Today’s reading includes Esther 4:1-7:10, 1 Corinthians 12:1-26, Psalm 36:1-12, Proverbs 21:21-22
To truly understand the story of Esther, we must go further back in history to a time that God gave a very specific instruction to King Saul. This instruction, found in 1Samuel 15, was that he was to lead the Israelites in battle and that, with God’s help, they were to completely destroy the evil people called the Amalekites. The instructions were so explicit that they could not confuse the purpose of the battle. They were to totally obliterate the Amalekites, allowing no one to live. They were also to leave all of the riches and spoils alone, taking none for themselves as was the usual custom. God did not want them to have anything to do with any of the Amalekites or their possessions, and He made that very clear.
Now, King Saul was obedient to an extent. He led the people in battle against the Amalekites, and as God promised, they won. However, he did not follow the instructions fully and made the decision to leave a few of the Amalekites alive, taking them as slaves. He also disobeyed God when he allowed the people to take, and keep, various riches and spoils of the war. God spoke to Samuel, Hannah’s son, about Saul’s disobedience. Samuel boldly confronted Saul about his lack of complete obedience. And Saul responded much like we all do when first confronted with sin…he rationalized.
“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?’
Saul answered, ‘The soldiers brought them from the Amalekites; they spared the best of the sheep and cattle to sacrifice to the LORD your God, but we totally destroyed the rest.’
“’Stop!’ Samuel said to Saul. ‘Let me tell you what the LORD said to me last night.’ ’Tell me,’ Saul replied.
“Samuel said, ‘Although you were once small in your own eyes, did you not become the 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?’
“’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.’
“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.’” (1Samuel 15:13-22)
Saul did not obey completely. I like to think of it like cooking chicken or pork. “Almost” done will still make you very sick! Saul did just enough right to try to justify his actions. And he assigned some of the plunder to go to God to make himself feel better. But God does not need our token acknowledgements. He sees right through that. We may fool many people, but we can’t fool God. Being completely honest with God and with youself is one of the first steps to being prepared for God’s extraordinary plan.
God demands complete obedience, not because he is a dictator-type God, but because only He can see past, present and future. Only He can look behind and ahead and trace the thread of our actions in the tapestry of our life story, and the story of the generations to come. Now, I have to stop for a moment and remind you that this is not a call to legalism. Jesus reprimanded the legalistic Pharisees much more than the overt sinners.
Always remember the principles of God’s Grace: we don’t deserve it; we can’t earn it; Jesus bought it for us; It’s free! But once we experience God’s Grace first hand, we want with all of our hearts to please Him and show Him how much we love Him. He is a holy God who can’t dwell with sin. That’s why we turn to Him to set us free from sin, and to give us the power to live a life pleasing to Him. It is His grace that also shows us our sin, so that we can be relieved of it and released from it.
He does sometimes allow consequences for our sins, even consequences that are revealed further down the road. The consequences that Saul faced were both immediate and far reaching. God removed His favor from Saul and eventually replaced him with King David, who, though not perfect, yet, nonetheless, was a man after God’s own heart. And it was through King David that God’s Ultimate plan of salvation was fulfilled when generations later Jesus was born in the lineage of David.
I believe the difference that we see between these two examples of sinful people is the heart with which they faced their sin. In Saul’s story, he never really received a mighty redemption. David, on the other hand, turned his whole heart to God, acknowledged and truly repented of his sin—not just because he was caught, but because he was convicted and grieved by what he had done.
The full repercussions of the sin of King Saul were not seen immediately. However, years down the road, the ancestors of those Amalekites who were left alive caused great problems for the people of God. The Israelites were eventually taken captive from Jerusalem and carried into exile in Persia. We will see later in the week that the sin of King Saul–the sin of not obeying completely and the sin of not being completely repentant—nearly caused the destruction of his descendants. But God…
Don’t you love those two words: But God… Many times in my life I could have taken a destructive turn. I could have ended up in a much different place. But God…
Today, let’s praise Him for the times He has saved us, not just that one time of eternal salvation, but the many, many times He has saved us, rescued us from ourselves and our own sinful choices. Today, let’s choose to obey Him completely. Is He asking you to do something, to give up something, change something in your life? Just do it. Don’t wait.