Women love to hear from God. We love telling people about the still small voice speaking to us. Perhaps it makes us feel special and loved to know we’ve heard the voice of God. It’s a sign of favor. It’s relational. He’s shared something unique with us, it’s our own secret, and no one can tell us otherwise.
But why do we want to hear from God in this special way? Do we think we need a sign to tell us what do? Must we have everything lined up just right to make perfect sense of our confusing circumstances? Maybe we need the assurance and affirmation?
Whatever the case may be, the Holy Spirit brings things to our remembrance (John 14:26) only in accordance with His Word. This still small voice must not be of our own making but must be grounded in the living Word of God. We have already been specially loved by God; He has already invited us into relationship with Him; He has already spoken unique words to us alone—they are found in, and through, Scripture. Serious study of Scripture is one aspect of developing our relationship with God that informs every other aspect. His Word is all we need for our obedience in a life of godliness.
King Saul’s Example
In the Old Testament, King Saul thought he had to receive a sign from God or hear his voice in order to obey. Saul offered sacrifices in place of his obedience, because he thought he needed to earn God’s favor in order to act. First Samuel 13 and 15 give us a clear picture of Saul’s mistrust and disobedience sandwiched around his son Jonathan’s trust and obedience in chapter 14.
In chapter 13, Saul is at war with the Philistines. (Those pesky enemies just don’t seem to go away!) Saul’s men are not rallying around him and the enemy is approaching as they all wait for the prophet Samuel to arrive. Saul waited the promised seven days, but Samuel seemed to be coming at the last minute. So frenzied Saul decided he would make the burnt offerings and peace offerings himself (1 Sam. 13:8–9). Verses 10–12 say:
As soon as he had finished offering the burnt offering, behold, Samuel came. And Saul went out to meet him and greet him. Samuel said, “What have you done?” And Saul said, “When I saw that the people were scattering from me, and that you did not come within the days appointed, and that the Philistines had mustered at Michmash, I said, ‘Now the Philistines will come down against me at Gilgal, and I have not sought the favor of the LORD.’ So I forced myself, and offered the burnt offering.”
Saul needed to be assured of God’s favor before he could go into battle. And he thought sacrifices would be the best way to earn favor with God. Samuel replies:
“You have done foolishly. You have not kept the command of the LORD your God, with which he commanded you. For then the LORD would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. But now your kingdom shall not continue. The LORD has sought out a man after his own heart, and the LORD has commanded him to be prince over his people, because you have not kept what the LORD commanded you” (vv. 13–14).
Jonathan Understood It Better
As we continue into chapter 14, we see Saul’s own son has a better grasp of obedience. Still at war with the Philistines, Jonathan decides to take his armor bearer and head over by himself to the enemy camp, without telling his father.
Jonathan said to the young man who carried his armor, “Come, let us go over to the garrison of these uncircumcised. It may be that the LORD will work for us, for nothing can hinder the LORD from saving by many or by few” (v. 6).
Do you feel Jonathan’s faith and confidence in God? This verse shows us the one thing Jonathan had that Saul had always been lacking in. Jonathan didn’t make a “quick” sacrifice to God first; he didn’t wait to hear his voice; he just acted in faith. Jonathan and his armor bearer went on to kill twenty men before Saul arrived with his army. That day was a huge victory for the Israelites.
To Obey Is Better Than Sacrifice
Going on to chapter 15, God tells Saul to battle with the Amalekites. God clearly instructed Saul to devote the city to complete destruction, even the animals, women, and children. Jumping forward a few verses, we see this is not the case:
And he took Agag the king of the Amalekites alive and devoted to destruction all the people with the edge of the sword. But Saul and the people spared Agag and the best of the sheep and of the oxen and of the fattened calves and the lambs, and all that was good, and would not utterly destroy them (vv. 8–9).
Saul told Samuel that he spared the best of the animals in order to sacrifice them to God, but the rest they devoted to destruction. This really doesn’t seem all that bad at first. I mean he seems selfless here by giving God high quality sacrifices. But what is Samuel’s response?
“Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams” (v. 22).
“To obey is better than sacrifice.” These words were meant to pierce Saul’s heart—his rebellious heart that refused to obey God.
The Point of It All
So why all the signs and sacrifices? Why did Saul feel compelled to make repeated offerings? The answer is back in chapter 14 when Saul mentioned how he couldn’t go into battle, because he needed to have the favor of the Lord first. Saul missed the point of the sacrifices. He was more into religiosity than genuine faith. He was more into outward displays of faith than an inner transformation of the heart. He didn’t understand what the sacrifices were meant to represent for the people of Israel: a coming Messiah.
So instead of resting in the favor of the promised Savior, he put trust in his own signs and sacrifices as a means of earning favor with God. Saul had a works-based faith, but Jonathan had a gospel-based faith. Jonathan’s confident obedience was rooted in God’s favor on him. He knew God favored him. He didn’t have to earn it. Instead, he trusted in a greater sacrifice: the Lamb of God.
Today, we don’t need to hear a still small voice to know if we should go to spiritual battle or not, to know if we’ll be victorious or not. God has spoken already through His Word, and He tells us we have favor from Him through Christ. If He is for us, who can be against us?