Week of April 16

A Message about Bent Coins and Crooked Hearts

Read: 1 Samuel 15-16; 1 Chronicles 5; Matthew 1
“And Samuel said, ‘Has 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 listen than the fat of rams.’”
1 Samuel 15:22, ESV


General Colin Powell, the former United States Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said prior to the first invasion of Iraq in 1991: “Our strategy in going after this army is very simple. First, we are going to cut it off, and then we are going to kill it.” Retributive justice certainly jolts us to moral attention, but in the case of commitment to God, it should motivate us to humility and obedience. Consider God’s judgment on Amalek.
“Death by hacking” provides a graphic way to describe God’s retributive justice. The slaying of the Amalekite king, Agag, possibly offends our sensibilities, but we must examine the theology of the passage, or we will not learn all that we need to know about God’s holiness (15:33). God’s judgment falls heavily in 1 Samuel 15, and it is necessary. So we must not dismiss the passage as being too far removed in time and application to our current lives. Let’s ask the Lord to teach us more about His nature and actions in our world by examining this passage.

The Meaning of the Text

Theology in the brutality
Retribution is one of the evil and suffering motifs that we find throughout Scripture, so we should not be too terribly surprised at our focal passage. Furthermore, the narrative also provides for us the graphic detail of the break point in Saul’s reign. The king’s lengthy reign of disobedience reached its climax in this passage, so God sends Samuel to deliver the message that his reign as king over Israel was coming to an end.
This central part of the narrative is couched within the broader context of a holy war against the Amalekites (Deuteronomy 20:16-18). The Amalekites were to be annihilated and all their possessions were to be destroyed. Poof! Gone! Does this offend our sensibilities? Let’s consider how a person may offend God’s holiness.
Saul’s dark valley was exposed after the defeat of the Amalekites. The adrenaline rush of a battle won, and the adulation that he received for leading his troops into victory, laid bare the king’s soul. What God saw there was not pretty. Saul had been on trial in his new role as Israel’s king and he had begun to demonstrate deep moral flaws in his character.
Ways a person may offend God’s holiness
First, he no doubt loved the fact that others bent the knee to him, but he found it mighty difficult to do the same to God (1 Samuel 15:19). Secondly, it should have come as no surprise to Saul that the big picture of obedience is painted with small brush strokes. He had indeed won a big victory, but he did not complete the campaign “exactly” as directed (15:3, 7-9). God made him king, gave him a specific mission, and God blessed him with victory—all God, not all Saul (15:17-19)!

Thirdly, his pride led him to concoct what he thought to be a better plan, and then to pass the blame when the flaws were exposed (15:20-21). Samuel uses three words in the Hebrew language to sum up the Torah and expose Saul’s huge downfall: obedience bests sacrifice. Sacrifices were—and are still—to demonstrate a heart that was totally yielded to God.
God’s retributive justice
We all have some sense of the need for moral accountability and retributive justice, as harsh as this may seem to our generation. The abuse of innocent children by sexual predators, the physical battering that helpless wives receive at the hands of their abusive husbands, and chemical attacks on innocent women and children in Syria, all awaken within us the need for swift, decisive moral intervention. God cares, and He intervenes. The Scriptures also show us that He uses whomever He chooses to carry out His judgment—saintly or wicked (cf. Habakkuk 1). Bear with me, we will begin to see God’s severe mercy in all this bloodshed.
God’s severe mercy
God provides the answer to escaping judgment and receiving mercy—“obedience surpasses sacrifice.” To obey God’s will is the best offering that we may give to God. There is no need to dance feverishly, cut ourselves in ritualistic fashion, and cry out until we are hoarse to awaken our God to know His will for us (cf. 1 Kings 18:27-29). God says that “rebellion” or “willful disobedience” is as serious a sin as “divination” (NAC). Pride, the old sin of pride, is as dangerous as idolatry (15:23; cf. Genesis 3; 1 John 2:3, 16)! God does not despise us; He provides for us the answer and the means to find His salvation from judgment (15:22; John 3:16-17). The Holy Spirit has been provided to indwell our lives and to provide us daily guidance into obedience (John 16:13). So, we must obey.

The Message for Our Lives

There is a small part of my inner being that has always wanted to question “warning signs.” I recall as a child putting all my souvenir money into a coke machine because it had a label, “bent coin return,” printed there. I “scuffed up” then inserted coins into the machine to test the truth of the guidance! Quite a few cokes later it dawned on me that the only thing that was “bent” was my view of the rule!
I will hasten forward before you begin to doubt my qualifications to write this devotional! Seriously, the Creator’s call for us to demonstrate an obedient heart remains intact for all of God’s kings, prophets, and people (cf. Genesis 2:15-16). That is the unchanging norm for a flourishing life. It begs the question: What is life giving to you, a reward or retribution (2 Timothy 4:6)?

For Thought and Action

1. Bent hearts lead us off straight paths (cf. Proverbs 3:6). They also do not work with God. He requires willful obedience as our living sacrifice to Him (cf. Romans 12:1-2). Jot down the areas of your life where you may still resist God’s will and way. Give Him your full obedience today.
2. For Families: For our small children, the “Simon Says” game can be a teaching opportunity for them to learn about God’s will for us to follow His instructions. Before they move, they must hear, “Simon Says . . . .” When they do not hear this phrase, they do not move. They can learn to hear God’s voice and follow His guidance as they grow in grace.

For our older children and teens, the struggle many times is for control, isn’t it? Just like adults, kids wish to direct the course of their own lives as they mature. Herein lies the danger, for when we are in control, God cannot be. When your older kids are open to chatting about such things, ask them where they stand on God’s obedience scale, from one to ten. Ask them what their weaknesses are, and encourage them to consider God's call to holiness. As His children, He expects faithfulness, attention, purity of heart, and devotion from us. Share your own weakness and ask for prayer. Then offer to pray specifically for your son or daughter, so that together, obedience becomes characteristic of your family’s hearts.

May your paths be straight,
Larry C. Ashlock