Patterns of Conflict
“Samuel said, ‘Although you were once small in your own eyes, did you not become head of the tribes of Israel? The Lord anointed you king over Israel. And he sent you on a mission, saying, “Go and completely destroy those wicked people, the Amalekites; make war on them until you have wiped them out.” Why did you not obey the Lord? Why did you pounce on the plunder and do evil in the eyes of the Lord?’ ” I Samuel 15:17-19
When the Elders of Israel requested Samuel to anoint a king over them, it was to enable them to be like the surrounding nations. Upon God’s instructions, Samuel complies (I Samuel 10:20-25). From the tribe of Benjamin, Saul is chosen. Let’s examine what soon happens to Israel under their new king as they go to battle against the Amalekites.
First, we will pick up some background about the Amalekites. Israel, under the leadership of Moses, was just beginning to venture out into the Desert of Sinai after leaving Pharaoh, Egypt and the Red Sea. Some of the organization that would later characterize Moses’ leadership had not yet been introduced. In this vulnerable condition and without any provocation the Amalekites ambush Israel (Exodus 17:8-13). Although Israel succeeds in fending off the attackers, they will not forget the treachery of the Amalekites.
Almost forty years later, as Israel is preparing to enter the promised land, Moses reminds Israel and her leaders about Amalek.
“Remember what the Amalekites did to you along the way when you came out of Egypt. When you were weary and worn out, they met you on your journey and cut off all who were lagging behind; they had no fear of God . . . you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven. Do not forget!” Deuteronomy 24:17-19
Under Saul, Israel’s first king, the time had arrived to balance the scales of justice. Samuel approaches King Saul, reminding him of his divine appointment as king and delivering God’s message:
“ ‘This is what the Lord Almighty says: “I will punish the Amalekites for 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.” ’ ” I Samuel 15:2, 3
Although God’s instruction to destroy the Amalekites and their possessions was abundantly clear, what did Saul do?
“But Saul and the army spared Agag (their 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.” I Samuel 15:9
Failure to Fully Follow God’s Word
So Samuel asks, “Why did you pounce on the plunder and do evil in the eyes of the Lord?” Look at King Saul’s response:
“ ‘But I did obey the Lord,’ Saul said. ‘I went on the mission the Lord assigned me. I completely destroyed the Amalekites and brought back Agag their king. The soldiers took sheep and cattle from the plunder, the best of what was devoted to God, in order to sacrifice them to the Lord your God at Gilgal.’ ” I Samuel 15:20, 21
What did Samuel reply?
“‘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. For rebellion is like the sin of divination (witchcraft), and arrogance like the evil of idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, he has rejected you as king.’ ”
I Samuel 15:22, 23
Let’s summarize what took place: The Lord sent Saul on a mission. The instructions were brief and specific: Amalek is to be judged for its sin and you are to be the instrument; destroy them completely. Saul did not obey God’s command. Saul even offers an additional excuse, “I violated the Lord’s command and your instructions. I was afraid of the people and so I gave in to them.” God’s judgment of Saul was as specific as the mission He had given him. “Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, the Lord has rejected you as king over Israel!” I Samuel 15:26
God’s Standard for Leadership
This historical account displays principles that do not change throughout the Scriptures. God’s standards for leadership presented here are consistently emphasized in both the Old and New Testament. Likewise, Saul’s failure is the one sin which disqualifies leaders from their positions. Other sins, of course, can destroy leadership. But this one sin attacks the very essence and nature of leadership that God has established.
Saul lost his kingdom and his position before God’s people because his own agenda became more important than God’s Word. He rejected doing what God said so he could do what he wanted to do. Samuel levels the charge of rebellion and arrogance against Saul as the motivation behind his disobedience to God’s word. His statement to Saul, “Once you were small in your own eyes,” supports the conclusion that pride and defiance had overtaken this leader whom God had appointed. Gradually, Saul’s personal opinions began to eclipse the light of God’s Word. How could Saul (or anyone) be a leader under God while disobeying God?
Old Testament Examples
Lest we consider this an isolated or unusual incident, let’s examine several other Old Testament examples. As we read about humanity’s first couple, Eve and Adam, God’s instruction to them was just as clear as that given to King Saul. “And the Lord God commanded the man, ‘You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil . . .’ ” (Genesis 2:16, 17). In her response to the serpent’s question, notice how Eve alters God’s command ever so slightly: “But God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it . . .’ ” (Genesis 3:2, 3, emphasis added). God had said nothing about touching! Eve and then Adam, in dialogue with Satan, first modified what God had said. Ultimately, they replaced God’s word with their own thinking. As a result, sin enters their lives and the entire race is contaminated.
Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron the High Priest (Moses brother), were struck dead because“they offered unauthorized fire before the Lord, contrary to his command” (Leviticus 10:1, 2). Aaron and his sons had just been ordained into the service of God (Leviticus 8). In chapter 9, they begin their ministry. At the very inauguration of their priestly activities, Aaron’s sons ignore the instructions that God had given (Exodus 30:7-9). God did not take that sin lightly. He removed them by death from the very positions He had placed them in.
King David, nearing the end of his reign, decides to take a military “census of Israel and Judah” (II Samuel 24:1, 2). He wanted to know how many fighting men he could call up. David orders his military commanders to take the census.
Joab, his top general, was hardly known for his spiritual qualities. Joab’s hands were bloody from political and vengeful killings of opponents including Abner (II Samuel 3:22-39); Absalom (II Samuel 18); and Amasa (II Samuel 20:1-13). Nevertheless, Joab, in an act of bravery and insight, pleads with the king not to number the troops. He warns King David that taking a census is wrong.
“But Joab replied, ‘May the Lord multiply his troops a hundred times over. My lord the king, are they not all my lord’s subjects? Why does my lord want to do this? Why should he bring guilt on Israel?’ ” I Chronicles 21:3
If even Joab saw the error of taking the census, where did David get such an idea? The opening verse of the chapter identifies the source: “Satan rose up against Israel and incited David to take a census of Israel” (I Chronicles 21:1).
David’s life had been a constant display of reliance on God and His promises. As a young man he faced the Philistine giant Goliath, the one who had reduced Israel’s entire army to quivering terror (I Samuel 17:4-11). What was David’s secret and strategy? “The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine” (I Samuel 17:37). Later, while a jealous King Saul and his large army pursued him vigorously, God gave David many miraculous escapes (I Samuel 19-24).
However, now, the gifted poet who wrote, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want” (Psalm 23), is about to take things into his own hands. He had become powerful and feels it unnecessary to rely on God’s Word and His promises any longer. His source of power will be what he can put together on the battlefield on his own. The measure of his strength will be the size of his army. So David orders a census of his fighting men. In that way he can be a greater and more powerful king than those of the surrounding nations—on their terms and by their standards, rather than God’s.
Another witness against David, more important than his own experience was the book of the law. Moses had clearly written down not only God’s instruction for selecting Israel’s kings, but also how they were to conduct their office.
“The king, moreover, must not acquire great numbers of horses or make the people return to Egypt to get more of them . . . When he takes the throne of his kingdom, he is to write for himself on a scroll a copy of this law, taken from that of the priests, who are Levites. It is to be with him, and he is to read it all the days of his life so that he may learn to revere the Lord his God and follow carefully all the words of this law and these decrees and not consider himself better than his brothers and turn from the law to the right or to the left. Then he and his descendants will reign a long time over his kingdom in Israel.” Deuteronomy 17:16, 18-20
Israel was God’s covenant people. He had promised to protect them and fight their battles. He asked them and their leaders to be faithful in following His Word. King David, even overriding the objections of his tough military commander, chose to do things his own way. Although David eventually confesses that he has sinned and humbly repents, Israel is punished severely—70,000 of their men were killed (I Chronicles 21:8-19). He learned a lesson the hard way. It says of him, “David went up in obedience to the word that Gad (the prophet) had spoken in the name of the Lord.”
These are just some Old Testament examples on the imperative of following God’s word when there are conflicts with cultural standards. What of the New Testament? What does it say about conflicts with secular culture?
The New Testament Record
The Old Testament’s historical and prophetic books provide many examples of people—those who obeyed and those who strayed from obeying God’s Word. Although recording fewer examples, the New Testament is just as forceful in pronouncing the essential nature of obedience to the Lord. Regardless of which book we examine, discipleship is always defined in terms of our dependance on God and His Word.
At the very beginning of Jesus’ three-year teaching ministry, John baptizes Him in the Jordan River. Right afterwards, the Spirit leads Him into the desert “to be tempted by the devil” (Matthew 4:1). He has fasted for forty days and nights and He is hungry. A person could not be in a more vulnerable condition than that.
It is then that Satan, using three approaches, attacks Jesus on both the physical and spiritual level. Note well Jesus’ source of power. In all three temptations the Word of God is His weapon. What Word of God? The Old Testament. Jesus quotes from Deuteronomy (8:3; 6:16; 6:13), the same book, by the way, to which David and Saul had access as kings of Israel. It is the same book which gives instructions to any future kings of Israel (Deuteronomy 17:18-20). To withstand the attacks of Satan, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the living Word, the second Member of the Trinity relied on God’s Word!
Three years after this confrontation with Satan and following His crucifixion and resurrection, Jesus is about to depart from earth. Before leaving, He gathers His disciples around Him to commission them:
“ ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’ ” (Emphasis added) Matthew 28:18-20
At that time, could the disciples recall everything Jesus had told them? Not at all. Jesus had earlier informed them they would be reminded in a special way.
“ ‘I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.’ ” John 16:12-14
“ ‘My prayer is not for them (the disciples) alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message . . .’ ” John 17:20
Jesus came to the world as the Word of God. You recall the Apostle John’s introduction of Him in his gospel, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” John 1:1
Yet, during His life and His work He relied on the written Word. He told His disciples what their message was to be—the Word He had given them. They would receive special inspiration from the Holy Spirit to recall all that He had commanded them. They had that special gift and responsibility. Jesus did not write any books. His apostles were to proclaim, teach and write!
Of the Spirit, Jesus said, “ ‘He will tell you what is yet to come.’ ” So let’s look at Revelation, which more than any other New Testament book, is the book of the future:
“ ‘Behold, I am coming soon! Blessed is he who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book. I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book:’
“ ‘If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book. And if anyone takes words away from this book of prophecy, God will take away from him his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book. He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon.” ’ ” Revelation 22:7, 18-20
What was Jesus’ warning? “Do not tamper with my Word. Adding to it or taking away from it has dire consequences.”
As the Old Testament gives us examples to encourage our trust in the Word of God, so the New Testament gives further indicators that God’s Word is the only guide and standard for the church.
As individual leaders and followers, and as a church, we are surrounded by others who are not going the same direction or to the same destination. So in His mountainside sermon He cautions us: Two different roads exist. One is narrow with just a few people. The other is broad. Beware! The broad road leads to destruction. Still, He says, many travelers are on that broad road (Matthew 7:13, 14).
Although we might like to avoid doing so, we must look at the present church—the Church of Modernity—in the light of the Scriptures. We need to discover where we are before heading to where we should be.