1 Samuel 15:22-23 (NLT)
But Samuel replied, “What is more pleasing to the lord: your burnt offerings and sacrifices or your obedience to his voice? Listen! Obedience is better than sacrifice, and submission is better than offering the fat of rams. Rebellion is as sinful as witchcraft, and stubbornness as bad as worshiping idols. So because you have rejected the command of the lord, he has rejected you as king.”
Rebellion is as sinful as witchcraft and stubbornness as bad as worshiping idols? This statement has always confounded me. Very early in the Scriptures, it becomes obvious that the most terrible sin against God is idolatry. He has a real hatred for idolatry and never lets it go unpunished. When God gives Moses the Ten Commandments, the first two address idolatry.
3 “You must not have any other god but me. 4 “You must not make for yourself an idol of any kind or an image of anything in the heavens or on the earth or in the sea. 5 You must not bow down to them or worship them, for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God who will not tolerate your affection for any other gods. I lay the sins of the parents upon their children; the entire family is affected—even children in the third and fourth generations of those who reject me. Exodus 20:3-5 (NLT)
It is so grave that generations unborn suffer for the sin of idolatry. As a matter of fact, the reason why the Perizzites, Jebusites, Hittites, Hivites, Canaanites, and Amorites lost their land to the Israelites was because of idolatry which was prevalent in their land according to Deuteronomy 18:9-14. The first time God is introduced as a consuming fire is tied to a warning against idolatry in Deuteronomy 4:23-24.
For most Africans who are exposed to a brand of Christianity that focuses on ‘spiritual warfare’ inspired by Exodus 22:18 which says ‘thou shall not suffer a witch to live’ and have participated in scorching prayers in this regard, this is a difficult pill to swallow. Rebellion is as sinful as witchcraft and stubbornness as bad as worshiping idols? How can very prevalent sins of stubbornness and rebellion be considered to be as grave as witchcraft and idolatry? This is a question that overwhelmed me in my teenage years.
In the text, Samuel was addressing Saul, the first king of Israel after his sins against God. His first sin was an unlawful sacrifice which he offered instead of waiting for Samuel who served as priest. He never repents even when confronted. This account is found in 1 Samuel 13: 8-14. His second sin as recorded in 1 Samuel 15:13-21 was disobeying God’s commandment to utterly blot out the Amalekites for their unprovoked ambush of the children of Israel in the wilderness. He violates the directive by sparing King Agag and taking the best livestock with him as spoils of war. He again does not repent immediately he is confronted but deflects his faults by making excuses. Eventually, he admits his sin while pursuing a face saving agenda.
Failure to admit unreservedly your shortcomings and repent before God is rebellion and stubbornness which God hates just as much as idolatry and witchcraft. He does not welcome justifications for any kind of sin or shortcoming. He only welcomes confession and repentance; immediate and unreserved repentance. Saul’s response points to arrogance, justifying behavior and difficulty admitting wrongdoing. God calls this rebellion and stubbornness. These are grave offenses before God and should be avoided at all cost, yet I believe the majority of us fall into this sin.
Why? The practice of making excuses for sin started with Adam when he disobeyed God by eating fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Yet, when God confronted him about it, he passes blame to the woman and God instead of immediate unreserved repentance. The woman You gave me made me do it. This is stubbornness and has been the pattern of human behavior ever since Adam, making it tough to surmount. We would all agree that the pride of man’s heart makes it difficult to admit shortcomings. It is more palatable to engage in justifications instead of blunt acceptance of error. We also see such tendencies in Cain after he murdered Abel.
I OFTEN WONDER IF THE CONDITION OF MANKIND WOULD BE COMPLETELY DIFFERENT IF ADAM HAD REPENTED AND SOUGHT FORGIVENESS WITH A BROKEN HEART BEFORE GOD.
Have you ever met someone who finds it extremely difficult to apologize? Do you know people whose apologies always have an attached explanation? Have you met someone who is never wrong in their own eyes? Have you met someone who never apologized but swear that they did? Most popular phrases are ‘Don’t judge me’, ‘God would understand’, ‘I know it’s not right but…’, ‘I am sorry but you caused it’ and the likes. These are signs of stubbornness and by extension idolatry.
I am not underestimating the difficulty and level of brokenness it takes to swallow your pride and act appropriately. It requires extreme levels of spirituality to put the flesh under subjection and say ‘Lord, I messed up. I am sorry. Please have mercy on me’. It is especially difficult to admit it to another person as Saul failed to do with Samuel. Stubbornness born out of pride hinders proper reconciliation even between people which is one of the major reasons why marriages fail.
David on the opposite end of the spectrum committed far more weighty offenses than Saul but he did not lose his throne because he acted appropriately. Immediately he was confronted by Nathan the Prophet, he said ‘I have sinned against the Lord’. It takes loads of humility for a king to admit his sins before a prophet and express such godly sorrow as transcribed in Psalm 51, a Psalm he penned right after this incident. God is unimpressed by the position you occupy; He does not care much for pride. God does not want justifications for your wrongdoings; He demands repentance without an addendum and brokenness without hypocrisy. A broken heart and a contrite spirit, God will never despise.
Saul did not lose his throne because he offered an unlawful sacrifice and spared King Agag; He lost his throne because of the sin of stubbornness evident in failure to admit his sins. David however kept his throne and even preserved an everlasting covenant because when confronted with his sin, he immediately humbles himself, accepts his faults and repents without excuses. He understood that the sacrifice God desires are a broken heart and a contrite spirit (Psalm 51:16-17) while Saul assumed God would delight in the sacrifice of rams and burnt offerings (1 Samuel 15:22).
God is not the person you try to save face from. For anyone who will enjoy God’s grace like David, you must be able to admit wrongdoings to God and to fellow men, tender unreserved apologies and repent. The Pharisee in Luke 18:10-14 spent his prayer time bragging to God while the tax collector begs for mercy and leaves justified. We must approach God defenseless and totally vulnerable. Love makes you vulnerable and you cannot claim to love God or your fellow man if you can’t be vulnerable. Though gut-wrenching, it is in our best interest to put away traces of rebellion and stubbornness. Recall that God gives grace to the humble but resists the proud. Good luck to anyone attempting to make progress when God is your enemy.
The similarity in the way God deals with these sins is evident in the Bible. Idolatry is seldom spared by God, likewise, the sins of rebellion and stubbornness are hardly ever spared. The parallel is further proven by the seriousness of Saul’s punishment. Saul suffered a generational judgment in which the right to rule Israel was taken from his lineage and given to David. This is very similar to the generational judgment for idolatry as seen in Exodus 20:4-6. Generations unborn pay the price for idolatry, rebellion and stubbornness. Mankind still suffers from the effects of Adam’s rebellion. I pray (for you and I) for the grace to turn away from stubborn and rebellious tendencies when dealing with God and fellow men.
RELIGIOUS PEOPLE ALWAYS HAVE SEEMINGLY SCRIPTURAL EXCUSES FOR THEIR WRONGS BUT SPIRITUAL PEOPLE REPENT.