Biblical Interpretation from Someone with no Training in Biblical Interpretation
But Samuel replied:
“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, and arrogance like the evil of idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, he has rejected you as king”(1 Samuel 15:22-23).
King Saul and his story is humanly tragic, God uses him to demonstrate much of man’s failing within the church and within life itself. We are very easily corrupted by all of the good things God gives us and we begin to get puffed up opinions of ourselves, even though we are constantly living in the Lord’s light. Today’s story illustrates this idea perfectly. God has called Saul and his army to completely wipe Israel’s longtime enemy, the Amalekites, from the face of the earth; the people, animals, stuff, and cities- everything must go. Saul goes and defeats them. However, upon his return, Samuel, the prophet meets with a proud Saul;
When Samuel reached him, Saul said, “The Lord bless you! I have carried out the Lord’s instructions.”
But Samuel said, “What then is this bleating of sheep in my ears? What is this lowing of cattle that I hear?” (1 Samuel 15:13-14)
Wait, what? That’s right; Saul didn’t kill the animals like he was supposed to. Saul, you didn’t do what you were supposed to.
“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 the 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 Gigal”(1 Samuel 15:20-21).
Now you may be thinking, “I don’t know what the big deal is. Saul did what he was supposed to and even went above and beyond because he’s going to sacrifice some cool things to God.” But Saul made the same mistake many of us Christians (and non-Christians too) make, we think that we can do God favors- We cannot. Saul forgot this and I think it is something that we all need to remember as well. There is nothing that you or I can do, that God can’t do himself. So, by choosing to not obey the Lord, God promised to take away Saul’s kingdom.
Let’s not forget who God is. He is the creator of the universe, in fact; this is such an important point that it is the first sentence in the Bible: In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1). Too often we limit God, when in fact, he created everything, and science proves that this world he created is unbelievably complicated. When we really look at this verse and think about it, we can come to understand our position in this universe- very, very small. David realized his position when he was writing his Psalms;
When I consider your heavens,
The work of your fingers,
The moon and the stars,
Which you have set in place,
What is man that your are mindful of him,
The son of man that you care for him?(Psalms 8:3-4)
God owes us nothing. He is all powerful; the whole world was created by him. The Lord himself testifies, “I am the Lord, the God of all mankind. Is anything too hard for me?” (Jeremiah 32:27) He also explains this to Moses in Numbers 11:23, “The Lord answered Moses, ‘Is the Lord’s arm too short? You will now see whether or not what I say will come true for you.’” Indeed, the Bible shows us that God always keeps his promises, even if he needs to move heaven and earth to do it- something which is not difficult for the Lord.
Yet, sometimes we think that God needs us, or that we can be of some help to him, this is very incorrect thinking, and, as Samuel tells Saul, it is arrogance. The Lord doesn’t need us, however, he loves us. In fact, every Christian can recite John 3:16 (“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”) without even thinking. The Lord has saved us, not because we deserved it, but because he loves us. Often the Lord will act out of love for his people; he’ll also act in order to show his power so as to help others come to a realization about his Lordship. For example, when God is working his wonders in Egypt and finally the parting of the Red Sea, he comments about why he is doing such miraculous things, is it because the Israelites were great people? By no means! God says in Exodus 14:18, “The Egyptians will know that I am the Lord when I gain glory through Pharaoh, his chariots and his horsemen.”
God could have saved the Israelites in one quick movement, but he doesn’t, he decides to send plague after plague and part the Red Sea, why? To show off to the Egyptians that he is God! This is our God, he is all-powerful, and there is nothing that he needs. And yet, many of us have the mind of Saul that we can be blessed by doing things for God. As if God could be bought!
The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it,
The world and all who live in it (Psalms 24:1).
The whole earth belongs to God! How then can I buy his love and blessings? I cannot! I have heard many times that “Nothing is free.” But this is a complete falsehood! If nothing was free, we would all be under contract from the Lord and would likely be unable to receive anything, for nothing that we can do in this world can compare with God, therefore it is impossible for us to ever measure up to his standards.
Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change life shifting shadows (James 1:16-17).
Notice the wording that James uses: every gift. A gift by definition is free; otherwise it would not be a gift but a payment. God doesn’t pay us, but freely gives to us all that we need.
Well then, why on earth would I ever do any good? In Christianity, there is what feels like a requirement to do “good works,” that is to do good to others while we are here on earth. But if I’m not getting anything for all my hard work, and anyone who believes in Jesus is saved, why then would I ever want to do good? Isn’t not doing bad good enough?
We’re all in this together. As a race, humanity must remember that we are all part of one family and therefore one of our primary motivators as Christians is to show our faith through helping our brother or sisters. James tries to explain this sometimes difficult to understand concept of “good works”.
What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by actions, is dead (James 2:14-17).
Let me unpack this real quickly before we go on. Now I claim to be a Christian, who is loved by Christ so much that he suffered torture, humiliation, and death for me on the cross, yet I do not burn to help my neighbor who is suffering. Well what kind of Christian am I? I am a Christian whose faith is dead. It is like saying “I love you” and not really meaning it. A true Christian gives off the light of Christ naturally- if not, something needs to change. I should, as a weak human, understand my fellow man’s plight and seek to help him or her. Paul writes in Romans 14:19, “Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.” Don’t be selfish you saved person! The Lord loves us all, and therefore we are called to love each other, leading our world as best we can to unification, peace, and for everyone to be happy.
We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build him up (Romans 15:1-2).
This is not an easy task, but God is willing to help us with this. This is why we all have our own personalized interests and talents. We all serve some part of a greater good. What I cannot do, perhaps you can. Some people are born to lead, others to follow, some to speak, some to write, some to be doctors, some to be mechanics. There is not a person in the world that is greater than anyone else; we all have been created for different tasks. Each and everyone one of us is part of the much larger body of Christ. Paul reminds us,
…so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it (1 Corinthians 12:25-27).
THAT is why we need to look out for our brothers and sisters, for we are all called together as one. “Now the body is not made up of one part but of many (1 Corinthians 12:14).” Therefore, God has apportioned us gifts that will help the rest of the body. To some he gives much, to others, not as much. Why? Because our purposes differ. For example, as he was teaching, a rich young man approached Jesus and asked what he must do in order to follow Christ.
Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me” (Matthew 19:21).
What?! Sell everything I have to be perfect!? Now, before you go and do that, keep this in mind, Jesus has also said something oddly the opposite. While visiting Mary, Martha, and Lazarus Mary opened an expensive jar of perfume and began to put it onto Jesus. Judas said what I think you and I would think when reading about this, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.” (John 12:5) I mean, didn’t Jesus just get done telling the rich man to sell all he has? But Jesus doesn’t agree with Judas at all.
“Leave her alone,” Jesus replied. “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me” (John 12:7-8).
You see, Jesus was trying to teach us this important principle; the Lord has created all of us uniquely for our own roles in Christ. The rich young man was made rich in order to help the poor, whereas Mary was compelled to save up her jar of perfume in order to prepare Jesus for death.
Now, does that mean that all of us are created for a one-off place in the body of Christ? No, indeed not, we are continually growing, even the rich young man is told that after he gives to the poor he is to follow Christ directly, meaning that his walk isn’t over yet. We are like any other part of the body, as we work, we grow and gain muscles. To this end, as we continue doing what the Lord has called us to do, he will reward us with more in order that we may do more. Many pastors use Luke 6:38 as a verse to convince people to tithe, however, this is a very simple reading of the verse. Jesus says,
“Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”
The basic way of saying this is, give and you’ll get more back. People think this is the business of Christianity, but it is not. Sure, by investing in God, I will always get good returns, but it’s so much more. If I give my voice to preach the word, the Lord will give me more wisdom and greater charisma, why? So that I can reach a wider audience. Perhaps he’ll give me more opportunities to preach and larger venues and so forth. If I am a teacher and I do my best for my students, will I not gain the honor from teaching them? And will that not motivate me to do an even better job? Our blessings, material, physical, or spiritual are all muscles that are to be used for the body of Christ, not for ourselves. If I use my brain, do I not become smarter? If I use my arms, do I not become stronger? This is the same principle that the Lord gives to each of us and our gifts.
So, you ask, where are my blessings? What are my gifts? How do I get started? For starters, you must accept Christ into your life, for without him, you are a body part separate from the body, any gift or strength you may have will eventually be worthless. If you have not accepted Christ into your life yet, none of these principles will help you. However, when you confess your sins and accept the Lord as your savior, all of this can be opened up to you. Secondly, you, as a Christian must learn to obey God.
Paul writes in Romans 6:11, “In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” As a Christian we are only attached to the body when that body is Christ. A hand may be full of blood, but it cannot live without the body, therefore, you are alive with Christ. However, what was free for you was not free for God. You have been bought at a price.
But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you wholehearted obeyed the form of teaching to which you were entrusted. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness. I put this in human terms because you are weak in your natural selves. Just as you used to offer the parts of your body in slavery to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer them in slavery to righteousness leading to holiness (Romans 6:17-19).
Oh yes indeed dear friends, do not be confused, all though we were slaves to sin, we were not set free by the devil, but instead bought by God, who forgave us of our sins and will bring us to him in heaven. And it is in the realization of our salvation through the cross of Christ that blessings begin.
David says the same thing when he speaks of the blessedness of the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works:
“Blessed are they
Whose transgressions are forgiven,
Whose sins are covered.
Blessed is the man
Whose sin the Lord will never count against him” (Romans 4:6-8).
So our blessings begin when we confess to the Lord that we are saved by Jesus on the cross. So, as slaves, bought by the life of our Lord and savior, it becomes our lot to please our master. And how do we do that? Faith.
And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him (Hebrews 11:6).
And there we have it, the lord begins to reward us when we seek him out and believe that his son died for us. This is the beginning of our walk of faith and obedience. As we walk with God, he will reward us and our muscles of faith and our gifts will grow as we obey him. In Deuteronomy 28, this concept is further explained.
If you fully obey the Lord your God and carefully follow all his commands I give you today, the lord your God will set you high above all the nations on earth. All these blessings will come upon you and accompany you if you obey the lord your god:
You will be blessed in the city and blessed in the country.
The fruit of your womb will be blessed, and the crops of your land and the young of your livestock- the calves of your herd and the lambs of your flocks.
Your basket and your kneading trough will be blessed.
You will be blessed when you come in and blessed when you go out.
The lord will grant that the enemies who rise up against you will be defeated before you. They will come at you from one direction, but flee from you in seven.
The Lord will send a blessing on your barns and on everything you put your hand to. The Lord your God will bless you in the land he is giving you (Deuteronomy 28:1-8).
The Lord will grant you abundant prosperity- in the fruit of your womb, the young of your livestock and the crops of your ground- in the land he swore to your forefathers to give you.
The Lord will open the heavens, the storehouse of his bounty, to send rain on your land in season and to bless all the work of your hands. You will lend to many nations but will borrow from none. The Lord will make you the head, not the tail. If you pay attention to the commands of the Lord your god that I give you this day and carefully follow them, you will always be at the top, never at the bottom (Deuteronomy 28:11-13).
So, we must give ourselves to Christ and watch how our lives are changed, then we must obey what the Lord has told us, and then finally, we do work for the master who has saved us from our sins and from death.
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith- and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God- not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which god prepared in advance for us to do (Ephesians 2:8-10).
Indeed, we are called by the Lord to do good works, but not as a job for which we can expect pay. God blesses us as he sees fit for the work we must do, as slaves in Christ. Do not be confused as many in the world these days are, and as Saul was. Godliness does not lead to earthly gain; you cannot go above what God has planned for you in order to gain in this world. We are called, and what we are called for has already been decided. Do not become arrogant in the sight of God, for nothing you do will impress him. When I win, it is his will, when I gain; it is the work of the Lord. So do not be like Saul, who boasted in his plan to sacrifice to God. Instead let us listen to Paul’s advice in 1 Corinthians 1:31: “Therefore, as it is written: ‘Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.”
Then what does God want from us? Saul was arrogant by not obeying God and instead doing what he thought would be better- this is not our calling. So instead of following Saul’s example, let us listen to what the Lord tells us through Isaiah:
“Has not my hand made all these things,
And so they came into being?”
declares the Lord.
“This is the one I esteem:
He who is humble and contrite in spirit,
And trembles at my word” (Isaiah 66:2).
Do not do more than you are called to do, obey God and trust that he knows exactly what he is doing. So as I leave you here and you go back out into the world, I want you to come to understand what Solomon learned during his years of kingship:
Then I realized that it is good and proper for a man to eat and drink, and to find satisfaction in his toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given him- for that is his lot. Moreover, when God gives any man wealth and possessions, and enables him to enjoy them, to accept his lot and be happy in his work- this is a gift of God. He seldom reflects on the days of his life, because God keeps him occupied with gladness of heart (Ecclesiastes 5:18-20).