“Does YHVH delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as in obeying the voice of YHVH? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, to pay heed than the fat of rams.
For rebellion is like the sin of divination and stubbornness is like iniquity and idolatry.”
(1 Samuel 15:22-23)
The key phrase in the center of these verses is “to obey is better than sacrifice.” This is a simple phrase we can commit to memory to remind us of YHVH’s view regarding obedience.
In our modern societies, the term ‘obedience’ has taken on generally negative connotations. Our contemporaries seem to place high value on conduct such as individualism, non-conformity, vigilantism, and other essentially renegade or maverick behaviors. People who behave this way are often pegged as heroes, trailblazers, and innovators. People who are ‘obedient’ are usually seen as mindless automatons who cannot make choices for themselves.
Part of the reason this is so is because our human natures are not prone to be “obedient” – it sounds like “subservience” to our ears; and we want independence and autonomy – what we like to think of as “freedom.”
Obedience sounds like the opposite of that. It sounds like bondage to us. So we reserve our “obedience” for things we say WE WANT to do.
We generally believe we are being obedient only or mostly to our own desires and ambitions. And we have been taught that is a good thing. In fact, we have come to believe this approach to life is the best for us – to “look out for number one.”
But if we are honest with ourselves, we are already, every day, all day being obedient to forces outside ourselves – yet we nevertheless convince ourselves we are making choices for ourselves.
Think about this: what really drives your choices – for fashion, for entertainment, for selecting a job, for what you eat, what you buy, what kind of car you drive?
More often than not, there are aspects of pleasing or following others in nearly everything we do – our choices are based on what we think others will think of us – on what we think will make others happy or what we think will cause others to pay attention to us.
So, obedience is a bit of a complex aspect of human existence. It is not something we can truly escape.
Bob Dylan captured the essence of this truth in his song, “Gotta Serve Somebody.” The message of Dylan’s song boils down to something Yeshua said, “He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters.” (Matthew 12:30)
We do not like to think in such bi-polar terms, but Yeshua is telling us here – we must choose – FOR him, or against him. There is no middle ground, no matter how much we want there to be.
This echoes what YHVH told the children of Israel when they were preparing to enter the Promised Land (Exodus 40). “Obey my instructions, and you will be blessed. Don’t obey my instructions, and you will be cursed.”
He is not just trying to frighten us or intimidate us. He knows what is best for us. And he knows what it takes to live peaceably in his kingdom. So, he encourages us to be obedient to his teachings, for our own sake, for the sake of his kingdom, for the sake of his holy name, and for his glory.
Far from causing bondage, following YHVH’s instructions is what brings us true freedom. Outside the boundaries of his teaching, we are on our own. The weight of the world distracts us and burdens us. YHVH’s Word is our guide for how to live in this world and how to prepare for eternity.
Yeshua came to demonstrate obedience, and he calls us to follow him. He said, “If you love me, you will obey my commands.”
Yeshua also said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Torah or the Prophets. I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill. Amen, I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or serif shall ever pass away from the Torah until all things come to pass. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others the same shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven. But whoever keeps and teaches them, this one shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”