One of the most fundamental truths for us as Christians is that obedience is something that glorifies God. We glorify God when we are obedient to Him.
Even in the Old Testament, God wanted to see His people obey Him. That was more important to Him than sacrificing, in and of itself.
Sometimes we think that as long as the Old Testament people burned the right animals in the right places at the right time, they were good to go. We tend to settle on the fact that they were allowed to live a legalistic spirituality and that's the way it was done back then. Nothing could be farther from the truth! We will see how this has never been the case, even since Creation.
I have two primary object lessons which will fall on Abraham, the father of many nations, and Saul, the first king of Israel.
1st lesson: A sacrifice is just that...a sacrifice. If there was no value in the object being sacrificed then it wouldn't be much of a sacrifice would it? When God oftentimes commanded a sacrifice it was one that had to be a pure animal, firstborn. The way of life back then was very much dependant on livestock and fields to grow things in. You were rich or poor depending on the amount of animals you had and how healthy they were. Sacrificing your best animal (be it a lamb, goat, calf, etc.) was something that kind of hurt. It was indeed a true sacrifice, hopefully given with gladness to the Lord. Needless to say, the sacrifice that God had commanded would not have been our first choice. Hence, the sacrifice aspect of it...
A great illustration of obedience and sacrifice brought into one story is that of Abraham and Isaac. The story is found in Genesis 22.
God commanded him to go and sacrifice his son (his only son, flesh and bones). Yes, to kill him on an altar like you normally would an animal. To understand the depth of this command and the heart struggle that Abraham undoubtedly would have felt we need to understand the story behind the story.
Abraham and Sarah were saddened that Sarah was barren. She couldn't have any kids. When it got to the point that they were getting as old as the turn of the century, they were pretty much done hoping. After all, they were past their prime.
God promised Abraham and Sarah one day that she would bear children and Sarah laughed! Her faith was not as strong as Abraham's. Needless to say, she got pregnant and along came Isaac. God always follows through with His word. This was a miracle to them that God had accomplished and they were ecstatic to be parents.
Now...fast forward a couple decades, maybe, and God tells Abraham that he wants him to sacrifice his one and only son on an altar. Can you imagine the confusion and dread that hit him at that moment? How could he be asked to do that?
I think that Abraham was so convinced that God was sovereign, holy, and perfect that he had no doubt that God would, again, do something that Abraham could not fathom. In fact, in this passage, once Abraham was told to do this it does not show him arguing with God, rather the next verse says that he got up early the next morning with Isaac and started travelling to the mountain that he was supposed to go to. He just did what he was told. He was obedient without a second thought. That's the obedience that God desires from us still today!
When they finally arrived, Abraham bound Isaac on the wood on the altar and raised his hand to slay Isaac. Can you believe he actually made it this far? This is the moment of truth. Apparently he was going to follow through because an angel of the LORD yelled out and stopped him, "Abraham! Abraham!"
Abraham had passed the test. What test...? He was obedient to the Lord with absolutely no reservation. He withheld nothing. Not even his son.
The angel of the LORD said in verse 12, "Now I know you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son."
Utimately, he is commended and blessed by the most holy Jehovah (seriously...imagine that!) when he is told by God in verse 18: "...All nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me."
That was the point. That is the lesson. That is what we should desire to become like. Obedience without reservation. Faith.
He was also promised amazing blessings back in verse 17 and 18: "I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me."
In the New Testament, Paul had referred to Abraham many times when he was trying to convince his readers of the importance of the status of our heart. Paul new that following the right rules was not necessarily an indicator of our obedience to the Lord or how spiritual we are.
Romans 4 quotes Genesis 15:6: "Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteouseness."
In Romans 4:13, Paul goes on to explain that "it was not through the law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith."
I don't want to confuse anyone into thinking that we're talking about the importance of faith or obedience as two separate issues because they do, in fact, go hand in hand. If someone articulates their faith in God, that's great! It really means something, though, when it is expressed through their life of obedience to Christ. The same concept applies to our worship of God. We can sing songs that are "worshipful" on Sunday morning, but if we're not living a life of obedience to Christ, then we are not really worshiping Him. In fact, I would say that we would be in danger of glorifying Satan rather than God if we're living a double life, because we are showing others that a "Christian" just has to go through the motions. That's a dangerous life to live if we are misrepresenting Christ.
Let's look at object lesson number 2: King Saul. He was the first king of the Israelites. God had always been their leader and it was supposed to stay that way, but the people being afraid of the surrounding nations and their kings, pleaded with God to give them a king of their own. Can you imagine what that must have been like for God to hear his people ask him for a leader to protect them from their enemies?! Interestingly enough, God had spoken to Abraham when he was still alive and told him that his descendants would do exactly that. God knew it would happen but the fact remains that the Israelites displayed a lack of faith and fear in God. God even warned them that the person that was chosen would be someone that the Israelites would later regret. Enter King Saul.
Saul did a lot of things in his tenure as king that grieved the Lord and caused dissension among some of his people. He is a picture of an angry, power hungry man, but also one who did want to do the right thing...sometimes with his own method.
There was a point in time when God spoke through the prophet Samuel and told Saul that he was going to be used to destroy the Amalekites. This is found in 1 Samuel 15:
"I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel when they waylaid them as they came up from Egypt. 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."
Pretty clear instructions: Nothing lives; everything dies.
We fast forward through the fight and see that Saul overtook the Amalekites afterall. Did he finish them off as he was told? Verses 8 and 9 says:
"He took Agag king of the Amalekites alive, and all his people he totally destroyed with the sword. But Saul and the army spared Agag and the best of the sheep and cattle, the fat calves and lambs—everything that was good. These they were unwilling to destroy completely, but everything that was despised and weak they totally destroyed."
We see a deliberate disobedience to the Word of the Lord. Remember how I mentioned earlier how important animals and staple products were to making a decent living? They represented wealth. This was a great temptation that Saul gave into.
Imagine if you were asked to be responsible for shredding all the old money in the Federal Reserve. They shred close to $1 million per day, at any one location! Cash, as we all know, is what we usually think we need more of. There would be a great temptation to pocket a little (or a lot) of that cash that is still spendable. Why shred it when it's still good? This is what Saul thought and decided against his better judgement and kept the good animals to himself and his men.
God tells Samuel that he is grieved that Saul turned away from him and did not carry out his instructions. Think about that... if we are not being obedient to God then we are, essentially, turning away from God. That is devastating!
Samuel ends up confronting a defensive Saul who argues that he was obedient to the fullest. When Samuel questions the sound of bleeting sheep in the background, Saul quickly tries to cover himself by (blaming the men in his army) and then saying...
"The soldiers brought them from the Amalekites; they spared the best of the sheep and cattle to sacrifice to the LORD your God, but we totally destroyed the rest."
Doesn't that sound like anything we would have done to desperately dig out of the hole that we know we made for ourselves? Saul knew full well that he was in trouble for his disobedience and he was trying everything. He was even desperate enough to tell Samuel that he really kept the animals to sacrifice to God (again...not much of a sacrifice since they weren't his to begin with). Besides that... Samuel is a prophet and he already talked to God about Saul so they knew that Saul was lying before he even finished his sentence. Samuel was frustrated enough to yell at Saul, "Stop!"
Samuel told Saul, after another round of the blame game, something that should have sunk deep to Saul who was very familiar with the sacrifical atonement system of the Old Testament.
"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."
God will lay out some guidelines for us and give us direction in our lives that may not make sense all the time, but they are always for our benefit and His glory. As long as we are obedient to Him and what He has commanded us, we will be living a life that glorifies Him and worships Him.
This should be our desires as Christians, for what would be the point to professing faith in Christ if we do not live in a way that confirms it? After all... even demons believe in God..and they shudder about it.
Let us seek His face and pray that we may glorify God in spirit and in truth through our obedience to His word.