Monday, February 26, 2007

Obedience Rather Than Sacrifice

Saul it seems, was instructed to have the Israelite completely destroy the Amalekites – people and animals. Rather, Saul allowed the Israelites to capture the Amalekite king, and to bring back the choicest live stock. When Samuel returns to visit Saul, the bleating of the sheep and the lowing of the cattle are clearly audible. Assuming that the Israelites had done what had been directed, Samuel finds this noise to be somewhat unexpected, and so he asks Saul to explain what has happened. Saul’s response is a two-parter. The first is that the people have brought back the best of the plunder to sacrifice it to God. The second is that Saul was afraid of the people and so he let them bring back the plunder [and in this explanation, we don’t know why].

Samuel’s response is his mission for God, and he will complete it. Samuel tells Saul that he has failed in his mission to destroy the Amalekites and as a result God has rejected him as king of Israel. In Samuel’s discussion with Saul, he says:

“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. For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as idolatry and teraphim. Because thou hast rejected the word of the LORD, he hath also rejected thee from being king.” (1 Sam 15.22-23, RSV)

Verse 22 is one of the most familiar verses in all of Scripture: God prefers obedience rather than sacrifice. What exactly does this mean, and what are the implications for us? What does the word obedience entail, what does it mean?

Obedience in the immediate context deals with Saul’s failure to wipe out the Amalekites, as he was told by God to do. And why are we told Saul failed to do this? It is simply this: Saul’s pride. After returning from the Amalekite battle, he goes to Carmel and sets up a monument to himself. This is in stark contrast to what the people of Israel have done in the past when given victories by God. In those instances, altars and sacrifices, accompanying praise to God have been offered. Here, Saul apparently thinks the victory has been secured through his efforts rather than God’s. Perhaps bringing the Amalekite king and the best stock isn’t so much for God’s glory but more as a procession to exalt Saul as the conquering king. Saul has a pride problem.

As verse 23 tells us, God says Saul is rebellious and stubborn, two characteristics of prideful people. This gives us a window into Saul’s problem and why God is so displeased with him. Obedience it seems is not obedience for its own sake. Rather, obedience is an indicator of Saul’s submission to God in all things. Saul didn’t complete his mission because he was dismissive of God’s directive.

And God knew it.

Sacrifice is secondary to obedience because acceptable sacrifice comes only from those who submit to God and who trust Him above their own reasoning, above their own ideas of what is “right.” The words in the Hebrew that are used here for obedience and hearken have as their root, the idea of listening, of pricking up the ears, of intelligently hearing and owning what has been said. Obedience then carries with it much more than simply hearing the words, and arises out of a hearing and owning what has been said. It stands to reason then that sacrifices made by those who are rebellious toward God are worthless.

What does this say to us? There are at least two things we can gather from this event. The first is that God wants us to trust Him and to submit to what He wants, especially in contrast to our own glory and advancement. As Paul will say in Ephesians, God has submitted Himself to us and we in turn submit to one another. It is in this submitting to one another that we are tested in the same way Saul was tested. Do we trust God sufficiently to submit ourselves to each other, or do we reserve the option of asserting our rights if we get too uncomfortable? Do we become self-righteous, counting the number of times we have been hurt, and justifying this instance of taking care of Number One? We do so at the peril of our souls.

The second application is that sacrifice, or worship is unacknowledged by God if it comes from rebellious and prideful people. Even if done correctly, according to the book, sacrifice and worship avail nothing. Worship, rightly done, is a response of a grateful people to their gracious God to whom they are submissive.

Obedience then is not simply lock-step behavior, but arises from the heart and is itself colored by the kind of heart out of which it comes. Worship arises from and is colored by the same heart and is acceptable to God on the basis of the worshipper rather than the worship behaviors themselves.

Friday, February 23, 2007

And The Beat Goes On

I don’t know much about her, but I do know that the media has said “she captured our attention,” and “she wanted to be like Marilyn Monroe,” or other silly things. While she was breathing, she had a lot of attention, even a pretty poor television show for a while.

But really, did anyone care? What do we know about her? Oh, that she married some rich guy, was in the middle of fighting for millions with the rich guy’s children, apparently slept with a number of weird and rather opportunistic guys, resulting in a laughable-if-not-tragic episode of one after another claiming to be the sire of her little girl, just to find out that she had left all her money to her now dead son. Unfortunately we knew much more about her than we needed to know.

We know that she had little self control, loved attention, and led a life style that was unthinking and dangerous. She apparently taught her son to live the same style of life, using drugs, being unproductive, and dying early by mixing drugs in a reckless manor in an apparent effort to escape life. Well, he did. And so did she. Perhaps her daughter will have a better chance of maturing a bit more, well, maturely.

Someone said that they knew her life would end tragically. Well, is it any wonder? She died lying on a hotel floor, choking on her own vomit, likely the result of misusing drugs of various sorts. Some report has said that her mother said of her that she liked downers. She liked them too much apparently.

Her body now decomposes at a faster pace than expected. Could we see some pictures of that? Could we see to what kind of end her life has led? No longer the Playboy bunny, the little girl playing the role of Ms Monroe, the adult who didn’t know who she was. Rather, the rotting corpse of someone who died of her own doing, the end of a self-shortened, sorry life. Maybe she did imitate Marilyn after all. Of course all our lives lead to decomposing corpses, but most of us will have been buried safely out of sight before we start causing concern at the local morgue.

Maybe her end will teach some folks about the reality of life, about the pointlessness of wanting attention, of wanting money, of wanting fame. The pointlessness of having a pointless life.

Of course the people that need to learn that lesson won’t even hear it, much less learn it. The tragedy is that none of this is new. Even before the writer of Ecclesiastes wrote his second chapter, there were people who lived and died like she did. And there will yet be others. And all of them will be forgotten; few will leave anything of lasting value.

So what remains? Fleeting pictures of a woman who’s identity changed almost weekly and which are as thin as her life was. Nothing but a little baby who for the rest of her life will have to say she was my mother.

Vanity; all is vanity, and there is nothing new under the sun.

She captured our attention? Please.

And the beat goes on.

Friday, February 02, 2007

What Was He Asking?

What was Jesus asking when He looked at His disciples and asked, "Who do you say that I am?" He had gotten a few answers surrounding what the people at large had been guessing; primarily some famous prophet from Israel's history. But the people hadn't gotten it right. Jesus wasn't the reincarnation of some long-dead prophet.

We may want to offer answers such as 'the messiah,' or the 'Son of God,' or some other such title. But I don't think Jesus was asking "What's my title." He wanted to know if the disciples had had their eyes openned to the working of God. And so His question is more than "Who am I?"

I think He was asking something like "So, after running around the country side with me, watching me care for people, and hearing what I have said, do you think you can see God in me?" He wanted to know if the presence of the Divine among them awakened their hearts to who He and they really were.

The question remains for you and I. Who do we say Jesus is? Is He more than just an intellectual decision about a title, or do our hearts resonate with the Divine when we see Him? Do we know who He is and can we identify with Him in whose image we are made?

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