My reading has taken me to the reign of Saul, the first king of Israel, a man generally despised and noted for his less than kingly qualities. As I was reading this morning, two passages stuck out to me. The first is 1 Kings 15:22, which says (in the English Standard Version) "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..." That passage is a familiar one to many who have grown up in church. If your childhood was anything like mine, then you heard the following passage as well. It says, "For rebellion is as the sin of divination" or witchcraft, in some translations. Either way, the message is clear; rebellion is bad news.
Samuel is confronting Saul for his rebellion against the Lord, and he is mincing no words. Saul is in trouble, and he realizes it too late. His response, however genuine and contrite it may not be (he does, after all, blame his subjects for his rebellion, vs 24), echoes the cry of my heart when I'm confronted with rebelling against the Lord's direction, "I have sinned, for I have transgressed the commandment of the LORD... Now therefore, please pardon my sin...that I may worship the LORD." Samuel's response is one to make a grown man shudder,"I will not return with you...the LORD has rejected you..."
Now, Saul was rejected from being king, which is far different from being completely rejected. But still, I'd NEVER want to hear those words, from anyone, about anything. Obviously, Saul was less than thrilled. For him, however, it was too late. For the rest of us, today, thankfully, it is not.
Centuries after the above described discussion, Paul (formerly known as Saul) the Apostle, wrote a letter to the Church in Rome, in which he described the challenges of living according to God's standard and how truly difficult it is. He ended one section with the cry, "Wretched man that I am, who will save me from this body of death?!?" Romans 7:24, ESV. But, he begins the next chapter with the thrilling words, "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ."
In so many ways, I'm not better than King Saul, choosing to do what I want to do instead of what God commands (usually in the form of loving myself and not loving my neighbor), or to not do what I should do (which is to love my God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love my neighbor as myself), but instead of rejecting me as He did Saul, God wraps His arms around me and says, "I don't condemn you." What a wonderful gift to be me instead of King Saul, who was rejected by God.
That makes me think of a passage in Isaiah, where it describes what happened to make it possible for me to experience God's grace instead of the wrath I deserve. It says, "He was despised and rejected, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief." Isaiah 53:3 ESV.
King Saul, who was rejected by God for his rebellion, is not me, thank God!