1 Samuel 15 tells the story of Saul’s destruction of the Amalekites, how Saul was told by the Lord, through Samuel, to completely annihilate them–old and young, human and beast. Reading that today, it’s easy to think that it was <ahem> overkill. (I know…terrible pun.) My instinctive reaction is, “What in the world did the tiny babies do to deserve that? And why waste all those animals? That’s good food and skins and wool. Why just destroy them?”
But of course, I am not God, and He knows perfectly why that was the best choice. And if I consider it honestly, perhaps it is more merciful to do away with babies as well as adults, because what in the world would happen to a city full of parentless children? But more importantly, that was what God commanded.
If you know the story, you know that Saul thought a bit like I do. He saw no reason to destroy all those perfect animals when they could be used for a nice sacrifice. It seemed only sensible. The animals were to die anyway–why not do the ceremony?
It’s interesting that when Samuel confronted Saul, he claimed to have done just what the Lord had instructed. In verse 13, Saul greets Samuel the prophet with, “Blessed are you of the Lord! I have carried out the command of the Lord.” Saul had waged a successful battle and was feeling pretty good about himself. When Samuel mentioned the noise of the animals, Saul was very matter-of-fact: “Oh, yes, those are just the best ones…the people saved those to sacrifice.” He may have been sensing Samuel’s displeasure at this point, since he carefully shifted the responsibility onto “the people” rather than taking the blame himself. However, he still thought it was a good idea; he argued again in verse 20 that he had indeed obeyed God. Saul believed that he had done the right thing. He had considered it in his own mind, logically and practically, and it seemed good to him.
How many times do I do similar things? I may know what the word of God teaches, but rather than take it at face value–after all, that seems a bit impractical in this particular instance–I tweak it a bit, just a little bit, and cheerfully tell myself that I am fully and completely following the Lord.
The problem is that God’s ways do not always seem logical and practical to us. His plans are so far-reaching that we can’t begin to see all the effects. We are shortsighted, and when God sets a plan in motion, it is too big for us to see. We cannot see the entire picture. We may look at the tiny part of it that is ours to fulfill, and think, “How can that possibly be right? It doesn’t make sense! I can’t see any way that this advances the kingdom of God! In fact, it looks to me like it might do the opposite.” I’m guessing that Saul thought exactly that sort of thing, too. Why just destroy the animals? It makes no sense. Let’s have a sacrifice and honor God instead!
But God’s response, in verse 11, was sorrow. “I regret that I have made Saul king, for he has turned back from following Me and has not carried out my commands.” Saul thought he had carried out God’s instructions admirably, but he had changed a few little things, just to be sensible. The prophet Samuel rebukes him by saying something amazing.
Better than sacrifice? This was an earth-shattering idea! In that day, everyone knew that the way to make God happy was to sacrifice. It was a way to prove your devotion, to show sorrow for your sins, and to build a close relationship with God. Sacrifice was the very essence of worship. Yet Samuel was telling Saul that this sacrifice was worthless because he had obtained it through disobedience to God.
Consider a comparable story in today’s economy and custom:
A prominent lawyer from a wealthy family offers to donate a large sum of money so that his church can build an orphanage and hospital in Liberia. Since the need is great, this seems like an answer to prayer, but the elders in charge of the project feel a caution in the matter and ask the Lord for guidance. Eventually, they learn more of the man’s story. The man’s fortune is founded mainly on an inheritance from his father. With his legal skills, the man had manipulated the distribution of that inheritance, funneling most of it to himself and a much smaller portion to his good-for-nothing brother. He had recognized that his brother was a spendthrift and would waste the money on frivolous things, while this man had a vision of all the good that could be accomplished with the money. He wanted to be a philanthropist.
Think about the similarities: Both Saul and this wealthy man wanted to make an offering that supposedly honored God, but actually would honor themselves at the same time. And though both of them were offering very generous contributions, neither was actually giving a sacrifice of himself. Both had received the riches they were donating through mishandling of resources they had been put in charge of. Yes, they could have done impressive things with their riches.
But obedience is better.
Our God, the Maker of the Universe, does not need our paltry gifts. He already has it all. He created it all—crafted it from nothing. What He desires is that we obey Him, even when it doesn’t make sense to our finite minds.
Do I ever find myself arguing with God? Trying to reason away what He has commanded? No tithe or good deed can ever be as precious to Him as a heart that willingly obeys Him and trusts in His wisdom and magnificent plan.
Even when it doesn’t make sense to me.