Eyes on the Prize
By Jim Huskins
Wes Strickland and I recently exchanged greetings while I bought electrical supplies where he works. He said he was well, and then he added, “I keep my eyes on the prize.” I laughed and responded, “That’s good. Not many of us recognize the prize.” I left the store wondering if I am among those few.
I reject the popular notion that “truth” is subjective, but no rational person could argue that we are not each responsible for defining “the prize.” While attempting to articulate my definition, I recalled a Bible lesson from my college days. The core of Professor Boatman’s lesson was, “To obey is better than sacrifice.”
1 Samuel 15 tells of a special task given by God to King Saul. The instructions were specific. Saul decided that it was okay for him to obey some of his assignments. The result of his partial obedience was catastrophic. God tore the kingship away from Saul, transferred leadership to a ruddy-faced shepherd boy named David, and condemned Saul and most of his sons to die in battle.
The task God gave to Saul is repugnant to modern sensibilities. Israel’s first king was told to destroy the nation of Amalek. Every person and animal was to be slain. All of Amalek’s cities and their possessions were to be destroyed by fire. He was specifically told to kill King Agag.
Saul’s actions are summarized in verse 9, “But Saul and the people spared Agag as well as the best of the sheep, the cattle, even the fatlings and the lambs, and all that was good, since they were not willing to utterly destroy them.…” When Samuel confronted Saul about this disobedience, his primary excuse was that the people wanted to sacrifice the good animals to God. That’s when Samuel delivered the powerful lesson found in verse 22.
Tom Bradford writes extensively on this chapter. He explains the Hebrew word Herem: the ban, or holy war. Saul’s assignment to destroy Amalek was not a geopolitical war, or border dispute, or excursion to capture spoil or slaves, or a preemptive strike against a potential aggressor. It was an act of divine judgment against a nation that God deemed deserving of annihilation.
Modern Christians often conclude that unity or tolerance is more important than clear, Biblical instruction. King Saul decided that God was being “way harsh.” Replacement theologians often teach that holy war is one of many aspects of Unchanging God that was “nailed to the cross.” The only way to reach such an un-Biblical perspective is to ignore the Book of Revelation.
Scripture teaches that the Jezreel Valley will one day be filled with the blood of God’s enemies to the depth of a horse’s bridle. Some claim that this image from Revelation 14:20 is figurative language, but I am unable to conceive of any plausible, figurative interpretation. God will destroy those described in Revelation 9:20-21. “The rest of mankind, those not killed by these plagues, did not repent and turn away from the works of their hands—they would not stop worshiping demons and the idols of gold and silver and stone and wood, which cannot see or hear or walk. And they did not repent and turn away from their murders or their sorceries or their sexual immorality or their stealing.”
God is loving, but He is not tolerant. He desires that none should perish. He wants all to come to Him in repentance seeking forgiveness. Salvation is a free gift by grace through faith in Jesus, but God expects those who are blessed with that gift to respond by living life on His terms. Those terms are expressed in many places. John 14:15 says. “If you love me, keep my commandments.”
Bradford says, “King Saul would have made a good Christian. He just could not bring himself to fully obey God’s Word.” Many Christians believe the lie that a different Saul, aka Paul of Tarsus, revoked God’s instructions for living. Both the Father and the Son claim that Torah will be in full effect until the end of the age. The modern Church tends to disregard every portion of God’s Word that seems inconvenient or irrational.
The Bible is either entirely true, or it is all deception. God is either the same yesterday, today, and forever, or He changes at whim. His instructions for living are either binding for all generations, or they have a secret expiration date. God either saves us from sin so that we may live in righteousness, or He is happy for us to continue sinning. The Law and The Prophets will either be in full force for as long as heaven and earth remain, or Jesus is a liar. King Saul’s story is proof that we cannot earn salvation through obedience.
Samuel told Saul that obedience is better than sacrifice, but he did not say that sacrifice is abolished. We are required to sacrifice. Jesus’ death makes animal sacrifice a moot issue, but Romans 12:1 states that “we are called to present our bodies as a living sacrifice.” When writers of the so-called New Testament say that salvation is a free gift through faith, they do not mean that obedience is now optional. Grace does not nullify righteousness.
Only those who know what is most valuable can focus on the prize. I was pleased to discover that it was easy to articulate my definition—a life well-lived that leads to eternity well spent. Scripture makes it clear that such a reward is only available to those who love God by serving Him in faithful obedience.
Obedient Heart Fellowship believes that the entire Bible is both true and relevant. We accept salvation by grace through faith in Jesus, and we attempt to love and serve Him by keeping his commandments. See Revelation 14:12. firstname.lastname@example.org
Jim & Beverly Huskins are members of Obedient Heart Fellowship in McDowell County. You can read more good Christian news from Jim HERE.