlines, circulating convention tapes, creating web pages, translating the volumes, hosting brethren, working at fair booths, corresponding with brethren, praying for others engaged in harvest activities as well as for those who may persecute us, transporting brethren to meetings, writing articles or poetry, visiting brethren in foreign lands, providing financial support to help further spread the truth and assist with humanitarian needs. All of these activities cost us something but, if done from a joyful heart, they demonstrate our spirit of devotion to the Lord and give evidence that we are setting our affections on the things that are above as opposed to seeking earthly pleasures.

Four Lessons

As an aid to our spiritual progress and development we may glean four lessons by examining Saul’s conduct and applying correct principles to enhance our Christian walk.

1. Obey the will of God as revealed through divinely inspired or supervised instrumentalities. As a prophet, not only was Samuel selected by God to seek out and anoint Saul as king but Samuel also was commissioned to pray for him, offer burnt offerings, and provide him with counsel as he prepared for battle with the Philistines. Saul’s disobedience in the matter should be a warning for us today to heed the divinely provided instructions found in the Bible instead of acting upon our own initiative. We can make straight paths for our feet if we always rely upon our heavenly Father for guidance. "And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ" (Ephesians 4:11,12).

2. Wait patiently upon the LORD. In Saul’s case, Samuel promised to come to him at Gilgal in seven days. Saul’s impatience demonstrated a lack of faith because Samuel appeared right after the offering was consumed. Had Saul exercised just a little more restraint, he would have incurred divine approval rather than displeasure. As members of Christ’s body, the Church in the flesh has seemed to tarry long in the flesh. God keeps time perfectly and therefore we should continue to watch, pray, and cast not away our confidence. If we are faithful unto death, we are assured of a great reward.

3. Strive to overcome the fear of man which brings a snare. Instead of destroying all the Amalekites’ flocks and herds, Saul permitted the choicest ones to be spared, probably fearing the people would consider it foolish not to save some for themselves. For the Christian believer to sacrifice honor, pleasures, time, preferences, and money in seeking the unseen things of the spirit also will be deemed foolish by those whom we know. Let us not fear their disesteem but continue to pursue the course of self-denial which God approves.

4. Repentance is the proper fruitage of godly sorrow. Saul falsely told Samuel that he had performed the Lord’s commandment when, in fact, he had been disobedient. When Samuel called his attention to the bleating of the sheep and the lowing of the oxen, Saul tried to justify his course of action. After being told the Lord had rejected him, Saul confessed that he had sinned, not from true repentance but rather out of hypocrisy because he sought honor and power with Israel instead of favor from God. "Then he said, I have sinned: yet honor me now, I pray thee, before the elders of my people, and before Israel, and turn again with me, that I may worship the LORD thy God" (1Samuel 15:30). In the cause of consecrated believers, because of weaknesses in the flesh and temptations, we sometimes stumble into sin unintentionally. Should this occur, we should immediately repent of our conduct, expressing to the heavenly Father deep regret for our failure to be more watchful concerning our words or conduct. Any attempt to justify our actions would further compound the matter and be most displeasing to God. Instead, let us promptly avail ourselves of the merciful provision at the throne of grace. "My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: and he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world" (1 John 2:1,2).

Saul’s life which seemed so promising after his anointing, became a tragic example of how the exercise of self-will can turn one specially chosen by God away from his favor. There are many tests which the heavenly Father permits to come upon the Church now in order to prove her worthiness for future exaltation in the glorious kingdom of righteousness. Let us carefully examine our course to the end that we will be obedient sacrificers whose greatest joy is to do the will of our majestic Creator. May the folly of Israel’s first king be a sober reminder of our need to follow God’s instructions as revealed in his precious word.