Several people in the Bible chose to do things their way rather than do things God’s way. In these situations, they either didn’t listen or they didn’t trust that God would do things in God’s time – not theirs. They took matters into their own hands, and caused problems.
King Saul, the first king of Israel, didn’t do exactly what the Lord told him through the priest Samuel. He defeated the enemy who was attacking Israel, but spared their king and some livestock. He was told to wipe them out, to leave nothing standing.
1 Samuel 15:1-3 Revised Standard Version (RSV)
And Samuel said to Saul, “The LORD sent me to anoint you king over his people Israel; now therefore hearken to the words of the LORD. 2 Thus says the LORD of hosts, ‘I will punish what Am′alek did to Israel in opposing them on the way, when they came up out of Egypt. 3 Now go and smite Am′alek, and utterly destroy all that they have; do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass.’”
The battle took place.
1 Samuel 15:7-9
7 And Saul defeated the Amal′ekites, from Hav′ilah as far as Shur, which is east of Egypt. 8 And he took Agag the king of the Amal′ekites alive, and utterly destroyed all the people with the edge of the sword. 9 But Saul and the people spared Agag, and the best of the sheep and of the oxen and of the fatlings, and the lambs, and all that was good, and would not utterly destroy them; all that was despised and worthless they utterly destroyed.
Saul didn’t “utterly destroy” all that they had. He kept the best of the livestock alive, along with the king. Because of this, Saul is rejected as the king of Israel. He was not obedient to the Lord.
1 Samuel 15:10-11
10 The word of the LORD came to Samuel: 11 “I repent that I have made Saul king; for he has turned back from following me, and has not performed my commandments.” And Samuel was angry; and he cried to the LORD all night.
When Samuel challenged Saul about his disobedience, Saul acted like he had done nothing wrong. Saul said he kept all the good stuff so he could offer it as a sacrifice. Samuel says that isn’t what he was supposed to do. Saul had made a decision he shouldn’t have.
1 Samuel 15:22-23
22 And Samuel said,
“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 hearken than the fat of rams.
23 For rebellion is as the sin of divination,
and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry.
Because you have rejected the word of the LORD,
he has also rejected you from being king.”
Saul tries to get out of it, asking Samuel to pardon him. It isn’t for Samuel to pardon him. The Lord has already made the decision. To be really honest, Saul is the one who made the decision to not do what he was commanded to do. He isn’t being punished out of the blue – he made a bad choice. He is facing the consequences of his action.
The words of Samuel are echoed later by the prophet Hosea.
For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice,
the knowledge of God, rather than burnt offerings.
Abraham is also someone who took matters into his own hands.
After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision, “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” 2 But Abram said, “O Lord GOD, what wilt thou give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Elie′zer of Damascus?” 3 And Abram said, “Behold, thou hast given me no offspring; and a slave born in my house will be my heir.” 4 And behold, the word of the LORD came to him, “This man shall not be your heir; your own son shall be your heir.” 5 And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” 6 And he believed the LORD; and he reckoned it to him as righteousness.
So Abraham and Sarah (at this point named Abram and Sarai) couldn’t figure out how they were going to have children, so they decided instead of waiting on God to make it happen, they’d make it happen on their own.
Now Sar′ai, Abram’s wife, bore him no children. She had an Egyptian maid whose name was Hagar; 2 and Sar′ai said to Abram, “Behold now, the LORD has prevented me from bearing children; go in to my maid; it may be that I shall obtain children by her.” And Abram hearkened to the voice of Sar′ai. 3 So, after Abram had dwelt ten years in the land of Canaan, Sar′ai, Abram’s wife, took Hagar the Egyptian, her maid, and gave her to Abram her husband as a wife. 4 And he went in to Hagar, and she conceived; and when she saw that she had conceived, she looked with contempt on her mistress. 5 And Sar′ai said to Abram, “May the wrong done to me be on you! I gave my maid to your embrace, and when she saw that she had conceived, she looked on me with contempt. May the LORD judge between you and me!” 6 But Abram said to Sar′ai, “Behold, your maid is in your power; do to her as you please.” Then Sar′ai dealt harshly with her, and she fled from her.
While Hagar was away from Sarai, an angel of the Lord prophesied to her.
7 The angel of the LORD found her by a spring of water in the wilderness, the spring on the way to Shur. 8 And he said, “Hagar, maid of Sar′ai, where have you come from and where are you going?” She said, “I am fleeing from my mistress Sar′ai.” 9 The angel of the LORDsaid to her, “Return to your mistress, and submit to her.” 10 The angel of the LORD also said to her, “I will so greatly multiply your descendants that they cannot be numbered for multitude.” 11 And the angel of the LORD said to her, “Behold, you are with child, and shall bear a son; you shall call his name Ish′mael; because the LORD has given heed to your affliction. 12 He shall be a wild ass of a man, his hand against every man and every man’s hand against him; and he shall dwell over against all his kinsmen.”
Ishmael is the progenitor of the Arabic people.
Note Abraham’s age. He’s 86. It is thirteen years later when the story picks up again. He’d been told that God would make him the father of a nation, and still nothing has happened. Then God talks to him again.
When Abram was ninety-nine years old the LORD appeared to Abram, and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless. 2 And I will make my covenant between me and you, and will multiply you exceedingly.” 3 Then Abram fell on his face; and God said to him, 4 “Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. 5 No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. 6 I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come forth from you.7 And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your descendants after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your descendants after you. 8 And I will give to you, and to your descendants after you, the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.”
God then asks him to circumcise himself and all of the males in his household as a sign of the covenant between God and Abraham. After that, the Lord again promises that Abraham will have a son, but this time there is a time mentioned.
10 The LORD said, “I will surely return to you in the spring, and Sarah your wife shall have a son.”
Isaac was born when Abraham was 100 years old – 14 years after the Lord told him that he would be the father of a nation.
While everything worked out for Abraham and Sarah, things didn’t go so well for Hagar and Ishmael. They were sent off to die in the wilderness. God heard their distress and rescued them. This is also the source of the conflict between the Arabs and the Jews. Both want their birthright, and they are unable to share it.
Then there is Moses. God told him to speak to the rock to get water out of it. Instead, he struck it with his staff.
And the people of Israel, the whole congregation, came into the wilderness of Zin in the first month, and the people stayed in Kadesh; and Miriam died there, and was buried there. 2 Now there was no water for the congregation; and they assembled themselves together against Moses and against Aaron. 3 And the people contended with Moses, and said, “Would that we had died when our brethren died before the LORD! 4 Why have you brought the assembly of the LORD into this wilderness, that we should die here, both we and our cattle? 5 And why have you made us come up out of Egypt, to bring us to this evil place? It is no place for grain, or figs, or vines, or pomegranates; and there is no water to drink.” 6 Then Moses and Aaron went from the presence of the assembly to the door of the tent of meeting, and fell on their faces. And the glory of the LORD appeared to them,7 and the LORD said to Moses, 8 “Take the rod, and assemble the congregation, you and Aaron your brother, and tell the rock before their eyes to yield its water; so you shall bring water out of the rock for them; so you shall give drink to the congregation and their cattle.” 9 And Moses took the rod from before the LORD, as he commanded him. 10 And Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock, and he said to them, “Hear now, you rebels; shall we bring forth water for you out of this rock?” 11 And Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his rod twice; and water came forth abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their cattle. 12 And the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not believe in me, to sanctify me in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land which I have given them.” 13 These are the waters of Mer′ibah, where the people of Israel contended with the LORD, and he showed himself holy among them.
On an earlier occasion when they needed water, he had been told to strike the rock, so perhaps he was confused. Perhaps he wasn’t intentionally disobeying God.
All the congregation of the people of Israel moved on from the wilderness of Sin by stages, according to the commandment of the LORD, and camped at Reph′idim; but there was no water for the people to drink. 2 Therefore the people found fault with Moses, and said, “Give us water to drink.” And Moses said to them, “Why do you find fault with me? Why do you put the LORD to the proof?” 3 But the people thirsted there for water, and the people murmured against Moses, and said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our cattle with thirst?” 4 So Moses cried to the LORD, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.” 5 And the LORD said to Moses, “Pass on before the people, taking with you some of the elders of Israel; and take in your hand the rod with which you struck the Nile, and go. 6 Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb; and you shall strike the rock, and water shall come out of it, that the people may drink.” And Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. 7 And he called the name of the place Massah and Mer′ibah, because of the faultfinding of the children of Israel, and because they put the LORD to the proof by saying, “Is the LORD among us or not?”
Because he disobeyed, even unintentionally, he was not allowed to enter into the Promised Land. He died in the desert.
So, we are to obey the Lord’s instructions precisely, and we are to trust that if the Lord says something is going to happen, it will. It isn’t for us to force it or to take matters into our own hands. It is for us to let God work through us and with us, not in spite of us.