Bleating of the Sheep

Bleating of the Sheep

By Pat Knight

Historically, God’s chosen people displayed a chronic disobedience pattern. Nearly as soon as God communicated a new decree, the Israelites either ignored or blatantly disobeyed His command. Few people took God seriously; fewer still took His laws seriously. The punishment for breaking God’s laws was particularly severe: disease, plagues, capture by enemy forces, and sometimes immediate death. Yet the grave consequences were not sufficient to motivate the Israelites to consistently obey their God.

The prophet, Samuel, relayed God’s instructions to King Saul: “‘Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy all 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). The Amalekites were descendants of Esau, named after Esau’s grandson, Amalek. The directions were simple in terms of clarity. King Saul understood explicitly.

God’s edict may seem excessively harsh punishment to us, but God and the Israelites knew the Amalekite people to be ruthless, merciless, and savage. They were predatory, attacking the Israelites during their wilderness walk. From the rear of the traveling camp, the Amalekites stalked and killed the weak and the elderly as they traveled from Egypt. Their treatment of Israel was spontaneous and vicious, causing Moses centuries earlier to prophesy:  “‘When you were weak and worn out, they {Amalekites} met you on your journey and attacked all who were lagging behind; they had no fear of God. When the Lord your God gives you a rest from all the enemies around you in the land he is giving you to possess as an inheritance, you shall blot out the name of Amalek from under heaven. Do not forget!’” (Deuteronomy 25: 18-19).

God had been generously patient with the Amalekites, giving them over five hundred years to change their barbaric ways. Our heavenly Father is the supreme judge, adjudicating wrong and evil. He does not forget!

With thousands of soldiers, King Saul staged an ambush for the Amalekites. Saul was given the opportunity to demonstrate his allegiance to the Lord by obeying the assigned task of eliminating the Amalekite tribe. Instead of wiping out all life, “Saul and the army spared Agag {the Amalekite king), 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” (1 Samuel 15:9).

God then spoke to the prophet, Samuel, expressing His sorrow that He had ever made Saul king of His people, for Saul refused to follow God’s instructions, relying on his own instincts and greed instead. When Samuel traveled to confront King Saul, he discovered the king had set up a monument in his own honor. From disobedience to false image worshipping, King Saul was puffed up with self-importance. Yet even before Samuel questioned him, Saul offered, “‘I have carried out the Lord’s instructions’” (1 Samuel 15:13). Saul actually believed his actions were justified, but sinning against God is neither wise nor justified.

Samuel retorted, “What then is this bleating of the sheep I hear?
What is this lowing of the cattle I hear?”

1 Samuel 15:14

Saul shifted responsibility, blaming the soldiers for sparing the best animals to use as temple sacrifices for the Lord. Samuel then replied, “‘Enough!’

I can envision the prophet abruptly gesturing with his hand protesting Saul’s weak excuses. Samuel asked King Saul, “‘Why did you not obey the Lord? Why did you pounce on the plunder and do evil in the eyes of the Lord? (vs. 19). Saul actually felt merit in completing his assigned military orders from God. It appears the details of God’s commands were irrelevant as long as Saul met his own selfish needs. “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart” (Psalm 51:17).

Our Lord values humility, repentance, and grief for sin. Saul’s heart was full of pride. Chief among the seven things God hates the most is pride, followed next in line by a lying tongue (Proverbs 6:16-19). Saul had employed both of the shameful priorities, masterfully disguising his rebellion and disobedience. Samuel replied with this rebuttal to Saul’s actions: “‘To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams’” (1 Samuel 15:22). God removed His Spirit from Saul, dethroned him as king of Israel, and anointed another king in his place.

Upon self-examination, do we discover ourselves to be as shrewd as Saul, crafting insidious excuses for disobeying God? What personal justification do we use when God confronts us with our sin? We have ready access to all of God’s commands in His Living Word, through which He speaks to us. God commands that we love Him and others more highly than ourselves, discouraging our selfish motives.

It is possible that fear of reprisal prevents us from sinning on a regular basis, but we occasionally fall into temptation that is hard to resist. That is when our obedient devotion and love of God is paramount to  empower us to follow His words and His will. He has shown you. O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8). It is the most compelling principle of behavior, defining a right relationship of men with Almighty God.

Our Lord loves us beyond measure, demonstrated by the gift of His Son, who died to set us free, creating a sovereign relationship that bridges between finite man and the infinite God. With God’s overwhelming love and attention to every detail in our lives, why would we even consider disobeying Him with the intention of indulging in self-desires? Why do we settle for second best when God is “able to do exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us?” (Ephesians 3:20, KJV).

We cannot come to God without faith in Him; faith leads to obedience. We want to please our Savior by serving Him. It grieves our Lord when we wander outside the boundaries He has established for us. “‘You are my friends if you do what I command. I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you’” (John 15:14-15). It is astounding that human friendship with Almighty God is even possible, deeming it imperative that we not react to His gracious gift with apathy or scorn exhibited by disobedience.

Instead of reacting like King Saul, blaming others for rebellion against God’s commands, let us take personal responsibility for sin, redirecting our energy to serve our Savior as His friends and fellow workers, seeking to consistently pursue His righteousness and faithfulness.

Obedience to God is palpable evidence of our faith. God considers our personal submission to His will so expressive of our love for Him that He accepts full responsibility for the consequence of our obedience. What assurance!